Why do we celebrate Easter? What is Easter about? We know the answer to this.
Jesus died on the cross, taking the price for our sin on himself. He died and was buried in the tomb and the followers of Jesus were in despair. Their leader, their hope, their future was dead.
Jesus died on Friday. He lay in the tomb on Saturday. And then on the third day, Sunday, Jesus burst from the tomb and death had been defeated.
Death has always been the world’s greatest enemy.
Job despaired because of the meaninglessness of life. He sat in his pain and misery, grieving for the loss of his children, aggravated by the advice of his wife and friends. He cried out in despair, (Job 14:1-12)
“Mortals, born of woman,
are of few days and full of trouble.
2 They spring up like flowers and wither away;
like fleeting shadows, they do not endure.
7 “At least there is hope for a tree: If it is cut down, it will sprout again, and its new shoots will not fail. 8 Its roots may grow old in the ground and its stump die in the soil, 9 yet at the scent of water it will bud and put forth shoots like a plant. 10 But a man dies and is laid low; he breathes his last and is no more. 11 As the water of a lake dries up or a riverbed becomes parched and dry, 12 so he lies down and does not rise; till the heavens are no more, people will not awake or be roused from their sleep.
Death has always been the enemy that could not be defeated. The writer of Ecclesiastes concluded everything in this world is meaningless because death is the end for every person – whether rich or poor, wise or foolish. (Ecclesiastes 2:15–16)
“The fate of the fool will overtake me also.
What then do I gain by being wise?”
I said to myself,
“This too is meaningless.”
For the wise, like the fool, will not be long remembered;
the days have already come when both have been forgotten.
Like the fool, the wise too must die!
The inevitability of death made all of life meaningless. What good is accomplishment if you have to leave it behind when you die? What good is wealth? What good is wisdom? What good is hard work if you leave all this behind when you die?
Death was the cruel master that no one could escape. No matter how clever, or how powerful, or how intelligent – death won in the end. Everyone in history, the king, the saint, and the beggar on the side of the road, everyone made the same trip to the grave.
So when Jesus died and was buried, the disciples grieved. Their friend was dead. All the hope he had given them was gone. They thought all was lost. All the bright promise of what Jesus had promised had been ground into the dirt. Death had been challenged and death had once again been triumphant. But then came Easter and death was crushed, defeated once for all time. So Paul burst out in praise: (1 Corinthians 15:51–55)
Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed—52 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. 53 For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. 54 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.”
55 “Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?”
Jesus died on the cross but then he burst out of the grave in a glorious, triumphant resurrection that gives us hope that we too will rise from the dead into a glorious, eternal existence.
Because of the resurrection of Jesus, we don’t need to be afraid of death. When someone we love dies, it is good to grieve, but because we know what comes after death, we can carry joy through our grief. If you discover you are going to die, it’s ok. It is not the end. You can be at peace and die with faith, love, and hope of salvation.
We have hope because death is no longer the end for us. For followers of Jesus, death is only the beginning. What awaits us when we die is better than any of us can imagine. At the end of his seven-book series, The Chronicles of Narnia, C. S. Lewis writes:
And for us this is the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures… had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.
Because death has been defeated, followers of Jesus can live without fear. Although we often struggle because we hold on so tightly to our earthly possessions and because we hold on so tightly to our earthly life, there is at least a part of us that carries hope because we know that Jesus loves us and is eager for us to enter into his eternal kingdom.
This hope we carry is transformative, it makes a difference to how we live our lives. Augustine was the bishop of Hippo (now Annaba, Algeria) from 396 to 430. He wrote about why a Christian need never fear persecution. He said a persecutor can take your possessions, but you will one day leave them behind anyway. A persecutor can kill you, but so can a fever, a poisonous snake or a poisonous mushroom. So he writes, “ Here lies the whole power of the rage of men, to do what a mushroom can!”
The worst anyone can do to us is kill us – which will happen to us eventually anyway.
Easter is not a high holiday in a religious system. Easter faith is not about conforming to a set of moral behaviors. Easter is a celebration of an eternal relationship.
Brennan Manning wrote in his book, The Furious Longing of God,
You will die. Maybe not today, maybe not this week, maybe not this year – but you will die. It is for this reason that Easter should command your attention. The gospel is absurd and the life of Jesus is meaningless unless we believe that He lived, died, and rose again with but one purpose in mind: to make brand-new creation.
