Sermon Options: Easter 2018

March 1st, 2018

Easter is Here!

Isaiah 25:6-9

From the earliest times men and women have looked beyond their present sorrows to a hoped-for future. Death and despair just did not seem right as the final word. The prophet Isaiah looked at such a time. He painted a picture of a future in which a banquet would be spread by the Lord. All who sorrowed would be invited. What a spread it would be!

We Christians gather today, Easter Sunday, and remember that death and despair are not the last words. Good Friday and silent Saturday seemed to be the end. But as Tony Campolo puts its: “It was Friday. The cynics were lookin at the world and sayin’, ‘as things have been so they shall be. You can’t change anything in this world, you can’t change anything. But those cynics didn’t know that it was only Friday. Sunday’s comin’!”

I. Easter Is the Sign That Life Is Greater Than Death

Isaiah spoke of a banquet for all of those who love God. The past, present, and future all come together in that moment. Life, through Christ, is more enduring than death. The “shroud” will be destroyed. He will “swallow up death.”

On Easter Sunday, Christ broke out of the seeming permanence of death. That breakthrough was a sign of what lies in store for any who will come to Christ as a follower. It was also a sign of the ability of God to break through every form of barrier, hindrance, and grave that stands in his way. This happens in our lives when we accept him. It happens when God gets “under the skin” of even the most outward pagan.

When George Bush was vice president of the United States, one of his official duties was to represent our country at the funeral of Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev. The entire funeral procession was marked by its military precision. There was a coldness and hollowness that enveloped it. Since the Soviet Union was officially atheistic, no comforting prayers or spiritual hymns were sung. Only the marching soldiers, steel helmets, and Marxist rhetoric were offered. There was no mention of God. Mr. Bush was close to the casket when Mrs. Brezhnev came for her last good-bye. Bush said, “She walked up, took one last look at her husband and there—in the cold, gray center of that totalitarian state—she traced the design of the cross on her husband’s chest. I was stunned. In that simple act, God had broken through the core of the communist system” (Christianity Today, October 16, 1986, p. 37).

II. Easter Is the Sign That God Was Willing to Sacrifice on Our Behalf

Isaiah rejoiced in the fact that we could “trust in him” and he “saved us.” We are his because he gave his Son to save us from our sins. That called for incredible sacrifice.

Humans can hardly imagine that sort of sacrifice. We get it confused. For example, in 1977 a man named Jean Bedel Bokassa, a former French paratrooper, proclaimed himself emperor of the Central African Republic. This new nation was founded in 1960 and had a population of two million people. It is listed among the twenty-five poorest nations. The average annual income was $155 when Bokassa took over, yet he held a $30 million inaugural gala! He had a six-foot diamond-encrusted scepter and a two-ton gold-plated throne. His 2,000 guests were served hundreds of pounds of caviar and 24,000 bottles of champagne, all flown in by chartered plane from France. Despite the poverty of “his people” and the extravagance of his coronation, Bokassa was quoted as saying, “One cannot create a great history without sacrifices.” True enough, but who made the sacrifice?

III. Easter Is a Day of Celebrating the Triumph of Christ

“Let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.” That is Isaiah’s conclusion. And why not? The light has come to scatter the darkness. We need no longer live in fear and dread.

Robert Louis Stevenson looked out of his window one evening many years ago. Those were the days before electric lights. Stevenson saw the town lamplighter coming along. As this lamplighter lit the street lamps in succession, Stevenson was impressed at the sight. He wrote about the lamplighter who went along “punching holes in the darkness.” Jesus Christ came into this world as a light, and he punched holes in the darkness.

That is reason for celebrating. Easter is here! (Don M. Aycock)

The Problem with Easter

1 Corinthians 15:1-11

Paul writes to a troubled church at Corinth. He has already dealt with questions of marriage, morality, Christians taking each other to court, factions within the church, misuse of the Lord’s Supper, and now he addresses the most devastating question the troublemakers in that congregation can possibly raise: the reality of the Resurrection. This is the bedrock of his gospel, for we are the Easter people; Jesus is the firstfruits of the Easter harvest from the dead, and we are the rest of that glorious harvest.

The gospel, the good news, is this: Christ died for our sins, was buried and rose on the third day. Such a gospel may seem too good to be true, and so Paul marshals not only his own experience but also that of other Christians in Christ before him to deal with the unbelievable nature of Easter.

I. Paul Didn’t Make It Up

Paul reminds them he didn’t make this gospel up. First, he stressed that “This is what I received.” He says the same thing when he is discussing the misuse of the Lord’s Supper. Paul doesn’t claim he was the first or only one to receive the revelation of the gospel; there were those in Christ before him. Paul was merely the first to put the Resurrection on paper; he had heard it often, passed down in the preaching of men like Peter, reaffirmed in the teaching ministry of the church, and marvelled upon around the table in humble homes of those “of the Way.” Second, Paul says the amazing facts of the gospel—the death and resurrection of Jesus—are “in accordance with the scriptures” (vv. 3, 4).

