He is Risen!

God raised His Son to be the firstfruits of the resurrection, to go before us and show us the way to our own!

Matthew 28:1-10 

After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples, `He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.’ This is my message for you.” So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.” 

On the fourth of July, we Americans celebrate Independence Day, to mark the day the Founding Fathers signed the Declaration of Independence. But actually, this was the beginning of a war that would last around a decade. It would take some time before America had a new government, first the Articles of Confederation, and then the Constitution. But we don’t celebrate all those subsequent events separately – we celebrate the whole story on July 4 even though not everything actually happened on July 4th. 

Why am I talking about July 4th? Because Easter is a bit like the 4th of July. We celebrate the Resurrection of Christ on Easter Sunday, but we also celebrate the whole story that led up to it and followed it. Think about it this way: Jesus came and “Declared Independence” so to speak, when he first came on the scene, preaching “The Kingdom of God is at hand.” Then, he had to wage war – spiritual war – with his disciples throughout Judea, preaching, teaching, and healing for three years. At the end of the three years, at the Last Supper, he cut the new covenant, wrote a new constitution – the new commandment, to love as he loved — and on Good Friday, he offered his body and blood for the remission of sins.   

Then, victory! — after descending into the underworld, he bursts out of the bonds of death, bringing with him all those saints who had been imprisoned by death before his time. This is the first-fruits, the Resurrection of Christ. This happened on a Sunday, two thousand years ago, the first time they cried out, He is risen! The first Easter – so today we celebrate Christ’s resurrection, but really, we’re celebrating the whole story that led up to it, and the story that followed that is still unfolding. 

Most of the world calls this day Pascha, which means Passover. But the English-speaking world calls it Easter. Skeptics of Christianity love this, because the word Easter has its source in the name Ishtar, a pagan goddess of fertility. But actually, it’s not such an inappropriate connection. When Christianity first came to the Anglo-Saxon people, they recognized in the Resurrection of Christ a historical fulfilment of their own mythologies, such as the myth of Ishtar – the rising from the dead of the new season, the cycles of life and death and life again. This connection happened in every culture Christianity came in contact with, it’s just that our culture seems to have held onto the old name, Ishtar, Easter. 

But again, it’s appropriate. What we celebrate on Easter is new life, since Christ is raised to give us new life, to make all things new. The renewal of hope, the reclaiming of our joy, of our vitality – the message of Easter is that God’s power in raising Christ from the dead is the power that He wants to work mightily in your life. “All things work together for good for those that love God” — this was Jesus’ basic message, and his Resurrection is God’s vote of confidence so that we’d believe him. This is the power of saying, He is risen! 

Though Jesus was the Son in God’s House, he lowered himself to be a servant – that is, he obeyed the Law of Moses, who was a servant according to the Book of Hebrews – and he was perfect before the Law. “The man who does these things” written in the Law “will live by them”. Jesus and He alone was perfect before the Law, no one else, not one was righteous. Jesus was Holy before God, and God promised, “I will not let me Holy One suffer corruption.” Christ offered himself as a holy and perfect offering for the sins of mankind, and God raised his Holy One from the corruption of the grave. Death could not hold this man, the Son of the Most High, who came to the cross and proclaimed to His Father, “Behold, I have come to do Your will.” 

Look to what extent Jesus was willing to submit and to suffer in order to accomplish the will of God for us – that we may be free in God’s love: the Cross. Look at what great sign God was happy to give us of His love, in raising His Son to prove Him true — and not just this, but in raising him into heaven too, where we are seated with him in the heavenly places. 

Christ said, “I, if I am lifted from the earth, will draw all men to myself,” and so both of these came true. We are drawn to him, and drawn into him – where he is, there we are. He is risen! And He is in heaven, with God, the author of life – therefore so are we. So are you. You have a fountain in him, a fountain of blessing – blessing on your dreams, blessing on your highest hopes, blessing on your family, blessing on your marriage, blessing on your career, blessing on the little odds and ends of every new day. 

You might say, “Sean, my life is like ‘Dancing in the Dark’ by Bruce Springsteen: “I get up in the evening, and I ain’t got nothing to say, I come home in the morning feeling the same way!” (Well, maybe you work the day shift!) You might feel that life is repetitive, a drudgery, monotonous. You might say, “Sean, I already know how my day’s gonna go, it’s been the same way since the beginning of time.”  

That’s what Mary and the Apostles thought, too. They knew that Jesus was dead, and they knew that death is the end of the story, and that’s that – because it’s been the same way since the beginning of time.  

When their story first started, Jesus brought newness and hope and promise into their lives – but now that he was gone, they knew they were going to go back to repetitive, a drudgery, monotonous. Well, let’s think about something for a second. Surely they could still have hope that all this newness and hope and promise could be found in God? Their leader, their rabbi, their friend Jesus may have been taken from them – but surely not their hope? Why not have faith anyway? 

Well, that’s what faith is all about, it’s true. And probably everyone in the world has a faith like that – a faith in something you can’t see, but you hope is there. This is what the myth of Ishtar was about – a way to explain the mystery of life and death, death emerging from life and new life emerging from death. The skeptics of Christianity are right about this, that almost every culture has its resurrection myths that try to explain and make sense of their faith in a mysterious reconciliation between life and death. 

But they’re wrong that Christianity is a myth like them. It’s not. It’s an ongoing testimony about a historical event: the Resurrection of Christ. This is why the Church says: He is Risen! This is the foundation stone of the Christian church. 

God didn’t want us to guess. He didn’t want us to long wistfully for the fruit of the tree of life, he wanted to give it to us; and more than that, He didn’t want us to miss it when He offered it to us. He didn’t do it in secret, but out in the open. His purpose in elevating Jesus to die on a Roman cross was to make this story visible to all – a Roman cross, during the height of the most powerful empire that history had ever yet known, with its massive network of roads, trade, and communication.  

