Pastor Sherry’s message for April 16,2023
Scriptures: Acts 2:14a, 22-32; Ps 16; 1 Pet 1:3-9; Jn 20:19-31
The story is told that… “in 1799 the armies of Napoleon appeared on the heights above the town of Feldkirch, Austria. It was Easter Day, and the rays of the rising sun glittered on the weapons of the French, as they appeared drawn up on the hills to the west of the town. The Town Council was hastily called together to consult what was to be done.
“After much discussion, the dean of the Church rose and said, ‘My brothers, it is Easter Day! We have been reckoning our own strength, and that fails. Let us turn to God. Ring the bells and have service as usual, and leave the matter in God’s hands.’
“They agreed to do as he said. Then from the church towers in Feldkirch there rang out joyous peals in honor of the Resurrection and the streets filled with worshipers hastening to the church.
“The French heard the sudden ringing of the joy bells with surprise and alarm. They concluded that the Austrian army had arrived to relieve the place. So they hastily fled, and before the bells had ceased ringing not a Frenchman was to be seen.”
(Website “Ministry 127,” 2023, quoting Walter Baxendale, Dictionary of Anecdote, Incident, Illustrative Fact: Selected and Arranged for the Pulpit and the Platform, 1888.)
There are a number of great lessons in this story, aren’t there? Look at what God can do when we trust in Him for protection. The French had had their revolution (1787), during which they had killed off many Roman Catholic clergy and protestant Huguenots 12 years before. Without anyone to lead worship, provide Biblical teaching, and help nurture and reinforce their Christian beliefs, the faith of the French army had withered to such an extent that they no longer even recognized Easter Sunday! (This is similar to today in America, in that a recent “man in the street” interview in New York City revealed that only one woman out of dozens of interviewees knew the meaning of Easter.) This is why the Napoleonic Army misconstrued the meaning behind the ringing of the bells.
I rang our bell this morning. Bob, the bell ringer when I arrived 8 years ago, has since moved into a nursing home. No one has rung our bell since he left. It occurred to me today that it was beyond time to ring it again. Our bell could also be called a “joy bell.” It calls us to worship and should remind us of the joy we have in Jesus’ resurrection.
Another story is told of a man driving down a country road with his 5 year old son. They passed a cemetery and noticed a large pile of dirt next to a grave that had been freshly dug. The little boy looked and exclaimed to his father, “Look, Dad, one got out!” The person who composed this story remains unknown. Nevertheless, the next time you pass a cemetery…“think of the One Whom the grave could not hold” (also anonymous).
Another unknown person once said, “Christmas is the promise and Easter is the proof.” Our Scriptures today all instruct us in the proof of Jesus’ resurrection:
A. Part of the proof resides in Psalm 16. It is a prophesy written by King David, but which pertains to and was fulfilled by Jesus some 1000 years later. Jesus says (v.8) I have set the Lord always before me. Because He is at My right hand, I will not be shaken. From this side of the Cross and Resurrection, we can attest that this was (and is) true of Christ’s life. No one and nothing had been able to deter Him from fulfilling His mission here on earth. The Father communicated often with the Son and because of their love for each other, Jesus persevered through (1) His poverty and homelessness; (2) His rejection by the religious authorities of His people; and (3) through His passion and death, to His glorious resurrection.
In verses 9-10, He states, Therefore My heart is glad and My tongue rejoices; My body also will rest secure, because You will not abandon Me to the grave, nor will You let Your Holy One [Jesus] see decay. Jesus totally trusted in His Father. He knew He would die, but He also knew His body would not languish in the grave. Because of His sacrifice for our sins, those of us who believe in Him can also trust our graves are not our final destinations.
Verse 11 describes His ascension into heaven You have made known to Me the path of life; You will fill Me with joy in Your presence, with eternal pleasures at Your right hand.
B. John’s account in our Gospel lesson today (John 20:19-31) describes how patiently Jesus proved His resurrection to the 11 Apostles (Judas had committed suicide) following Easter. First He appeared to all but Thomas, who was absent. His resurrection body suddenly manifested, despite the locked door. We are told He identified Himself to them by showing them His damaged hands, feet, side. This was no imposter, nor was He a ghost. He greeted them in peace (they were scared). He imparted to them Holy Spirit empowerment to overcome their fears, and to assist Him to begin to preach the truth of His resurrection to whomever would listen. The sins of those who became born again through their preaching were forgiven (cleansed by the blood of the Lamb); those who rejected Christ would continue to carry the guilt of their sin themselves.
