Sermon Options: April 12, 2020

March 1st, 2017

EASTER: A TIME OF HOPE 

JEREMIAH 31:1-6

Easter is a time of hope. After the gray days of winter, spring comes and life returns. Flowers bloom, leaves appear on trees, and green grass begins to grow. In the Christian life, Easter is a reminder of the hope we have in Christ. No matter the circumstance or the situation in which we find ourselves, we are reminded of new life in Christ.

Jeremiah is writing to people in despair. He has told them that their cities will be destroyed, and they will be taken captive by the Babylonians. We come to chapter 31 and the prophet's message of hope to a broken people. He speaks at least three messages from God that provide words of hope to broken lives today.

I. I See Your Condition (vv. 1-2)
First, the prophet assures the people of God's awareness of their broken condition. They are going to be taken in chains to a strange place, will raise their children in a foreign land, and will be dispersed across the northern kingdom. However, God will be with them.

Sometimes life doesn't seem to make sense. The faithful of Israel will suffer alongside the wicked. Why doesn't God punish the wicked and spare the innocents of the world? Rabbi Harold Kushner asks the same question of many: "Why do bad things happen to good people?" Surely, Easter reminds us that God understands suffering.

On that Friday we call "good," God watched his only Son die on a cross. Charles Bugg, in Learning to Dream Again, says of that day: "This God is a God who knows what it is to lose a child." God sees the condition of his people.

II. I Will Always Be with You (v. 3)
The prophet next reminds his hearers of God's steadfast love. God's love has been faithful even when Israel turned its back on God. Jeremiah says that God has never left or forsaken the people. Rather, God has "loved you with an everlasting love."

God's love is faithful and true today. The often quoted poem "Footprints in the Sand" reminds us that in the lowest and saddest times of life, God carries us. It's more than poetry, isn't it? As we look back on painful experiences, we can see that God stood beside us, if only we would notice. As we recall shameful experiences of the past, when we wandered off into a wilderness of our own making, we know God was but a prayer away.

God overwhelms us with love. Jeremiah finds hope for the future only because of God's wondrous love. In the midst of a confusing world, God's love is the one point of stability providing hope that life will be better. It is also this astonishing love of God that compels us to follow. James Leo Green says, "If the realization that he loves us with a limitless love that goes the limit for us will not 'draw' us—melt our hearts and wills into contrition and submission—nothing else will."

III. There Is Hope for the Future (vv. 4-6)
The final part of the passage tells of a great homecoming and a new relationship between God and his people. The people will return from exile, and there will once again be rejoicing in Jerusalem. Fields will be replanted, homes and lives will be rebuilt, and there will be music in the streets. Jeremiah reminds his hearers that this future is based not on the power of the people but on the will of God. Therefore, they will worship God in acknowledgment of this. In the wintertimes of life, when darkness seems all around and hope is gone, we can know that the spring is coming, and in the spring, God will fill us with life again. (Greg Barr)

TRANSFORMED BY HIS RESURRECTION

COLOSSIANS 3:1-4

The New Testament's firm confirmation of the Resurrection is clear. However, demonstrating the relevance to human lives years after the event and among alien Gentile cultures was something of a task. Applying the Resurrection to contemporary lives is no less difficult or more necessary. This passage details the results of the Resurrection in our lives. Paul begins the passage by saying "so if" we have been raised with Christ, indicating that the following results should occur in our lives.

I. Our Desires Are Transformed
Paul begins in verse 1 to command us to seek things "above." It is so easy to fall into the trap of avoiding the New Testament command to "seek after God's righteousness and the material things will follow in due course." This passage indicates that our belief in the Resurrection (Christ's and ours) changes our desires and the things we value.

When we recognize the reality of the Resurrection, more real than finite life here, temporal things, problems, and wealth begin to pale. In light of eternity, the statement "you can't take it with you" has a deeper meaning. Children of faith have high values placed on those elements of eternal quality; that is our treasure.

