A woman was at work when she received a phone call that her daughter was very sick with a fever. She left work and stopped by the pharmacy to get some medication. She got back to her car and found that she had locked her keys in the car. She looked around and found an old rusty coat hanger that had been thrown down on the ground, possibly by someone else who at some time or other had locked their keys in their car, but she didn’t know how to use it. So she bowed her head and asked God to send her some help. Within five minutes an old rusty car pulled up, with a dirty, greasy, bearded man who was wearing an old biker do-rag on his head. The woman looked up and whispered, “This is what you sent to help me?” But, she was desperate, so she was also very thankful. The man got out of his car and asked her if he could help. She said, She told him her situation and asked if he could help. “Sure”. He walked over to the car, and in less than a minute had it opened. She cried and hugged him, and through her tears said, “Thank you SO much! You’re a very nice man.” The man replied, “Lady, I’m not a nice man. I just got out of prison…today- I’ve only been out for about an hour. I was in prison for car theft.” She hugged the man again and with sobbing tears cried out loud, “Oh, Thank you God! You even sent me a professional!”
Lent- the season of the church calendar leading up to Easter. It begins the Sunday AFTER Ash Wednesday and it is a 7-week period of preparation. Today, we reach the end of our current sermon series that has led us to Easter morning. We started in a rather unorthodox place…Christmas. And from the full manger of the first Christmas morning, we said we would walk all the way to the empty tomb of the first Easter. And along the way, we would always keep the image of “the nails” in front of us- reminding us that it was never the nails that held Jesus to the cross- it was His love for us all along.
Matthew 28:1-10 After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb. There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men. The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.” So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them. “Greetings,” he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.
The story of Mary Magdalene meeting Jesus at the empty tomb is one of some women going to the tomb to anoint a body for burial. It ends with the mourners becoming missionaries, running to tell the others what they had seen and heard.
Death is never easy to deal with. Most of the time we can avoid it or postpone it. But sometimes death stares us in the face and we don’t know what to do. If you’ve ever lost a loved one who meant more to you than life itself, you know why Mary and the others were there– death couldn’t destroy their love for Jesus. We see the empty tomb as one of the greatest proofs of the Resurrection. But unless the evidence is accompanied by proper understanding and an open heart, no one will ever be changed.
The women clung to Him because they thought that, now, everything was the same as it used to be. But Jesus says, “No, everything is different now.” Then He tells them to go and tell the others. So they go to the disciples and tell them they have seen Jesus. In that moment, the mourner becomes the missionary! So it is with everybody who meets Jesus. We are called to do what Mary did- run and tell everybody who will listen that we’ve seen Jesus!
There’s great power in the words of someone who can say, “I was there. I saw it.” A church in Bangladesh was showing a movie about Jesus to an audience of people who’d never heard the Gospel before. As the story of the crucifixion unfolded, there were tears and audible gasps. As the natives watched, one young boy suddenly spoke up, “Don’t be afraid. He gets up again! I saw it before.” That’s our message to a world overwhelmed with the reality of death. God’s given us the answer. We can say to those who feel bewildered and heartbroken, “Don’t cry…Jesus has come back from the dead. I’ve seen Him!”
Who are we? Why are we here? It seems to me the reason we’re here is because we’re in love…I would be so bold as to call it the passionate throes of “first love”- the love we have for Jesus. It’s that “first love” that brings us to His feet. It’s that “first love” that empowers us to ask Him to make us His. It’s that “first love” that, through God’s grace, gives us the gift of faith. How much more could we fulfill the Great Commission if we were to reconnect with our first love and shut ourselves off from all those things that are add-ons to our faith? What if we were to rediscover the heart of our faith, our love for Jesus?
A woman read that dogs were healthier if fed a tablespoon of cod liver oil every day. So, every day she followed the same routine–she chased her dog until she caught it, wrestled it down, and managed to force the cod liver oil down the dog’s throat. Until one day when, in the middle of this grueling medicinal effort, the bottle was kicked over. With a sigh, she loosened her grip on the dog so she could wipe up the mess–only to watch the dog trot to the puddle and lick it up. The dog LOVED cod liver oil! It was just the owner’s method of application the dog objected to. The delivery method was the problem. The same could be said of the church. People desperately want to know that God is alive and well…and that He loves them. Why then aren’t all our churches full? I fear too many churches have a problem with how they communicate their message, with the delivery system. What if, before every committee meeting, every church asked this question: “Is what we’re about to discuss worth the price Jesus paid on the cross? Is what we’re doing right now worth the shedding of Jesus’ blood? Did Jesus die on the cross so that we could be this kind of church?”
Can we take Christianity at face value? Can people take our church, our lives, at face value? Without strong roots, our face value can quickly become farce value. Oscar Wilde sarcastically wrote, “The first duty in life is to be as artificial as possible. What the second duty is no one has yet discovered.” So many Christian faces look like following Jesus is more a life sentence than a life style! But human beings of every age, at all times and in all places, whether they realize and reflect on it or not, are in relationship with the amazing mystery of human life we call God.
If you don’t know Jesus, or if you’re not sure, there’s no better time than Easter Sunday to put your trust in him. If you sense God’s calling you to come to Jesus, and if you truly want to know him, your faith will grow and your doubts will wane as you tell others what Jesus has done for you.
I close with this reminder- the nails led to the ultimate victory- over death. However, they were NEVER what held Him to the cross. It was His love for US that held Him there. The time to share the Good News has come. Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed!