Easter March 27, 2016
1 Corinthians 15:51-57
199, 188, 200, 341
Now after the Sabbath, as the first day of the week began to dawn, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to see the tomb. And behold, there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door,and sat on it. His countenance was like lightning, and his clothing as white as snow. And the guards shook for fear of him, and became like dead men.But the angel answered and said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for He is risen, as He said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay. And go quickly and tell His disciples that He is risen from the dead, and indeed He is going before you into Galilee; there you will see Him. Behold, I have told you.” So they went out quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to bring His disciples word. And as they went to tell His disciples,behold, Jesus met them, saying, “Rejoice!” So they came and held Him by the feet and worshiped Him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell My brethren to go to Galilee, and there they will see Me.”
I have tremendous news this morning—tremendous, exciting, and overwhelming news. Jesus Christ is alive! After suffering the cruel death of the cross, after being dead and buried for three days, Jesus Christ rose triumphantly from the grave. Even now, this same Jesus Christ is ruling over all things: all continents, all governments, all nations. all circumstances, and especially over His people and His Church. And one day soon we will see Him return with great power and glory. As Job said millennia ago, “For I know that my Redeemer lives, and He shall stand at last on the earth; and after my skin is destroyed, this I know, that in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. How my heart yearns within me!” (Job 19:25-27).
Frankly, you don’t seem very surprised. Have you heard this news before? Of course you have. You’ve heard the news of the resurrection every Easter. You’ve heard the news in countless sermons, home devotions, Bible classes, and Sunday schools. For Christians, Easter is not a matter of interpretation, but a matter of fact. The Bible declares the fact of Christ’s bodily resurrection so loudly, so clearly, and in so many places that to claim Jesus Christ did not rise from the dead is to ignore the testimony of Scripture and to call God a liar.
All four Gospel narratives—Matthew 28, Mark 16, Luke 24, and John 20—record the fact of Christ’s resurrection. They not only record the fact, but also the many post-resurrection appearances Jesus made over the forty days before His ascension.
Likewise, the New Testament epistles unequivocally declare the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. Romans 1:3-4: “…concerning His Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who was born of the seed of David according to the flesh, and declared to be the Son of God with power according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead.”
Romans 6:8-10: “Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, dies no more. Death no longer has dominion over Him.” 1 Peter 1:3: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead…”
Everything the New Testament declares to us—from the greetings and closings of the Gospel accounts and the epistles, to the manner in which we live our lives and face our problems, to the eternal life we now own and will one day enjoy—everything is premised on the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. Indeed, the resurrection of Jesus is so fundamental to our Christian faith that Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15:17: “If Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins!”
No, for Christians, Easter is not a question of interpretation. We know that Jesus is alive. Rather, for us, Easter is more often a question of application, that is, of applying the resurrection of Jesus to our daily lives. Certainly, the most remarkable aspect of Easter is that Jesus Christ rose from the dead. But perhaps the second most remarkable aspect of Easter is that the Lord’s own disciples did not expect Jesus to rise, even though He promised that He would.
On at least three occasions, Jesus warned His disciples of his impending suffering and death. On each of those occasions Jesus also included the promise of His resurrection.
The Son of Man “must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised the third day” (Matthew 16:21).
“The Son of Man is about to be betrayed into the hands of men, and they will kill Him, and the third day He will be raised up” (Matthew 17:22-23).
The Son of Man will be “betrayed to the chief priests and to the scribes; and they will condemn Him to death, and deliver Him to the Gentiles to mock and to scourge and to crucify. And the third day He will rise again” (Matthew 20:18-19).
Was there anything remotely unclear about these promises of the resurrection? Not a word. Yet, when the first Easter dawned, where were the Lord’s disciples? Celebrating Easter? Singing Easter hymns? Rejoicing in Easter hope? No. Instead of worshiping the living Lord they were mourning a dead Savior.
The women who hurried to the tomb early Easter morning wondered who would roll away the stone. Mary Magdalene thought she was talking with the cemetery gardener. Peter and John saw the strips of linen used to wrap the body of Jesus and the napkin that covered Jesus’ face, but like Mary Magdalene, they equated the empty tomb with body theft instead of bodily resurrection. The two disciples shuffling along the Emmaus Road mumbled, “We had hoped [Jesus] was the one” (Luke 24:21 NIV). Thomas, who has received the nickname “Doubting Thomas” unfairly since all of the disciples doubted that first Easter—insisted: “Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe” (John 20:25). At least Thomas was an honest doubter.
It is easy for us to fault these disciples. It’s easy for us to say, “You should have known better, Peter. You should have trusted more, John. You should have been more hopeful, Mary Magdalene. You should not have doubted, Thomas. Jesus told all of you that He would rise from the dead. He meant it. And besides this, all of you saw Him perform miracles. You witnessed Jesus walk on water and calm storms and feed thousands from scraps of food. You saw Him heal the sick and raise the dead. You had all the right facts. You drew all the wrong conclusions. Shame on you.”
But then, have we not witnessed the same miracles of Jesus in the pages of Scripture? Have we not been given the indisputable testimony of Christ’s resurrection? Why then do we at times still live our lives in fear and anxiety, despair and hopelessness? When we do, are we not thereby acting as if Jesus Christ were still dead and buried instead of living and ruling?
You may be thinking, “Well, that isn’t a fair comparison, Pastor. After all, those first disciples actually saw the risen Lord. They clasped His feet. They watched Him eat and drink to prove He was no ghost or hallucination. Thomas was permitted to touch the nail-prints in Christ’s hands and feet and the spear-wound in His side. We have not been able to do such things. All we have is the testimony of Scripture.
All we have? Shame on us. Let me remind you what the risen Lord said to doubting Thomas: “Reach your finger here, and look at My hands; and reach your hand here, and put it into My side. Do not be unbelieving, but believing.” And Thomas replied, “My Lord and my God!” And then Jesus said, “Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:27-29).
After recording these words of Jesus, the apostle John went on to write in the next verses: “And truly Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name” (John 20:30-31).
How sad, lost, dispirited, weak, forlorn, and hopeless those first disciples were after the death of Jesus. But then the resurrection of Jesus Christ changed everything. Everything! When they saw their risen Lord, fear became confidence; sadness became laughter; dead hope became living hope; tears of despair became tears of joy. Because of the resurrection of Jesus, women who went to anoint a dead Savior left His tomb rejoicing in their living Lord. The two disciples walking sadly to Emmaus raced back to Jerusalem with the tremendous, exciting, and overwhelming news, “Jesus is alive!”
Because of the resurrection, Simon Peter, who once out of terror denied even knowing Christ, boldly proclaimed Christ in the very city in which Jesus was crucified, saying: “Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a Man attested by God to you by miracles, wonders, and signs which God did through Him in your midst, as you yourselves know—Him, being delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God, you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death; whom God raised up, having loosed the pains of death, because it was not possible that He should be held by it” (Acts 2:22-24).
Do you see? The resurrection of Jesus changed everything. It changed even the horrid, agonizing event of Christ’s crucifixion into an event we still call “Good Friday.” But try to imagine Good Friday without the first Easter Sunday.
Consider how the resurrection of Jesus changed everything for Mary Magdalene. Here was a woman whom Jesus had liberated from demonic possession, a woman devoted to the Lord, a woman who had stood steadfastly beneath the cross of Jesus when even most of the Savior’s male disciples had forsaken Him. But when Jesus died, Mary’s hopes died with Him.
Surely your hopes have been crushed in some way too, haven’t they? You hoped for a better job. You hoped to retire comfortably. You hoped to finish college. You hoped to be married, or hoped to have a perfect marriage. You hoped to have children. You hoped to recover from an illness. Crushed hope.
Mary Magdalene’s hopes were so crushed, she did not realize that the two men sitting in Christ’s empty tomb, both dressed in shining garments, were angels. Nor did she realize that the Man suddenly standing behind her was the risen Jesus. “Woman,” Jesus said, “why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?” And thinking Jesus was the caretaker, Mary replied, “Sir, if you have carried Him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get Him” (John 20:15 NIV). Can you imagine a situation more hopeless than a dead Savior whom one has to carry back to His tomb?
And then Jesus said, “Mary.” One word. In an instant, everything changed for Mary Magdalene. Her Savior was alive and so was her hope. I cannot read this portion of Scripture without feeling overwhelmed by that one instant, that one mention of this woman’s name: “Mary”—a single word that somehow contains a gentle admonition but also an infinite amount of love and compassion. Hasn’t the Lord said the same to us? “Why are you fretting? Why are you so sad? Why are you living life like a funeral procession? Did you think I was still dead?”
