(The following is a transcript of Bill Hybels' Easter message. The video is also available to you.)
Hey, everybody knows that the two holiest days in the Christian calendar would be Christmas and then Easter. But do any of you have a theory as to why the whole world makes a much bigger deal over Christmas than Easter? Globally, far more countries and cultures celebrate Christmas than Easter. In the US, the Christmas holiday starts firing up the day after Thanksgiving and does an almost month-long build until Christmas day. During that time, there’s endless parties, house decorations, tree-lighting ceremonies, gift exchanges, caroling, eggnog, ugly sweaters… we throw the kitchen sink at Christmas every single year.
Now, compare that to Easter. For starters, no one even knows what month Easter’s gonna be in. And they don’t know if it’s gonna mess with Spring Break, which is almost as holy as the holiday is. And for Easter, we boil a dozen eggs for the kids to paint and lose in the backyard. You might get a new outfit, who knows. We make an appearance at a church for an hour and have a little Easter dinner. But, usually, by three o’clock in the afternoon, Easter is in our rearview mirror for another twelve months.
Why the huge disparity? Between how we treat Christmas compared to Easter?
One day, the greatest theologian in the entire world, the Apostle Paul, senses that one of the first-century churches is starting to devalue the significance of the resurrection of Christ. So he sort of grabs this congregation by its collective lapels and says, “You give me ten minutes of your undivided attention, and I will make it impossible for you to ever disrespect Easter again.”
Now, this ten-minute riff is recorded in the Bible in 1 Corinthians chapter 15. I’m gonna read this section right out of my Bible. You can follow along on the screen. Paul says, hey, “If Christ has not been raised from the dead, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have told other people that God raised Jesus from the dead. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sin. And those who have died in Christ are all lost. And we are to be pitied more than the entire human race.”
Some of you have read this passage before, and you kinda get what Paul is saying. But, with your permission, I’d like to paraphrase that passage a little bit to make sure we can all wrap our heads around it this Easter.
Remember now, Paul is doing this riff because this church is basically saying, under their collective breath, “Easter is no big deal. Some people think it is. We don’t think it’s a big deal.” And the Apostle Paul begs to differ. I love how he seeks to change their minds on this. He sides with them early in the argument. He says, “I know you don’t think Easter’s a big deal. So let’s just play that out and see if there are any implications that would occur if Christ did not rise from the dead.” So he says, “Here we go.” He says, “If Christ has not been raised from the dead, you need to understand, first, that every church service ever held anywhere in the world, all throughout history, was held in vain. Every worship song sung, every prayer prayed, every sermon preached—all for naught. Every last bit of it. Waste of everybody’s time.
Second, if Christ has not been raised from the dead, our entire Christian faith is a fabrication, and it falls to the floor like a house of cards. Third,” Paul says, “If Christ has not been raised, we have been spreading outright lies to our family and friends every time we try to share our faith with them.” He says, “We’re false witnesses. We’re snake-oil salespeople when we’ve been trying to encourage others to consider Christianity.”
“Fourth,” he says, “If Christ has not been raised, we’re still in our sin. We may think that our pile of wrongdoing has been forgiven. We may try to convince ourselves that we’ve been washed and cleansed from our wrongdoing. But if Christ has not been raised, every sin we have ever committed, in thought, word, and deed, that is still on our moral record, and it’s something we’re gonna have to pay for ourselves when we stand before a Holy God someday.”
“Fifth,” he says, and how about this: “If God has not been raised, all your loved ones who have died, who you thought have gone to a better place in the next reality? Well, they haven’t. Who knows where they are and what shape they’re in. But if Christ has not been raised, nobody’s in a place called Heaven. Not your loved ones. And you’re not going there either. Nobody is.”
And then, to just pound one final nail into the coffin of his argument, Paul says, “Sixth,” he goes, “Hey, think about it.” And he writes this during the day when Christ followers are being viciously persecuted by the Roman Empire. He says, “Hey, we all know people who are paying a huge price for following Christ these days. We all know people who have been beaten and imprisoned for their faith. Many of us know people who are sawed in half or fed to lions in the Roman Colosseum.”