Not to make people with better morals but to create a community of prophets and professional lovers, men and women who would surrender to the mystery of the fire of the Spirit that burns within, who would live in ever greater fidelity to the omnipresent Word of God, who would enter into the center of it all, the very heart and mystery of Christ, into the center of the flame that consumes, purifies, and sets everything aglow with peace, joy, boldness, and extravagant, furious love.
This, my friend, is what it really means to be a Christian.
Christians are encouraged to read the Bible and memorize verses. Christians are encouraged to pray. Christians are encouraged to give a tithe of what they earn to the church. There is a long list of things Christians are encouraged to do – but that is not what Christian faith is about. Our life as followers of Jesus is all about our relationship with Jesus, a relationship with what Brennan Manning calls, “extravagant, furious love.”
It is far too easy for us to drift from our relationship with Jesus to a preoccupation with rules and regulations. In The Alpha Course, Nicky Gumbel talks about a man who buys a new car and then sits in the car in his garage reading the car manual. He learns all about the car, all the features of the car, how to change a tire, how to maintain the car – but he never actually drives the car. The car never leaves the garage.
Learning about Christianity is good, but it is worthless unless we live and experience the relationship with Jesus that is the point of it all.
Rich Mullins wrote a song titled, The Love of God with these lyrics:
There’s a wideness in God’s mercy
I cannot find in my own
And He keeps His fire burning
To melt this heart of stone
Keeps me aching with a yearning
Keeps me glad to have been caught
In the reckless raging fury
That they call the love of God
Our relationship with Jesus is a passionate relationship – at least the love of Jesus for us is passionate, “the reckless raging fury that they call the love of God.” We can be cold and dispassionate or indifferent in this relationship, but that is where God “keeps his fire burning to melt this heart of stone.”
In our relationship with Jesus our hearts of stone need to be melted. We need to wake up to the amazing reality that we are passionately loved by the creator God of this universe.
It does not work for us to stand up in church and tell people we have accepted Jesus as our Savior and Lord and then get on with our lives. The resurrection of Jesus brings us into a relationship with Jesus that wants to consume all of who we are and all that we do. The fire of the love of Jesus for us needs to warm our hearts and make them come alive with a pulsating, burning faith.
I heard once about a man who would stand up at an annual conference and share his testimony. He would say, “Twenty-five years ago I gave my life to Christ.” His testimony the next year at the conference would be the same except that he would change “twenty-five years” to “twenty-six years.”
Salvation is not simply about where we will go after we die; it is about how we live while we are alive on earth.
The resurrection of Jesus changed everything and when I say “everything” I mean everything.
Salvation is not simply being saved from death and holding on to the hope of eternal life in the kingdom of God. Paul talks in Romans about three stages of salvation. He says we have been saved, we are being saved, and we will be saved. Salvation is a process, not a one time event.
Some of us grew up in faith and cannot remember a time when we did not follow Jesus. Others of us can remember the day we surrendered to the love of Jesus for us. And when we ask people to tell us how they became a follower of Jesus, they tell us about their life and what led them to surrender to Jesus. That is a great resurrection story.
But there are many more resurrection stories of how we grew in faith, how we overcame prejudices, how we were able to endure through a tragic event, how we were able to forgive someone who deeply hurt us, how we were able to love someone when love seemed nowhere to be found.
There is the well-known story of Corrie Ten Boom, a Dutch woman, who survived a Nazi concentration camp and who saw her father and sister die in the camp. After World War II she traveled in Germany and spoke of forgiveness and reconciliation. At one event a man came up to ask her for forgiveness and she recognized him as one of the cruel guards who had mocked the women as they showered. She had spoken of forgiveness but was unable to forgive this man. But she stuck out her hand and felt a power move down her arm to her hand that held the hand of this man and she experienced a powerful, genuine, joyous forgiveness for this man.
We have our own stories of growing in faith, growing in our experience of being loved by Jesus, growing in our ability to have compassion for people who are difficult to love, growing in our ability to be at peace in difficult and chaotic times.
Salvation is not like a credit card transaction where you put your card in the machine and the transaction is over. Salvation is a continuing, gradual transformation of mind, body, and soul.
We have been saved and are accepted into the family of God because the perfection of Jesus covers over our imperfection. But then we are filled with the Holy Spirit and the process of becoming a less imperfect person begins. We grow in faith and love.
This means that a follower of Jesus will have many resurrection stories to tell. Not just how we were saved, but how we are continuing to be saved with the hope that we will be saved.
Chris and Elliot are going to share with you a resurrection story from their lives and then I will conclude with a few comments.