Easter: He Is Risen!

Easter: He Is Risen
A Message on Matthew 28:1-10
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
April 12, 2020
By Doug Wintermute
dwinterm@yahoo.com

Matthew 28:1-10 (NRSV)

After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. 2 And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. 3 His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. 4 For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. 5 But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. 6 He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. 7 Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.’ This is my message for you.” 8 So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. 9 Suddenly Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him. 10 Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”

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The resurrection of Jesus is the integral center of the Christian Faith. It is essential to who we are as a people, as followers of Jesus Christ, and as United Methodists.

We can have theological discussions about the two sacraments of the United Methodist Church: baptism and the Lord’s Supper. We can have theological discussions on the three expressions of Wesleyan grace: prevenient, justifying, and sanctifying. We can get into very specific debates about church membership and what rights and responsibilities membership includes.

But there is very little theological debate about the resurrection of Jesus. It is not a metaphor or simile. It is not a parable. It is not a tall tale or a fable that is a fictional account meant to teach a moral lesson. It is truth. It happened. No ifs, ands, or buts.

We know Jesus was dead. Roman soldiers were the ones who crucified Jesus and the two thieves, and they were well versed in crucifixions. Ancient sources other than the Bible, such as the ancient historian Josephus, tell us that crucifixions were common in that part of the world at that time. Thousands of people were crucified to death before Jesus was crucified. Sometimes up to 500 people a day were crucified in olive orchards, nailed to the trees. It was brutal, and it was horrible.

The soldiers were experienced and, for lack of a better description, “good” at crucifixion. They were professionals. They knew what they were doing, and they did it… “well.”

One of the theories skeptics will pose about Jesus’ resurrection was that he wasn’t really dead, just unconscious, or passed out. When they put him in the tomb he revived and was able to move the stone and walk away.

Uh, no. Jesus was dead. The soldiers knew when someone was dead and when they were just unconscious. Their job was killing, and they knew when someone was dead. And in the 19th chapter of the Gospel of John we read that one of the soldiers thrust a spear into Jesus’ side to ensure he was dead.

Jesus was dead. There is no doubt about that. No pulse. No breath. Dead. Period.

His lifeless body was taken from the cross by Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus. They hastily put spices on the body and wrapped him in linen, working against the timeline of sundown when the Sabbath would begin. They then placed Jesus in a tomb carved out of solid rock, and rolled a huge stone in front of it, sealing it shut.

It stayed that way all that night and the next day and night. Roman soldiers stood guard at the tomb, having been given strict orders to make sure no one disturbed it, making sure none of the rumors about Jesus rising from the dead were true.

Before dawn on the first day of the week, the day we call Sunday, some women went to the tomb with the intention of putting spices and cloth on the body, finishing what was started on Friday afternoon.

But when they arrive they are surprised. The spices and cloth won’t be needed after all. Instead, according to Matthew’s gospel, there is an earthquake and they encounter an angel who rolls the stone away and sits on it. The guards are so shocked they shake and “become like dead men.” To me that sounds like they passed out from fear.

The angel tells them that Jesus isn’t there, that he had been raised from the dead, as he said he would. They decided to run and tell the others when suddenly they encounter the resurrected Jesus. He tells them to go and tell the disciples to go to Galilee and that he will meet them there.

Now there are differing accounts of what happens at the tomb that early Easter morning. In the Gospel of Mark we find two Marys, Mary Magdalene and Mary mother of James, and a woman named Salome headed to the tomb when they encounter a “young man” in a white robe sitting in the tomb, tell them that Jesus has risen.

In the Gospel of Luke we find that the women are not named, but upon arriving at the tomb they encounter two men in dazzling clothes inside the tomb that tell them that Jesus is risen.

In the Gospel of John we find Mary Magdalene going to the tomb alone, finding the stone rolled away, and then she runs and finds Peter and another disciple (who is not named) and then they all three go to the tomb. They enter it and look around but don’t see anything but the linen wrappings. Peter and the other disciple leave, and while Mary is crying she sees two angels that appear in the tomb where Jesus was. They tell her that Jesus is resurrected. She turns around and see someone and starts talking to him, only to find out that it is Jesus himself.

So in all four gospels we see variations in how Jesus’ resurrection is announced, but one thing is common in all four gospels: Jesus is no longer dead! He has been resurrected from the dead!

Now there is quite a bit of speculation as to just how Jesus was resurrected from the dead, what kind of process it involved and the science behind it. Interestingly none of the four gospels say. They don’t describe the how, but that indeed it has happened!

My belief is that it really doesn’t matter how it happened. After all, God’s ways are higher than the ways of humans, and his understanding no one can fathom. We don’t have to know how it happened, but only have faith and assurance that it did happen!

Jesus’ resurrection changes everything. Absolutely everything!

Now there are different religions in the world. Almost every religion seeks to provide answers for three questions: 1. Where did we come from? 2. What is our purpose? And 3. What happens to us after we die?

