Saturday, March 26, 2016

He Is Not Here, but Has Risen!

Luke 24:1-12 I remember when my son Jacob was little, he climbed into my lap and asked me, “Dad, how old will I be when you die?”  That’s the world we live in, a world in which little boys have to worry about their dad dying.  And I remember thinking to myself, “Dear Lord, I hope that’s the way it goes!  I hope that I am the one who dies first!”  Because that’s the world we live in—a world where parents have to mourn the loss of their children.
Ever since God pronounced death as his judgment on our sin in the Garden of Eden, there has been an unending stream of humanity being carried along to the grave. 
The Bible says in Romans that “death reigned” from the time of Adam.  But on this Resurrection Sunday, we know that the reign of death has come to an end because Jesus has been raised from the dead and is alive at this moment and promises each of us:  Because I live, you shall live.  The Bible says that:
On the first day of the week, at early dawn, they went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared. And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus.
            Every funeral is sad.  Jesus wept at the graveside of Lazarus.  Paul says that even we Christians grieve.  But for me, the saddest part of a sad day is when the family and friends of the deceased have to walk away from the grave, leaving their loved ones behind.
That’s where we left these faithful women on Friday evening.  They saw Jesus die a violent, unjust death.  They heard his cries at being forsaken by his Father.  They experienced the most sobering reality of living in a broken world:  watching a chest rise and fall with every breath and beat of a heart—and then, finally, nothing at all, any more. 
Because they were forbidden from caring for Jesus’ body by the Sabbath, they were there at the grave, early in the morning on the first day of the week. 
They loved Jesus.  They wanted to do everything for him that could be done.  Anyone who has planned a funeral knows that feeling—of wanting things to be right—of wanting to show our love, one last time.
And so like every other person who has ever lived, grief marked the lives of those faithful women, death cast its dark shadow over their morning walk, the grave had swallowed up their loved one. 
They came there that morning to do that one last thing that we can do for our loved ones and that is to care for their mortal remains. 
We know from the other Gospel accounts of our Lord’s resurrection that they were worried about who would roll the stone away from the entrance so that they could care for the body of Jesus—but when they got there—the stone was rolled away—and no body was found.  The Bible says that:
While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men stood by them in dazzling apparel. And as they were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground,
            I guess they were perplexed about this!  We know how the story goes and so it doesn’t hit us with the same force as it did them.  But imagine going back to the graveside of a loved one whose funeral was the day before, maybe you wanted to retrieve some of the flowers—and not only is there no big pile of dirt, the casket is open and no one is inside! 
Perplexed!  Astonished!  Amazed!  Appalled!  Who can even imagine the range of emotions these women must have felt because if there is one thing we know—one thing that has the witness of countless billions of examples over thousands of years:  those who are buried, stay buried.  But not this day!  The Bible says that:
The men said to them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.
            What has been true billions of times over for thousands of years--what every person in the world has experienced—what we know to be true—has been changed forever by the resurrection of Jesus Christ!
Death is no longer an unvanquished enemy.  The grave is no longer the final destination for us.  Futility is no longer the verdict on our lives.  The Suffering Servant who died for our sins on the cross-- is now-- and forever-- the victorious Savior and King.
Thirty or so years before this moment, angels had promised Mary and Joseph and Zechariah and Elizabeth that a Savior would be born—that God himself would come to the aid of his people and that God himself would abide with them forever. 
On the night of the Savior’s birth angels sang his welcome into the world and now on this day when his mighty, saving work was complete—the angels told the simple, earth-shattering message that changes the entire direction of the universe:  He is not here, but has risen.
What Satan and sin destroyed—life and fellowship with God—Jesus restored by his death and resurrection—and with his mighty, nail-scarred living hands he laid hold of the cosmos he created and moved it away from death and destruction and set it on a new course of life.  That is exactly what he promised to do.  The Bible says:
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,
            Those wonderful women, as faithful as they were, as much love as they had for Jesus—were just like the disciples and they simply did not believe what Jesus had said. 
Anybody who had been paying attention—anyone who had taken his words seriously and at face value—would have been there at the tomb early on the morning of the first day of the week—not to anoint a corpse—but to welcome a conquering king. 
Jesus had told them what would happen again and again:  rejection, betrayal and death to be sure—but also victory and resurrection. 
Over the previous week they had seen just exactly what Jesus had prophesied:  rejection by his people, betrayal by his friends, death and the hands of his enemies.  Every moment foretold by the Lord.  Faithful, faithful, faithful to his promises as he always is.  But not one of them believed that he would rise from the dead, such is human certainty that death is the end.
But death is not the end!  Not for Jesus and not for us!  Yes, we will experience the separation of our body from our soul just as the Lord did on the cross (unless the Lord comes first).  But the grave did not have the victory over Jesus and the grave will not have the victory over us. 
That was the promise of Jesus and as the angels preached that sermon one more time, the Bible says that the women “remembered” Jesus’ words. 
That doesn’t mean that they had forgotten those words (Jesus had said them on a number of occasions) but in that moment they understood them and called them to mind and they became a new reality in their lives.
So it must be for us!  We have heard the good News of Jesus’ resurrection since we were children but it must become new for us again and again—laying hold of our heart and mind again and again—and moving us to new life again and again-- just like it did for the faithful women that day.  The Bible says that:
Returning from the tomb they told all these things to the eleven and to all the rest. Now it was Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James and the other women with them who told these things to the apostles, but these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.
            The greatest story ever told—the story that has the power to change lives for time and eternity-- is told to us one more time so that we would be moved to tell that story to others. 
The Bible says that the Good News of the resurrection is the power of God unto salvation—that if we confess with our mouths that Jesus is Lord and believe in our hearts that God raised him form the dead we will be saved.
So it is for us and so it must before every person in the world if they are to be saved.  The example of the faithful women is a true picture of the church in action, sharing the Good News that sin is forgiven and death is conquered because we have a living Lord.
And yes, just as it was for the women that day so it will be for us.  The Holy Spirit had to do his work in their hearts because they came to the tomb expecting a dead teacher and it was not until the gospel was preached to them that they believed.  When they travelled to tell the disciples the Good News they encountered the same lack of faith.
But there is power in this message of Christ’s victory over the grave---life changing, life giving power—and it is our privilege, our calling, our responsibility to share that Good News even in the face of rejection and ridicule-- for the power of the resurrected Christ is infinitely greater than the unbelief that reigns in men’s hearts.  The Bible says that:
Peter rose and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; and he went home marveling at what had happened.
            So it would go over the next hours and days and weeks as hearts that were dead in sin-- and minds that were darkened in unbelief-- were made alive and changed forever by the resurrection of Jesus. 
One by one Jesus’ disciples and friends and family members came to faith—not in a dead teacher—but in a living Lord --and by the time of Pentecost fifty short days later, thousands and thousands of people had been born again to a living hope. 
            Here in Peter we see how that change happened:  Is it possible?  Is it true!  It is!  Why look for the living among the dead?  He is not here because he is risen!  And Peter marveled at this Good News.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, as we hear this Good News of our Lord’s resurrection, I pray that for each and every one of us today that same amazement and wonder and awe would be restored to us anew and that we would never cease to marvel at the resurrection of Jesus Christ!  Amen.

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