I was just in Rome doing a Global Leadership Summit a few months back, and I saw the Colosseum again. This is fresh to me. He goes, “We know people who are fed to lions in the Colosseum for their faith. And if Christ did not rise, if He’s still in the grave outside of Jerusalem, and if this whole thing has been a hoax, a twisted trick from the mind of a twisted person, and if we all drank the Kool-Aid.” He goes, “What fools. We are just abject idiots. And we should be put in padded cells. We’re crazy people.”
Paul wanted that congregation, and this congregation, to come to terms with the fact the entire Christian faith hinges not just on the birth of Christ or the incredible atoning death of Christ. The whole Christian faith, in actuality, hinges on the resurrection of Christ. It is a big deal, Paul is saying. Don’t ever disrespect the resurrection of Christ, cause our whole faith hangs on it. He says, “No other religious leader in human history has ever been able to conquer the grave. Ours is a special faith with a special central figure of it who did conquer the grave.”
He would argue that all other religious leaders lie in tombs with “Occupied” signs pasted to their doors. The resurrection of Christ is the differentiating factor that sets Christianity apart from every other religion in the world. Always has. Always will. “So,” Paul says, “Please, please. Respect the resurrection of Christ. It has sweeping implications for all of humanity.”
Now, before I go on. Through my travels, I’ve had the fortunate opportunity to visit the graves of dozens of world-famous leaders and lots of world-famous religious leaders. And what strikes me every time I stand in front of the tomb of a high-impact person is that, no matter how much influence they wielded during their life, they all wind up in a six-foot box, six feet under. On each tomb, every one I’ve ever been to, of some famous person or famous religious leader, there’s a birthday, and then there’s a dash. You know what the dash means. That represents the time they lived, the influence of their life. And then there’s a death date. And that’s it. And that’s the same for every tomb of every famous leader.
The first time that I visited the garden tomb, right outside the city limits of Jerusalem, the place where Jesus was supposedly laid for the three days that He was in the tomb. First time I was actually there, I was unprepared for the spiritual and emotional impact that would happen to me when I looked into the tomb and saw with my own eyes that it’s empty. Now, because I’m a pastor, I do lots of funerals. And I watch caskets go into the ground, and the dirt goes over the top, and I’m pretty sure, when I walk away, that person’s staying there. Never had an exception. And I stood at the garden tomb, and I looked inside an empty tomb. And it was powerful. I realized, this actually happened in history.
Yesterday, my five-year-old grandson, Mac, was real eager to tell me a story that his preschool teacher had told him. And he had eight little eggs in this miniature egg carton. They were plastic eggs. And they all had something in them that would help him understand the story of Good Friday and Easter. So, he’s like, you know, the whole time I’m with him, he’s like, “Papa, I wanna tell you the story. I got my eggs,” and all this. I didn’t know what story it was gonna be. I thought some Easter Bunny nonsense. So I wasn’t too fired up. But, finally, I said, “Okay, whatever, buddy.”
So we sit down at the table, and he goes, “I’m gonna tell you the story of Good Friday and Easter.”
I go, “Oh, wow. Okay. I’m ready.”
So he opens it up, and he opens up this first plastic egg, and there’s a little piece of bread in it. And he goes, “Jesus was at a supper, and He said, ‘This is my body, which is broken for you.’”
I’m like, “Five-year-old.” I said, “Good, yeah. I know that story, dude.” It’s cool, you know. Then he opens a second one, and it’s a little plastic ring, and it represented the crown of thorns. He said, “Papa, they put a crown of thorns on Jesus’ head, and they pushed it into His head, and it hurt him.” Then he opens a couple more that have little things in them—very cool.
And then he gets to the one, he opens it up, and there’s a nail in it. And he takes the nail out, and he goes, “Now, they nailed Jesus’ hands and feet to a cross.” And then he pokes me, and he goes, “Now, Papa, they were much, much bigger nails. But, you see, they couldn’t put the bigger ones in cause it had to fit in this egg, do you understand?”
“If you slow down, I can stay with you. But I’m trying.”
Then he moves on, and he says, “Now, after Jesus died...” then he opens the second-to-the-last egg. He opens it up, and there’s a little piece of white fabric. He said, “They wrapped Jesus in a cloth. And then they put Him in a tomb.”
I said, just test him, I said, “What’s a tomb?”
And he said, “It’s where they put dead people.”
I said, “Alright.”
And then he grabs the last egg. And he’s got a sparkle in his eye. And he goes, “This last one represents the tomb where they put Jesus.”
And I said, “Okay.”
And he said, “You know what’s in it, Papa?” And I feel like I’m getting set up, you know? “You know what’s in it?” He goes, opens it up: “There’s nothing in it because the tomb is empty!”
I couldn’t, I didn’t have the heart to tell him I knew the end of the story. I’m like, “Wow! Holy cow, this is new information, you know, thanks!”
When I was standing at the garden tomb the first time I was there, outside Jerusalem, I thought, if there was a properly engraved deal on that tomb, it would have to read, “birthdate of Jesus, such and such, dash, thirty-three years,” absolutely extraordinary life. And then there would be a death date because they crucified Him. And then, just below that, there would be, three days later, a resurrection date, and then there’d be another dash that would extend all through eternity because that’s actually what happened to our risen Savior. No one other, no one else like that.
Now, back to 1 Corinthians 15. After Paul finishes that section of all the terrible implications if Jesus did not rise from the dead, 1 Corinthians 15:20 says, triumphantly, “But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead,” Paul says. And in that same chapter, rapid fire, he cites six quick proofs of Jesus’ resurrection. I’ll go through these very rapidly.
First, he says, “He appeared in risen form to Simon Peter. Then He appeared to all twelve disciples at once. Then He appeared to a crowd of five hundred people at the same time.” And then Paul adds, “Most of these people are still alive who saw the risen Christ.” As if to say to them, “If you doubt this, go interview 250 of those people who saw Him. I dare you. They’re all gonna tell the same story—they saw the resurrected Christ.”
And then he says, “He appeared to James. And then He appeared to all the apostles, a group of seventy high-capacity leaders. And then,” Paul adds, with great humility and awe, he goes, “The resurrected Christ, if you can believe this,” he says, “He appeared to me. I saw Him. I saw Him with my own eyes.” Paul says, “I believe in the resurrection of Christ to my toes, and I will proclaim it till the day I die.” And if you know anything about history, Paul did boldly proclaim the resurrection of Christ to the point where they killed him. He was martyred because he kept talking about the resurrection of Christ.
I think the Apostle Paul had a better grasp of the significance of the resurrection of Christ than anyone in history. And just studying this passage has increased my sense of awe and wonder at the miracle of the resurrection of Christ. Now, with the time that remains in this message, I’m going to walk you through those six negative implications. And then turn them on their heads, because Christ has indeed been raised. And you’ll see the positive implications of that truth.
So, remember when Paul said that, if Christ did not rise from the dead, every part of every church service all over the world has been a ridiculous waste of time. But, because Christ did rise, His promise in Matthew 18:20 would come true when He said, “Whenever and wherever even two or three people gather in my name, I will join that gathering.” This is a miraculous concept in the Christian faith. No other faith has this concept in it.
After Jesus resurrected, He said, “Every time any group gathers in my name. Any church service. Any location. Any culture. Any language. Anywhere in the world,” He goes, “I’m gonna join that gathering with my supernatural, mystical, miraculous presence. And I’m gonna make myself available to everybody in the gathering. If they’re open to it, I will come near to them, and I will meet needs of all the people in the gathering.” Now, this is, again an incredible concept. And I’ve had this happen in worship gatherings. Some of you have.
I walked into a tiny, all-African-American church in another state one Sunday morning some years ago. I was burdened down with a concern in my life that was crushing the very life out of me. It was breaking my back. I had very low expectations when I went into that little church. I didn’t think I was gonna walk out of that church service any different than the way I had stumbled in, with all that weight on my shoulders. But I went anyway. I went anyway. Partway through that service, which was unremarkable in almost everything that had preceded it, an elderly woman shuffled her way up to this ancient church organ. And she started playing and singing this song from her soul: “It’s me, it’s me, it’s me, oh Lord, standing in the need of prayer.” Do you know that old spiritual song? “Not my brother, not my sister—it’s me, oh Lord, standing in the need of prayer.”
