Monday, April 05, 2010

Sermon on Luke 24:1-12, for Easter, "Death's Greatest Failure!"

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed! Alleluia!

When you think of the greatest blunders or failures in history, what comes to mind? Do you think of certain individuals who set out with great plans and were met with disastrous failure? Their names probably didn’t stick around so long, precisely because of what they didn’t accomplish. Though some have rebounded from devastating failures to great success. When you think of famous failures, do you think of great projects that went awry? The supposedly unsinkable Titanic, that struck an iceberg and sank in the Atlantic? Perhaps in Bible history, the failed attempt to build a monument to human glory, the Tower of Babel. Perhaps you would name famous failed inventions or marketing ideas, or even famous failures in battle or war.

Some failures are tragic, others are humorous. Some are memorable, some are not. But rarely are failures celebrated. But today, on the day of our Lord Jesus’ resurrection, we celebrate the greatest failure in human history. Death’s greatest failure—the failure to keep Jesus in the grave! And Jesus’ name will stand through all time; who delivered death its greatest failure.

Failures often are noted because of their great cost. Sometimes that cost is literally measured in dollars—huge advertising campaigns that flop or costly products that never sell. Sometimes the cost of failure is measured in the huge damage to property—floods or oilspills caused by human negligence, disasters that could have been averted. Sometimes the cost is measured in the loss of human life or health—the spread of preventable diseases, failure to inform people of hazards, the huge death tolls of various wars and conflicts. Oftentimes these failures also shared in common the discovery of some significant advance in knowledge, engineering, or safety. Oftentimes the leader’s in such failures gained priceless lessons that served them well in the future.

When we consider death’s greatest failure, there was truly an immeasurable cost. It was the precious life of Jesus, lamb without spot or blemish that died. That horrible cost was the price tag for sin from every human generation. Yes, our sin had that awful cost, to bring death on the innocent Son of God. The joy of Easter did not come without the pain and suffering of Good Friday. But while the cost was so great that no human could pay it, the immeasurable value of Jesus’ life far exceeded that cost. As the perfect, sinless Son of God, His life alone was able to pay that awful price. He paid that price willingly.

But the wonderful news this day of Resurrection, is that death never recovered from that failure! Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed! Alleluia! Death had no further recourse after Jesus rose from the tomb. Sin, of course, is the fatal sickness that has a 100% mortality rate. Death had experienced a number of short-lived reversals, mostly at the hand of Jesus, but no one had ever risen from death to never die again. Death had always been successful…the track record numbers in the billions. It might seem like a significant measure of success, since death has extinguished so many lives. But that’s what makes the colossal failure of death so incredible this Easter morning! That there was one single life, one person who couldn’t be kept in the grave—this marked death’s greatest failure.

It strived mightily, took a painful and ugly toll when the Son of God, Jesus Christ, died on the cross. That death was tough as nails, piercing as thorns, and true as the blood and water that poured from His pierced side. As the noble heart of our Savior throbbed slower and slower, until it ceased to beat altogether—life receded into the darkness. Death marched on, tallying yet another victim—but this one bigger than all the rest. Even the one man so many disciples had put their trust in…even the one who seemed stronger than death when He raised Lazarus, Jairus’ daughter, and the son of the widow from Nain—even this man finally succumbed to death. All who had hoped for some miraculous escape from the cross—some last minute rescue from death, were disappointed. They hung their heads in despair, conceding apparent defeat to mankind’s ruthless enemy, and lost for where to turn. And death would have succeeded. It appeared as though even the human Son of God, couldn’t win against this enemy.

But death’s greatest failure was that it was powerless to keep Jesus in the tomb. After death had done its worst…well…it had done its worst! When the most powerful weapon in the devil’s arsenal slew Jesus, and He came back from the dead in three days—death had met its match. The devil’s bag of tricks was empty, and Jesus is alive. Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed! Alleluia! Score one for God! Score one for humanity! The greatest failure of death is that one single man—and no ordinary man, but the true God-man Jesus Christ—rose from the most brutal pummeling death could dish out. And in that one extraordinary man, Jesus Christ, life starts anew for every one of us.

We’ve seen what death can do—it can take the life of every man, woman and child. But we’ve also seen what death gloriously cannot do—it cannot defeat the Son of God. And if we are in Christ Jesus, we also shall live—and whatever death may do to us, the eternal life and victory are ours in Christ Jesus. Take the colossal failure of death to be your comfort and your shield today. Sing out and ring out the songs of Alleluia, praise to our Lord, for He has triumphed gloriously! Never was there a failure so sweet, and a victory so divine.

Angels stood watch at the empty tomb of Jesus to proclaim to the women who were looking for the lifeless body of Jesus—“Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how He told you, while He was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.”

Death may have had its greatest failure, but too many live as though death is undefeated! Too many hang their heads in despair. Many consider it impossible that Jesus could have risen from death to eternal life. The women at the tomb looked for Jesus among the dead. Many think that death has never failed. The pessimistic best we can hope for is to hold death off as long as possible and enjoy life while it lasts. So we put our trust in medical cures to diseases—but new diseases, strains, and genetic maladies spring up faster than the cures. Or we try to anesthetize ourselves to the darkness and pain of life by any of a variety of sedatives. Alcohol, drugs, partying, thrill-seeking, pain meds, cutting, deafening ourselves with angry or despairing music—whatever methods people seek to face a world of sin where death is the final destination. But none of these can lift us from despair. Too many live as though death remains unconquered!

