Responding to the Resurrection

In January, Kathryn and I went to Washington DC. It was not our first trip to our nation’s capital. We had a short list of things we wanted to see. On that list was Arlington National Cemetery. My father-in-law, who I barely knew, John Trojan is there. He is in the columbarium, located in the southeast section approximately one mile from the Memorial Gate. The cemetery personnel drove us there, but they didn’t stay as we visited his plague. Instead of waiting for a ride to return, we decided to walk back. There is no other way to say it. It was moving walking by those countless graves. There are approximately 400,000 graves in Arlington. The words between us were few, but they were meaningful. That evening we had dinner at a restaurant near the National Archives building. It was full of people having a good time. Arlington was moving, but the restaurant was fun. Let me state the obvious. It is more fun to be with the living than the dead. May we never forget we serve a risen Savior. Jesus is alive and well!

We find ourselves today in the twentieth chapter of John. Each one of the Gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, have their own account of the resurrection of Jesus. The details vary, but the main point remains the same. Jesus is resurrected! This is John’s version. Mary Magdalene went to Jesus’ tomb early on Sunday morning. It is so early; it is still dark. It was the first time the law permitted anyone to touch the dead. Corpses could not be touched on the Sabbath. When she arrives, she discovers that the stone in front of the entrance had been rolled away. She is shocked by this discovery and assumes the worst. Someone had taken Jesus body! The abuse Jesus had endured on Friday was not enough. Now they had taken his body to continue the cruelty. She wants to find Jesus, so she enlists some help. There is no other way to say it. They lost Jesus! (Don’t you hate when you lose a corpse?) She ran to tell two disciples that Jesus is missing. The first is Peter. The second is described the one that Jesus loved. That is John’s way of describing himself. Instantly, the two run to the tomb and it is at this point the scripture comes to life for us.

The story is familiar because we have looked at it countless times. It is hard to preach the resurrection of Jesus Christ annually and be original. John’s account of the resurrection is unique. It illustrates for us the three responses to the resurrection. They are not unique to John. They are not unique to John’s time. They are the same ways people respond to the resurrection today. The question you must answer is, how do you respond the resurrection? Are you skeptical about the resurrection of Jesus? Are you curious about the resurrection of Jesus? Or, do you believe, in your heart of hearts, Jesus was resurrected?

Peter plays the role of the skeptic. Look at the text with me. It says when Peter got to the Jesus’ tomb he went in and saw all the clothes of clothes scattered. Verse ten says he does something that he must have regretted the rest of his life. What does that verse say? It says after he saw clothes scattered on the tomb’s floor, he went home. He missed the whole thing because he went home. It made logical sense to go home. The problem is the resurrection is not logical. It is a miracle that cannot be explained by science.

Do you know any skeptics? Our world is filled with skeptics. Our world has always been filled with skeptics. The story of the resurrection has always been surrounded by skeptics. Do you know how many theories exist trying to disregard the resurrection of Jesus? One theory says someone got to the tomb ahead of Mary Magdalene and stole Jesus’ body. One theory says Mary Magdalene got confused and went to the wrong tomb. (You know how women are with directions.) One theory says the women confused Jesus with someone else. After all, if you have seen one Jew then you have seen them all. One theory says Jesus never died on the cross. Instead, he was drugged and once his head had cleared, he simply walked out unnoticed on Saturday. Do I have to go on? We live in a skeptical world because many believe science is the final word. Miracles are dismissed because they cannot be proven. The resurrection is a miracle, so it must not have happened. There is only one problem with this line of thought.

The final word is not science; the final word is God. God is not frustrated by scientific law. God does, what God desires. Part of God’s plan of salvation for the world was to resurrect Jesus.

Mary Magdalene plays the role of the seeker. What does the text say? She followed Jesus to his tomb. She was going to treat his body. She thought it would be her last loving act for Jesus, but she was wrong. What does the text say? It says that after Peter and John examined the scene they went home. What did Mary Magdalene do? We are told that she stayed at the tomb. She knew something had happened, but she didn’t know what. She had been part of the great story of the resurrection, but she didn’t exactly know what happened. She waited outside of the tomb crying trying to comprehend what had happened. In other words, she had a few questions.

Does anyone here have a question about the resurrection? In your mind you understand that Jesus came back to life! However, that fact has not yet penetrated your heart. You are just like Mary Magdalene? You know something happened, but you can’t comprehend the true meaning of the resurrection. Ask all the questions you want because it is the best way to learn. Do you have any questions? Do you know anyone who is a seeker? Could it be you are a seeker? It is fine to be a seeker. I have a few questions myself.

John plays the role of the saved. The text says when he got to the tomb, he didn’t go in. Peter went into the tomb first. John stayed outside. There may be several reasons. Maybe he was resting? After all, he had just been running. Or maybe he was afraid that Mary Magdalene was wrong. He didn’t want to see Jesus’ mangled body. Or maybe he did not go in because he was just afraid? Roman guards could be waiting inside to arrest any Jesus supporters. He didn’t go in until Peter went in first. When he went in, he discovered Mary Magdalene’s account was accurate. Verse eight gives us one more piece of vital information.  It says that after John examined the tomb he believed. He remembered everything Jesus had said about his own death and resurrection. John remembered those things and believed.  His belief in the resurrected Jesus saved his very soul. Do you remember what Romans 10:9 says? That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” This is the question of the day.

What is your response to the resurrection of Jesus? I hope you are not a skeptic about the resurrection. No, science is not the final answer. The final answer is God! I hope you are not a seeker, just curious about the resurrection. It is the one thing you cannot question. I hope you believe that you are one of the saved. The resurrection changed everything. It changed the way you look at death, itself. It changed your final destination. May we never forget we serve a risen Savior. John Ortberg (born 1957) is the Senior Pastor of the Menlo Church in Menlo, California. He once said, “At the very heart of the Christian faith is the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection”If you believe in the resurrection, then, like John, you are saved!

Why is Easter Important?

When we last left Jesus, things looked bad! Everyone knows what happened. Jesus, the son of God, the long-awaited Messiah died. It was a Friday afternoon, and he passed between two criminals. His lifeless body was taken down from that instrument of death and everyone cried. Broken hearted his loved ones placed him in an unused tomb. Those who had the unpleasant job, must have turned to take their last look. In my station in life, I have taken that last look many times. It is amazing, how quickly a body turns into a corpse. Then, they rolled the stone into position. It had to be tight so the smell of decay wouldn’t be released. Covering all the details, the chief priests and the Pharisees went to Pilate to have a guard placed in front of the entrance of the tomb so the body couldn’t be stolen. There was nothing more to do. After all, Jesus was dead! However, this is Easter morning, and we know it isn’t over, until God says it is over!

According to our reading for today, it is dawn on the first day of the week. That means, it is early on Sunday. Jesus was executed on a Friday. Two women both by the name of Mary appear at the tomb of Jesus. That were preparing to do what the law prohibited them to do on the Sabbath, treat the body of the dead. They went early for two reasons. First, they couldn’t sleep, Jesus’s death was hard to accept. Second, they went early because they wanted to complete the horrible task. The only question haunting them was how to roll away that massive stone. There was no need to fear. According to the text, there is a great earthquake. God, himself, had rolled away the stone, exposing to the world the truth, Jesus had returned from the dead. I do not know how that happened because I can’t explain a miracle. However, I do know that miracle changed everything.

To those of us of faith, Easter is more than the celebration of spring. It is the very heart of our faith. Historically, Easter is the oldest festival on the Christian calendar. In the Greek Orthodox tradition many tell jokes on Easter because, God, himself, played a joke on Satan. It looked like Satan had won, Jesus was dead! Satan must have celebrated on that Silent Saturday. Then, Easter Sunday came. Jesus returned from the dead. I Corinthians 15:14 says, “If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.” Yet, the resurrection is not just some theological point reserved for some academic classroom. The resurrection is practical. Today, I want to look at the practical side of the resurrection. I am going to do that by answering the question, why is Easter important? That single question has three answers.

First, Easter is important because it defines our faith! Today, we celebrate with Christians around the world the resurrection of Jesus. The church stands alone. The scientific world has dismissed the resurrection as nonsense. The secular world has replaced the resurrection with community service. Other world religions have simply denied it. We are the only ones who know of the significance of the resurrection. It is the cornerstone of our faith and the only thing that really matters. One of my favorite Bible verses is Romans 10:9. It says, “That if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” Many consider that verse to be the first creed in the church. It is a timeless truth. Your belief in the resurrection is not just important, it is indispensable. It is the one thing that separates us from everyone else. The resurrection is the only thing that really matters in the church.

