Christ is risen! He is risen indeed.
Two Sundays ago, we celebrated the greatest day of the year for the Christian Church – Easter Sunday. All around the globe, church pews were filled with people singing glorious hymns and announcing to one another, “Christ is risen. He is risen indeed!” We also reviewed the story of Easter – the empty tomb, the stone that was rolled away, the angelic news that Jesus, who was crucified on Friday, was now risen and alive.
We remember the implications His resurrection has for us. Death is defeated. Jesus is the first fruits of the resurrection. I have a promise in Him of eternal life with God. Death cannot hold me. Jesus’ promise – I am the resurrection and the life – is true! “Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die,” Jesus said in John 11:25. So I place my trust in Christ and what He has done for me.
Not only that, but forgiveness is also mine now, a restored relationship with God. Jesus died on a cross as a sacrifice to pay the penalty for your sins and mine. God raised Him from the grave as an affirmation of that sacrifice. Jesus was vindicated. God’s stamp of approval was upon His ministry. By repenting and trusting in Jesus Christ, we have forgiveness and a restored relationship with our heavenly Father from whom we were separated.
By the way, because of the resurrection, not a single moment of my life has to be lived alone. Christ has promised, “I won’t leave you orphaned. I will come to you.” (John 14:18). “Lo, I am with you always to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:20). He is present to strengthen, comfort, and encourage, teach, and even change us. He loves us as we are, but refuses to leave us that way. He has plans for us, to give us a whole new life and a whole new outlook on life.
The good news of the Easter message is the linchpin of our faith. The resurrection of Jesus from the grave fills us with the promise of eternal life with God and forgiveness as we repent of our sins and trust in Jesus Christ. But now that we have celebrated this major event, next comes the question, Where do we go from here?
My question today is, So what now? A few years ago I was having a conversation with my father-in-law, Homer Larsen, about church and Easter celebrations at our congregations. We were sharing stories about the great attendance and what our sermon themes were that day. When there was a pause in the conversation, Homer said, “Well, Steve old boy, we’ve seen Him through His birth and ministry, we prepared ourselves for the cross and Lent, we watched Him get killed, and we celebrated His resurrection. So what now?” I think Homer was probably asking what my sermon series was going to be. But as I was thought more about it, I realized it is a great question for the Church and for each individual believer to ask. So what Now? Christ is risen. What’s next?
This same question, I think, had to be running through the minds of those disciples that first Easter. We see them in our reading today. They are discussing the events of earlier that same day – the empty tomb and His appearances. They are comparing notes and seem a bit overwhelmed, confused, surprised, afraid, and uncertain about all they had seen and heard. Some, like Peter, said they had seen Him. He has to be alive! Others had to have been thinking, Are you sure? Really? Maybe Peter saw a ghost. You know, our minds can play tricks on us, especially after such a trauma like we went through. Others may wonder, What are the Lord’s feelings toward us now? After all, we let Him down. Is He mad at us?
Others – maybe all of them – were thinking, So what’s next for us? What does this mean for us now? What are we supposed to do? Where do we go from here? What now? Jesus didn’t leave them – or us – in the dark as to the answer to the question. Let’s take a look at His answer.
It says that, as they were talking, He stood among them and declared His goodwill toward them when He gives a clear answer and said, “Peace be with you.” Obviously He wasn’t angry with them. He gives us a clear answer.
First He says, Put away your doubts and fears, and believe in Me now. I AM who I say I AM. I AM here for you. He lays out the evidence to help them believe He really is with them. Look at My nail-pierced hand and feet. It is me. Touch me and see for yourself! I can see Jesus walking around the room and standing in front of each disciple offering them the opportunity to see for themselves as He says, A ghost doesn’t have flesh and bones like I do.
He also ate with them. He had table fellowship with them not only as proof but also as a promise of friendship and intimacy that would never end. Table fellowship was a sign of friendship in those days. It was His way of saying to them, You have Me forever. Trust Me.
The risen Christ, by the way, continues to give us personal experiences like these, daily reminders that He is alive, He is with us, and we are not alone. I’ve had some tough funerals this past year. One in particular, a close friend of mine, was very difficult. I recall a widow said to me a while back, “I don’t know what people would do without Jesus. I’d be lost without Him these days.” She was experiencing the present risenness of Jesus.
Another guy, whose marriage had started to unravel, visited me a few months ago and testified, “It was falling apart, but Jesus saved our marriage.” Last Easter Sunday, twenty of our members gave their cardboard testimonies about how this resurrected Jesus resurrected their lives and made them new. It was a powerful moment in our service.
So Jesus says, First of all, believe in Me. I am with you. The second thing He says is, What now? Understand. Come to an understanding of what has happened. The Bible says He opened their minds to understand what had happened and what must happen. He wanted the disciples to understand what He had done for the world, which they had witnessed. So He conducted a Bible study with them using the authority of God’s Word, the Old Testament.
