SCRIPTURES – Isaiah 65:17-25; 1 Cor. 15:12-26; Luke 24; 1-12
“Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.”
On that first Easter Sunday, so long ago: how many people believed that Jesus had risen from the dead? Only one: Jesus Himself! Everyone else, even among His closest disciples, believed He was dead and gone.
Those faithful women, then, who went to the tomb: why did they go? They went to finish the burial preparations for His body that they had not had time to complete on Friday. They went out of a sense of duty. They went to do what had to be done. Why did they not remember His promise that He would rise on the third day? I suppose the horror of His death and the brokenness of His body filled their minds and hearts.
Now, doing things out of duty has its place, and even its blessing. If those women had not been so diligent in their duty they would not have been there to see the angels and hear the joyous message of Jesus’ resurrection. But, it was not their duty that turned their sorrow to joy. It wasn’t even the empty tomb. This only confused them. What brought them joy was the news from God’s messengers, “He is not here, but has risen!” and the reminder of what Jesus had said.
We go to church on Easter for various reasons. Perhaps you are here because joy fills your heart. Your Lord died and rose for you! Perhaps you are here out of a sense of duty. Easter is one of the biggest days in the church, and you know you need to be here. God expects it. Your family insists on it! Well, no matter why you have come, there is blessing from God in being here; but only if you pay attention to and take to heart God’s words! They bring to us far more than man’s joy. The joy of egg hunts and flowers and a beautiful spring day is temporary. The Gospel of Jesus Christ, crucified and risen for our salvation, brings us God’s joy! And, what is God’s joy? It is the joy of a new creation and a new life. God says in Isaiah 65: “Behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in that which I create; for behold, I create Jerusalem to be a joy, and her people to be a gladness.” This new creation takes place in Christ. We are told in 1 Corinthians 15: “Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.” He is the first. God will raise you in Him, and you will make Him glad!
Today is a day to look up, to look ahead! Isaiah 65 and 1 Corinthians 15 announce this; the Gospel of Christ’s resurrection from the dead is the reason for this. What are we to look forward to? To our own resurrection from the dead! To God creating us anew to be a gladness. To a new heavens and earth that we will then enjoy. To all who oppose God, every evil, and finally death itself, being put under Christ’s feet, where they will be crushed and controlled and never trouble us again. This is what lies before us because Jesus died for our sins, purchased our forgiveness, and then rose from the dead!
Do you want this great joy? Do you want this new heavens and new earth and this new life that Christ died and rose to create? Who wouldn’t? Well… it’s yours! All you need do to have it is to die!
I mean this. Heaven will be an amazing place. Who wouldn’t want to be there? But, who wants to die? This has to happen, of course, for you to get there; and it will happen. But, keep in mind what does not have to happen. You don’t have to pay for or make up for your sins. This has been done! Thank goodness! For, you could never do this. Your sins are too many and too strong. It took Jesus, the almighty and eternal Son of God, bearing our sins and suffering and dying for them to remove sin’s eternal condemnation from us. Nor do you have to gain heaven by being good enough – as if you could. As if God, after giving His Son to die for your sins and pay the penalty for them, would now ignore this and demand that you earn His heaven! It’s all done. Jesus has done all things well for us all! When He opened the entrance to His tomb on Easter He opened heaven to us!
But, you’re probably not going to die and go to heaven today. Too bad! No, just as for the women who went to Jesus’ tomb, your life goes on. So: how will you live it?
Look up, not down. Look ahead, not back. Remember: through His Son’s death and resurrection God is creating a new heaven and earth and a new people. The former things are not in His mind. He is not renovating this old world and life. Don’t expect, then, that if you believe in Jesus your life will be new, with things going your way and sicknesses and sufferings and sorrows being kept away. Ah, but that’s how we think and what we expect, isn’t it?
Progress in the medical field means better health and greater success in the fight against disease. It means longer, and better, lives.
Progress in technology means more prosperity and a better environment, with cleaner fuels and less pollution.
Shouldn’t we expect even more from God, since He has forgiven our sins and says that He is creating us to be a gladness?
Thinking this way is looking down to this world and life, not up to God’s. It is looking back and looking to yourself. It is not looking forward to what God gives in Jesus and believing that it is good, even if it does not seem to be good.
“Remember what He told you,” the angel said to the women at the tomb. Christ’s words: these are the former things that God wants us to keep in our minds. And they did remember. Yes, Jesus had said He would rise on the third day! How could they forget? How could they not have believed it? And so, they ran back and told these things to the rest of Jesus’ followers… and they called them fools! They considered their story to be an idle tale.
Sin remains in this world and life. If it continues to afflict even Jesus’ most faithful believers, how much worse will it be in those who do not believe! Don’t be surprised by this. And, don’t be surprised when the trials and sufferings of this life – diseases and injuries; hatreds and divisions; name-calling and arguments and belittling; death and sorrow – remain. God’s focus in Christ is not upon improving this life and world, but in creating it anew. If you expect great changes and obvious blessings upon your life because you celebrate Christ’s resurrection and because you follow Jesus, you will end up sorely disappointed.
When Easter began, Jesus was the only one who believed that He had risen. But, as His words were remembered many more believed; and the faith grew and spread. Remember what Jesus said and what He has done. Christ is risen indeed! He is the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. When you fall asleep, when your life here ends, you will then see all things put under His feet, including death. Life, His life, will fill you, and you will be raised up to be a joy: God’s joy! Make this your ultimate focus, to the praise and glory of Him who died and rose for you, Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen!