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Worship Theme: The Festival of the Resurrection of Our Lord
Sermon Theme: Easter—Fact and Fun
What if there was an event that would guarantee that death is not the end, that there is a life beyond this life, that there is a god, the only God? Based on Luke 24:1-12, we read about such an event and we celebrate it today: “Easter.” April 17, 2022.
So much of life is uncertain. Are gas prices going to bump higher again or drop a bit more? Will COVID birth another strain and disrupt our life patterns again? What will the stock market do in the next months? When will the black-hooded specter of death swing his sickle in our direction?
Uncertainty makes me uncomfortable. I have to concentrate on other things and shove uncertainties to the back of my mind, or I’ll go batty. But what if there was no eternity? What if this existence, this world, this life were all we had, and when we’re done, we’re done, a deteriorating, random mix of atoms and molecules poofed into the stratosphere? If there was no eternity, then creature comforts, medical advances, and technology to make our lives easier and more manageable would mean everything to us. We’d strain and strive, move every muscle and make every decision to be happy now and feel good now. We’d panic in a pandemic and ache under the thought of aging. We’d grasp at every straw and every well-marketed app to occupy our time and attention. We’d obsess over food and entertainment as though every meal is our last and every show or performance or game is the only thing worth getting worked up about. We’d live in uncertainty and die in uncertainly, except for the one certainty that it will all end, we will end, and it will all be for nothing.
But what if there was an event that would flip the whole scene and guarantee that death is not the end, that there is a life beyond this life, that there is no need to make this world perfect because perfection will come, that there is a god, the only God, who makes it all happen because he cares for us and supplies everything we need for unending, non-boring joy? There is just such an event. We celebrate it today: “Easter.”
Imagine a story like this. Two U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan were in the middle of nowhere, cut off from their battalion with no radio contact. The enemy approached. Rockets and grenades were exploding. They saw a force of several hundred enemy soldiers rise from behind the rocks. The two had scrunched into a hole they dug into the side of a hill. One soldier turned to his buddy and made a prediction, “I’m going to die today.” If you were his buddy, would his prediction be believable? Would you accept it as a fact? Probably so. But what if he said, “Three days after I die, I’m going to come back to life and pop out of my grave.” Would his prediction be believable? Would you accept it as a fact? Probably not.
On more than one occasion Jesus had predicted, “I’m going to Jerusalem, and I will be captured and killed.” Even though his disciples didn’t like it and tried to talk him out of it, they heard the hatred in the crowds and saw the anger in the eyes of Jesus’ enemies. If that would have been his only prediction, and it came true – which it did – I don’t think any of his followers would have been too shocked. But when he predicted that he would rise from the dead, that seemed impossible. Then it happened. On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: ‘The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’” Then they remembered his words.
If there is anything that underscores something as absolutely certain, it would be a prediction that is fulfilled. Add to the mix someone making several predictions which all come true. Then add that those predictions seem impossible, and they still come true. This is how to pin certainty on facts. It is one of the tests we use to demonstrate that the Bible is true from cover to cover. People, who claim to be predictors of the future, over time can only perhaps achieve fifty percent accuracy, like trying to predict the clip of a coin.
But when God makes predictions, they always come true. When Jesus said he was going to raise Lazarus from the dead, that prediction came true. When he told the disciples they would find a colt in the next village which the owners would let them use for his Palm Sunday parade, that prediction came true. When he told Peter and John that a man would be willing to offer his guest room for their Passover preparations, that prediction came true. When he said he would go to Jerusalem, be rejected by the religious leaders, handed over to the Gentile rulers, mocked, spit at, and killed, that prediction came true. When he said, “On the third day I will rise again” (Luke 18:33), you would think his followers would grab onto that and say, “Of course,” that they would count on that prediction being as good as, even better than, gold. But so massive is the miracle of a dead person coming back to life on his own that it took a while for them to process the report of the women. Peter and John hustled to the tomb, found it empty, and scratched their heads. Yet, within hours Jesus appeared, and it all sank in. His prediction had come true. His rising from the dead was a fact.