Some religions espouse reincarnation, that after we die we come back as an animal or some other creature. Some think that if you live a holy life or die for a holy cause then when you die you go to paradise.

But only Christianity has God coming to earth as a human, living among us, and then dying at the hands of men. It really is a very unique religion, in many ways upside down and backwards from the world.

If you think about it, Christianity really doesn’t make a lot of sense from a human logic point of view, does it? God, who created everything, decides to put on human form and come to earth. He does so in a very humble way, being born in a small village in a remote location to a mother who was just a common, ordinary person.

This god/human, whose name is Jesus, grows up as the son of a carpenter, building things with his hands. It’s not until he is 33 that he begins any ministry, and when he does he stirs up trouble with the religious leaders everywhere he goes. People get mad and want to kill him! That doesn’t sound like a God, does it? And finally at one point they actually succeed in killing him, not in a noble way but in a horribly painful, publicly humiliating method used for common criminals.

Who would want to follow a religion based on that?

The late C.S. Lewis offers what I believe to be one of the best descriptions of that dilemma: “I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”

The resurrection of Jesus is infinitely important to Christians! It is the most important aspect of being a Christian.

There are people who call themselves Christians that say they don’t believe in the virgin birth. There are people who call themselves Christians that may not believe everything in the Bible. There are differing opinions on a lot of things about Christianity. But I contend that one cannot be a Christian if they don’t believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Why?

It is that important to the Christian faith. It really is.

When we recite the Apostles Creed, we say that we believe in Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, who was “crucified, dead, and buried, the third day he rose from the dead, he ascended into heaven.”

In the Nicene Creed we say, “We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ… For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate; he suffered death and was buried. On the third day he rose again in accordance with the Scriptures; he ascended into heaven…”

Even the Apostle Paul points out, “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.” — 1 Corinthians 15:17

As Christians, and as United Methodists, we are a resurrection people. We are a people who not only believe in Jesus Christ’s resurrection, but also believe that through our faith in Jesus Christ that we, too, will be resurrected after we die.

Because we are a resurrection people, then, we are a people of hope.

Paul points this out in the 5th chapter of Romans. “Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.” — Romans 5:1-5

Because we are a resurrection people we should live our lives differently. I don’t think that means we isolate ourselves from the world but that we have the power of the Holy Spirit to live in the world without being “of” the world.

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed our world, hasn’t it? I know of no one on the planet that hasn’t been somehow affected by it. And of all the shortages I don’t think anyone could have dreamed that the one item hardest to find would be toilet paper.

COVID-19 has changed our “normal.” Children no longer go to schools to be educated. Those in hospitals cannot have a loved one stay with them. Handshakes no longer happen. Hugs, outside of the people we are quarantined with, don’t happen. Churches, which are usually packed full on Easter Sunday, are empty today. I cannot describe to you how disturbingly strange it is to be preaching this sermon on this Easter morning to an empty sanctuary. It is surreal.

But as Christians we are equipped to live through this pandemic with something that others may not have: hope. We are a resurrection people, therefore we have hope.

As such we should live differently. Now by that I don’t mean that we should ignore social distance recommendations or not follow isolation rules. No. But even though we can’t gather together physically to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus this Easter, we have some really great opportunities to show that the church isn’t a building, but that the church is its people.

We can show that we are resurrection people by our attitudes, by not panicking and “awfulizing” about the current situation, especially on social media.

We can show that we are a resurrection people by actions, checking on our neighbors and friends by phone, video call, or email or text.

We can show that we are a resurrection people by our generosity, helping out those who find themselves in need, those who have lost jobs or who have had to shut down their business. There are a lot of people in this situation now, and a good way to express God’s love is to give them what I call “green agape.” Do it anonymously, not expecting anything in return. Be generous, as God has been generous with us.

We can show that we are a resurrection people by being slow to anger and quick to forgive. Tempers can run short when people get stressed, when our routines are completely thrown upside down, when we feel like we have no control over our future. What better time to be slow to anger and quick to forgive?

Years ago the late musician Rich Mullins was on a tour in Ireland. He said they have a saying over there. If a group of people are in a pub and are laughing, smiling, and joyous, someone else viewing them will say, “I want what they are having!”

This pandemic gives us as Christians many opportunities to reach those who are unchurched, those who don’t have an active relationship with Jesus Christ. We can live our lives without fear, filled with love and grace and love for others, so much so that they will view our actions during this dark time in our history and say, “I want what they are having!”

That is why we are a resurrection people. Jesus died and was resurrected out of love for us. When we live as resurrection people we live for others, not ourselves. We live out of love for god and love for others, which is what Jesus calls us to do with the great commandment.

So my challenge to you this Easter is to remember we are a resurrection people! So live like it! Let us not live in a spirit of fear or anxiety, but let us live as resurrection people, full of love, grace, and indescribable joy! Yes, joy, even in the midst of a pandemic! Joy for the blessings we have been blessed with in this life, and for knowing the blessing of eternal life that is promised to those who believe.

After all, we ARE a resurrection people!

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

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