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Worship Theme: The Festival of the Resurrection of Our Lord
Sermon Theme: Things Are Looking Up
Transcript of this week's message:
Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!
Can I address the elephant in the room? Or the elephant that isn’t in the room today or any other people in the room today except for a handful of people who are helping to make this service available to you? The church is empty. I think that this is every pastor’s nightmare. I know that I have woken up to this dream before as I’ve helped start new ministries and you do all the work and send out the invitations and you hope that someone comes. The night before you have this nightmare and in the nightmare no one comes. The church is empty in the dream. It feels like a big ol’ failure. But this is real. It’s Easter Sunday and the church is empty. Who would have ever thought that this would happen?!
However, I really feel like that should be the least of my concerns right now. How are you today? It’s been about four weeks since schools closed down, nearly three weeks since the safe-at-home order started in Wisconsin and it seems uncertain as to how long this will last. How are you doing? Have you been touched by the coronavirus, you or someone you know? Are you taking a financial hit right now, struggling to pay your bills? Are you missing people, feeling lonely? Are you on an emotional rollercoaster feeling afraid, uncertain, frustrated, hopeless, depressed? The news is filled with reports of overworked medical personnel, pictures of people clad in face masks and gloves, and the grim news of death totals and projections. Things are looking pretty bleak right now. Today’s Easter. Are you in the mood to celebrate??
Maybe today is bittersweet for you. You long to celebrate Easter in a packed church with your friends and family, but you can’t. Yet it’s Easter and we still get to worship from afar, but you miss this. I do to. I wish I could tell you how long we’ll have to be apart like this. But I can’t. Things don’t look so good right now.
Things weren’t looking so good for Jesus either when we last saw him on Good Friday. On that day he was brutally beaten, falsely condemned, nailed to a cross where he was killed and then his body was unceremoniously laid in a tomb to be placed among the dead. This Jesus claimed to be the Savior who would give eternal life to all people. The Bible with all of its prophecies and witnesses testified to this claim. But it wasn’t looking so good for him to be that Savior on Friday. Yet as we have learned lately, a lot can change in just a few days. Three days to be exact. As you heard in the gospel, when the women and the disciples came to the tomb on Sunday morning, it was empty, and Jesus appeared outside of that tomb showing himself to be alive having overcome the grave and defeating death. He is risen. He is victorious! Things were looking up.
But here’s the deal. This is more than an epic story of a hero’s victory that we can hear today and set aside tomorrow. This victory of Jesus is your victory and it changes your reality. That’s exactly what these verses from the Bible letter called Colossians say to you today. Because of a risen and living Savior things are looking up.
But you first need to understand why this is possible. “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ.” Did you catch that? You have been raised with Christ. That’s a pretty amazing statement. But raised from what? In verse three it says, “For you died.” What exactly does this mean that you died? Let me take you back a few verses in the book of Colossians. Paul, the writer of this book, said in chapter two, “When you were dead in your sins” (Colossians 2:13). We’re not talking about physical death, but rather spiritual death. What causes spiritual death, to be separated from the almighty and eternal God of life? Sin. If you think the coronavirus is terrifying, that virus holds nothing compared to the deadly disease of sin. Sin is so contagious that it infects every single person who has ever lived. Every person is born with a sinful nature and commits sin in their lives. Sin results in death. It causes spiritual death. It’s the reason for physical death and if left untreated will result in eternal death. What are the symptoms of sin? It’s a self-centered attitude, an angry heart, a filthy mouth, a lack of self-control, a general feeling of dissatisfaction, a mind that thinks that you know better than God or doesn’t even care about God. That’s just the tip of the symptoms of sin and you know this. When you look at sin and the reality that it separates you from God, things don’t look so good. We are dead in our sins.
