Easter Sunday April 16, 2017
1 Corinthians 15:1-11
193, 202, 199, 200
Prayer for Easter Sunday: Almighty God, who through Your only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ, has overcome death and opened to us the gate of everlasting life, we humbly implore You that as You put into our minds good desires, so by Your continual help we may bring the same to good effect; through the same Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: ‘The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’” Then they remembered his words. When they came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others. It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the apostles. But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense. Peter, however, got up and ran to the tomb. Bending over, he saw the strips of linen lying by themselves, and he went away, wondering to himself what had happened.
If you’ve ever thought about a home in the northeast, there are 20 acres that have recently gone on the market in Maine. The unusual feature of this real estate, though, is that the house sits on top of an enormous abandoned missile silo. That’s right—a person can walk into the basement and wander around the original 10,000 square foot underground storage area, a bunker reinforced with huge amounts of steel and concrete. The couple who currently own it are looking to get into something smaller. They figure their place will sell, not because of the beautiful Maine countryside, but because somebody will want to turn it into a safe-haven. Somebody will want to use that underground space for food, and to create living areas, and to prepare to survive the worst—a nuclear war.
People spend a lot of time getting ready for worst-case scenarios. Maybe you’ve even heard the old saying that goes around: “Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst.”
When the women set out for Jesus’ grave early in the morning on the first day of the week, they had prepared for the worst. Having seen the One they loved laid in the tomb, they had gone out and bought the necessary ointments and spices to do for the Lord’s body what was customarily done for the dead. They would carry this out as soon as they could after the Sabbath Day. They had gotten everything ready to embalm him, to do this saddest and most heart-rending of tasks.
This was the worst thing that they could be doing, putting the finishing touches for burial on their kindest Friend who had been arrested on false charges, put to a phony trial, quickly nailed to a cross, and put to death. But the women were prepared. As they went, they were prepared for the worst; they were prepared to see Jesus’ lifeless form just where it had been laid. They were prepared for and anticipating a face-to-face meeting with death.
But when they came to the place, they discovered that things were even worse than what they had prepared for. “They did not find the body of the Lord Jesus.” This was terribly disturbing to them and it threw them into perplexity and uncertainty. “What has happened? Where is He? What are we going to do now?” The result was that they were simply at a loss—just like the disciples had been when Jesus had first said to them, “One of you is going to betray me.” They just did not know what to think or what to do.
It’s not hard for us to nod our heads in sympathy with these women on Easter morning, is it? We can picture ourselves preparing for a worst-case situation: We think through it, we get everything ready, we work ourselves up to facing whatever trial it is that has been placed in our path, and then we arrive on the scene and we find that things are even worse than what we had been ready for.
We get a call that a friend or relative is sick. We prepare to go to the hospital or maybe the nursing home. We know things will be bad, but then we get there and find out it is more than “sick” but rather they are “going to die.” Sometimes it happens that we prepare ourselves for the worst, but then find ourselves up against something even worse than that.
While the women were still troubled, God stepped in to help. Two angels sent from heaven approached, their clothes gleaming and dazzling like lightning so there could be no doubt that they were more than ordinary human messengers. The women were frightened, recognizing that they were in the presence of beings that were holier and more powerful than they were. “In their fright [they] bowed down with their faces to the ground.” But God had not sent these messengers to scare them or to criticize their efforts to care for Jesus’ body. They were there to reassure the women in their time of crisis. They were there to show them that although they had been anticipating the worst that morning on their way to the tomb, they had met with the best of all possible things that could have happened. Things were not at all worse than what they had prepared for, rather they were unimaginably better.
The empty grave could be explained. It was not a matter of perplexity. It was not empty because someone had managed to sneak past the guards, the sealed stone, and wrestle the corpse away in the middle of the night. Nor was it empty because the women had been unable to find the right place. “Why do you look for the living among the dead?” the angels asked. The grave was empty because graves are for the dead, and Jesus was no longer dead. “He is not here; he has risen!” the men in white announced.
What was that again? The one who was wrapped and buried in here Friday night is risen? He has come back to life? Is that even possible? Yes! That is the message of Easter! There was more to the empty tomb than what the women could see at first. They saw that Jesus was not there, but the angelic message told the rest of the story. Their Master and Friend was living once again. They had come prepared for the worst, but God had met them with the best.
The torture and struggle of the cross were not merely over as in “he is free from his suffering now.” No, Jesus was not just “resting in peace” as they say; He was not resting at all anymore! He was living and active. The terrible result of the crucifixion had been reversed.
Christ the Lord is ris’n again;
Christ has broken death’s strong chain.
Hark, the angels shout for joy,
Singing evermore on high: Hallelujah! (TLH #190:1)
“He is not here; he has risen!” It was just as Jesus had told His disciples it would be. These women had heard it too, but in their fear and trembling of the past days they had forgotten it and had not made the connection. “The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.” It was all happening according to what had been foretold: Arrest, crucifixion, burial, and then life again from the dead.
So the women who had come prepared for the worst were met with the best, the best that they could ever have imagined:
Jesus was no longer dead, but was living again! His word had been proved true. Everything He had said to them was right. It all fit together. “They remembered his words.”
We can easily imagine their increasing joy over the next hours and the next days as they realized more and more that their Redeemer lived.
So the question finally becomes, “Can we share in it? Can it happen that way for us?” It usually seems like everyone else is met with the best, but we never are. We prepare for the worst, and then the worst happens. There is nobody there with a good word for us like the angels were there for the women. How is it that our perplexity and sadness cannot be turned around by suddenly having the best possible thing happen?
Here is what your heart needs to stop and consider on this Easter Sunday: The angels were not just talking to those women. The message was not only for them and for the Eleven and the others they told when they returned from Jesus’ tomb. The angels’ message is for you: “He is not here; he has risen!”
These words stand just as true today as they stood true 2000 years ago. Nothing has happened to change them. They are just as valid and relevant to any of you today as they were to the women on that first Easter.
When you come face to face with the worst situations you can imagine—with sorrow, disappointment, bad surprises you were not ready for, troubles you did not foresee; when you are at a loss…whether it happens to be Easter Sunday or not, the angels’ message meets you with the best of all possible outcomes. The word “He is not here; he has risen“ is the answer to every sorrow, every trial, every difficult situation, and every trouble. If you think that’s too simplistic or that such a word cannot really be the answer to every “worst-case” then think again.
Because “He has risen,” Jesus is alive today, alive and standing with you and protecting you and defending you from all evil. Because Jesus is alive today, every word that He has told you in the Scriptures must also be true—His promises to you to rescue you from every attack and bring you safely to His heavenly kingdom; the promise that all things will work together for good to them that love God, to those who are called according to His purpose; the promises that He will Shepherd you in whatever crosses you must bear; the promises that those who come to Him burdened in their consciences and hurting in their souls will find rest.
Jesus does meet you with the best even in the face of the worst—every time—by assuring you that He is alive:
forgiving your sins where you have done wrong,
showing you how to glorify Him in your life,
even raising you from the dead just as He was raised.
When you come prepared for the worst, in the end you are met with the best because it is the living Jesus who meets you on the way.
Even when we are like the other disciples and say at first, “That’s nonsense, that cannot be the answer!” Jesus keeps coming with the message, “I have risen from the dead. I am with you always.” Listen to that word. Listen to that word of the angels because it is there to reassure you just as it reassured Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others.
Be like Peter who, when he heard the message, went and looked in the tomb. So when you are met with this message, go and look. See that Jesus lives and that the best possible outcome is right there for you too. Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, 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.