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:
Dear Friends in Christ,
I can remember it almost as if it happened yesterday. It was an absolutely incredible comeback. It was the comeback to end all comebacks. It was the comeback of the year. No, it was the comeback of the decade. Why, it might have even been the comeback of the century? And what comeback is it that I’m talking about?
Why, it’s none other than the comeback that our church’s men’s basketball team staged many years ago when we played in a league with other Lutheran churches in our area. In fact, it was so impressive that I wrote it down, I guess so I would never forget it. And I came across it recently. And oh what memories it brought back. We had gone through the regular season with just one loss, one blemish on our record. And now we were playing in the end-of-the-season tournament. Our opponent was a team we had easily beaten the previous week. But this week they were up to the challenge. And for the majority of the game we found ourselves behind and scrapping like a bunch of grade schoolers to get back into the game. Then it happened. With only 6 seconds left on the clock and our team down by 2 points, our captain, our player-coach, our hero, Mike Quandt calmly drained a 3-point shot that gave us the lead for the first time in the game and completed our amazing comeback. The gym erupted. Our team swarmed all over Mike. And, to borrow a phrase from the King James Version of the Bible, we rejoiced with exceedingly great joy for victory was now most certainly ours.
Now maybe I overdid that description a bit – ok, maybe I overdid it a lot – but it was still neat to be a part of such an amazing comeback. But you know what’s even neater (and I mean a whole lot neater)? It’s the comeback that we are celebrating here today, the comeback that was announced to the women by the angels when they said, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen!”
One man who really appreciated and understood that comeback was W. E. Sangster, a great preacher of a century ago. He died a very slow and difficult death from an illness very similar to Lou Gehrig ’s disease, which causes the muscles to atrophy. For this great preacher, though, the greatest tragedy was losing the muscles in his throat rendering him unable to speak anymore. And on what would be the last Easter Sunday of his life, he wrote a letter to his young daughter. Having preached many a sermon on past Easter Sundays proclaiming Christ’s victorious resurrection, he penned these words to his daughter: “It is terrible to wake up Easter Sunday and not be able to shout. It would be worse, however, to be able to shout and have nothing to shout about.”
My friends, Easter definitely gives us something to shout about, doesn’t it? For the One who was deserted by his own disciples has come back. The One who was falsely accused and sentenced to die has come back. The One who was beaten beyond recognition, cruelly mocked and humiliated, and nailed to a cross has come back. The One who was subjected to the horrors of hell on Calvary’s hill and whose corpse was then placed in a cold dark tomb has come back. Like the angels said, “He is risen, just as he said.”
Now that’s all good and wonderful for Jesus, but what about us? What exactly does this comeback mean for you and me? Or to put it another way, what does Easter mean for us? Is Easter just a day to get dressed up and go to a beautifully decorated church with lilies adorning the altar? Is it just a day to sing uplifting songs and say Hallelujah? I think you know the answer to that question. Easter is a whole lot more than that. So today I want to spend our time exploring what the comeback of Christ really means for us.
First of all, it means that Jesus was who he claimed to be. There were several occasions before Jesus went to Jerusalem for the final time that he explained to his disciples what was going to happen to him when they arrived there. For example, in Mark 10:33-34 we read: “We are going up to Jerusalem,” he said, “and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles, who will mock him and spit on him, flog him and kill him. Three days later he will rise.”
Now, my friends, it’s one thing to predict that you’re going to be beaten and mocked, flogged and killed, especially if you were Jesus going to Jerusalem. After all, he was vehemently hated by the Jewish religious establishment and I don’t think it was a secret to anyone that they would do anything to get rid of him. But to predict your own resurrection from the dead? That was an entirely different matter. Some would call it foolish. Some would call it arrogant. Some would call it impossible. And yet Jesus did it, didn’t he? He pulled it off. And because he did so he proved beyond the shadow of a doubt that he was who he claimed to be.
He was the Son of God, for only God could conquer death like that. He was the promised Messiah, for Psalm 16 had foretold that the Messiah would not be abandoned to the grave and would not see decay after his death. And Isaiah 53 had said, “After the suffering of his soul, he will see the light [of life].” But lastly, Jesus’ resurrection comeback also proved that he was the great I AM, the one and only Jehovah God of Israel, something Jesus had so emphatically stated every time he spoke one of his famous “I am” sayings. Remember them?
- I am the way, the truth, and the life.
- I am the door.
- I am the true vine.
