Sunday, April 21, 2019
On the first day of the week, at early dawn, they went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared. And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus.
I was reading this week about a pastor who when he was in high school, he and a friend became famous on pulling a prank on their friends. One of them owned a car in which you could pull back the upper part of the back seat and slide into the trunk. Which gave them the idea for this prank. One of them would hide in the trunk while the other would drive the car and pick up one of their other friends. The two guys in the front would get involved in a deep conversation. Meanwhile the one hiding in the trunk would remove the upper part of the backseat and sneak out and take a place in the backseat as if he had been there all the time. Then he would suddenly join in the conversation. “Surprise!”
He had all kinds of stories of the various startled reactions that they got with this stunt.
I like surprises, don’t you? If I had to choose one word to characterize the reaction of Jesus’ followers that first Easter Sunday, it would be, “Surprise!” But maybe we shouldn’t be surprised at that. After all, it’s the most astounding event in human history.
A church was showing a film about the life, death and resurrection of Jesus to an audience filled with people who had never heard the gospel before. Little children sat in front and in the aisles. The adults stood in the back. As the story of Jesus’ crucifixion unfolded and Jesus’ broken body was laid in the tomb, there were tears and audible gasps. As the affected audience watched, one young boy suddenly spoke up. “Don’t be afraid,” the little boy said. “He gets up again! I saw it before.”
Can you imagine being exposed to the Gospel for the first time and watching the crucifixion scene being reenacted? And then to witness His resurrection? Surprise! He who was dead is now alive!
A five-year-old boy was taken to a local cemetery. Of course, five-year-old’s sometimes have an interesting perspective on things. Noticing a large pile of dirt beside a newly opened grave, the boy pointed and said: “Look, Dad, one got out!” Maybe now you’ll think about that every time you pass a graveyard, the One who got out. Surprise!
Try to see this morning’s Bible passage through the eyes of the women who first visited the tomb. Imagine their surprise when they discover that Jesus “got out.”
Why were the women coming to Jesus’ tomb so early that Sunday morning? We know it was because they had some unfinished business. It took a long time to anoint a body for burial, and they couldn’t complete the process before the sun went down on Friday evening after He was crucified. The Sabbath begins when the sun goes down on Friday, and ends at sundown on Saturday. These were devout Jewish women. They were careful not to do any work on the Sabbath, even to prepare their friend’s body for burial. So, the women had to come back to the tomb on Sunday morning to complete the burial ritual.
But seeing the stone rolled away, and the two men in dazzling clothes standing there. They were, of course, frightened, so they bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, why do you look for the living among the dead? He’s not here; He has risen! Remember how He told you, while He was still with you in Galilee: ‘he Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again. Then they remembered His words.
They ran to tell this to the eleven and to all the others. It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, who told the apostles.
I doubt any of the women worried about the cost of the spices that morning. I doubt they were worrying about anything. They had just witnessed the most important moment in history, and they were determined to share the good news. Surprise! He’s alive!
Let’s consider for a few moments some of the surprising elements of Easter.
First of all, the resurrection marks the moment in time when life overcame death. That’s the primary reason most of us are here today. Death has been overcome.
A friend of mine was diagnosed with cancer at age 33. And a very real feeling of fear came over him. He knew he could die from cancer. But then another reality hit him even harder: he said I’m going to die eventually anyway, whether from cancer or something else. I am definitely going to die. It’s just a question of when. Suddenly everything he had accomplished became meaningless. All he wanted to do was live.
And that’s when he remembered something from his childhood when he said, we are not in the land of the living going to the land of the dying. We’re in the land of the dying trying to get to the land of the living. That’s what Easter is all about.
Listen to the angel’s words again, Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; He has risen! We’re not in the land of the living going to the land of the dying. Easter reminds us that we are in the land of the dying on our way to the land of the living.
The only way you’ll ever have true contentment is when you’re in a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. I’m not saying that nothing ever bothers me, and I don’t have problems. I know I’ll spend eternity with God, and I have a promise that as a child of God, He’ll help me deal with anything. He promises to offer me contentment regardless of what life brings. The resurrection marks the moment when life overcame death.
