An Easter sermon based on Acts 10:34-43

First Baptist Church of Lynchburg

April 21, 2019

By Paul Dakin

May the words of my mouth and the mediations of our hearts be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord our Strength and our Redeemer. Amen.


Let us begin this morning by considering the following question: If you were asked to give a two minute description of the life of Jesus, what would you say? What would your summary consist of? What would you consider to be the most important details of his life—the ones that you feel like that you would need to include that would define who Jesus was? What would you have to leave out because of the time constraints you have to work with?


Think back with me of all the things that Jesus said and did during his life here on earth. Consider all of the miracles that he performed—miracles like walking on water…the feeding of 5000 men plus women and children with a small boy’s lunch of five barley rolls and two small fish…standing up in a boat in the middle of a raging storm to calm the wind and the waves…raising his friend Lazarus to life after he had been dead for three solid days…and lots more…Which of those might make the cut?


Or how about all of the healings?…You might include how Jesus gave sight to a man who had been born blind…or how he had healed a cripple who had been laying by the Pool of Bethesda for 38 years…how he healed a man of his withered hand right in front of an astonished crowd in the synagogue…how he cleansed dozens of people who had contracted the dreaded (and almost invariably fatal) skin disease called leprosy…how he instantly healed a woman who had been hemorrhaging for twelve long years…all of these along with many hundreds of others whose stories are only vaguely alluded to in the gospels and whose names are lost to us…There was no disease that was too hard for Jesus to heal…Which of those healings would have to be included?


Or think with me about Jesus’ encounters with the supernatural…how he cast demons out of a man whom no one could control, not even with heavy shackles and thick iron chains…how he cast another demon out of a young boy whose father was at his wits’ end…how Jesus appeared to three of his disciples on the Mount of Transfiguration—how he was completely changed and given an otherworldly look as bright as a flash of lightning…a look that beggared description…


And then there were the things that he taught which still ring through the ages…Revolutionary stuff it was…”Love your enemies and pray for those who hate you”…”Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God”…”What good will it be if a man gains the whole world—and yet forfeits his own soul?’…”If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” Or how Jesus compared the love of God to a father eagerly awaiting the return of his wayward son. Or how he declared to his listeners, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s—but give to God what is God’s.” Or how Jesus was so full of love that he could even forgave those who were responsible for brutally murdering him on the cross.


It you were asked to give a two minute description of the life of Jesus, what would you say?


                Dr. James Allan Francis was a Baptist pastor who ministered in the first few decades of the 20th Century. He was the pastor of the Riverside Baptist Church in New York City before becoming the pastor of the First Baptist Church of Los Angeles, where he spent most of his ministry. He published several books of sermons, but today, he is primarily known for single extract from a sermon that he first preached at a youth conference in 1926. This famous essay was republished independently in various forms a few years later. Over time, it became quite popular. In fact, you can still sometimes see this short essay in print, on various blogs, on posters and greeting cards, and probably lots of other places as well. Musical settings of the text have also been composed. It seems to be especially popular around Christmas or Easter time each year.[1] It goes like this:


He was born in an obscure village, the child of a peasant. He grew up in another village, where he worked in a carpenter shop until he was thirty years old. Then for three years, he was an itinerant preacher.


He never wrote a book. He never held an office. He never had a family or owned a home. He didn’t go to college. He never lived in a big city. He never traveled more than 200 miles from the place where he was born. He did none of the things that usually accompany greatness. He had no credentials but himself.


He was only 33 when the tide of public opinion turned against him. His friends ran away. One of them denied him. He was turned over to his enemies and went through the mockery of a trial. He was nailed to a cross between two thieves. While he was dying, his executioners gambled for his garments, the only property he had on earth. When he was dead, he was laid in a borrowed grave, through the pity of a friend.


Twenty centuries have come and gone, and today he is the central figure of the human race. I am well within the mark when I say that all the armies that ever marched, all the navies that have ever sailed, all the parliaments that have ever sat, all the kings that have ever reigned—all put together—have not affected the life of man on this earth as much as that one, solitary life.[2]


                How many of you recognize those words? (Anybody?) It usually goes by the title of “One Solitary Life.” It must be said that “One Solitary Life” is certainly a powerful piece of writing in how it describes the life of Jesus and of his subsequent influence in our world. And everything that Dr. Francis wrote is absolutely true. The vivid language that he skillfully used to evoke the essence of our Lord’s ministry in just a few short words is powerful. I also admire how it still resonates with people even today—some ninety years after it was first published.


