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April 21, 2019

Sermon John 20:1 . . .“He has risen as He said”

“He has risen as He said”

John 20:1

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus.

It was November 1, 1938 at Pimlico Race Track, in Baltimore, Maryland, and undersized, mud-colored, crooked-legged Seabiscuit didn’t stand a chance, especially not against his “enemy,” a rival race-horse named War Admiral.

Seabiscuit was good.  In fact, in 1938, the most popular newsmaker wasn’t President Roosevelt, Adolf Hitler, or Mussolini.  And neither was it Lou Gehrig, Clark Gable, or Howard Hughes.  It was Seabiscuit!  Whenever he raced, his fans choked local roads, poured out of special cross-country “Seabiscuit Limited” trains, and packed area hotels and restaurants.  Nineteen-thirty eight was, after all, in the depths of the Great Depression, and America needed a hero, something it could believe in.

That’s why forty million listeners from across the country tuned into weekly radio broadcasts.  His appearances smashed attendance records at nearly every major track, and drew the largest crowds ever to see a horse race in the United States.  In an era when the U.S. population was less than half of what it is today, seventy-eight thousand people came out to watch him race.  If it gives you an idea of how many that is, a typical Super Bowl stadium can hold a crowd of some seventy-five thousand!

But you see, Seabiscuit was the best horse in the west.  War Admiral was the best in the east.  And unlike Seabiscuit, War Admiral was huge, perfectly proportioned, and had awesome, frightening speed.  He had already beaten one opponent after another, the instant they left the starting gate.  All that was left was Seabiscuit.

And finally, on November 1, 1938, at Pimlico Race Track, both owners agreed to a race.  But as good as he was, Seabiscuit was expected to lose.  He was, after all, no match for War Admiral.  Even worse, his regular jockey was in the hospital with a broken leg.

So what happened?  In a stunning defeat, to almost everyone’s surprise, Seabiscuit won, and War Admiral ate his dust.

Today we’ve come to celebrate Easter, truly the most beautiful and most important day of all, a day we celebrate our Savior Jesus, risen from the dead.  It’s the day that death died, and life, to everyone’s surprise, won after all.

No matter where you go in the world today, people are celebrating Easter.

In the south of France, for example, the town of Haux cooks up an omelette of 4,500 eggs, enough to feed over a thousand people, a tradition that dates back to the days of Napoleon.  In Sweden, children dress up as Easter witches, paint their faces red, then go from house to house, begging for candy.  In Florence, Italy, two white oxen draw a large, decorated wagon through the city streets to the cathedral, where the local archbishop shoots a dove-shaped rocket into the cart, igniting a huge fireworks display.  In Belgium, people hide their loved ones’ shoes, and in Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic, young men slosh water onto village girls.  Compared to all that, our chocolate eggs and rabbits seem pretty tame!

But however we celebrate Easter, it all began with this.  As John wrote in his gospel account:  “Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb.  So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, ‘They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid Him.’  So Peter went out with the other disciple, and they were going toward the tomb.  Both of them were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first.  And stooping to look in, he saw the linen cloths lying there, but he did not go in.  Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb.  He saw the linen cloths lying there, and the face cloth, which had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen cloths but folded up in a place by itself.  Then the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that He must rise from the dead.  Then the disciples went back to their homes.”

Jesus, risen from the dead?  Couldn’t be!  Impossible!  That’s why those three women, Mary Magdalene, Salome, and Mary, the mother of James, made their way through the city streets out to that cool, garden tomb.  No streetlights, no headlights, not even a flashlight.  And as they walked, they couldn’t help but mutter under their breath, “If only He hadn’t come to Jerusalem...if only His disciples could have kept Him hidden...if only Peter would have drawn his sword to fight…”  They had hardly stopped crying since Friday.

Was He dead?  Of that, there was no doubt.  He had, after all, been beaten, punched, kicked, and whipped, made to wear a crown of thorns, forced to carry a heavy cross through the city streets until He collapsed, had nails driven through His hands and feet, was hung on a cross for six hours in utter agony as His joints dislocated under the strain, until He breathed His last breath, and a soldier thrust a spear into His side, puncturing His lungs and heart.

He was dead.  Of that, there was absolutely no doubt.

