A Resurrection Sunday Sermon
April 16, 2017
So, typically when I turn in my monthly report to the Church Council, I include an article or a reflection of sorts that is designed to provoke conversation. Sometimes this is theological in nature, dealing with what it means to be a church, sometimes it deals with our church’s history, and sometimes it is designed to focus on clarifying church vision.
This month’s report includes two questions: 1) Why do you go to church? and 2) Why do you go to Burry’s Church? Understand that the answers to these questions are not just designed to be like a poll that goes out within an organization to get a sense of where people are on matters. These are real questions that they should be able to answer to someone they meet on the street or a co-worker who says, “Why do you even bother going to church?” or “Why do you go to that church on the hill?”
The answers you give to those questions, while they may vary, shape your vision of what the church should be, and that is important for leadership.
With that in mind, I want to tweak the question somewhat and ask you this morning: Why are you here in church?
Now, for many of you, I expect that the answer you would give me is no different than the answer you would give me on any given Sunday of the year. But recognizing that there are a number of you here that we don’t see very often, I suppose that the answer might be different. So, why are you here on this Sunday morning?
In American culture, it seems that Christmas Eve, Easter Sunday, and Mother’s Day are the most heavily attended gatherings of the year, so why this Sunday and not on other Sundays of the year? What makes this Sunday different from the others?
I think that this is a fair question and it is a question that churches all over the country are wrestling with this morning — as to why on other Sundays we allow things to fill the day but this Sunday we keep to the side. The phrasing of the question varies but the essence of the question is still the same.
Sometimes churches fall into the trap of thinking this way: “Maybe if we do lots of special music and other important things, perhaps throw in a testimonial and have a sermon that grabs everyone’s attention, then all of our visitors will come back and worship with us again.”
The problem with that mindset should be obvious. At whatever point the family says, “Let’s give them a try” they return on a regular Sunday that doesn’t have all of the pomp and circumstance and folks think, “no, I’ll just stick with Easter as it is a good thing.”
People, too, end up with this mindset sometimes. They think, “Oh, boy, the church is going to pull out all of the stops; I want to be there today because it is interesting and entertaining to do so.” But that is a wrong way of thinking because it assumes that Sunday morning worship is about being entertained — like turning on the Television and saying, “I’m here, now engage me.” But that’s not Christian worship.
So, let me address the question plainly and simply this morning. Why are we here? We are here because we need to be here — it is for the well-being of our immortal soul. And that answer is not just for this Sunday but it is for every Sunday. For here, in the fellowship of God’s people, your soul is fed from the Word of God as one body gathered together.
God commands it too…doesn’t give it as a good suggestion, but commands it. 6-days of the week we can do with what we wish (obviously so long as it is moral) but one day in 7 God has declared to be holy and set apart for his purposes and to address our spiritual wellbeing. That is why we are here.
But that answers the question in a general way that can apply to any Sunday, what makes this Sunday different from all others?
The answer is that while we celebrate the Resurrection of Christ every Sunday, this particular Sunday is the day we intentionally set to the side to commemorate and focus solely on the Resurrection. So, we pull out the stops and praise our God. So, you see, we do make a big deal about this Sunday and we do have special music and other special things on this particular day, but we don’t do it to entertain you, we do it to glorify our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Now I say this not just to those of you who are visiting with us this morning or to those of you who we just don’t get to see very often in worship; I say this for all of us, because in today’s world, it is easy to just get busy. There are demands from our families, from our work, from our other obligations in the community and they pull us in a lot of directions. And it is easy to fall into the trap of putting your spiritual needs on the back-burner and neglecting them. It is easy to fall into the trap of letting our worship revolve around our lives when we should be ordering our lives around our worship of Christ.
And when we do that, everything gets turned upside down. Folks, when you neglect your spiritual needs, it affects the rest of your life in terrible ways. But, when you give attention to your eternal soul, it will affect all other areas in very healthy ways.
So, the exhortation, the reminder, the encouragement is for all of us, lest we fall into the trap of neglecting the Lord’s Day, of neglecting the preaching of His word, and of neglecting our obedience to God’s commands.
And we have come together on this day, to celebrate the resurrection of Christ and to be reminded of the 7 most important words in the English Language: “He has risen; he is not here.”
