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Monday, March 24, 2008

The Living One (Luke 24.1-12)

Sermon by: Robert Austell
Easter Sunday – March 23, 2008

Easter is the climax of the Christian faith. It, not Christmas, is the biggest day of the year for a Christian. And it is not about Jesus on the cross – that’s Good Friday. That was the defeat of sin, but there’s more after Jesus’ “It is finished” on the cross. Easter is the empty tomb and the defeat of death itself. Easter is the news that Jesus is risen from the dead. And that’s what I want to talk to you about today.

I want to focus with you on one key question in the verses you heard today. It is the question that was asked to the women who came to the tomb to see Jesus’ body:

Why do you seek the living One among the dead? (v. 5)

That is a critical question for people of faith and even for people without faith. It gets at the very heart of what Christianity is all about and why we sometimes struggle to believe in or experience God at all. These verses – and Easter itself – claim that Jesus is alive. Let’s consider some ways that each of us struggle with an Easter faith.

Nonsense and Belief

I’m going to move through today’s text out of order, but I think the order will make sense to our experience. First, look at verse 11. The women came from the empty tomb to tell the disciples that Jesus was alive.

But these words appeared to them as nonsense, and they would not believe them.

Remember, these were the disciples – holy men of faith, right? No, they were just like you and I. They had followed Jesus; they loved Jesus. But they had been disappointed and were hurt and frightened. And despite having seen amazing things, this was too much for their minds to believe. It sounded like pure nonsense, maybe even the wishful thinking of hysterical women.

This is where so many people get stuck with Christianity. It sounds like nonsense to our adult minds. We want to stick to what we can taste, touch, smell, hear, and see. Maybe we once had some faith – maybe as a child. But we’ve lost too much and been hurt too much, and we’ve come to believe only in what is tangible and provable.

Jesus is one more fairy tale – perhaps the last one to let go of, but a fairy tale nonetheless. The disciples had reached the logical end of that way of thinking… they were hunkered down and hiding out, with only themselves to depend on. And like every other human being, trapped by the limits of our short lives, they were depending on the walking dead.

Why do you seek the living One among the dead? Are you looking at all?

Hiding and Seeking

Is there any other option for the adult mind? Is there any other option when you’ve been burned and disappointed by God? Many people, particularly if they once had a religious experience will describe God either as “nonsense” or say, “Well, if He’s there, He’s hiding from me.”

I would submit to you, though, that God was not and is not the one who is hiding. In these verses, it is the men who are hiding. They don’t think they are hiding from God, but they are hiding from those who killed Jesus. They are hiding from what they fear. But look what changes this:

But Peter got up and ran to the tomb… (v. 12)

Other disciples apparently remained, hiding out, but Peter got up, stopped hiding, and started seeking. He went looking for God and went to the place where this news of a living Jesus originated. He went to check it out for himself, and he left “marveling at what had happened.”

One of Jesus’ recurring invitations in his life was to “come and see.” As long as we’ve written God off, it is unlikely that God will ever sound like more than nonsense or a fairy tale for children. But God says more than once in the Bible, “Seek and you will find.”

Why do you seek the living One among the dead? What are you looking for?

Forgetfulness and Remembering

Peter ran to the tomb, which is what the women had already seen. They each saw evidence of Jesus’ body being gone, yet that was just a start. One cannot prove God with evidence. One cannot be saved or find assurance of salvation through intellectual arguments. Such arguments may provide a start – they may support faith; but they are not faith.

Why do you seek the living One among the dead?

The women had forgotten. The rest of the message to them was this:

He is not here, but he has risen. Remember how he spoke to you while he was still in Galilee, saying that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again. (v. 6-7)

They had an experience of Jesus when he was living. They had heard his words of promise and hope. And they had forgotten. We go on to read that after the reminder of what he had said, “They remembered his words.” (v. 8)

Some of us here – perhaps many of us here – have experienced God in our lives at some time. Perhaps we were children or teenagers, or perhaps it has just been a long time. God was as real to us as the love of a parent or spouse. God’s promises were just as real. And either we’ve retreated to hide out of disappointment or we’ve simply forgotten.

And the angel’s question gets at all of that.

Why do you seek the living One among the dead?

God is not a fairy tale. God is not a set of religious principles. God is not a dusty book of ancient wisdom. Jesus was not a first century wise man. Christianity is not a set of do’s and don’ts. God is not a psychological concept we’ve concocted to either get us through or to grow out of. If God were any of those things, God wouldn’t be a true God, and we wouldn’t find Him. That’s looking among the dead, and God isn’t there.

The key to the angels’ question is in the description of Jesus. He is the “living One.”

The Living One

To find God, we must believe, we must seek, we must remember. But those are all things we do and they are secondary to the declaration and reality that Jesus is the “living One.”

Only a living God can offer you more than you can see, touch, taste, hear, and smell.

Only a living God can rescue you out of anything we might consider the “universal human condition.”

Only a living God can speak any word after death.

Only a living God can be a relational God.

Only a living God can answer your hurt, disappointment, fear, and loss. A dead God cannot begin to do so.

Only a living God can continue to speak words of truth, hope, and life generation after generation to a struggling and changing world.

Only a living God is worth your belief, searching, and trust.

And Jesus Christ, risen Son of God, is the living One.

That’s the big deal about Easter. Amen!

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