St Barnabas and St Michael’s 31st March 2013
Reading – Luke 24:1-12
There is a story about John Wayne who was cast as a Roman centurion in one of those old-fashioned Biblical epics. When the time came, he delivered his line perfectly: “Truly, this was the son of God”. But the director felt something was lacking. “John, could we have a bit more awe?” So the Duke delivered his line again: “Aw, truly this was the son of God”.
Now we are here this morning to remember the events of Easter Day. Many of us are already very familiar with what happened all those years ago. It is a story which perhaps we have known since we were very little. But the question I want to ask is this: what effect does the Easter story have on you? Are we are in this service simply rehearsing our lines or does it fill with us wonder and awe?
Yesterday it was the Devon derby between Plymouth Argyle and Exeter City. Over 13000 people crammed into Home Park. From what I heard on the radio and in my back garden I couldn’t doubt the passion and the commitment of all those present. The sight of 22 men playing against each other in a League Two football match stirred up deep emotions, and nothing was more important to the watching fans than who ended up winning.
How would it be if today there were 13000 people across Plymouth who were passionate about the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ? If our churches were crammed with people filled with awe and wonder at the events of that first Easter?
Maybe we need to go back and remind ourselves who is this Jesus we are celebrating today. Now there is much, more that could be said about Jesus than I can cover in a single sermon, but I want to highlight three particular points about Jesus that particularly come out of the Easter story…
First of all, Jesus is a person who lived on this earth and who never ever sinned. If you want any proof of that fact, just look at the trial of Jesus that took place before His crucifixion. All the best legal brains of the day were gathered around Jesus just itching to press charges. Now I know if the best legal brains in this country wanted to find some evidence of wrongdoing in my life, they would eventually find something, somewhere. But all the gospel writers make it clear that despite their best efforts not one person could find Jesus guilty of anything. Mark tells us plainly in Mark 14:55: The chief priests and the whole Sanhedrin were looking for evidence against Jesus so that they could put him to death, but they did not find any. Not even a hint of wrongdoing, not even a secret scandal, or the rumour of a transgression. Or again in Luke’s gospel Pilate tells the crowds, in Luke 23:14: I have examined him in your presence and have found no basis for your charges against him. Unlike all our other role models and heroes, Jesus really lived a perfect life.
But, again, that should not surprise us because the gospel writers make it clear that Jesus is none other than God Himself in human flesh. Recently the archbishop in his enthronement sermon preached about Jesus walking on the water, and that story ends with the disciples worshipping Jesus and declaring: You are the Son of God. And that story was not a one-off event. In many different ways and on many different occasions Jesus revealed He had the power and might and authority of God Himself. Indeed even the very way He died pointed to His unique identity. The gospel writer Mark tells us in Mark 15:39: when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, heard his cry and saw how he died, he said, “Surely this man was the Son of God!
In other words, when you start looking at Jesus, you begin to see He is able to change lives in a way no other person has done, or will ever be able to do. And you don’t have to go back to the gospels to find evidence of his life-changing power. Countless millions of people around the world are able to testify that they have met with this Jesus, and changed their lives. Indeed there are even some in this church today who have just such a story.
And of course the greatest proof that Jesus is who the gospel writers say He is the empty tomb on that first Sunday morning just outside Jerusalem. As Paul writes at the beginning of his letter to the Romans Jesus was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead. (Romans 1:4).
And let’s be clear – Jesus really was raised from the dead. Just before our gospel reading this morning Luke tells us at the end of chapter 23: The women who had come with Jesus from Galilee followed Joseph and saw the tomb and how his body was laid in it. Then they went home and prepared spices and perfumes. But they rested on the Sabbath in obedience to the commandment.
These are important words. Because they tell us, firstly, that on that first Sunday morning, the women really did go to the right tomb. The idea that somehow they ended up in the wrong place is absurd. If you have been following the very Son of God for three years, if you have watching His burial, then it seems highly unlikely, at the very least, you would forget the location of tomb.
Even more importantly they tell us that they expected to find a body. The reason they prepared spices and perfumes was because they imagined they needed to carry out the necessary funeral rituals. So when they came to the tomb and did not find the body they were genuinely shocked. After all, all their experience told them dead people remained dead. The resurrection can in no way be explained as wishful thinking on their part or some kind of hallucination. It was a complete and utter reversal of what they were expecting. In fact it completely turned their world upside down and shook them to the very core.
And shouldn’t the Easter Day message have a similar effect on us? Here is Jesus. He lived a perfect life on earth. He proved in so many ways He was the Son of God. He took on the power of death and defeated it once and for all. And now in the fullest possible sense He is alive, here with us this morning by the power of His Holy Spirit. Think about all that for a moment. Isn’t the truth about Jesus wonderful good news? So why are we so slow to rejoice? Surely we should be passionate about Jesus, about all that He is and all that He has done. Surely Jesus should be the number one influence on our life. Surely we should give our all to follow Him.
So what exactly does it mean for to us to be passionate about Jesus?
Above all else, it means we should love Jesus.
In Romans, chapter 5, Paul writes these words: But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. And surely such a love like that demands a response. I find fascinating that after the resurrection when Jesus was alone with Simon Peter, his one question was not, “Do you call yourself a Christian?” or “Have you grasped the mystery of the resurrection?”, but quite simply, “Do you love me?” (John 21:17).
And that’s the question Jesus asks of each one of us. If we have understood who Jesus is and what He is done, then we should love Jesus more than anything or anyone else in the world. We should love to worship Him. We should love to gather with other believers to praise His name. We should love to serve His body, the church of Christ. Jesus has laid down His life for me – and how can I do anything other than lay down my life in return? As the old hymn puts it: Love so amazing, so divine, demands my life, my soul, my all.
But we should also realise, secondly, that if we love Jesus, we should also learn from Him.
Listen carefully to how Luke records the women’s encounter with the angel at the empty tomb: 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? He is not here; he has risen! 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.
Why all this emphasis on remembering? Well, in the Bible remembering meant so much than trying to dredge up facts buried deep in the memory. It meant living with the words of God as if they were a present reality. So, for example, when Jesus celebrated the Passover in the Upper Room, He was re-enacting the story of the Israelites coming up out of Egypt as it was an actual reality for all those present. The words spoken to the people of God then became the words addressed to the disciples. The history of the Exodus became their history.
That, I believe, helps to show us what learning from Jesus is all about. It’s not just about reading our Bibles, and gathering information – although that is hugely important. It’s about carrying around the story of Jesus’ resurrection in our hearts as a living, powerful reality in which we share. It’s about growing in faith as we remember Jesus’s words and come to put our trust in them. In short, learning is about putting a living, loving relationship with Jesus into practice.
So as the women at the tomb remembered Jesus’ words they came to realise the resurrection was so much more than the fulfilment of a prophecy, it was an actual, real experience that they were privileged to share. From now on, those words He is not here, he is risen! would be a fire that would burn brightly in their hearts, and they themselves would be changed forever. I wonder, have you been transformed by the message of Easter Sunday?
If Jesus is the greatest passion in on my life, I should love Him. I should learn from Him. And finally, I should live for Him.
The other day my wife picked up some good news on Facebook. As I was sitting in my study, I became aware she was rushing down the stairs calling my name. In our story this morning the women rushed off and told the other disciples what they had learnt. They didn’t stop to think what the disciples would think of them, or what kind of reactions they might expect. They had good news, and it was the most natural thing they could do to share it.
This didn’t mean all the disciples instantly believed them. In fact we are told their words seemed to them like nonsense or as the King James Version puts it idle tales (Luke 24:11). But Peter went away and checked out the story for Himself. One person was prepared to take a risk of appearing foolish and actually acting on their message.
And I think there is a big lesson here for all of us. Even on that first Easter Day most people the women spoke to did not believe their message. But they still told them about Jesus. Not because they were trying to win converts, or because they wanted to feel good about themselves, but because they simply couldn’t help it.
You see, on that first Easter Day the women realised who Jesus truly is. The man who lived a perfect life on earth and never did any wrong: the very Son of God in human form: the one defeated the power of sin and death and evil. And as the reality sunk in, they came to love Jesus with a deep, undying love. They remembered His words and learnt the wonderful truth of His resurrection in profoundly personal way. And so they could do no other than live for Jesus. Even if other people thought they were foolish, even if other people treated their words as nonsense.
Brothers and sisters, Easter Sunday really is all about Jesus. So really only one question matters – do you know who this Jesus is? And if you do, ask Him to give you a passion so you might love Him, learn from Him, and live for Him. If you do not, then today come to the empty tomb and listen to these words He is not here! He has risen. Allow the risen Jesus to meet you this morning, so the resurrection becomes a living reality deep within your heart and you develop a passion for Him.