And the risen Christ visited my seat in that church. I was all alone. And I could feel His presence. And I thought, I don’t know how long this church service has been planned. They didn’t know I was coming. I don’t know if that woman has ever sung that song before. But the fact that I came to that service and that woman sang that song... which fit my need perfectly... it had such an impact on me, that I put my head down on the wooden back of the pew in front of me, and I said, “That’s me, God. I am standing in the need of prayer. I need Your help so desperately. And I feel Your presence right now in this tiny little church. And I thank You for Your presence.”
Now, again, cynics, you’re going to have a field day with what I’m gonna say next. Go ahead and have it. Before I walked out of that service. You know, fifteen minutes later, or something. The risen Christ had lifted that crushing burden from my shoulders. I walked out of that tiny wood-frame church totally different than the way I’d walked into it an hour prior to that. How do you explain that? It’s the promise of the risen Christ, who says, “Wherever the church gathers, anywhere in the world, I will bring my manifest presence and make myself available to every person in the gathering to meet their needs.”
So, cynics, I’ll give ya, I’ll throw ya another bone. I’ve had needs met in church gatherings in other parts of the world where the entire service was done in a language I didn’t understand. They were speaking a foreign language. I never knew what anyone was saying or singing. I could appreciate they were sincere. And I would make myself available for the activity of God in my life even though I didn’t understand the language. And I’ve had some incredible experiences with God in worship gatherings where I didn’t even understand what they were saying from the stage.
Christianity is the only religion in the world that promises this kind of thing—that, when you gather, the risen Christ will make Himself available to everyone in the gathering. Doubters. People who have committed terrible mistakes. Anyone and everyone—if you’re willing.
Now, I’m so confident that this is true. I’m gonna ask you to test God in this for the next thirty days. I’m gonna ask you, right now. Challenge you, right now. To make a commitment, wherever you’re seated, and this is between you and God. This isn’t a me thing. Take me out of the equation. This is between you and God.
Some of you need to have a need met. I mean, you’re as desperate as I was in that church that day. You need God to visit you. Okay? So I’m going to challenge you to go to church. It doesn’t have to be this church. Any church that’s close to your house that preaches God’s word. I’m gonna ask you to go to a church for the next four Sundays straight. Thirty days. Four Sundays, straight. I’m gonna ask you, whatever church you walk into, when you sit down, just say, “Hey, I would really like, if the risen Christ would make His presence known to me, I would really like, if this need that I feel so deeply in my life could be addressed by a power greater than my own.” And you see. You test God in this. And you see if anything happens. And you come back and tell me about it. I hang out after services around here. You tell me about. And I think there’s gonna be some miraculous conversations.
Now, let’s go on. When Paul said, “Hey, if Christ was not raised, our entire faith is a fabrication that falls to the floor like a house of cards.” But if Christ has indeed been raised, we have an extraordinary faith. We have a rock-solid, historically defensible faith that not only has withstood a two-thousand-year time trial but has mushroomed from a few dozen believers in Christ in the first century to 2.2 billion believers in Christ—the largest religion in the world.
About twenty years ago, I did a six-week study and a six-week series here at Willow about the rationality, the reasonableness of the Christian faith. And I preached, you know, that the Christian faith is extraordinary. And it’s coherent. It all hangs together. It’s comprehensive. It speaks to all the needs of the human experience. It’s radically inclusive. It’s anybody can come—anybody can join it, no matter what. And then it challenges its adherents to be radically loving people. Which is why you see the lawn signs all over the community here. Love everybody, always. What other religion challenges all of its adherents to loving beyond their own capacity to love and loving indiscriminately? Loving across religious boundaries? Loving across racial boundaries? Loving across all boundaries? There’s no other religion like this in the world. It’s extraordinary.
And after I did that six-week study, when people around and in my travels would ask me, “Hey, are you a Christ follower?”
