Easter @ Grace | Dr. Chip Bennett
Dr. Chip Bennett
There's something that all of us have in common. We don't usually think about it that much, but we all have it. You know it. I know it. We all have a story. You've probably been asked, at some point, “Hey, what's your story?”
We've all got them. Everybody's got a story. Some of them are longer than others. Some of them are even better than others. We find people in life that we like their story better than, maybe, we like somebody else's story. But your story may be where you grew up, it may be how you met your spouse, it may be how you were on a team or how you didn't get that job that you wanted. Some of us have stories that we're embarrassed to tell. Some of us have stories that are hilarious. We talk about something that we did on a Friday night that we would never want to do again, but somehow, when we sit around the table and tell everybody what we did, everybody's cracking up laughing.
So, we all know that we have stories, but we also know that there are not just individual stories, there are collective stories. Collective stories are stories where it’s about people and groups. It may be a team that you were on. Maybe you won a championship, maybe you were on a swim team, maybe you were in a singing group, or maybe you played golf. Whatever it may be. It could be other things, but you were a part of something. You did something, and everybody in that group — maybe you traveled somewhere, went on a trip, and that group all has that collective story.
But then there are larger stories. There are stories that are on national levels. When I say “July 4th,” most people who live in America, and consider themselves Americans, sort of know that story. Or the Declaration of Independence.
We all know that. But then there are collective stories that are much deeper than just a national identity. They shape who you are, as a person. They shape the very fabric of your being. They explain questions like, “Why are we here?” and, “What are we doing?” and, “What are we supposed to do?”
Those collective stories are deep and profound. But let me ask you a question because this is a great question to ask. What would it take for us to change our story? I grew up in Kentucky. What would it take for me to go, “Actually, you know what? I know I've been saying that for 52 years, but actually, that story is no longer true because I've had enough data that, all of a sudden, now I realize that wasn't the real story,” or how you met your wife or whatever. What would it take? It would take an incredible amount of data to change your story. In fact, we know that happens because there are people who were raised by a family, they think that is their mom and dad, and they've told that story for years and years. Then they come to find out that, actually, was not their biological mom and dad. They actually had another mom and dad. That data is enough for them to take a story that they knew, that they had told, and that they had shared, and change it.
Here's a great question. What would it take to change a thousand-year-plus generational collective story? A story about identity, a story about who you are, why you're here, and all the answers to life are in that story? Well, the answer to that question is why we do what we do this weekend. That story that was changed changed people. What it did is it made them brand new. My hope is that when we go back and look at that story, many of us will realize, “Hey, this story can also make me brand new.”
Well, to do that, we have to go back and study a particular group of people that had a particular story, and that would take us back to Israel. That would take us back to a long time ago. Israel had a story that was far more than just a collective story. It was a story about who they were, what they were to do, how they were to act, and why they were here. Their story, although I couldn't go through all of it, I can give you some of the really large weight points of that story. The people of Israel, they believed that their God was the creator of the world. That was their story. Whether people believed that or not, that was their story. They believed that their God, not somebody else's, God created the world, and their God was different. Their God was one. It wasn't like a polytheistic understanding that there were all these different gods. There was one God, and He created the world. He created the world beautiful, and it was good. But what had happened to this God who had created this world is the world had been fundamentally changed because of humanity's disobedience. They believed that there was this couple, Adam and Eve, and Adam and Eve represented, even though they were individuals, humanity. They had decided to not do it God's way. Because of their decision, everybody suffered. The world had changed. In Jewish thought, what one did affected the many, and what many did affected the one.
So, the world had changed. There had been violence brought into the world, ugliness brought into the world, sin brought into the world, and the world that we lived in was not the same. But they believed in their story. They believed that God had called them, as a special people, to be a nation that represented Him. They believed that God had spoken, in Genesis 12, to a man named Abram, and had called him to start this nation that was going to be a mirror reflection of God to all the other nations. As they would talk about their God, as they would talk about Yahweh, maybe other nations would listen. And maybe, just maybe, as the other nation's listened, maybe things could start to be put back to right.
