Sermon Options: Easter Sunday 2019

March 25th, 2019

BEYOND EXAGGERATION!

ISAIAH 65:17-25

In this seemingly unlikely Easter text, Isaiah is forecasting a new age of salvation. This was a welcomed word to the many Judeans who had returned from Babylon to their homeland, probably rebuilt the Temple, but as yet had not found the future secure. There always is anxiety when one lives between partial and complete fulfillment. Hopefully Isaiah can bring a word of hope to all of us who live "betwixt and between"!

I. What Is Isaiah Saying?
Isaiah is announcing a new era, inaugurated with rejoicing, a celebration in which even God participates (v. 19). God through Isaiah is not trying to exhort his people to prayer to prepare for his blessing. He is not admonishing them for their sinfulness, which initially led to exile. He doesn't fill the air with "ought and should." God simply is proclaiming how he wishes to show his love for his children. One wonders what would happen if more often we preachers would take our congregations by the hand and walk them around the inheritance that already is theirs as God's children—inheritors of the Easter promise?

II. How Is Isaiah Saying It?
In verses 19b-25, Isaiah is describing the new era in a most picturesque way. Using contrast—what the new age will be and what it will not be—Isaiah is drawing vivid images using figurative language or exaggerated speech. Of course, no one used exaggerated speech more effectively than did Jesus, with images such as a camel trying to squeeze through the eye of a needle or a nitpicker whose vision is blurred by a plank in his own eye. Here Isaiah used almost unrealistic, exaggerated visions of an ideal world where "weeping and crying are heard no more" (v. 19); everyone is assured of old age (v. 20); prayers are answered before they are prayed (v. 24); and natural enemies become buddies (v. 25).

Some of Isaiah's description is very normal. Regular living is not interrupted. Disaster does not intrude. Houses are built and vineyards are planted and they are enjoyed (vv. 21-22). Work is to be performed but there is justice in its reward (v. 23). Wouldn't it be good news indeed if women could bring children into a world free of the terror of war and famine (v. 23a)? How we long for a world where children reach their full potential without worries of Unabombers and terrorists.

III. What Does Isaiah Mean?
Isaiah means that this golden era is God's gift and blessing. Nowhere is it mentioned that the era is a reward for righteousness or merit. It is a gift of the love and grace of a God who answers prayers before they are expressed out loud (v. 24; Rom. 8:26-27). They are a people blessed by the Lord (v. 23b).

Isaiah means that God is actively involved in history, redeeming it for his purposes and his people. God is in the process of transforming his creation (v. 17). In Isaiah's golden age, death will be present but does not ruin life. People work but are, dare we say, paid justly; and people develop without invasion or terror.

Exaggeration? Perhaps it seems so, but what God did in raising Jesus from the dead goes beyond the wildest exaggeration Isaiah could have ever imagined. And it's real! Because he lives, we live. We live in the assurance of the forgiveness of sins, in the promise of a home in heaven, and in the confidence that nothing can ever separate us from his love. Because he lives, we have in this life beginning without end and in the life to come, we are inheritors of a new world ( Rev. 21:1-5). Every day, now and forever, is a day in which we walk in his personal and abiding presence.

Tom Long in his excellent book, Whispering the Lyrics, tells of when he was once invited to be the leader in a special communion service in a nearby church. The plan called for Dr. Long to give a devotion on the significance of the supper in the sanctuary. The group then was dismissed to the fellowship hall, where, seated at tables, each group was to prepare a loaf. It was chaos. Children were rampant. Flour floated everywhere, covering everyone. The kitchen was slow.

Finally, the service ended, and with no little relief, Long was able to pronounce the benediction. "The peace of Christ be with you all," he said, and just as he did, a child's voice rang loud and true, "It already is!"

"No eye has seen
no ear has heard
no mind has conceived
what God has prepared for those who
love him." (1 Cor. 2:9 NIV)

(Gary L. Carver)

THE PROMISE OF EASTER

1 CORINTHIANS 15:19-26

Most of us have become excited when someone has promised us something wonderful, only to be disappointed. Sometimes people break promises they never intended to keep. Sometimes people make promises they want to keep, but they just don't have the ability to keep them. Since we have all been disappointed by broken promises, before we trust someone's promise, we want to know two things. (1) Does the promise maker have the desire to keep their promise? and (2) Does the promise maker have the ability to keep their promise?