He wants us, by the way, to understand His Scriptures and be a constant student. He says, These are my words, which I spoke to you while I was still with you. Everything written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled. Then He opened their minds to the Scriptures and said, “Thus it is written, Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and repentance and forgiveness should be proclaimed in his name to all the nations” (Luke 24:46-47).
Jesus was basically saying this – All this has happened is the fulfillment of what I said would happen. It’s all in the Old Testament Scripture. It all points to things you’ve witnessed in the Old Testament – My suffering and death and resurrection. It’s about God’s kingdom being established and the message of repentance and forgiveness being proclaimed to all the nations of the world. This had to happen to fulfill Scripture. Everything written about me, Jesus said, has now been fulfilled. Things are NOT out of control as it might seem to you. On the contrary, everything is going according to God’s plan. Now it is fulfilled, and it is a new day.
I did this not only for you – notice He says it needs to be proclaimed to all the nations – I did it for ALL the nations so they could turn away from their own ways and turn to me for a new start with God. Remember John 3:16, “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have everlasting life.” All this was fulfilled in the Old Testament Scriptures by what Jesus did.
I like what Michael Wilcock, a Bible scholar, says rather eloquently. “Jesus says that all these great New Testament matters are to be found ‘written’ in the Old Testament, not in proof text in obscure corners, but as the very warp and woof of it. Christ and his gospel are the new hope promised in Genesis, the new life typified in Exodus and the new law foreshadowed there and in the books that follow. They are the ideal which all the judges and all the kings, either felt toward or rebelled against. They put flesh on the insights of David, they bring to life the pattern of Jonah, they fulfill the visions of Isaiah. The two Testaments are one, and the theology – which is the sap of the Church – can rise only from roots which run deep and wide through the whole of Scripture.”
Jesus told them Scripture said it would happen, and now it has. This is all part of God’s big rescue plan. He wants all people to have forgiveness for their sins.
Jesus then looks at them and says, This is where you come in. So what now? Not only do I want you to believe in Me, understand what has happened, and rejoice in that, but I also am counting on you to be witnesses of all these things. I commission you to testify to all I have done for the world. Tell other people who need to know and respond. Each person who has come to know Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord has an assignment from the risen Jesus Himself. You are my witness. You are a witness to tell others all that Jesus has done for all people. We are proclaimers, ambassadors, revealers of God’s forgiveness plan for the world! Not only are we to believe and understand all this, but we are also assigned to tell others about it so they might get in on this good news.
I am reminded of the words of the apostle Paul in regard to encouraging the believers to follow through with this witnessing assignment. Romans 10:13-15, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord (meaning Jesus) shall be saved. But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaimed him? And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!’”
We are not to keep this Good News to ourselves. We are not to hoard the gospel.
I found a story about a mailman who was caught hoarding mail. The story goes as follows: Everyone knows a letter carrier has one job – deliver the mail. Apparently a Brooklyn mailman spent a decade avoiding his job by intentionally hoarding over 40,000 pieces of mail over a ten-year period. In September 2014, Joseph Brucato admitted hiding over a ton of mail meant for customers in Flatbush since 2005 according to a Brooklyn federal court complaint. A postal supervisor became suspicious that Brucato was up to something weird when he noticed his personal car was stuffed with undelivered letters. Investigators pressed Brucato about the letters, and he admitted hoarding priority first class and regular mail that had once been headed for Brooklyn businesses and residents in Flatbush. It took five postal agencies five hours to remove the stash of stolen letters from his apartment. If convicted, Brucato faces up to five years in prison.
How absurd and how outrageous the mailman didn’t do his job! How absurd and how outrageous that the Church, believers in Jesus Christ, hoard the gospel as well. We are called to deliver it.
George Ladd, a theologian and author of the great book, “The Gospel, the Kingdoms,” says “God alone, who has told us that this Gospel of the Kingdom shall be preached in the whole world for a testimony unto to all the nations, will know when that objective has been accomplished. But I do not need to know. I know only one thing: Christ has not yet returned; therefore the task is not yet done . . . Let’s get busy and complete our mission.”
Is there someone God has place in your sphere of influence who needs to hear the Good News of what God has done for them in Jesus Christ, the good news of Easter? Christ is counting on you to bring them this Good News. Don’t be afraid. Just tell them in the name of Jesus about what our loving God has done for all of us through His Son. He doesn’t want anyone to miss out on it.
If all this witnessing talk scares you, the episode we have before us today ends with an encouraging word for us. Jesus promised, The Holy Spirit is coming to empower you to carry out the assignment. On Pentecost the promise was fulfilled. The disciples proclaimed the Good News. The world was shaken. More than two thousand years later we are worshiping the same Jesus Christ in all parts of the world. This is the Holy Spirit’s power.
Along with this assignment you have a supernatural power, One who will convict and convert unbelievers into believers as you simply and lovingly tell the story to the people in your life. As Jesus said at the end of John’s Gospel, “As the Father sent me, so I send you.”
What’s next? Consider yourself sent. It’s time to go to work. Amen.
Pastor Steve Kramer