The Church Treasurer was going over the church finances when he found a receipt from the local paint store. He needed to know who signed for the paint so that he would know which account he needed to charge the paint to, so he called the store. He got the store manager on phone and explained the situation. The manager set the phone down and went to check. When he came back to the phone, he had the receipt in his hand. “It looks like it was signed for by someone named ‘Christian’.” The treasurer thought about it, going through names in his head, then responded, “Sorry, but there are NO Christians at OUR church!”
Today we reach the culmination of our current sermon series, One Act of Obedience. We started way back on February 17 and have walked all the way to Easter, focusing on the fact that, while Jesus calls US to obedience, He is willing to model that behavior for us. We’ve looking at 7 stories from the life of Jesus to see how His obedience can impact not only our ability but our desire to be obedient.
Charles Stanley said, “If you tell God no because He won’t explain the reason He wants you to do something, you are actually hindering His blessing. But when you say yes to Him, all of heaven opens to pour out His goodness and reward your obedience. What matters more than material blessings are the things He is teaching us in our spirit.” In other words…our obedience.
The late, great George Burns said, “The secret to a good sermon is to have a good beginning, and good ending…and keep the two as close as possible!” So this morning…I’ll do my best!
Jesus’ resurrection was foretold centuries before it actually happened- way back in the Old Testament- Psalm 16:5-11 LORD, you alone are my portion and my cup; you make my lot secure. The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance. I will praise the LORD, who counsels me; even at night my heart instructs me. I keep my eyes always on the LORD. With him at my right hand, I will not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will rest secure, because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead, nor will you let your faithful one see decay. You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.
When we were first married, I installed a skylight in our bedroom. BOY- the people in the apartment above us were mad! Today’s story made some people mad. It MAKES some people mad. Some people simply don’t want to hear the story of Easter. Why? Because today we celebrate the fact that Jesus is BACK…from the dead! Resurrection is the topic of the day! The question is- do you actually BELIEVE it? Let’s be honest- Easter celebrates the most unimaginable thing ever. Today, we celebrate the fact that a man was brutally and publicly murdered. Hundreds of people saw it. Then, the body was laid in a borrowed tomb. Many people watched as a large stone was rolled in front of the entrance and guards were posted- all to make sure that nothing happened except that a dead body stayed in a borrowed tomb. And yet, despite people’s best efforts, 3 days later that very same man was SEEN…ALIVE…by dozens and dozens of people. And these were people who’d SEEN Him nailed to the cross, who’d watched Him die, who’d witnessed His body cut down and laid in the tomb. These were people who were certain, despite what He had told them, that they would never see Him alive again. And that’s where we pick up today’s Scripture-
John 20:1-16 1 Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, ‘They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him! So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. Then Simon Peter came along behind him and went straight into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, as well as the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus ‘head. The cloth was still lying in its place, separate from the linen. Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead. Then the disciples went back to where they were staying. Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot. They asked her, ‘Woman, why are you crying?’ ‘They have taken my Lord away,’ she said, ‘and I don’t know where they have put him.’ At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus. He asked her, ‘Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?’ Thinking he was the gardener, she said, ‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Mary.’ She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, ‘Rabboni!’ (which means ‘Teacher’).
We try so hard to see beyond, to see what’s “out there”. In fact, that’s what this story is about.
We find 3 women going to the tomb just at sunrise- they are on their way to prepare Jesus’ body properly. Jewish custom dictated that when someone died, their body was to be cleaned and prepared- anointed with perfumes and spices- and then wrapped in linen. Only then was the body properly prepared for burial. But Jesus died before the start of the Sabbath, and by law, no one was allowed to work on the Sabbath. And preparing a body for burial was seen as work- so no one did it. Instead, they laid His body in the tomb “as is”. But these women couldn’t allow that to happen. So on the 1st day after the Sabbath, at dawn, they make their way to the tomb.