But with all due respect to Dr. Francis, I find it curious that one essential element in the story of Jesus is lacking in it. This glaring omission seems particularly strange to me in light of the fact that its author was a Baptist pastor. For whatever reason, “One Solitary Life” makes no mention whatsoever of the resurrection of our Lord on Easter Sunday…not a single word…not even a hint…


At the beginning of Acts 10, we learn of a man named Cornelius. Cornelius was an officer in the Roman army occupying Palestine and he lived in Caesarea, a city on the Mediterranean Sea. We are also told that he and his family were known as “God-fearers,” that is, they worshiped the God of Israel even though they were not Jewish. God sent him angel, whose message was that Cornelius was to send to the city of Joppa and inquire about a man named Simon Peter. So he sent a couple of servants and a soldier to Joppa to bring Peter to his house.


In the meantime, Simon Peter also received a vision form the Lord that prepared him for the summons. The next day, Simon Peter went with the men back to the house of Cornelius. When they arrived, Peter discovered that Cornelius had gathered his whole household together. After exchanging a few pleasantries, Cornelius said to Peter, “It was good of you to come. Now we are all here in the presence of God to listen to everything the Lord has commanded you to speak.”


After a few introductory thoughts, Peter gets to the point. He tells them his version of what I asked of you at the beginning of the sermon—to come up with a concise description of the life of Jesus. Peter’s version goes like this. It is found in verses 36 and following:


You know the message [that God] sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ—he is Lord of all. That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism of John announced: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. We are witnesses to all that he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree…


                So far, so good. It is really not too different than an abbreviated version of “One Solitary Life.” But then Peter makes this astonishing declaration to his listeners at Cornelius’ house. They are words that change everything, beginning in verse 40: But God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, not only to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead…He is the One ordained by God as the judge of the living and the dead.


                Peter was no stranger to the life of Jesus. He had been there from the very beginning, since he was one of the first disciples that our Lord called. He had seen all the miracles. He had seen all the healings. He had witnessed the supernatural events in the life of our Lord. He had heard his teachings from early on. And yet, instead of elaborating on any of those or concentrating on Jesus’ circumstances, he gives those things only a brief mention before he gets to the main point—that God raised Jesus on the third day.


To Peter, and to the rest of the disciples, this was the most important part of the Jesus story. Not what he said. Not what he did. Not what he taught. This is what makes Jesus different from other great religious leaders in history—the fact that he literally walked out of the tomb on that first Resurrection Sunday. It was this knowledge that emboldened the disciples to preach their message and to turn the world upside down. Their message was: “He is alive!”


And that makes people uncomfortable.


Let’s just tell the truth: Jesus was a man who went about talking as if he was God. In addition to all the good works he performed and all the great ideas that he taught (and no one argues about those), he also made some incredibly outrageous claims. He repeatedly claimed to be able to forgive sins. He said that he always existed. He also said that he is coming to judge the world at the end of time. He unhesitatingly behaved as if was God—the God whose love is wounded every time we sin. In the mouth of anyone else but Jesus, such talk would be ridiculous—or just plain foolish…


But Jesus’ claims to be God were validated by the Easter event. This is why the resurrection is so important. One who is dead cannot forgive anything. One who claims to be God is not God—if he or she is still encased in a cold stone tomb. But that is not what happened with Jesus. The witness of the gospels, the disciples and of thousand of godly believers through the ages is this: “He is alive!”


                In his book Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis concludes his discussion of the life of Jesus with these words about different perceptions of who Jesus is. Lewis wrote:


[What] I am trying here to prevent anyone [is] saying the really foolish thing that people often say about [Jesus]:”I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I do not accept his claim to be God.” That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things that Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic—on a level with a man who says that he is a poached egg—or else he would be the Devil from Hell. You must make a choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon; or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God. But let us not have any of this patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that option open to us. He did not intend to.[3]


                In addition to whatever Jesus said or did, the most important thing is that “God raised him on the third day.” The message of Easter is just this: “I bring you good tidings of great joy which shall be for all people.” And those good tidings are—HE IS ALIVE!


To God alone be the glory! Amen































[1] www.celebratingholidays.com/?page_id=4456 (Accessed April 17, 2019)

[2] www.tullyish.com/greetings/christmas/85-reflections (Accessed April 10, 2019)

[3] C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1952), 55-56.