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If

February 17, 2019
By Rev. Peter Heckert

+ Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. + Amen.

The text for our meditation is from our Epistle lesson, where Paul writes, [I]f Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. Here ends our text; dear Christian friends…

While doing some research for this sermon, I thought I’d try to find some information about an archaeological hullabaloo I first heard about over a decade ago. The issue I had in mind was related to the so-called “James Ossuary” box, which purportedly contained the bones of James the Lesser, Jesus’s brother. Fascinating as that is, what I found instead was much more interesting. Something I have legitimately never heard about before. Humor me for a moment, as I read part of an article I found from the Smithsonian in 2013 entitled, “The Little Known Legend of Jesus in Japan,” subtitled, “A mountain hamlet in northern Japan claims Jesus Christ was buried there.”

On the flat top of a steep hill in a distant corner of northern Japan lies the tomb of an itinerant shepherd who, two millennia ago, settled down there to grow garlic. He fell in love with a farmer’s daughter named Miyuko, fathered three kids and died at the ripe old age of 106. In the mountain hamlet of Shingo, he’s remembered by the name Daitenku Taro Jurai. The rest of the world knows him as Jesus Christ.

It turns out that Jesus of Nazareth—the Messiah, worker of miracles and spiritual figurehead for one of the world’s foremost religions—did not die on the cross at Calvary, as widely reported. According to amusing local folklore, that was his kid brother, Isukiri, whose severed ear was interred in an adjacent burial mound in Japan.

A bucolic backwater with only one Christian resident (Toshiko Sato, who was 77 when I visited last spring) and no church within 30 miles, Shingo nevertheless bills itself as Kirisuto no Sato (Christ’s Hometown). Every year 20,000 or so pilgrims and pagans visit the site, which is maintained by a nearby yogurt factory. Some visitors shell out the 100-yen entrance fee at the Legend of Christ Museum, a trove of religious relics that sells everything from Jesus coasters to coffee mugs. Some participate in the springtime Christ Festival, a mashup of multidenominational rites in which kimono-clad women dance around the twin graves and chant a three-line litany in an unknown language. The ceremony, designed to console the spirit of Jesus, has been staged by the local tourism bureau since 1964.

Yes, you heard that right. According to this legend, Jesus of Nazareth did not even die on the cross, let alone rise from the dead. Where did this absurd claim come from? The author explains that it springs from several sources. He mentions the overt nationalism of Japan prior to World War II leading to other preposterous claims, such as Moses getting the Hebrew language and the Ten Commandments from the divine emperor of Japan. He also points to the clear intentions of the mayor of Shingo to drive tourism in his little town. For these reasons and others, one can reasonably conclude that this claim is entirely bunk. There is not one iota of verifiable proof to back up the claim that Jesus is buried in Shingo, Japan.

To be frank, there’s nothing new about this. Apparently, in the Corinthian community there were some who, likewise, didn’t really think Jesus actually rose from the dead. Thus, Paul writes, Now if Christ is proclaimed 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 not even Christ has been raised. When you think about it, and carry it through to its logical conclusion as Paul does, to deny Jesus’s literal physical bodily resurrection carries with it some terrifying implications.

Paul continues, And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.

In other words, if Jesus has not been raised from the dead, we’re toast. Done. Finito. I don’t think it’s an overstatement to say that, if Jesus isn’t raised from the dead, then your sins are NOT forgiven – sure, Jesus died on the cross for you, but apparently, it did nothing. If it did nothing and you still want to get right with God, well then you need to go out and get a lamb without blemish for sacrifice – actually, you’ll want to get several of those because you are clearly going to need to offer many sacrifices from now until the day you die. No, if Jesus did not rise from the dust of death, then there was no sacrifice once, for all, and the burden falls upon you to claw your way out of damnation.

If Jesus didn’t rise from the dead to the glory of God the Father, then there’s no such thing as “justification by grace, through faith.” We’re just like any other religion in the world – trying to earn our way into God’s or Sheva’s or Horus’s good graces. That’s the other thing; if Jesus didn’t rise from the dead, then He’s just another person who died – tragically, brutally, horrifically to be sure, but He’s just some guy. That means that you need to figure out which god is the true god, because clearly, if Jesus didn’t rise from the dead, then He’s not Who He said He was: the Son of God.

If it’s true that Jesus is still dead, then my grandparents, my aunts and uncles, all my Christian relatives and yours are just dead. They’re not resting from their labors, not eagerly anticipating their own resurrections on the Last Day. No, if Jesus is just dead, then they’re just worm food, fodder and fertilizer for the trees. If Jesus is not risen, they are just another cog in the “great circle of life and death.”

If Jesus is still dead, we are too. If Jesus is still dead, we’ve got no hope. YOU have no hope. You are still dead in your sins if Jesus wasn’t raised. Your baptism means nothing, your partaking of the Supper means nothing, my words and Pastor French’s words and the words of the countless millions and billions of Christians throughout time and space mean absolutely NOTHING! And you should just go chuck your Bible into the fire.

... BUT … and this is a very important “but” … all those “ifs” are not the reality. Paul lays bare for us the truth: But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.

Every contention that we just considered, every conclusion we just reached is null and void. THIS is the reality: Jesus died on a cross – His body broken and bleeding, His lungs finally giving out, His heart pierced by the centurion’s spear. He was dead, wrapped up, laid in a tomb by Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea. There was no life in Him; He had breathed His last, and given up His spirit, killing with Him the sin of all humanity that He had taken upon and into Himself. But three days later, on that fateful Sunday morning, He breathed again. His pierced heart began to beat again. His blood that was shed for you once again flowed through His holy veins. No longer dead, but truly alive, raised from death, Jesus set out to demonstrate to His disciples that death had no hold on Him, that the grave could not keep Him, and that His sacrifice for sin on behalf of humanity was accepted in the Father’s eyes. The ramifications of this truth are unparalleled!

Because Jesus is alive, your sins are forgiven! Because Jesus is alive, your loved ones who have gone before you in the faith are at rest in the presence of the resurrected and very much alive Jesus right now, at this moment, and we most assuredly WILL be seeing them again! Because Jesus is alive, raised from the dust of death, He shows Himself to be Who He says He is: the exclusive Son of God, ascended to the Father’s right hand, and the righteous Judge Who will return on the Last Day! Because Jesus is alive, you and I and every Christian throughout time and space will likewise be raised to eternal life! We aren’t a people to be pitied; we are the people of hope, because Christ is the hope of the hopeless! Because He is risen, we shall arise! Because He is alive, at the right hand of the Father, we too will live in God’s holy presence! Because He lives forever, we shall live forever! He has given us these great and precious promises, and the One Who kept His Word – the One who said that when His enemies killed Him, He would rise again … and did – that same One will keep His promises to you!

I know we haven’t even reached Lent yet, let alone Easter, but this is the reality we live with every single day – no ifs, ands, or buts about it!! CHRIST IS RISEN! HE IS RISEN, INDEED! ALLELUIA!

+ Amen. +