Some have asked, why didn’t God wait to reveal Jesus until there were cameras and mass communication technology? Even a printing press, let alone YouTube!? The answer is, we wouldn’t have survived this long if He hadn’t come. We would have been long gone – we would have destroyed ourselves surely. Probably would have happened under the Roman Empire, too – just my guess, just look at how depraved and destructive they were.  

Now, God didn’t just have Jesus crucified publicly and have us guess at some hidden meaning of this, like the skeptics say. He raised Jesus publicly too – to give us hope, to save us — first he appeared to Mary, but not only Mary, then the 12 Apostles; but not only the Apostles, but also to over 500 of his followers in Jerusalem. This is no myth – this is history.  

The founding fathers of America were willing to fight for what they believed in and hoped for – but the founding fathers of the church were willing to die for what they saw. C.S. Lewis said we all need to decide whether Christ was a Liar, a Lunatic, or the Lord – but part of that decision is deciding whether His martyred disciples were Liars, Lunatics, or Loyal! We accept the existence of Buddha on the testimony of his students and the legacy of his school; the same with Plato, Aristotle, etc. The Church was founded on the claim of the Apostles: Jesus Christ rose from the dead on Easter Sunday. The seed of the Church is this good news and it was watered with the blood of their martyrdom, dying for the words: He is risen! 

Ask yourself this. Would you die for a way of life? This year, we’ve seen our way of life eviscerated as we try to dodge death by coronavirus, so I think the answer is clear: most of us aren’t that willing to die for a way of life! Nope, we have been more than willing to sacrifice our way of life in order to avoid death. We’ve come a long way from Jesus and his disciples hosting dinners in the homes of lepers, ministering to the sick, touching the untouchables, risking their lives to help others – being accused of risking everyone else’s lives by their contact with these contagious, “unclean” people.  

Most people would never do what Christians did. Humanity tends to behave this way. As Paul says in Romans, “Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God proves His love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” But more than this, God has further proven His love for us in raising Jesus to show that Jesus was true, and the Apostles died to get this message out, so that the way of life taught by Christ would be established and preserved in the world. 

Our way of life need not be repetitive, a drudgery, monotonous – our way of life can be one of newness, hope, and promise. A way of life in which, as John Lennon once sang, “there’s no problem, only solutions.” Even the most mighty of empires ever to rule over the earth couldn’t oppose God’s Christ – if God is for us, who can stand against us? You gotta get with God, because God’s got you. 

*** 

Now as I was saying earlier, Easter is like the 4th of July in that it celebrates a whole founding story on one day. And the founding of the church, the nation of the children of God, continued beyond Easter, to Pentecost, and beyond, even to our day. The church is established on the promise of an everlasting covenant – ever notice how we pray, “world without end, amen”? — and we have this promise that Christ’s government will grow without end. What is this but a promise of newness? Since Christ’s government is not a government in the purely political sense, but his government, his dominion, is his heavenly power to say, “Behold, I make all things new.”  

This Easter, ask, “What is God making new in my life”? Ask Him! Say, “God, I know you raised Christ so that I may walk in newness of life. Show me and lead me in this new way of life you have stored up for me.” God has blessings in store for you, good things promised for you. If He didn’t, He wouldn’t have sent His Son and put him through so much trouble on your account! “Today, if you hear His voice, don’t harden your heart.”  

Open your heart – He will show you His love for you, and when you know this truth, the truth will set you free. We learn to love by being loved – and you will never learn to love fully, the way you were designed to love by your Creator, until you come to know His love for you in Jesus Christ. He has given us a cup that can overflow it we learn to let it – if we learn to love with the love that “bears all things, believes all things, endures all things.” 

*** 

What do I want you to walk away with from this Easter sermon? “The Pastor told us Easter is like the 4th of July and rambled about someone named Ishtar for awhile” — no. I want you to walk away with the same thing I want you to walk away with every week – because I like to say, every week, every day, is Easter for a child of God. Every day is a day lived once again in the heart and mind of God, in God’s ever-renewing world carved out of a stone that has been rolled away, founded on the rock of the profession, He is risen!  

Every day is Easter, and He was raised so that we may walk in newness of life every day, in glorious freedom and greatest love. Easter is a great comfort to us for this reason, and also a great challenge, the challenge which saints and martyrs for millennia have risen to: if we truly believe in the way of life given to us by Christ, will we also be willing to suffer or even die for it, believing that we too will be raised in His Resurrection?  

By the Spirit of Christ I exhort each of you to pray and seek in what ways God is calling you to be just such a witness. I am not exhorting you to seek ways to die for God – for it should be a given that a life well-lived, a race well-run, in the name of God, ought ideally to end in old age and good health, since both allow time and energy for the maximum outpouring of love possible – but I am exhorting you to Resurrection, to take up your cross and align your heart with His purpose in raising Christ, raising us in Christ, which is the glorious freedom and great love which we preach in Christ. 

This is where you will find newness of life. This is where you will find your personal resurrection. This is where you will have your own personal Easter, and the world will say of you, “Look at him! He is risen!” or “Look at her! She is risen!” God has blessings in store for you, good things promised for you, God is working Resurrection power in your life. Take up your cross in His name, you know what that cross is in your life; follow Him to Calvary, you know what Calvary means for you in your own journey; do this freely and with love, as Jesus did so freely and with love – God will not fail to raise you to newness of life. He is powerful to do so, and He is willing – and He wants you to know this, which is why He raised His Son to be the firstfruits of the resurrection, to go before us and show us the way to our own. 

So let’s follow Him, since he is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. He is the Resurrection – and He is Risen! Amen. 

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