II. The Witnesses Didn’t Make It Up

Not only does Paul pass along the gospel handed down to him by those who were eyewitnesses to those things, and the truth according to the Scriptures, he also appeals to the testimonies of those who saw the resurrected Lord. These early Christians didn’t make that experience up; they saw him after the Resurrection.

First, says Paul, Cephas (Hebrew for Peter) saw him. According to the Gospels, Mary Magdalene was the first witness to the Resurrection, but Paul passes on the testimony known to him about the witnesses. Jesus appeared to Peter first and in a private way, possibly because Peter needed forgiveness and reassurance after the heartbreaking denial. Then Jesus was seen by all the Twelve; obviously, literally, the eleven, since Judas has taken his life and no replacement had been made.

Lest anyone think this little band of disciples fabricated the whole Resurrection story, Paul goes further—Jesus was seen alive after his crucifixion by a crowd of more than 500 at one time, most of whom were still alive when Paul penned these words! What an honored group; and how they must have treasured the sight of the resurrected Jesus all their lives!

Last of all, says Paul, Jesus appeared to him. Unworthy, unexpected, in the blinding light of the Damascus road, Jesus granted this mercy to Paul (v. 8). And with that blessing, Paul felt he was elevated into the original band of disciples.

The good news of Easter comes on the wings of grace. The gospel—the death and resurrection of Jesus and the appropriation of the grace provided there—is the result of God’s grace; it is nothing we deserve. We are unworthy people, sinners who deserve death, not life. Paul, even in this context of the proclamation of Easter, cannot get away from his feelings of guilt and sin. God’s grace brought about Easter, God’s grace preaches Easter, and God’s grace alone is able to stir human hearts to believe and accept the good news of the Resurrection. (Earl C. Davis)

Making Sense of It All

Mark 16:1-8

Being confused about life’s events is easy. A family struggles with broken relationships, yet the situation does not seem to get much better. A couple wrestles with chronic illness, knowing that the future holds more health problems. Victimized by crime, a family strives to overcome the haunting feelings that linger after the incident. How does one make sense of it all?

If years of familiarity have dulled the sense of awe at Easter, read again Mark’s account of that incredible morning. The Easter story reminds us:

I. God’s Ways Are Different from Our Ways

The Pharisees did not understand this truth, and neither did the apostles. They waited for the messiah to come on their terms. When Jesus entered their lives, even those who called him “Lord” were not certain who this Christ was. Judas apparently wanted a military leader, or at least someone who could lead them out from under Roman domination.

After Jesus death, the apostles were hidden, shaking in their sandals behind bolted doors and shuttered windows. The faithful women, rising early that first dawn of what would become the new Sabbath, went to a cemetery expecting to find a corpse. What they found was a messenger of God. Grief turned to fear and wonder. Could it be that Jesus was alive? Is that what he had meant when he spoke of rising on the third day?

II. We Begin to Make Sense of Life When We Ask, “Who?”

Perhaps our pattern has been to ask, “How?” or “Why?” Most often, however, the Bible addresses the question, “Who?” The creation accounts of Genesis are not intended to give the formula for how God created the universe. Genesis tells who created everything and whose we are. The Gospels do not detail the method of Mary’s conception of Jesus. They simply state that the Holy Spirit came upon her and she conceived. The message of the Gospels emphasizes whose son Jesus is and who Christ is for us.

Scripture does not describe the physiology of Christ’s resurrection. Not one human witness was present at that precise moment. We do not have a clue as to the details of how it occurred. What we have are witnesses to the empty tomb and to the risen Christ. Who is risen is what matters! Christ arose!

III. It Is Our Acceptance of God’s GraceThat Helps Us to Make Sense of It All

The Rev. Kelly Clem and the congregation of Goshen United Methodist Church in Piedmont, Alabama, will never forget Palm Sunday 1994. A tornado destroyed their sanctuary during the worship services on that day, injuring ninety people and killing twenty. Six of the dead were children, including the pastor’s four-year-old daughter. At the time the storm hit, the children were singing “The Lord Will Provide.”

We cannot say that God’s will causes everything that happens. The God revealed through Christ does not send tornadoes to kill young children who are singing God’s praises. The same God behind the creation of the universe is at work even now, wherever there is crisis or sorrow or pain. God is at work bringing comfort, hope, and resurrection.

It is faith that bridges the gap. Faith steps in when we cannot understand yet choose to believe in the gracious God who is about the work of redemption. Only God can take the tragedy of the cross and turn it into an Easter celebration. The church dares not forget the incredible grace we have to celebrate. It is grace that rolls away the stones from the tombs of our existence and helps to make sense of it all. (Gary G. Kindley)

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