Or, as Matthew records it:
“He is not here, for he has risen, as he said…”
And so, after a week of testing in Jerusalem, an illegal arrest and nighttime trial, false imprisonment, two more trials with trumped up charges on Friday (one before Herod, the Jewish king of the region of Galilee and one before Pilate, the Roman Governor of Judea). Jesus is tortured, crucified, and dies.
Friday night, two Jewish men of standing who were also “secret disciples of Jesus”: Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea, petitioned that they could remove Jesus’ body from the cross because it would break Jewish law to leave it hang over the Sabbath. They took Jesus’ body down and made hasty preparations before leaving for the Sabbath.
So, after the Sabbath day, early Sunday morning, the two Marys and Salome went to the tomb to finish burial preparations. They talked on the way, but Mark tells us that one of their concerns is how they would open the tomb as Roman Soldiers had sealed it with a large stone and set a guard out front. Perhaps they thought that the Roman guards might do them this kindness so they could finish what had been begun. They just didn’t know.
But when they arrived, the very last thing they expected is what they found. The stone had been rolled away and there was a man sitting in the tomb, clothed in white — note that Matthew refers to him as an angel and notice, no wings! — just an aside — And the angel says, “Don’t be alarmed.”
Now, if that isn’t the understatement of the year, I don’t know what is. The stone is rolled away, no body, an angel in the tomb…I think that I would be alarmed, don’t you?
But the angel says, “relax, don’t be alarmed, it is all good…Jesus of Nazareth who was crucified is who you seek, but he is not here; He has risen.”
Notice something; the angel could have met them on the road to tell them this information. He could have met them at the edge of the garden and he could have left the tomb sealed shut and told them that Jesus had raised. But he doesn’t make them take his word for it; he lets them see — evidence. One thing that makes the Christian religion different from any other religion is this idea of evidence. Faith is not just based on things that cannot be confirmed, but faith is based on substantial things that have been witnessed by numerous people. And the reality of the Resurrection of Christ is the most historically verifiable event of all of history based on the evidence and records left behind by eyewitnesses…and the records about Jesus are not just Christian records, but there are Roman and Jewish records as well to confirm the resurrection of Jesus.
And they gave a commission: “Go tell the disciples…and Peter.” How often, after we have done something really sinful, we fall into the trap of thinking that God is done working in us and through us. But that is the Devil’s lie. Peter had to have been feeling that way after having denied Jesus three times that Thursday night before. Yet the angel is making sure that the women know to make sure Peter doesn’t feel left out — “God’s not done with you yet, Peter.”
And the women fled. Now, verse 8 of Mark kind of leaves us hanging a bit. They didn’t tell anyone? What about the Commission? What about the race between Peter and John? What about all of the other parts of the account we know of and cherish?
There is also a debate over what is sometimes called the “longer ending” of Mark. Many of your Bibles will say something like: “this is not present in the oldest manuscripts…” For our purposes this morning, the debate isn’t really relevant. But it seems that Mark is leaving things off abruptly as if to say to his readers — “You go and research the rest — seek it out!”
Matthew helps us by filling in the gap. They did flee, and at first they did not say anything to anyone, but Jesus met them on the road and spoke to them; after that, they fled to the disciples.
And thus, through the ages, these words come to us by the eyewitnesses. “He is not here; he has risen!” And it is those words that are the basis for the Christian church. Without the resurrection, we are hopeless. Jesus came to free us from the shackles of sin and death. That’s our condition apart from Jesus’ resurrection — deserving judgment and deserving hell. Jesus took that judgment on his head for all who trust in him as their Lord and Savior. If he didn’t rise from the dead, we have no hope that we will rise from the judgment either. It’s the heart of our faith. Without the Resurrection of Jesus, the words that Jesus said on the cross when he was quoting from Psalm 22 are tragic at best: “Why have you forsaken me.” But with the resurrection, they are words of hope and victory, so the Resurrection is our victory cry as a church as it was Jesus’ victory cry that he had defeated Satan and death.
The question that remains draws us back to the women. We are told that they were trembling and afraid as they left the tomb. And my hope this morning is that as you leave, you will be trembling and afraid as well in a sense. For if you are an unbeliever, not trusting in Christ, tremble and fear the mighty judgment that is coming. But if you are a believer this morning, I pray that you would tremble and fear at disobeying the God who has done this mighty thing for you. So, how will Christ’s resurrection not only affect what we do this morning, but the rest of your life?