Then He returned a week later to confront Thomas’ unbelief. Thomas was apparently a “Detective Joe Friday” (Remember the TV show, “Dragnet”?) who wanted to see and hear for Himself, “Just the facts, M’am.”
Like a modern day CSI investigator, he wanted physical proof before he would believe. Jesus knew this about him and patiently provided it for him. Thomas saw, believed, then proclaimed, My Lord and my God. Jesus affirmed Thomas (v.29) Because you have seen Me, you have believed. But He also rebuked him and the others Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed. These 11 were eye-witnesses to the Resurrection and they believed. But those of us who weren’t eye-witnesses, and still believe, are especially praised.
C. Peter’s famous Pentecost sermon (Acts 2:14a, 22-32) displays his deepened faith. He has accepted the proof of Jesus’ resurrection. In verse 25, he quotes from Psalm 16:8-11. By now, it is clear to him that Jesus fulfilled King David’s prophesy of Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, and ascension. And this is essentially what he preached to the Pentecost crowd in Jerusalem that day. Peter wanted them to understand that Jesus fulfilled King David’s prophetic promise (vv.31-32) Seeing what was ahead, He [King David] spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that He was not abandoned to the grave, nor did His body see decay. God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact. Can’t you just hear the excitement, the joy in his voice as he proclaimed this? Clearly Peter had become totally convinced and convicted!
D. In his letter, 1st Peter 1:3-9, the Apostle to the Jews of the Diaspora–those who lived outside Israel–is writing to encourage Christ-followers who are experiencing persecution. The time is somewhere during the mid-60’s of the First Century. Emperor Nero (54-68) had begun persecuting Christians in Rome. It is said that he had set fire to the poorest section of the city, but blamed Christians—even using their burning bodies as torches for his garden parties. (Later on, Emperor Domitian [81-96] would extend persecution of Christians throughout the Empire—claiming Christians were intolerant and seditious because they would not worship the Roman panoply of gods nor agree that “Caesar is Lord”).
Peter encouraged believers in the passage we read today to hold on to their hope, despite any persecution or suffering they might undergo. He says in verse 3 that our hope lies in Jesus’ Resurrection from the dead, and is also due to (v.4) …an inheritance that can never perish, spoil, or fade—kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power….Despite any persecution we may suffer, we await in faith our own resurrection. Additionally, we happily anticipate joy without limit in Heaven.
Finally, echoing Jesus’ words to Thomas, he commends them (v.8) Though you have not seen Him [Jesus], you love Him; and even though you do not see Him now, you believe in Him. We, too, are to believe in Jesus because of His resurrection, the ultimate proof that He was and is God.
The first 2 Scottish missionaries sent to the Island of Aniwa in New Hebrides were killed and consumed by cannibals. Needless to say, it was difficult to recruit others to try to take their place. One fellow, though, John G. Paton (1884-1907)–perhaps distantly related to our army general, George Patton –bravely volunteered to go. When church members, friends, and family tried to talk him out of it, citing the danger of the cannibalistic natives, he said, “I confess to you, that if I can but live and die serving and honouring the Lord Jesus, it will make no difference to me whether I am eaten by cannibals or by worms; and in the Great Day my resurrection body will arise as fair as yours in the likeness of our risen Redeemer.” Because of the proof of the resurrection, Paton could fearlessly go minister among cannibals. In fact, he served as a missionary in New Hebrides for 15 years and successfully converted the entire island of Aniwa by the time he returned to Scotland.
(Story recounted on Website “Ministry 127,” April, 2023.)
We too can have the same confidence: We can trust that whatever happens to our mortal bodies, we will be raised to have resurrection bodies. We can also trust that we will dwell with Christ and all the resurrection saints in Heaven. The next time you pass a cemetery, think of the One Whom the grave could not hold, and be thankful.
©️2023 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams