Easter Sunday April 4, 2010
Let beauty awake in the morn from beautiful dreams.
Beauty awake from rest!
Let beauty awake
For Beauty's sake
In the hour when the birds awake in the brake
And the stars are bright in the west.
(Robert Louis Stevenson)
As I stood outside with the dogs prior at 6 am I wondered if that first resurrection morning was like this. A small cool breeze, freshness with each breath, birds chirping in nearby trees, the stars glistening in the sky… the neighbor dog barking. I wonder if they sensed those same things. As Sandy Patti sung, "Was it a Morning Like This?"
But yet, I know that their hearts were already pounding with sorrow. They likely did not sleep well and if they did it was out of heart-ache exhaustion.
I wonder about Pilate who had sentenced Jesus to death. I wonder when he awoke that morning if it was just going to be another day at the office. Another day of a Roman general overseeing a seething nation of people who hated him. I wonder if he knew what was coming?
I wonder about those chief priests and elders who had rejected Christ almost from the very beginning of his ministry. I wonder if they awoke on that third day wondering themselves if everything would be "kosher." I wonder if they awoke with some fear that Jesus might truly do what he said. Perhaps they were the only ones who really thought this could happen?
I wonder about those disciples who followed him more closely. I wonder what they figured would be their next steps as fugitives. Certainly with all of the Passover and Sabbath days completed if they would be hunted down by the authorities and one by one arrested and imprisoned and face the same fate as the one they followed.
What no one saw was that beauty had awoken. In fact, the stone was not rolled away to let Jesus out. The stone was rolled away so that those coming to the tomb to could look in. Look in and see.
What did the angel say? "Don't be alarmed. You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! See the place where they laid him."
Everyone who came to the tomb would have seen the grave garments still lying there including the burial cloth that had been around Jesus' head which was folded and separate from the linen according to John (20:6-7) There would have been no question about Jesus not being there.
Matthew tells us that an angel of the Lord came down after a violent earthquake and rolled the stone back and sat on it. These Roman soldiers- these trained killers- were so afraid of what they saw that instead of enforcing the seal on tomb, they fainted.
And what was our reaction when we awoke this morning? Was there fear? Maybe not the kind of fear that these disciples and women faced. But I will bet that some of you have fears:
- Fear of not measuring up to God or others.
- Fear of not having enough money.
- Fear that your kids won't do the right things.
- Fear that your health will get worse.
- Fear of death? Maybe.
So what do we do with that? I believe that we can learn a few things this morning from Christ's resurrection that might help us as we strive to live Spirit-filled lives as followers of Christ. I like what the Apostle told the Corinthian Church:
"But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side but not crushed; perplexed but not in despair; persecuted but not abandoned; struck down but not destroyed. [Why? Because] We always carry around in our bodies the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body." (2 Corinthians 4:10)
Despite all that may be happening in your life you don't need to buckle into fear. You can discover or re-discover that as these followers of Jesus found the tomb empty they were surprised by hope.
And I am praying this morning that as we hear this message that the Holy Spirit would once again surprise you with the hope that we all have in Jesus Christ.
So what were these followers of Jesus afraid of on that resurrection morning? First, they were…
- Fearful of Fear.
They were afraid because they lived in a constant culture of fear. The people of the first century could easily be divided into two demographics: those with and those without. Either you had something or you didn't. You either lived on this side of the tracks or that side. You were either in power or without power. And ultimately, if the Roman government decided something against you then you were toast.
They lived in fear of the natural world. Drought and storms could wipe out an agricultural community in one hot summer. People died of hunger all the time in their world.
And so when any one of them encountered the resurrection of Jesus they already possess a pre-disposition to fear. And so their natural reaction to a an empty tomb is fear itself mingled with curiosity and amazement. What the devil is going on here? When is the next shoe going to drop? Great, we'll get blamed for this, now!
Not only fear to fear itself but…
2. Fear of the Supernatural.
I remember my grandmother telling about a young woman who would visit the cemetery across the country road from her home when she was a child. Night after night in the summer time this young mother would go to the gravesite of her baby and weep. Did I mention that the young woman was buried beside her baby as well?
Talk about giving a kid the shivers on a hot summer day. Yikes!
The supernatural to us is fairly non-existent as far as today's society. Yeah, I know people are dabbling with "Twilight" and "New Moon" and all those vampire books and chic-flicks. Harry Potter is still trying to have his day. "Ghost Whisperer" had her following. But nobody really takes any of that very seriously except those who want to immerse themselves further into the cultic and those Christians who understand the risk of dabbling. After all, most of us are a more affluent, educated, scientific and cultured society. We've got answers that the first century people didn't have.
But let's not mistake our lack of discernment and miss the truth of these folks who experienced a very real fear of the supernatural. They just looked into the tomb and found it empty. Something's up and they know it. But what, they don't know.
Sure they were afraid in a human sense because they were touching on the supernatural. They already had an affinity to the idea of ghosts and demons. But understand something:
Stories don't come close to what these folks were involved in. Realize that this resurrection stuff was serious business and that what they understood was they were touching on something that was not of this world- at least not something they had experienced before.
We still can't Appreciate how they did not understand everything Jesus said about destroying this temple and rebuilding it in three days. Hello? Their minds were immersed in a first century thought pattern that truly believed, "Dead men don't talk." And when a dead man simply disappears from a sealed tomb, well, my first instinct as a first century man would be: I'm afraid.
If I go to my mother's grave next month and it's open with an angel sitting on a rock I think I might faint like a dead man.
Something else they were afraid of:
3. Fear of Ruthless Authorities.
They were afraid because of the obvious disobedience to a Roman decree.
In particular—and this is perhaps the most important point to grasp—most first-century Jews believed that the Exile was not yet really over. Yes, they had come back from Babylon, geographically. But the pagans were still in charge: first Persia, then Alexander the Great from Greece, then the various rules of Syria, and now the iron fist of the Roman Empire.
And now the typical first century Jew who encountered a revolutionary such as Jesus had plenty to fear. I guess I don't blame the disciples for running off. Their dream of a new Israel has just been squashed by the Roman army and the Jewish leadership. Not only did their association mean that they were wanted men but that they faced expulsion from Jewish society for their deeds of following this radical named Jesus.
These disciples have good reason to fear the ruthless authorities- especially those of the Roman soldier kind. The Romans were professional killers who were skilled in making sure that people who were supposed to die actually died. They knew their job and did their job very well.
These Roman soldiers very well might have been thinking:
And now this dead Jesus is alive? Are you sure? We saw the blood pour out from his side. We saw him breathe his last. We know he was dead when he was taken and put into the tomb. We know that we sealed that tomb and put a guard around it.
Our first century brothers and sisters in Christ must have certainly sensed not only fear of the Roman authorities but also the fear of the rulers over them. If they weren't put to the death then they would surely be put into prison. And if they somehow survived that, they would never have a place in the synagogue or allowed in the temple to worship. And for a Jew in those days that might be as good as death.
then they had a…
4. Fear of the Unknown.
They were afraid because of what they could not see. They were not yet men and women of true faith.
I realize I've already mentioned fear of the supernatural but this one is different. I'm speaking about that fear of what we don't know. In so doing, realizing that what we don't know can be good or it can be bad.
What they could not see with their own eyes and feel with their hands could not be real. They had to ponder these things. Fear of the unknown is not unusual to anyone of any culture.
We all fear things that we don't understand or have no light on. I can honestly say I don't like being in total darkness. That stirs up a fear inside of me. So I'll keep my night-light, thank you!
People fear bumps in the night. People fear the ringing of the telephone in the middle of the night. I get that sometimes: "Hello?" "Yeah, is Melissa there?" "What?" "Isn't this Wesco Gas Station?" "No. Look to the number above the Wesleyan Church and you'll find it." "Oh, thanks, man."
Fear of the unknown is very real to a lot people and it should not be missed that these feared the unknown.
They feared fear itself, they feared the supernatural, they feared the authorities, they feared the unknown but they experienced
5. Fear Overcome by Hope.
The bottom line is that everyone who encountered the resurrection was surprised by hope. And maybe that is the definition of their amazement mingled with fear. They somehow harbored hope beyond their fear.
None of them- not a single one saw what was coming. And when the truth of the Jesus' resurrection began to dawn in their hearts they began to experience a kind of hope that is greater than scratching off a winning lottery ticket. They knew that they were encountering something that put down fear, went beyond the supernatural and circumvented the ruling authorities. What they experienced brought them out of the unknown and put them into the very real.
And that is what I want us to all understand and experience this morning. Jesus' resurrection, a fact of history and a cornerstone of Christian faith should and must move us out of the realm of fear and into the realm of hope.
These followers faced very real fears. And as Jesus showed himself the fears began to fade away. Why? Because they became like you by faith in a resurrected Savior. "For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, 'Abba, Father.'" (Romans 8:15)
I'm not saying that we should be concerned about our everyday welfare and responsibilities. We don't throw duties to the wind. What we do is allow the death of Jesus within us to become the life of Jesus outside of us. We are crucified with Christ and yet somehow by the miracle of the Holy Spirit it is not we that live but Christ that lives within us and through us for others to see.
Regardless of your problems, frustrations and dangers you do not need to live in fear.
So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy and ran to tell the disciples.
I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live.