I’d say, “As a matter of fact, I am.” And then, I would always add, and I still do this, to this day, I say, “And I’m really proud of the Christian faith. I just want you to know that. I’m really proud of the Christian faith. I don’t just give Christianity a head nod. You know, like hey, you know, something I probably have to do. Certainly, I’m not a Christian because I’m in the industry. I am... I think Christianity is the most extraordinary religion in the history of the world, and I am in awe of its central figure, Jesus Christ.”
No one ever taught like Jesus taught. Nobody. Nobody ever loved like He loved. Nobody. Never has anybody healed like He healed. No one ever spoke against corruption and injustice as fearlessly as He did. And then, on top of all of that, Jesus, willingly and self-sacrificially, shoulders the wrongdoing of humanity, takes it all on Himself, and dies an atoning death, for your sake and mine. And then, on top of all of that, He conquers the grave, proving the whole thing is true.
Gang, we have an extraordinary faith. I’m proud of it. There’s no other religion in the world like it. And I hope you’re proud of it, too. Especially on Easter Sunday.
Then, the Apostle Paul said, “If Christ has not been raised”—remember he said, “If we share our faith with family and friends, we’re liars—snake-oil sales people, right? He goes, “But wait a minute. If Christ did rise, proving that this whole faith thing is true, then every time you share this message with anybody, anywhere, winsomely and graciously, you are offering them the opportunity of a lifetime. And you’ve heard me say this a thousand times. I believe it to the core of my being: The greatest gift—hear me say it again—the greatest gift you can give another human being is an introduction to the God who loves them. Because if they receive that gift of the introduction to the God who loves them, it transforms them internally. It increases their capacity to love. It provides a guidance system for their life, a purpose for their everyday living. The promise of eternity, it’s the most radically transforming message in the world. And if you offer it as a gift to another human being, this introduction to a God who loves them, they are quite possibly going to thank you forever. Forever. It’s a big deal.
Next. Remember when Paul said, “If Christ has not been raised, we’re still in our sin.” This is serious business. I had a friend who started a small business with a sizable loan from a bank. And then he worked for twenty years to become debt free in that business. He worked his tail off. And I would meet with him from time to time, and he would say, “Hey, only seven more years, and I’m gonna have this business paid off.” And then, you know, “Only three more years...”
And I met with him when he only had thirty days left. He was like counting down the days. And then he learned, at the very end, that his accountant had been cooking the books all along. And when it went to court, he actually learned that he was still in as much debt twenty years later as he was the day he started his business. And he was homicidally angry. And inconsolable.
Now, Paul says, “Hey, if Christ did not rise from the dead, proving that He was God’s son, who could atone and cancel all your sin,” he goes, “Well, then, we still stand accountable for our pile of moral indebtedness.” And now, in my case, because my pile of sin is pretty high, this would be terrifying and almost paralyzing on a day-to-day basis. Now, maybe your pile of regret is not as big as mine—I’ve got a big pile. And if I had to carry that on my back every day and worry that I’m an unforgiven person who’s going to stand before a holy God someday, I would be incapacitated. But Paul says, “Hey, Christ did rise. And anybody who humbly asks for his atoning death to be applied to their pile of moral debt, they can have their entire past canceled out.”
And this is such a big deal for the long term. And it’s such a big deal in the short term because it frees you up of how you can live your daily life, that the Bible uses lots of different metaphors to help us live with the assurance of forgiveness. For instance, for sky gazers, Psalm 103:12 says, “As far as the East is from the West, so far has He removed our transgressions from us.” Every time you go out and look at the expanse of the sky, just do, “Note to self: My wrongdoing has been removed from me as far as the East is from the West.”
For nature lovers, Isaiah 1:18 says, “Though your sins be as scarlet they shall become as white as snow.” Every time you see a snow-capped mountain or we get a blizzard here in Chicago, you look out the window, instead of saying, “I gotta shovel.” Before you get worried about that, just go, “Hey, you know what? I used to have a very dark pile of sin in my life. And now, it’s as white as snow. My internal moral slate is as white as snow.”
