As I was not required to preach this Easter Sunday, I am giving below a sermon I preached last Easter Day (4th April 2010) at Becontree Avenue Baptist Church in Dagenham.
Luke 24:1 – 12
1 On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. 2 They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3 but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. 4 While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. 5 In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? 6 He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: 7 ‘The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’ ” 8 Then they remembered his words. 9 When they came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others. 10 It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the apostles. 11 But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense. 12 Peter, however, got up and ran to the tomb. Bending over, he saw the strips of linen lying by themselves, and he went away, wondering to himself what had happened.
The late Harold Wilson, former Prime Minister of this country, once said that a week was a long time in politics. In the history of the world the week between Palm Sunday and Easter Day is probably the most amazing seven days the world had seen apart from the Creation.
For those intimately involved it was a real roller coaster of a week.
We start with the excitement and anticipation of Palm Sunday as Jesus rides into Jerusalem. Is he the Messiah the one who is going to over through the hated Romans and restore the Kingdom of Israel?
We have the events of what we call Maundy Thursday, the last supper, the betrayal by Judas, the arrest of Jesus, the running away of the disciples, the mock trial.
Then the horror and shear awfulness of Good Friday as Jesus is crucified. As if the physical pain wasn’t enough Jesus who had been with God for all eternity suddenly felt abandoned by God. The awfulness of what it is to be totally alone in the universe. He cried out some words from Psalm 22 “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Yet his final words from the cross were “It is finished!” Not as some would suggest a resigned “that’s it” or as Bugs bunny and his cartoon friends would say “that’s all folks” but more the sort of thing that would be written on an invoice or statement “paid in full”.
The disciples and the other followers were probably thinking it was the end of everything. All their hopes, dreams, aspirations gone with Jesus’ final breath. Nothing left to live for. I am sure we’ve all had disasters and broken hearts and we know how painful they can be. So just imagine how it must have been for the followers of Jesus.
I wonder how they felt. Had they held on to any of Jesus’ teaching about how he was to be put to death and then would rise again?
When talking to the Jewish leaders Jesus had said about his body in John 2:19 “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.“.
Do you find that when things go terribly wrong you forget all God’s promises and go into survival mode? Perhaps that what Jesus’ followers were doing.
And so we come to the end of this remarkable week. It’s the early hours of Sunday morning and women arrive at the tomb. And there he is: gone! The four gospels have slightly different versions of events but they all point to the fact that Jesus has gone. The stone rolled away and the grave clothes neatly stacked. If the tomb had been robbed and people had made off with the body, they wouldn’t have taken the time to remove the clothing and neatly fold it. You just don’t do that when you’re in a hurry particularly as the body would have been very sticky with the 75lb of spices and ointment used when it was put in the tomb. Also good Jewish people tried not to touch dead bodies – the Bible was very clear on not doing that!
And then there are these two angels who give the women the most amazing news “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen!” This surely is the most important news ever and I am sure the women grasp the significance of it particularly as the angels remind them of Jesus’ words: “Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: ‘The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’ “Then they remembered his words.”
The women rushed back to the disciples to tell them the good news. Some people would say that the reaction of the men was typical: “But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense.” Do remember that at this time a woman could not be a witness in a court of law as they were considered unreliable.
How often today do we try and share the good news with someone who just cannot believe what we are saying? They will believe all sorts of strange and wacky things: astrology, UFO’s magic crystals etc, but Jesus rising from the dead? No, that’s too much to be true. Paul had the same problem when talking with the philosophers in Athens as you can read in Acts 17.
People need evidence. Recently an intelligent widely read young man approached me as all his adult life he has been searching for God. Sadly he has looked at Eastern religions and mythology. He has even talked to church ministers but felt that he had not met with God even though several of these folk were sincere and well meaning. He needs to meet with the risen Jesus to experience that Jesus is a reality and there waiting to be his friend, his saviour, his God and his King.
