Sunday, April 4, 2010

V is for Victory - John 19:38-42, 20:1-30

We have spent the last several weeks exploring the lessons that can be learned from the last 24 hours of Jesus Christ's life here on Earth. And all of that was a build up for today, for Easter Sunday morning. This is the pinnacle of the Christian year, the day when we can stand up and say Christ is Risen! Death has lost and life eternal has been secured. But it is also a day when we must ask ourselves, amidst the celebration, what can we take from this that will help up be Easter people all year long and not just one day a year.

The Power of an Empty Egg
The children in the second grade Sunday school class listened with great fascination as their teacher explained to them the story of the very first Easter morning. Since it was a beautiful day, the teacher had come up with a creative plan for her class. She gave each child a large plastic egg, all brightly colored and decorated special for the occasion. Then she sent them outside into the church yard to look for symbols of new life. When they found something that represented new life they were supposed to put it inside the Easter egg and come back inside. Then everyone would get a turn to share what they had found. The children loved the excursion out to the church lawn. They ran and laughed and giggled as they searched for symbols of new life for their eggs. When they returned, each child opened their egg to show what they had found. A little girl opened hers and a pretty flower fell out. A little boy opened his and a robin’s egg fell out. Another little boy opened his and the butterfly that he had caught in the yard flew out. Then it was little Amy’s turn. But when she opened her egg there was nothing inside. There was silence in the classroom. Amy’s teacher was embarrassed – perhaps she hadn’t explained well enough what she wanted the children to do – Amy had obviously misunderstood. And so the teacher asked her, “Couldn’t you find anything to put in the egg, Amy?” And Amy looked back at her teacher and smiled. “My egg is empty because Jesus’ tomb is empty.”

Halleluiah! The Tomb is Empty
Sometimes it is out of the mouths of children that we find the greatest truths. We are here today, celebrating in worship this beautiful Easter Sunday morning because of new life given to us through an empty tomb over 2,000 years ago. And Easter is definitely a day for celebrations, and rejoicing and great happiness.

But according to our Gospel lessons this morning from the book of John, the very first Easter didn’t start off as a joyous celebration, but rather it began with a lot of confusion and misunderstandings. Jesus had been crucified on Good Friday around 9am. By three o’clock that afternoon, he was dead. Except for John, all the rest of the disciples had fled, locking themselves behind closed doors in fear for their own lives. But Mary Magdalene, along with several other women who had helped support Jesus’ ministry, had stood vigil throughout the entire ordeal, her very manner an open witness to friend and foe alike of her loyalty to the Master. Nor would she leave until she knew what was to become of Jesus’ body. When Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus were bold enough to approach Pilate and ask for Jesus’ body, Mary Magdalene followed them to see where he was laid.

And so very early in the morning on the first day of the week, Sunday, a brokenhearted Mary Magdalene makes her way back to the tomb of Jesus. From the other Gospels we understand that she had gone with spices to finish the burial rites for Jesus which Joseph and Nicodemus had been unable to finish on Friday because of sundown and the start of the Sabbath. The tomb of Jesus had been sealed with a large stone, but when Mary arrives, the tomb is open… and it is empty. In a panic she runs to find the disciples and Peter and John race back with her to the tomb. The two men go inside and find that the burial cloths that once surrounded Jesus’ body...but there is no Jesus. The disciples go home. But Mary remains outside the tomb, weeping. She cannot seem to bring herself to leave.

As Mary was weeping, she looked inside the tomb and saw two angels sitting where Jesus’ body had been. They ask why she is crying and she explains that someone has taken her Lord’s body away and she doesn’t know where to find him. And then Mary senses someone nearby and turns around to see a man standing there, a man that she presumed to be the gardener. The man asks her why she is crying and who she is looking for. And Mary questions him: “Sir, if you have carried my Lord away, tell me where you have put him and I will get him.” And then the man who stood in front of her spoke her name, “Mary.” And suddenly she knew. She knew without a shadow of a doubt that the man standing in front of her was Jesus! Mary’s grief turned to joy as she realized that the one who had made such a difference in her life was alive!