The resurrection also marks the moment in time when hope overcame grief. The power of death and loss and grief can destroy a person. It can make us lose all hope.
My best friend in high school died in Lake Erie the last day of our junior year. I always felt that I never even got the chance to say goodbye. Many years later after, I decided to visit his grave, after attending a family funeral in the same cemetery. It was a cold, rainy afternoon in late winter. I couldn’t find it. As I walked through the mud, I was overcome with grief. Standing in the rain, I remember saying God, this has been the worst day of my life, and now I can’t even find my friend’s grave. And I was distraught with grief, I'm sure Georgann may even remember that moment. But suddenly I sensed a presence, as though Christ had drawn alongside to help. These same words that the angel spoke came to mind like a burst of light: Why do you look for the living among the dead?
Those words comforted me, and I’ve been back to the cemetery many times. But I don’t go back to visit Gary’s grave. The One who loves me and knew him came to me in my grief. He promised never to leave, and that has made all the difference in the world.
Even death can’t destroy the hope of those who believe in Jesus Christ. The resurrection marks the moment when hope overcame grief.
Finally, the resurrection marks the moment in time when we have to make a decision. Will we leave here like the women, bursting with joy and telling everyone we know about the eternal life offered through knowing Jesus? Or will we leave here like Peter, who saw the empty tomb and the grave clothes and just walked away unconvinced?
One of the most surprising elements to the story of the first Easter is the initial reaction of the disciples to the women’s testimony about finding the tomb empty. Luke tells us that they didn’t believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense. There was one exception. Peter, says Luke, got up and ran to the tomb. Bending over, he saw the strips of linen lying by themselves, and he went away, wondering to himself what had happened. What a halfhearted response to such a dramatic event! The resurrection demands a greater response than that. It’s the decisive moment in human history.
Jesus, who claimed to be the living embodiment of the one true God, died. After three days, He came back to life. There is no other belief system on earth that teaches this about their founder or prophet or god. The resurrection serves as the foundation of the Christian faith and the Christian church. Without the resurrection, all we have is a nice philosophy for living.
If the resurrection is a lie, then the Christian faith is a lie. If the resurrection is a lie, then death is the end of the story for every one of us. If the resurrection is a lie, then you had no reason to get up and come here this morning. If the resurrection is a lie, then millions of Christian churches across the world should close their doors for good. If the resurrection is a lie, then all the hospitals and orphanages and homeless shelters built in Jesus’ name should close their doors. Ultimately, what do they have to offer?
But it isn’t a lie. It’s real. It’s true. And it is the most important truth known to humanity.
That’s how we will feel on that day when the dead in Christ shall rise. It’s real! It’s been real all the time! Christ is risen from the dead and because He lives, we shall live too.
God raise Christ from the grave. And God will raise those whom we love who are in Christ. The resurrection is real.
In the novel, The Robe, there’s a character called Marcellus, who became fascinated by Jesus. He wrote letters to his fiancée in Rome. He told her about Jesus’ teachings, about His miracles, then about His crucifixion and His resurrection. Finally, he informed her that he had decided to become a disciple of Jesus. She wrote a letter in response, What I feared was that it might affect you. It’s a beautiful story. Let it remain so. We don’t have to do anything about it, do we?
And the answer to her question is, Yes, we do have to do something about it. We have to decide, is the resurrection the truth or a lie? If it’s the truth, it marks the most important moment in human history. And it calls us to a very special kind of life here and now, a life following Jesus.
When Jesus was born, a host of angels announced it and sang His praises. But the only ones who heard it were a few poor shepherds working the night shift. When Jesus rose from the dead, only two angels showed up to announce it, and they told it to a handful of grieving women. Only a few will accept the message of Jesus. Only a few will experience the reality of the resurrection. And only a few will leave here and go tell everyone they know, “He is Risen!” He is Risen indeed Alleluia!!!