|Text: Luke 24:4-6
Suddenly two men in bright shining clothes stood by them. Full of fear, the women bowed down to the ground, as the men said to them, "Why are you looking among the dead for one who is alive? He is not here; he has been raised."
The children had all been photographed, and the teacher was trying to persuade each of them to buy a copy of the group picture. "Just think how nice it will be to look at it when you are all grown up and say, ‘There's Jennifer - she's a lawyer,’ or ‘That’s Michael - he's a doctor.’" A small voice at the back of the room rang out, "And there’s the teacher. She's dead."
Even though we don’t like to talk about it very much, death is a very real thing.
Andrea wrote about her father’s death in a
"My father wasn't really aware of my presence by the time I realised he was dying. Even though the doctors were still trying to save his life, I realised that he was already looking forward to being with God - as a brand new Christian, even I knew all he wanted now was to be with Jesus. The chaplain came, ... led Dad through prayer... Six hours later, the door was open and he went through into new life. It was so sad, almost unbelievable, - but how beautiful. That he had gone to be with Jesus."
That’s a great story. Death brings with it sadness, anger, emptiness, and hurt but for those who trust in Jesus there is also a peace in the centre of grief. Death is the end of all pain and suffering. It is the beginning of a new and wonderful life in heaven. In heaven there are none of the things that cause us anguish and sorrow in this life. There is only peace and joy.
This is the hope that we have as we stand at the grave of someone dear to us. This is the hope that we have as we draw closer to that day when we will take our last breath. We believe that death is not some great black hole that we disappear into and are never seen again. We believe that after we die our heavenly Father will welcome us into our eternal home.
Today we celebrate the source of such a hope – the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.
Jesus died – there is no doubt about that. He died on a cross slowly, in agony, until he took his last gasp and said, "It is finished. Father! In your hands I place my spirit". His body was taken down from the cross, wrapped in a linen shroud and placed in a tomb. A huge rock sealed the entrance to the tomb. Pontius Pilate ordered that Jesus’ grave be guarded to prevent people stealing his body and then claiming he had risen from the dead.
Jesus was dead. That’s why the women went to the tomb early in the morning. They were going to the grave to pay their last respects. They brought with them special spices they had prepared to anoint the dead body of Jesus. They had lost all hope. Jesus was dead and that was it. He was finished – gone – dead – buried. Now only a memory. The last thing they expected to hear that morning were the words, "Why are you looking among the dead for one who is alive? He is not here; he has been raised."
Those women were the first bearers of the message that Jesus was alive. They reported this exciting news to the disciples who in turn delivered the message far and wide. This message has come down to us across the centuries. Its importance and significance has not changed one bit and so we are here today celebrating not just Jesus’ resurrection to life but also our resurrection to eternal life.
What happened that first Easter has changed the way we view death. Death is an intruder - an unwelcome intruder. It does things to people - things which aren't pretty. Death brings pain and hurt, not only for the dying but also for those who grieve the loss of someone near and dear. There is nothing nice and pleasant about it. It is cruel; it takes from us those whom we love dearly. It is unwelcome.
That’s how Jesus regarded death. We know
how Jesus wept and how his heart went out
to Jairus and his family when his little girl died (Luke 8:41-42,49-56),
or to Mary and Martha when Lazarus died (John 11:1-44).
And then there was that day in the town of Nain when Jesus and his disciples met a funeral procession, following a casket, on the way to the cemetery (Luke 7:11-15). A widow was burying her only son. This woman had first suffered the loss of her husband, and now her only son had succumbed to death. In each case, the gospel writers report the grief and sadness that not only filled the lives of the mourners but also how Jesus’ heart went out to those who were grieving. The cold touch of death had separated someone dear from family and friends. In each case, death seemed to be in charge. Death seemed to have won the day, that is, until Jesus came along. At the command of Jesus, the person who was once dead comes alive. Death does not have its own way – Jesus is its master.
Today we celebrate Christ's own victory over
the grave. We hear the wonderful Easter message: "He is not here. He has
risen!" Jesus has announced to the whole world that death has lost its
power to hurt us. As Paul says:
Death has been swallowed up in victory.
Where, O death is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting? ...
Thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Cor 15:55, 57)
Jesus died in our place on the cross, taking on himself all our sin, all the sin that separates us from God – all the sin that prevents us from ever getting to heaven. Jesus rose again from the dead at Easter to demonstrate that death could not hold him down, that the power of sin to condemn us has been destroyed and the ability of death to wipe us out completely has been overcome.
It is just this that gives us this positive
hope – after our life on this earth is over, there is a new life waiting for
us. Didn’t Jesus say, "There are many rooms in my Father's house, and
I am going to prepare a place for you"? (John 14:2).
The Apostle Paul said, "Christ has been raised from death, as the guarantee that those who sleep in death will also be raised" (1 Cor 15:20).
Talking about our resurrection he said, "This is how it will be when the dead are raised to life. When the body is buried, it is mortal; when it is raised, it will be immortal" (1 Cor 15:42).
Peter wrote, "Because of his great mercy he gave us new life by raising Jesus Christ from death. This fills us with a living hope. (1 Peter 1:2).
The message of Easter day is clear and simple. The enemy death has been defeated. And although we are parted from family and friends for a while because of death, we know that we shall meet up with those who die in the Lord beyond death in the bliss of eternal life. We may have longed for one more hour, or one more day, but in Christ we have eternity. When those close to us die, or when we die, we leave the troubles of this world and enter the joys of eternal life.
I've often heard that the Christian faith is
irrelevant. That it has nothing to offer people in the 21st century.
However, when it comes to death our Christian faith is as relevant as ever.
Who or what else can give us any security when faced with death?
Who or what else can offer us any hope when death comes close?
Who can make any sense out of what appears to us to be a senseless waste of life?
Who can help us when someone is taken suddenly and inexplicably?
Who else can comfort us when the pain that death brings strikes our hearts with such ferocity?
Who? The living Jesus! His resurrection assures us, who are his children, that we too shall rise. Our hearts are lifted up knowing that beyond death and the pain that we feel because of it, there is a new life – a life in heaven with Jesus our Saviour. Remember I mentioned Andrea's Dad at the beginning. Andrea said that "all he wanted to do was to be with Jesus." We can all have that same kind of confidence on our day of death trusting our Saviour who said: I am going to prepare a place for you. (John 14:2).
This is our Christian faith, that ‘Christ died for our sins, as written in the Scriptures; that he was buried and that he was raised to life three days later, as written in the Scriptures’ (1 Cor 15:3,4).
Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!
© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
20th April, 2003