(Acts 10:34-43, Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24, 1 Corinthians 15:19-26)
(watch praise service here: https://youtu.be/QeJAvycC0eA)
(watch communion service here: https://youtu.be/fYHUe4Nuink)
1On the first day of the week, at early dawn, [the women] came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. 2They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3but when they went in, they did not find the body. 4While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. 5The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. 6Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, 7that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.” 8Then they remembered his words, 9and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. 10Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. 11But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. 12But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened.
Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! I will always begin my Easter message with these bold and daring statements. They are just as powerful today as they were 2000 years ago. We, like the people of the 1st century Middle East, are perplexed by these statements. In fact, we’re probably more perplexed by these statements than those of long ago. After all, we’re products of the Scientific Age. Science tells us it is impossible for a man to come back to life after officially being declared dead. If Jesus was fully man, then his body had to have stopped being in existence. Human bodies, like all living bodies, have lifespans. They have a certain allotted amount of time to be in existence. Once that time is up, so too is the existence of that body. Decay sets in until nothing is left of the body. This is what science teaches us. When we die, we no longer exist. At the same time, there is no way to come back into existence. Death is a one-way ticket into nothingness, or so science would have us believe. Do we want to believe this about death and existence? Do we want to believe that death and sin have the last word? Are we simply sinners destined to return to nothingness and there’s nothing we can do about it?
Many of us, whether we want to or not, can’t help but believe this about ourselves and sin and death. We can’t help but believe that there’s nothing we do in this life that matters because when our time is up it’s up. Or can we? Is there a different way to believe? Are we more than sinners destined for nothingness? Can we ever free ourselves from bondage to sin and death? Of course there’s a different way to believe! Of course we are more than sinners destined for nothingness! Of course we can free ourselves from bondage to sin and death! We can do and believe all three of these things by believing in Christ! Christ taught us a different way to believe. Christ taught us we are more than sinners destined for nothingness. Christ freed us from bondage to sin and death. How did he do these things? By dying and RISING three days later! Not just his teachings, not just beliefs, not just his love for us, but Jesus himself has risen from his grave. Jesus is risen! He is risen indeed! Why is it so hard for us to believe this? Why are we so quick to disprove these statements? Why can’t we, who claim to be faithful Christians, simply accept that Jesus has risen from the grave? It is as if our faith goes only so far. We believe in everything that Jesus taught and stood for. We’d even go so far as to believe that he was the Son of God. But resurrection, well, resurrection just defies all reasoning and scientific proof. We can’t believe Jesus is truly resurrected, that he actually came back from the dead and lives among us today. We’d have to deny scientific reasoning and proof. We’d have to deny logic itself to maintain such a belief. We’d have to truly rely on our faith to believe that Jesus rose from the dead and walks among us today. Relying on faith is scary. Relying on faith is dangerous. Relying on faith is unreasonable.
But isn’t that what Jesus has called us into? Didn’t Jesus carry out his entire ministry on nothing but faith? Yes he did and yes we are. Jesus calls us into lives of uncertainty. Jesus calls us into lives of deep and abiding faith. He doesn’t call us into half-belief, half-faith. Jesus calls us into full belief and full faith. Jesus calls us into adventure and discovery. Jesus calls us into love. Life is already filled with the unknown. We don’t know where we’re going to be a year from now. We don’t know who we’re going to be a year from now. We don’t know either of these things for tomorrow! No, life is filled with the unknown. Every breath we take may be the last breath we take. Every day we live may be the last day we live. We don’t know what life has in store for us. We can’t know what life has in store for us! Only God can know these things. Only God can handle knowing each and every breaths we take and days we live. So we already live our lives with faith. We wake up having faith that our days will occur as we envisioned them the night before. We go through our days having faith that nothing will disrupt them too much. We go to bed having faith that we will rise again to meet a new day. Life in this world demands faith. There are just too many unknowns in the world to allow for life without faith.
Jesus understands this about our world. He also understands our need for assurance and certainty. He understands that we need something or someone who doesn’t change and won’t abandon us, especially in our time of need. He understands that we need him. We need God whether we like to admit it or not. Our world is a chaotic world. There is an order to it that only God fully understands. For those of us who live in this world without an understanding of the underlying order, this world can seem overwhelmingly chaotic. But God understands the order. God sent the Son into world to help us better understand the underlying order. Jesus taught us an important, foundational component to the order—the component of love. God’s love is a driving force in this world. It isn’t the only force though. The forces of sin and death are also driving a lot of actions and behavior in this world. Jesus understands this also about our world. But Jesus knows that love is much more powerful than sin and death. Jesus rose from the grave out of love for us. Jesus would have preferred to stay with the Father but chose to come back to our world because he was driven by the force of love. Jesus was compelled by love yet again to sacrifice his own desires to stay with the Father and come back to be with us.
When we fail to believe Jesus’ resurrection, we undermine our faith in a truly loving God. We dismiss the sacrificial love Jesus shared with us by coming back to us. Jesus is our rock in an uncertain world. God’s love for us is steadfast and ever-lasting. Whether we believe the resurrection or not, we can’t discount God’s love for us. We can’t half-believe God’s love for us. We either believe or we don’t believe. God wants us to believe in Him and His love. God sent the Son so that we might believe in Him and His love. God raised the Son so that we might be assured of His steadfast and ever-lasting love. Even death can’t keep God from loving us! God loves us and loves us and loves us some more! All we have to do is believe in His love. Not with half-belief but with full-belief!
As we celebrate the resurrection of our Lord this Easter morning, let us be glad that our God breaks into our self-assurance and confidence and creates something new. Let us rejoice in our Lord rising from the dead, sacrificing his glory for love of us. Jesus didn’t need to come back to us. Jesus probably would have been better if he didn’t come back to us! But Jesus came back nonetheless. Let us lift our praise and thanksgiving by boldly proclaiming, “Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!”
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.