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Sunday, April 20, 2014

On the Third Day (Luke 24.1-12)

Sermon by: Robert Austell - April 20, 2014 (Easter Sunday)
Text: Luke 24:1-12

:: Sermon Audio (link) - scroll down for written draft  
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:: Some Music Used
Gathering Music: "Ye Watchers and Ye Holy Ones" (Mitchell-Wallace, Head)
Processional Hymn: "Worship Christ the Risen King" (REGENT SQUARE)
Song of Praise: "I Will Rise" (Giglio, Tomlin, Maher, Reeves)
The Word in Music: "The Lord of Life is Risen" (Marcello, arr. Hopson)
Offering of Music: "Christ the Lord is Risen Today" (Hirt)
Our Song of Praise: "The Doxology"
Hymn of Sending: "In Christ Alone" (Getty, Townend)
Postlude: "Christ Jesus Lay in Death's Strong Bands" (Diemer)

:: Sermon Manuscript (pdf)  
This "manuscript" represents an early draft of the sermon. Nevertheless, if you'd prefer to read than to listen, this is provided for that purpose.
1 But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb bringing the spices which they had prepared. 2 And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3 but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. 4 While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men suddenly stood near them in dazzling clothing; 5 and as the women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, “Why do you seek the living One among the dead? 6 “He is not here, but He has risen.” “Remember how He spoke to you while He was still in Galilee, 7 saying that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again.” 8 And they remembered His words, 9 and returned from the tomb and reported all these things to the eleven and to all the rest. 10 Now they were Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James; also the other women with them were telling these things to the apostles. 11 But these words appeared to them as nonsense, and they would not believe them. 12 But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen wrappings only; and he went away to his home, marveling at what had happened. (John 24:1-12)

Today I want to walk you through one of the Resurrection passages, specifically the one coming from the book of Luke. There are a number of entry points to this text; whether you are a long-time churchgoer or this is all new to you, I’d challenge you to listen for where you might find yourself in it.

It had been a difficult, confusing, exhilarating, terrifying, exhausting week. Last Sunday the crowds had cheered for Jesus, hailing him as a hero-king, ready to save everybody from the Roman occupation and bring God’s reign again. Then that scene in the Temple – tables overturned, coins scattered. Jesus began teaching there day in and day out, with the people gathering to listen and the religious leaders gathering to challenge him daily in one way or another. Thursday night was even more intense. He gathered the disciples for the memorial meal; he washed their feet; they argued; he revealed there was a traitor and even told Peter he’d deny him. There was prayer in the Garden, then the betraying kiss, sword attack, and arrest. Then a trial, and before you knew it, that horrible death on the cross. The Sabbath was a blur and now, Sunday morning, all that was left in that haze of terror and confusion, was to go to the tomb and anoint the body in death. It was that numb, grief-stricken, get through what you have to get through duty, only to find things were upset at the tomb as well.

Perplexed (v. 4)

It was the women who had gone. The women followers and family of Jesus: Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mother Mary, and others. And what else could they have been, but “perplexed?” The stone was moved and the body was gone. And confusion folded in to more terror as two men suddenly appeared, dazzling and bright.

I think of how confusing life is. And it doesn’t really matter whether one is a person of faith or not; life happens to all of us. And sometimes it comes fast and hard; sometimes it comes like a thief in the night: sickness, injury, accidents; betrayal, bullying, attack; crushing fear or loneliness or discouragement. Things were supposed to be better than this. Things are supposed to work out. And we have little snippets of God and faith: verses from our childhood, prayers whispered in the dark. But it doesn’t explain THIS; it doesn’t help right in this moment. It’s just a fog, just a mist: confusion and questions. “God, I just don’t understand!”

Confronted (v. 6)

The two were not soldiers or attackers; they had a message for the frightened women, now faces to the ground: “Why do you seek the living One among the dead? He is not here, but He has risen.” (vv. 5-6) First a question, of all things. Why are you looking for him here? Well, they were just trying to do the right thing, to honor and grieve their loss. And then that declaration… “he is not here, but He has risen.” What does that mean?

I am keenly aware of how jarring and confrontational church can be, especially on a special day like Easter. After all, we began the service in the same way that those messengers began, with a declaration that “He is risen!” We even asked you to say it back to us! That’s the way church often is. You come in with life slung over your back, wondering how to pay the overdue electric bill or how you’ll carry on after the break-up or whether you will ever be healthy again. And you are confronted with big statements… God-stuff… like “praise God from whom all blessings flow” or “in Christ your sins are forgiven” or “Jesus is risen from the dead.”

