Pastor Sherry’s Message for Resurrection Day–April 4, 2021
Scripture Readings: Acts 10:34-43; 1 Cor. 15:1-11; John 20:1-18
One of my favorite Bible Commentators is the Rev. Dr. Delmer Chilton, a Lutheran pastor from North Carolina. Together with his buddy, a Baptist pastor named John Fairless, he posts a blog called, “Two Bubbas and a Bible.” In an Easter post some years back, Pastor Chilton shared a story told to him by a South Carolina pastor who had been invited by a guard friend to baptize some prisoners at the Central Carolina Prison in Columbia. The pastor appeared at the prison early in the am, only to be frisked, ID’ed, interrogated, and then moved from one waiting area to another over the span of an hour. The pastor joked that it took an hour to move him 15 feet. Finally he met his guard friend and they walked together down some long hallways to the prison chapel. It was a small, austere room containing several rows of chairs, a pulpit, and a piano.
On this particular day, the pulpit and the piano had been pushed aside to accommodate a large wooden box. The box contained an insert of blue plastic sheeting, into which had been poured gallons and gallons of water.
The first prisoner stepped into the box, sat down, then and laid back into the water. Just as the pastor was about to dip the man’s head under while reciting the baptismal proclamation, he realized the box was actually a coffin–a simple pine-box, prison issue, no frills. He further realized that the prisoner was metaphorically going into and coming up out of the grave.
Our baptismal service includes a prayer that reads (United Methodist Hymnal, p.36) as follows: Pour out Your Holy Spirit to bless this gift of water and those who receive it, to wash away their sin and clothe them in righteousness throughout their lives, that, dying and being raised with Christ, they may share in His final victory. In other words, we believe that with Christ as our Savior/our head, we go into death with Him on Good Friday (symbolically), and rise with Him in resurrection joy on Easter Sunday! Together with Jesus, at Easter we (1) Die to sin and resurrect to new lives, covered by Christ’s righteousness;(2) We move from the despair of thinking the world, the flesh and the Devil have won, to the hope of realizing that Jesus has defeated all three. (3) We all go under to death and rise up again to eternal life; and (4) Jesus’ resurrection ensures new life for us!
It should come as no surprise that all of our Scriptures today emphasize Jesus’ Resurrection:
In our Gospel lesson, John 20:1-18, the Apostle John describes the reactions of the first eye-witnesses to the resurrection. Mary Magdalene runs the gamut of emotions. She arrives in the predawn, grieving but desiring to properly clean and anoint Jesus’ body. She is no doubt shocked to discover the large rock is rolled back and the tomb is empty. She frantically seeks the aid of Peter and John to locate Jesus’ body. (Some Biblical scholars tell us that just as John took in Mary, Jesus’ mother, he also gave comfort to Peter who would have been ashamed over having denied and abandoned Jesus when He most needed him. Thus Mary Magdalene would have found them together.)
They too are stunned and run to see the empty tomb for themselves.
Peter agrees the Lord’s body is gone. But John then remembers how Jesus had told them He would die and be raised again on the 3rd day. John appears to put it together, and is then reassured. The two leave, ostensibly to ponder what they have seen.
Following their departure, Mary is even more deeply grieved and looks into the empty tomb to encounter 2 angels. They seem to chide her for crying, (v.13) Woman, why are you crying? In other words, This isn’t the end, Mary! But a new and better beginning! She turns, sees Jesus, and finally recognizes Him when He calls her name. Now she’s relieved and overjoyed to see Him again! Now she can run to gladly share with the disciples, (v.18) I have seen the Lord! She had mourned His death, but now she has witnessed and testified to the fact that He is alive!
In our Acts lesson today (10:34-43), we find Peter, also an eye-witness, preaching to Cornelius, a Roman centurion, and his family–Gentiles living in Caesarea. His sermon majors on Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. In fact, every sermon recorded in Acts does the same.
You see, this is the Gospel: (1) Christ came to earth, lived among us and identified with us. (2) Then Christ died a criminal’s death to save us from the penalty for our sins. (3) Finally, Christ overcame the power of sin and death and rose again! Do you realize there would be no hope for us if Jesus’ life, His story, ended with the crucifixion? The source of our hope lies in His return to life. His resurrection demonstrates both that He is God, and that
He has extraordinary, life-giving power!
Paul, in our NT lesson from 1 Corinthians 15:1-11, wants us to be sure we understand 2 facts: First, Jesus’ resurrection was not just a spiritual truth but a bodily phenomenon. The original Greek words he uses for resurrection are anastasis nekron, which means the standing up of a corpse. Jesus appeared to His followers in a real body. One that had been alive, but was then killed; and then miraculously stood up or came back to life!
Secondly, Paul assures us, Jesus appeared (post-resurrection) to over 500 witnesses. The resurrection is no myth! This is no baseless narrative that has been spun to deceive. No, Jesus’ resurrection is am historic fact!
1.) Peter and John saw Him;
2.) Mary Magdalene and the other faithful women saw Him;
3.) His mother saw Him;
4.) His brother James saw Him;
5.) The 10 Apostles in the upper room saw Him;
6.) The two disciples on the road to Emmaus saw Him;
7.) Paul encountered Him on the road to Damascus;
8.) And Paul declares (v.6) that a significant number of unnamed disciples saw Him at various events during the 40 days between His Resurrection and Ascension.
You might be able to dismiss the testimonies of a few wild-eyed zealots. But add to this over 500 “normal people?” Additionally, how about the fact that Jesus fulfilled over 325 Messianic prophesies from the Old Testament? Josh McDowell, in his book, More Than a Carpenter, computes the probability of anyone but Jesus fulfilling so many prophesies as the chance of finding one gold coin thrown into a pile of silver coins spread, 3 feet thick, over the surface area of the state of Texas! Moreover, consider the fact that Jesus is probably the most influential person who has ever lived. He is still worshipped today, 2000 years later. He is still proclaimed as Lord, after 2 millennia. Lastly, consider that hundreds of thousands of His followers have met martyr’s’ deaths rather than renounce Him. People do not willingly face death for something or someone that they consider to be exceedingly important.
The truth is that the Resurrection is neither normal nor natural.
It may and probably does get in the way of many practical people coming to faith. Nevertheless—though supernaturally caused–it was and is as real as real can be.
It is hugely important to us because it speaks of Jesus’ transformative power. Those South Carolina prisoners who were baptized in that coffin didn’t get to leave prison due to their new life in Christ. They still had to serve out their sentences. But spiritually speaking, they had gone from “dead men walking,” waiting to die, to new creations, new believers filled with new life.
As we live into Easter, let’s be aware of how we might be living like dead persons walking. Let’s jettison that prison and realize we don’t have to live that way. Because of Jesus’ resurrection power, we can shake loose from whatever is holding us back and embrace the new life God has for us. We can metaphorically lay down in a coffin, dying to our sins, but rise up with Christ with great joy and new hope on Easter! Or, as one of my favorite Easter hymns proclaims,
He is risen, He is risen! Tell it out with joyful voice:
He has burst His three days’ prison;
Let the whole wide earth rejoice;
Death is conquered, we are free,
Christ has won the victory!
Alleluia, Alleluia, thanks be to God for giving us the victory through our Lord Christ Jesus! Alleluia, Alleluia!
©2021 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams