First Mennonite Church
April 20, 2014
Easter: God’s Power for Today and Promise for Tomorrow
Text: Matthew 28:1-10
1 After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb.
2 There was 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. 3 His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. 4 The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men.
5 The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. 6 He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. 7 Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.”
8 So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. 9 Suddenly Jesus met them. “Greetings,” he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him. 10 Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”
In the passage Ryan read (Matthew 27:57-66), we are told that Pilate gave orders to secure the tomb by placing guards and sealing the large stone at its entrance. We understand that when something is sealed it means the case is closed. It means the final word has been said. Pilate thought that his troublesome case with Jesus, the King of the Jews, had finally been put behind. For Pilate, the fact that Jesus had died on the cross and that his body had been put to its final resting place, made him believe the deal had been closed.
Humanly speaking, death is the final seal. No one breaks the seal of death. When we close our eyes in death, we close them forever. When someone dies, we never get to see that person again. When the doctor certifies someone as “deceased”, it means the end has come and a death certificate is issued.
Death can be explained as the end of our body’s natural biological functioning or as the result of accidental cause. But death, according to the apostle Paul, is the result of sin. In Romans 5, verse 12, Paul writes: Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned—For Paul, death is the result of a more profound condition of being humans. Death is the result of the sin nature we inherited from Adam and Eve. From this condition only the work of Jesus on the cross can rescue us. And even when we still will experience physical death we will not experience the consequence of sin, which is eternal separation from God.
In the case of Jesus’ death, Pilate did not know that the one who was laid in that tomb was none other than the Son of God. And although Jesus shared with us our human form, he also shared the nature and essence of God. Pilate did not know that although Jesus shared human form, the sin nature did not dwell in him. Therefore on the one hand, the sting of death did not have power over Jesus. As such, death could not keep his grip on Jesus. On the other hand Jesus’ resurrection was God’s approval of Jesus’ way of life, teaching and righteous works. The resurrection of Jesus was God’s way of giving witness to the Jewish people and authorities as well [as] to the Roman authorities that God sided with Jesus. The resurrection of Jesus was God’s vindication that the words and deeds of Jesus were true and pleasing to God. The resurrection of Jesus was God’s validation that everything Jesus did, his love for the outcast, his eating with those rejected, his befriending of sinners, and the preaching of God’s kingdom were all in line with the will of God.
Therefore the resurrection of Jesus is a message of hope for all of those who follow in the footsteps of Jesus. It is a message of hope for those who speak out against injustices, abuse, and make heard the word of God’s peace in a world inclined to violence. It means that the truth and the word of peace cannot be silenced by the forces of darkness and evil. And even when it might appear that darkness and evil can silence the truth and the word of peace, in the end God will vindicate them.
On that first Easter morning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to the tomb hoping to give Jesus their final tribute. But the unthinkable happened. An angel of the Lord met them and said to them, I know who you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Then the angel sent them to give a message to Jesus’ disciples, “He is risen”. The rumor that Jesus was alive spread throughout Jerusalem that first Easter Sunday. It was something unheard of that someone had come back from the grave. The news that Jesus was alive was traced back to these two women. It is so ironic that in the Jewish court in those days, the witness of a woman was not admissible. The testimony of a woman was worth nothing in Jesus’ patriarchal society. But God did not care to use these two Marys/ies to give the glorious news that Jesus was no longer inside the tomb but was resurrected.
The Easter message: “He has risen” was simple and concise. “He is risen,” is not wishful thinking or simply an optimistic expression void of meaning. It is the message which I need to hear. It is the message whose truth we long to have engulf and overwhelm our heart and mind. For us living in a world surrounded by all kinds of personal and collective pain and grief the message of a risen Jesus brings comfort, strength and hope. Living at a time when people are still oppressed and suffer injustices the Easter message that Christ has risen announces that one day God will also bring vindication for those whose voices are silenced or unheard.
We all yearn to have the victory of Jesus over death also becomes our victory. We all yearn to God’s vindication for those who suffer would come sooner than later. We all yearn for life to swallow up death in all its multiple forms. We all yearn for the power of the risen Christ be made visible when we pray for the sick, or when we side with the weak or when we console the grieving or when we counsel with the addict or alcoholic.
The resurrection of Jesus announces that even when evil seems to go unpunished, it certainly is not going unnoticed by God. The resurrection of Jesus announces that even when injustices seem to go unchallenged, one day God will stop them forever. But for today, the resurrection of Jesus brings to our dying world God’s breath of new life. Again the apostle Paul writes to the Corinthian church: For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive (1Corinthians 15:21, 22)
Today Christians around the world are celebrating the resurrection of Jesus. The four Gospels in the New Testament give account of the empty tomb. The claim that Jesus is risen is not anymore a rumor as it was in the early hours that first Easter morning. For the Apostle Paul it announced the beginning of a new era, one in which man and woman are given a new possibility never possible before. Humanity was given the promise of a resurrection.
My dear friends, nothing will change the fact that Christ was raised from the dead. Nothing I do or fail to do will nullify the truth or cancel the hope Jesus’ resurrection has given the world. Whether I choose to allow that truth to guide my life or not, the truth that Jesus is alive will not change. Whether I look forward to the hope of my own resurrection or not, there will still be a glorious resurrection for those who love the coming of the Lord. But let me tell you, I believe Jesus was raised from the dead and I accept his promise to raise me up from the grave one day. And it is my hope that on that final day my eyes will open again and I will see the One calling my name. My hands will be raised up in praise. My lips will sing with the sweetest melody I never have been able to when I worship now. Life will swallow up death. And my body will experience the freedom from the sting of death. On that day I will sing the song Paul quoted in 1Corinthians 15: “Death has been swallowed up in victory. “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” (54-55)
Therefore, if you have come here today desiring to share in the victory of Jesus, let me tell you, you have come to the right place. Jesus is offering his victory. He offers it to me and he offers it to you also. Contrary to the angels who said: “He is not here; he has risen!” I want to tell you: Jesus is here because he has risen!
Today, let us live in the victory of Jesus’ resurrection. Let us allow God to raise us up from the tomb of fear that surrounds us, that we may live trusting God. Let us allow God to breathe new life into our daily routine, where work, worries, and weaknesses besiege us. Let us allow God to raise us up from the tomb of self, where the “I” and “Me” enslave us. Where self and its desires bury us and prevent us from giving ourselves completely to the Giver of life. Let us live the Easter hope where hopelessness abounds. And just like Mary Magdalene and the other Mary did, let us carry the message that Jesus is indeed alive, because He lives in us. Amen!