Several years ago, I preached a sermon series called Christianity’s Family Tree. It was originally developed by Adam Hamilton of the Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kansas. We looked at all the branches of our family tree. We examined all the various traditions and customs found various churches. Human beings have a way of looking at differences, God only sees what we have in common. Just think about it for a moment. Within the body of the church we baptize differently. We experience the Eucharist differently. Some churches have a call system and some churches have an appointment system. Some churches emphasize the Holy Spirit and churches promote missions. Some observe the various liturgical seasons, and some don’t. Some traditions embrace icons, some statutes and some nothing. I will be completely honest with you. None of those differences bother me. The only thing that really matters to me is the resurrection. It is the one thing we must have in common. Your belief in the resurrection is not optional, it is indispensable. It is the one thing that separates us, Christians, from the rest of the world. We worship a risen savor! Other world religions just remember a dead founder. Easter is important because we are embracing the resurrection, the defining moment of our faith. We serve a risen Savior!

Second, Easter is important because it demonstrates God’s power! One of the pivotal lines in the Easter passage is verse two. That verse tells us there was a violent earthquake. It is only found in this account of the resurrection, but it means so much. The earthquake does two things. First, the earthquake rolled away the stone that covered the entrance of the tomb. Second, the earthquake underscores the power of God. There are many who ignore the power of God. We live in incredibly arrogant times. Consider two Bible verses with me. The first is Colossians 1:16. It says, “For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers, or rulers or authorities, all things were created by God and for God.” The second is Psalm 115:3. It says, “Our God is in heaven; he does what he pleases.” Think about those words.God created this world for himself, we act like God created this world for us!

We live in incredibly arrogant times. We forget the power of God and try to hold God accountable to our standards. Do you know of anyone who tries to make God accountable to them? They wonder why God doesn’t do something about world hunger. They ask why so many people in our world feel unloved. They wonder why there are so many diseases. They wonder why God didn’t give them a perfect body. They wonder why their families are so messed up. Do you know of anyone who is trying to get God to live up to their standards? The answer to those questions is very simple. The answer to those questions is because God is God. In comparison to God, we are nothing.

This is the real question, why don’t we do something? Why don’t we do something about world hunger? Why don’t we start loving the unlovable? Why don’t we spend more money on medical research and education and less on our hobbies? Why don’t we start living healthier lives? Why don’t we start taking some accountability for our broken relationships? Never forget the truth. We are accountable to God and God is not accountable to us. Easter is important because it demonstrates God’s people.We serve a risen Savior!

Third and finally, Easter is important because it determines our eternity! David Seamand’s (1922-2006) life was dominated by missions. He was raised in a missionary’s home and served sixteen years in the mission fields, himself. I got to know him at Asbury Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky. He once told of a Muslim who became a Christian in Africa. “Some of his friends of the former Muslim asked him, ‘Why have you become a Christian?’ He answered, ‘Well, it’s like this. Suppose you were going down the road and suddenly it forked. Next to the road were two men, one dead and the other alive. Which one would you ask for directions?’” We serve a risen savior!

Several years ago, someone asked me, “Russ, what do you look forward to when you get to heaven?” The person was disappointed in my answer. They wanted me to say singing in the eternal choir or standing at the throne. The truth is no one wants me in the choir, and I am too hyperactive to stand anywhere too long. This was my answer. What I look forward to when I get to heaven is being reunited with people who have passed. The twelfth chapter of the epistle to the Hebrews tell us there is a great crowd of witnesses surrounding us at this moment. Some of those saints include some of the spiritual giants of the past. Some of the saints include some of the saints in our families. Some of the saints include some of the saints of this church. Some of the saints are personal friends. It is a great cloud of witnesses. Can I ask you a question on this Easter morning? Who are you going to look for when you get to heaven? Easter is important because it determines our eternity. We serve a risen Savior!

Why is Easter important? Easter is important because it is on that day, we remember the resurrection of our Lord and Savior. The resurrection is practical. It does three things. First, the resurrection defines our faith. Without the resurrection, we are like everyone else. Our belief in the resurrection means we stand alone. We serve a risen savor! Second, the resurrection demonstrates the power of God. Never forget, we are accountable to God and not God to us. Third, the resurrection determines our eternity. Someday, we are going to heaven. John Ortberg (born 1957) is the Senior Minister of Menlo Church in Menlo, California. He once said, “At the very heart of the Christian faith is the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection.” I agree.