March 27, 2016 - EASTER

                  If we are honest, we will all admit that we have thought about the many 'what ifs' in our life.  What if I had been born in a different country, or a different era?  What if I was raised by different parents, or had different (or no) siblings?  What if I had gone to a different school or college?  What if I had married somebody else, or never gotten married, or chose to get married if I never did?  What if I had had more children, less children, or no children?  What if I had chosed a different career?  And I am sure you can think of many, many more that apply to your personally.  But there is a specific 'what if' that I would like for you to think about this morning.

            What if Jesus had never risen from the dead on that first Easter morning?  This is exactly what Paul was trying to convey to the church in Corinth in our epistle reading (1 Corinthians 15:1-26).  So what if?  What if He had done everything else that He had come to do...  He came down from heaven to be born of a virgin in human flesh, lived a perfect, sinless life completely obedient to the Father's will, called and taught His disciples, healed those who came to Him for healing, and performed other miracles as well to authenticate His divinity, and fulfilled every prophecy ever written about Him in the previous 4000 years - and then even willingly went to the cross to suffer and die...  but remained in the grave to this day?

            If that were the case, Christianity would offer nothing more than every other world religion.  We would have a nice set of moral laws.  We would have churches to meet in to worship a higher power, and in which we could get together with other like-minded folks to work on programs to help the less fortunate.  Jesus would have set us nice example for us to live by, and be hailed as a miracle worker and prophet.  Wait - doesn't that sound a lot like how many people already view Christianity? 

            All these things are nice, but they are not what makes our faith the only one that offers assurance of an eternity in heaven.  Following moral laws is admirable, but no one is good enough to earn heaven on their own (Romans 3:10, 23).  Worshipping God in a church is nice, (and of course, I am going to encourage it!) but going to church does get you an entry pass into heaven (Matthew 15:9).  Helping the less fortunate is also something God wants us to do, but again, it won't get you to heaven (James 2:15-17).   And as much as no one seems to want to say it out loud any more, if you aren't destined for heaven when you leave this earth, there is only one other option, and that is hell.  And hell is not a 24/7 party like some people try to imagine it.  It is a place where you are totally alone, separated from God and all that is good, in complete darkness, suffering unbearable physical and mental anguish for all of eternity.  Just you and your sins, together forever.   But God did not want that to be your destiny. 

            And so on this Easter morning, we celebrate the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, who not only died for us, but rose again from the dead.  For it is His death that paid the price for our sins, which we could never pay ourselves, but it is His resurrection from the dead that opened the doors to heaven for us.  For if He could not defeat death, then neither could we.  But as we heard in our epistle reading, He is the firstfruits of them that sleep, and because He lives eternally, now we can as well.   When he died, He freed the spirits of those that had died before Him, believing in His coming, and waiting to enter heaven; and from the time of His resurrection on, anyone who died believing in Him for their salvation, immediately entered into the presence of the Lord.   This is why He said to Martha in John 11:26, "I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?"

            So this morning my question to you is the same one that Jesus asked Martha.  Do you believe this?  Do you believe that Jesus died for you?  Do you believe that He rose from the dead to open the gates of heaven for you?  Have you asked Him to be your Savior?  Do you honor Him as the Lord of your life?  If you died today, would you know without a doubt that you would go to heaven?  You can have this assurance, and I can't think of anything in this life that is more important than that.  And it is all ˜because He lives!'  Amen.

The Children's Message:

Everyone gets an egg out of the bucket.  "Now open them"  I say.  "They are empty" the children respond.  

"Does that make you sad?  That is how Mary felt when she went to the tomb and Jesus wasn't in it.  But when she turned around there He was, alive!  And then she was very happy.  Now you all turn around and look in that pew."

And there they found buckets for each of them with eggs filled with candy.