For lovers of the ocean, Micah 7:19 says, “I will bury your sins in the depths of the sea.” And many of you know, I’m a water guy. I’ve had the opportunity to sail in many places around the world. And sometimes, when I’m in a new body of water, I’ll get a chart, and I’ll wanna know where—how deep is this body of water? And when I get over the deepest part of it, I just go, “Not to self: My sin”—and, again, I got a lot of it—“is buried in the deepest part of this sea, and it will never be raised to the surface again.” And I go, “Oh, I love my faith. I love Christianity. I’m in awe of Jesus Christ, that He would do that for me.”
And then there’s one other verse that I think Jesus just, or that God put in the Scriptures just to mess with like theologians and shrinks, and so. It says, in Hebrews 8:12, God speaking, “Their sins I will remember no more.” So smart people go, “Wait a minute, how does an omniscient brain forget something?”
And I think God says, “Ah, just deal with it.”
You know, lay awake at night and think about it, cause it’s true anyway.
The good news this Easter is that, because Christ is risen, we can live every single day with the rock-solid assurance that our debts have been paid in full. It’s an extraordinary way to live. We have an extraordinary faith.
Better yet, remember when Paul said, “Hey, if Christ has not been raised, all bets are off, where our loved ones who have died before us, I mean, we don’t know where they are!” He goes, “They could be in an abyss. Maybe their candles went out and they’re extinct.” Then he goes, “No, wait a minute. The only one who’s ever conquered the grave, only one who’s ever gone beyond and come back to tell us what the deal is—well, He tells us what’s gonna happen when we die.” And I love this phrase in the New Testament. It’s used several times. The Apostle Paul says, “The very same power”—remember that phrase—“the very same power that brought Jesus to life from the grave... the very same power was gonna be applied to the grave, to the body, of every Christ follower when they die.” If you wonder what’s going to happen five seconds after you die, Bible tells you what’s going to happen if you put your faith and trust in Christ. The very same power that resurrected Christ is going to resurrect you to a life of eternity in God’s presence. And it’s going to be awesome.
And rarely has this meant more to me than in the last three months. Because in the last three months, I’ve buried three friends. One in January, one February, one in March. The one in January was a forty-five-year friend who helped me start this church. The one in February was a twenty-five--year friend who was one of my staunchest supporters when I’d get criticized for stuff. He would call me and say, “Bill, I would take a bullet for you. Keep preaching. Keep leading. Don’t let the critics get you down.” The one in March was a thirty-five-year friend who was an elder in this church for twenty years. That’s a 105 years of friendship. Gone in 90 days.
About the only way I’ve been able to keep functioning has been that I’ve had to do the calculation. Oh yeah, wait, wait, yeah. I feel a tremendous loss. But the very same power that brought Jesus back to life has brought my buddies back to life. They’re not in an abyss. They’re not extinct. They’re in the presence of God. And the very same power that brought them back to life, when I die, will bring me back to life in God’s presence, and I’ll be reunited with my buddies. And they’ll be reunited with their families and loved ones, you see—all who put their faith and trust in Christ. This is a big deal. Big, big deal.
So what you’re about to hear next is something I’ve done every Easter for a couple of decades. And I actually put it in my calendar. I go, “Okay, you gotta give the church your annual reminder.” So here comes my annual reminder. This is just a true fact, okay? The death rate in the United States—I don’t know about other countries—but the death rate in the United States is still hovering right around 100 percent. Be warned. Death rate, still a 100 percent. You will not be the exception.
There was a woman who was 117 years old. Did you read about her? She died yesterday. And I thought, I wonder if she was surprised. Did she see it coming? So you can tell me how healthy you are, how resilient you are—you’re not gonna be the exception to this stat. You’re gonna die. Okay?
Good news that happens every Easter is: Because Christ has risen, you don’t have to fear death. You don’t have to live in its tyranny. You don’t have to walk around worried about what’s gonna happen in the next reality. The One who conquered the grave has come back to tell you what’s gonna happen, and the very same power that raised Him is gonna raise you if you trust in Christ. Isn’t that a fantastic truth?
