Monday, April 06, 2015

Sermon on Psalm 16 and Mark 16:1-8, for Easter Sunday, the Resurrection of Our Lord. "Path of Life"

Christ is Risen! He is Risen indeed! Alleluia! You may or may not know that the Scriptures link up two very important events in salvation history—the Exodus, which happened about 1,400 years before Jesus’ birth, and then Jesus’ own death, burial, and resurrection. A second exodus. There are all sorts of parallels between the two events. Moses was raised up by God to rescue the Israelites, just as Jesus, greater than Moses, was raised up by God to rescue all humanity, Jews and Gentiles. The first exodus was from a physical slavery to the Pharoah in Egypt. The second exodus is from our spiritual slavery to the power of sin, death, and the devil. Scripture describes the Israelites being led across the Red Sea as being “baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea”, just as it speaks of us as being baptized into Jesus’ death and resurrection. God accomplished a great deliverance for His people, when they were trapped and seemingly helpless, walled in by the Red Sea. If you know the story, you know that the Israelites were terrified of the oncoming chariots and soldiers of the Pharoah, and they despaired.
We get a taste of that same despair when we see the women gathering at Jesus’ tomb on Easter morning. The second exodus, led by Jesus, seemed to have ended in defeat. In Mark 16, we heard about how they went to the tomb at sunrise, to pay their respects, to give their buried teacher and Lord the honor that was denied them after His death. On the way they realized that they couldn’t move the great stone that sealed the tomb. As darkness still lingered in the early morning light, fears, doubt, and sadness hung over them like a cloud. Can you imagine how the Israelites would have despaired if, when Pharoah and his armies were bearing down on them, walled in by the Red Sea, that Moses, their leader was suddenly struck dead by the enemy? No doubt their despair would have given way to utter defeat. As frightened as they were, before they saw God’s salvation unfold—they still clung to the small hope that Moses would deliver them. But if He died?
If Jesus’ disciples, following the new and greater Moses, the One who came to lead us from the captivity of sin, faithfully follow His leading, but then see their leader, cornered, captured, and killed by the enemy—what hope would survive? The disciples, to a man, to a woman, behaved as if all hope was lost. All was solitude and gloom. If Jesus is still in that tomb, all is lost. We are not set free. We are still dead in our transgressions and sins. In this frame of mind, with no other prospect than to show honor to His dead body, the women arrive, sorrowfully, but lovingly to carry out their duty. Pay the small honor that they could.
And then, as though parting the Red Sea waters, God miraculously intervenes to rescue, when all hope seemed beyond lost. The stone is moved back from the tomb. What else but alarm and shock would overcome them when they do not find Jesus inside, but an angel dressed in white, greeting them and announcing: “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.” The tomb was empty! Jesus was gone! But where? On His way to Galilee? As He told us? Can it be? Now that we had all but given up, is rescue still in sight?
Death had struck its blow. It’s fatal blow against Jesus. Sin stung in all His wounds like the poison that it is. Death struck it’s blow and the world had gone reeling. An earthquake shook the land as Jesus died on Good Friday. The Temple curtain was torn in two. People cowered in fear, not knowing what was happening. Death had done its worst, and Jesus, the hope of mankind, was laid into His grave. But a second earthquake that Easter morning declared that it wasn’t over. Death was through, and had done its worst, but today Life would speak from the grave. Jesus, the Resurrection and the Life, has risen! Christ has Risen! He is Risen Indeed, Alleluia! He was alive and waiting to greet His disciples in Galilee. They had forgotten His promise, forgotten that He told them three times, that He would die, and in three days be raised again. Hope and Life were back on their feet, as Jesus was alive again. And death has no more answer to Jesus—it’s done its worst, its power is broken.
Psalm 16, which we recite earlier, is one of the oldest prophecies about Jesus’ resurrection. It’s a Psalm that King David wrote, some 1,000 years before Jesus, expressing His hope in the face of death. He wrote these words, about His confidence in the Lord: Psalm 16:8–11, “8 I have set the Lord always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken. 9 Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices; my flesh also dwells secure. 10 For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see corruption. 11 You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” Contrast this confidence in the face of death, to the fear or uncertainty that faced the Israelites, the first disciples, or even us. We too face death, never knowing when our own end may come. But this Psalm speaks to us of the confidence that is ours if we set the Lord always before us.
