Saturday, April 15, 2017

He Has Risen!

Matthew 28:1-10 The story of our life with God began in a garden.  It is the story of God’s goodness and man’s fall into sin.  The story of our life with God ends in a garden where God and man live in perfect fellowship with one another throughout eternity.  And the only possible connection between those two gardens—the connecting bridge-- is found in the garden that we hear about this morning where Jesus’ grave was found. 
When Jesus died on the cross, Joseph of Arimethea asked for his body, and along with Nicodemus and the faithful women, they prepared his body for burial.  The Bible says that in the place where Jesus was crucified there was a garden and in the garden there was a new tomb and they laid Jesus there.  That’s how Good Friday ended…
The Seed of the Woman that God had promised all the way back in the Garden of Eden, the Seed of the Woman who would undo all the destruction that sin and Satan had caused, was laid in the earth—with the harvest God promised still come.  The Bible says that:
…after the Sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb.
            They went to see the tomb.  Who can blame them?  After we lay our loved ones in the grave none of us returns the next day to see if they have been raised from the dead.  These faithful women remained with Jesus every step of the way that led to the cross and knew he died.
They saw him whipped and beaten and humiliated.  They saw him struggle under the weight of the cross and stumble and fall as he walked through Jerusalem.  They saw the hammer blows drive nails into his hands and feet and they saw a Roman spear thrust into his side. 
They saw him die-- and they handled his dead body and prepared it for burial and watched as it was laid in the tomb and the stone rolled in front of it to seal it off.
There was nothing so certain, so sure in their minds as the death of Jesus.  And early in the morning, on the first day of the week, after the Sabbath rest, they went to the garden to see his tomb.  Who can blame them?  Which of us wouldn’t have done the same?  Except…
During his earthly ministry, Jesus told them on a number of occasions just exactly what was going to happen—that his own people would reject him, that friends would betray him, that he would be crucified…and…that he would rise again.  That is a remarkable claim, but…
Had they ever known Jesus NOT to keep his word?  Had they ever once heard falsehood come out of his mouth?  He was faithful to his promises!  And there was more…
A number of times during the previous three years he had raised the dead.  He demonstrated time and again that in his presence death was a defeated enemy. 
In fact, just a week or so before he died, Jesus stood at the grave of Lazarus, dead for days, commanded the grave stone to be rolled away, identified himself as the resurrection and the life and called Lazarus to come forth from his tomb—and he did! 
If anyone had listened to Jesus—if anyone had really thought about his power—if anyone believed in him--they shouldn’t have been traveling to see a tomb—they should have been standing there to welcome their living Lord.  The Bible says that:
There was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it.  His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow.  The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay.
            When God promised that seedtime and harvest would never cease, that promise was true.  But what was also true is that sin has undermined that promise. 
Every year throughout the world, there is seedtime and harvest-- but there are also places where there are floods and hail and droughts.  Seedtime and harvest fail in those places.  Sin has destroyed what was once a perfect creation.  The Bible says that:  the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. 
That is exactly what happened early in the morning on the first day of the week.  Creation herself, ruined by Adam’s sin, groaned—she could not remain silent in the presence of her Redeemer just as she could not let the light of the sun shine while the Light of the World died on the cross.  In the earthquake, creation herself testified to the death and resurrection of her Creator.
Along with the earthquake, an angel of the Lord appeared-- to announce that Jesus had been raised and with his resurrection the defeat of Satan and redemption of man.  How the angels must have longed for this day!
The angels had been there in the garden when God’s judgment was announced—they saw death enter the world—and they were appointed as guards to keep Adam and Eve out of the Garden and away from the tree of life. 
Throughout salvation history the angels executed God’s judgment and comforted God’s people and proclaimed that salvation had come with the birth of Jesus.  They worked with God every step of the way as he patiently carried out his plan of salvation and now they were here in another garden to see it accomplished in the resurrection of Jesus. 
After the angels appeared to Zechariah and Elizabeth and Mary and Joseph--after they sang praises to the newborn king--after they strengthened Jesus in the wilderness and comforted him in the Garden of Gethsemane --what a blessing it must have been to see the Seed of the Woman burst forth from the earth with new life for the world!
The angel rolled away the stone so that the women- and the disciples who followed them- and every person down through history from that moment on could look inside and see that Jesus had conquered death and the grave just as he promised he would.  The Bible says that at this angelic announcement:  the guards trembled and became like dead men.
            So are the enemies of God in the presence of the risen Christ.  The world’s most powerful rulers.  The fiercest pagan tribes.  The most evil empires.  All of them have been conquered one by one by the humble, gentle man of Galilee, simply by his almighty Word of life. 
What was the Roman Empire or the barbarian tribes or Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union compared to the risen Christ?  They had soldiers- and the weapons of war- and the power of the law- and the media on their side- but one by one they were conquered by the message of the cross and empty tomb:  it is finished and Christ is risen!
            It is this Good News of Christ, crucified and risen, that still has the power to defeat our enemies and conquer our fears and give us a new life filled with witness and worship and hope.  The angel said:
Go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and behold, he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him. See, I have told you.” So they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples.
            From that moment on, every one of us has been commissioned to be a witness for Jesus Christ, telling what we have seen and heard and its power in our lives. 
The faithful women told the disciples- and the disciples shared that message, beginning first in Jerusalem and then throughout the Roman Empire.  Those who followed the apostles have shared that message wherever they have gone-- down to this place and time and the people assembled here today.
 The faithful women never made it San Angelo, Texas.  But we have-- and we are commissioned in exactly the same way as they were to tell those around us the Good News that in Jesus Christ we have forgiveness for our sins and the promise of a new life that death will not end so that those who hear us can worship the Lord.  The Bible says that:
Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came up and took hold of his feet and worshiped him.
            The response of the faithful women was the most natural thing in the world.  How could they not worship the One who died for them and conquered death for them by his own resurrection?  Could anything be more important in that moment than their worship?!
For those who have put their faith and trust in the work of Jesus Christ—for those who find their salvation at the cross and empty tomb--how can we not worship?  How can we not cast ourselves at Jesus feet to thank and praise him for who he is and what he has done? 
We were made for the worship of God and he is worthy of that worship and his people will spend eternity worshiping in his presence.  Jesus said to them:  “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.”
            That is a promise for us too!  We will see Jesus just as surely as did the faithful women and we will see our fellow Christians who have gone before.
Because of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, death and the grave have no power over us!  He is the first-fruits of an entire harvest of people who will rise from their graves to live new and glorious lives like his own, never to die again. 
            Here in the Garden of resurrection there is an incredible harvest of God’s blessings for us.  There is the assurance that Jesus will keep his promises to us.  All of them!  There is confidence that, just as God has wisely worked out his perfect plan of salvation for the world, so he is wisely working salvation in our lives, no matter what hardship we endure.  There is a life of meaning and value here on earth that is filled with the worship of Jesus and our witness to him.  And finally there is the sure and certain hope we have of another life to come. 

            Everything that was lost in the Garden of Eden has been regained here in the Garden of the resurrection by the one who conquered death and the grave this Easter Day.  Amen.

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