Pastor Sherry’s Easter Message
Scriptures: Acts 10:34-43; Ps 118:1-2, 14-24; Colossians 3:1-4; Matthew 28:1-10
There is an old story that given our increasingly post-Christian culture–in which so many do not even know about Jesus—seems remarkably timely and all too accurate for some: A man was walking down a street when he noticed in a store window a beautiful painting of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. He stood there gazing at the picture for the longest time, and then realized that a little boy was standing beside him. He patted the child on the head and said, “Son, what does that mean?” The little boy said, “Doncha know? That there man is Jesus, an’ the woman that’s crying is His mother, an’ them others is Roman soldiers. They killed Him.” The man nodded, smiled, and then started walking away. In a few moments he heard someone running, turned and saw that it was the little boy. He dashed right up to the man, out of breath, and said, “Mister, Mister, I forgot to tell you that He didn’t stay dead.” Or, as a 3 year old once told me, “Jesus busted off the Cross!”
That is the great good news of Easter, isn’t it? Today we celebrate that wonderful, that astonishing, and unique fact of the Gospels, that Jesus Christ rose from the dead. In my Good Friday meditation, I wrote that Jesus is the only leader of a major world religion who died to save His people. All other world religions report the death of their leaders, but Jesus Christ came back to life and lives to this day! Only Christianity attests to a resurrection! Only Christianity confirms that Jesus Christ, the Son of the Living God is Himself living…(Acts 7:55), …standing at the right hand of God [The Father, in Heaven]. As Paul testifies in 1 Corinthians 15:3-7àFor what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day [which we celebrate as Easter Sunday], and that He appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that, He appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers [not counting the sisters] at the same time…Then He appeared to James [His previously unbelieving, half-brother], then to all the apostles, and last of all He appeared to me [Paul]…. Scholars tell us there is actually more evidence of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection than there is of the existence of Julius Caesar. We can trust that our God lives!
Our Acts (10:34-43) lesson today reiterates this theme: After Jesus’ resurrection and ascension into Heaven, Peter—at the urging of the Holy Spirit–has journeyed to the home of the Roman Centurion Cornelius, a man who believed in the Jewish God but was eager to learn more about Jesus. Peter delivers the Gospel message to Cornelius and his household, saying, We [Jesus’ disciples] are witnesses of everything He did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They [the Jewish religious leadership] killed Him by hanging Him on a tree, but God raised Him from the dead on the third day and caused Him to be seen. He was not seen by all the people but by witnesses whom God had already chosen—by us who ate and drank with Him after He rose from the dead. He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that He is the One whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead. All the prophets testify about Him that everyone who believed in Him receives forgiveness of sins through His name. The same Peter who denied being a Christ-follower three times during one of Jesus’ trials, is now boldly and confidently telling a powerful and influential Gentile about Christ. Jesus’ resurrection is no myth! Please note that if you search through all of the book of Acts, you will find that every sermon recounted mentions the resurrection of Jesus. You see, the resurrection is the very heart of the Gospel. We worship a God so powerful that He can bring the physically dead—as well as the spiritually dead–back to life! Wow!
Psalm 118 is a “Song of Salvation,” praising God for saving His people. Written centuries before Jesus’ birth, death, and miraculous return to life, it refers to His resurrection in verses 17-18àI [Jesus] will not die but live, and I will proclaim what the Lord has done. The Lord has chastened Me severely, but He has not given Me over to death. The remainder of the psalm expresses the believer’s gratitude and praise to God for His goodness, His love, and His divine rescue.
The Gospel account of post-resurrection events reiterates the resurrection event from Matthew’s perspective (Jesus’ Kingship and His fulfillment of all Old Testament prophesy of the Messiah). Prior to the women’s arrival, there has been (v.2) …a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning and his clothes were white as snow. The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men [they fainted]. The resurrection had occurred earlier that morning. The angel did not have to let Jesus out. He had already miraculously left the tomb. The angel simply demonstrated the empty tomb for the benefit of these first witnesses, Mary Magdalene and Mary, the mother of James and Joses. The angel testifies to Jesus’ resurrection—(v.5)àDo not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here. He has risen, just as He said—inviting them to see the now vacant tomb, and directing them to go tell the other disciples that Jesus has risen and that they are to meet Him in Galilee. Come, see, go, meet. It is a simple message, a directive from Christ Himself, delivered by a heavenly messenger. And the women obediently do as the angel directs.
The women’s faith in the resurrection is based on the evidence of their eyes and ears. They relay what they believe to Jesus’ disciples and a group of them do set out, in faith, to rendezvous with Him in Galilee. This is, I believe, a message for us as well. Our faith is developed by what we perceive—through sight, by reading the Bible, God’s word, and through hearing the testimony of others’ knowledge of and encounters with Christ. Then we are to go and share our personal experiences with others, helping them to come to a saving faith in Jesus as well. We meet Jesus in our Scripture readings and in prayer. We see evidence of Him all around us, if we look with our spiritual eyes and listen with our spiritual ears. He is alive and desires a persona relationship with each of us.
Finally, in our Colossians lesson (3:1-4), Paul exhorts us to Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. In other words, and in view of Jesus’ resurrection, we are to make Christ preeminent in our lives. He is the Creator, so He truly is supreme over all of creation. He is our Redeemer, eminently qualified to rescue us. He gave Himself up to death to save us from the stranglehold of sin and death over us, so we owe Him not only our gratitude, but also our obedience. You see, the most important thing in our lives right now is not the Wuhan Corona Virus, nor is it our being isolated or quarantined at home, nor is it the looming threat of economic collapse. These are all earthly concerns. Our God is sovereign over all earthly concerns, over all worldly events, over all history. If we can believe that He could come back from the grave, we can trust that He’s got this! We don’t have to worry. Our God rules and reigns!
Perhaps my favorite Easter hymn—especially if played on a big, booming pipe organ—is “He is Risen.” Written in the 1880’s, the lyrics are a bit outdated, but even so they summarize the theology of the resurrection so beautifully:
He is risen, He is risen! Tell it out with joyful voice:
He has burst His three day’s prison; let the whole wide earth rejoice;
Death is conquered, we are free,
Christ has won the victory!
Come, ye sad and fearful hearted, with glad smile and radiant brow!
Death’s long shadows have departed;
Jesus’ woes are over now,
And the passion that He bore-–sin and pain can vex no more.
Come with high and holy hymning, hail our Lord’s triumphant day;
Not one darksome cloud is diming yonder glorious morning ray,
Breaking o‘re the purple east,
Symbol of our Easter feast.
He is risen, He is risen! He hath opened heaven’s gate;
We are free from sin’s dark prison, risen to a holier state;
And a brighter Easter beam
On our longing eyes shall stream.
As we celebrate Jesus’ resurrection, and the reality of our divine rescue, let us resolve this week—and always—to love Jesus above everything and to reach out to other people in Christ-like love. Easter blessings and the love of the Messiah to you all!
©2020 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams