The Difference Easter Makes

Around the world today sanctuaries are packed with people celebrating Easter. Unfortunately,  many of those worshipers will not return next Sunday. Why?

A recent study gave these reasons:

74% – There is no value in attending

81% – Churches have too many problems

48% – I don’t have the time

42% – I’m simply not interested

34% – The church is irrelevant to the way I live [Barna Research Group]

Do you hear what these figures are saying?  For the most part people thing the church (and it’s message is irrelevant).  I find that staggering.  I can’t think of anything more relevant than the issue of life after death and how to prepare for it.  This morning I want to show you SOME of the relevance of Easter.  Go with me to Matthew 28 and let’s see how the fact of Easter can change us today.

Don’t Be Afraid . . .

Twice in this simple account (and it is also found in the other gospels) We see the command, “Do not be afraid”.  In verse 5 it is the Angel telling the women not to be afraid.  In verse 10 Jesus tells these women the same thing: “Do not be afraid.” The message of Easter is one that says to all of us, “You no longer need to be afraid.”

Fear runs rampant in our lives.  Steve Brown writes,

We’re afraid we might fail; we’re afraid people may not like us; we’re afraid that we might get out of the will of God, we’re afraid of the wrath of God, we’re afraid of what people will do to us if they get angry; we’re afraid of cancer, pollution, war and AIDS.  We’re afraid not to be afraid, lest, in our moment of weakness, we get destroyed.  We’re afraid of losing our material goods and our spiritual superiority.  We’re afraid, with Satchel Paige, to look back lest something should be gaining on us.  And, most of all, we’re afraid of death. [Steve Brown, LIVING FREE Grand Rapids :Baker p. 122]

We can add the fear of speaking in public, the fear of water, the fear of tight places, the fear of failure, the fear of being alone, the fear of losing control, the fear of loud noises, the fear of rejection, the fear of our past.  The list goes on.

We can be so afraid that we never risk commitment or intimacy.  We can be so afraid that we never get beyond our “comfort zones”.  We can be so afraid that we never try anything new, never risk reaching out, and never dare to express ourselves.  Fear causes us to cling to each other, keep our fingers on the trigger of our handgun, and keep 911 on speed-dial.

But we must admit that fear has its place.  Fear is an emotion that is designed to alert us to possible danger.  Fear causes the adrenalin to increase which at times makes us more alert and able to deal with these dangerous situations.  Fear, properly dealt with can energize us.  But . . . .most of the time fear paralyzes us.  That’s where the resurrection comes in.

1. The resurrection means we no longer have to worry about the future.

The greatest threat we face in life is the threat of death.  The fear of death controls our life much more than we realize.  This fear can dictate what we eat, what activities we engage in, where we live.  The fear of death makes us fearfully attentive to every ache and pain in our body.

But the resurrection of Jesus takes the teeth out of death.  Easter shows us that there is life beyond the grave.  Death is no longer a giant . . . it is a mere blip on the screen of eternity.  Jesus’ return from the grave allows us to face death with new confidence.  We understand now that for the child of God, death is a transition point.  Nothing more.

If you could know that everything was going to turn out o.k. in the end . . . would that calm your fears?  Sure it would.  I love to watch basketball games but I hate the seesaw nature of the game.  I dread the time of the NBA playoffs almost as much as I look forward to them.  I dread these times because of the agony that has to be endured before you get to the final buzzer of the game.  Now, when I’m not home I sometimes tape the game. On these occasions I usually find out the final score BEFORE I watch (or don’t watch) the tape.  And it is surprising how the fear and anxiety disappears if I know how the game is going to end.

The resurrection tells us how it is all going to end for the child of God.  Knowing the ending helps us deal with what comes in between.  Jesus shows us that in the end the home team wins.

I’m not overly fond of flying in airplanes.  There is something about the idea of this metal cylinder hanging precariously in the air that unnerves me a little.  This fear is not helped when we encounter turbulence.  But I have learned a little trick to help me deal with this fear.  I ask myself, “what is the worst thing that can happen?”  The answer?  “We could plunge from the sky and go crashing into the ground and be destroyed beyond recognition.”  (I always try to be honest with myself.) And then I ask, “Are you prepared to die?”  And I can respond, “Yes, I know where I am going.  Death has no power over me because Jesus has overcome it.”  Then I can sit back and look strong for everyone else.

Joan Chittester reaches into the literature of the masters to remember a time when a great army invaded the country and created a path of destruction wherever they went. Their greatest wrath was reserved for a holy people they found, particularly the monks. The author writes,

“When the invaders arrived in one of the villages… The Leader of the village reported to the commander, “All the monks, hearing of your approach, fled to the mountains.”

The commander smiled a broad, cold smile, for he was proud of having a reputation for being a very fearsome person.

But then the leader added, “All, that is, but one.”

The commander became enraged. He marched to the monastery and kicked in the gate. There in the court yard stood the one remaining monastic. The commander charged at the figure. “Do you know who I am?” The commander demanded. “I am He who can run you through with a sword without batting an eyelash.”

And the monastic fixed the commander with a serene and patient look and said, “And do you know who I am? I am one who can let you run me through with a sword without batting an eyelash.” (Wisdom from the Daily, p. 184….Quoted in MacDonald THE LIFE GOD BLESSES p. 77)

The future may not be pleasant but we will overcome it. . . . if our faith is in the one who rose from the dead.  No need to be afraid of the future.

2. We no longer need to fear the past.

Does your past haunt you?  Do you worry that people will find out what you are really like?  Do you fear that they will discover what you did or said in the past?  Do you fear that some of your past decisions will come back to haunt you?  Do you fear that some of your past deeds will disqualify you from Heaven?  If so, you join a large company of people.  Easter has good news for you.

When Jesus came back from the dead He proved that the sacrifice of His life was acceptable to God.  His resurrection shows that the debt for sin has been paid.  God’s wrath has been satisfied.  We are assured that “everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name” (Acts 10:43) And in the book of Isaiah our Lord says, “Though your sins are like scarlet, they will be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall be like wool.” (1:18)

Sure, our past may embarrass us.  Our past may lead people to think differently of us BUT…. ultimately, our past is dealt with.  It is erased in the blood of Christ.  We are forgiven.  And we know it is true because of the resurrection.  What wonderful liberating news this is to every believer.

3. We can face the present with new confidence.

The road we travel is often bumpy.  We look at what is ahead of us and we rightly think: “I am weak, I lack the necessary powers, the task seems overwhelming, I don’t think I can make it.”  But we must not stop there!  We must go on in our discussion with ourselves.  We must continue by saying, “BUT, God has given me His Spirit.  I do not have to face the future in my own strength.  My strength is weak but His is without equal.”

When Jesus returned from the grave He told us that He would give us His Spirit to lead us.  This Spirit, He promised, would guide us into truth.  This Spirit would give us the words to say when we are in difficult situations.  This Spirit would give us courage when our knees would buckle.  We do not face our present difficulties alone if we are trusting the one who has risen from the grave.  The Lord promises that NOTHING will separate us from His love.  He also promises that in ALL THINGS He is at work in our lives for the good.  These are promises that can calm the most anxious heart.  When we face the fearful times of the present and look at the Lord and realize that He has promised to give us the strength and resources to get through whatever comes.

We now focus not on our ability but His

There is one thing in the Bible that we are told that we should fear.  We are told that we should fear the Lord.  In fact we are told , “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom”.(Proverbs 1:7) What does this mean?

In the classic work Pilgrim’s Progress the fear of the Lord is described as: “the conviction of sin, which leads to repentance and saving faith, and results in a holy reverence for God.”  Fear of the Lord is seeing God for who He is and giving Him the proper place in our lives.  You see, as long as we are looking at the Lord . . . the fear disappears.

Brown tells this story,

There is a great comedy record featuring Mel Brooks as a very old man whose life is measured in thousands of years.  The interviewer asks the old man if he was there when people started talking about God. He replied that he was there; and not only that, God’s name was Phil.  He said that this guy, by the name of Phil, went out into the fields and said that he was God.  A lot of people followed him.  Then, one day, a lightning bolt came down and killed Phil.  Brooks went on to say that the man who was standing next to Phil said, “There’s somebody bigger than Phil!”  There is somebody bigger than Phil.  Christians who are facing fear need to remember that. [Brown, p.129]

Easter tells us we don’t need to be afraid any longer.

Go and Tell . . .

The second command given by both the Angel and the Lord was to “go and tell the disciples”.  Before Jesus ascended into heaven He told His disciples: “Go, and make disciples of all nations. . Christianity is a “go and tell” faith.

Joe Bayly, has written “I saw Gooley Fly.” Herb Gooley, as Bayly describes him, was a college student, ” an ordinary sort of guy until the night he stepped out of his third-floor dorm window and flew away into the Wild Blue yonder.”   

Up until Christmas break his junior year, Gooley had been distinguished by only one thing-the neck of tripping over his own feet. But when he got back from Christmas vacation, his astonished fellow students found he was actually able to fly-fly his own body, that is, not an airplane.  

His roommate told how it happened. After studying late one night, Gooley decided to go down the street for a hamburger. His roommate reminded him that the hamburger place would close in just three minutes, to which Gooley replied matter-of-factly, ” I’ll fly down. ” 

He went over to the window, lifted it up, and stepped out. Jerry, his roommate, thought he had gone crazy and ran around telling everybody that Gooley had jumped out the window. But when they looked outside, no one was there.  

The whole campus buzzed. They would see Gooley walking along, and all of a sudden he would be airborne. The library was besieged with requests for books on aerodynamics and anything else that had to do with flying. Everyone wanted to learn to fly like Gooley, but nobody would actually admit to envy. The Administration was embarrassed by this flight freak, so they invited a specialist to give lectures for a “Flight Emphasis Week.” The Hall was packed until the students found out the lecturer couldn’t fly. The crowd suddenly dropped off.   

The parable ends as follows:  

“You know, I’ve always been surprised that Gooley didn’t tell us how to do it, or at least how he did it. He couldn’t help knowing how interested we all were. But he kept his mouth shut. So none of us learn to fly. ”  

“It’s a funny thing, but I still have a sense of loss at not learning Gooley’s secret. And other grads have confessed the same thing to me.   

“What happened to Gooley? I’ve often wondered about that he transferred at fall to another college where, they say, all the students know how to flight. ”  

(Joseph Bayly, How Silently, How Silently (and other stories)) (Elgin, Illinois: David C.. Cook, 1968) p.27

People Need to Know How to Find Life Beyond the Grave

Joe Bayly wanted us to see the importance of sharing our faith with others.  The resurrection of Jesus shows us that life does not end at death.  But it not only reveals that there is life beyond the grave . . . the resurrection points the way to this life.

The world in which we live is made up of people who are lost and confused.  They either believe:

  • there is no life beyond the grave which results in a lifestyle that says: “Grab all you can, this is all there is”.  These people live in a constant state of panic.  Their only concern is to do what they want to do because nothing else matters.
  • they believe that only those who live by a certain set of rule can get to Heaven.  These people knock themselves out trying to be “good enough” and live in fear that they will make that one “fatal mistake” and ruin their chances.
  • or they believe that everyone goes to Heaven and there are still no consequences for their behavior.

All three of these groups are like sheep heading for the slaughter.  Unless they turn from their ways and place their trust in Christ, they will be forever cast from the Lord’s presence.

Love Demands We Tell People About Eternal Life

We do not really love people if we withhold the most important information in the world from them.  How can we be silent when we know someone we care about may spend eternity in torment?  Are we silent because we don’t care?  Or because we don’t believe?

We sometimes hear people say, “It doesn’t matter what you believe as long as you are sincere. “What nonsense!  If someone you cared about told you they believed they could drive from La Harpe to Chicago [250 miles] blindfolded and were going to prove it by doing so . . . wouldn’t you try to stop them?  Wouldn’t you try to stop them even if they were sincere?  Why?  Because even though they are sincere, they are sincerely WRONG.  Sincerity is not able to save you.  Only the truth of Christ can save.  Even sincere people need to hear the truth of the gospel.

Others tell us (even about their own children) that they “want them to make their own choices. . .” so they are not going to influence them.  They will not bring their children to worship.  They will not teach their children the Bible or in any way seek to “influence” a person.   Do you feel the same way about your children’s education?  Do you give them free choice as to whether they will go to school or not?  NO.  Why? Because it’s too important?  Because they are unable to make that choice by themselves?  Is that choice more important than where they spend eternity? Do you think the opposition is concerned about NOT influencing those we love?

We have an obligation to get the word out.  People are literally dying to hear about Jesus.

Let me ask you, my friends, are you trusting the man who rose from the dead?  Do you recognize that Jesus was God become man?  Do you see that He died willingly as a payment for your sin?  Do you understand that there is no way that you can save yourself?  You can’t be “good enough”, you can’t “earn enough credit”.  Do you realize that when Jesus came back from the grave He showed us that everything He said was true?

Now, here’s the important question.  If you believe all that, are you willing to entrust yourself to this Jesus?  Are you willing to stop depending on your efforts to get to Heaven and start resting in what He has done?  Are you willing to trust Him for more than your eternal destiny?  Are you willing to trust Him enough to follow Him today?

If you are willing to do so, tell the Lord right now.  Surrender your life to Him.  Make that step of faith.  And if you do, you will find that you “know how to fly” too.

You can fly my friends.  And you can also live with confidence.  All because Jesus died in your place and rose again victoriously.  And unless I’ve severely misread your situation . . . this is some of the most relevant information you could ever receive. . . . .See you in church!

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