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Easter 2019 Message

READ Luke 24:1-12


I read a tragic story about man who accidentally ran over a bunny carrying an Easter basket. Of course, the speed, the weight and the force of the vehicle killed the little critter instantly. Being soft of heart, the man stopped, picked up the bunny and carried to the side of the road and gently laid him down.

Just then a young woman stopped to see what had happened. When she saw the dead rabbit, her eyes and mouth rounded and excused herself as she ran back to her car, pulled out a spray can, and returned shaking the can. She began to spray the bunny with the contents of the can. Immediately, it jumped to its feet and hopped off down the road, stopping every 10 feet to turn back and wave.

“What in the world??” said the bewildered man. To which the woman replied, “Oh, I sprayed it with my hairspray and, just like the product promises, ‘It brings dead hare back to life with a permanent wave!” (Ha! Ha!)

If we’re not careful, Christians can send mixed messages about Easter (or as some of us prefer: Resurrection Sunday). Just like Christmas, with Santa Claus mixed with the birth of Jesus, we can conflate the resurrection of Jesus with the Easter Bunny.

Origins of Easter

Many historians, including biblical scholars, believe that Easter got its name from the original pagan practice of celebrating springtime with Anglo-Saxon fertility goddess Ostara (also pronounced Eastra) during Vernal Equinox. The rabbit makes its appearance again in the spring and represents fertility.

Christian missionaries noticed that the celebration took place near time of Jesus’ resurrection and adopted Easter to increase conversions. But sometimes we can blend things too much and send mixed messages. Today, there is only one message and it needs to be a clear, definitive one: Jesus Christ is ALIVE!

Implications of Jesus’s Resurrection

What does it mean that Jesus is alive? It means MORE than just coming back to life; Lazarus came back to life but died again. Jairus’s daughter came back to life but died again. The Shunamite’s son came back to life after Elisha laid over him, but he died again, too.

Jesus didn’t just overcome fleshly death. He didn’t just start breathing again after he was declared dead and in the tomb a couple of days. Jesus didn’t die again like those others in the Bible. Jesus is STILL alive!

More than that, Jesus—the one and only Son of God—did what no one else can ever do. Through his death on the cross, Jesus paid the price for all sin; and through his resurrection, Jesus overcame death itself (and the inevitability of eternal separation from God) and made it possible for us to experience everlasting life! In other words, because He lives, we, too, can live forever!

The 20th century Chinese church leader, Watchman Nee, said, “Our old history ends with the cross; our new history begins with the resurrection.” Jesus has rewritten our story from one that ended in death to a story that never ends!

In his first letter to the church of Corinth, Paul tells us that we have hope in a resurrected life in Christ because Jesus has indeed been raised from the dead. In Christ all will be made alive!

The saving work of Jesus Christ through his death and resurrection make forgiveness of sins and everlasting life possible, but it is REPENTANCE of sins and TRUSTING in the Lord Jesus Christ as your Savior that makes His work effectual. The TRUTH is true whether we believe it or not; but BY BELIEVING the TRUTH (Jesus, the Way, the Truth, and the Life), then TRUTH becomes TRUE for US…REAL for US.

So, is the death and resurrection true for you? Do you believe Jesus died on the cross and rose from the dead? How do you respond to the resurrection? Look at contrast of responses between women and other disciples.

Luke, as do the other Gospel writers, put the women at the scene of the tomb early on the first day of the week. We even know some names: Mary the mother of James, Mary Magdalene, Joanna, to name a few. Here’s what we know about these women:

  • The WOMEN were there with Jesus until the bitter end, but the others ran and hid.
  • The WOMEN saw where the body was laid. The others didn’t
  • It was WOMEN who went on the first day of the week to prepare body for burial
  • The WOMEN were the first to see the empty tomb, while the other disciples were presumably still in hiding

When the women heard the Angel remind the them what Jesus had said, “The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again,” they Remembered.
The WOMEN Ran and told others. There were No mixed signals here! They confirmed what Jesus prophesied. In that culture, a woman’s testimony was not valid, even in the justice system. So, when all the others heard the report, it’s not surprising that they did not believe the women. They called their testimony “NONSENSE.” Why? Didn’t they remember the predictions Jesus had given about his death and resurrection?

So, what does it take to believe? Peter ran to the tomb to confirm the women’s testimony…and STILL left in bewilderment. According to John’s Gospel, Thomas, famous for his doubt of Jesus’s resurrection, had to put his fingers where the nails were once in Jesus’s hands and put his hand in Jesus’s side before he would believe.

Why should we believe this story nearly 2,000 years later? If his own disciples had to be shown proof (beyond the empty grave and Jesus’s own prophecy about his death and resurrection), how can we possibly believe this incredible story?

Several years ago, pastor and author, John Piper, wrote a blog called, Eight Reasons Why I think Jesus Rose from the Grave. I want to just focus on four of those reasons:

1. The tomb was empty on Easter. The earliest documents claim this: “When they went in they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus” (Luke 24:3). And the enemies of Jesus confirmed it by claiming that the disciples had stolen the body (Matthew 28:13). The dead body of Jesus could not be found. There are four possible ways to account for this:
a. His enemies stole the body. If they did (and they never claimed to have done so), they surely would have produced the body to stop the successful spread of the Christianity. But they didn’t.
b. His friends stole the body. This was an early rumor recorded in Matthew’s account. Is it probable? Could they have overcome the guards at the tomb? More important, would they have begun to preach with such authority that Jesus was raised, knowing that he was not? Would they have risked their lives and accepted beatings for something they knew was a fraud?
c. Jesus was not dead, but only unconscious when they laid him in the tomb. He awoke, removed the stone, overcame the soldiers, and vanished from history after a few meetings with his disciples in which he convinced them he was risen from the dead. Even the enemies of Jesus did not try this line. He was obviously dead. The Romans saw to that. The stone could not be moved by one man, not least one who had been tortured, hung on a cross, and stabbed in the side.

