Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Sermon on Luke 24:1-12, for Easter Sunday, the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus, "You have my word!"

Grace, mercy, and peace to you, from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! Amen. Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed! Alleluia!
How often have we heard someone promise something, and they said, “You have my word!” “I’ll take you…you have my word.” “It’ll be done by Friday…you have my word.” “I’ll never do that…you have my word.” And we’ve all seen how unreliable people can be. How quickly promises are changed, delayed, or forgotten. Rare is the individual who lives up to the phrase, “My word is my bond.” Rare indeed is the individual who can always be counted on to never break their promises. Many strive to keep their word, and I hope that we all do earnestly and sincerely, but who can be found that never broke a promise? We’re conditioned by repeated disappointments or let downs, to be skeptical of those who say, “You have my word.”
The disciples of Jesus, both the remaining 11 and the women who were the closest followers of Jesus, had His Word as well. Three distinct times before His death, He’d predicted His death and resurrection. On the night when He was betrayed, He’d even scheduled their first rendezvous after He’d risen from the dead! “After I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee” (Matt. 26:31). But the events of Good Friday had all but erased those words from their memory. Many of the faithful women had seen the horrible events up close and personal. The disciple John was there at the cross when He died. Many were no doubt further back in the crowd, hiding in the sea of anonymous faces, lest they be identified as Jesus’ disciples too.
Their hearts, minds, and nerves must have been raw and torn from the bitter loss of the dear Lord Jesus. He had spoken with such uncompromising truth and sincerity, with compassion and love for the lost. So many lives changed by His Word, His miracles, His touch. Their own lives had been changed. But now it all must have seemed a shattered hope and dream. What strength to go on? What of His teachings about the coming kingdom of God? Could they have been mistaken? How could He keep His Word now? Their grief blurred their memory.
Friday evening, there wasn’t even time for a proper burial. Sabbath began that sundown, and there was no time for the women to pay their respects, by giving Him a decent burial. Holy Saturday must have dragged on like an eternity. Pastor Mike Hintze described the women going to the grave with their aromatic spices as trying to cope with death. The spices couldn’t make the death of Jesus any better, but could only help to make things ‘bearable.’ Cover up the odor of death, pay their tokens of respect and love. We’re familiar with the routines and rituals that help us cope with death, maybe not the same ones—but we’ve all tried to “beautify” death in some way to try to make it more bearable. But what were those women to do, when they came to the tomb to cope with their despair—spices in hand—and the object of their despair was gone? That there was no longer any pain or grief to bear with, only sheer, unexpected joy! Death had not broken Christ’s word! Christ’s word and His death had broken death! Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed! Alleluia!
Stunned and perplexed, they were suddenly awestruck by the appearance of two angels, in dazzling white clothing. “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here but has risen!” You’re spices are not needed here—He’s alive! You won’t find Jesus among the dead ever again! What a jolt! And it was real! They would soon see and touch and feel for themselves. And then the angels reminded them of Jesus’ Word—“’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.’ And they remembered His Words.” Like a thousand brilliant light bulbs going on at once, they were struck with the realization that this was all as Jesus had planned and told them! He hadn’t broken His Word! Death hadn’t gotten in the way of Him keeping His promises, but this was exactly what they should have expected! Jesus had kept His Word! And they rushed to tell the disciples.
But when they told the disciples of the empty tomb, and the words of the angels, “these words seemed to [the apostles] an idle tale, and they did not believe them.” In other words their response was: don’t try to cheer me up with silly stories! Why can’t you accept cold hard facts and leave us alone! Weren’t you there when they took down His lifeless body? Didn’t you see the spear pierce His side? The blood and the water? You followed Joseph of Arimathea and the soldiers as they placed His corpse in the tomb. What don’t you get?! It’s no use to try to comfort us. He’s dead. As if to say, “Don’t let the light crowd in on my gloom!” The despair of the disciples still hung thick in the air. You sense their impatience with the women. But just enough hope is stirred in the hearts of Peter and John, that they start a footrace to the empty tomb to see for themselves.
We recognize this skeptical thinking, because we live in a supposedly scientific age, where supposedly things are only believed on cold, hard, tested fact. Nothing seems so irreversible and final as death. Nothing seems so impossible as rising from the dead. But you don’t have to come from a scientific age to think like that. Our human experience of death and dying conditions us to believe that death is the final end. Even when something deeply imprinted on our soul tells us there must be more. But what kind of hope do we have? Wishful thinking that will cheer us up only until we die? A hope only for this life, and not for the next?
