34 Then Peter began to speak: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism 35 but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right. 36 You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, announcing the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all. 37 You know what has happened throughout the province of Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached— 38 how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him.
39 “We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a cross, 40 but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen.41 He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen—by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 42 He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead. 43 All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”
Dear Friends in Ever-Living and Ever-Loving Savior, Jesus Christ,
During my nearly 37 years of ministry, I have had the privilege of presiding over 233 weddings. Some of those weddings have been quite memorable, not because of the radiant beauty of the bride or the extreme nervousness of the groom or the incredible voice of the soloist, but because of unusual or unexpected things that took place during the ceremony. Like the time the bride’s father stepped on her train right after he had given her away and that train became detached from her gown. Or the time the bridesmaid went out like a light and hit the floor with a loud clunk. Or the time I did an outdoor wedding on an extremely hot day that had the poor groom perspiring so much that I felt sorry for him so I finally took out my handkerchief and wiped those beads of sweat from his forehead. But I don’t think any of the things I’ve experienced can compare to the one I recently read about.
Christian author and marriage expert John Trent tells about a wedding video he once saw. It was shot from the back of the church looking down the aisle toward the bride and groom. Because of the camera angle, you could see several people in the audience. Well, all of a sudden, during the vows, a man jumped up from his pew and yelled, “Yes, Yes, Yes!” as he pumped his fist in the air. When he realized what he had done, he froze and slid back down into his seat as he sheepishly took out his earbuds. It turned out he had been listening to a college football game, and his favorite team had just scored.
Well, Easter is a day for Christians to do what that man did, to get excited, to pump our fists in the air and say, “Yes, Yes, Yes!” because Easter was what I’m calling it in my sermon title for today. It was “God’s ‘Yes!’” It was God’s yes to Jesus – God the Father’s way of saying that he had accepted the sacrifice of his Son on Friday as a full and sufficient payment for the sins of all mankind. It was God’s yes to us as he now grants us forgiveness and eternal life with him because of what Jesus did for us. It was God’s yes to the victory of life over death, love over hate, faith over fear, hope over despair. Indeed, everything about Easter shouts out loudly and clearly, “Yes, Yes, Yes!”
And oh how we need that emphatic “Yes!” in our lives because sometimes we’re like the little 6-year-old boy named David who was taking a walk one day with his grandmother. She decided to take a little detour through the local cemetery. As they stopped and looked at some of the tombstones, Grandma explained that the first date on the tombstone represented the day the person was born and the second date was the day the person died. Well, that satisfied little David until he saw some tombstones with only one date. So he asked his grandma what that meant. She explained that those people hadn’t died yet. Well, later that night David couldn’t stop telling his mom about that little excursion they took through the cemetery. And at one point he said with wide eyes, “And Mom, you won’t believe this, but some of the people buried there aren’t even dead yet!”
Leave it to a little boy to be confused about death. And leave it to us to sometimes experience the same confusion. But Easter clears up the confusion. It lets us know that death is really nothing more than a temporary, peaceful sleep for the body, that just as Jesus awoke and arose from his tomb early that Sunday morning, so also we will one day do the same.
You know the story. Though the details may differ a bit from Gospel to Gospel because each writer offers his own unique perspective on this greatest of all events, the gist of it is that early on the Sunday morning following Jesus’ crucifixion some of the women who loved Jesus returned to his tomb to finish the burial preparations that they had started on Friday, but that had been interrupted because of the impending Sabbath. When they reached the tomb, they discovered that the stone was rolled away, the body was gone, and only the grave clothes in which Jesus was buried were left behind. After an angel appeared to them and explained that Jesus had risen from the dead just as he said he was going to do, the women ran from the tomb to tell the disciples. And on the way, they had a personal encounter with their once dead but now very much alive Lord.
This, the first of his resurrection appearances, would be followed by many others over the next 40 days, leading Peter to say in our text for today: “We are witnesses of everything…They killed him by hanging him on a tree, but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen. He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen–by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead.”
Let’s spend some time this morning reflecting upon Peter’s words as we consider some of the ways in which Easter is God’s Yes to humanity.
To begin with, Easter is an act of God. Please note that Peter says “God raised him from the dead on the third day.” While we are the ones who benefit from what happened that first Easter, we did nothing to bring it about.
I don’t know about you, my friends, but one thing that both amuses and irritates me at the same time is when we hear natural disasters being described as “acts of God” – floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes. Sometimes this language even appears in our insurance policies: “This policy protects you against floods and other acts of God.” Funny how God gets blamed for the bad things that happen in the world, but never gets credited for the good things. For example, when people who are motivated by the love of Jesus open their hearts and homes and pocketbooks to hurricane victims or spend days or weeks helping with the clean-up, that to me is a real act of God. But it never gets reported that way in the press, does it?
