Charles H. Spurgeon was one of the great preachers of the 19th century in America. I ran across a quote recently in which he commented on the resurrection (Remember, this was over a century ago.): "The electric telegraph, though it be but an invention of man, would have been as hard to believe a thousand years ago as the resurrection of the dead is now. Who in the days of packhorses would have believed in flashing a message from England to America? Everything is full of wonder till we are used to it, and resurrection owes the incredible portion of its marvel to our never having come across it in our observation." (Charles H. Spurgeon in the Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit (Vol.18). Christianity Today, Vol. 33, no. 6.)
Imagine if Charles Spurgeon could see what technological wonders we take for granted today! We have telephones, and people can actually speak to each other across the ocean! Or see their faces on television or over the Internet. And there doesn't even need to be a wire attaching them! It is truly an incredible world that we live in.
But how often do we stop and think about it? Do we pause in wonder when we get a call on our cell phone? Do we get amazed when we send an email? Does it send chills up our spine when we turn on the TV? Probably not. Because all these things are familiar experiences of our everyday lives. We take them for granted. They're no big deal.
On Easter Sunday, our sense of wonder may suffer because the story is so familiar to us. We have never seen a resurrection, but we have heard about it all our lives. The death and resurrection of Christ is perhaps the most famous story ever told, the most important event in the history of the world.
On the other hand, the story isn't that familiar to everyone. To many people in our culture today, Easter is all about the bunny, new clothes, and family get-togethers that used to happen. Even if it's a day everybody goes to church, many people aren't sure exactly why.
To those who have heard the story a thousand times, it can become so familiar that it isn't thrilling anymore. The wonder and the joy and the awe of that first Easter morning can be lost to us through years of repetition. To those who are unfamiliar with the story, it's as foreign as the Internet to a telegraph operator. On Easter, we all need to return with new eyes to the empty tomb.
The wonder and the joy and the awe of that first Easter morning can be lost to us through years of repetition.
Try to imagine yourself walking with the women to the tomb 2,000 years ago. The gray, misty dawn, the quietness of the city, the calm, cool air -- the atmosphere is one of sadness and despair and heartbreak that Jesus is dead. Then as we approach the tomb, we see that the stone over the mouth of the tomb has been rolled away -- a relief, because we were going to have to move it, but what is going on? Has somebody desecrated the grave of Jesus? We look in and -- there's no body! We saw them lay Jesus right there, and now he's gone! The linen cloths are still there. This is so strange.
Then suddenly the little tomb is awash in light, and two men stand there. We hit the floor and cover our faces. They say to us, "Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, be crucified and on the third day raised again" (Luke 24:5-7). Yeah, we remember, but we're not going to hang around to discuss it! So away we run, all the way back into the city, where we tell the disciples what we saw. But just like a bunch of men, they pay no attention. All except Peter, who runs back to the tomb and looks in for himself. He sees the cloths that wrapped the body of Jesus, but no Jesus. So he comes back to where we are still waiting, amazed, perplexed, confused at what this might mean.
What does this Easter gospel mean for us as we live 2,000 years after the fact? I'd like to borrow a line from Max Lucado's book, Six Hours One Friday, and say that Easter means your faith isn't futile, your failures aren't fatal, and your death isn't final.
Your faith isn't futile because it's true. To the skeptical mind, the Easter faith is preposterous. We believe in a man whom we claim is God, who was executed as a criminal two millennia ago in an obscure part of the Roman empire. We believe that God raised him back to life, and that by believing in him, we will find meaning in life now and life eternal in heaven when we die. Either that is the most ludicrous pipe dream ever to float through the human brain, or it is the greatest plan of salvation ever preached. Even Paul admits, "For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men" (1 Corinthians 15:16-19).
Is that it? Are we fools under a theological delusion? Paul quickly adds, "But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep" (1 Corinthians 15:20). But in fact, it is all true. Jesus is alive. Our faith isn't futile. If it's false, it's foolish. If it's true, it is the foundation for a life that is powerful and positive and productive forever.
Dr. E. Stanley Jones, the great Methodist missionary and evangelist, stood in the pulpit when he was 83 years old and made a remarkable statement. He said, "The next ten years are going to be the greatest I have ever had!" The congregation looked at the feeble old man before them and wondered how that could be. Then, with a twinkle in his eye, E. Stanley Jones said, "I didn't say where they were going to be, but 'here' or 'there,' they will be the greatest with Christ." Life lived with faith in the risen Lord isn't a life of futility and defeat; it is a life of purpose and victory. It is the greatest life there is!
Easter means your failures aren't fatal. Easter is all about overcoming the apparent fiascoes of life by the power of God and turning them into occasions for celebration. Look at our Lord. Was anybody ever more utterly defeated and destroyed than he was? He was betrayed and deserted by his closest friends, convicted in a travesty of justice, beaten within an inch of his life, and then subjected to the cruelest form of execution ever devised. His enemies took great pleasure in mocking him to his face and spitting on him as he hung dying on the cross. Then he died and was laid in a borrowed tomb. It appeared his failure was fatal.
But then Easter came, and Jesus burst the bonds of death itself to live again. He rose up and walked out and appeared to his disciples. Then he ascended into glory at the right hand of the Father in heaven. His "failure" was not fatal; it was the gift of life to everyone who followed him.
Think about Peter, the disciple who vowed at the Last Supper never to leave or forsake his Lord, even to go to death with him. Before the night was over, Peter had denied knowing Jesus three times. He was an utter failure. But then came Easter, and Peter was the one who ran to the tomb when the women came in with this outlandish report. He was the first disciple to see the empty tomb, the folded linen grave clothes, and Jesus nowhere to be found. In time he was reconciled to Jesus and became a great leader in the early church. His failure was not fatal, either.
So how can you consider yourself a failure if you are a follower of Christ? Yes, we mess up. Yes, we betray, deny, and desert our Christ. And yes, we suffer the blows of life that sure seem like failures -- death, illness, divorce, job loss, addiction, and so forth. But we are an Easter people. We believe in the redeeming power of God. Our failures aren't fatal; they are opportunities to learn and grow into the likeness of Christ.
Easter means that our death isn't final. Jesus was not held by the prison of death, and in his resurrection, he paves the way for those who believe in him to inherit eternal life. Because he died and rose again, so can we. "But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ, all will be made alive" (1 Corinthians 15:20-22). Jesus has been through the door, and now he stands at the door and holds it open and lets us get a glimpse of what is on the other side! So when someone we love dies, or our own time to die comes, we know what is going on. The perishable is putting on imperishability; the mortal is putting on immortality; this physical body is putting on a spiritual body; and death is being swallowed up in victory! "Thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Corinthians 15:57). Death isn't the final word of life. That's our hope.
Your faith isn't futile, your failures aren't fatal, and your death isn't final. That's what Easter means.
Pastor John Lucas