But unfortunately, Israel had the same problem as the original couple, which was disobedience. They found themselves not doing what God had told them to do. In fact, they found themselves, many times, doing the exact opposite of what God had called them to do, and it put them in really tough situations. Precarious situations. In fact, the Babylonians had come in and conquered them. Not just conquered them, but they destroyed their temple, their place of worship, the place where sacrifices were made, the place where God dwelt.
“What's going on? Well, it’s because we've disobeyed.”
They went 70 years in exile, then they came back. Even though the temple had been rebuilt, they were still under Roman oppression. They knew they had disobeyed, but they knew something. They knew that God, because of His covenant loyalty and righteousness, would one day redeem all things. They knew that God was a good God, and He was going to redeem everything. And what they knew is that God would use their nation to redeem the world. You can read about that in Ezekiel, you can read about that in Isaiah, you can read about that in Joel, and you can read about that in Amos. That's what they believe. They believed that, one day, God was going to set Israel back up, the nations would come to Israel, they would learn the ways of the Lord, and the Gospel, the good news, the law, and all of this would go out into all the world, and the nations would take their instruments of war and beat them into instruments of peace. You can read that and Isaiah 2. That’s what they believed.
So, it brings us to right around the first century. In the first century, there was this sense that maybe, just maybe, God is about to start to bring this thing back together. There was a buzz in the first century. There was this electricity in the air because the scholars, the scribes, and the people who had studied the Scripture, they knew that God was going to send a Messiah or, the way we would refer to it, a Savior, or a leader who was going to, one day, come and liberate God's people, and all those passages in Ezekiel, all those passages in Isaiah, and all those passages in Joel and Amos were going to come to fruition.
You don't need the Bible, you don't need the New Testament, and you don't need any of this to know this is what was going on because this is just sort of the history of Israel's collective story. So, they were looking for this person. In fact, they had ideas of what they thought this person would be like. He was probably going to be a leader, probably a military leader, and he was going to get a group of people together, maybe they would put some swords together, some shields together, and some spears together, and one day, they would go, they would overthrow Rome, and then Israel would be set up as the people of God in the way that they saw it, and then all of this would go into the world. They had this incredible vision that that was the case. So, in the first century, if anybody came along who was charismatic or had something going on, people started going, “Maybe they're the one.”
In fact, we meet a man named John the Baptist. John the Baptist is out baptizing people in the Jordan, and the religious leaders come out to the Jordan and ask John the Baptist, “Hey, are you this guy?”
You don't need the New Testament to know that these things were going on because we can see, historically, that these things were going on. But they came out to John the Baptist, and they said, “Hey, I’ve got to ask you a question. Are you this person?”
He says, “No, I'm not. I'm not this person, but this person is coming, and they're coming very soon.”
Of course, this man named Jesus comes down into the Jordan, John baptizes Him, and John goes, “This is the one.”
Except that Jesus, when He came up out of the Jordan, didn't go and act like this person. He didn't fit the story because He would get up and say things like, “Hey, when the Roman officials ask you, legally, what they can do, which is to carry their stuff for a mile, go ahead and carry it another one.”
They’re like, “Jesus, time out, man. You’re supposed to be this guy. That's not the way the story works. You're supposed to be not doing that.”
In fact, Jesus would say, “Hey, if somebody wants your cloak, go ahead and give them your shirt.”
They’re like, “Jesus, that’s not going to work in the story here.”
“In fact, if somebody slaps you, give them the other cheek.”
Jesus is not quite fitting the story. Then John gets arrested by Herod and ends up at Machaerus, one of Herod’s fortresses, and John's going, “If Jesus doesn't quite understand what He’s supposed to be doing here, if He doesn't flick the switch here, in a minute, and get on the program, I'm going to die. I mean, He needs to start doing some liberation pretty quickly.”
So, we're told that John sent his disciples to go find Jesus, the man that he had just said was going to be this guy. He sends his disciples to ask Jesus the question, “Hey, are you the one who's to come, or do we need to look for another? Because, Jesus, You don't quite fit the story.”