Many who would hear of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, would like to reduce it to just an idle tale, the talk of some grief-stricken women, just as the disciples did. Or other theories to explain it away—stolen body, a reinvigoration or resuscitation of Jesus in the tomb. Namely anything short of the real rising of Jesus to life, when He had really, truly been dead. Because THAT would be a miracle! Not just ‘a’ miracle, but THE miracle that shatters all that we thought was real and final about death. To believe this miracle means we have to set aside our preconceptions about death. It means we take Jesus at His Word, and believe the incredible promise: “I am the Resurrection and the Life; whoever believes in me will live, even though he dies, and whoever lives and believes in me will never die” (John 11:25-26).
And Jesus’ rising, ONLY shatters death if His body really was dead, bled out, lifeless and cold. And ONLY if this same Jesus, in the body, was up and walking around in flesh and blood, alive again. Any other sleight of hand, any other explaining away of the evidence, won’t do. The apostle Paul said as much—himself converted from unbelief by seeing the risen Lord Jesus, he said, “If in this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied”…and “if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain” (1 Cor. 15:19, 14). Paul knew what was at stake if you doubt or dismiss this central teaching of the Christian faith—that Jesus has risen bodily from the dead. He said if you give up this, you may as well sell off the whole Christian religion. It’s all worthless if Jesus isn’t risen from the dead. If it’s not true, then the knee jerk reaction of the disciples was right—it’s just an idle tale.
But Paul could paint it so starkly, because his confidence was so strong in the resurrection of Jesus. Not only had Paul seen Jesus himself, but he’d catalogued over 500 eyewitnesses, in addition to the disciples, who’d seen Jesus alive after his death. Paul could venture so boldly as to stake everything on the resurrection of Jesus because he knew this was no idle tale, but it was the very words of Jesus coming true, just as He had said. Paul and the other eyewitnesses were ready to die to defend what they’d heard from Jesus, what they’d seen with their eyes, looked upon and touched with their hands, concerning this word of life (1 John 1:1). Paul and the rest of the disciples, the women and all the eyewitnesses, could so boldly bank everything on Jesus’ resurrection because of what it meant that it’s true! If false, then everything is lost. If true, then everything is gained! Since Christ has been raised from death, heaven stands open to us, forgiveness is real, and death is not the end.
Pastor Hintze described this realization: “See, you think you've accepted reality? and all of a sudden, reality is really bigger than you thought!” And “nothing’s impossible once it’s happened.” Death had seemed the ultimate reality for the disciples, when the women first told their report. For many today, death remains an inescapable darkness and end. But the inescapable reality of Jesus’ resurrection rained down on the disciples’ heads, crashed in on their disbelief, their skepticism, and it made them go and see for themselves. And Jesus spent the next 40 days appearing to them in the body, eating, drinking, walking, talking and touching them. He showed them “many convincing proofs”—the book of Acts says. The impossible had happened. Once something’s happened, it’s no longer impossible. Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed! Alleluia!
Jesus has proved Himself as good as His Word. He has kept His Word because it’s impossible for God to lie. He said He would conquer death and sin, and He did, and we can bank everything on His promises. Easter, the Resurrection of Jesus from the dead, is not about vague hopes of renewal or idle tales, but it’s about the very Word of life, and the Living Lord Jesus. There’s everything to be gained, by believing Him. There is forgiveness for your sins, by trusting Him as your Savior. There is a new life to begin now—as He renews you by His Holy Spirit to live after Him without fear. There is true comfort in the face of death—a comfort that doesn’t mask death to make it more bearable—but a lasting comfort that stands firm on Jesus’ unchanging Word. And there is the promise that when we go to our grave, and we take this faith in Christ with us—that He will take us with Him to everlasting life.
In the light of this incredible Easter news, it’s unthinkable that we would retreat into the gloom of defeat, and hang our heads. Or that we’d let ourselves stand victim to be defeated by sin and death. Instead, we’re called forward to repent of our sin, give it over to Jesus, and praise God and rejoice in Jesus’ victory over death. Life just can’t remain the same when you know that Jesus has risen from His grave. There is hope and a future we never had before. We don’t live our lives inching our way toward defeat and the grave, but rather boldly preparing to enter Christ’s victory for us. All you who live and believe in Jesus Christ will have eternal life! And you have His Word on it! Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed! Alleluia! Amen. 

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