Jesus had this unshakeable confidence, which was why the worst that sin and death threw at Him, could not rattle His trust in God. Those words: “You will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see corruption,”—they describe Jesus. Jesus knew that the grave would not “finish Him.” He knew that His body would not see decay, but that God would uphold Him. And rising from the tomb that Easter morning, Jesus’ confidence in God was vindicated.  You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” Jesus had walked through the valley of the shadow of death, but He knew the path of life. Jesus, by His innocence and by God’s mighty deliverance, had passed the boundary of death, and navigated His way back to life. He was leading the way out, just as God had planned—just the deliverance that humanity, enslaved to sin and death needed.
Remember that parallel? First and second exodus? Here’s another—the word exodus means “a way out”, or exit, or departure. For Israel, in the first Exodus, God miraculously made a way out from Egypt, as He delivered them from Pharoah. Moses parted the Red Sea waters by God’s almighty hand, and what seemed like certain death opened up to a way out and into life. Jesus leads our exodus. He exited, or departed by death—which seemed certain defeat to all His followers. But He knows the path of life. As sure a guide as we could ask for, His exodus into death opened up for us the way to eternal life. Jesus desires to set your feet on that level path. He desires to be set before you at all times, so that you will not be shaken.
Do you fear that now, or on some day yet to come, that death may have you cornered? That your sins have caught up to you, your guilt will cover your head in shame, and hound you to your grave? Do you fear that cancer, or heart disease, or tragedy may spell your ruin, and that death will finish you? Then look to the cross, look to the empty tomb, look to Jesus! He is your deliverer and Lord, and He has gone this way before. The enemies of sin, death and the devil, their accusations of guilt and shame, their weapons of fear and doubt—Jesus has faced them all and finished them. His deliverance was not a narrow escape from death—but a full encounter with death. Heart stopped, life gone, eyes closed in death. Buried, in the tomb. But three days more and Christ has Risen! He is Risen indeed, Alleluia! Your enemies, your fears, your guilt and sin are nothing to match our Jesus. He is alive! He stands at your right hand so that you may not be shaken. With Christ beside you, you can defy death, and know that you can gladly follow after Him, because He makes known to us the path of life.
Our heart is glad, our whole being rejoices, and our flesh dwells secure. Our security, our rejoicing, and our gladness this day, is that death is overthrown. Jesus, God’s Holy One, is risen from the dead, never to die again. He waits for us in heaven, with fullness of joy and pleasures forevermore awaiting us. Do not be alarmed! Do not let the dread of sin and death defeat you or cause you to despair! The tomb is empty, Jesus is risen! Did He not tell us He would do this? Today, Easter, life begins anew. Our journey is on the path of life; we are headed for the Promised Land. Death no longer haunts our tracks, but Jesus leads us on to life. Live with the sight of Jesus’ victory in your heart and in your mind. Live with the confidence that your sins have been forgiven, and that whenever death comes, it going to be but an exit into life eternal. Live with the solid confidence that nothing can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Christ is Risen! He is Risen indeed, Alleluia! Amen.
Sermon Talking Points
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1.      What connections does the Bible make between the Exodus, and Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection? How is it like a New Exodus? Luke 9:30-31 (see footnote on v. 31). 1 Corinthians 10:1-6. What kind of slavery are we in, from which Christ sets us free? John 8:31-36
2.      Why were the women so despairing on coming to the tomb? Where were the disciples, and what were their emotions that morning? What would it mean for us if Jesus were still dead and in His tomb? 1 Corinthians 15:12-20.
3.      When the angel stood at the tomb, reminding the women that Jesus had told them in advance of His resurrection, and where to meet Him, when had Jesus said this? Mark 14:26-28. What was happening when Jesus gave this promise?
4.      What awesome signs surrounded Jesus’ death, pointing to the extraordinary event that had taken place? Mark 15:33, 37-39; John 19:34; Matthew 27:51-54. What similar signs occurred on Easter morning? Matthew 27:53; 28:2-4.
5.      How does Psalm 16, especially verses 8-11, predict Jesus’ resurrection? How does it describe it? See Acts 2:22-34. What confidence does Psalm 16 express in the face of death? What is the source of this confidence?
6.      Where did Jesus’ journey take Him? What “path” did He know, that allowed Him to travel that journey without fear?
7.      What fears, guilt, or sins face you? Does death seem near or far? Where is your confidence and hope? Where does Jesus reign for us? Acts 2:32-36. What awaits believers in Christ Jesus? Psalm 16:11. How does this affect how you will live?

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