The truth is that they don’t really know what they’re doing. They don’t even know how they are going to get TO the body- that huge stone was rolled right over the entrance. But they HAVE to do something…so they go. I wonder, what did they expect to find? They expected to find a dead body. It’s important to understand- this is NOT a hysterical group of Elvis fans expecting to see “the King” coming out of a 7-11 in Keokuk, sucking on a Grape Slurpee.
“I know it seems strange…but every word is true! That lip curl is unmistakable!” “Thank you very much!” There are many people who still sincerely believe that they have seen Elvis alive, playing cards with JFK and Jimmy Hendrix…because they just can’t believe that somebody so prominent, so important, so loved could possibly die. But that is NOT the case here. These women are sure Jesus is dead; so sure that they’ve devoted their own money and time to bring the proper spices to prepare Him for burial.
They got up early to carry out this act of love, and when they arrive, they find that the stone has been rolled away! Further, there is a young man, dressed in white and sitting at the tomb. And did you notice their 1st response? It was NOT joy…it was alarm. They are confused- this is NOT was they expected to see. But the young man A
NTICIPATES their response- “Don’t be alarmed, everything’s fine. You’re looking for Jesus, but He is NOT here. He is risen!”
So why is this messenger there? Because resurrection was not terribly high on the women’s list. They could have had several guesses as to why the tomb is empty and they still probably wouldn’t have guessed that. So he tells them- Jesus is NOT here, He is risen, He is alive!
What we have here is perfectly normal people…in a perfectly abnormal situation. And we also have…women. If you wanted to create the perfect story, you would want credible witnesses- people who’d be believed. And in that day and age, who would that have been? Bueller? Anybody? Bueller? Men! They would have NEVER made up a story like this and made the witnesses women…unless of course that’s exactly how it happened. Listen to this- ALL 4 gospels feature women as the 1st witnesses to the resurrection.
Do you still have doubts about the story? Consider this- all the authorities had to do to settle the question once and for all and crush this pitiful Christian rebellion was open the tomb and produce the body. That’s IT! Simple…except nobody did it. Why? Because, in the end, it was not simply some cosmic PR stunt. The bottom line is this- however amazing and fantastical the resurrection story is- it simply doesn’t bear the marks of fabrication.
Ultimately, God wrote His promise of resurrection not in our books…but in our hearts. Easter is NOT a time of groping around in dusty tombs, trying to prove or disprove spontaneous regeneration. It’s a time to fan the embers of hope, to revel in the faith that transports us out of a dead past and into a great and inviting future. You can put truth in the grave…but it won’t stay there long. The Christian message, the from very 1st days of the fledgling church, is that Jesus is alive, that He rose from the dead.
If Jesus is NOT alive, if He DIDN’T rise from the dead/, then Easter is the saddest, silliest, most pathetic day in the Christian Church. If Jesus is NOT alive, then Ashton Kutcher punked about a billion people. If Jesus is NOT alive, then there is no Christianity. Without the resurrection, Jesus was just a good guy who spouted some pithy sayings, hacked off the wrong people and died for His troubles.
But what if it DID happen? What if Jesus IS alive? Then we celebrate Easter as the absolute quintessential moment in human history. If Jesus IS alive, then everything Jesus said about God…and about Himself…is true. If Jesus is alive, then the Creator of the universe broke through time and space to intervene in human history. If Jesus is alive, then what He said about sin and forgiveness, about new life, is true. If Jesus is alive, then eternity is available to all who seek it.
In Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book, Mowgli the man cub asks the animals what’s
the most feared thing in the jungle. He’s told that when two animals meet on a narrow
path that one must step aside and let the other pass. The animal that steps aside for no
one would then be the most feared. Mowgli wants to know what kind of animal that would be. One tells him it’s an elephant. Another tells him it’s a lion. Finally the wise old owl exclaims, “The most feared thing in the jungle is death. It steps aside for no one.” It doesn’t matter how strong, or rich, or popular or powerful you are, death is an absolute for all of us. No one is exempt from death. No one, that is, but Jesus. Because like the coward steps aside for the brave, death cowered in the presence and the power of Jesus Christ.
