4/21/19

Dawn   Darkness and Dawn (Easter 2019)

 

Last week we walked with Jesus from the start of His early ministry days to the cross.  We saw Him living out the purpose of His Father and the predictions of the prophets by surrendering to be the “Lamb… that takes away the sin of the world.”  Friday night many came and saw Him on the cross… and we revisited the seven times He spoke…   The first one was, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.”  His prayer covered then the wickedness of those who for envy had put Him there, and now our wickedness as mankind mocks His name and “crucifies Him afresh” with our worship of self.   

 

How powerful is “It’s Friday, but Sunday’s Coming!”?  And the story-and-sermon-songs written by so many who worshipped Him – which we will sing together this morning.  May loving and thanking Him grow today by the worship we experience together.  Come, let us adore Him!

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The angel told the early morning tomb visitors, “He is not here!  He is risen.”  I assemble you as a jury this morning as I offer “proofs” that Jesus was stone cold dead but lived again.  Some will quickly say that you need no proof.  You believe He died, you know He’s alive.  You’ve walked together – hand in hand.  You’ve surrendered to Him and found His promises sure and true, every one!  You’ve experienced His leading to quiet pastures and still waters and felt His restoration of your soul.  He gives you joy and peace and no want.  But others – some even here today – are not so sure…

 

Dawn, the time the world moves from darkness to light, is our primary image for starting new cycles of life.  Dawn will serve us well today.  As Easter dawned naturally about 1990 years ago, the world had also been held in spiritual darkness; the “dawn” – the awakening – that came with Jesus of Nazareth’s resurrection signaled our possibility of leaving that spiritual darkness behind forever.  If we’re where Jesus is, we live in light… He is Light; spiritual darkness is forever banished there. 

 

A part of spiritual darkness is Death.  Mankind was powerless against it.  But if Jesus came alive from His tomb and we are His, then Death may yet have a word with us, but it will never again have the last word.  Because of Jesus’ resurrection, life does!  His resurrection validates all He ever said and did and guarantees all He ever promised… including our own resurrection…  A dead hero cannot usher us into eternal life, but a living Savior can.

However, some say, “He never died; so he couldn’t have lived again.”  Such naysayers present only “theories” as evidence: Swoon Theory, Stolen Body Theory, Hallucination theory.  These folks come biased; they start with the conclusion that “Jesus isn’t God, or the Son of God, or divine, and thus no miracle doer… only a man” (maybe “great teacher”) and certainly not resurrected!

 

We must answer.  Did He really die?  The Bible is the DEFENSE’S “star witness…” giving us all the evidence a fair-minded person needs: “Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed his last…” (Mark 15:17).  We find in its narratives several eyewitnesses to His death – all have no preconceived notions for Him.  Some, in fact, were postured strongly against Him – unbelievers.  Impartial witnesses and those against Jesus being God speaking for Him give us compelling proofs.  Let’s identify them and listen. 

 

Roman Centurion:  A Commander… his rank suggests intelligence, accomplishment, and a high level of training and experience.  His testimony is, “Surely this man was the Son of God.”  It’s not the confession he made that I want you to see, it’s the word “was,” “was the Son of God.” past tense, not “is,” present tense.  At the time he spoke as a participant in the crucifixion event, telling us this: what-ever He claimed to be and was before, He was dead now.”

 

Four “On Duty” Roman Soldiers:  Ordinary soldiers, but we have zero reason to think they didn’t know their orders, crucifixion protocols, and how to do duty.  The Gospel writers’ brief descriptions of the crucifixion suggest they made no mistakes.  Finally, we read: “they broke the legs of the thieves, but coming to Jesus, when they saw he was already dead they did not break his legs” (John 19:33).  They saw He was already dead!

 

Then One Particular Roman Soldier:

 

“But one of the soldiers stuck his spear into Jesus’ side. Immediately blood and water came out.  These things happened to give full meaning to the Scriptures that said, “None of his bones will be broken” and “People will look at the one they stabbed.” (John 19:34)

 

The soldier knew the desired result of a crucifixion was death.  The separated blood and water coming from Jesus’ side assured him that death had come.

 

Burial Party:  These people loved and followed Jesus and so, some might think them biased.  Believers, yes, but not biased about Him being dead.  Not one of them had a clear notion that Jesus would rise from death.  Yes, they remembered He had spoken of it; some hoped it would be true.  Once the tomb was reported empty, two on-the-way-to-Emmaus disciples spoke of startling reports and remembered He has said something about “the third day.”  But we’re talking hope, not certainty.  Meanwhile, the burial party was in shock, trying to cope… trying to show a final kindness to one they loved. 

 

How many were in the burial party?  We don’t know:  Joseph of Arimathea, Nicodemus, and some women… but enough to take Jesus’ body down off the cross, carry it to the tomb, bring along “100 lbs. of (spices)”, wrap His body head to toe mummy-fashion, place it in the tomb, and roll a massive stone against the entrance.  Surely, had they seen any hint of life, they would have stopped preparing Him for burial immediately and began trying to keep Him alive! 

 

Jesus’ Adversaries:  The Jews knew Jesus spoke of “the third day” and were wary.  They doubted any trouble coming from the cowardly, scattered disciples, but they needed to be sure.  Then for certainty they asked Pilate “to place a guard just in case his disciples steal the body and the latter situation would be worse than the first…”  Pilate, weary enough to want it over, willingly agreed and told them, “Place a guard…”   This platoon was likely made up of both Roman soldiers and Jewish Temple Guards.  They, too, were competent, and had only one duty to see to – make sure Jesus’ body stayed in His tomb.

 

Pilate:  Remember he checked.  He asked his Commander if Jesus was dead.  The last thing he wanted was an empty tomb (and additional turmoil from the troublesome Jews with it)!

 

So Jesus was truly dead.  There is no doubt.  But did He rise to live again?  More witnesses…

 

First, the Jews:  Their giving no rebuttal in response to the disciples’ announcement of Jesus’ resurrection is a proof of the truth of the announcement!  An indisputable proof of a fraud, producing the body of Jesus, would deal Jesus’ movement a death blow.  But they did not and could not produce His body!”

 

His “Disciples”:  Of course, “disciples” will be labeled as biased, but were they?  Remember that time and again Jesus told them of what lay ahead for Him and time and again they failed to grasp it.  Their minds were clouded with the

presupposition that He would be an earthly King (remember James and John asked for the prominent places when “he came into his kingdom”).  Consider their fleeing and hiding in fear – they thought that to be caught by the religious leaders meant they’d suffer a similar dire fate like their leader, and in short order.  Nowhere do we see them gathered together plotting their next move or checking their conspiracy strategy.  Their disbelief resurrection morning is prima facie evidence:  when told the thing they wished was true was in fact true, they ridiculed the women messengers for their silliness.

 

But then… for some reason, they changed.  Why?  With a dead Jesus, they would quietly fade back into the throngs of Palestine.  But for a Living Jesus, they defied authorities, made believers of 10s of thousands, suffered and died, and simply “turned the world upside down!”     

 

Here’s the Bottom Line for Us  If there was no resurrection of Jesus Christ, we are unforgiven!  So what would life be like lived without Easter?  No struggle would hold any promise of ending well. 

 

The Prodigal who just wanted to get away from his hateful older brother, hitched a ride to Vegas, skied Colorado, and bought a penthouse in Manhattan then to meet disaster and go broke and be eating slop on a pig farm… there would be no happy home-going story.  His father would not be looking for him.  Locks would be changed.  Knocks on door would get this answer: “What do you want?” / “I’m home, I was wrong, I’m sorry, I need help.” / “Who cares?  You blew it; you smell like pigs.”  And he might well go down by the creek, pick out a good limb, and hang himself.

 

But because of Jesus’ paying all our blood God demanded for our sin, God is not roaming heaven with a club.  His wrath has been satisfied by Jesus death!

 

Easter means hope beyond death.  For my preaching holding people’s attention, I like funerals.  Nobody looks at phones or thinks ahead to lunch.  Everyone pays attention because the occasion itself shouts a clear-as-a-bell message that someday the lid will close on our casket, it will be lowered into a hole and covered with dirt, and folks will scurry back from the cemetery to the church building for chicken and potato salad, and maybe say something good about us. 

 

When in the cemetery Death’s power is plain and the heart cries out for resurrection, something beyond green grass and rows of tombstones.  How reassuring to know Jesus was raised from a grave and we will be, too, and go to Him in glory!

 

Folks, if you know Jesus, you’re forgiven.  Sleep well tonight in grace and peace. 

 

But if you don’t know Him as your Savior from your sin, if you haven’t surrendered your life to Him, my prayer is – and I’m asking every Christian here to pray with me – that God not let you sleep a wink until you are washed in His blood.

 

Let’s all tell it, “Since He is risen, we are forgiven!”  Let’s personalize it: “Since He is risen, I am forgiven!” 

I was sinking deep in sin, far from the peaceful shore… very deeply stained within, sinking to rise no more… But the Master of the sea heard my despairing cry… From the waters lifted me, NOW SAFE AM I!” 

 

Do you need Him to lift you.Come while we sing this great song.