So, then, Paul said, finally, he said, “Hey, if Christ has not been raised, we who drank the Kool-Aid, we fools, you know, should be pitied, put in padded cells.” He goes, “But if Christ is alive and well, we can and should think of ourselves as among the most fortunate and blessed people on planet Earth. Cause we’re a part of that one true religion, that one incredible faith called Christianity, that’s coherent and comprehensive, inclusive. It’s a beautiful faith.
We’re a part of the faith that says there’s a God, a creative God in Heaven, who has an irrational love... for the person sitting in your chair. Doesn’t matter what your past is. Doesn’t matter if you believed in a different religion for a while. It doesn’t change His irrational and unconditional love for you.
And then He sends His Son on a rescue mission to atone for your pile of sin, even though you don’t deserve it, and I certainly don’t. And then He makes the gift of redemption available as a free gift to any and all. And, above and beyond that, He says, God says, “The same power that brought Jesus back from the grave is gonna be applied to your life, and you’ll get resurrected to life eternal.” This is an extraordinary faith we’re a part of. And we have an extraordinary risen Savior.
And, as I wrap things up now, the most extraordinary thing of all. Here it comes. Is that the hand of the risen Savior is extended to you today. For relationship. For relationship. And I wanna describe this to you in a very powerful way. It’s only gonna take me about three minutes. But for this to really work well, I need to talk to you eye to eye, and you’re all sitting down. So I’d like to ask you, in the Atrium, in the Lakeside, and in this auditorium, would you stand now? And just kinda look at me eye to eye for a second.
I have spent my entire adult life—and, one could argue it, successfully or very unsuccessfully. I’ve spent my entire adult life trying to convince anyone who would listen to me that, in its very essence, Christianity is way more than a creed. It’s way more than a set of rituals and hoops that you jump through. It’s way more than that. In its essence, Christianity is a two-way relationship with the living Savior named Jesus Christ, who makes an incredible difference in your life on an hour by hour, day by day basis.
And if people have a hard time grasping that, I like to show them one of my favorite pictures that captures the heart of Christianity, and here it is:
There is the, you know, kinda the symbol of God’s hand. And then there’s us, you know. Far weaker. But if our hand is in His strong hand, and if we’re walking through life that way, that’s a game changer, gang. Total game changer.
And some of you, this Easter, when you see that picture, you go, “By God’s grace, that’s how I live every day of my life!” You’re actually celebrating right now. You go, “I’m one of these extraordinarily blessed people who asked Christ to forgive my sin, and I have my hand in His hand.” And so you have felt strengthened by God’s hand. You have felt guided and comforted, protected and encouraged by God’s hand in your life on a day-to-day basis. In fact, this picture, when some of you see it, if you’ve walked with God for a long time, you think, What would it be like to try to do life without your hand in God’s hand? How lonely that must be. How... frightening that must be. How confusing it must be to wander around and not have a strong hand to hang on to.
And I can identify with that. I can’t imagine. I simply can’t imagine... facing what I face and navigating what I navigate. And I know, many of you are going the same thing, and your lives, many of your lives are way more complicated than mine, I understand that. And you’re going, man, I can’t imagine who’s living without their hand in God’s hand.
Alright. Now, look at this one more time, because, some of you, when I put that up, right away, the first thing that came to your mind is you’re like, “Uh oh. I think that’s what I’m missing. I don’t have my hand in anybody’s hand. I’m on my own.” And you feel what it’s like to be on your own. You feel it. Every day. Nobody’s guiding you. Nobody’s helping you. And you feel the loneliness of that. You feel the fright of that. You’re like...
Some of you, when you look at that picture, you say, “That’s obviously what’s missing in my life.” And the good news of Easter is that that hand is extended to you right now. And if you just reach out your hand, and say, “That’s what I need in my life.” Through what Christ did on the cross and through resurrection power, you can actually have God grab your hand if you outstretch it to Him, and something extraordinary can happen before you leave this place today.
You know, I’ve explained this to people, again, for forty years. And sometimes people get real tactical, they go, “I wanna do that. I know that’s what’s missing from my life. How do I do that? Do I have to chant something? You know, do I have to spin three times? What do I do to make that happen?”
