A sermon given on Remembrance Sunday 2018
We’ve come together today to remember those who gave their lives during the two great wars of the last century. Every community in England lost huge numbers of people, and we resolved never to forget. We will remember them.
Since then, there have been many wars, and war continues around the world. 80 million may have died in World War II, but since then we’ve seen another 5 million die in Congo in the 1990s, a million in Iraq and half a million in Syria. It’s only because those numbers are so huge that we don’t notice the mere 100,000 from the Bosnian War as the tragic loss of life that it is.
Death is a hideous thing that doesn’t belong in this world. It’s so sad that the military advances of one nation, and the defence of another nation, comes at such a price. We are right to gather in a sombre mood.
The Christian message is called “the gospel”. That’s a word that means good news. Specifically, it was the message of good news that would be carried back home from a battle far away, that the conflict had been won. Victory is secured.
But the Christian gospel is not an announcement of victory of one nation over another, like we had on VE Day This is a victory over the whole sad state of affairs where life is cut short by death, and where conflicts are solved at the expense of people’s lives.
One of the two Bible readings we had came from Paul’s letter to the church in Ancient Corinth, in which he reminds them of this gospel. Reminds them of the good news that the Christian faith is all about.
And it’s good news about Jesus. He’s the one who solved the biggest problem we all live with.
Paul breaks that message down into 4 historical facts about Jesus. Those facts are that Jesus died, was buried, was raised to life, and then was seen alive. Those 4 facts come as 2 pairs. Two main facts, each followed by another that fleshes it out. So let’s look at those 2 pairs of facts.
Died for our sins
First up is the fact that Jesus died. As we mourn death today, and as we look back with gratitude at those who died for our freedom, Christians worship a founder who himself died. He died for our freedom. He didn’t just mourn death; he entered it, went through it.
But the Christian message is not just that Jesus died. The Bible doesn’t just tell the story of Jesus, and leave us to guess the significance, what it all means. The Bible gives us the meaning too. The Christian message is that Christ died for our sins.
Sin is a word we don’t use much today. People often think it means particular things people do wrong, that are either naughty or criminal. In fact, sin is first and foremost an attitude. It’s the attitude that I’m the most important person there is, so I have to get my own way. Sin is when I think that I’m more important than God, more important than other people. I decide how to live my life. Nobody else tells me what to do, especially not God.
That is the attitude that leads to war. When citizens, nations, leaders are bent on getting their own way, it leads to conflict. But it’s also an attitude that is in the heart of each and every one of us. Selfishness of heart is not a problem that other people have. It’s my problem.
And it doesn’t only lead to pain and death in others, as we fight each other. It’s the cause of our own death, too. God could never allow such selfishness to spoil his world forever. He cannot allow sinful people like us to live forever. It’s why we all have to die, sooner or later.
But the Christian good news is that Jesus has solved our biggest problem.
This is fact number 1 in the Christian good news: Christ died for our sins.
The reason he died was because of the selfishness in our hearts. He took it into his own heart, and he died. The sin, the selfishness, the ego, the ambition that causes every war in the world, that lies behind every death in battle, was dealt a fatal blow when Jesus made it his own. He died, instead of every person who would ever trust him to do this for them.
Christ died for our sins.
And so we know that really happened, Paul records his second fact. Jesus was buried. Placed in a tomb. Properly dead. Christ died for our sins.
Raised on the third day
But then there’s a second pair of facts. Not only did Jesus die for our sins, and then be buried. He rose to life on the third day. Friday. Saturday. Easter Sunday.
And so that we can know that it really happened, Paul records his fourth fact. Jesus was seen alive. Paul names several individuals who saw Jesus alive over a period of 40 days. He also lists one occasion when Jesus appeared to more than 500 people at the same time. He points out that many of those who saw him are still alive as he writes. This was written just 20 years after the first Easter Day. Paul is inviting them to go and talk to some of these eyewitnesses, to check out their story.
Paul wants us to be sure that Jesus really did rise on the third day. He tells us where Jesus was not to be found, and where he was found.
He really was buried, placed in a tomb, but his body was not there. The tomb was empty on Easter Sunday morning. Jesus’ enemies could not produce the body to scotch the rumours Jesus was alive. Jesus’ friends could not produce the body to prevent their own martyrdoms. The tomb was empty.
Instead, Jesus was seen alive, by hundreds of people, on at least 12 separate occasions. The reason was that he was not in his grave was because he was alive once again, as hundreds could testify to.
We remember many who have died. But Jesus’s death was different. He’s the only person to take on death, to fight it out with death and to come out victorious. But he did. And because he did, death is not the most powerful force in the universe. Death is beaten, and one day death will be removed and never to be heard from again.
Once again, Jesus is the victor, the one who has solved the biggest problem we all face. Not only did he die to beat our selfishness and sin; he rose again and defeated death itself.
So there’s the Christian good news that Paul reminds the Corinthian Christians of.
Jesus died for our sins. And so we know he really died, he also tells that he was buried.
Jesus rose from the dead on the third day. And so we know he really rose, he also tells us that he was seen alive.
No wonder the Christian message is called good news. It’s the good news that there finally is an answer to the problem of death. There will be a day when the tragedies that have brought us together this morning will be no more.
And there is also an answer to our own mortality. The Jesus who solved sin and death can solve our sin and death too. As Paul says: “By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you.” Jesus has made sure that sin and death will not have the last word in this world. If we come to this Jesus, trust him, follow him, he’ll also make sure that sin and death don’t have the last word in our lives.
The tragic cycle of selfishness, conflict and death has been solved.