Sermon series: Foundations of Our Faith
The early disciples witnessed the resurrection of Jesus Christ. They could not forget the open tomb and His pierced hands, and wounded side. The living Christ had a powerful and profound effect on them. The people who went to the tomb on that first Easter morning testify to the power of the resurrection. They were in awe and wonder. This sermon reminds us to revisit the empty tomb each Sunday and remember the wonder of it all.
In Bill Moyer's book A World of Ideas II, Jacob Needleman remembers: "I was an observer at the launch of Apollo 17 in 1975. It was a night launch, and there were hundreds of cynical reporters all over the lawn, drinking beer, wisecracking, and waiting for this 35-story-high rocket.
"The countdown came, and then the launch. The first thing you see is the extraordinary orange light, which is just at the limit of what you can bear to look at. Everything is illuminated with this light. Then comes this thing slowly rising up in total silence, because it takes a few seconds for the sound to come across. You hear a WHOOOOOSH! HHHHMMMM! It enters right into you.
"You can practically hear jaws dropping. The sense of wonder fills everyone in the whole place, as this thing goes up and up. The first stage ignites this beautiful blue flame. It becomes like a star, but you realize there are humans on it. And then there's total silence."
What do you think it would have been like to observe the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the grave? What if some entrepreneur had understood when Jesus said that he would rise from the dead? What if he sought an opportunity to make some money off this spectacular event? What if he set some bleachers in front of the tomb and charged people admission for watching? What if he advertised in the Jerusalem Chronicle and a huge crowd showed up to watch?
I suspect they would have experienced something similar to what Jacob Needleman experienced at the Apollo 17 launch. My guess is that people would have arrived cynical, casual, and callused. But then, a resplendent light followed by momentary silence before a deafening noise, Jesus would have stepped forth from the grave alive. Upon seeing Jesus come back alive from the grave, I suspect that the onlookers' eyes would have been as big as saucers. Their jaws would have dropped. A sense of wonder and ecstasy would have filled everyone watching. The feelings would never be forgotten.
The resurrection of Jesus itself is never described anywhere in Scripture, presumably because no one saw Jesus exit the tomb. Not a single person beheld the moment when Jesus burst forth from the grave on that first Easter morning. No one witnessed the resurrection, but many have experienced it. No one can explain the resurrection, but many feel its effects.
I. Does the resurrection affect you?
A. The earth felt the effects
"Suddenly there was a violent earthquake" (Matt. 28:2). It shook. It reeled and rocked. The ground quaked. The rocks erupted. The earth cracked. The olive trees in the garden waved their twisted limbs. Nature was aroused. The earth trembled in sorrow at the crucifixion, but it leaped for joy at the resurrection. The quake attests to the cosmic significance of the event.
B. The angel felt the effects
". . . an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and approached [the tomb]. He rolled back the stone and was sitting on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his robe was as white as snow" (Matt. 28:2-3). Like an action hero on a Saturday-morning cartoon, shafts of lightning blazed from the angel with its clothes shimmering like new-fallen snow. He rolled away the stone not to let Jesus out, but to let the women in. The angel sat on the rock that had been rolled away indicating the triumph of the completed work.
C. The guards felt the effects
"The guards were so shaken from fear of him that they became like dead men" (Matt. 28:4). They stood as corpses. They shook, in their sandals, longer than the ground. The ones keeping watch over the dead became as dead. They were scared stiff.
D. The women felt the effects
"After the Sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to view the tomb" (Matt. 28:1). They came to anoint Jesus' body with spices to give him a more appropriate embalming. En route they were concerned about who would move the stone for them. On seeing the stone rolled way from the opening of the tomb and hearing the angel proclaim that Jesus was not present, that He had been raised, they were filled with wonder and joy. The good news of His resurrection became their message to share.
Everyone present that day felt the effect of the resurrection. The WHOOOOOSH! HHHHMMMM! went right through them.
What effect does the resurrection have on you?
II. Does the resurrection move you?
Can we celebrate Easter and not be moved? Can we still have the world as it were yesterday? We want to come to church on Easter, sing some soul-stirring hymns, eat lunch with our family and friends, hunt for eggs with our children, and still have our world unrocked by the resurrection. We are amazingly well adjusted to the same old world.
I think that is why Matthew reminds us that the whole earth shook on that first Easter morning. Luke records Easter as a meal on Sunday evening with the risen Christ. John has the resurrected Jesus encountering Mary Magdalene in the garden. But what about Matthew? What is significant in his story? "Suddenly there was a violent earthquake, because an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and approached [the tomb]. He rolled back the stone and was sitting on it" (Matt. 28:2). Easter is an earthquake with a stone rolled away from the tomb and a dead person walking the streets, with an imprudent angel sitting on the stone. It was a ruckus.