But listen to what God did to rescue you from impending death. “When you were dead in your sins… God made you alive with Christ.” Did you catch that. God made you alive with Christ. How’d he do that?! “He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross” (Colossians 2:13–15). God took your sinful nature and all of your sins with all its guilt and all its punishment and put it on your perfect Savior, Jesus, who was nailed to the cross. Because Jesus paid the price in full for your sins, the charges of guilt against you are canceled. In other words, you are forgiven, set free, alive. How do we know that the price for your sins was truly paid for in full? The tomb is empty. Death could not hold our Savior. Jesus lives showing that God accepted his payment for your sins. Things are looking up!
Here’s the beauty of your connection with Jesus through faith. When Jesus died on the cross your sin died with him and just as he rose from the dead alive, you too through faith in Jesus are raised up to a new and eternal life. God not only accepts Jesus’ life and death, but he accepts it as yours. That’s why God says you have been raised with Christ. This life is kept safe and protected with Christ in God. This is a new life that changes how you live now and how live in this world. You are given new opportunities each day to set aside the sinful nature and desires that Christ has overcome and live a new life with God. Because of the risen Savior, Jesus, things are looking up!
Not only does the resurrection change your life, it changes how you live your life. Are you familiar with the Old Testament prophet named Elijah? God used him as his spokesman during a very rough patch in Israel’s history. Most people had abandoned God and followed idols. There was a spectacular miracle where Elijah and the Lord were pitted against the prophets of the false gods. Whoever’s god would send fire upon a sacrifice would be the true God. The Lord did not disappoint. He sent fire from heaven that burned up the waterlogged sacrifice and altar while the false gods did nothing. You would think that Elijah would rejoice and be happy. But he looked at the world around him and saw that many people still didn’t believe, that his life was still in danger, and he was all alone. He just wanted to die. Things weren’t looking good for Elijah.
Today is Easter. It’s the celebration of the most spectacular miracle of Jesus defeating sin, Satan, and death. You have a new life with God! Yet I wonder if in spite of this joy that we should have, we don’t find ourselves like Elijah looking at this world and losing hope. An unseen virus wreaking havoc, collapsed economy, loneliness, bad health, stress, not being able to be with the people you want to be with, your own daily struggles against temptations. When I look at this world, things don’t look good.
But the resurrection changes where we look. Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.
When I was a kid, my parents would make up Easter baskets for each of us kids and hide them somewhere in the house for us to find. I can remember one year looking all over and getting frustrated that I couldn’t find my basket, frustrated to the point of getting angry and giving up. My parents said to look up. When I looked up, there I saw my basket perched on the ceiling fan.
When Elijah’s focus was on the world and he was overwhelmed, God strengthened him and refocused him by reminding Elijah of God’s constant presence and promises. When Mary was overwhelmed with grief at the tomb, Jesus called her name and she looked up to see her Savior. My friends, at a time when you can look around and find so much wrong with the world and your life leaving you angry and wanting to give up, stop looking at the world and look to the risen and living Savior. Look up. Look up and see the Easter basket that God has prepared for you that is filled with all sorts of Easter blessings like a renewed life with God, the peace of complete forgiveness, the comfort of God’s promised presence in your life, the gift of faith, the fruits of his blessings. Look up and see the risen Savior seated at the right hand of God, the position of power, as he rules over all things. Jesus is greater than the fears of this life, he is greater than death. Look up at this powerful reminder that God is still in control of all things, even when the world seems out of control. You’re not going to find real and lasting hope in this world, but you will find that hope in Jesus. Things are looking up!
I’ve heard it said about Easter this year that the church is empty, and so is the tomb. But I don’t agree with that. This building is pretty empty today! But God’s church is full! Just look up. Look up and realize that we are still gathered together as God’s church from around our city, our country and even our world. Look up and see that now more than ever people are sharing their faith whether on social media or on their window panes or sidewalks. Look up and see that God is still at work even in the midst of crisis. Set your hearts and minds on these things and rejoice, be glad, for the tomb is empty and our Savior lives that we no more should die. Amen!
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