It’s one thing to be certain of the fact of Jesus’ resurrection. It’s another to bask in the certainty of why. Fact: The Son of God had taken on human flesh to pay for sin. Fact: The payment, the wages, of sin is death, not merely turning into worm-food, but abandonment by God and being the target of his anger. Who wants to hear scary news on Easter, but I have to tell you the truth. That’s what we deserve even for one little goof-up, for one little white lie, for one dirty thought. Fact: Jesus made that payment on the cross. Yet, yet … if he stayed in the tomb, we’d be stuck in uncertainty. We’d have to ask, “If the payment for sin is death, and he is still dead, is he still paying? Was the shout, ‘It is finished,’ a ruse, a head-fake, a cruel joke?” No! Easter is a fact. I’m not talking about chocolate bunnies or colored eggs or nice clothes or good food. Jesus came out of his tomb on the first Easter morning to guarantee the fact that payment for sin was complete and done on Good Friday.
So much of life is uncertain. But on the first Easter Jesus came back to life, which also guarantees that we will, too. He promised, “Because I live, you also will live” (John 14:19), and he will make that happen. My friends, God does not speak with mush in his mouth. Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen. Easter is a fact, not some myth or whimsy from a far and distant past. It’s a fact that impacts the way we think about our life right now and the way we view the future.
The women who went to Jesus’ grave on that first Easter morning must have been emotionally drained. With tear-stained cheeks and heavy steps they plodded to the garden tomb. Imagine the scene if Jesus had not been raised from the dead. The soldiers would have rolled the stone away, probably after being slipped a couple C-notes. The women would have completed their burial tasks and then slowly, sadly, silently returned to the city. Even though the joyous harvest Festival of Unleavened Bread was going on in Jerusalem, they would have had nothing to say, nothing to sing about.
But Easter changed all that. When they came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others. It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the apostles. But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense. Peter, however, got up and ran to the tomb. Bending over, he saw the strips of linen lying by themselves, and he went away, wondering to himself what had happened. Peter was wondering. That’s an interesting word. “Wonder” can refer to curiosity, like, “I wonder how long this sermon will last?” or to surprise and joy, like a little child who finds an Easter basket on Easter morning even though she’s been naughty all Saturday. “Wow! That’s wonderful!” Peter started with the first and, praise God, moved to the second.
We get to live in the second definition, breath-taking surprise and joy every day because of Easter. God bled out for sinners like us. Believe it! God came back to life to give us certainty. Believe it! Have you had dashed hopes when your plans crumble in the inevitable rot of this crumbling world? The wonder and joy of Easter sweep in as the living Lord calls out, “I’m holding you in my plan to be close to me.” Have pessimism and doubt crept into your mind, “There’s no one who cares about me, and who knows what the future will bring?” The wonder and joy of Easter sweep in as the living Lord proclaims, “I care about you, and your future is secure … with me!” The fact of Easter produces the fun of Easter, not goofy giddiness, but deep abiding wonder and joy. I’ve heard someone say that Christianity is no fun. That person must not have learned what Easter is all about. I can’t think of anything more fun than living in Easter joy.
We exist on this planet for three reasons: to honor God for being who he is, to stick close to him so we end up in heaven, and to help others get there, too. The first two God takes care of. The last one is a bit more challenging because Satan keeps popping potholes in our path as we reach out to others, and he keeps lining up orange barrels in their life’s road to detour them to hell. One of those barrier barrels used by the devil is to worm into people’s minds so that they think it’s OK to reject what God wants and what God says. He pulled that stunt way back in the Garden of Eden, and he’s still pulling it today, leading some to live in the uncertainty that when we’re done, we’re done, that when life is over, there is no more, occasionally demonstrating compassion for others along the way because they sense it’s the right thing to do, and hoping to fend off the effects of aging as best they can. That’s a lot of uncertainty!
I don’t want to live like that, and I’m sure you don’t either. So, when you are having a horrible day because something you dreamed about and worked hard to achieve fell apart, when you are having one of those days when you feel like giving up because you think you don’t matter, when you sense uncertainty all around and even in you, go again with the women to the Jesus’ tomb. Because of Easter, the fact is that we get to have the fun of being connected to God now and forever, and we get the fun of offering that fact to everyone we meet. Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Happy Easter! Amen.
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