Well, Jesus didn't fit the story for the Jewish people either because they didn't know what to do with Him. Everybody was sort of following Him, but He wasn't doing what a Messiah should do. In fact, He had this incredible moment where, all of a sudden, four days late, he shows up to a tomb. He says, “Hey, what I want you to do is I want you to remove the stone.”
Everybody's like, “Yeah, that's not a really good idea, removing that stone, because this guy's been in there for four days, and it's going to smell really, really bad when we roll that stone away.”
They roll the stone away, and Jesus says, “Come out,” and, all of a sudden, Lazarus comes out, risen. Everybody's freaking out. Nobody knows what to do. This guy's obviously doing things that nobody's ever seen, but He doesn't fit the story. In fact, the Jewish people, after He raises Lazarus, get together, and we're told that they said, “If we let Him go on this, everyone's going to believe in Him. Everybody. There’s going to be a problem because the Romans will come and take away both our place, our temple, and our nation.”
Jesus doesn't fit the story. He doesn't fit the story. In fact, the Jewish people realize He’s not on Rome's radar because He’s not getting a group of people together and getting swords, spears, and shields. He's going out, telling everybody, “Love everybody, walk the extra mile,” and the Romans are like, “This guy, He doesn’t fit the story,” the Jewish people know He doesn't fit the story, John the Baptist knew He didn't fit the story, but everybody's following Him. Everybody's sort of going, “This guy's got something going on. What's going on?”
And the Jewish people knew, the disciples knew, the Romans knew, and everybody knew one thing about somebody who everybody was questioning whether or not they were the Messiah. The Jews knew this very well, and they acted on it. They knew that a dead Messiah was a failed Messiah. They knew that once the person was dead, nobody thought that person was the Messiah because the Messiah, if, in fact He fits the story, doesn't die.
So, they knew what needed to be done. They had to make sure Jesus was taken out. In fact, everybody knew that, in the New Testament, you don't need the New Testament to know these things are true. A dead Messiah was a failed messiah. In fact, people went to Jerusalem during the Passover, and they were thinking, “Okay, He doesn't fit the story, He's not doing everything the way we thought He would do it, but maybe, just maybe, He's going to flip that switch and, all of a sudden, He’s going to step into the story and make the story look good.”
All of a sudden, He comes riding into Jerusalem on a donkey, and they're like, “Yeah.”
All the people were loving Him, but they're like, “Yeah, it's just not…”
And the disciples were like, “Yeah, I don't know what's going on, but Jesus, when You flip the switch, can we be on Your right? Can we be on Your left? Because we believe that You’re this dude. You’re not really looking like this dude, but we believe, at some point, You’re going to step out and You're going to take on this.”
People showed up, they were there, thinking that Jesus was maybe going to flip that switch, but He died. When He died, everything stopped. In the first century, when they believed that maybe somebody was going to be the Messiah, when they died, they didn't go, “Hey, you know, He was sort of a good man. Maybe we get the band back together, sing some songs, and maybe write some stuff out.”
Nobody did that. In fact, we know that — we wouldn't need the New Testament to tell us this, but we know it to be true. We know that people left Jerusalem after Jesus had died, and they were disappointed because they thought — in fact, Luke tells us a very believable story here.
I mean, we absolutely know that this is true. These disciples had left Jerusalem, believing that maybe Jesus was going to flip that switch, and said, “We had hoped that He was the one to redeem Israel,” because a dead Messiah was a failed Messiah. There would be no reason within the first century Jewish culture for anyone to follow a dead Messiah. They all knew that Jesus had died, and it was time to move on. It was time to rethink, “How did we get caught up in this? How did this work?”