The resurrection changed everything—the lives of Peter, James, John, Mary Magdalene, Thomas, and all the others who encountered the risen Lord. Did they know something we don’t know? No. They had the same words from the same Christ that we do. In fact, when Jesus revived the hopes of those two disciples on the road to Emmaus, He did so not by immediately revealing Himself as their risen Savior, but by first revealing Himself in the Scriptures. He said, “ ‘O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! Ought not the Christ to have suffered these things and to enter into His glory?’ And beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, He expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself” (Luke 24:25-27).
“O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe.” Are we slow of heart to believe? Yes, sometimes we are. Sometimes we too forget how drastically the resurrection of Jesus Christ has changed our lives. So much of that change is summarized by a phrase repeatedly spoken throughout the resurrection narrative by both the risen Jesus and His angels. Can you guess that phrase? It is stated twice in today’s text, verse 5 and verse 10. “Do not be afraid,” or more literally, “do not go on being afraid.” Afraid of what?
One obvious answer is death. “Do not go on being afraid of death.” Certainly, no one wants to die. Yet, when the time of our death comes, we have no reason to fear. Why? Because the resurrection of Jesus Christ changed everything. Jesus said the following words at a funeral: “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die” (John 11:25-26).
Then to prove the truthfulness of His words, Jesus stood before the tomb of Lazarus and called out in a loud. “Lazarus, come forth!” (John 11:43). And Lazarus came forth, bound by grave-clothes, but no longer by the grave. At the return of Jesus, all believers who have died will hear their names called in a similar way.
Today, on Easter, we may find our thoughts turning to those loved ones we’ve lost: a husband, wife, mother, father, son, daughter, brother, sister, or friend. Yet, it is what happened on this very day so long ago that changed everything and gives us unshakable hope. It provides divine comfort amid grief and pain. It fills us with the certain knowledge of being with our loved ones again, as well as with our risen Lord.
I’ve conducted several funerals in my life, but I would never have conducted even one had I not been able to share the resurrection of Jesus and the victory proclaimed in these words: “ ‘Death is swallowed up in victory. O Death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory?’ The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:54-57).
But it isn’t just a future life that the resurrection of Jesus Christ guarantees us. His resurrection also gives us life in the here-and-now. This is a living hope, as Simon Peter spoke of it, as opposed to all the lifeless and transitory things in which we are too often tempted to hope: health, fame, fortune, connections, careers, insurance, 401k programs. These are all destined to pass away. But Jesus Christ lives forever. It is the same Jesus Christ who said in John 10:10: “I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.”
I said earlier that for Christians, Easter is not a question of interpretation. We know Jesus is alive. We know Jesus rose from the dead. We know the facts. But too often we miss the meaning in the same way Peter, John, and Mary Magdalene misinterpreted the meaning of the empty tomb that first Easter morning. We read the Easter narrative, yet miss the way in which Easter changed the lives of every disciple who heard the Easter tidings and encountered the risen Lord. So, as we contemplate Easter today, let me place the Easter message into its everyday application.
I used to fear death, but then the resurrection of Jesus changed everything.
I used to grieve hopelessly for lost loved ones, but then the resurrection of Jesus changed everything.
I used to hide behind the locked doors of my own upper room, but then the resurrection of Jesus changed everything.
I used to think my marriage was too troubled to save, but then the resurrection of Jesus changed everything.
I used to feel utterly alone, but then the resurrection of Jesus changed everything.
I used to wonder if my sins were fully forgiven, but then the resurrection of Jesus changed everything.
I used to worry that God might not keep all His promises, but then the resurrection of Jesus changed everything.
I used to feel so hopeless because of my illness, my financial situation, my job, my doubts, my loved one in the nursing facility, but then the resurrection of Jesus changed everything.
Dear friends, this is what it means to apply the reality and power of Christ’s resurrection to our eternal future and daily life. As Paul wrote to the Philippians: “But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things, and consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. I want to know Christ and the power of His resurrection” (Philippians 3:7-10 NIV).
Yes, I do have tremendous news for you this morning—tremendous, exciting, and over-whelming news:
Jesus Christ is alive!
His resurrection changes everything.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Scripture quotations marked (NIV) are taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. NIV®. Copyright© 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.