Churches are generally filled on Easter morning because Easter is a big deal. It must be a big deal because I notice Wal-Mart and the video store are closed for Easter! For some people it is a big church day. There is an opportunity to minister before a full house. There are songs to sing, music to play, tasks to perform. For others, Easter is special because it is a time for family. Big dinners, a houseful of people, fancy dresses. For still others it is time for special events: Easter egg hunts, goodies from the Easter bunny, special gatherings.
I hope that all of us realize that Easter is much more than the things already mentioned. Easter is the pivotal day in history. It is the day when death loses its sting, where strength is found for trials, where salvation through Christ is proved to be real, where life beyond the grave is verified with an exclamation point.
In past years I have argued for the historical validity of the resurrection. I’ve pointed to the empty tomb, the eyewitness accounts, the unwillingness of the witnesses to recant their story even in the face of horrendous death. I’ve pointed to the transformation in the disciples and the lack of any kind of credible alternative explanation. I hope you are convinced of the factual basis of the resurrection.
This morning I want to focus not on the event itself, but on how we (and others) respond to the event. As I mention the various ways people responded to the resurrection, I hope you are able to identify your response.
In Matthew 28 we notice that the guards were afraid (v.4); the women were afraid (v.5); the religious leaders were afraid (v. 11ff). In Luke 24 we are told that when the disciples first saw the Lord they were frightened, “thinking they saw a ghost”.
Why were they afraid? Let me give some answers. First, they were surprised. If someone comes up behind you and touches you, you will often jump in fear. The disciples and other followers were surprised that morning. The appearance of Christ startled them.
Second, they were cautious. They had been hurt deeply when Jesus died. They were afraid to believe He was alive again . . . lest the pain should return with new force.
Third, they were overwhelmed. Have you ever had the chance to meet someone who was “famous”? A ballplayer, a musician, a person of film, an author, a favorite speaker? If you have, you may know what this sense of being overwhelmed is like. You may have gone up to that person and said something which made you sound like an absolute idiot. The reason? You were overwhelmed by their presence. Now if this is so when we encounter someone of earthly reknown . . . can we begin to imagine the sense of awe at seeing the Savior?
And some responded in fear because they were convicted. The guards and the religious leaders got caught with their “hand in the cookie jar.” They plotted his death. They were part of the conspiracy. Now the table was turned.
Notice what the religious leaders do. They deny the facts and fabricate a story to cover the truth. They are like little children who don’t like what they are hearing. They figure if they put their hands over their ears and make a lot of noise they can make the truth go away. Things haven’t changed today. People develop theories and fanciful explanations for the resurrection. Their stories are just as “lame” as the story of the religious leaders of Jesus day. They try to make a lot of noise so they don’t have to deal with the fearful reality of this historical event.
In Mark 16 we are told that when Mary Magdalene told the disciples that she had seen Jesus alive the disciples “did not believe it.” Later we are told that Jesus rebuked them for their “stubborn refusal to believe those who had seen him after he had risen.” Luke tells them that they did not believe because the words of the women “seemed like nonsense.”
Lots of people respond to the teaching of the resurrection with skepticism. It is an incredible story. God become man . . . giving Himself to death for sinful humanity . . . rising from the grave three days later. Who isn’t skeptical? However the skepticism of the disciples gave way to the assurance that came from the evidence. They were able to touch Him, see His wounds, talk with Him.
Though skepticism is natural it is important to remember that skepticism can lead to one of two responses: a search for the truth or a resistance that turns to unbelief. I urge the careful and thorough examination of the issue. In my own experience, this examination led me to an unwavering confidence in the validity of the resurrection testimony. I pray that you search leads you to the same result.
Joy and Worship
Matthew tells us that the women were “filled with joy”. Luke tells us that the disciples did not believe “because of joy and amazement”. When Mary saw Him she fell to her feet in worship. Thomas fell to the floor saying, “My Lord, and My God!”
Who of us would not bubble with joy to spend just one hour with one we loved dearly and had died. Oh, to have that one last conversation and say what might have been left unsaid. Oh, to hear what is on the other side of death from one who had been there. We are not surprised that His friends rejoiced.
The difference in this case is that their joy deepened. Even after Jesus had left them to return to Heaven their joy did not diminish. They realized that the One they loved was God in human form and had opened the door to Heaven for them. They now understood where He was and knew for certain that they would see Him again. The whole tenure of their life was altered. Joy gave them confidence in their struggles, their blessings, their daily chores and their relationships. Life was no longer controlled by the latest gadget or the ability to obtain some pleasure. Joy was not contingent on their successes. Now joy was anchored in a relationship to the never-changing one. They lived the rest of their lives filled with a sense of gratitude and reverence for the God who revealed such goodness and love.
Let me suggest one further response to the resurrection. I believe this is the most common response to the resurrection in our day. It is the response of indifference. There is a large number of people who will go through this entire Easter day and never give a serious thought about Christ. They might attend worship, they might hear the story but they will not look towards Him.
Indifference Due to Distraction
A good majority of people are indifferent to Easter because they are distracted by other things. To them Easter is about activity. They have meals to cook, travel plans to make, family gatherings to attend. To them Easter is about a full crowd at church and the preparations for that special time of worship. It is a time for the family to be together. But they are so distracted that they don’t have time to grasp what the resurrection of Jesus means. They talk about it, the pay homage to it, but it’s meaning never registers. They have too many other things on their mind.
Not long ago, the Wall Street Journal carried this two-sentence news story that is really a parable: “The elms in, South Park, Pa., must be cut down because they are obstructing the monument to Joyce Kilmer. They have lifted their leafy arms so high that passersby can no longer read the inscription that begins, “I think that I shall never see, a poem lovely as a tree.” We can become so involved in the activities of the celebration that we forget the reason for the celebration.
Indifference Due to Denial
But there are others who are indifferent to the resurrection because they prefer superficial faith. If they can keep the resurrection of Jesus right next to the story of Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny, they can enjoy the story without having to deal with the implications. They don’t want to deal with it as a historical reality because they know if Jesus really did rise from the grave, certain things will have to be addressed,
- They will have to give up superficial faith. If He rose again then we must either believe He rose from the grave and acknowledge Him as Lord and leader of my life or we refuse to do so. There will no longer be room for half-hearted commitment. We must decide.
- We will have to acknowledge that Jesus is the way to eternal life. Other faiths may sound good, but Jesus is the only one who has proven His claims. If He has indeed risen, then we can no longer live for the pleasures of this world. We have to alter our perspective on what is really important. We will know that there is life beyond the grave.
- We will have to acknowledge that if Christ was sent to pay for sin, sin must be horribly offensive to God. Therefore we can no longer rationalize and excuse our behavior. We will have to change.
Many (most?) people do not want to deal with these issues. To them, ignorance is bliss. What they don’t know, cannot make any demands on their life. They believe If they can avoid the issue they can avoid the implications of the issue. They will try to “cover all the bases” by giving lip service to the resurrection but they won’t make a commitment. They deceive themselves.
So, the question I leave with you this morning is this: how do you respond to the resurrection?
- Are you avoiding the issue?
- Are you too distracted to see the glory of this fact of history?
- Are you a hardened skeptic rather than an honest examiner of the truth?
- Does this day stimulate a joy and worship that is anchored in the person of Jesus (not the events)?
Do you see the implications of Easter?
- this one event makes death something positive rather than negative
- this one event frees you to live with joy because you know that the promise of salvation is real . . . even for those who have a past that is stained.
- this one event points you to the source of truth. Truth is no longer changing with the wind. It is established and verified by the Savior who rose.
- this one event gives our life meaning and purpose. We are not living for nothing. It is NOT all a “waste of time”. Life does matter. What we do in secret IS seen by God. No matter what we are going through it is NOT hopeless.
- This one event calls for a decision. The resurrection of Jesus puts the decision squarely before each of us: Will you turn to Christ? Will you admit the wickedness of your own life and claim the forgiveness He offers? Will you bow before Him and acknowledge Him as Lord of our lives? Will you believe Him? Or will you turn away? Will you respond like the disciples or like the religious leaders?
This is the most important decision of your lives. You can cover your ears and make lots of noise, but the decision remains. You can wish you had never heard . . . but you have. You can wish you could go indifferently like you have before . . .but you can’t. Easter brings you to a fork in the road of life. You must declare whether you are with Him or against Him. There is no middle ground. The door is open. Will you go in, or walk away?
The decision you make will not only govern how you live the rest of your life. It will determine how you live the life that exists beyond the grave as well.