At a woman’s funeral, the pallbearers accidentally bumped against the wall and jostled the casket. Much to their surprise, they heard a faint moan from inside- the woman was alive! They got her out and she lived another 10 years. But then…she died…again. At the funeral, the pallbearers picked up the casket, at which point the woman’s husband said, “This time, don’t hit the wall!”
I know it’s hard for some to believe that a person could come back from the dead. The argument is that Jesus’ tomb was empty and no one was ever able to produce a body. The response is this- just because the tomb was empty doesn’t prove that Jesus rose from the dead.
Maybe Jesus didn’t really die on the cross. Maybe He just passed out from pain and exhaustion. They literally buried Jesus alive. Then, after 3 days, he came to and walked out under His own power. Of course, that means that He also fought His way out of 70 pounds of tightly-wound grave cloths, moved a huge boulder and overpowered a bunch of armed Roman guards- all without the benefit of food and water for 3 days.
Or maybe the response is that the simply disciples stole His body. Of course that means that ALL of the soldiers on duty slept through the whole thing and the disciples were actually strong enough to move the stone…while those guards slept.
Or maybe the response is that the disciples were hallucinating when they claimed to see a risen Jesus. Of course, the disciples weren’t really expecting to see Jesus alive again and hundreds of people in several different locations over a period of 40 days ALL claimed to see Him.
Dr. David Seamands tells of a man in Africa who became a Christian. Some of his friends asked him, “Why did you become a Christian?” He answered, “Well, It’s like this. Suppose you were going down the road and suddenly the road forked in two directions and you didn’t know which way to go, and there at the fork in the road were two men, one dead and one alive. Which one would you ask which way to go?’”
Look at the way Jesus’ resurrection transformed the disciples. There they were, cowering in a room, terrified that what happened to Jesus would happen to them. But after Jesus shows up alive again, they become bold and courageous. What would cause them to change so quickly, except for the fact that they had seen Jesus alive? These guys were serious about proclaiming the resurrection…because it was true!
Easter celebrated the biggest moment in human history- the moment when God declared, through absolutely clear and unmistakable actions and words that His 1st and deepest response to us…is love. It means that no matter how bad life seems, behind everything is God’s love for us and that can NEVER be shaken. It means that if we believe in the resurrection, our lives can never be the same again. The resurrection ISN’T good news… it’s the BEST news possible.
Acts 2:29-33 “Brothers, I can tell you confidently that the patriarch David died and was buried, and his tomb is here to this day. But he was a prophet and knew that God had promised him on oath that he would place one of his descendants on his throne. Seeing what was ahead, he spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to the grave, nor did his body see decay. God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact. Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear.
Sports Illustrated once produced the “TOP 10 COMEBACKS OF ALL TIME.” The list included Elvis Presley, Harry Truman, Muhammad Ali, John Travolta, Michael Jordan and go-go boots! But amazingly enough, #1 with a bullet as the greatest comeback of all time, as chosen by a publication like Sports Illustrated, was… Jesus Christ! Death couldn’t keep Jesus down. And if you put your trust in Him, there’s nothing that can keep you down, either.
Maybe you need a comeback. Maybe life has you down and feeling defeated. Maybe you feel like your chances
for happiness are slim and none. If so…that’s okay. Put your hope and trust in the greatest comeback of all time: the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Through Him you can have joy…both in this life AND the one to come.
If the resurrection is real, how can we possibly our lives as if God doesn’t exist? If the resurrection is real, if God truly loves us like this- how does it affect the way we do our jobs? How does it affect the way we raise our children? How does it affect the way we relate to our spouses? If God is real, if His love is real, if His offer of eternity is real, then how can our lives NOT be changed? The stone was rolled away NOT to let Jesus out…but to let us in. The resurrection gives our lives meaning and direction- an opportunity to start over no matter what. Do you want life, abundant life? Jesus offers that to you…now. If you haven’t made the decision to turn from your old life and begin new life in Jesus…what better time than today?
Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a great Easter! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!
Tomorrow- Everything Old is New Again