II. Our Perspective Is Transformed
In verse 2, Paul calls us to set our "minds" on things above, not on earthly things. Our view of life and responses to our dealings in life are to be tempered by our perspective of the Resurrection. When we examine how we think, we realize we are the ones who largely determine the quality of our lives. God "sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous" (Matt. 5:45). Those who have placed faith in Christ realize that a little rain is just a temporary hassle in the larger picture of an infinite future with Christ. We can continue in joy even when we face difficulty. This perspective speaks of contentment in any circumstance and the fruit of joy and peace in the lives of believers.

III. Our Lives Are Transformed
Verses 3-4 touch on how believers' lives are transformed through the Resurrection. There are two dimensions of this transformation. The first is the present life before eternity. Christians have "died"—that is, through the Holy Spirit victory over sin becomes possible. Believers' lives are presently "hidden" in Christ, ultimately forgiven and ultimately changed to bear his nature and image. Such lives are those guided by his Spirit to proclaim Christ as Lord of creation and Lord of their lives.

The second dimension of our transformed lives lies in the future. When Christ appears, we are guaranteed that we will appear with him "in glory." We may experience moments of human exaltation—splashes of glory in this present life—but our future glory with Christ defies human description and can be grasped only by faith. Such splendor is the spectacular conclusion of our lives, which in comparison will seem like dull tales. But in God's plan, through the act of Christ's resurrection, our future glory is a reality awaiting the fullness of time. Our hearts and minds should be set on that reality. (Joseph Byrd)

THE QUESTIONS OF EASTER

JOHN 20:1-18

It is odd that we know so little about a woman whose testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus is so central. I speak of Mary, called the Magdalene. Both Matthew and Mark mention her by name as coming to the tomb on Easter morning, and John's resurrection account is essentially her testimony. What do we really know of this woman? Since St. Augustine in the fifth century, the "sinner" woman of Luke 7 has been identified by many with this Mary. Is this "sinner" also the woman from whose life Jesus cast seven devils, and who joined that group of disciples following Jesus? Since the "sinner" woman—Mary Magdalene—and Lazarus's sister Mary both anointed Jesus' feet with perfume, are these women one and the same? Is Mary Magdalene the quiet, devoted Mary of the Mary and Martha stories?

She had the honor of being present at the death of Jesus; she stayed at the sepulchre when all the disciples went away; and Jesus appeared to her first and made her an apostle to the apostles. Nobody has a testimony like hers to the life, the love, the death, and the resurrection of Jesus—and of herself. But then, nobody has a testimony like yours or mine, either. Each Christian has a unique testimony of what Jesus' resurrection has meant to him or her. The tragedy is that we do not share more of the difference Jesus has made in our lives and our love for him. But look with me step by step at Mary Magdalene's testimony of Jesus' resurrection.

I. She Came to Easter with Questions
In John 20 , we note that Mary Magdalene came to Easter with questions. She must have had dreams of a glorious new kingdom, of Jesus taking the throne of David and sending the Romans packing. What of those dreams now? Surely she must have had fears that, without the encouragement of Jesus, she would fall back into her old lifestyle of immorality.

I expect, on that bleak morning, that she was also harboring some disillusionment about the disciples. After all, the men who said they loved Jesus more than life itself had broken and run away. Only John dared stand at the cross with Mary Magdalene and the other women. All these feelings are summed up in a heavy, concrete way by a practical question Mary Magdalene and the women asked each other as they trudged along to the tomb: Who will roll away for us the stone from the front of the tomb?

Every honest person comes to Easter with questions. The unbeliever asks, "Could such a thing happen?" The Christian asks, "Why can't I, why don't I, live a purer, higher Christian life with the power of the Resurrection available to me?" And many folks come to Easter with disillusionment with modern disciples: "Why don't church people show more of the power and the presence of the risen Christ?" I suspect that the person who comes to Easter without questions is spiritually dead.

