Friday, April 6, 2018

Jesus First Word on Easter! (Matthew 28:1-11) by Rev. Dr. Alan W. Deuel

A pastor writes:
 A friend of mine who worked for a mortuary, had a number of responsibilities in his job, including traveling to small rural communities to conduct funerals where there were no churches.  He would go out with an undertaker and they would drive together in the hearse. One time, on their way back from a funeral, my friend was feeling tired.   He decided to take a nap and went to lie down in the back of the hearse.

The undertaker pulled into a service station to gas up. The attendant started filling up the tank and was kind of freaked out, when he saw a body stretched out in the back.  While he was filling the tank, my friend woke up, opened his eyes, knocked on the window and waved at the attendant.  My friend said he never saw anybody jump so high and run so fast in his life.”

Yes, when you’re expecting death and you see life; it startles you, it shakes you up, it shocks you.   So it was on that first Easter.  Everything turned upside down.  The women and disciples thought they were going to see death, but instead they saw life!   Jesus' followers were shattered, grief-stricken at seeing Jesus crucified and buried.  But all that changed on Easter.  Jesus’ appearances transformed his followers; they were now hope-filled and bursting with joy and passion and power and began to witness to others in His name.    Easter is proof that all lives, any life, every life, can be changed when one meets the Risen Lord, when one hears the truth and power of the gospel.

Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to the tomb early in the morning to anoint Jesus' body with oil and spices as was the Jewish custom.  The women encounter an angel who says to them: “Do not be afraid; He is not here, He has been raised as He said. Come and see; go quickly and tell the disciples Jesus has gone ahead of you to Galilee, there you will see him.

The Risen lord suddenly appears to these two women as they are leaving the tomb.  Jesus utters his first word “Greetings.”  No, not “I’m back.”  But rather, Greetings!   And our Risen Lord says greetings to you this morning as well.

The resurrection of Jesus is the foundation of the Christian faith and hope; it’s the historical basis for the celebration of Easter.   Easter is a shining light in the darkness of this world.  Critics argue that the resurrection is a hoax.  But if this is true, if there is no hope, if we are earthbound, if aging, suffering, pain and death is all there is; well, listen to this scripture from I Corinthians: “If the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised.  If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all people.  But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead.

Easter declares Jesus is alive!   The tomb was empty!  The stone was not rolled back so Jesus could get out, but so people could enter the grave and see for themselves that Jesus had risen from the dead.   As a pastor, I’ve seen people who by grace through their faith, have been saved from tombs of grief, from tombs of self-loathing, from tombs of shattered relationships, from tombs of aimlessness, from tombs of addiction, from tombs of hopelessness.

The Risen Lord changes, transforms, sinners, nihilists by grace and power.   You may have heard the song, “I Can Only Imagine,” written and sung by songwriter and vocalist, Bart Millard, lead singer in the Christian band MercyMe.   The story behind the song is that when he was young his father, known as Bub, was extremely abusive toward him, verbally and physically for years.  When the beatings slowed down in Bart’s early teens, the father told Bart: “Do what you want, I don’t care anymore.  Bart said those words hurt almost worse than the beatings.

His father became ill and something miraculous began to occur, Bub unexpectedly began praying and reading the Bible.  He encouraged Bart in his church youth group, rather than berating him for going to church. Bart and his father became friends. They prayed and talked together daily for hours.  Bart saw God transform his father’s heart before his very eyes.  He said: ”If the gospel could change that guy, the gospel could change anybody.  His father died of cancer when Bart was in his late teens.  At the gravesite, Bart’s grandmother, a woman of faith, said: “I can only imagine what Bub’s seeing now.  Those words penetrated Bart’s soul and inspired him to write the song “I Can Only Imagine,” in 2001.  It’s been released as a movie this year.

Easter announces that there is no grave deep enough, no stone heavy enough, no evil strong enough to keep Christ in the tomb or to keep us, whoever we are, and despite whatever we have done, from meeting the Risen Lord and finding grace, mercy and forgiveness in His name.   The question is: Is evil stronger than God, hate stronger than love and death stronger than life?  Christianity says no!  Why?  Because on Easter God raised Jesus to life, because Jesus is alive and the Risen Lord said: “Greetings” to a world that believed he was finished.  Easter declares there is hope for tomorrow, there is the promise and assurance of new life.

Easter further points to an afterlife, an eternal life, a life beyond this temporary earthly life.  A new heavenly life awaits those who surrender their lives, who trust, who believe in Him.  Scripture promises:  Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”   Life begins when we discover this truth for ourselves and act upon it.  The resurrection shows that even the seemingly indomitable power of death is inferior to the will and power of God.  Easter announces that Jesus' resurrection opens up the future.

I ask you two questions: Do you have hope for the future?  What is the basis for your hope?  Christians around the world today are not declaring: "The stock market has risen. It has risen indeed."  "The dollar has risen.  It has risen indeed."  "Google has risen. It has risen indeed."   The hope that has ignited the hearts, stirred the souls, and uplifted human beings across the centuries is: "Christ is risen. He is risen indeed."

So where do we place our ultimate trust, in our President and our politicians?  In ourselves?  I’ll let you answer that question.  Because of Easter, I place my ultimate trust in Jesus, the Son of God, the Risen Lord.  Let us place our trust in Christ alone.  Jesus says:  I have come to bring life and life abundant.  There are many rooms in my Father’s house, I am going there to prepare a place for you, I would not tell you this if it were not so, and I will come back and take you to myself, so that you will be where I am.  Jesus says: “I am the resurrection and the life, whoever believes in me, even though they die, shall live.

Jesus is Risen, Jesus is Lord.  The first word Jesus spoke on Easter was “greetings” to those who believed he was dead.  On this Easter Day, Jesus looks into your heart and says: “Greetings” to you as well.   Alleluia.  Amen.

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