4/22/2019 10:59:13 AM
Easter: See Him Risen - Just as He Said
You might know who Olivia Newton-John is. She’s a singer, songwriter, and actress. She is a four-time Grammy award winner who has sold more than 100 million records, making her one of the best-selling music artists of all time. In 2005, she was dating a man named Patrick McDermott. In June of that year, Patrick went on an overnight fishing trip in the Pacific Ocean with 25 others but never came back. The other crew members said that he fell off the boat into the water, and they never found him. The Coast Guard spent three years searching for him. They searched the waters all along the coast of California. They used the top-of-the line technology to look for his dead body. But after three years of searching extensively, they came to the conclusion that Patrick’s body is most likely somewhere on the bottom of the ocean.
11 years later, they discovered that it wasn’t. In fact, it wasn’t in the ocean at all. It was in Mexico City. And it wasn’t dead. It was living. It seems he didn’t really fall off the boat. He jumped off. He allegedly wanted to fake his own death so that he could either escape the publicity that comes with dating someone famous, get out of paying for child support, or avoid having to file for bankruptcy (depending on who you walk to). It seems that, back in 2005, they were looking both in the wrong place and for the wrong thing. Instead of looking in the water along the coast of California, they should have been on the ground in Mexico. And instead of looking for a dead body, they should have instead been looking for one that is living. A simple mistake. And not the first time it’s been made. The same thing happened on Easter morning.
When the women came to the tomb in the early morning, do you think they were looking for a body that was dead or one that is living? Before you answer that – let me ask you this: Have you ever felt the way they did on the way to the grave that morning? Have you ever gone nights without sleep because your sorrow is so deep? Has your heart ever struggled under a heavy burden you did not see coming? Have you ever sat for days in a dark valley of emotion, wondering if the recent death of someone you love really happened? Have you ever mourned deep in your soul because of someone or something that suddenly went missing? And if so, have you ever felt like those feelings are never going to change and you’re just always going to stay that way?
It seems the first women to the grave on Easter morning did. You wouldn’t bring burial spices to a grave if you really were looking for the living. They weren’t expecting to see life. They were expecting to see death. But what they found instead was enough to give hope and peace and joy to anyone who has ever been convinced they will never again feel those wonderful things.
1 On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. 2 They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3 but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. 4 While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. 5 In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? 6 He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: 7 ‘The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’ ” 8 Then they remembered his words. 9 When they came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others. 10 It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the apostles. 11 But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense. 12 Peter, however, got up and ran to the tomb. Bending over, he saw the strips of linen lying by themselves, and he went away, wondering to himself what had happened.
It's not unusual for someone to wonder what happened in certain situations. That happened to Marie Gladman. Marie is 93-years-old. One day last November, she realized that her wedding ring was no longer on her finger. Her husband had died 18 years earlier. They never had any children, and she continued to wear the ring as a reminder of the one relationship on earth that meant more to her than anything. But, this last November, for the first time in 72 years, the ring was missing. She retraced her steps, but she didn’t find it. A month went by, and there was still no sign of it. When another month went by, then another, and then another, she gave up all hope of ever finding it again. But then, one day about a month ago, a little 7-year-old girl named Lila was grocery shopping with her momma when she saw something in the freezer section sparkling. It was Marie’s ring. With a little bit of effort, they were able to return to Marie something good she never thought she would ever see again. Marie and Lila are good friends now. Marie calls Lila her little angel. Of course, Lila’s not a real angel.
But the angels the women saw were; which is one of the reasons the disciples didn’t find it easy to believe the report of the women. You just don’t expect to see an angel most days. But really, the women didn’t have an easy time believing what they were saying; and not just because of the angel. There were at least two other things they were not expecting to see that morning. Verse 2 says they found the stone rolled away. Verse 3 says that they didn’t find a dead body. The stone was rolled away, and they didn’t find a dead body. How many of you are surprised to hear those things on Easter Sunday? You came to church today expecting to hear those things. You came to church ready to celebrate those things. But the women weren’t celebrating. After they saw these things, they were still confused, perplexed, and at a loss entirely as to explain what was happening. Here’s why.
The rock didn’t just roll a couple of feet. Because the stone was so large, graves in those days often had a track the large stone would roll on. And without the help of pulleys, ropes, and many strong men, it was not humanly possible to move the stone outside of the track. But that seems to be exactly what had happened. And the stone wasn’t just moved outside of the track. It was like someone had tossed it into the other corner of the garden. What they saw was unlikely, unbelievable, and maybe even impossible. And we typically do not walk through life expecting to see the impossible happen.
It’s easy to understand why the absence of a dead body didn’t make them feel like celebrating. It’s because they hadn’t yet seen Jesus alive – after they had seen him die. They saw him die. They saw him dead. Just as certainly as you have seen people you love laying in a casket. Just as certainly as you have seen young lives ended almost before they even got started. Just as certainly as some here have held a life in their womb, but never in their arms. Just as certainly as you have seen someone’s broken heart as you’ve looked into their eyes that can’t stop crying. Just as certainly as you’ve seen what happens to your own eyes or felt what happens to your heart when you’re waiting for test results, waiting for a surgery to finish, or struggling to carry a heavy burden. You didn’t invent those moments, just like these women did not invent the story that their friend Jesus died, and his limp body was taken down and buried in this very grave that was right in front of them. That really happened. Their pain was real. Just like yours is. And if you have ever found yourself in a position where you cannot see a way out of your pain, then you are in the same place as these broken-hearted women, who, despite seeing the angel, the stone, and the empty grave, still at that point did not see how anything good could happen.
Kind of like a little boy named Rowan. 6 years ago, Rowan’s father Joey died from a rare brain disease. It happened so quickly at the end that Joey never got a chance to say goodbye to Rowan. And that was a big deal, because Daddy was always good at saying goodbye. Before he got sick, Joey did a lot of traveling for his job. He would be gone for days or weeks at a time, and Rowan didn’t handle it well when he was gone. So Joey made him two promises. He said that he would always be sure to say goodbye to Rowan before he left, no matter the time of day or night he was leaving. And he would always send Rowan a postcard from every state through which he was driving. Over the years, Rowan received enough postcards to fill a scrapbook. But, of course, after Joey died, the postcards stopped coming. Until 4 years ago – almost two years after Joey died - Rowan received one more. One day shortly before the 2nd anniversary of Joey’s death, Rowan’s mom went out to the mailbox, grabbed the mail, and inside was a postcard for Rowan. It said, “Hello from Pennsylvania. I love you, and I miss you so much. See you soon, love daddy.” The postcard was written 8 years earlier. They don’t know why it took the Post Office 8 years to deliver it. But Rowan doesn’t care. All he cares about is that his dad finally said good-bye. Just like he said he would.
And that’s what the angel said was most important. The women did not see how anything good could happen. But notice that the angel didn’t direct them to what they did or did not see. He directed them to something they had heard Jesus say earlier in his ministry. “Remember [what] he told you,” the angel told them. And he reminded them of three things Jesus had said. Jesus said he would be delivered into the hands of sinful men. Jesus said he would be crucified. Jesus said that on the third day he would rise again.
There was probably a time not all that long before this that they believed none of those things would, or would need to, happen. But think about what did happen when they went through this 3-part checklist. Jesus said he would be handed over – and they saw that happen. Jesus said he would be crucified – and they saw that happen. Jesus said he would rise … and then they wondered if it really is possible for a heart that one second had been so heavy with pain in the next second to feel so different. But theirs did. That’s when they ran to the other disciples and told them that Jesus was alive – not because they had seen him with their eyes. Nowhere in this text do these women see Jesus with their eyes. The angel only helped them remember the promise he made already long ago in Galilee at the beginning of his ministry. “Didn’t he say …” Hearing the promise is what made the difference.
What promise would the angel remind you of if he spoke to you today? Didn’t he say that God will one day wipe every tear from your eyes? Didn’t he say that you will see your loved one again on the day of the Resurrection? Didn’t he say that their soul is already with God enjoying absolute perfection? Didn’t he say that a place for you has already been prepared in heaven? Didn’t he say that, until you get there, he will provide abundantly more than you could ever ask or imagine? Didn’t he say there’s always a way out of temptation? Didn’t he say that you’re forgiven? Didn’t he say that he sees your tears, and that you can give your burdens to him when you feel weak and heavy-laden? Didn’t he say that he is with you always to the very end? Didn’t he say to his disciples that they would see him again?
He did. Eventually, they did. And one day we will see too. But until we do, the very best way to get through your very real pain is to dig through Scripture for the promises of Jesus like you’re digging through 8 tons of garbage looking for a 12.5-carat diamond. That’s what a husband and wife in Colorado were doing a while back when Carla’s wedding ring went missing. Carla had taken off her wedding ring to do the dishes on a Sunday afternoon. She didn’t remember the ring until the next morning. But when she went to look for it, it was gone. They soon figured out that it must have fallen into the garbage, which had already been taken out to the curb, and had already been picked up by the garbage truck. They were able to find the truck that picked up their trash just minutes before it dumped its load in the landfill. The truck dumped out its 8 tons of dirty, stinky, who-knows-what-that-was-originally trash onto the street instead. Carla and her husband jumped in, and they ended up finding their 12.5-carat ring.
You don’t need to go to quite that much trouble to find something that is far more valuable. In the Risen Christ, you have the God-given right to look at death and expect to find life. You have the right to know that even your greatest pain will not separate you from the greatest joy God can give any of his children. Easter is the priceless treasure of knowing that you’re going to be ok; that you don’t need to see things turning out well in order to know that they will. And you will find that treasure again and again, whenever you dig through the living and breathing Word of God and breathe in the promises of a Savior whose word is stronger than death. Your heart, no matter how tired or broken, will always find life. Because Christ is risen. Just as he said.