Each year our church has an Easter sunrise service at about the same place where the above photo was taken. (For those of you who don’t live in Prague, you have my sympathy.) We like to worship the risen Jesus at that spot because we love our city, and it’s one of the best places to get a good look at her as the sun comes up. For some of us the pictures taken from this site were one of the first things that grabbed our attention and drew us to Prague. It’s a beautiful city that has enchanted us, a city we love to call home.
We also know that for all the beauty, there is darkness in this city. Everything from government corruption to the sex trade to a lingering feeling of loneliness, of weariness that many of the people feel. We know all that stuff isn’t the darkness itself, but symptoms of the darkness.
So we look at this city, knowing the darkness, and yet loving the beauty, especially as the sun comes up first thing in the morning. The beauty is there despite the darkness.
The Apostle Paul came to a city like ours once. It was a beautiful city with great history, yet Paul was “provoked in his spirit” as he saw that it was also filled with the worship of false gods. When he got the chance to address people of that city, this is what he said.
Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, “To the unknown god.” What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you.
The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, for “In him we live and move and have our being”; as even some of your own poets have said, “For we are indeed his offspring.”
Being then God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man. The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.
So Paul gives a fairly straightforward presentation of the Gospel: God is holy, we are created to know him, our relationship to him has been broken by our sin, he commands us to repent. But Paul goes further than that. Unlike most of our gospel presentations, but like most of the ones in the Bible, he goes all the way to the resurrection of Jesus; in fact, all the way to the final judgment.
Paul says all men should repent, because God will judge world in righteousness “by a man whom he has appointed”—Jesus the righteous one will be the Judge. Then he says that God has given assurance of this final judgment by raising Jesus from the dead.
What does that mean?
It means the Resurrection is God’s demonstration that all the promises of the Gospel are true.
It means Jesus really did have the authority to say the outlandish things he said, to call all people to come to him, to command us to repent and believe.
It means Jesus really did die, not for his own sin, but for ours.
It means God accepted Jesus’ death as a substitute for ours; that he could stand in our place.
It means we can escape God’s judgment by believing in God’s Substitute, the Man he has appointed, the Righteous One, Jesus.
It means not only that we should repent, but that we can repent, because God is willing to pardon repentant sinners who come to him by believing in Jesus.
The Resurrection is Jesus putting his cards on the table, saying “I was not bluffing. I really am the truth, the life, the way. I really do lay down my life that I might take it up again. I have defeated death by taking it on myself.”
In other words, Easter gives us a Gospel to preach. It gives us good news for the 1.2 million people in our city, many of whom still walking in darkness. It gives us something to tell them: not just that they must repent, though that’s true, but that they can repent. It lets us tell them that there’s a throne of grace to run to, with a sympathetic and kind and understanding and living high priest.
Easter takes all these things from realm of religious theory, unverifiable and unfalsifiable, and makes them unquestionable. Jesus is either dead or he’s not. If he’s dead, we can believe whatever we want, with no consequence. If he isn’t, the news is better than we could imagine.
Easter gives us a gospel to preach. It gives us good news to believe and to share. Do you believe Jesus is alive? Then that changes everything. Go share that news with your neighbors.
“Of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.” He is not here. He is risen. Amen.
(this post was adapted from my sermon at this year’s Easter sunrise service)