Remembering (v. 8)

That’s not all the messengers said. They kept going, “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.” (vv. 6-7) Remember that? We’ve been reading it here to start our service for 4-5 weeks now. It was back before the last supper, before teaching in the Temple, before Palm Sunday. Jesus told them what would happen. And that last part… who could understand it? But there it is: “and the third day rise again!” Well, the women DID remember! See verse 8? “And they remembered His words, and returned from the tomb and reported all these things to the eleven and to all the rest.” (v. 8) You can bet they connected the dots. They remembered Jesus saying that last part – the third day… rise again. And now his body was not there. Why look for the Living One among the dead?

One of the reasons Christian worship is centered around the Bible – God’s Word or promise – is that it helps us remember. We believe God has spoken and that as surprisingly as life comes at us, God is not startled or surprised. We’ve spent several months seeing how valuable scripture was to Jesus – how he rooted his own teaching and identity in what God had said. In many ways, Jesus life and teaching was a great big “remember God!” to all who came in contact with him. My goal in preaching is not to dispense “Dear Abby” type advice, but to remind you what God has already said – to help you (and me) REMEMBER God’s Word and promise. Add to that remembering how God has shown up in your own life before – and I know how easily we forget or pass over that! – and maybe the women’s reaction that day begins to make more sense. Maybe what we are doing here in church makes a little more sense as well.

Unbelieving (v. 11)

The women found the apostles and told them all this, presumably from what they found to the messengers to the reminder of what Jesus had said. And I appreciate verse 11 for the honesty of it. Since these were the same folks who would later tell the gospel story, they could have easily enough made themselves out to be heroes of faith. But here’s what we find: “these words appeared to them as nonsense, and they would not believe them.”

This is a very natural and understandable response to the declarations of the Christian faith. God become man? An innocent dying for my sins? Risen from the dead? Nonsense! I struggle to believe it!

This is a place where those questions and that struggle are welcome. In fact, the whole spring program on Wednesday nights has been built around bringing these kinds of questions to the table. Collectively, the folks coming on Wednesday nights asked more than 120 questions, many of which have no short or simple answer. But we’ve struggled with them together and that’s a good thing!

The critical thing is not whether one has questions and doubts – or even unbelief – but what one ultimately does with it. Peter gives us one example.

Exploring (v. 12)

We read in verse 12, “But Peter….” Peter was one of those apostles and presumably one who heard nonsense and did not believe. But he also got up to go see for himself. There is a kind of hopeful questioning that says, “I’ve got to find out for myself!” and there is a kind of cynical unbelief that says, “I won’t bother.” Peter didn’t just ask a few questions, he GOT UP AND RAN to the tomb, stooping and looking in for himself. And after seeing the linen wrappings and not body, he went away to his home, MARVELING at what had happened. (v. 12) His questions weren’t just answered; they turned to belief and wonder.

That’s really the option before any of us, isn’t it? I am sure that every last one of us has questions about God and how it all works. There’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, if God really exists, is supernatural (greater than what we see and know everyday), and has done what we read about in scripture, then you better have questions! The key thing is not whether or not you have questions or doubts, but whether you shut the door on this “nonsense” or choose to explore it for yourself.


Interestingly, that is not the end of the story by any stretch. What about the other 10 apostles? What about the other followers of Jesus? What about the people who didn’t “get up and run” to see? Thankfully, that is not the only way people discover this Easter news. In the chapters following this one and in the coming weeks, we will see that Jesus himself “got up and ran” to see people! He showed up on the road and in the workplace and where people gathered. He ate and taught and helped them remember what God had promised. One apostle, in particular, missed Jesus showing up and refused to believe until he could touch him in the flesh. And Jesus came back another time so Thomas would see him.

That’s part of this story (of scripture) as well; that God doesn’t wait for human beings to perish or to find their way to him; God comes after us. I know, it sure would be easier if Jesus showed up in the flesh and proved to us that he was alive and real. I will tell you that I have seen him show up in surprisingly tangible ways. And we have the testimony of God’s Word, the remembrance of God’s work in the world and in our lives, and the very tangible community of faith to help take this “nonsense” and make it as critical as food, water, and air.

Where are you this morning? Wherever you find yourself in this story and in relation to God, I hope you will hear the declaration that “Jesus is risen!” and, if not ready to celebrate quite yet, that you will be willing to explore God’s community, God’s Word, and God’s love in Jesus for yourself. And if none of that is true for you, I’ll simply conclude with what God has said throughout his Word, in His community, and through Jesus: He has not given up on you.

Jesus Christ is risen; He is risen, indeed! Alleluia! (Praise God!)

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