But what we know is that something must have happened because some things started changing. All of a sudden, we go to these guys, the disciples — and we wouldn't need the New Testament to tell us this. We know this. We know that anybody who followed a would-be Messiah that died, the first thing they wanted to do is get out of town. They didn't want anybody to see them because they'd been following this person, and they knew if somebody pointed them out, maybe they would die, too. So, we're told that when it was evening on that first day of the week, the disciples were gathered together with the doors locked because they feared the Jews. You don't need that to know that that's what the disciples were doing because the person that they had followed and put their dreams and hopes in that He was going to redeem Israel, had died. But something happened. Something happened because these guys that were trying to figure out, “How do we get out of here, get back to our life, and not get seen so that we can just sort of fit back into what we used to do — be fishermen, and all the things that we used to do?”
Something happened because just a few days later, not that long, all of a sudden, they're preaching Jesus. They’re not just preaching Jesus, but they’re willing to go to jail for Jesus. They’re not just willing to go to jail for Jesus, but they’re willing to get beaten for Jesus. In fact, they're willing to lay down their lives for Jesus. What happened? What happened? In fact, they start writing treatises, saying, “Hey, the Old Testament, we thought it was about Israel, but yeah, actually, it was about Jesus. He fulfilled this, He fulfilled this, and He fulfilled...”
How in the world did they change the story? What happened? Something really big must have happened because this is a generational story, and now they're saying the generational story has changed, and their like, “What is going on?”
Well, the Jewish leaders, same thing. The Jewish leaders, they knew Jesus didn't fit the story. He didn't fit the story at all. In fact, Matthew tells us that the chief priests and the elders of the people gathered in the palace of the high priest, whose name was Caiaphas, and plotted together in order to arrest Jesus by stealth and kill Him.
They knew He didn't fit the story, and they didn't need Him going around doing what He did, with people sort of galvanizing around Him, because it wasn't going to fit the story. But something happened, and we don't need the New Testament to tell us this. We know that it happened because we just know that it happened because of first century history. But Luke tells us what we already know to be true, that something happened, because we're told that a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith. Like, what happened? What went on that these people, all of a sudden, started to believe in Jesus, the One who didn't fit the story?
In fact, in Acts 15, it says, “But some believers who belong to the party of the Pharisees…”
These people, who had said He doesn't fit the story, all of a sudden, believed He fit the story, that He, in fact, Himself was the story. In fact, we know this, too: A guy named Saul, Saul of Tarsus, a Pharisee of Pharisees, maybe even a member of the Sanhedrin, because he cast lots at Stephen’s death — this guy, he knew the story, he knew what Israel was all about, and he said, “Man, this story needs to be stopped because the guy died, and Messiahs don't die. He was hung on a tree. In the Old Testament, you're cursed if you hang on a tree. He can't be the guy.”
In fact, we're told — and we know this to be true — that Saul was ravaging the church and, entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison. But something happened. Something happened to this guy because, later on, he's writing a letter to a church in the area of Galatia, and he says, “You’ve heard of my former life. I've been changed. I'm no longer that guy anymore. How I persecuted the Church of God violently, and I tried to destroy it, but I'm different now.”
What Paul would've told you if you could have talked with him, what the Jewish leaders who converted to Christianity would've told you, what the disciples, every single one of them, would've told you, is this. They would've said, “The story has changed, and the changed story has changed me.”
That's what they would've told you. They would've said, “The story has changed. The story’s no longer what we thought it was.”
The data is overwhelming. What happened? What went on? What would have to happen for all these people, and so many more, to change the story — a multi-generational story? Something massive must have happened. There must have been something incredible that happened. Well, Paul brings us into what happened. Just about 20 years after Jesus' death, he writes a letter to a church that nobody — nobody — thinks wasn't written by him. Not even people that don't believe in Jesus, not even people that don't believe in the Bible, and not even people that don't believe in anything. They all know that Paul wrote 1 Corinthians, and they all know that it was written around the early fifties. Here’s what he says because he lets us in on how the story has changed, and what happened to change the story.
He says, “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures,”
“Paul, hold on. Time out, man. Time out. You're saying that the Old Testament…” — because the New Testament's not even written at this point. There's nothing about the New Testament, at this point.
“Paul, hold on. You're saying that the whole Old Testament is about Christ dying for our sins?”
“Hold on. You can't change the story like that. The story doesn't change.”