And I usually tell them about a Bible verse that makes it real simple. Romans 10:13: “Whoever calls.” Whoever calls “on the name of the Lord can be redeemed.” Whoever, it doesn’t matter who you are, what your past is—you can call on the name of the Lord. Stick your hand up, and He’ll grab a hold of yours. It’s a miracle. And so I tell people in private, I say, “Do you have a cellphone?” Everybody does. I say, “Take it out for a second. If you wanted to call someone, what would you do?”
They say, “I’d punch in the number...”
I say, “Okay. Let’s pretend. Call 1-800-GOD.” I say, “Just pretend. You don’t have to do this, but, in an imaginary way, just go, ‘Hey, God. I know You’re listening. And I can’t believe that I’ve spent my whole life wandering around without Your strong hand grasping mine. And it explains why my life hasn’t worked out like I had planned. And I now understand why I’ve gone down roads I should’ve never gone down. And I’m in messes that I never would’ve gotten in had I grabbed hold of Your hand. And I’m sorry for those messes. And I’m sorry that I’ve disappointed You. I’m sorry for my independent spirit. I want all that to change. And through what Christ did for me, I want to now reach out to the hand and, if You would take my hand, God...”
I’ve helped hundreds of people just make that call. And then put their hand in God’s hand. I can’t think of a better occasion where you would wanna do this than Easter. And, for some strange reason—I don’t know how this works, but it works. Sometimes, a physical gesture can help you from playing mind games. You know, sometimes, when you have religious thoughts, spiritual thoughts, you’re like, “I think I’m just talking to myself. I think I’m making stuff up.” And then, if you do something, a physical gesture—I do this when I’m gonna pray in a serious way, sometimes, you know, I go, “Okay. I have a pressing spiritual need. I’m gonna pray.” And then I go, “Okay, I’m thinking I’m gonna pray right now,” and I go, “You know what’ll help? If I just drop to my knees. Cause if I drop to my knees, I know I’m serious about praying.” So I pray a lot on my knees. Because that physical gesture keeps me from playing mind games. I go, “I guess I mean business now, cause I’m on my knees.”
Well, this is the same thing when you’re reaching out to God for the very first time. You don’t know if it’s really happening or if you’re just doing it in your head. So I always encourage people. I say, “Just play along if you’d like to reach out and grab a hold of God’s strong hand. Just,” I say, “You don’t have to raise your hand—you’re not signing up for anything. You’re just, but if you can put your hand out like, ‘Hey, God, I’m ready,’ this really helps people.”
So here’s what I wanna do before I close in prayer. If you already have your hand in God’s hand, and you’re living that God-guided life, would you, right now, just, show God. Say, “This is the way I’ve wanted it. This is the way my life has been going. I’m so grateful for Your strong hand, God!”
So just put your hand out for a second. And now, all the rest of you, who say, “You know, that’s what I’m missing in my life. That’s what I need to do Easter 2017. I need to reach out and grab a hold of the hand that’s extended to me.” So, for the very first time, just put your hand out, too. Join the rest of us. And say, “That’s what I need, that’s what I want, Easter 2017. Right here and right now.”
And as you do that, you’re like, “Now, what happens next?!” And you’re all freaked about it. Don’t be. Because God will do the rest. There’s not some list that you gotta run out and start to do, you know, right after the service. What you need to do is step out in faith and put your hand out, and let God put His Spirit in your life, start to come close to you—He’ll give you that sense of exhaling. “I’m with you now. You’re not on your own anymore. You’re forgiven now. You don’t have that terrible pile of debt. I’m gonna resurrect you someday. You don’t have to worry about death anymore.” He’ll do that if you raise your hand like that.
So, God, right now, You see the hands. You see thousands of hands. Some who have walked with you for a long time—You recognize those hands. And others who are extended to you for the very first time. And You’re grabbing hold of it, and, even right now, during this prayer, You’re starting to enter peoples’ lives. And You’re manifesting Your presence and Your love and Your strength to them. And they’re gonna leave this campus different from the way they arrived just an hour and a half ago. And that’s what You do, God—with resurrection power, You transform human lives, for which we give You thanks. In Jesus’ name, everyone agreed and said, “Amen.”