The Lord be with you.
I love all the decorations and feasting, all the hallmarks of joy we rightly share today. Easter is beautiful.
But the truth is that if we wanted to be really Biblical and recreate the ambiance of the first Easter, we’d have to decorate with tombstones and sepulchers. The ladies in the passage, after all, were on their way to a cemetery. In the dark. Kind of creepy, really. And they were anxious. They were on the way to anoint the body of their dead teacher according to their burial customs – things had been so rushed on Friday!
A question was running through their conversation – how would they get into the tomb? Who would move the stone away? Those women weren’t expecting a resurrection. Nobody visiting a cemetery does so. What they saw that morning scared them – and then amazed them.
A couple years ago I lost a friend from what we call ‘The Greatest Generation.’ His name was Bill Bagwell, though we just called him ‘The General’. When Bill was 17 he signed on with the Navy and was stationed at Pearl. That was 1936. By 1942 he was fighting in the Philippines, and when it fell to Imperial Japanese forces he was taken captive. He was shipped to Osaka where he languished as a POW in horrifying conditions – just as portrayed in “Unbroken” – until his liberation at the war’s end in 1945. When that happened the prisoners were starving and diseased and in need of extended treatment. Stripped not only of human dignity but identification as well, the men were slowly nursed back to health and wholeness. Finally, in the middle of 1946 Bill was sent back to the US. When his ship docked in California he disembarked and phoned his folks back in Texarkana, but when Bill’s dad got that call and heard the voice say, “Dad, it’s Bill” he hung up on him, thinking it to be a prank call.
Now it’s hard to imagine this in our FB, smartphone world, but in all the time since the Philippines had fallen, the only word about Bill his parents had received was that he was KIA: after several months of silence, he’d been declared dead. The death certificate was issued, they had his memorial service, the US government paid the life insurance policy, and everyone moved on with their lives, through the tears and sadness of a lost son.
In California, Bill got a train and headed to Texas. When he got to the station, he phoned home. His dad hung up on him again! Before he did, Bill told him “I’m at a bar across the street from the station.” Angry and eager to settle the score with whoever was pulling this cruel stunt on him, Bill’s dad – the sheriff of Texarkana – headed to the bar. He walked in, and nearly fainted. He grabbed the son he hadn’t seen in almost ten years, the son he thought was dead, and in that bar two men hugged and cried.
Then his dad said, “How we gonna tell your mom?”
That was a day the Bagwells never forgot. Their son was back from the dead and they were amazed!
Maybe you think the Gospel is a cosmic prank call. I can’t blame you. Over and over again the Gospels tell us that when people heard the news that Jesus was alive – back from the dead for real, not just a case of mistaken death – they didn’t believe it. They intellectually hung up. That makes sense. After all, people don’t rise from the dead. Mark 16:9-13
But maybe that’s a prejudicial view of reality….
The atheist philosopher Thomas Nagel wrote, “It isn’t just that I don’t believe in God and naturally hope that I’m right in my belief. It’s that I HOPE there is no God! I don’t want there to be a God. I don’t want the universe to be like that…”
But the people who saw Jesus, the people who were eyewitnesses to Jesus back from the dead – and there were eventually over 500 of them, including all the people who at first had hung up on the message – these people experienced what the Bagwells did: amazement! They were amazed!
The Greek word Mark uses in this passage is the same one from where we get our word ‘Ecstatic’ – ecstasy! Literally that word means ‘turned inside out’. Jesus is alive and we are amazed. We are ecstatic!
Or are we? Are we still amazed? Do we still have Gospel amazement? Resurrection amazement? Are we amazed by Jesus?
I. The Confrontation of Easter
* Our Deepest Doubt
Is this real?
The resurrection of Jesus is either the greatest hoax perpetrated upon humanity or the greatest event in history. No middle ground.
“If Jesus rose from the dead, then you have to accept all that he said; if he didn’t rise from the dead, then why worry about any of what he said? The issue on which everything hangs is not whether or not you like his teaching but whether or not he rose from the dead.” Tim Keller
- NOT immortality of the soul: a word about that from the angel wouldn’t have changed anything at all
II. The Comfort of Easter
* Our Deepest Question
What’s next? “I’m not afraid of death; I just don’t want to be there when it happens” – Woody Allen
“Won’t you tell me that life is eternal and love is immortal and death is only a horizon?” – Carly Simon
“To follow you I’m not content until I know which way you went.”
“Therefore comfort one another with these words” – Paul
III. The Compassion of Easter
* Our Deepest Need
The reason we can look forward in hope is because we look back in assurance
Jesus died for the people who fled from him, denied him, who nailed him to the tree: “Father forgive them…”
“Forgiveness is the fragrance the violet leaves on the heel that crushes it.” – Mark Twain
Doesn’t answer the question ‘Why… Why was his death necessary?’
Isaiah: “The anguish of his soul…’
Jesus death was more than physical suffering.
- Our Champion, our representative. He became one of us to live the life we should’ve lived and never could’ve and die the death we never died but should’ve.
- Not just a victim offering himself up, but a Champion stepping forward to fight on our behalf.
The rising of the sun had made everything look so different – all colours and shadows were changed that for a moment they didn’t see the important thing. Then they did. The Stone Table was broken into two pieces by a great crack that ran down it from end to end; and there was no Aslan…
“Who’s done it?” cried Susan. “What does it mean? Is it magic?”
“Yes!” said a great voice behind their backs. “It is more magic.” They looked round. There, shining in the sunrise, larger than they had seen him before, shaking his mane (for it had apparently grown again) stood Aslan himself.
“Oh, Aslan!” cried both the children, staring up at him, almost as much frightened as they were glad.
“Aren’t you dead then, dear Aslan?” said Lucy.
“Not now,” said Aslan…
“But what does it all mean?” asked Susan when they were somewhat calmer.
“It means,” said Aslan, “that though the Witch knew the Deep Magic, there is a magic deeper still which she did not know: Her knowledge goes back only to the dawn of time. But if she could have looked a little further back, into the stillness and the darkness before Time dawned, she would have read there a different incantation. She would have known that when a willing victim who had committed no treachery was killed in a traitors stead, the Table would crack and Death itself would start working backwards…”
“And now,” said Aslan presently, “to business. I feel I am going to roar. You had better put your fingers in your ears.”
And they did. And Aslan stood up and when he opened his mouth to roar his face became so terrible that they did not dare to look at it. And they saw all the trees in front of him bend before the blast of his roaring as grass bends in a meadow before the wind.
I tell you today that Aslan’s roar still rises over the land… and over your soul. The cry of Jesus, the lion of Judah, roars over your soul to liberate you from guilt, from fear, and eternal death.
And we too can be amazed!
I invite you back to the amazement
Or into it for the first time. Come. Jesus is alive. Sins are forgiven. Death is defeated.
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