Well, Easter is the ultimate act of God. God raised Jesus from the dead. No human being can achieve immortality on their own. To be sure, many have tried, but all have failed. It’s like the story of the man who was observed running as fast as he could toward a large wide river. As he reached the dock, he increased his speed even more and when he came to the end of the dock he launched himself as high and as far as he could before hitting the water with a big splash about 10 feet out. As soon as he surfaced he swam back to the shore and tried it again, over and over again, until finally an onlooker asked him what in the world he was doing. To which he replied: “A friend of mine has bet me a million dollars to one that I can’t jump across the river, and after thinking over those odds, I felt I should at least give it a try.” Obviously it wasn’t going to happen.
So it is with those who would attempt to defeat death on their own. The river is too wide. The gap is too great. Our efforts are too feeble. There is only one way that a person who is truly dead can come back to life again, and that is by an act of God.
And that leads right in to our 2nd point this morning. Not only is Easter an act of God, it is also an act of grace. In our text for today, Peter does a great job of linking Jesus’ death and resurrection to the forgiveness of sins. After telling of his resurrection and how he and the other disciples were eyewitnesses of it, he says that “God appointed (Jesus) as judge of the living and the dead. All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” Put simply, Easter is God’s way of saying that he accepts us now, not because of anything we’ve done, but because of everything Christ has done for us. Make no mistake about it, my friends. We did not deserve what God did for us and accomplished for us on that first Easter because we are sinful human beings. Though we worship a holy God, we are anything but holy. Though we serve a perfect Lord, we are anything but perfect. Though we follow a sinless Savior, we are anything but sinless. But his love for us was so great that rather than allowing us to constantly feel the unrelenting grip of the grave on our lives, he made it possible for us to live each day in the unrelenting grip of his grace.
And what’s really neat about all this is when the grace that we’ve been given spills over from us into other peoples’ lives. That’s what happened with a grandmother named Cathy Wilburn, who lost her 2 small grandsons, Chase and Colton, in the Oklahoma City bombing back in April of 1995. You remember how Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols set off a truck bomb that day that obliterated the front half of that federal building. Well, that bomb also destroyed a day care center where Chase and Colton were being watched. Needless to say, Cathy was devastated by the loss of these 2 boys. But hatred and bitterness did not have the last word in this family’s story, even though that could have easily happened.
At the trial for Terry Nichols, Cathy noticed that Terry’s mother and sister were sitting alone in the courtroom, bearing the hateful stares and words from the victims’ families. As a Christian, a person who knew God’s “Yes!” in her life, who knew God’s grace in her life, Cathy knew what she needed to do. So she befriended Terry Nichols’ mother and sister. In fact, she opened her home to them, offering hospitality to 2 women she could have easily hated.
That’s the kind of love and forgiveness that is possible once we realize that Easter and all that it means for us and all that it’s made possible for us is a pure act of grace on God’s part. For grace receivers are to become what? Grace givers.
And then one more thing. Not only is Easter an act of God and an act of grace, Easter is also an act that calls us to grateful living. One of the things that strikes me when I read the post-resurrection accounts in the gospels is how confused the disciples appear to be. Don’t get me wrong. They were happy. They were excited. They were elated. But it was like they didn’t know what to do next. In fact, John tells us in his Gospel that after the risen Christ had appeared to them in that upper room in Jerusalem as they huddled behind locked doors, one week later they could still be found hiding behind those doors. Then a few weeks later some of them even decided to try their hand at fishing again. Like I said before, it was like they didn’t know what to do next. It was almost as if they were in a fog.
Kind of like you see in this picture that I took when Marilyn and I vacationed in the Smokey Mountains some years ago. The cabin we stayed in was pretty high up on a mountain and when I got up one morning and looked out, this is what I saw. But as the sun burned away that fog and it began to lift, the beauty of what lay beneath it became clearer and clearer until finally I shot this picture.
Well, that’s the way it was with the disciples immediately following Christ’s resurrection. But as he appeared to them more and more over the next 40 days, the fog began to lift and the purpose and mission he had for them became clearer and clearer. And they spent the rest of their lives carrying out that mission and even dying for that mission out of nothing but sheer gratitude and appreciation for all that that first Easter had meant to them.
And my friends, we are called to do the same. Do you realize that we Christians should be the happiest, most loving, most giving, most forgiving, most grateful people on earth? And yet how often can’t we be heard complaining, right along with everyone else – about the economy, about the weather, about our political leaders, about our busy schedules. The list is endless. I know that life is tough, but Easter proves that our God is tougher. I know that our problems are big, but Easter shows that our God is bigger. I know that our worries are great, but Easter demonstrates that our God is greater. So my friends, if we’re going to celebrate Easter this morning, if we’re going to call ourselves Easter people, then let’s leave this place and live like Easter people rather than living as though the stone is still there and the tomb is still occupied.
Indeed, let us leave this place pumping our fists and saying “Yes, Yes, Yes!” For Easter is an act of God. Easter is an act of grace. And Easter is an act that calls us to a grateful life that loudly and proudly and boldly proclaims God’s Yes – God’s acceptance, God’s love, God’s forgiveness – to all who place their faith and trust in Jesus as our sin-conquering, death-defeating, grace-giving Lord and Savior. Amen.