April 21, 2019
Norwalk First United Methodist Church
Jesus, the Incarnate Word
I Believe in Jesus Christ!
I believe in Jesus Christ! Why? Because many secular, historian writers from 30 – 90 A.D., especially Josephus, wrote about a man who was crucified and came back to life. These historians could not have been in a conspiracy to fool the people.
I believe in Jesus Christ! Why? Because the Bible tells me about Jesus’ life, and the Bible is the inspired word of God. I believe in Jesus Christ! Why? Because over and over again archeology has proven the facts in the Bible to be true.
I believe in the Risen Christ! Why? Because hundreds of eyewitnesses saw Jesus, not only before his crucifixion, but after his resurrection. They can’t all be wrong about such an extraordinary event as the resurrection. You see, people would not have remembered Jesus at all if it were not for his resurrection. After all, how many people come back from the dead to show themselves before hundreds?
Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15 the following: 3 For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. 6 After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, 8 and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born. These people saw the resurrection story unfold before their very eyes and as of Paul’s writing, many of these witnesses were still alive.
Michael Green wrote the truth when he said, “Christianity does not hold the resurrection to be one among many tenets of belief. Without faith in the resurrection, there would be no Christianity at all. The Jesus Movement would have fizzled out like a damp firecracker, if [Jesus] had not conquered death.”
Martin Luther, the great church reformer once wrote that “the gospel does not explain the resurrection. The resurrection explains why we have the gospels.” And it is the gospel that Peter is proclaiming in our scripture lesson today. Peter never lets a chance pass him by to give a good message about the gospel of Jesus Christ. This message to Cornelius and his household was no exception.
In our scripture today, Peter talks about the message of the gospel, about the Messiah of the gospel, and about the ministers of the gospel. More about that in a moment, but first would you pray with me?
It is on this day, this beautiful Easter Day, that we proclaim the good news of the Risen Savior. If you are a believer then you should be shouting for joy, because it means an eternity for your spiritual life. You will have the blessing of being in the presence and of worshiping the almighty and powerful God forever.
Staying in the household of the Roman centurion Cornelius, the Apostle Peter has a voice and tells the good news of the gospel. I believe in Jesus Christ! I believe in the Risen Savior! It is the message of the gospel.
As our scripture opens, Peter has just come to a revolutionary realization through a vision he has on his way to Cornelius’ house that sweeps away the prejudice of generations of Jewish thought. Verse 34: I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts men [and women] from every nation who fear him and do what is right.
In his vision, God tells Peter that what he creates is good. Therefore, not only Jews, but all men and women, all Gentiles, all people like Cornelius and his household, can be saved through the price Jesus paid on the cross. God makes no distinction among nations or among people. All can be saved.
That phrase, God “accepts men and women from every nation who fear him and do what is right,” reminds us too, that God goes ahead of us to prepare the way for the Gospel. Like Cornelius, there is no doubt that untold numbers of people around the globe or even in this church and community are not far from knowing Christ as Lord and Savior.
These people love and fear God and sincerely do what is right in God’s eyes. But like Cornelius, they are lacking the final step on the way to God, which is the fullness of eternal life through Jesus Christ. They are near to the Kingdom; they just need to meet the King! They need to hear about Christ and come into a loving relationship with him.
God, through the work of the Holy Spirit, has been working on Cornelius’ heart to bring him to Christ even before Peter arrives. Even though Cornelius was a Gentile and a member of the military, the beginning of Chapter 10 tells us something revealing about Cornelius. He and all his family were devout and God-fearing; he gave generously to those in need and prayed to God regularly. Cornelius and his family were ready to hear Peter talk about the message of the gospel.
Verses 36-37: Peter says, you know the message God sent to the people of Israel, telling the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all. You know what has happened throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached…
Look what Peter says to Cornelius. “You know the message.” Peter assumes that Cornelius and his family already know something of the good news that Jesus preached. Jesus’ death and resurrection had only been a few years before.
Cornelius, who was living in Caesarea, only 65 miles from Jerusalem, had surely heard the stories of Jesus’ life and death. I’m sure he heard them from some of the soldiers present at the crucifixion during that fateful Passover week and that glorious resurrection Sunday.
As Peter continues his message, he talks about the Messiah of the gospel. Verses 38, 39 and 43: How God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him. They killed him by hanging him on a tree, but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen….All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.
