Pastor Sherry’s Easter message for 4/9/23
Scriptures: Acts 10:34-43; Ps 118:1-2, 14-24; Col 3:1-4; Jn 20:1-18
“Max Lucado, in his book, Six Hours One Friday, tells the story of a missionary in Brazil who discovered a tribe of Indians in a remote part of the jungle. They lived near a large river. The tribe was friendly and in need of medical attention. A contagious disease was ravaging the population and people were dying daily. An infirmary was located in another part of the jungle and the missionary determined the only hope for the tribe was to go to the hospital for treatment and inoculations. In order to reach the hospital, however, the Indians would have to cross the river—a feat they were unwilling to perform.
“The river, they believed, was inhabited by evil spirits. To enter the water meant certain death. The missionary set about the difficult task of overcoming the superstition of the tribe.
“He explained how he had crossed the river arrived unharmed. No luck. He led the people to the bank and placed his hand in the water. The people still wouldn’t believe him. He walked out into the river and splashed water on his face. The people watched closely, yet were still hesitant. Finally, he turned and dove into the river. He swam beneath the surface until he emerged on the other side. Having proved that the power of the river was a farce, the missionary punched a triumphant fist into the air. He had entered the water and escaped. The Indians broke into cheers and followed him across.”
Isn’t that what Jesus did? He entered the river of death and came out on the other side so that we might no longer fear death, but find eternal life in Him.
(Max Lucado, Six Hours One Friday, Multnomah Books, 1989, pp.157-158).
Today, Easter Sunday, we celebrate the fact that Jesus Christ demonstrated that He had overcome sin and death by rising from the dead. He demonstrated the full extent of His miraculous power. And He brought us hope for the future (death is not the final outcome for us). All of our readings today refer in some way to Jesus’ resurrection:
A. In our Gospel, John (20:1-18) highlights some of the events of that first Easter Day. Mary Magdalene—remember, she had held a vigil for Jesus, along with His mother, John, and several other women–at the foot of His Cross. She had probably wept and prayed for Him as he hung dying. No doubt she had watched Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus quickly wrap His body for burial. In a dry land with limited water, they would have cleaned the corpse as best they could. They had to hurry before the onset of the Sabbath—He had to be buried before sundown. They then coated the body with myrrh, aloe, and the other spices they had brought. Next, they wrapped it up in stripes of cloth, which would have encased the body in a permanent, glued-on, kind of bandage. This process is important to note because of what happens later.
Mary had watched and must have thought the men did not do as good a job as they should have done for someone as important as Jesus. So she returned to the grave early the next morning, intending to make things right. How she thought she might roll away the heavy stone sealing the tomb is anyone’s guess. Nevertheless, she found the tomb already opened but containing no body. John tells us she ran to find Peter and the other disciple [this is how John always refers to himself in his Gospel], both of whom ran to see for themselves. John, the younger man, arrived first but only peeked into the tomb. The older Peter lagged behind, but reached the tomb and charged in to see only grave clothes on the shelf where Jesus had been laid.
The grave clothes told a story: The myrrh, aloe, and spices should have stuck the cloth stripes to the body, like a mummy. Remember Lazarus needed help to remove his. Both men saw strips of linen lying there, as if Jesus had materialized up through them, leaving them behind. In addition, the shroud for his head and face had been neatly folded and set aside. John saw this, knew it was physically impossible and therefore evidence of a miracle, and believed that Jesus had been resurrected. They appeared to have then gone home to ponder over what they’d seen.
Mary remained, grieving. Jesus appeared in His resurrection body and she didn’t recognize Him. Apparently the nail holes on His hands and feet, and the pieced place on His side, were evident, but something about His face and posture were altered in His resurrection body. Or perhaps she didn’t realize it was Him because she wasn’t expecting to see Him. She only comprehended that it was Jesus when He called her by name. He told her then to go tell the other disciples that He is going to see God the Father. Now we know from other accounts that He later met privately with Peter, encountered the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, and arrived back to greet 10 of the 11 disciples in the Upper Room, but we do not really know where He went during the middle hours between dawn and later that evening. Somewhere during that time, He had a joyous reunion with His Father in heaven! Mary, then, obediently carried the Good News of Jesus’ Resurrection—I have seen the Lord!–to the others.
B. Peter is certainly fired up as he preaches to Cornelius and his household in Acts 10:34-43). He had seen the empty tomb, the discarded grave clothes, and the resurrected Christ! Filled with the Holy Spirit (at Pentecost, back in Acts 2), he preaches with fiery conviction. Dr. J. Vernon McGee makes the point that, “There is not a single sermon in Acts that does not mention the resurrection of Jesus.” (Through the Bible Commentary Series, Acts, Thomas Nelson, 1991, p.129).
Peter reviews for the Cornelius’ Roman household the salient points of Jesus’ life and ministry, emphasizing the resurrection (vv.39b-41) They [the Jewish religious authorities + the Romans ] 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. What a privilege to have been chosen by the Father to be one of the 500 or so to actually see and spend time with Jesus!
C. Paul reminds us, in Colossians 3:1-4, that because we are “in Christ,” we …have been raised with Christ. We share in Christ’s resurrection. Due to this new position in Christ, we have said goodbye to our old, fleshly selves; and we have put on a new, spiritual self. As a result of this phenomenal realignment/reorientation of our individual identities, Paul wants us to (v.2) set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. If you have read anything about people who claim to have died and gone to heaven (NDE’s, Near Death Experiences), they all agree they did not want to return to earth. Having seen Heaven, they wanted to stay. Similarly, Paul believes since heaven is ahead of us, we should focus on Jesus as we continue our tenure on earth. As children of the Resurrection, we are to pattern our lives after Jesus and keep our concentrate on heavenly realities.
D. Psalm 18:1-2, 14-24 is an ode to joy! The psalmist, predating but very like Paul, invites us to focus on heavenly realities–not the frustrations and disappointments of this life. Because of the mighty things Jesus has done—including demonstrating His power over death—we can rejoice in the Lord and praise Him for deliverance, provision, and protection.
We are thankful because…
1.) (V.1) The Lord is good; His love endures forever.
2.) (V.14)The Lord is my strength and my song; He has become my salvation.
3.) (V.17) I will not die but live, and will proclaim what the Lord has done.
4.) (V.24) This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it.
We also celebrate the fact that (v.22) The stone the builders rejected [Jesus] has become the capstone. The capstone was either a large rectangular stone used as a lintel in a doorway, or a large square or rectangular stone used to anchor or align the corner of a wall. It might also be the keystone or middlemost stone in an arch. The capstone (building corner or doorway lintel) or keystone (arch) kept the building from collapsing by supporting what exited beside and above it. Considering this metaphor for Jesus, no wonder we call Him our Rock and our Redeemer.
The story is told of…”a man (who) took a vacation to Israel with his wife and mother-in-law. During their time in the Holy Land, his mother-in-law unexpectedly passed away. The following day, the husband met with the local undertaker to discuss funeral plans.
“In cases like these, there are a couple of options to choose from,” the undertaker explained. “You can ship the body home for $5,000, or you can bury her in the Holy Land for just $150.” The man took a minute to think about it, and then announced his decision to ship her home.
“The undertaker, intrigued by his decision, said, “That’s an interesting choice. Can I ask why would you pay $5,000 to ship your mother-in-law home, when you can easily bury her here for $150?” The man promptly replied, “About 2,000 years ago, a man died and was buried here. Three days later he rose from the dead, and I can’t take that chance!” (Subsplash website, 5 humorous Easter sermon illustrations, April 13, 2022.)
Of course there is no guarantee that the mother-in-law would have resurrected—unless she had been a believer in Jesus Christ. Additionally, we know, of course, that Jesus’ ability to raise us from the dead is not limited to the geography of Israel—thank Goodness! Nonetheless, we can enjoy a good joke.
We can also enjoy the secure future we have in Christ. Like the missionary to Brazil, Jesus entered the river of death and came out victorious on the other side. Because He did this for us, we too share in His resurrection victory—and all of its benefits.
Alleluia, He is risen! The Lord is risen indeed, Alleluia!
©️2023 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams