The Soft Crescendo – Easter
Easter, Resurrection, Christianity Factual Basis
An expertly played or sung piece of music not only hits the right notes, it also is filled with dynamic elements that are brought about by appropriate pauses and modulations in volume. There are sections that are soft and reflective and places where the sound crescendos in triumph and power. There is a drama in great music that speaks powerfully.
In the best novels, the plot twists and turns until it reaches a climax of the story. This is the time when the reader can’t put the book down until they finish. We have to know what happens . . . even if we have to stay up all night to find out!
The Bible contains some of the best dramatic stories in the world.
- A flood that covers the earth
- An old man who lifts his staff and parts the Red Sea
- A young boy who takes a stand against a Giant
- A reluctant prophet named Jonah who runs from God and is swallowed by a fish.
- A rich and godly man who losing everything in a series of tragedies and then is given a personal audience with God.
The birth of Jesus was filled with drama. An old woman who had a miracle baby, a miraculous (and publicly scandalous) pregnancy of an unwed mother, the long journey late in the pregnancy, a supernatural star, an angel choir that appeared to Shepherds, and wise men who came from a distant land. There is the King who tries to kill the baby and fails because God protected the baby. It’s a powerfully dramatic story.
Jesus healed people who were physically broken, raised the dead, and even delivered those who were psychologically tormented by demons. He walked on water, calmed a storm and fed the masses with just a few loaves of bread and a few fish. Even His death was dramatic. There was black darkness in the middle of the day and an earthquake that tore the curtain in the temple that separated the Most Holy Place from the people.
With this history we are a little surprised that Resurrection seemed to have happened without the loud crescendo that we might expect. There was an earthquake while people were sleeping. There were a couple of angels on the scene but for the most part, here at the climax of the story of redemption things are actually rather quiet. Frederick Buechner writes,
It has always struck me as remarkable that when the writers of the four Gospels come to the most important part of the story they have to tell, they tell it in whispers. The part I mean, of course, is the part about the resurrection. The Jesus who was dead is not dead anymore. He has risen. He is here. According to the Gospels there was no choir of angels to proclaim it…..
The way the Gospel writers tell it, in other words, Jesus came back from death not in a blaze of glory, but more like a candle flame in the dark, flickering first in this place, then in that place, then in no place at all. If they had been making the whole thing up for the purpose of converting the world, presumably they would have described it more the way the book of Revelation describes how he will come back again at the end of time with “the armies of heaven arrayed in fine linen, white and pure” and his eyes “like a flame of fire, and on his head many diadems” (19:14, 12). But that is not the way the Gospels tell it. They are not trying to describe it as convincingly as they can. They are trying to describe it as truthfully as they can. It was the most extraordinary thing they believed had ever happened, and yet they tell it so quietly that you have to lean close to be sure what they are telling. They tell it as softly as a secret, as something so precious, and holy, and fragile, and unbelievable, and true, that to tell it any other way would be somehow to dishonor it. To proclaim the resurrection the way they do, you would have to say it in whispers: “Christ has risen.” Like that.
A Quiet Picture
Picture the scene. A pale of depression hangs over the followers of Jesus. Their hopes and their dreams have been dashed. They were filled with confusion and maybe even a little guilt. “How could we have misunderstood so greatly?” “Should we have done more to help Him than we did? Did we fail our Lord?”
Maybe you have been there. Someone you loved dies suddenly and waves of questions and regrets wash over you. If only you had made that last visit, expressed those deep feelings, or been a little more attentive.
The burial of Jesus did not involve lines of mourners or a funeral service packed with people. It was a hurried affair. Jesus was quickly taken off the cross and immediately buried. It was almost the Sabbath and once the Sabbath had begun they would be able to do nothing with His body other than let it rot without being considered lawbreakers.
It was all done so quickly by Joseph and Nicodemus that some women went to the tomb as soon as Sabbath was over to finish the job. (Men try their best but they just knew they were not able to prepare the body “correctly”). It was just getting light when they reached the tomb. The women wondered about how they would move the stone.
Matthew tells us there was a violent earthquake and the stone rolled away from the tomb and angels sat on the stone scaring off the guard that had been placed at the tomb. We don’t really know when this earthquake took place.
When the women arrived they were surprised and maybe a little panicked by the open tomb. The assumption was that someone had defiled the grave of Jesus. (Can you anticipate their first thoughts, “What more can go wrong?) In the gospel accounts we read that angels spoke to the women and told them that they should tell the disciples that “Jesus is risen”. And this is what they did! There were no trumpets or celebrations . . .only stunned confusion.
When the disciples heard the news they didn’t jump for joy; they were skeptical. They may have passed their words off as the words of hysteria from loss. They must have sounded a little convincing because Peter and John ran to the tomb to see for themselves. They saw that Jesus was gone but His grave clothes were not. The piece of cloth that covered His face was actually folded up. The evidence gave credibility to what the women said but quite frankly they were on emotional overload.
Peter and John had probably already left when Mary Magdalene returned to the tomb. The disciples had run to the tomb. Mary had already made the trip once so she was far behind them. When Mary arrived, she was overwhelmed with everything that was happening. Her emotional circuits were blown.
She sensed someone near her and because of her tears and perhaps the dimness of the morning she did not recognize the person and assumed he was the gardener. She asked him if he knew what had happened to Jesus. The man only had to say, “Mary” and she recognized His voice. Like flipping on a light switch Mary went from grief to overwhelming joy. Mary reported all this to the disciples but I imagine these men (who had been so hurt by loss) protected themselves by skepticism.
That same night, they were all together (except Thomas). They had the doors locked trying to keep a low profile because they were afraid the Jews would come for them next. Suddenly, Jesus was there standing among them. He said “Peace be still!” and then He showed them His hands and side so that they would know for sure that it was Him. I would have loved to see their faces as well as the face of Jesus. I’m guessing he had broad smile.
It’s a great story! It is a life-altering historical event. Through the Resurrection of Jesus we learn several things,
- Jesus really is God.
- He really did give His life as a satisfying sacrifice for our sin.
- There is really life beyond the grave.
- Hope in an afterlife is not wishful thinking . . . it is anchored to a real event that took place in history.
I would have loved to have seen the transformation from scared and defeated to bold and joy-filled. The closest thing we have may be the birth of a child. We move from the pain and anxiety of labor to the joy of new life in just seconds.
But the question haunts me: Since this was the most significant event of life (until the Second Coming) why was it not declared with greater fanfare? This is something that should have been announced worldwide. Perhaps there should have been trumpets and angels filling the sky declaring that the Lord is alive and well. Why not announce this to the whole world? I have a few suggestions.
Why Did God Do it This Way?
It Was a Powerful yet Holy Moment. When I was in college I spent a summer in Europe with my College Choir. I remember going to a giant, old, and magnificent cathedral in Köln Germany. As we walked into this cavernous and ornate Cathedral the presence of God seemed to be there. We didn’t goof around or see how good the cho was in this place. We did not have to be told to be quiet. We spoke in whispers in recognition that we were in the presence of One much bigger than we. We sang an impromptu song, but even that was quiet, reflective, and honoring to God.
Easter evokes this same response. It is so awesome an event that it overwhelms us with the sacredness of what took place. If we do not take time to be silent; if we do not approach this event with holy reverence; if we do not bow our hearts in deep worship; then we have not understood the true depth of the significance of this event.
Easter is when God, if you will, presents us the gift of salvation. Easter is when God offers us the keys to forgiveness and new life. It is a sober yet wonderful moment. It is important that we carve out some time in our Easter celebration to reflect to the point where we gasp in wonder and awe and the life-transforming nature of this event.
Second, God wants us to respond to the FACTS not the EVENT. Powerful events can result in strong impulsive responses. Let me give you some examples,
- If you are standing in Times Square on New Year’s Eve the “experience” might lead you to hug or kiss a perfect stranger.
- If you see others proposing marriage on Valentine’s Day you might be led to do the same thing.
- When something horrible like the attack on Pearl Harbor or the terrorist attack on 9/11 there will be a spike in people enlisting in the military.
The same happens in the church. If the setting is right, people will respond because they are led by their emotions. I remember a big event at the school gym with a group of body builders called Team Impact. People were stirred by their feats of strength. They were moved by their testimonies. When an opportunity was given for people to declare their “decision to trust Christ” scores of people came forward. Many of those people quickly went back to their former way of life apart from Christ. They were swept up by the emotion of the moment.
The danger is that some of these people may walk away convinced that they are genuine converts and never really give the issue another thought because “they have already prayed the prayer”. In that sense they are actually in a worse state than they were before. They think they are right with God though they are not.
The same thing can happen with Easter. We can be moved by the crowds at worship, stirred by the great hymns, warmed to see old friends, excited about family gatherings and traditions and feel that Easter is a special and wonderful time. All the while we have not grasped the truth and transforming power of Easter at all.
Events stir us and draw a crowd but it is facts that change a life. Tim Keller writes,
All other kinds of religions always say, “Here is a way you can live better. Here is a way to wisdom. Here is a way to deal with your problems. Here’s the way to relate to God. Here’s the way to come into unity with the infinite.” It is soft news. Christianity alone, of all the world religions up to then and even today, comes in with hard news. Something has actually happened.
Christianity is not at its core a philosophy. It is not a theory on how to live a better life. The Christian faith is about facts. It deals with historical happenings and the implications of those events. A real man (named Jesus) lived. He demonstrated God’s power while He lived and taught with a unique authority. He was executed when His enemies set Him up. Three days after His burial He returned to life. He was seen for a period of 40 days by over 500 people. He declared that those who truly put their trust in Him will also live even though they die. These are the facts.
The challenge for us is to ask some important questions
- Do I believe these things are true? If I’m not sure, am I willing to examine the evidence and read the testimony of eyewitnesses?
- If these things are true, what does this tell me about who Jesus is? If nothing else, He is unique. Is it possible that He is who He said He was (the One sent by God to give His life as a payment for our sin)?
- If He is who He said He was, will I run to Him as the One who can save me and make me new, or will I turn away from Him?
- If I am going to turn to Him, what implications does this have for the way I live my life. (i.e. if Jesus is Lord of my life, then I should seek to do what He tells me to do).
- Since Jesus shows us that there is life beyond the grave how does this change my priorities and outlook on life.
All of us are here today for the celebration of Easter. Some are here because it is family tradition. Some are here as a concession to a family member. Some may even be here because you love being a part of these big services where the church is filled. If these things are true of you, you may simply be here for the “event” of Easter. I encourage you today to step back and consider the facts of Easter.
Other religions make claims that no one can verify. Joseph Smith tells us a vision of angels who anointed him to be the head of a new religion. He tells about golden plates that contained the book of Mormon. However, it is something no one can verify. No one else saw the plates. We are asked to just take his word.
Mohammed declared he was appointed a prophet and given God’s Word. The only evidence is Mohammed’s testimony. He tells us we just have to trust Him.
In my mind this is not much different from the guy who calls you on the telephone and says I have a great prize for you. Suppose you ask “How do I know this is true?” The man responds, “Would I lie to you?”
Christianity is different. The disciples pointed to specific events. They told us of others who had witnessed the risen Christ. The reality of Easter calls us to make a choice: to believe the facts and follow Jesus with abandon or to dismiss the facts and continue unchanged. Jesus isn’t interested in providing us with a good time . . . He wants to change our lives forever!
Let me give you a couple of suggestions for fully appreciating this day. First, in the flurry of activity that often swallows up the day, find some time to be quiet. Sit alone with God. Allow the holiness of this great moment to overwhelm you. Think about the implications of what happened in that Garden. Remind yourself that because of the Resurrection we know:
- Jesus is unlike any other person
- His sacrifice of love was accepted by God on our behalf
- This life is not all there is
Let it sink in. Let it go deep. Allow the truth of Easter to lead you into worship.
Second, respond with faith to the offer of forgiveness and new life. Refuse to view Easter as merely a historical event. This is a historical event with great implications. Take it personally! If Jesus did indeed rise from the dead He is worth following with every ounce of strength we have.
Search your heart. Are you here to celebrate a holiday or to worship, follow and trust the One who has risen from the dead? Jesus came to earth to do for us what we could not do for ourselves: make us right with God. His death was a payment for our sin. His resurrection was a declaration that the payment was satisfactory. He invites you to trust Him to make you new. God has reached out to you and to me. The next move is ours.
Hear the facts, welcome the good news. Turn to this Savior and follow Him with every ounce of strength you have. Let the reality of that quiet Easter morning change your life and your destiny forever. The facts of Easter are true! It doesn’t really matter whether the announcement is whispered, or announced with trumpets . . . if you embrace the reality of those facts, it will change your life just as it has mine.