Peter is pointing out that what Jesus did was by the Holy Spirit who empowered him to free people from satanic possession. Note the connection between the devil and sickness: Jesus went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil.
This is a short summary statement, and we cannot build a whole doctrine on it, but clearly Peter thinks that behind most disease and sicknesses is the devil. God is not the one who sends sickness! However, God will take all things and turn them around for good. Jesus came to heal and to make whole and to destroy the works of the devil. Jesus came to break Satan’s stronghold and power over us and give us renewed hope and a new life.
Now comes the most concise account of the gospel story in the New Testament. Peter knows it. He witnessed it. He tells about the Messiah of the Gospel. They killed Jesus. God raised him from the dead on the third day. God caused Jesus to be seen. And, whoever believes in Jesus will be forgiven and saved. This is about as crisp an account of the gospel story that anyone can give.
Folks, the gospel story isn’t hard to tell. Peter lays it out for you right here. Peter makes it quite plain that God is the one who sent Israel and the entire world this message of salvation by Jesus Christ.
The truth is this. Jesus is the anointed one of God. It was declared by God at his baptism. Jesus is the Messiah. He was sent by God and it is by him and only by him that you and I are saved from a spiritual death far from the presence of God. Remember John, Chapter 3: Whoever believes in [Jesus] shall not perish but have eternal life. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.
Each year, Easter brings up life-and-death concerns. Many people are skeptical about Jesus’ death and resurrection. But if we cannot believe in Jesus’ death and resurrection, then all of Christianity falls apart.
A Canadian scientist said, “I have only two questions to ask: One, has anyone ever defeated death? And two, did he make a way for me to do it also?” The answer to both questions comes in one statement from John 14:19: “Because I live, you shall live also.” You see, on Easter, we celebrate the Great Reversal, the triumph of life over death. Resurrection answers crucifixion. Life answers death.
Resurrection is “going on through death and beyond death to a new existence that death cannot touch.” When we place our trust in Jesus, we enter a new world in which death is defeated. As Christians we must live and die by this truth.
Peter talks about the message of the gospel. He talks about the Messiah of the gospel. And lastly, Peter talks about the ministers of the gospel. Verses 39-42: We are witnesses of everything [Jesus] did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen – by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead.
The first ministers of the gospel are not only the disciples but all those to whom Jesus appears. There is no conspiracy. For you see, all the apostles except John are executed for their faith. Their story about Jesus’ life and death and resurrection holds firm. It never changes. Not one of them ever said, “Wait, it is all a fraud, I’ll tell you the truth. Just don’t kill me.” It never happens.
These witnesses give their lives for the truth of the gospel. If you really look at the story, the only thing that changes a group of frightened and broken disciples into a world-defying and world-changing force is the actual resurrection of Jesus Christ. Nothing else could be strong enough to do it. It is their testimony that changes the world. It took them from hiding behind closed doors afraid of persecution to challenging the same authorities that crucified Jesus. They believed in Jesus Christ. Therefore, I believe in Jesus Christ!
Brothers and sisters in Christ, Jesus is the peace of God, the power of God, the presence of God, and the pardon of God. He will judge the living and the dead. Jesus was resurrected in time and space by the supernatural power of God. By conquering death, Jesus proved he was who he claimed to be.
A pastor was talking to a youth group about the high cost of dying. “People today waste thousands of dollars on coffins and monuments,” he said. “Jesus was so unconcerned by his death that he had to use a borrowed tomb.”
But leave it to one of our youth to get to the bottom line and put things in perspective. A teenager raised her hand and said, “But Jesus only needed it for three days.”
Jesus is the peace of God, the power of God, the presence of God, and the pardon of God. Like Cornelius, being born again by faith in the risen Christ means we stop trying to live our lives without God and begin placing our faith and trust in Jesus. As a Christian, our goal each day is to become more like Jesus in our attitude, in our behavior, and in our love for one another. As we grow in our relationship with Jesus, he will fill more and more of our lives! I believe in Jesus Christ! I pray that you do too!
Let us shout about the Risen Savior! Christ the Lord is Risen today! May we all be like Peter and spread the message of the gospel. May we all be like Peter and tell about the Messiah of the gospel. But most importantly, may we all be like Peter and be ministers of the gospel. Christ has risen! (People: He has risen indeed!)