First Mennonite Church
April 1, 2018
The Lord Is Risen: It Is Not a Metaphor
Text: Matthew 28:1-10
Today, Christians around the world greet one another with, “Christ is risen!” and return the greeting with, “He is risen indeed!” The Easter greeting’s claim that “Christ is risen,” is not a metaphor. Jesus’ resurrection literally took place almost 2000 years ago. Jesus was placed in a tomb, but did not remain there. He came out of the tomb, alive and glorious. But just as his resurrection was not a metaphor, neither was his suffering. This all started two days before that Sabbath Day after Jesus’ last Passover meal with his disciples.
Jesus celebrated the Passover with his disciples; he ate with them and washed their feet, including those of the one who would betray him. Later, Jesus was kissed, but instead of that kiss being an expression of love, it was completely the opposite. He prayed alone and in his agony for the burdens of our sins and the cruelty of his impending suffering, his “sweat became like great drops of blood falling down on the ground” (Luke 22:44). And none of these was a metaphor.
Just as he was at his birth, a child who could be cared for or a child vulnerable to rejection, so was he on his final days. Some embraced him as the King who comes in the name of the Lord, but soon to be rejected and condemned. The crowds, when given the choice between Jesus, the Son of God, and Barabbas, which means “the son of the father or master,” they preferred Barabbas. In Jesus’ trial, justice was mocked and abused. And there was no one to rescue him. The judicial system, which had been established according to the heart of God for the good of his people, failed Jesus abominably. He was abandoned not only by his friends and family but from God, the God who had sent him, the God whom he loved even unto death. But Jesus prayed to the one whom he only prayed to, even when he felt he was the only one hearing his own voice. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? He prayed. And again, this was not a mere metaphor because Christ the Lord was truly human as well.
He was led to Golgotha, the Place of the Skull, and there along with two other common criminals was crucified. And at three o’clock in the afternoon, he breathed his last. His body was placed in a newly hewn tomb provided by a rich man, Joseph of Arimathea. Jesus was dead, literally dead, not metaphorically. And it’s from there that our passage picks up the story.
The Day of Rest was over and early that Sunday morning the two Marys went to the tomb with spices freshly ground in hand. Yet, without losing their balance due to the strong earthquake that shook the land, these Marys saw an angel of the Lord remove the large stone that had been sealing the entrance of the tomb. And in the most casual manner, the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay.” “He appeared to his disciples and to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time,” says Paul (1Corinthians 15:6-8).
Today, as we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus and as we reflect on its meaning, we are forced to see beyond our culture’s embedded metaphors used to explain the event that happened on that first Easter Sunday. Often times, those metaphors used have minimized the true meaning of the resurrection of Jesus. It is not surprising to hear even Christians using these metaphors in their attempt to explain the meaning of Easter. And there are various metaphors. They range from Easter bunnies to symbolize abundant life, to chicks representing rebirth or new life coming out of a tomb, to Easter lilies and daffodils representing the emergence of life after a period of death. Some others compare the resurrection of Jesus with the hardiness or resilience of life and the human spirit. If these were all there are to explain and exemplify the meaning of the resurrection of Jesus, we are the most pitiable people there could be in the world, because we would be wasting our precious short time of life we have. Paul put it this way, If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have died in Christ have perished. If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied (1Corinthians 15:17-19).
“If Christ has not been raised from the dead, let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die” (1Cor. 15:32).
Paul was the first to write about the resurrection of Jesus. And although not being a witness of the empty tomb, he spoke of it in real terms. His message was grounded on the fact that Jesus was raised from the dead. Christ alive was a matter of fact, not because Paul touched the pierced hand, feet and side of Jesus, but because he experienced a radical transformation the day Jesus met him on the road to Damascus. Convinced of that and being himself a living witness to that power, he spoke of it as an indisputable possibility for anyone and everyone who would believe in Jesus Christ.
It might be surreal for us who view Paul as the great apostle and imitator of Jesus Christ to hear him say, “I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection” (Philippians 3:10). Yet, upon realizing the spiritual darkness that surrounded Paul in which he fulfilled his commission, it was most certainly that only the power of the living God could have enabled him. And sure enough, God’s power which raised Jesus from the dead was alive in Paul. Paul, through the power of the Holy Spirit of God, was able to articulate the gospel in a way that no other one has ever done. Paul was able to endure beatings, imprisonment, hunger, ship wrecks, and more for the sake of Christ because the power of God was in him. In short, Paul was able to live the gospel of Jesus Christ, his Lord, because God’s life-giving power dwelt in him. For Paul, Jesus’ resurrection was not a metaphor, nor just a positive hopeful thought. For Paul, to claim that “Christ has indeed been raised from the dead,” was not just a beautiful poetic refrain, but the reality of God’s power available to be embodied by everyone who would trust in his Son Jesus Christ.
Jesus has been raised from the dead. And we know it because the love with which he reached out to the sick, to the sinner woman, to a despised Zacchaeus, and to the thief on the cross, among others, did not die the moment his heart stopped beating as he hung on the cross. That love continues to reach out today. And when you show love despite how others might treat you, Jesus’ love is alive in you. Jesus is alive today, because the truth he spoke and he said he is, did not become obsolete when he breathed his last on the cross. That truth continues to be alive today. When you and I speak truth, live by the truth, and reject all half-truths, we give testimony that Jesus is still alive. Jesus is alive today because the life he offered to those who would believe in him did not die when he was laid in that cold tomb. Today, we rejoice and celebrate life, not because it emanates from ourselves, but because Jesus gives us life abundant today and a promise of our very own resurrection the day he comes for us.
Therefore, let me conclude by saying, for the sake of illustrations and object lessons, speak to children about Easter lilies and daffodils, of bunnies and chicks. They make good metaphors for the miracle of life. But for the sake of evidence and testimony about the truth of Jesus’ resurrection, do not forget that Jesus is alive in you. And in the example of Paul, let us make knowing Christ and the power of his resurrection our everyday goal. Let us strive to embody his teachings, example and love. For these things did not die the day he was crucified. Christ is alive and that is why we can live and die knowing that we will follow in his footsteps, even in resurrection. Amen!