I've been in an earthquake. It wasn't a big one, but it was an earthquake, all right. When pastoring in Indiana, sitting in a committee meeting one night, the church building shook. Not violently, but it definitely shook. And believe me when a whole building shakes, you feel it. It had our attention. We didn't know what had happened at first, so we walked outside to see if we could determine what caused the building to tremble. Later we learned of a tremor, a minor earthquake of the New Madras fault.
Easter is an earthquake that shook the whole world. It got everyone's attention.
On the cross, the world did all it could to Jesus. At Easter, God did all he could to the world. And the earth shook. You don't explain that. You experience it. You feel it. It goes right through you.
In the 1950s there was a devastating earthquake in China. As a result of the quake, a huge boulder was dislodged from a mountain, thus exposing a great cache of wonderful artifacts from a thousand years ago. A new world became visible.
When the stone was rolled away that entombed Jesus, and the earth shook, we got our first glimpse of a new world. It is a world where death doesn't have the last word, where injustice is made right, and innocent suffering is vindicated by the intrusion of a powerful God.
The soldiers shook, and not because the ground was rumbling. The angel plopped himself down on the stone in one final act of impudent defiance of death. He said to the women, "Don't be afraid. You're looking for Jesus? He isn't here." Nobody went back the same way they came. Easter has that kind of moving effect on people.
Does it have that effect on you? If not, maybe you need to check your spiritual pulse. Maybe you have been living too long in the in-between-time of Good Friday and Easter. Maybe it is time to see and feel the resurrection of Jesus all over again. Maybe it is time to let God shake your world. Maybe it is time to allow God to roll the stone away from your cold and hardened heart to feel the love and power of Jesus Christ.
III. Does the resurrection touch you?
Easter not only moves us, it touches something deep down inside of us. We encounter God's wonder, that feeling of surprise and awe aroused by something strange and unexpected. It's what Mary Magdalene and the other Mary felt when they learned that Jesus had risen. They departed "quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy" (Matt. 28:8). They were astonished. They went to the tomb expecting to find a dead man in need of embalming. Instead they found an empty tomb. Jesus was alive. That fact, while strange and unexpected, was wonderful and exciting.
One can't experience Easter without wonder. The trouble is that we don't feel wonder anymore. Wonder is rare, especially as we grow older. The catch phrase of our culture is: "Been there. Done that." We are spiritually and emotionally obtuse. We are a people saturated with analysis, explanations, and experiences - but void of wonder. G.K. Chesterton wrote, "The world will never starve for want of wonders, but only for want of wonder." It is that wonder and mystery of the resurrection that we want. And once we experienced it the most lavish purchase or the most thrilling experience can never substitute for it. For when God touches you, you know it. You can't explain it. You experience it. You feel it. It goes right through you.
In Chicken Soup for the Soul, Dan Millman tells the story of Sachi. When she was four years old her baby brother was born. Little Sachi began to ask her parents to leave her alone with the new baby. They worried that, like most four-year-olds, she might feel jealous and want to hit or shake him, so they said no.
Over time, though, since Sachi wasn't showing signs of jealousy, they changed their minds and decided to let Sachi have her private conference with the baby. Elated, Sachi went into the baby's room and shut the door, but it opened a crack - enough for her curious parents to peek in and listen. They saw little Sachi walk quietly up to her baby brother, put her face close to his, and say, "Baby, tell me what God feels like. I'm starting to forget."
Is childlike wonder disappearing? Have we forgotten the implications of a man rising from the dead? Have we grown ashamed of the transcendence of a God who can conqueror death? Are we so caught up in reality that we have no place for mystery in our lives? Have we become so religious that we have lost the wonder? Have we forgotten what it feels like to have God remove the darkness and coldness in our heart caused by sin so that the light of glory can invade our soul and set us free? Are we, too, starting to forget what God feels like?
For me there have been times when my childlike sense of wonder has faded. I get bogged down in duty, effort, and analysis. Exuberant wonder has leaked out of me. Easter becomes another Sunday met with disdain because it means more services and more problems. But, I'm certain I'm not alone in this experience. In our culture, wonder-less living is the norm. Easter is just another Sunday, with perhaps the exception of wearing new clothes.
How do we revive this sense of wonder?
Wonder begins in the presence of Jesus. Regardless of our geography or status or age, where the Lord is present, that place is alive with wonder. As we become more aware of God's presence we become more filled with wonder. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary felt it. It was the WHOOOOOSH! HHHHMMMM! that went right through them. When they saw Jesus their only response was to fall at his feet in worship. "When they saw Him, they worshiped" (Matt. 28:17).
When you and I encounter the living Christ, our only response is to celebrate his presence. That's Easter. It is the presence of Jesus that moves us and touches us deeply. It is the rocking experience of Jesus' triumph and the relational experience of Jesus' presence. It becomes an experience to imagine that God will be present in our lives to roll the stone away from our hearts. Easter makes us want to fall at Jesus' feet in gratitude and praise for what he has done. That, my dear friends, is something you don't explain and never forget. You experience it. You feel it. It goes right through you.