5.God raised Jesus from the dead. This is what Jesus said would happen. After they came to believe, it is also what the disciples said did happen.

The disciples were almost immediately transformed from men who were hopeless and fearful after the crucifixion (Luke 24:21, John 20:19) into men who were confident and bold witnesses of the resurrection (Acts 2:24, 3:15, 4:2, 31). Their explanation of this change was that they had seen the risen Christ and had been authorized to be his witnesses (Acts 2:32).

Paul claimed that not only had HE seen the risen Christ, but that 500 others had seen him also. In 1 Cor. 15:6, he writes: “Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep.” What makes this so relevant is that Corinthians was written to Greeks who were skeptical of such claims while many of these witnesses were still alive. So, it was a risky claim if it could be disproved by a little firsthand research.

The sheer existence of a thriving, empire-conquering early Christian church supports the truth of the resurrection claim. The church spread on the power of testimony of Jesus such as that found in Acts 2:36à “Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.”

The Lordship of Christ over all nations is based on his victory over death. This is the message that spread all over the world. Its power to cross over cultural boundaries and create one new people of God was a strong testimony of its truth.

For many in this room, you didn’t need to hear Piper’s reasons to believe Jesus rose from the dead. You’re there! God’s word says it, so you believe it.

But I suspect there are some here who have not been convinced. So, if the authenticity and validation of many biblical witnesses isn’t enough, what is? If scholarly logic isn’t enough, what is? What will it take for you to repent and believe the Good News that Jesus is alive?

Did you come in to worship with mixed signals? I pray the message is crystal clear: Jesus is Alive! And because the one, true living God put on flesh, bore our sins on the cross, and rose from the dead, WE CAN LIVE TOO!!!

Jesus said this revolutionary statement: “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. Do you believe this?” [John 11:25-26] The implication is that if one does NOT believe in Jesus, he or she will die. And by this, we mean being eternally separated from God.

Here’s the deal. You can hear the truth of God’s word, along with heart-warming stories connecting the truth of God’s salvation through Jesus Christ, but if you aren’t open to the move the Holy Spirit in your life, then I’m wasting my breath. You will leave this room with your family, head for the lunch table and forget all about the reality of the resurrection.

There’s another possible response other than joy in the resurrection or doubt in the resurrection. Indifference. You may have come today having put the resurrection of Jesus in a nice little box. It’s something you have come to believe, but it really doesn’t make an impact on your daily life. It doesn’t change the way you see your place on earth or the people around you.

On Facebook earlier this week I shared a post by Professor Matt Friedeman from Wesley Bible Seminary down in Jackson. Matt was relating a story from the public radio personality, Garrison Keillor where he’s describing a Thanksgiving meal with his family. Allow me to adapt it and Matt’s comments slightly for this morning.

The turkey was in the middle of the table and it was time to eat. “Then,” said Keillor, “the hostess made the mistake of calling on Uncle John to pray. Everybody in the family knew that Uncle John couldn’t pray without talking about the cross and crying. And if there is one thing that makes people nervous, it’s listening to a grown man cry.

Sure enough, Uncle John prayed, talked about the cross, and cried. Meanwhile, the rest of us shifted nervously from one foot to the other and longed for the prayer to end.” Keillor then says: “All of us knew that Jesus died on the cross for us, but Uncle John had never gotten over it.”

How easy it is to “get over it.” Not just the death of Jesus on the cross for our sins, but also His resurrection. Some of us might be tempted to think, “Okay, okay. We KNOW this. Let’s move on.” We came to Easter Sunday service because that’s what we’re supposed to do. We already know about Jesus and the story of His resurrection. We are ready to get to the main course…LUNCH!

But HOW can we move on when the death and resurrection of the Son of God is THE SINGLE MOST IMPORTANT event in history. If you don’t know Jesus Christ (NOT just know about Him) as your Savior, then I don’t care HOW good Easter lunch will be!

Without God’s loving, saving act on our behalf, we would be cut off from God forever. We can’t earn our way to salvation. We can’t do enough good deeds to outweigh our bad deeds. It doesn’t work like that. It’s only by God’s initiation of forgiveness and His invitation for you and me to be in a right relationship with Himself that we can even experience salvation.

The unconditional love of God…to see us as we are—rebellious, selfish, self-centered, sin-sick people—and LOVE us anyway, defies logic. HOW can God do that?? I don’t know. It’s beyond my understanding. But I BELIEVE IT! Do you? Would you like to?

As PRAYZNMOR makes there way back up here, I want to take a minute to pray…to thank God for His amazing gift of love through the resurrected Christ, and to ask that God move in the hearts who don’t yet know Jesus and for those who have “gotten over” the resurrection. Changed hearts…changed lives. That’s what God wants. I KNOW it! And so, that’s what we pray for. Let’s pray.