4/16/2018 3:48:18 PM
The So What of Easter
You might not have known that this March approximately 90 million chocolate bunnies were sold, and 16 billion jelly beans were made. Eighty-eight percent of American families bought candy for Easter baskets, and 146 million pounds of candy was purchased this year at an estimate of over $2 billion. That’s about the same amount of candy that Americans purchase at Halloween.
But at some point – maybe a week after Easter, maybe two weeks – the candy is gone. The 700 million peeps that we Americans consume at Easter are all eaten up. The Easter baskets get put away for another year. Gradually the Easter celebration gets lost in lawn mowing, baseball, softball, graduations, and summer vacation.
But what now? Is the sweetness of Easter fading for you? Is today’s music just not as great as Easter Sunday? With no curtain coming down are we left with just another worship service? Jesus is alive but does it make a difference? Jesus is alive…but so what?
If Easter is a two-week candy binge or a once-a-year brunch to show off your new clothes with no lasting added confidence or change in our thinking or our hearts, then we’re missing the post-resurrection power that Jesus gives. Or maybe for you, Easter isn’t about the candy and new clothes, and you’ve been here each week but now on this third Sunday of Easter you feel like there should be more. The risen Savior gives us answers not just to our questions about him, but to our purpose in life. He gives us direction, focus and a mission to live Easter fully and enjoy the peace that he gives.
It was Easter evening. The two disciples on the road to Emmaus who talked with Jesus for at least an hour had raced back to Jerusalem. They found the 11 disciples, minus Thomas, in the locked room and told the story of how this Jesus walked with them and explained the Old Testament. They shared how when he broke bread they suddenly knew it was him. And then he was gone. As those two are still telling the story, Jesus appears. He proves he’s alive not just by having them touch his hands and side but by eating some fish right in front of them.
Then Jesus does something that would make a permanent change for the rest of their life. “Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures.” Just like he did with the two Emmaus disciples, Jesus cleared the cobwebs for them and helped them understand how the Old Testament pictured in great detail who Jesus is and what he would do. And we see today how the New Testament sheds light on the Old Testament and shows Jesus as the complete fulfillment of those Old Testament symbols, ceremonies, and sacrifices. The disciples had just lived through the heartbreak and knife-in-the-gut grief of Good Friday and now they see with their very eyes the Savior who walked out of the grave. Jesus opened their minds to understand who he was and he opened their hearts to trust him completely.
Is your mind open to his Word? Or, is your April to-do list pushing on it like someone pushing the stone back in front of the open tomb? Is it an uphill battle to find time to read the word that Jesus uses to open our minds? Not only should we be beside ourselves with gratitude to him for giving us page after page of answers about God, but the so what of Easter means that Jesus wants our minds to be opened to it. That happens when those words are in front of us. It happens when we’re here each weekend with a clear mind and an open heart. It happens when we read his Word at home, when we make it a part of our everyday life, and when we study it with other believers. If our mind isn’t being opened by Jesus’ words, then it’s probably being closed just like a stone being slowly rolled back in place. Then the post-Easter light and life of the empty tomb quickly fades away.
And you understand, don’t you, what happens if we don’t listen to him speak in his word. Our minds slowly close to his word. Then your inner voice starts to tell you things that just aren’t true. Maybe our voice says, “I know these words; after all, I’m here listening to the Good Shepherd’s voice.” Jesus wants to keep that mind completely open. He wants you to be a life-long learner of his words. He wants you and me to listen to him before we talk to him. He wants you to know him who knows you. Your connection to Jesus your Savior is only as strong as your connection to his Word.
Think of it this way, every Easter there are record number of people in church. I trust that everyone of you here today was worshiping your Savior on Easter. Picture that devil looking at Easter crowds from a distance – like a carjacker is watching cars to see who he can rob – and he’s trying to grab any mind – young or old – that he can get his slimy hands on. Our defense is Jesus’ powerful word, and Jesus knows that and so he wants our minds to be closed to Satan but open to him. Having Jesus open our minds to his word is the “so what” of Easter.
The risen Lord goes on to explain what the overall mission of every believer is. “This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.” Each Christian has witnessed God’s undeserved love and mercy – you’ve experienced it at your baptism, you hear it again and again in the Bible and in our words and songs of worship. And you taste it with the bread & wine of Holy Communion, Jesus’ true body and blood for the forgiveness of your sins. Luke’s version of Jesus’ Great Commission boils down to two words: repentance and forgiveness.
The mission Jesus gives us is to proclaim to a world of people repentance and forgiveness, but could it be that we need to pause ourselves on that word repentance? No, repentance isn’t just the six weeks of Lent or the three weeks of Advent where we hear John the Baptism preaching in the wilderness. This is an ongoing call of our loving heavenly Father to every believer. Each day of our life is to be a “changing of our mind” – that’s what repent really means. We are to change our thinking from enjoying our sin and running after sin…to a different direction, the life of obedience and service that Jesus has called us to live.
To be very honest with you….I have found that teaching what repentance means is the most difficult thing to teach from the Bible. Here’s an example: when a mom in her 30’s, who has been a Christian since she was baptized as a baby, doesn’t come to church week after week and doesn’t bring her children to God’s house week after week, but says, “Pastor, don’t you worry me, I am fine!” she’s not understanding repentance. Or, when a 25 year-old man, who is professing Christian, says that he understands living with him girlfriend is wrong but after all just look at our world, “Pastor, what is the big deal?” Then he doesn’t understand repentance. Those are two very obvious and public examples that you don’t need a diploma from a Christian school to identify. But are there things that go through our mind regularly or words that flow so naturally off our tongue that we need to repent of? Are there loveless actions that we’ve done so often to people around us that we don’t realize are sinful? It’s so easy to identify other people’s sin, but the danger is that we fail to repent of the sin in us.
Martin Luther wrote in the very first of his 95 Thesis, “When our Lord and master Jesus Christ said, ‘Repent’ he willed the entire life of a believer to be one of repentance.” Repentance is not the same as confession, so it’s not merely two minutes during the confession of sins, not twenty seconds as you are walking up to Communion, not a short text that you send to your pastor, but it’s an ongoing attitude. The Savior who reached his arms out to allow soldiers to pound spikes through his wrist reaches out to you and me….with an ongoing call to repent. Each day. Each morning when we wake up. Each evening before we go to bed. And all those minutes in between. This ongoing attitude of repentance is the “so what” of Easter.
That repentance has a purpose or goal: forgiveness. “…repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations.” You and I are part of all nations and you and I have received that message of forgiveness. So we believe who Jesus is and what he’s done for us….that at the cross Jesus won the victory over sin, the ransom is paid; at the empty tomb Jesus won the victory over death; in baptism you are born again your sins are washed away; in Holy Communion you are able to “go in peace because all is forgiven”; in the words of your pastor or your Christian teacher or your mom or dad or Christian friend who says to “You are forgiven.” You have what Jesus won. Believe it. It is true.
Since your sins have been erased you can now live like your sins are forgiven. You can live in peace. You can live with a clear conscience. You can go to sleep at the end of each day guilt free, knowing that God’s mercy overrides his anger – not because of you but because of his Son. And then that forgiveness is the constant driver that urges you to live in a way that’s worthy of the high calling God has given you. Living in forgiveness is the “so what” of Easter.
If the “so what?” of Easter is answered with a scoff, or with a “yeah, I’ll be in church next December or April 21, 2019,” or with a “I don’t need to read my Bible or study it, I’m good” then the victory over death that Jesus won – as easily as Vanderbilt beat Michigan two weeks ago – will not last. In fact, the devil will try and try to use a less-than-complete Easter to achieve his goal of yanking a soul out of the arms of our Heavenly Father. Our Creator & Redeemer & Sanctifier wants us close to him, close to his word, close to his heart. He wants us to be in a state of constant awareness of the danger of our sins, he wants us to daily turn to him. He wants us to bask in the perfect record he gives us – no sin, no guilt, no charge of any wrong we’ve done. The risen Jesus puts his hand-scarred stamp of approval on that.
So don’t let Easter get away on you. Don’t let it end too early. Don’t let the light and glory and sweetness of the empty tomb fade. If it helps, hide some of that Easter candy so these last weeks in April and even in May you can have a sweet reminder that he’s risen, he’s risen indeed. Then live Easter to the fullest and you will be blessed. Amen.