“The Lord Is Risen.”
“He Is Risen Indeed.”
It’s a remarkable claim. A man who died – like, really died – brought himself to life again. People were not stupid 2,000 years ago. They knew what it meant to be dead; they knew what it meant that blood and water flowed from Jesus. They knew dead people did not bring themselves back to life.
There is a reason his followers basically embalmed him as part of the ritual Jewish women performed on the dead. For the second time, he is wrapped in swaddling clothes, though this time they were soaked with pounds of pungent perfume because it was assumed that, like his friend Lazarus, he would stink soon. Jesus would lie in state for four days before they would move what they called the now ‘corrupted’ body into a deeper tomb.
He was dead. You would think that the Gospel writers would want to cover over the fact that the followers of Jesus were so convinced he was dead they did this to him. That would have been a nice detail to leave out, that lack of faith of those closest to him. But, no. They recorded it. They thought he was dead.
When He revealed His risen self on the third day (so that he “did not see corruption” – Psalm 16 and Acts 2), people weren’t just automatically buying it.
· The disciples did not believe the report of the women.
· Peter left his observance of the empty tomb bewildered.
· The disciples didn’t believe the report of the two dudes on the Emmaus Road to whom Jesus revealed himself.
· They thought he was a ghost when he appeared to them in a room.
· Some of them still doubted after a later meeting
They were not fools. They had seen false messiahs, and they knew that crucified people did not come back to life. Yet their eventual response to this is telling. They became convinced that is indeed what happened
· The early Christians claimed Jesus must be God in the flesh because of this resurrection at a time when no one expected that a) God would become a lowly human, and b) that that kind of physical resurrection was a thing.
· They didn’t appoint a successor to Jesus to carry on His messianic mission (which was a normal thing to do when a supposed messiah died).
· The early Christians said they had more hope than ever before
· They claimed that the community of the church was now the temple in which God’s Spirit would dwell.
· They changed their view of God into a Triune one (Father, Son and Holy Spirit). They went from, “The Lord our God is one” to, “The Lord our God is Three-in-One.”
· They worshipped Jesus at a time when worship of a human was blasphemous to the Jews and traitorous to the Romans.
· They changed their worship to the first day of the week (Sunday) instead of insisting on the last day of the week (Saturday) because Jesus rose on the first day of the week, which meant that a new day was now the holy day.
· They accepted and even embraced martyrdom when they could have remained in a tense but rarely fatal co-existence with the Romans (as long as they didn’t start a political rebellion).
This belief that Jesus had risen from the dead upended their lives. It changed everything. But there is something else that stands out to me this year. John writes an account in which he and Peter run to the empty tomb and it reads as follows:
"Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved,and said, 'They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don't know where they have put him!' So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peterand reached the tomb first. He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. Then Simon Peter, who was behind him,arrived and went into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, as well as the burial cloth that had been around Jesus' head. The cloth was folded up by itself, separate from the linen. Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first,also went inside. He saw and believed."
John is recording the RESURRECTION OF JESUS, and he makes sure to note that a) Jesus loved him in particular, b) he won that foot race, and c) he didn’t just see (study and hypothesize) like Peter; he actually was and then believed. Props to John.
Why include that? John was recording about how he ran to see if Jesus really did rise from the dead, and he just couldn’t leave out those parts. John was the last gospel written, and it seemed important to John to add some very important details that the others left out. “He’s alive! And, I’m faster than Peter” – not once, but twice. As if readers in the early church are thinking, ‘That’s pretty amazing. Faster than one of the Sons of Thunder, huh? Now, where were we?”
Maybe John and Peter had a running, good-natured argument about this; I don’t know. Maybe this is what first century humor looks like. Based on the disciples’ track record, I’m more inclined to think that that John was just setting the record straight that one of them was more committed to getting to Jesus and more ready to believe.
I am amazed that Jesus died so that even the most appalling acts of evil can be forgiven, that even the criminals we think of as monsters or animals are not beyond the reach of the love and grace of Jesus.
I also love that Jesus died so people like John could live: the petty, the shallow, the proud: in other words, ordinary people carrying around dark hearts and broken minds. Look at the “ordinary” people Jesus died for as they are recorded in Scripture (and by this I mean those closest to him).
· The disciples are a mess. They are likely rejects from rabbinical schools. They are not the cream of the Jewish crop. They are petty, jealous, angry, unfocused, and cowardly.
· His cousin John the Baptist and his brother James struggled with doubt.
· Jesus called Peter “Satan” one time
· The Jews in Jerusalem were terribly disappointed that he was not the Warrior Messiah they were looking for.
