If for This Life Only

If for This Life Only

If for This Life Only —– Easter Day —– April 17, 2022

Acts 10: 34-43 ———- John 20: 1-18 ———– Pastor Pat Mecham

Many of you know the name of William Paul Young, or you’re at least familiar with his book, The Shack, which was a runaway best-seller back in 2008.  It’s a story of a man who has suffered some pretty severe ordeals, and then gets to know God in a very personal manner.  What you might not know is how the book came to be.  You see, many years before its writing, Young’s personal life was in a shambles.  He had been struggling with the heavy burden of secrets: memories of being abused as a small child, and being a church leader but also committing adultery.  Then his wife found out, and she was furious with him!  He loved her very much, and loved their children, and he knew it was time to come clean and risk everything by telling her the truth—the WHOLE truth.  (You see, he was afraid that, if anyone knew who he truly was, they wouldn’t love him.)  It was a difficult time, full of despair.

At one point, he was making plans to take his own life.  He confessed this to a friend—and the friend gently told him, “Paul, there is a SEED.”  Here’s his reflection on that:

“A seed?  What did that mean?  In my despair, I could sense the answer.  A seed can grow.  If there was even one seed then something would grow.  What God could do for a seed He could do for me.  In one little seed, all my hope came back.  I never struggled with suicide again.”

He spent 11 years re-building trust with his wife—TRUST that he had learned by trusting God with all his pain, all his anger, all his secrets.  He came to understand how God had never abandoned him.  His wife suggested: “Why don’t you write down what you’ve learned as a gift for the kids?”

“I wrote on a pad of paper as I was commuting to and from work, telling the story of a man who met God when he thought he’d lost everything.  Those pages turned into a novel, The Shack, that I photocopied at Office Depot and passed along to family and friends, and then it all got out of hand.  Before I knew what had happened, I was a best-selling author.  But that’s not why I wrote the book.

“The book is true, just not real—like a parable.  I may not be exactly like the fictional main character, but what that man learns about the healing power of love and forgiveness, the liberation of the soul through transparency and grace, is a journey I know well.”

The healing power of love and forgiveness—that’s a great way to describe the resurrection power that is woven through our scripture readings for today.  But, is God ready to overcome the obstacles in my life—and in your life—and bring resurrection power into our personal stories?  Let’s look at these scriptures, and see what God says.

God Shows No Partiality (Acts 10:34-43)

I’ll begin with our passage from Acts, where Peter is speaking to some Gentiles who have asked him to explain about Jesus.  Cornelius was a Roman officer in charge of roughly 100 men—a Centurion.  One day, when he was in prayer, he was told to send for Peter.  Meanwhile, Peter had a vision telling him, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.”  He was told to go to the house of Cornelius and tell him the Good News.  And, of course, Cornelius invited all his friends and family to hear what Peter had to say.

Peter began to speak to them: “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.”  He briefly told them the story of the life of Jesus Christ, his death, and his resurrection.  He explained that Jesus commanded them to tell his story.  And our text ends with this astonishing news: Everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins.

This is diametrically opposed to one of the centuries-old notions of God’s limits—the idea that God’s love is for the Jews only.  And it embraces God’s original plan that the Chosen People were meant to share God’s love with all the rest of the world!  They were not chosen to have a special position—they were chosen to be God’s instruments for all of creation!

(Another of “God’s limits” commonly understood was that dead is dead—but Jesus brought challenges to that notion!)

He Saw and Believed (John 20:1-18)

Our Gospel passage is a very personal, eye-witness testimony from John, one of the 12 disciples—the writer of this Gospel.  He doesn’t mention himself by name, because it was considered to be inappropriate to include one’s own name in reporting major events.  He only refers to himself obliquely with the phrase of “the other disciple.” 

John had heard Jesus tell the disciples what he expected:

  • Opposition from the religious leaders;
  • Death;
  • Resurrection! (even though it sounded like nonsense to them)

They found it difficult to imagine God without limits.  Oh, sure, there were hundreds of years of recorded miracles, but their faith was not yet large enough to embrace God’s limitless power.

But it finally “clicked” with John, after he had raced Peter to the tomb.  All the nonsense suddenly made sense when he went into the empty tomb.  The text simply says, “He saw and believed.”

And what did John finally believe?  It was The resurrection!  And at the very center of our faith, The Resurrection stands as an incontrovertible truth.  The Apostle Paul encountered the Risen Christ while on the way to Damascus to try to destroy the church (thinking that was God’s will).  His faith BEGAN with the certainty of the resurrection!  It wasn’t something he had to gradually accept.  And he wrote to the Christians in Corinth, “If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.”

Everyone Who Believes in Him

Now, Peter told Cornelius and company that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.  Everyone.  Everyone has access to resurrection power!

  • The power that moves one from financial stress to incredible acts of generosity.  (Dave Ramsey says that we live like no one else so that we can GIVE like no one else!)
  • Resurrection power moves one from addiction to sobriety and restoration (relationship with God, relationships with others, restoration to God’s purpose for one’s life!)
  • Your story is a story that includes resurrection power moving you from something (you fill in the blank) to something better!
  • I love what Paul writes in Philippians 3: “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection.”

Yes, resurrection power is the main theme of Easter.

I’ll finish with this thought: IF Resurrection Power were for this life only, it would be worth having.  Even if we had no promise of any kind of afterlife, Resurrection Power would still be a wonderful thing!  But the promise of God is abundant life, everlasting life, forever, beginning right now. 

As Peter proclaimed, “They put him to death—but God raised him on the third day—and we have LIFE in him!”

                               WE HAVE LIFE IN HIM!

Christ is Risen!

He is Risen, indeed!

Prayer: God, we want to know Christ, and the power of his resurrection.  There is brokenness in our lives, and you have promised new life, new purpose for us.  We are powerless to make it happen for ourselves—and so we throw ourselves on your mercy, trusting in your love.