And so Mary cries out to him - "Rabboni!" (which means teacher), as she rushes to touch him, to make sure he’s real. But Jesus cautions her not to touch Him just yet and then gives her a mission – she is sent forth as the first preacher of the good news of the resurrection - to go and tell the disciples what has happened. And she goes! Probably running as fast or faster than she had earlier that morning when she sought the disciples in grief. And her witness to the disciples is simple – “I have seen the Lord!” What an incredible statement of faith this is that she shares with the disciples.

But what makes all of this so incredible is that this story did not end with the crucifixion. For the rest of us, our biographies will eventually end with our death. But Jesus did not stay dead. He was resurrected to fulfill prophecy, to defeat death, and to give power to the new covenant. Jesus gave himself for us, as the final and perfect sacrifice, so that we may have grace, forgiveness, and eternal life. He shouldered the sin of all humanity so that each one of us, and everyone that comes after us, can receive eternal life.

What's Next
What does all of this mean for us in our lives today? I think that the encounters with the empty tomb and the risen Lord help to show us that Easter changes everything.

Easter Gives Us HOPE
First, Easter gives us HOPE. Hope found in promises made becoming promises kept. Jesus, being questioned about His authority and in what right He even had authority and He responded, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (NLT John 2:19). This promise is highly regarded by most scholars as the strongest proof for Christ's claims to be God. Now Christ was not talking about the Temple in Jerusalem nor any other human made building. He was talking about Himself. He was referring to destroying his body and Him being resurrected in three days. He made that promise and part of our Easter observance is celebrating that He kept that promise.

There is prophecy after prophecy that Christ fulfilled. It was said the Messiah would come from Bethlehem, Jesus was born in Bethlehem. It was said that the Messiah would die unblemished, and Christ did not have his legs broken on the cross, as was the custom. There are many more, but that is all to say that Christ fulfilled every promise made. The whole Christian faith ultimately rests on the resurrection. If Christ did not rise from the dead, our faith would be in vain. The Resurrection gives us the truth that God can be trusted. It says to us positively that God is and that God is in control of the world and our lives. It was God who raised Jesus. It was God who did what no human could do - he rolled away the stone from the tomb. Because of Easter, our vision is directed beyond the grave, to an outcome of eternal life with the Father.

Easter Gives Us PEACE
Second, Easter gives us PEACE. Have many of you have heard the phrase, “they blazed the trail for us”? That phrase is often used when people talk about a certain individual or group going where no one has gone before, literally and figuratively. There is uncertainty for those people. There is fear for those people. The resurrection removes that fear for us.

We are not blazing any trails. Everything we have experienced and will experience, Christ has already gone through. Happiness, joy, pain, fear, trepidation...death. He has faced it all. He has conquered it all. He has promised to be with us through it all. Folks, there is nothing in this life that we will ever...EVER have to face alone. He will guide us in the bad times, comfort us in the depressing times, and celebrate with us in the joyous times. He will never leave you.

Easter Gives Us the VICTORY
And Easter also gives us the VICTORY. Victory in that death has been conquered and we are alive forever more. Death has no power and no permanence and has already been overcome. Christ made sure of that. And with that victory comes paradise, comes salvation, comes a hope and comes peace.

When Mary Magdalene went to the Disciples, she exclaimed, "I have seen the Lord!" And we must respond as well. Although it’s a little different for us because we must have faith without getting to look at Jesus or talk to him or touch him. But Scripture serves as a witness for us as well as the work of the Holy Spirit in lives transformed and changed by God’s grace. All because of the resurrection.

Easter is God’s proof that Jesus is more than what many regard him as – good teacher, kind healer, outstanding example. All of this is true, but more, so very much more. It was our Lord and our God who came to earth as our Savior, to share our dust and live our life in God-pleasing perfection. It was our Lord and our God who suffered and died to redeem us from our sins and forgive us our debts.

Many "infallible proofs" can be given for the Resurrection, but the one most infallible of proofs is Christ's living in us. “He lives, He lives, Christ Jesus lives today; He walks with me and talks with me, along life’s narrow way. He lives, He lives, salvation to impart. You ask me how I know He lives? He lives within my heart!”

We are called to be an Easter people, not just today, but every day. Celebrate the Risen Savior, because He Celebrates you!

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