· The professionally religious people were busy creating disciples of hell instead of heaven
· Paul, whom God eventually sends with the Good news to the Gentiles, was about to start killing followers of Jesus.
· Tax collectors, prostitutes, and idol-worshipping Samaritans had a better handle on who he was than the supposedly cleaned up people did.
· His best friends can’t seem to stay awake and support him on the worst night of his life in the Garden of Gethsemane.
· They all run away and hide when he gets arrested
I love that Jesus died for people like that. I love that God’s love pours down from a Cross and seeps into that kind of soil. I love that a gloriously resurrected Jesus appears to that kind of people.Because that means I have hope. That means you have hope.
We have to get over ourselves. Jesus didn’t come to earth because we were so cool to hang out with. He didn’t come because we had finally measured up to God’s expectations and it was time to level up! He came because we break almost everything we touch, and His good world and His image bearers are dying, “groaning” in longing for the kind of redemption and restoration that only Jesus can bring.
The glory of Resurrection hope is seen in comparison to the hell that Jesus stepped into to redeem. That’s not just the hell of headline-grabbing sins; that’s the hell of our chipping away at God’s good world with our anger, bitterness, envy, greed, lust, and callous cruelty. Some people dig pits of evil with backhoes of sin; those are the ones at which we stand up and point before we bend back to our shovels and slowly dig our way down to join them.
The bad news:Our hearts are dark; our minds poisoned; our loves and desires lead us to rot and ruin.
The good news:Jesus can fix it.
The bad news:It’s going to cost a life to pay for the sinful, destructive wake we leave over the course of a lifetime.
The good news:It doesn’t have to be my life.
The bad news:God, the LawSetter and Judge, demands justice.
The good news:God, the Lawfulfiller and Savior, will bear the weight of His own justice.
The bad news:The wages of sin is death.
The good news:Jesus came to save the world and bring life, both now and in the world to come.
The bad news:I don’t deserve this gift of grace, and neither do you.
The good news:We don’t need to deserve or earn it. It’s a gift to even the most undeserving.
* * * * *
We are going to do communion together today. It reminds us of a couple things. Back to bad news/good news.
The bad news:We broke the world; we deserve to be broken for what we have done.
The good news:Jesus was broken in our place.
The bad news:Our blood deserves to be spilled for the many ways in which we have “spilled the life blood” of the people around us and robbed them of life – maybe not physically, but emotionally, relationally, existentially, spiritually
The good news:Jesus spilled his blood in our place.
The bad news:Imperfect people can never fully atone for their sins
The good news:A perfect person like Jesus, Son of God and Son of Man, can. He takes a punishment He does not deserve so that we can have the righteousness we did not earn.
During Passover, the one leading the meal would hold up bread and say, “This is the bread of our affliction, which our fathers ate in the wilderness” (a reference to Exodus 6). Now the presenter is Jesus, and here is what he does:
“Jesus took the bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take it; this is my body. Do this in remembrance of me.”
Not “this is the bread of ouraffliction which our fathers ate in the wilderness.” Now it’s different. “This is the bread of myaffliction as I lead you on the true exodus and free you from the bondage of sin and death.”The Passover has changed its focus. Now we do this to remember Christ, who became our substitutionary sacrifice so that the judgment of God will pass over us, and His mercy will lead us from bondage to life.
“Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, and they all drank from it. He said to them, “This is the blood of my covenant, which is poured out for many.”
Here Jesus ushers in the New Covenant as the Lamb of God, the one to whom the blood of the lamb of the Passover in Egypt had pointed. He won’t just free them from the bondage of earthly oppressions; he will, as John the Baptist proclaimed, “take away the sins of the world.”
With “this is my body” and “this is my blood,” Jesus is showing himself to be the fulfillment of their longings for a Messiah, a Deliverer. Passover had reminded them that God delivered them from death in Egypt through the blood of the Lamb. Now, our commemoration of Passover reminds us that God delivered the world from sin and death through the blood of Jesus. His resurrection shows us that He has the power to do what He claimed He can do.
I want to know Him inside and out. I want to experience the power of His resurrection and join in His suffering, shaped by His death, so that I may arrive safely at the resurrection from the dead. I’m not there yet, nor have I become perfect; but I am charging on to gain anything and everything Jesus has in store for me—and nothing will stand in my way because He has grabbed me and won’t let me go. Brothers and sisters, as I said, I know I have not arrived; but there’s one thing I am doing: I’m leaving my old life behind, putting everything on the line for this mission. I am sprinting toward the only goal that counts: to cross the line, to win the prize, and to hear God’s call to resurrection life found exclusively in Jesus. (Philippians 3:10-14)