“No, actually, the whole Old Testament, the Scriptures, tell us about Christ dying for our sins.”
“That's a big change in the story, Paul. That's a big change in the story.”
He says, “…that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures,”
“Hold on, Paul. Hold on. The whole Old Testament's about Israel, our story, and how…”
No, no. Actually, the whole Old Testament is about Jesus. He’s the suffering servant of Isaiah 53. He’s the one that it’s talking about.”
“Well, Paul, what happened, man? What happened that you changed the story so much?”
Well, the answer is He appeared, because the data of somebody that was dead, nobody ever gets up. This guy got up from the grave, and that data was enough for us to say, “Time out. The story's got to change because if somebody's walking around who was dead, we need to take a moment and pay attention.”
He appeared to Cephas. He showed up. Many of you know. You've been there. You've been to funerals. I’ve been to plenty of them. I've done plenty of them. They don't usually get out of the casket. They stay there. You know they stay there, and I know they stay there. He says, “Oh, no, no, no. You don't understand. He died, but He appeared to Peter, the one who denied Him, the one who cussed, the one who did all these things. He appeared.”
Every morning that the apostle Peter would wake up, he would hear some rooster crow somewhere, and he would be reminded that the one who had denied Jesus, the one who had cussed about Jesus, the one who had totally turned his back on Him had been made brand new, and now he was an apostle, and he was doing the things that God had called him to do.
Paul says, “Do you want to know what changed? He appeared.”
“…then [He appeared] to the twelve.”
Not only that, “Then he appeared to more than five hundred people…”
“I can give you the names and addresses. Some of them have died, but most of them are still alive. You can go talk to them.”
He's writing to this church.
“Then he appeared to James,”
What would it take for your own brother to say, “You know what? I'm going to reinterpret the whole Old Testament based around you because I believe that you are the Son of God.”
What would that take? Because James was the brother of Jesus. After Mary had virginally conceived Jesus, Joseph and Mary had other children, and James was Jesus' brother. What would have to happen for James to go, “Yeah, do You know what? You're the Son of God. In fact, I'm going to worship You.”
Well, Paul says, “You know, when a dead man shows up, the data changes.”
“…then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.”
In fact, he says to the Corinthian church the very thing that everything is based on, it's why the story changed. He says, “Here’s the deal: If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain, and your faith is in vain.”
What happened? What changed the story? What changed the story is what everybody knows who really pays attention to the first century. I'm going to give you a quote from a secular scholar who does not believe in Christianity, who does not believe that the Bible is correct, and who doesn't believe that Jesus is anything that He says He was. Here’s what he says. I want you to hear this. This is Bart Ehrman.
He says, “What is certain…” — not just conjecture, but what is certain — “…is that the earliest followers of Jesus believed that Jesus had come back to life, in the body, and that this was a body that had real bodily characteristics. It could be seen, touched, and it had a voice that could be heard.”
This is somebody who doesn't believe, saying, “It is what it is,” because this is what is true. The resurrection best explains the empty tomb, because this is what we know: No body was found by nobody. Period. They never found it. In fact, the resurrection best explains why the disciples went from fleeing to martyrs. Not only that, but the resurrection best explains why many Jewish leaders converted themselves to Christianity. The resurrection best explains why there's never been a venerated burial site. In fact, the most likely explanation for why Christianity even exists is because early followers of Jesus saw a dead man walking, and that changed everything. In fact, it changed everything so much that people started realizing, “Man, if this guy raised from the dead, that means He died for my sins. That means I can have everlasting life.”
People started coming, and the people that were coming were the people who needed to be made brand new. In fact, Celsus, who writes a little bit — about 100 years, maybe 120 years — after Paul has written the epistle to the Corinthians, here's what he says about Christians. He hates Christians. He doesn't want to have anything to do with Christians, but here's what he says about Christians.
He says, “But the call to membership in the cult of Christ is this: Whoever is a sinner, whoever is unwise, whoever is childish — in fact, whoever is a wretch — his is the kingdom of God.”
