Sermon for Easter Day

Text: Matthew 28:5,6
The angel spoke to the women. "You must not be afraid," he said. "I know you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has been raised, just as he said. Come here and see the place where he was lying.

For us

Insurance companies often get some interesting stories on claim forms. This is one that is said to be true from Canada about a four wheel drive that was write off.

This is what happened in the words of the owner.
"A couple of friends and I went fishing but the lake where we intended to fish was frozen. I parked my four-wheel-drive on the edge and instead of making a hole in the ice one of my mates lit a stick of dynamite with a long-burning fuse and threw it out onto the lake to break up the ice.

Unfortunately the dog thought it was a stick and ran out on to the ice.
Fortunately the dog retrieved it in record time but unfortunately he started back toward us.
Unfortunately when we yelled at the dog to drop it, the dog ran under the four-wheel-drive with the stick of dynamite in his mouth.
Fortunately the dog got burnt on the muffler, ran out from under the four-wheel-drive.
Unfortunately he dropped the dynamite under the vehicle. The dynamite went off, transforming the four-wheel-drive into a pile of junk.

That is supposed to be a true story, well, according to the person filling out the insurance claim.

If you think that story is a bit far-fetched the disciples must have really thought that the women were pulling their leg when they arrived out of breath with a story about Jesus having risen from the dead.

They had seen him late on the Friday afternoon when he was taken down from the cross. He was as dead as anyone could be. They accompanied those carrying the body of Jesus to a tomb that had been freshly hewn out of rock. They laid his body to rest and quickly paid their last respects. It was almost the Sabbath. A huge rock was rolled over the entrance to the tomb and Pontius Pilate made sure that a seal had been placed on the rock and guards were posted at the grave. And now the women returned from Jesusí tomb saying that an angel had said to them, "I know you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has been raised, just as he said. Come here and see the place where he was lying" (Matt 28:5,6). And when they looked, sure enough, Jesusí body wasnít there.

There is saying that goes, "If a thing is too good to be true, then it probably is". In fact I wonder if they even thought that Jesus coming alive again could have been remotely possible. They thought the report of the women who had come from Jesusí tomb was a pretty tall story and we are told how they reacted. "They thought that what the women said was nonsense, and they did not believe them" (Luke 24:11).

The story of the resurrection is even more unbelievable than the one about the four-wheel-drive, the dog and the stick of dynamite.
Why is the story of Easter so special and precious to us?
Why have we come here to celebrate this day when the rest of the world ignores the resurrection of Jesus and enjoys a long weekend holidaying, camping and lying on the beach?
There are those who call this story a legend and a myth that requires a huge leap of faith to accept as fact. Itís a story that defies all logic. When a person is dead, he or she is dead.

We do hear of people being resuscitated after their heart stops beating and people talk about after death experiences but all this happens within minutes of the personís death. Thatís nothing like coming back after being a couple of days in the grave. There are just too many unanswerable questions the least of them being how did a man who was so weak from the beatings and whipping and the actual crucifixion roll away the heavy stone that blocked the entrance to the tomb? How can a body that is completely devoid of all life come alive again?

I donít have all the answers to these kinds of questions but the Bible is quite clear about what happened on the first Easter morning. The angel said it plainly and clearly, "He is not here! He has risen!" and that message has been echoed throughout the scriptures and down through the centuries to us today. We believe it because God had promised that this would happen, because God's Word declares so boldly what seems to be impossible, and because so many people walked, talked and ate with the one who had once been dead but is now alive. "Jesus is alive" Ė there is no doubt about it.

Itís easy to view the whole story about Jesusí life, death and resurrection as interesting religious facts. Maybe some of us who have known these stories since childhood, and we know them very well, but somehow they just remain nice stories Ė stories that happened a long time ago but have little consequence for this day and age.

But the apostle Paul would strongly object to this kind of thinking. He says, "Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!" The sadness and solemnity of Good Friday are gone. The resurrection of Jesus isnít just an interesting historical fact - something that happened a long time ago and irrelevant today. Paul talks about God giving us the victory. Jesusí resurrection affects us now Ė today Ė in 2008! The tomb is empty! Jesus is alive! This was a victory Ė not just for Jesus Ė but also for you and for me.

Jesus died and rose from the dead for us. That "for us" is an important part of what Easter means. We can easily say ĎJesus died on a cross and rose againí, but when we add the words "for us" what Jesus did takes on a whole new meaning. That statement then tells us that what Jesus did, he did it for us. There is a personal aspect to Good Friday and Easter.
He died for us to give us forgiveness.
He suffered for us so that we might be made right with God.
He rose again for us to give us the confidence that we too shall rise as he did.

"Thanks be to God who gives us, yes, us the victory." That is something that simply blows us away. Jesusí victory is our victory. Death couldnít hold him and itís not going to be able to hold us either!

There is no way that I would want to trivialise death as if it were a minor irritation.
Death is devastating.
It intervenes in peopleís lives and severing the special relationships we have with those who are close to us.
Death means no more time with your husband or wife;
no more time with your parents or children;
no more smiles and laughter; not even the pain and the tears that are part and parcel of relationships.
All this is brought to a halt through death. Death can bring with it such pain and heartache that you wonder how you will ever be able to cope in the future. Even for the most committed Christian the grief and anguish that death brings can be ever so painful. Itís not that they doubt Jesus victory over death but itís the separation, the lost years, the loss of a future life together that causes the deepest pain.

Yet into this kind of sadness and grief comes a word of hope. This is not the end. There is still more to the story! Because of Easter, that separation will not last. It will be temporary. Just as Christ was raised from the dead Ė so you and I and all those who die in Christ Ė we will all be raised from death and welcomed into eternity and separation will be no more. God gives us the victory through the death and resurrection of Jesus.

This makes a huge difference to the way we live now and the way we face death at whatever time in the future. There is nothing that can separate us from the love of God that we have in Jesus Christ, not even death. No one likes to think of death and what that means for us and our families, yet people who know Jesus and his love are able to confidently say something like this, "Whatever God has in mind for me, I know it will be for the best", or "Iím ready to go whenever God wants me".
There is a peace, confidence and hope that trusts God's love and goodness whatever may happen, even if it means dying.
There is the peace, confidence and hope that comes from knowing that even if we should die, there is a new life and a new home and a new body waiting for us in eternity.

How can we be so confident that death's awesomeness and terror have been overcome? How can the Apostle Paul be so sure that death will not just swallow us up and that will be the end of us? He simply looks toward the cross and the empty tomb.

In the resurrection of Jesus we see God's announcement to the world that everything that separates us from God has been overcome. The power of sin to condemn us has been done away with; death has been defeated. Death itself has been swallowed up in victory. When it comes to our day of dying we can confidently say, "Iíve been forgiven. Iím accepted and now I am being called home."

May this glorious Easter victory that we are celebrating today fill you with hope and confidence and joy.

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
23rd March 2008
E-mail: gerhardy65@hotmail.com

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