Sermon for Easter Day

Text: John 20:1,2
Early on Sunday morning, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been taken away from the entrance. She went running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, whom Jesus loved, and told them, "They have taken the Lord from the tomb, and we don't know where they have put him!"

It canít be!

Just imagine how it must have been for the disciples and those women close to Jesus. They had pinned their hopes on Jesus. They gave up everything to follow him. For a while it was like a dream Ė never before had they experienced such wonderful times.

But then that awful Friday. Jesus is treated cruelly, abused, stripped of all dignity, nailed to a cross where he died in extreme agony. They placed his lifeless body in a tomb and when a big stone was rolled across the tomb it was as if a great big shadow had been rolled across their lives. Everything had come to an end. All their hopes and visions of a better future died with the man on the cross. If ever there was a door open, if ever there was light ahead Ė it was now well and truly shut out. The stone rolled across the tomb meant "the end". Jesus was dead and gone.

If Peter were here he might say something like this to us this morning.

"When Mary Magdalene returned from the tomb that Easter morning she told John and me, or I should say she screamed at John and me "Heís gone. Someone has taken his body out of the tomb, and I donít know where" (John 20:2). I had never felt so dead in all my life and this kind of news was the last thing I needed to hear. John and I ran to the tomb and all the way I kept thinking, "What kind of low-life would do something like this". I must confess to having some bad thoughts about the person responsible.

But when I went into that tomb and saw that it was empty, except for the linen burial cloths which were neatly folded where Jesus had been laid, my mind went racing. What has happened here? Maybe this, maybe that Ė I didnít know what to think. Was it possible? He did talk about rising from the dead, but I never thought he meant now Ė maybe some time in the future but not now. My mind was in a whirl, I wanted to believe, and yet I found myself saying, "It canít be! This is not possible! It canít be! Dead men donít walk out of tombs".

But you know what? Itís true. Jesus appeared to me and the other disciples as real as can be. Iíve seen him, touched him, talked with him. This was not some figment of my imagination. I wasnít hallucinating or dreaming. Jesus is alive, not dead! He was dead but he came alive and walked out of that tomb as if to tell the world, "Nothing can hold me down. I am the Lord over death and Lord of life". In fact John wrote down these words of Jesus in Revelation,
"I am the living one! I was dead, but now I am alive forever and ever. I have authority over death and the world of the dead" (Rev 1:18)".

Even though Peterís first response was "It canít be" he became a great preacher and teacher of the event that he thought was impossible. I would say that if we were in Peterís shoes that weekend, our response would not have been any different.

When we are confronted with the impossible we readily look for other explanations or pass it off as too far off centre to have any credibility.

This happened when two brothers made the first flight in a powered aircraft Ė they travelled about 120 feet in about 12 seconds. The brothers made three more flights that day, each somewhat longer than the first one.

When the Wright brothers returned to their home town after their history making flight, there was no brass band, no gala reception in their honour. There was not one word about their historic event in the local paper. Nearly everyone said, "It can't be! This is impossible and not worth even considering that there might be any truth in it." What is more, a leading scientist of the time explained with foolproof logic that flying was impossible (except for birds). We know how wrong those people were who said, "It canít be!"

When Jesus returned to his home town Nazareth and spoke to the crowd in the synagogue the he is the Messiah that Isaiah is speaking about. The people in the synagogue had come to hear the local lad preach. "That canít be!" the people said. "Heís Joseph the carpenterís son." And they were ready to stone him for speaking such blasphemous nonsense.

"It canít be!" is a sentence that expresses unbelief in the face of some new and seemingly impossible situation. People have been saying those words since the beginning of time. The disciples said it when the women reported that an angel had said "He is risen!" "What a lot of nonsense", they said. "That canít be!"

But the fact of the matter is this. It did happen. Jesus did come alive again. He was dead when taken down from the cross. Buried in a tomb. And walked out of that tomb and hundreds of people saw in the next few weeks before his ascension to heaven. Jesus is alive and that makes a world of a difference to our lives.

He is our living Lord who can touch everything that is old and rotten in our lives and cause us nothing but misery. He is right here with us when things seem hopeless and there is no one who is able to give you the help that you need Ė no one that is except your living Lord.

You might recall the story about a 10 year old boy who was kidnapped and brutally treated losing an eye. Miraculously he survived. He grew up and became a youth minister in his church and he heard that a man in prison confessed to his kidnapping. He visited the man now 77 and dying. He read the Bible to him and prayed with him. Many people could not understand how he could be so forgiving after such terrible treatment at the hands of this man. The living Jesus had helped him to be forgiving rather than seeking revenge. He said, "If I'd chosen to hate him all these years or spent my life looking for revenge then I wouldnít be the man I am today, the man my wife and children love, the man God has helped me to be".

Revenge would have been the natural human thing to do. The living Jesus changed this man, freed him from everything that would drag him down.

Those of you who've been through tough times what stopped you from being squashed under the weight of your trouble? How did you get through it? You remember the tears in the night, where did the joy in the morning come from?

What gives us hope?
What keeps our heads up?
How do we conceive of the future in a way that we look forward to what's ahead?
Even when we face our inevitable death whether sooner or later, how are we able to think of this as not "the end", "dropping off the face of the planet", or disappearing into nothingness.

It is the resurrection of Jesus.

The living Jesus is ready
to show his love to us,
strengthen our weary spirits,
hold us up under the weight of difficult circumstances,
encourage us when we want to give up,
point us in the right direction when we have to make tough decisions,
forgive us when we mess things up.
For those who trust Jesus as their living Lord and Saviour, he makes a world of difference to their lives.
The living Jesus gives us hope.

The greatest temptation we face these days is the obsession to drag every last morsel out of this life to the point where we get run down, frustrated, and worn out and the life we are trying to make enjoyable by all of our busy-ness becomes a living nightmare. The temptation is there right in front of us to forget the real important things of this life Ė our God and the people he has placed in our lives Ė and go for the things that are so temporary and fragile. Thatís not the kind of life that God wants for us.

We have a living Lord who makes a difference to the way we view what is important and what is not so important. He is in your life. He is in each day. He is doing new things all the time and giving you the opportunity to see things from different viewpoints, that is, of course if we are ready for him to make a difference.

In the three days from Good Friday to Easter we see people go through a wide range of experiences.
From tears to joy.
From despair to celebration.
From death to life.
Easter isn't only about life after death, the hope of resurrection, as important as that is for us. It about this God of ours who has demonstrated over and over again that he is always there to help us pick up the pieces and start again,
that he is always ready to give us a new beginning,
that he brings joy in the morning following the gloomy night.

We might want to say, "It canít be! How can God who is so mighty and perfect in every way be so interested in the little things that make up my life? Why should God help me when I have been so absent-minded when it comes to the important things of God?

Jesus said that he would defeat all things that would stand in our way to happiness and he did.
What more dramatic way to illustrate that than to rise up from the gloom of the tomb to shine brightly on a new day!
Enjoy today and enjoy every day of your life. We have a God we can count on.

There is an old chorus that sums up this Easter message.

Because he lives, I can face tomorrow.
Because he lives, all fear is gone.
Because I know he holds the future,
now life is worth the living just because he lives.

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
16th April, 2006

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