“These people are crazy.”
“So, they invite into membership those who, by their own account, are sinners, the dishonest, the thieves, the burglars, the poisoners, the blasphemers of all descriptions, the grave robbers. I mean, what other cult actually invites robbers to become members?”
Because what they realized is that the story changed people's lives. It changed prostitutes and made them holy women of God. It took salty fishermen and made them great preachers for the kingdom of God. It took robbers who were stealing with their hands and made their hands useful to do good deeds for the kingdom of God, and their lives were changed.
Here’s what I want you to hear because this is why you're here. Maybe Jesus can change our story, too. In fact, let me make it very personal. Maybe Jesus can change your story. Maybe you're here not by accident. Maybe you didn't just roll in here. Maybe you needed to hear the good news. Maybe you needed to hear what Paul said, that Jesus came, He died on a cross, and He hung there for you and for me. He loved you so much that He died on the cross to forgive us of our sins, and He rose again on the third day to let us know that this world is not all that there is. There will be something after this life, and we can participate in that. Jesus can change your story. Maybe you're here because that's what God wants to do. Maybe you're weary, maybe you're hurting, maybe you question, maybe you used to think about God, but you don't anymore, maybe you used to go to church, but you don't go anymore, or maybe you're here because you're just like, “I just need to know what's going on.”
Let me tell you something. The Gospel message is free to all. This is what you need to hear because this is what Jesus said: “I'm the way, the truth, and the life, and no one comes to the Father except through me.”
Maybe this is your moment to say, “Do you know what? I do want a brand-new life.”
The reason we celebrate what we do is because we believe the best explanation for this is because Jesus rose from the dead. If He rose from the dead, that means that you and I can have newness of life. Maybe that is why you are here, right now. What I want to do is I want to honor and respect everybody. Would you bow your heads for a moment, and just shut your eyes? I want to respect everybody. Please. I know the temptation to look around or not do what I'm asking you do is very real, but I want to do this to honor people. Maybe you're here, right now and, through this whole message, you're like, “Man, I know I need something different.”
Maybe this is why you're here. Maybe you're hearing the Gospel and it's resonating.
“Man, could Jesus love me? Could He love?”
Yes, He could. He died for you. He loves you that much. Maybe, right now, you're going, “Man, do you know what? I really do. I want to be made brand new. I want to walk in newness of life. I want to be a part of what you're talking about, Chip. I really do. This is really good. I need this.”
Well, I want to give you an opportunity. If you would like to settle eternity, if you would like to know that eternity is settled, if you would like to know that you can be made brand new — if that's you, I'm not going to embarrass you, I'm not going to do anything else other than this, and nobody's looking around. If you're saying, “Hey, do you know what? I want to settle that, right now. I want to step forward. I want to make that mine. I want to experience that newness of life. I want to know that I've settled eternity.”
If that's you, would you just put your hand up in the air for just a second. Just put your hand up. Amen. There are hands. Amen. Great, great, great. Yes. You don't have to hold it up for long. I see it. I see it. That's between you and God. So, here’s what I want you to do. At your seat, right here — or maybe online. Maybe you raised your hand, too. I want you to just say, in your own way, “Jesus, I've heard this story, and this story changes lives. Jesus, I want You to change my life because what I believe, right now, is that You died on the cross for my sins, and You rose again on the third day so that I could have eternal life. I'm putting everything on that. I believe that. Forgive me of my sins. Forgive me of my trespasses. Make me new because I want to follow You, and I want to be made brand new.”
If you prayed that prayer, we have a tent outside that says “Care Team.” We have a nice little bit of information for you to talk to you about what you've done, and to help you understand a little bit more of what has gone on in your life. We want you to have that. If you raised your hand, please get that material from the Care Tent outside because we want you to have it. Right now, I'm going to pray, the band's going to come, and we’re going to sing a final song. I'm telling you, it's going to be incredible. I want you to rejoice. Those of you all who raised your hands, rejoice at what you're singing. For those of us who are believers, rejoice because it's Easter and He has risen.