God has made the most tremendous promise imaginable. He has promised to raise us from the dead, give us new, heavenly bodies, and then give us eternal life. Easter is our proof that God desires to keep his promise, and he is able.

I. Life Without the Promise Is Life Without Hope
Paul says there is one thing worse than being disappointed by a broken promise: never having had the hope of any promise. I have heard others say if they died and there was no life after death, they would still have enjoyed their lives as Christians and not feel they gave up anything of value. But Paul says if we do not have the hope of God's promise, "we are of all men most miserable" (v. 19).

II. God's Desire Is to Keep His Promise to Defeat Death
Paul calls death "the last enemy" because of God's desire for us to live. Death entered into the world through sin. God's will from the beginning was for us to have eternal life. Adam was created immortal and lost immortality when he sinned.

A Jewish legend says Adam will be standing at the gate of heaven when we arrive. You may say what you please about his sin, which allowed death and evil to enter the world. And after you finish listing the troubles Adam's sin has caused, he will say: "Yes, my child, these things are true. I sinned but once. How about you?"

III. God's Ability to Keep His Promise Is Proved by Jesus' Resurrection
Jesus is "the firstfruits" of the dead, or, the first to be raised. Had God not raised Jesus, we might wonder if he had the power to raise us. But now we have the promise, "in Christ shall all be made alive" (v. 22).

According to verses 23 and 24, all humanity will be raised. "They that are Christ's at his coming" will be raised to receive eternal life. "Then comes the end," when the rest of humanity, those who had not trusted God's promise, will be raised (Rev. 20:11 ff).

Many of the witnesses who testified to Christ's resurrection gave their lives to tell the world, "God can and will keep his promise."

But there is one other witness: the Spirit of God. If you will open your heart to God, trust him, and ask his Spirit to fill you, God himself will give you the assurance you need to trust his promise. (Bill Groover)

PROVE IT!

JOHN 20:1-18

John 20:1-18 is a popular text for Easter Day (cf. Matt. 28, Mark 16, and Luke 24). It recollects the first experiences of the risen Lord.

The resurrection of Jesus is the keystone of the church. Indeed, the whole case for Jesus as the way, truth, and life rests on his resurrection. "If Christ has not been raised," Paul wrote, "then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain" (1 Cor. 15:14 RSV).

That's why apologetics (the theological discipline of illustrating the intellectual credibility of Christianity) has been devoted to proving it. And as someone has said, "There is more evidence for the resurrection of Jesus than the birth of George Washington."

I. The Church Witness to His Resurrection
The first witness for the resurrection is the church. There has been a church that has consistently focused on and constantly referred to the resurrection of Jesus as the foundation of its praise, proclamation, prayer, living, and dying since A.D. 32.

II. Sunday Witness to His Resurrection
The second witness for the resurrection is Sunday. Sunday is the Christian day of worship. Its history can also be traced back to about A.D. 32. The church shifted its worship calendar from the Jewish Sabbath (seventh day of the week) to Sunday (first day of the week) because Jesus rose from the dead on the first day of the week (Mark 16:1-2). Remembering the early church was predominantly Jewish, only an event as powerful as the resurrection could cause a change in the worship calendar.

III. The New Testament Witness to His Resurrection
The third witness for the resurrection is the New Testament—twenty-seven testimonies to the fact of the resurrection. Not one page of the New Testament would ever have been printed if Jesus did not conquer death.

IV. The Disciples Are Witnesses to His Resurrection
Something happened that transformed the disciples from a band of cowering and cowardly disciples into men of courage and conviction. That something, of course, was the resurrection of Jesus.

Martin Luther King, Jr. said, "If you have nothing to die for, you have nothing to live for." The disciples went from denying him to being willing to face the tests of torture and martyrdom for him, because they were convinced of his resurrection, which ensured their desire for eternal life.

V. We Believers Are Witnesses to His Resurrection
Jesus is alive to all who invite him into their hearts as Lord and Savior. It's like the old hymn: "You ask me how I know He lives? He lives within my heart." Or as Mary announced, "I have seen the Lord!" (20:18). (Robert R. Kopp)

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