Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Sermon: "The Resurrection is Real!"

John 20:1-18
March 31, 2013
Easter Sunday

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” 

Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. 

Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. 

Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples returned to their homes.

But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?”

She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 

Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” 

Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” 

Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.

I have lived almost 60 years on this earth, and in those 60 years I have seen my share of events that could be described as “world-changing.”  I’ve seen more than some of you who are younger, and not as many as those of you who are my seniors.

I was three years sold when the Russians launched Sputnik, the first artificial earth satellite, in 1957.  I think it’s safe to say that satellites have changed the way we live.

Four years later, in 1961, Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first human being in space, followed by American astronaut Alan Shepard in 1962.  Space flight certainly changed the world.

A year later, President Kennedy was assassinated, and those of us who were alive and conscious then remember exactly where we were when we heard the news.

In much the same way, I bet you can remember exactly where you were in 1969 when Neil Armstrong stepped out onto the surface of the moon and said, “That’s one small step for man, and one giant leap for mankind.”  Our world changed in an instant.  A human being had set foot on a heavenly body besides Earth and our view of the universe would never be the same.

I have lived through the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union.  Didn’t those change our world?

I have seen the development of the personal computer and the cell phone and the world wide web – certainly  technologies that have changed the world we live in.  At times we might like to, but can you imagine what the world would be like without them?  Could we live without Facebook and Twitter?

Those of you who are a little older saw the beginning and end of World War II – now that was a world-changing event, and the development of atomic power.  Those of you who are older than 85 saw the stock market crash of 1929 and lived through the Great Depression.

Most of us here today lived through the most world-changing event of the 21st century so far – September 11, 2001.  A country song by Alan Jackson summed up how many of us felt – “Where were you when the world stopped turning on that September day?”

It did feel like the world had stopped turning, at least for awhile.  Think about all the ways our world has changed since 9/11:
·         All of the security procedures at the airport – getting there two hours early, metal detectors, scanners, taking off our shoes, no more than 3 oz. of liquid, and so on.
·         Every suspicious package or piece of mail is treated like a potential bomb or chemical or biological weapon.
·         Getting your purses and bags inspected at a Cowboys or Rangers game.
·         Looking at police and firefighters and first-responders and the military with much more appreciation than we did on Sept. 10, 2001.

These were all world-changing events, but as important as they were, what happened on the first Easter Sunday some 2,000 years ago outranks them all.  Easter overshadows every other event that happened before or has happened since.

Easter truly changed everything.  Because of Easter and the resurrection of Jesus Christ, all the negative and evil things of this world have lost their power.  They may continue to put up a fight, but their ultimate fate has been decided – they are on their way out.

Easter has broken the power of terrorism, war, death, sickness, pain, sorrow, despair, heartbreak, and loneliness.

Easter has defeated the power of sin and of every other awful thing that has plagued humanity since Adam and Eve.

Because of Easter, you and I and the world will never be the same.  That is good news, because sometimes we wonder if the world will ever change.

Will people ever learn to get along?  Will we ever learn to live in peace?

Without Easter, the chances look grim.  But because of Easter, there’s hope.  But we have to let the power and truth of Easter come into every human heart.

If you’re here this morning hoping to hear some kind of argument for the proof of the resurrection, you’re going to be disappointed.  On past Easters I’ve offered reasons why I believe in the resurrection story.

If you have doubts about its truth, there are lots of good books out there that I could recommend, including The Case for Christ and The Case for the Resurrection by Lee Strobel.

Today, though, I’m assuming that almost all of us here this morning accept the truth of the resurrection story.  We may have questions about it, but we believe.  Today I’m assuming that we believe that the Resurrection is Real!

But what you may be wondering about is, what difference does that make for me in my life?  How does it change me and my world?

As I’ve said, I believe that Easter changes everything, and I want to offer three important ways it changes everything:
1.      It proves that Jesus is who he said he was.
2.      It means that no situation is beyond God’s power.
3.      It means God’s forgiveness is available to everyone.

1)      It proves Jesus is who he said he was.

There are people out there who believe that our planet has been visited by aliens from outer space.  Maybe even some of you believe it.  They offer various forms of “proof,” but so far the world as a whole hasn’t been convinced. 

But imagine that someday someone offered irrefutable proof that there were space aliens among us.  It would change forever the way we look at the world and the universe.

C.S. Lewis, the author of The Chronicles of Narnia and many other books on the Christian faith, argued that we indeed live on a “visited planet.”  Visited not by aliens from outer space, but by the Son of God.

If that claim is true, it must change everything.  Jesus claimed to be the Son of God.  That was a disputed claim when Jesus spent his 33 years on earth.  In fact, it was the main claim that got him convicted of blasphemy and sentenced to death by the religious authorities.

Again and again, Jesus claimed to be the Son of God, and did things, like healing and forgiving people of their sins and raising people from the dead that only the Son of God could do, and it drove his enemies crazy!

John 5:18 says,
For this reason the Jews tried all the harder to kill him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.

Jesus claimed to be the Son of God, and his claim was proved when, after he was put to death on a Roman cross and his lifeless body sealed in rock-solid tomb, he rose from the dead and conquered death once and for all.

Do you know what that means?  It means that we have to take seriously everything that Jesus said.  As Paul said in today’s reading from 1 Cor. 15, “If Jesus has not been raised from the dead, then Christians are of all people the most to be pitied … But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead.” 

Paul saw him, Peter and John saw him, Mary Magdalene saw him first of all, as we read in today’s Gospel lesson.  Thomas saw him, the other disciples saw him.  Five hundred people saw him at one time, according to Paul (1 Cor. 15:6).

The resurrection proves that Jesus is who he said he was, the Son of God, the Messiah, so that means we need to listen to what he said and try to live by it – loving God, loving our neighbors, and  forgiving others as we want to be forgiven.

2)      No situation is beyond God’s power.

Wouldn’t it change your whole way of looking at life if you knew that there is absolutely nothing beyond God’s power?  That there’s no such thing as a hopeless situation?

At first, it appeared that Jesus’ death on the cross ruined everything he had talked about.  It looked like God had lost and Evil had won.

No one thought that the Son of God, the Messiah, would die.  A death like the one Jesus suffered, most people thought, was a sign of cursing, not of blessing.  How could God be behind such a plan?

And yet, somehow, it was God’s plan.  The death of Jesus would pay for the sins of the whole world.  Through his sacrificial death on the cross, the whole creation would be reconciled to God.

Through his resurrection, he would be shown to be Lord of all and death would be dealt its final blow.

The story says that Mary Magdalene came to the tomb “early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark.”  I imagine that wasn’t just the darkness before the dawn – it was also the darkness in Mary’ soul and the souls of all who had pinned their hopes on Jesus being who he said he was – the Son of God.  But now those hopes seemed to lie dead and buried with him.

When she saw that the tomb was empty, at first she was puzzled.  So were Peter and the other disciples.  But then the risen Christ appeared to her and spoke her name, she knew he wasn’t a gardener who had taken Jesus’ body away, but it really was the risen Lord.

From that moment on Mary’s life, the disciples’ lives, our lives and the very world itself would never be the same.  The resurrection proved that no situation is beyond God’s power or out of God’s control.

The resurrection makes the word “hopeless” obsolete.  It makes the word “impossible” meaningless.  It makes the word “despair” seem insignificant.

So situation we face is beyond God’s power to save and redeem.  That changes everything.

3)      God’s forgiveness is available to everyone.

Here’s the part about the death of Jesus that it took his followers a little time to realize: that when Jesus died on the cross, all the sins of the world were placed on his shoulders. 

Every sin ever committed, past, present, and future, were all placed on Jesus.  The Bible says,

God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God in Christ. (2 Corinthians 5:21)

When Jesus died on the cross, he paid the price for your sin, for my sin, for all of our sins – he paid it all.  There’s nothing left for us to do – except to receive his forgiveness.

All during his ministry Jesus went around forgiving people of their sins.  That was something only the Son of God could do.  If Jesus wasn’t really the Son of God, then those offers of forgiveness would be empty words.

But the resurrection proves he was the Son of God and that means that Jesus has the power to forgive.  And that changes everything.

Listen closely.  If you have sin in your life and the guilt and shame are eating you up, God will forgive you.  Your husband or wife or friends or co-workers or family members may never forgive you.

But listen – forgiveness isn’t theirs to give or not give.  The One who has the power to forgive is the One who has power over death – and he will forgive you, absolutely and completely, without fail, when you come to him and tell him you’re sorry.

And because we are forgiven, Christ wants us to forgive those that we feel have hurt us.  Forgive as we are forgiven.  That’s how it works.

Easter is the most world-changing day in all of history because Easter changed everything.  It means that Jesus is who he said he was, and he can be trusted with our lives and faith.  It means no situation is beyond God’s power to help.  And it means that our sins can be forgiven and we can have eternal life with God.  Amen.

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