All around the world, today churches are filled to overflowing with people celebrating Easter. Perhaps folks outside the Christian faith are wondering what to make of Easter. What is the big deal regarding this Christian holiday? Maybe you are even asking this question as you listen today. So I thought I’d take a few minutes and respond to this question regarding Easter.
Perhaps you’ve already noticed, I am using a lot of “re” words in this introduction, with good reason. You see, many “re” words jump out at us as we read this story.
For instance, we first see a re-appearance. The women, having left the tomb on Friday, reappear on Sunday with spices to anoint the body of Jesus. It was a sign of love and respect for their dead friend – similar to us taking flowers to the cemetery.
Our next word is re-opened. The huge stone covering the tomb was now rolled away and the tomb was reopened. The women went in and discovered the tomb was empty and the body of the Lord Jesus was gone. I once heard someone say the stone wasn’t rolled away to let Jesus out, but to let Jesus’ followers in to witness the emptiness of the tomb. Their friend was not there.
Next there is re-proof. Angels appear and, in their fear, the women bow their faces to the ground before them. The words spoken by the angels are a reproof. “Why are you looking for the living among the dead?”
I have to believe the angels were probably smiling as he said these words to the women. He perhaps had a look on his face saying, I can’t wait to tell you the big surprise I have for you. The joke is on you, silly ones: He is living!
Next is the word re-vealing. He reveals to them the amazing news of what God has done. “Jesus is not here; he is risen,” which literally is translated, “He has been raised.” The One who was dead, the dying man they had watched breath His last on the cross as they stood off watching in the distance – Jesus, their master and friend whom they watched as He was laid in a rich man’s tomb – was now alive!
Following the news they are given a re-minder. Before they could respond to this amazing news, the angel reminded them of something Jesus had said. “Remember how Jesus told you while He was still in Galilee that He must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, be crucified, and on the third day rise.”
There are those words again: He must. It was a divine necessity. Jesus said it not once but three times. God’s divine plan for rescuing a sinful world had to be fulfilled, and now it has been accomplished with the resurrection.
We are told the women re-membered the words of Jesus spoken earlier. You might wonder if we are seeing a bit of faith on their part in this story as they remember. Perhaps, they did have some faith, but it is difficult to see.
Then the women re-turn from the tomb, and they re-call the experience to the disciples and all the rest.
The last word: re-jection. The eleven disciples (remember, Judas is dead) rejected the women’s news. Their words seemed like an idol tale, and they did not believe them.
By the way, I think all of this doubt on the part of the disciples gives the resurrection even more credence. No person would make up a story to get people to buy into it by using women as witnesses to the resurrection. They had no status in this patriarchal society. They could not even be witnesses in a court.
Even if the women’s story was made up, wouldn’t you think the disciples would’ve responded affirmatively to make it more convincing? Risen? Of course He is! Jesus said this would happen. But their response was rejection. They thought the women were crazy in their grief, and they would not believe. Even Peter, who ran to the tomb and saw the folded grave clothes, only walked away from it marveling at what happened. No faith there.
So our Easter narrative has
Did you notice what “re” word is missing in this Good News story? Re-joicing. I guess it is what has been left for us to do, for we know the rest of the story, as Paul Harvey used to say on the radio. We know that shortly after the empty tomb experience, there were many appearances of Jesus, the risen Lord, to those disciples, He showed Himself to them again and again. Even doubting Thomas became convinced.
Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! We can rejoice because the Good News regarding Easter is for us. We are reminded that death is defeated. Jesus has won the battle over the power of death.
I remember a cute story written by Phil Callaway about a drive he was making with his five-year-old son. It goes like this:
One sleepy Sunday afternoon when my son was five years old, we drove past the cemetery together. Noticing a large pile of dirt beside a newly excavated grave, he pointed and said, “Look, dad! One got out!” We laughed, but now every time I pass a graveyard, I’m reminded of the One who got out. Because One got out, friend, all who died trusting in Jesus Christ get out, and they live with Him forever. Jesus is the first fruits of the resurrection.
Some of us have lost loved ones, friends, since last Easter. I have. As I pray for those families as their pastor and friend, I ask God to fill them with resurrection confidence. Peace in the midst of their grieving. I pray they will claim it for themselves as well as lean on the risen Jesus on a daily basis.
