"Won by ONE!"
By Rev. James A. Splitt
Sermon April 19, 1998 - 2nd Easter Sunday
John 20:19-31   Rev. 1:4-8    I Cor. 15 (Selections)


[The title of this Sermon was inspired by the title of the book Won by One
by Ron Rand, Regal Books, 1998]

The Church calendar says that this is the 2nd Easter Sunday.  We're going
to celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus again this morning!  

There is a certainty about the earliest Christians.  They celebrated the
resurrection every day.  Without the resurrection, the disciples would have
been miserable, unhappy souls, who would have remained afraid, skeptical,
and incapable of ever becoming apostles [apostolon].  The writer of our
Gospel text says that it was evening of THAT DAY!  Resurrection day! . .
.when Jesus came to them; that is, His disciples ... all  of them except
Thomas.  He came to them and won them into becoming apostles.  It would be
another eight days before Thomas would overcome his doubt and fears and be
transformed from disciple to apostle. 

Disciple means a student.  One who is disciplined to learn.  While they
were traveling with Jesus they were His students, His disciples.  As soon as
they believed the resurrection by witnessing the risen Christ they had a new
title and a new commission.  They became the "ones who were sent"!  Apostle
means one who is sent on a mission.  A Hebrew expression, like that of
apostle, meant sending one from the original source to spread or tell
others.  In every case, the apostles lived the resurrection day by day,
telling others about the risen Christ.  The message was simple we have been
WON by ONE who is risen from the dead.

Let's look at the documentation we have in 1 Corinthians 15.  Begin with
verse 3:

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that
Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, that he was
buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the
scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.  Then he
appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom are
still alive, though some have fallen asleep.  Then he appeared to James,
then to all the apostles.  Last of all as to one untimely born, he appeared
also to me."

Now go to verse 12:

Now if Christ is preached as raised from the dead, how can some of you say
that there is no resurrection of the dead?  But if there is no resurrection
of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; if Christ has not been raised,
then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. 

And on to verse 20:

But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead.

Following a lengthy discourse on the resurrection of the dead, Paul
concludes with (verse 54)

"death is swallowed up in victory"  ... Therefore my beloved brethren, be
steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that
in the Lord your labor is not in vain."

On the morning, when the women came to the tomb, there was an eerie
emptiness and silence.  Amazed that the stone had been rolled away they
entered a vault of darkness where the stench of death was present.  Breaking
the silence was a voice of one who said, "He is not here, he is risen!"   
It was THAT DAY, resurrection day, when Jesus came back. 

The Hymn by George Frederick Handel expresses the victory of resurrection
day!

Thine is the glory, risen, conquering Son;  Endless is the victory Thou
o'er death has won!
Lo! Jesus meets us, risen from the tomb; lovingly He greets us, scatters
fear and gloom.  Let the church with gladness Hymns of triumph sing, for her
Lord now liveth; death hath lost its sting.

So many people have tried to express what resurrection means to them. 
John's testimony in Revelation is to say:

"to Him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by His blood and made
us a kingdom, priests to His God and Father, to him be glory and dominion
forever and ever."

Julia Esquivel, a woman in exile from the tortures her people experienced
in Guatemala is the author of the book Amenazado de Resurrecci—n,
[Threatened with Resurrection].  Kathleen had the opportunity to meet Julia
last January when she visited her at her home in Guatemala city.  She
writes:

┴Acomp‡–anos en esta vigilia y sabr‡s lo que es so–ar!  ┴Sabr‡s entonces lo
maravilloso que es vivir amenazado de Resurrecci—n!

Join us in this vigil and you will know what it is to dream!  Then you will
know how marvelous it is to live threatened with Resurrection!  To dream
awake, to keep watch asleep, to live while dying, and to know ourselves
already resurrected!

We have been WON by ONE who died for our sins and came back to life so that
we might have eternal life.  We must live the resurrection.  Let me suggest
three reasons for living the resurrection daily, every day, every moment of
your life.

First, IT IS CENTRAL!  It is the foundation of our hopes.  Without
resurrection, there is no Christianity.  A person who does not believe the
resurrection cannot claim to be Christian.  I remember being in dialogue
with a young man who was really struggling with Christianity.  He said, I
can believe everything Christ teaches.  I really know we are to love one
another and all that.  But I'm just not sure about the resurrection.

Resurrection is central to any faith.  The disciples could not go forth on
a mission in which all meet a martyr's death, unless they felt as Julia
Esquivel did ... that they were already resurrected with Christ.  There is
no other Christian message. 

We are trying to figure out what it will take for our church to grow.  We
want new classroom space, we want a paved parking lot.  We want a new
sanctuary for at least 300 people to worship.  We want people to walk
through these doors so we can watch our numbers grow.  Church growth is not
a statistical challenge.  Church growth has nothing to do with how many
people we can bring into membership.  Church growth is based upon
proclamation and witness to the resurrection. We need to be concerned with
what it means for us to to believe and live the resurrection on a day to day
basis.  Believing that we have been Won by One who redeems us is central to
everyday life. When our belief is genuine the church will grow.

Secondly, the Resurrection is comforting.   George Bernard Shaw said that
"death has some impressive statistics."   The one part of our service where
we seem to get really involved is during requests for prayer.  I visited
Barbara Haven's sister Nancy Kraft at Christ hospital this week.  As you
know from Barbara's concern, Nancy is suffering from many physical and
emotional difficulties.  Nancy asked for a Bible so she could read it and
find some comfort.  I looked around her room hoping to find a Gideon Bible,
but none was to be found.  And just at that moment a volunteer form the
Pastoral Care department walked in and offered communion.  "Could Nancy get
a Bible?" I asked.  The volunteer saw to it.

I met Nanette Smallwood at University hospital in the E.R. after Eric had
been hurt in an automobile accident.  She had not seen Eric yet and was
still uncertain about the extent of his injuries.  I held out my arms to her
as I walked into the room, and she broke into tears.  When we bring the
message of resurrection, we bring hope and comfort.

We do not get an exemption from suffering or from death.  We do all we can
to keep on ticking, but we are all going to die.  Believing in the
resurrection means we can put our trust in the One who has won for us
eternal life.  Living the resurrection helps us to put our priorities in the
right place.

Resurrection is central to the Christian life and it brings us comfort. 
Thirdly, living the resurrection is challenging!  We have a mission to tell
the good news.  Evangelism happens when you tell the story!  It is
intentional.  If resurrection hasn't changed you, you have nothing to say. 
Thomas didn't get it for a week after Christ had already appeared to over
500 people and all the other disciples.  At first, his skepticism kept him
from turning the tassel and graduating to apostleship.  The good news is
that he got the message, believed and went on to meet the challenge.

For years we have believed that religion is a private matter.  We keep our
faith to ourselves.  Or, we are careful how we say things so we don't offend
anyone.  Living the resurrection is a challenge to make a connection, to
tell the story; becoming an apostle, sent with a message. We need to
confront the secular world head on with a message that says we live in the
joy of the resurrection.  Otherwise loving one another does not make sense. 

I know some of you have recently been discussing the movie, The Devil's
Advocate.  The gruesome realities of giving ourselves over to the power of
Satan can be very real.  However, we learn that the power of Satan is
defeated in the act of grace, the desire to love, and the commitment to live
the joyous life. 

Living the resurrection is a challenge that can be met by everyone in this
sanctuary, anyone who is able to hear the testimony of those who were there
and heard ... "He is risen, he is not here!" 

We can play on the winning team, won by the One who is the center of our
life, who comforts us along the way, and who challenges us with a sending
forth to spread the Good News. Amen!