Easter Is Looking Up

What are you searching for in life? Have you found it? The words of the Lord from Colossians 3:1-4 tell us that Easter has a lot to do with searching and finding. The answer depends on where you're looking. "Easter is Looking Up." April 16, 2017.

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           One of the fun traditions of Easter is the search for candy-stuffed eggs hidden around the yard and looking for baskets filled with treats to eat and play with. Finding the hidden Easter baskets was a tradition that I enjoyed with my family when I was a kid. We’d usually have to wait until the church services were all over and my dad, who was a busy pastor those mornings, was home. Then my siblings and I could start looking for our baskets. Sometimes you’d catch a glimpse of one poking out from its hiding place, but if it wasn’t yours, you wouldn’t say anything, because you wanted to be the first to find your own basket.

            I remember one year, my brothers and sisters all had found their baskets and were already stuffing their faces with candy and playing with their new little toys. And I was still searching for mine. Maybe being the oldest, my parents thought they had to hide mine better than the others. But I’m searching and I’m getting frustrated. I can’t find it! Finally, they gave me a clue: look up. So, I looked up. And in one of the last places I would have even imagined to look, I found it. My basket was balancing on the blades of the ceiling fan in the living room. All I had to do was look up.

            It strikes me as I hear the words of the Lord through his servant Paul in the book of Colossians that Easter has a lot to do with searching and finding. What are you searching for in life? Have you found it? The answer to that depends on where you’re looking. Paul tells you that this Easter you need to look up. Look up to find life. Look up to live life.

            On the first Easter morning, before the sun had even come up, a group of women who loved Jesus went to the tomb where he had quickly been buried on Friday. They found that the stone was already rolled away and the tomb was empty. The search began! Mary Magdalene ran to the disciples, Peter and John, and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!” The two disciples raced to the tomb. When they got there, they found that it was empty. There was no body, just the clothes that Jesus had been wrapped in. They saw and believed. Jesus was risen.

            Mary meanwhile stayed outside the tomb weeping. After speaking with a couple of angels, she turned to find Jesus. Except she didn’t recognize him. Instead she thought that he was the gardener. She was consumed with grief and her eyes were focused on the tomb, on death. Jesus asked her, “Who are you looking for?” She was looking for a dead body. Then Jesus spoke her name, “Mary.” At this she looked up. There her eyes went from the tomb and death to see the living Savior.

            Mary and the other disciples went from fear and confusion and were raised up to a living and rejoicing faith. They saw the risen Jesus. His promise to overcome death was fulfilled and all his promises with it.

            That’s why Paul declares to you and me today, “You have been raised with Christ.”  Now if you are raised up, then you must have been down. That’s what each person is. Our very core, our basic relationship with God is one of spiritual death separated from God and unable to have life with him. It’s quite hopeless and depressing.

            But Easter is your resurrection. Jesus’ resurrection is what gives power to the gospel message that is able to raise up the spiritually dead and unbelieving heart that you naturally have. Jesus’ resurrection is what gives meaning and purpose to thoughts of doubt and uncertainty. Your faith rests not on a dead and lifeless Savior, but on the living Lord who rose and ascended into heaven!

            You can mourn over your sin. You can get lost in the fear of life’s troubles and the evil that is on this earth. You can let death direct the way you live your life. But Jesus raises you above these things too.

            Look up from the depths of your sin and guilt. Look up and see the risen Savior. He was buried, but the grave could not contain him. It could not hold him back because he conquered death. He overcame sin. He destroyed the devil. He burst forth in life. Look up in faith to this Savior. Leave the sin at the cross. Leave the fear of death in the tomb. Your sinful nature died with Christ. Look up at Jesus and live. Yes, this victory is yours. You are risen – in faith, in life, and you will be raised up from the dead on the last day, just as Christ rose from the dead and lives. Look up and see the life that is yours in Jesus.

            An Easter dawn service is such a fitting time to celebrate Easter. Not only does it put us on a similar time frame with the women and the disciples who ran to the tomb, but it allows us to see the darkness of night be chased away by the rising sun. That’s Easter. Jesus rises up as the bright light of life to chase away the darkness of sin and death. Think about this, when the sun comes up and you start a new day, do you look back at the darkness of the night or forward to the light of a new day? Do you dwell on a night of sleep or do you look and move forward to what you will accomplish while it is light? Easter is about looking up.

            Jesus rose to prove to you and assure you that your sins are paid for and that you have life. So Paul says, “set your hearts on things above, where Christ is…set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.” God wants you to not just look up to Jesus in faith but to live that faith with eyes focused on heaven and not distracted by earthly things.

            The devil wants you to keep looking down at earthly things and to lose sight of Jesus. Let’s be honest, there are a lot of things that can keep your attention and life focused downward. You can be caught giving all your attention to your career or job, that you miss your calling to serve God in life. You can be so consumed with relationships with others, that you miss realizing that your relationship with God is sour. You can be so tied down with your health issues, that you fail to remember that God is the great physician and care-taker of your life. You can be so zeroed in on trying to be the perfect student, the perfect friend, the perfect mom, the perfect whatever it is, that you miss the comfort of knowing that you are already made perfect by Jesus. You can be so worn out from the pursuit of earthly riches and power and prestige, that you miss out on the far greater and eternally lasting treasures – the crown of life, the kingdom of God, the heavenly mansion, the eternal life. Don’t focus on the temptations of the flesh, but brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things” (Philippians 4:8). Look up and live the life that is yours this Easter!

            There’s a story told about a farmer who one day captured a young eagle. He put a restraint on it so that it couldn’t fly and then turned it loose to roam around the barnyard with the chickens. It wasn’t long before that eagle began to act like the chickens, scratching and pecking at the ground. This eagle that once soared high in the heavens seemed content to live in a barnyard like a lowly hen.

            One day a shepherd from up in the mountains where the eagles lived came by the farm. The shepherd saw the eagle roaming like a chicken in the barnyard and said to the farmer, “What a shame to keep that bird hobbled up in your barnyard. Why don’t you let it go?” The farmer agreed. He took the restraint off of the eagle. But the eagle kept scratching and pecking at the ground as before. The shepherd picked up the eagle and set it on the high stone wall. For the first time in months, the eagle looked up and saw the expanse of the blue sky. It spread its wings and soared away into the sky.

            It’s way too easy to accept the ways of this world and to get accustomed to and to even become comfortable living in this world. You can find yourself scratching and pecking away at things that have no lasting meaning. Jesus rose to give you life. He rose to free you from a purposeless life. Jesus rose so that you can spread your wings, look heavenward, and fly. Don’t be grounded by earthly things, but look up with your heart and mind to live life with the hope, the confidence, and the peace found in Jesus.

            This Easter, and really every day that follows, don’t find yourself looking the wrong way. Look up. The tomb is empty. There’s nothing left there for you to see. Let’s look to the Savior. Let’s look to the one who gives us life and frees us to live life with him. Amen.

Preached at Grace Lutheran Church, Milwaukee, WI (www.gracedowntown.org) on April 16, 2017

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