Sometimes when I do a funeral for someone I don’t really know at the funeral home, people will ask me as a pastor, Isn’t it hard to do a funeral for someone you don’t know? My response is no. Funerals are for the living, and these living, grieving people who sit there are filled with anxiety and fears about their own death. They are hungering and thirsting for what I have to tell them about Easter and the biblical promises, which are theirs to claim.
My dear friends, because He lives, the promise for you to count on as you trust in Jesus is this: You shall live also.
A close friend of mine is going through chemotherapy right now for multiple myeloma. As soon as I heard about it, I called him, and I heard the most amazing words come from his mouth. He said, “Brother Steve, I’m not afraid. I know where I’m going if this doesn’t work for me. I know He is with me, and I belong to Him.”
This is why we can rejoice. For Easter also means my sin really is forgiven and forgotten forever. The resurrection of Jesus is God’s stamp of approval upon Jesus, the perfect sacrifice for the sins of the world. He has taken my place, the unrighteous one – Steve Kramer. He has become the unrighteousness, taken the punishment upon Himself and given me His own righteousness as I stand before my heavenly Father.
Elyse Fitzpatrick writes, “Just in case you’re unaware, identity theft occurs when someone steals your name and other personal information for fraudulent use. Most of us are dismayed by this new cyber-age crime, and we wouldn’t assume that the theft of another person’s identity is acceptable behavior.
The surprising reality, however, is that Christians are, by definition, people who have someone else’s identity. They are called Christians because they’ve taken the identity of someone else: the Christ. Not only have you been given an identity you weren’t born with or that you didn’t earn the right to use, but you’re invited to empty the checking account and use all the benefits this identity brings! This is so much better than identity theft—it’s an identity gift!”
When God looks at me trusting in His Son Jesus Christ, He sees me as His perfect, righteous son. It is a gift! It’s the Easter gift we rejoice in.
And get this – Easter also means you do not have to live a single moment of your life alone – ever. He lives! He’s not a figure in a history book or a stained-glass window. He is present. He is alive to walk with you in a relationship, and He promises to never leave you orphaned or alone. He lives! He lives! Christ Jesus lives today. He walks with me and talks with me along life’s narrow way. That is what the hymn says.
It begins by saying,
“♪I serve a risen Savior; He’s in the world today.
I know that He is living whatever men may say.
I see His hand of mercy. I hear His voice of cheer.
And just the time I need Him, He’s always near.
He lives! He lives . . .”♬
Ah, what great news this is! I have Jesus to be my friend.
As I close this time with you, I need to bring one more word to your attention regarding Easter. The word is re-ceive. The gift of Christ’s rescue of you and me is freely offered to each and every person to be received. We hold out our empty hands and receive it, so to speak. It is placing your faith in the risen Jesus Christ. This good news of Easter calls for a response. A response of faith. He did all this so you might receive Him and have eternal life.
Knowing about Jesus and knowing what He has done is really incomplete. He wants you to receive Him, be in a saving relationship with Him. It involves, you see, turning from the direction your life has been taking and turning to the risen Lord Jesus Christ. Surrender yourself to the One who awaits you with open arms, who will not turn you away.
I have to ask you today, as you look back over your life, have you done that? Have you received Him to be your Savior and Lord, the leader of your life?
I want to close today with a story by Tim Keller about the power and the promise of Christ’s resurrection.
A minister was in Italy where he saw the grave of a man who had died centuries before who was an unbeliever and completely against Christianity, but a little afraid of it too. So the man had a huge stone slab put over his grave so he would not have to be raised from the dead in case there is a resurrection from the dead. He had insignias put on it saying, “I do not want to be raised from the dead. I do not believe in it.”
Evidently when he was buried, though, an acorn must’ve fallen into the grave. So a hundred years later, the acorn had grown up through the grave and split the rock slab. It was now a tall, towering oak tree. The minister looked at it and asked, “If an acorn, which has power of biological life, can split a slab of that magnitude, what can the acorn of God’s resurrection power do in a person’s life?”
Then Keller comments, “The minute you decide to receive Jesus as Savior and Lord, the power of the Holy Spirit comes in your life. It’s the power, the resurrection, the same thing which raised Jesus from the dead.”
Think of the immovable slabs in your life – your bitterness, insecurity, fears, self doubts. Those things can be split, rolled off. The more you know Him, the more you grow into the power of the resurrection.
He is risen! He is risen indeed! My dear friends, receive Him and rejoice. Amen.
Pastor Steve Kramer