But it hasn’t! And skeptics and doubters, and people who just plain weren’t looking for it, were all witnesses of the resurrection of Jesus. But once they saw and confirmed with their own hands and eyes that Jesus our Savior had experienced a flesh and blood resurrection from the dead, to a glorified and immortal body—they couldn’t be stopped from spreading the news! Even persecution and death couldn’t persuade these once cowardly men from holding steadfast to the truth that they were eyewitnesses of death’s greatest failure. They saw that death could be beaten. Because the one man who beat death paved the way for the rest.

So do we live as those death has never failed? Do we live in fear, or without hope? Do we find dissatisfaction in life and regret our own mistakes and failures? Longing for something better? Then we’re living like those who were looking for the living Jesus among the dead. We’re living like the down-trodden women who sought meager consolation for losing their Lord and Master, through attending to His body. The only consolation they sought was to prepare His body with spices. When our gaze, like theirs, is fixed too low—when our hopes are shattered and death seems the inevitable victor—we must remember death’s greatest failure. Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed! Alleluia!

Our consolation is not in burying our dead. Our consolation is not in staving off death as long as possible. Our consolation is not finding the cure to every disease—as much as we work and pray for medical advances. No, our consolation is the far greater news that if we’ve died with Christ, being buried with Him through baptism into His death—that we’ll also be joined to His resurrection. In Christ, we can beat death too! We can hand death yet another failure! Because Christ’s resurrection was not a onetime victory, but rather is the multiplier that set the stage for an exponential increase of defeats and failures for death, going backward and forward through history. All who put their trust in the One True God, and His Son who overthrew death, are participants in His resurrection life. ONE—tens… thousands… millions… billions…there’s no limit to the possible human victories over death that will one day be achieved on the final day of resurrection.

All who hear this incredible news, all who believe and hope in the resurrected Lord and attach themselves by baptism and faith to His resurrection power, will stand in the victory that day. Countless faithful believers, including our loved ones who have died throughout the ages. Their names have already been counted to the seemingly invincible record of death. They and every other who has succumbed to death have contributed to the apparent success of death. But every faithful believer will stand in victory one day, because of the power of the One man Jesus Christ. The one death of Jesus, that resulted in resurrection, is enough to undo death forever. Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed! Alleluia!

If Easter really matters—how will we go out from service today? How long will it take before we return to life as usual, business as usual? Will we simply coast on the emotional high for a few days, relish the festive brunches and dinners, and soak in the beauty of the flowers, eggs, and music, and eat our chocolates? Then it will all be gone for a whole year when that fades. Or will we realize the weight of this message, the essential truth of Easter that life and death are forever changed through Jesus’ resurrection—and carry it on to every person who longs for a victory over death? Will we share with others how Jesus gave us hope in the face of despair and loss? If Easter really matters to us, and I know that it does—it will transform our life together as a caring Christian community. Because the rewards of Jesus’ victory over death are not just saved for the “not yet” of heaven. They also are present in the “now” of daily life. His resurrection life and Easter hope dwells in us to create caring, compassionate people who are on the constant watch for who and where help and hope are needed.

If we live like Easter matters, and speak our Christian hope, people will get curious. They will want to know, “What makes you the way you are? Why are you always helping people? How do you face such difficulty with patience and hope?” And the simple answer will be: “The Resurrection hope of Jesus lives in my heart. Our greatest enemy, death, has failed! This matters to me, and I pray that it will matter to you too!” In Jesus’ name, Amen.

And if any of you again feel the sheepish need to rub that failure in death’s face—Go ahead! Christ has Risen! He is Risen Indeed! Alleluia!

Sermon Talking Points:
Read past sermons at: http://thejoshuavictortheory.blogspot.com
Listen to audio at: http://thejoshuavictortheory.podbean.com

1. Name the greatest failures you can think of in history. What made them remarkable? What personal failures have been most troubling to you? How have other’s failed you?

2. What was the great cost of these failures? What was death’s greatest failure? What did that failure cost Jesus? Read John 1:29; 1 Peter 1:17-19; 2:4-6; Luke 23:26-49.

3. What was the cost of our sin, for which Jesus paid? Romans 6:23; 5:12-21. Why was He willing to pay this price? Did it cost us?

4. What did Jesus’ victory over death look like? What hope did it bring? Romans 8:18-25; 1 Corinthians 15; 1 Thessalonians 4:13

5. How can we help in spreading that urgently needed message of hope and victory? Who is someone you know that is in need of the message of hope and victory over death? Luke 24:47-48; John 20:29; Acts 1:8; 1 Peter 2:9.

6. What “consolations” that people seek have no ultimate power to comfort? What consolation have you sought in life, instead of trusting in God and the message of Jesus’ resurrection?

7. Why does this message make it impossible to merely go on with “life as usual?” What should our Christian life together look like as a result?

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