As we continued our celebration of Jesus’ resurrection at Eastbrook Church, I continued the themes of our series “The Good News of Jesus.” This second weekend, we explored four post-resurrection appearances of Jesus to Mary, the disciples as a group, Thomas, and Peter in John 20:11-21:25. Each of these stories gives us insight into the ways that the resurrection of Jesus intersects with our ordinary lives, in such things as grief, fear, doubt, and failure.
As we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus at Eastbrook Church, we begin a two-week exploration of “The Good News of Jesus.” This first weekend, with our Easter celebration, we turn our attention to the account in John 20:1-10 about Jesus’ empty tomb.
While so much could be said about Jesus’ resurrection, in my message this past weekend at Eastbrook, “The Good News of the Resurrected One,” I brought three specific aspects of Jesus’ resurrection into focus:
- light overwhelming darkness
- freedom overcoming prisons
- life overpowering death
It was sadly ironic to read about the terrible church bombings yesterday morning even as I prepared as a pastor for the celebration of Jesus’ resurrection. Recent times have seen not only church bombings but church buildings burning, whether in Louisiana or Paris. Every Christian knows that the word ‘church’ means people and not buildings. Even so, it is beyond unsettling to see our houses of worship violated in such harsh ways. Still, the hope of the resurrection sets us free from fear, both in our physical circumstances and against the ultimate enemy, that is death. Here is an excerpt from my message at Eastbrook Church this weekend that reflected on the freedom Jesus brings us from the fear of death.
Some of the most striking stories of the early church after the time of the New Testament come from the persecution under the Roman Empire. In contemporary Tunisia, in North Africa, the church was strong, but suffered greatly. Perhaps the most famous story from the early 3rd century comes when a noblewoman, Perpetua, who was a Christian, and refused to take the oath of allegiance to the emperor. That oath implied allegiance to the emperor over any other being, but also acknowledge him as a kind of god. Perpetua’s commitment to Jesus as Lord and God led her to a radical decision, which came at the price of her life. She and her household servant, Felicitas, ended up in the gladiatorial ring with wild animals, which rent them to pieces. They chose that fate rather than to forsake the God revealed in Jesus Christ.
How could these women be so unafraid of death? When we largely seem motivated by avoidance of death and suffering, what was it that could set them free from the fear of death?
I don’t believe it was because death was less scary to them, or that they were so much more courageous than the average person. Rather, there was a greater reality overpowering the all-consuming fear of death. And that overpowering reality is found in Jesus’ resurrection.
So many of us live our lives afraid of pain and the finality that is death. Others of us scurry through life knowing we won’t get another chance, feeling the urgency of our days. We all live under a universal death-sentence where the question is not “if” we’re going to die, but “when” will we die. Death tries to keep us in its grip, apart from God’s best for us as human beings.
But it is not the end of the story.
The resurrection of Jesus tells us that not only the power of evil and the prison of sin have been overcome, but also the sting of death has been destroyed by Jesus Christ at the Cross. Paul the Apostle, wrote about that in this way in a letter to an early church in the city of Corinth:
“Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 15:54-57)
The empty tomb and Jesus’ resurrection tell us there is hope in the midst of death. We do not have to live in fear of death because Jesus could not be held back by death. It is not His Master, but rather He is the Master of all things.
Death is not the end of Jesus’ story. And death does not have to be the end of our story.
God, if this day my journey end,
I thank You first for many a friend,
The sturdy and unquestioned piers
That run beneath my bridge of years.
Next, for the power You’ve given me
To view the whole world mirthfully,
For laughter, paraclete of pain,
Like April suns across the rain.
Also that, being not too wise
To do things foolish in folks’ eyes,
I gained experience by this,
And saw life somewhat as it is.
Next for the joy of labor done
And burdens shouldered in the sun;
Not less, for shame of labor lost,
And meekness born of a barren boast.
For every fair and useless thing
That bids us pause from laboring
To look and find the larkspur blue
And marigolds of a different hue;
For eyes to see and ears to hear,
For tongue to speak and news to bear,
For hands to handle, feet to go,
For life, I give You thanks also.
For all things merry, quaint and strange,
For sound and silence, strength, and change,
At last, for death, which only gives
Value to everything that lives;
For these, good God, who still makes me,
I praise Your name; since, verily,
I of my joy have had no dearth,
Though this day were my last on earth.
By Dorothy Sayers, 20th century Anglican author and lay theologian.
Jesus died but that was not the end. The apparent end was the beginning of new life. This day we celebrate the wonder of the resurrection.
Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.
This weekend at Eastbrook Church I gave a message entitled “Beginning to Live” about how the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus opens a new way to live our lives. It is a way of purpose, freedom, and joy.
When a person dies, there is a sudden and unsettling stillness that settles into their body. It feels and looks unnatural because there is an utter stillness. Unlike sleep, where the rhythm of breathing usually conveys a peaceful and restorative rest, the stillness of death seems harsh.
Jesus died on the cross. His brutalized body hung limp and bent at awkward angles; suspended by nails that tore the skin. His side was pierced and watery blood flowed out.
Two secret followers worked hard to remove His body from that instrument of cruel torture. They expended the effort to bury Him with dignity. It was likely a messy experience.Read More »
A thorny crown fiercely adorned His kingly head (19:2). Purple robes signaled His royalty as soldiers spit on Him, slapped Him and mocked Him (19:3). But the only throne given to this King was a rough and brutal wooden cross (19:18). They raised Him up on it for all the world to see. A sign saying “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews” displayed His identity in mocking irony (19:19).
Weak and pitiful, naked and bloody, thirsty andRead More »