Wednesday, March 23, 2016

After Three Days I Will Rise

Matthew 27:62-66 At about 9:00 A.M. on Friday morning nails were driven into Jesus’ hands and feet and he was lifted up upon a cross planted deep into a hill called Golgotha—the place the of the skull.  During the hours that followed he was mocked and ridiculed.
But his saving work still continued.  He forgave those who tormented him and a dying criminal came to faith and was saved from eternal damnation. 
By 12:00 darkness covered the land as the sun refused to shine in the face of its dying Creator.  Three hours later, at about the ninth hour, 3:00 in the afternoon, Jesus said “It is finished”, commended himself into his Father’s hands, and gave up his spirit.
At that moment an earthquake shook the very foundations of the earth and many holy people were restored to life and came out of their tombs and the curtain in the temple that separated God and his people was torn in two from top to bottom.
Several years earlier Jesus said that just as the bronze snake was lifted up in the wilderness so that the people could be saved from the deadly serpent, so the Son of Man must be lifted up so that whoever looked to him in faith could have eternal life. 
And then he said the words we all know by heart, the words that caption the scene before our eyes better than any others,
“For God so loved the world, that he sent his only Son, that whoever believe in his should not perish but have eternal life.”
The man who heard those words was changed forever by those words and was born again just as Jesus said we all must be.  That man was a Pharisee named Nicodemus. 
That Good Friday afternoon, as Jesus was lifted up on a cross, when he had finished his work of salvation and given up his spirit, Nicodemus came to the cross along with Joseph of Arimethea, another prominent Jewish leader who was secretly a follower of Jesus, and they took the body of Jesus and laid it in a tomb and rolled a stone in front of it to seal it. 
As darkness fell on that Friday, the faithful women, sat there in the garden, looking at the tomb of Jesus.  Grief and tears marred their faces.  Very early the next morning:
The chief priests and the Pharisees went to Pilate. “Sir,” they said, “we remember that while he was still alive that deceiver said, ‘After three days I will rise again.’
            There was never any doubt about what Jesus taught.  The words themselves were perfectly clear even if people struggled to believe them.  “I will go to Jerusalem, be rejected by own people, be betrayed by my friends, suffer and die and rise again”.  The disciples heard these words.  The faithful women heard these words.  The Jewish leaders heard these words.  And now Pilate heard these words.
There had been other attempts on Jesus’s life.  Attempts to steal him away.  But as he said, “How can it be possible that any prophet would die away from the holy city” and so it was for him that it was there, just outside the walls, that he was crucified and died. 
Despite their pleas to the contrary around the table in the upper room, it was his closest friends who failed him—one who betrayed him and eleven others who either denied him or fled from his side in his hour of need.
And despite the faith of Nicodemus and Joseph, it was the religious leaders of the people of Israel who rejected him and the people of Jerusalem who demanded the release of a murderer and the crucifixion of the holy one of God.  This is what Jesus had promised. 
This is exactly what happened.  It is a tragic irony that these men who came to Pilate early on Saturday morning after the death of Jesus the afternoon before, these men who had hear these words of Jesus and seen them fulfilled, could not see that Jesus was anything but a deceiver or impostor. 
Every word he spoke was true and he was indeed the Christ, the very Son of God just as he had said.
“We remember that he said, I will rise again!”  Can anything more terrible ever have come from the mouth of man than these words if they are not accompanied with faith?  We remember what he said! 
We remember his promise of betrayal and rejection and death and we have been eyewitnesses of it and we still do not believe!  We remember his promise to rise again—this man who never spoke false word—and yet we reject it out of hand.
We remember the promises of Jesus but do not believe!  We remember the words of Jesus and it hardens us in our hatred.  We remember the prophecy of Jesus and it only deepens our fear.
  Brothers and sisters in Christ, there is a profound warning for each of us in the Lenten irony of these words!  We are not immune from the great sin of separating the words of Jesus from the “yes” of our faith. 
We hear his call to forgive others and put him first and cease worrying about the things of this life and we go right on being angry and afraid. 
We hear his promises that we are forgiven and loved and that death is not the end we go right on living under a burden and guilt and shame and fear.
Especially on this most holy day we are to remember the words our Lord Jesus Christ and respond with the “yes” of faith! 
“Father, forgive them.”  “Yes, Lord!  I believe that your shed blood has forgiven my sins and so there is no need for me to go through life feeling guilty and ashamed!”
“It is finished!”  “Yes, Lord!  I believe that what you did on the cross is fully sufficient for my salvation, that it has reconciled me to God and made me part of his family.”
“Father, into your hands I commend my spirit!”  “Yes, Lord!  I believe that when I depart this life I can do it with courage and confidence, knowing that my heavenly Father will receive me unto himself!”  Yes, Lord, we remember and we believe! 
Those are the words that were missing as Pilate met with the Jewish leaders in one last, failed effort to thwart and undermine the saving will of Jesus.  They said:
Give the order for the tomb to be made secure until the third day. Otherwise, his disciples may come and steal the body and tell the people that he has been raised from the dead. This last deception will be worse than the first.” 
I’m not buying it.  I don’t believe for a second the truth of their words that what they were really afraid of was the disciples stealing the body of Jesus and then perpetuating a deception that Jesus had risen from the dead. 
I think that they were deathly afraid that Jesus was who he said he was and he had been telling the truth.
No, how do I square that with what I just said and about them not believing in the promises of Jesus?  Here’s the thing:  fear is not the same as faith.  Their fear that Jesus really was who he said he was, was still not faith in Jesus.
James says that the demons in hell know that there is one God and shudder in fear.  And that demonic fear and hatred is just exactly what is driving the Jewish leaders. 
The Bible tells us that after the resurrection of Lazarus the religious leaders gathered together in fear because they knew if Jesus’ ministry continued in the same way all of the people would follow him and they would lose their place. 
And so they made plans to kill Jesus and Lazarus who they knew had been raised from the dead and they concocted this story about the disciples stealing the body of Jesus to cover their tracks if worse came to worst—which in their minds was Jesus actually being the Savior of the world and rising from the dead just as he said he would do.
But how do we explain that kind of hatred that blinds men to the truth about Jesus? 
Here’s the thing, the victory of Jesus—means defeat for others.  It means the end of Satan’s reign.  It means the end of death’s claim on us.  It means the end of our flesh and sin and self-will.
The victory of Jesus in his resurrection means the end of our puny reign over our petty kingdoms and the absolute necessity to kneel before him in faith and acknowledge him as our King.  But this is the very thing the men who met that morning would not do.
So it still is in our world today with all of those who deny the resurrection of Jesus, hoping upon hope, with every fiber of their being that the resurrection is a deception that is not true and Jesus is a liar who is still dead. 
But none of it will stand in the presence of the living Christ.  Pilate said: 
“Take a guard,” Pilate answered. “Go, make the tomb as secure as you know how.” So they went and made the tomb secure by putting a seal on the stone and posting the guard.
            Make a plan.  Concoct a story. Put a seal. Post a guard.  Raise your fist, rant and rage!
Nothing in heaven or earth or under the earth can do one thing to stop the beaten, bloody man of Calvary from doing just exactly what he said he will do:  on third day I will rise!  Amen.

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