- I am the bread of life.
- I am the good shepherd.
- I am the light of the world.
- I am the resurrection and the life.
Every time Jesus spoke that phrase “I am,” he was proclaiming that he was God because that was the official name God had ascribed to himself in the Old Testament. And when he rose from the dead, he confirmed that truth one more time in the most powerful and convincing way possible.
But not only does the great comeback of Christ prove that Jesus was who he claimed to be, it also proves that Satan, his archenemy and our archenemy, has been defeated. In fact, we acknowledge that every time we say the Apostles’ Creed and confess that Jesus descended into hell. For understand that he went down into the devil’s domain before coming out of the tomb not to suffer some more for he’d suffered all the hell he needed to suffer on the cross. Rather he descended into hell to crash the victory party that Satan and his demon hosts were no doubt having down there, to show himself alive and well, and to thereby proclaim verbally and visually that Satan’s apparent victory on Friday was only an illusion and any reason to celebrate was now over.
Now does that mean that we don’t have to worry about Satan anymore? I think you know the answer to that question. He’s still vicious. He’s still dangerous, like any wild animal that finds itself backed into a corner. Like Peter says in his 1st epistle, now he’s like a roaring lion who prowls around looking for someone to devour. And I firmly believe that the ones he looks for more than any others, the ones that he focuses his greatest attention upon are those who unashamedly proclaim their love, their loyalty, and their allegiance to the Comeback King, Jesus Christ.
But, my friends, don’t let that frighten you, for the words that Jesus spoke in Rev. 2:10 to the persecuted Christians in the city of Smyrna, hold just as true for us today, and those words are: “Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life.” Like Martin Luther said in his great Reformation hymn: “Though devils all the world should fill, All eager to devour us, We tremble not, we fear no ill, They shall not overpower us. This world’s prince may still scowl fierce as he will; he can harm us none; he’s judged, the deed is done. One little word can fell him.” And that little word is Jesus.
And that takes us to one more wonderful thing that the resurrection comeback of Christ means for us and that is that death has also been defeated. And nobody proclaims this victory better than the Apostle Paul does in I Cor. 15:55-57 where he looks our great enemy death square in the eye and basically scoffs at it; he sneers at it when he says: “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
What does Paul mean when he says that the sting of death is sin and the power of sin is the law? Well, basically all he is saying there is that we die because of sin and we sin because of the law and our complete and utter inability to keep that law perfectly. And had God not intervened on our behalf, had he not come to our rescue, we would be hopelessly lost and eternally condemned because of our sins. Death then would have definitely been something to fear because death would have meant immediate entrance into the eternal punishment of hell.
But like Paul says, even though the sting of death is sin and the power of sin is the law, thanks be to God that through the comeback miracle of Jesus Christ on Easter morning we and all who believe in him as our risen Savior and Lord have victory over death. And by victory over death, I’m talking about the same victory Jesus had – the victory that will include our own bodily resurrection from the dead. Paul speaks of this in numerous places in his epistles, but one of the clearest passages is in I Cor. 15 where he says: “Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed–in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”
Those are words that I share at pretty well every committal service I do out at the cemetery. And sometimes I preface them by saying that because of these words, the ground upon which we are standing will one day be resurrection soil – soil that will be rolled back so that those who died in Christ might come forth from their graves with brand new glorious bodies – bodies that are no longer subject to sin, sickness, suffering, sorrow, pain, or death; bodies that will be absolutely perfect, whole, and healthy; bodies that will be ours to inhabit and enjoy for all eternity in what the Bible calls the new heavens and the new earth.
Well, before I close this sermon, I’ve got a confession to make. Remember that great basketball comeback I told you about in my introduction? All of that was true. It really happened just as I described it. But I didn’t tell you the rest of the story. You see, following Mike Quandt’s 3-point shot that gave us a 1-point lead, the other team called a timeout, after which they managed to make a last second shot that gave them the victory. In other words, our comeback, as great as it was, fell short.
Now I know that deeply saddens all of you here today. But it’s ok, because the greatest comeback of all time, the resurrection comeback of our Savior did not fall short. And because it didn’t, we can be perfectly confident that Jesus was everything he claimed to be, Satan has been defeated, and death has been conquered. And because of that, we do have great reason to shout today, great reason to celebrate, for, say it with me…no shout it with me like you really mean it, CHRIST IS RISEN! HE IS RISEN INDEED! HALLELUJAH! And all God’s people said: