The Day Before Easter
Easter, Resurrection, Salvation, Decision
After all these years of preaching Easter sermons in the same church (which means you can’t repeat old sermons) I had come to believe that I had looked at Easter from just about every angle I could imagine. But a few weeks ago I saw something that brought new light into my understanding.
In our Sunday School class we watched a video clip of a man who was playing the role of the disciple Thomas on the day before Easter. His portrayal touched me and it started me thinking. I found that I had a new appreciation for Easter.
This morning I want to try to help you see Easter with new eyes. I want you to try to catch the wonder. This morning I want to briefly imagine the difference between Saturday (the day before Easter) and Sunday (Resurrection day).
The Day Before Easter
The thing that I needed to be reminded of this year is the fact that when Jesus died, his followers did not know that there would be an Easter. We have to work to understand that fact because all our lives we have faced the sadness of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday with the knowledge of what was around the corner. Our sobriety was always tempered by anticipation. That was not the case with the disciples. To them, the world as they knew it had stopped.
They felt lifeless. The shock of the events that had taken place and the exhaustion of all that had gone on over the last week had left them emotionally drained. They were worn out. They hadn’t slept, they probably hadn’t eaten and there was really nothing they wanted to do. It was as if life had stopped.
They felt defeated. All their hopes had been tied to Jesus. They were sure He was the Messiah. They believed He was going to lead them to the great life the Bible had promised. They had seen evidence of this life in the miracles they saw. They saw this life in the way His words burned in their hearts and minds. Jesus made them feel significant. In the video I was watching Thomas said reflectively, “He was the only one who had picked me for anything . . . “ These were common men who had been living a dream. For the first time in their life they felt important. They believed they were making a difference. And then suddenly . . . it was all gone.
They believed they had wasted their life. Some of you have had the experience of working at a job for ten years or so. You worked hard, gave it your all, and suddenly the business failed or you were laid off. You felt that you had wasted all those years.
Some of you have felt that way about a marriage. You gave your best years to someone and then one day they walked out on you. You felt that your best years had been stolen from you. And that’s how the disciples must have felt.
These men had invested the last three years of their life traveling all over the place. At the time it seemed like great training for the future. They loved being with Jesus. They thought He was someone unique. They believed He was the one who would redeem the world. Can you imagine how confused these guys were? In their heads they must have been asking, “How could I have been so wrong?” “Why did I think Jesus was the Messiah?”
I’m sure these followers sat around together on Friday night and most of Saturday. Partly they were afraid that the officials might come for them next. But they also didn’t know what else to do. Their hopes and their dreams were tied to Jesus. Every day they waited for instructions and looked forward to the new adventure. Now there was nothing. Nothing.
Do you know why it is so important that we see what Saturday was like? It’s because so many people we know . . . so many people who are right here in this congregation are living their lives in a Saturday-like existence. Maybe you feel all alone in the midst of the crowd of Easter. Maybe you feel that the work that needs to be done is a bigger job than you can handle.
If you are in your middle years you may be starting to think, “Is this all there is?” All those great dreams you had when you were younger . . . you are now beginning to realize that many of those dreams will never be fulfilled. And many of the goals you have reached that seemed so important have proved to be somewhat empty. Your calendar is full but you feel like you are being pulled in a dozen different directions at once. You never seem to be able to relax and the bills never seem to be fully paid. You have that treadmill feeling: you are running fast but getting nowhere.
If you are younger, perhaps you feel that the mountain in front of you is so huge that you cannot get to the top. So you wonder if you should even begin the climb. You have big dreams, but you wonder if they are out of reach. Everything seems so far away. You already feel the pressure to achieve. You feel like you are carrying not only your own dreams but also have to carry the dreams of your family on your shoulders . . . and you are scared that you might fail. Maybe you are in a difficult family situation and you feel unloved and misunderstood.
If you are older, you may find yourself groaning more than you laugh. You don’t have the energy you once had and you don’t feel that you have anything productive that you can contribute anymore. Many of your dearest friends have died, perhaps a mate, a child, and brothers and sisters. You feel alone and the next major event in your life looks like it will be the last event of your life. You may feel like you are on the edge of a cliff and your getting dizzy.
This is the Saturday experience and that is why we need to get to Sunday. We need the message of Easter.
Easter’s New Beginning
After we have understood the sadness of the disciples we can begin to better understand their joy. Imagine walking out of this sanctuary and meeting a family member or dear friend who had died. Wouldn’t it be wonderful? Your reaction would be similar to what the disciples must have experienced. There would be some disbelief. Like the disciples you would rub your eyes and whisper, “Are you seeing what I see?”
You can understand why the disciples were cautious at first. It’s really not all that surprising that they didn’t believe the earliest reports of an empty tomb. Even Mary Magdalene assumed that someone had stolen the body. The report of the empty tomb heightened their despair. Just when they thought it couldn’t get any worse . . . someone had ransacked the burial place of Jesus!
When Mary reported to the disciples that she had seen Jesus . . . alive . . . they were skeptical. It was easier to not believe than to believe and have their hopes crushed again. They couldn’t face the disappointment another time. But when they saw, talked to, and spent time with Jesus they eventually did believe and then there was the inexpressible joy of a dream come true. I bet they didn’t know whether to cry, sing, laugh or dance. In those situations you sometimes have to remind yourself to breath because the wonder might cause you to hold your breath.
The resurrection of Jesus changed everything. Those who were mourning now celebrated; those who felt despair, now had hope. Those who were numb, were now filled with life. In 1 Corinthians 15 Paul gives us some of the implications of the resurrection:
The message of salvation is true. If Christ is raised from the grave then He can offer what no one else can. His message is verified as true. He is the true Savior. Forgiveness and a new beginning are possible. Our past can be forgiven. He is the ONLY way to eternal life.
Life is not meaningless. We don’t live simply to die and exist no more. There is life beyond the grave. There IS a God in Heaven. There is more to life than what we can see and feel. The things that don’t make sense now (in our Saturday existence) will one day be explained as we stand in the glory of Heaven (Sunday).
We need not despair at the gravesite of those who have died in Christ. Death is not the end . . . it is a new beginning. It is not defeat but victory. It is not decay, but transformation. Though the sting of death remains, death is no longer victorious. It can wound us but it cannot defeat us. When we say good-bye to a loved one in Christ it is temporary. Sure, it still hurts. Separation is painful. But it is not the end.
We have a message that everyone must hear. This is the greatest news of all! It is more exciting than the birth of a child. It is better than a victory in a big game. It is more important than a new job. This message must be told.
The resurrection brings light to our Saturday darkness.
The middle-aged person realizes that they may not reach their dreams . . . but they have found something better. They have found that the key to life is not in their achievements and trophies . . . it is in Christ. Now, they pursue contentment and faithfulness as their goal. They see that the things of earth will perish and fade, but that which is done for the Lord remains forever.
The young person faces the mountains of the future with the realization that they do not have to face these things in their own strength . . . the Lord is with them. They do not know what the future holds but they do know who holds the future.
The older person who understands the resurrection may slow down physically but they are beginning to feel a sense of anticipation in their hearts. To the child of God, death is not the end, it is the beginning. The older saint is beginning to realize that this life is just the journey to our true destination: Heaven. These folks make every effort to pass on their faith and values to those who have much of the journey still ahead of them. The older person is undistracted by the trinkets of the world. They may have cataracts but they are beginning to see clearly. They may have trouble walking, but the person who is in the light of the resurrection is dancing on the inside.
May I ask a direct question? What difference has the resurrection made in your life? Have you noticed that most people live as though the resurrection has had no real effect at all. Even Christians sometimes live lives that are indistinguishable from the rest of the world? Why is that?
Is it because people don’t want to bow before the resurrected Lord?
- They would rather live as if they were gods in this life than submit to the Creator of the universe for eternity.
- They would rather believe that their view of right and wrong is better than God’s
- They would rather believe that they can be “good enough” rather than needing God’s grace for salvation.
- They would rather die than live.
Or maybe the problem is it that we have relegated the resurrection to the realm of history – it is a good story but has little practical relevance to our lives. If so, it is time to proclaim aloud the message of Easter: ”Jesus lives and everything has changed!”
- Our view of death . . .there is life beyond the grave for everyone who believes
- Our approach to difficulties . . . there is purpose in the madness
- Our focus for living . . . we are living now to live again
- Our view of ourselves . . . we are loved by God
The resurrection of Jesus changes all these things. It’s time for us to live in light of the practical truths of Easter.
Maybe the problem is that you have not yet made the decision to receive the good news of the gospel. Maybe you are one of those people who fully intend to get right with God . . . but you just haven’t done it yet. Is it possible that you believe that Jesus rose from the dead but you haven’t yet made that personal decision and commitment to trust Him as your Savior and Lord?
What are you waiting for? Why would you continue to live the Saturday life when the Sunday celebration is there for the receiving? I can think of no better time to come to the Lord and say, “Lord Jesus, I believe. I believe that you died for me and I believe that your resurrection opened the door of new life to everyone who would believe. I believe! Please forgive me of my sin and empower me with your Spirit. Transform my life so that I can live my life in light of the glory of Easter. Amen.
A sincere prayer just like that is all that is necessary. Please, make that decision today! Begin experiencing the life changing difference of Easter today.
In Charles Swindoll’s book, “The Darkness and the Dawn” Swindoll concludes his book with a great story that I want to use to conclude this sermon.
Edith Burns was a wonderful Christian who lived in San Antonio, Texas. She was the patient of a doctor named Will Phillips, a gentle physician who saw patients as people. His favorite patient was Edith Burns.
One morning Dr. Phillips went to his office with a heavy heart, however, and it was because of Edith Burns. When he walked into the waiting room, there sat Edith with her big black Bible in her lap, earnestly talking to a young mother sitting beside her.
Edith Burns had a habit of introducing herself in this way: “Hello, my name is Edith Burns. Do you believe in Easter?” Then she would explain the meaning of Easter, and many times people would be saved.
Dr. Phillips walked into his office area and said good morning to his office nurse, Beverly. Beverly had first met Edith when she was taking her blood pressure.
Edith said to her, “Hello, my name is Edith Burns. Do you believe in Easter?”
Beverly said, “Why, yes I do.”
“Well, what do you believe about Easter?”
“Well,” said Beverly, “it’s all about egg hunts, going to church, and dressing up.”
Edith kept pressing Beverly about the real meaning of Easter, and finally led the nurse to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.
That morning, Dr. Phillips said, “Beverly, don’t call Edith into the office quite yet. I believe there’s another delivery taking place in the waiting room.”
After being called to the doctor’s office, Edith sat down, and when she took a look at the doctor, she said, “Dr. Will, why are you so sad? Are you reading your Bible? Are you praying?”
Dr. Phillips said gently, “Edith, I’m the doctor and you’re the patient.” And then with a heavy heart he said, “Your lab report came back, and it reveals you have cancer, and, Edith, you’re not going to live very much longer.”
“Why, Dr. Phillips,” said Edith, “shame on you! Why are you so sad? Do you think God makes mistakes? You have just told me I’m going to see my precious Lord Jesus, my husband, and many of my friends. You have just told me that I am going to celebrate Easter forever. And here you are having difficulty giving me my ticket!”
Dr. Phillips thought to himself, What a magnificent woman this Edith Burns is.
Within a few weeks, Edith had reached a point in her illness where she needed to be hospitalized. “Dr. Will, I’m very near home now,” she said, “so would you make sure that they put women in the room with me who need to know about Easter?”
Well, they did just that, and one patient after another shared the room with Edith. Many of them gave their hearts to Christ. Everybody on that floor, from staff to patients, were so excited about Edith that they started calling her Edith Easter-that is, everybody except Phyllis Cross, the head nurse on the floor.
Phyllis made it plain that she wanted nothing to do with Edith because, “She is a religious nut.” Phyllis had been a nurse in an army hospital; she’d seen and heard it all. She was the original G. I. Jane. She had been married three times. She was hard, cold, and did everything by the book.
One morning the two nurses who were to attend to Edith were sick. Edith had gotten the flu, so Phyllis Cross had to go in and give her a shot. When she walked in, Edith had a big smile on her face as she said, “Phyllis, God loves you, and I love you, too. I’ve been praying for you.”
The head nurse frowned. “Well, you can quit praying for me. It won’t work. I’m not interested.”
“Well, I will pray,” responded Edith, “and I have asked God not to let me go home until you come into the family.” “Then you will never die,” snapped Phyllis, “because that will never happen,” and she curtly marched out of the room.
Every day when Phyllis Cross walked into the room, Edith would smile and say, “God loves you, Phyllis, and I love you too. ..and I’m still praying for you.” Finally, one day, Nurse Cross found herself being literally drawn into Edith’s room like a magnet would draw iron. She sat down on the side of the bed and Edith said, “I’m so glad you have come, because God told me that today is your special day.”
“Edith, you have asked everybody here the question, ‘Do you believe in Easter?’ but you’ve never asked me,” said Phyllis.
“I wanted to many times, but God told me to wait until you asked, and now that you have asked. …” And then Edith took her Bible and shared with Phyllis Cross the Easter story of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Then Edith said, “Phyllis, do you believe in Easter? Do you believe that Jesus Christ is alive and that He wants to live in your heart?”
“Oh, I want to believe that with all of my heart,”, said Phyllis. “And I do want Jesus in my life.” And right then and there Phyllis prayed and invited Jesus Christ into her heart.
For the first time Head Nurse Phyllis Cross did not march out of the hospital room, she was carried out as if on the wings of angels.
Two days later Edith said to Phyllis, “Do you know what day it is?”
“Why, yes, it’s Good Friday.”
“Oh, no,” said Edith. “For you every day is Easter. Happy Easter, Phyllis!”
Two days later, on Easter Sunday morning, Phyllis stopped at the hospital flower shop before she went to her desk. She wanted to take a bouquet of Easter lilies up to Edith and wish her a Happy Easter.
When Phyllis walked into Edith’s room, Edith was lying still in her bed. Her big black Bible was open on her lap and her hands were on her Bible. She had a sweet smile on her face.
When Phyllis reached over to pick up Edith’s hand, she realized Edith was gone.
Her left hand rested on John 14:2-3: “In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.”
Her right hand was on Revelation 21:4: “And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away. “
Phyllis Cross took one look at that dead body, then lifted her face toward heaven, and, with tears streaming down her cheeks, said, “Happy Easter, Edith. Happy Easter!”
Then Phyllis left Edith’s body, walked quietly out of the room and over to a table where two student nurses were sitting. She smiled and said, “Hello, my name is Phyllis Cross. Do you believe in Easter?”