In our Gospel story Peter rushes to the tomb sees the evidence and goes away wondering what has happened. The other three gospels are slightly different but it’s not until the disciples meet with Jesus and recognise him that the penny finally drops. Jesus is alive. He has risen from the dead and he is not a ghost.
Just in case you have seen some of the learned articles that suggest that it was all wishful thinking or a hallucination bought on by grief, we have the words Paul wrote to the early church in Corinth where he lists the people who met with the risen Jesus before he went to heaven: 1 Corinthians 15:3 – 8 “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also…”
The Bible tells us that Jesus paid the price of our sins by offering himself as the one perfect sacrifice on that first Good Friday. Not only that but by rising from the dead, he proves that to those who put their faith in him, death is not the end, it’s the transition from life on earth to everlasting life.
There is one short but significant statement in three of the gospels. This is from Mark 15:37 & 38 “With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last. The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.” The curtain divided the Holy of Holies from the rest of the Temple, and only on the Day of Atonement was the high priest allowed through the curtain into God’s presence. But the curtain tearing from the top indicates it was God’s doing, showing that Jesus had opened the way to God. Because of Jesus people were no longer kept at arm’s length by God.
Jesus had paid the price of each and every sin we have committed and will commit in our life time if we accept him as our saviour. Hence why he shouted “it is finished!” as he died. He has cleared your debts and saved you from spiritual bankruptcy and the eternal debtors’ prison!
Many years ago I used to work in the Debt Recovery Dept. of a major Bank and we dealt with people who got into trouble for all sorts of reasons. Whether greed, dishonesty, stupidity or misfortune they were all in trouble. Occasionally we would have someone approach us to clear a person’s debt but they mostly wanted to negotiate to get their client/friend off the hook as cheaply as possible. Very rarely would someone volunteer to pay the whole debt. But my friends, that is exactly what Jesus has done for each and everyone of us. No negotiations, no conditions, he just did it out of love. Hallelujah!
Jesus proves that he was more than just a good man or a prophet. He was indeed the son of God as the centurion at the foot of the cross commented when he died.
Jesus now sits in heaven at God right hand interceding for us. We have a friend in high places. In Hebrews, Jesus is said to be our Great High priest who knows everything we go through and can sympathise with our trials and temptations. The Bible says that Jesus was tempted in every way, so nothing that comes your way is unknown to Jesus. He’s been through it.
Jesus is not only the son of God, Our Great High Priest, our redeemer but also he is our friend and he is with us always through the power of the Holy Spirit. This is what he promised his followers shortly before he died: John 15:12 – 14 “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.”
Some people accept that Jesus is their friend but they think he has left them to get on with life as best as they can and he’ll see them in heaven one day.
Others think that Jesus has left them the Bible so they can make their own way to heaven almost as if the Bible is a sort of map book.
However if you look at John 14:15 – 17 “If you love me, you will obey what I command. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counsellor to be with you forever– the Spirit of truth.” Jesus promises that the Holy Spirit will be with us forever. Better than a road map, better than a Sat Nav, its having someone in the car who knows the way and indeed will do the driving for us and will bring us home to heaven at the end of our journey.
This is part of a prayer that Paul has for the church in Ephesus and just listen to how he describes the Holy Spirit in Ephesians 1:18 – 20 “ I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms…”
The same power that broke all the laws of nature and brought Jesus back to life is available to you and me if we have put our faith in Jesus.
And what do we have to do? Many people even Christians think they have to earn their way to heaven. One of my friends is a pastor at a church in Bristol and several people have complained that his preaching is too simplistic. But the good news is simple: We don’t have to earn our way to heaven, we just have to trust in Jesus. In Romans 5:6 – 8 we are told: “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
So today as we celebrate Easter Day lets thank God for Jesus and all he did for us on the cross and that through rising to life again he shows us that we can live a new life on this earth and be assured that death is not the end but only the start of eternal life when we leave this earth behind.