II. Easter Also Asks Us Questions
Matthew's account tells us there was a mighty earthquake, and an angel rolled back the heavy doorstone of the tomb and sat on it, while the soldiers fainted—so much for this world's power! Apparently, the women were nearby, for the angel gave them the facts succinctly: Jesus has risen; come and see; go and tell. The women went inside the tomb with their burden of spices and perfumes with which to anoint the body, and they stood there weeping, unclear and unconvinced by what the angel outside said. This does raise a question about angels, doesn't it? Someone said to me recently, "Wouldn't you think that if you saw an angel, you would believe what he—or she—or it—said?" Well, remember that angels don't always appear angelic, with wings, halo, and so on. In fact, these angels at the tomb are referred to in some of the Gospel accounts as simply young men.

The angelic messengers in the empty tomb asked questions of the women: Why are you weeping? Who are you seeking? Why do you look for the living among the dead? And Luke's Gospel tells us the angels reminded the women that Jesus had told them he must be crucified and rise on the third day. Easter is a call to remember, to remember the promises of Jesus that he would rise from the dead, and to remember the power of the Father, a power that not only raised Jesus from the dead but also abides in the life of the believer.

Apparently after seeing the empty tomb, Mary left the other women and ran to find Peter to tell him the body of Jesus was gone. It seems she missed the message of the angels in the tomb and left with only the message that the tomb was empty. Peter and the beloved disciple went to the tomb, and while they went in, Mary stood outside weeping.

She saw Jesus standing near the tomb and, not recognizing him, asked if he was the gardener; if he was responsible for having moved the body, and if so, where she may find it. She did not recognize the person of Jesus, but she immediately recognized his voice as he spoke to her, saying only one word, her name—Mary. She responded, "Master," and fell at his feet. Then Jesus cautioned her not to touch him, "I have not yet ascended to the Father." Why didn't Mary recognize Jesus? Why did he not want her to touch him? Was he a ghost, a phantom, an intangible body her hands would go right through? Was his body of some otherworldly substance that her touch would contaminate? We simply do not know. It is clear that both her lack of recognition and his comment are tied to the fact that there is a definite change from the natural to the resurrected body, and that this is tied to his coming ascension. There is a mystery to the Easter story that comes under the verse: "What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him" (1 Cor. 2:9) . We won't understand all about the Resurrection until we wake up on the other side of this veil we call death. One more question about Mary Magdalene's experience: Why didn't the disciples believe the good news? Luke's Gospel (24:9-11) tells us that the women went to the entire group of the apostles and told them all these things, but they received it as idle talk. It is because the resurrection of Jesus is unnatural. There is nothing natural about it. The Pharisees believed in a resurrection, but not just now! Jesus' resurrection violated all their beliefs about the resurrection of the just at the last day. We know that Jesus is the "firstfruits," the early harvest of all Christians who will be resurrected on the last day and who, from the moment of their trust in Jesus, are set free from the power of death and the devil. There is nothing natural about God in human flesh dying on a cross and being buried in a tomb, so there is nothing natural about his flinging open the gates of death! It was so unnatural for the Creator in human form to die that the sun hid itself at his death; and the earth shuddered in earthquake at his resurrection.

III. Faith Answers Our Questions
Resurrection is unnatural and unbelievable until you and I actually experience the Resurrection in our own lives. I know a woman who cries when we sing "Because He Lives," and one day she asked me, "Why doesn't everyone cry when singing those words?" The long-form answer is, folks are put together differently emotionally and so on. The short-form answer is, we all would cry when we sing that hymn if we had her experience! She met the risen Christ, experienced the reality of his resurrection and her own, as an adult. Like Mary Magdalene, she realized her need for an exchanged life. And in Jesus she received the power to exchange the old for the new, the dead for the living, the earthly for the heavenly.

Easter is where broken dreams and the power of Jesus' resurrection meet. Easter is where disappointments and angels clash. Easter is where the worst the devil could do is destroyed by the power and love of God. Experience Mary's Christ. (Earl C. Davis)

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