And when they arrived at the tomb, what did they expect to see?  Most likely a Roman seal ordered by the governor himself, and sixteen, elite, Roman soldiers, dressed in full armor, with swords on their hips and spears in their hands.

And worst of all--a thick, heavy stone, weighing as much as four thousand pounds.

But who would have thought, who could have imagined, what they would see!  For as Matthew records in his gospel account:  “And behold, there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it.  His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow.  And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men.  But the angel said to the women, ‘Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified.  He is not here, for He has risen, as He said.’”

Isn’t that how it always was with Jesus?  One day, there was a crowd of five thousand hungry men who had come to hear Him preach, with their wives and children.  The disciples would have sent them away, to find their own supper.

But something else happened instead.

One day, as they crossed the Sea of Galilee, they left Jesus behind to pray.  And they thought that He would have walked all the way around to meet them, on the other side.

But something else happened instead.

One day, they pushed little children away, because they were too young and too small to bother Him.

But something else happened instead.

And when they saw Him die on that cross, they thought His life was over and His kingdom and power had come to an end.

But something else happened instead.

The seal was broken, the tomb was open, and the stone had been rolled away.  And angels, sent straight from the wonder and the glory of heaven, were privileged to say:  “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified.  He is not here, for He has risen, as He said.”

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, famed creator of Sherlock Holmes, once wrote:  “There’s a keen and grim old huntsman on a horse as white as snow.  Sometimes he’s very swift; sometimes he’s very slow.  But he never is at fault, for he always hunts on view, and he rides without a halt after you.  The huntsman’s name is Death; his horse’s name is Time.”

And he wrote:  “He is coming.  He is coming as I sit and write this rhyme.  He is coming, he is coming as you read the rhyme I write.  You can hear his hoofs low drumming day and night.  You can hear the distant drumming as the clock goes tick tack, and the chiming of the hours is the music of his pack.”

Someday, our life on earth will come to an end.  Of that, there is no doubt.  And while sophisticated modern medicine may replace a mirror held before your mouth, and cosmetic embalming may take the place of pennies on eyelids and canvas shrouds, young or old, rich or poor, the grim reality of death is still the same.

And that’s why we’ve come together to celebrate this Easter day.  For as the apostle Paul once wrote:  “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.”  Yet he wrote:  “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.”

And there’s more!  In fact, you’ll find word of Christ’s resurrection in nearly every book of the New Testament.  

In Acts chapter 2, when Peter preached on the temple mount, in downtown Jerusalem, barely fifty days after Easter, he said:  “This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses.”  And in Acts chapter 4, even when men threatened to beat him, he said it again:  “Let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that this man is healed is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, but whom God raised from the dead.”

Paul wrote to the Romans:  “Just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.”  He wrote to the Galatians:  “Paul, an apostle--sent not from men nor by a man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised Him from the dead.”  He wrote to the Philippians:  “That I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection.”  And Peter wrote in his first epistle:  “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!  In His great mercy He has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade, kept in heaven for you.”

And in the last book, the book of Revelation, Jesus Himself said it again:  “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.  I am He who was dead and am alive forever.  And I hold the keys of death and hell.”

One more thing.  If you’re a sports fan, you might know the name Bob Buford.  Over his seventy-eight years of life, he was a cable-TV pioneer, writer, and philanthropist.  His books, Halftime, and Gameplan, have changed the lives of thousands.

But in January of 1987, his only son, Ross Buford, was tragically killed in a drowning accident on the Rio Grande River.  He was only twenty-four.  And from that moment on, Bob’s life was never the same.

Later he said that, one day, he felt as though God told him to draw a horizontal line on a piece of paper.  So he took a pencil and drew a line.  Then God said, “Now write a number, the largest number you can think of below that line.”  So he did.  He wrote a one with all kinds of zeroes across the width of the page.  Then God said, “Now on top of that line, write the number 24.”

Then He said:  “Now look at that.  So far, you’ve only spent 24 one trillionths of the time that you will spend together with your son Ross.”

We could change the name.  We could change the numbers.  But the answer will always be the same.

And it’s all because of the news angels were once privileged to bring:  “Why do you seek the living among the dead?  He’s not here!  He’s risen as He said.”

 

Alleluia, alleluia!  Hearts to heav’n and voices raise:  sing to God a hymn of gladness, sing to God a hymn of praise; He who on the cross a victim for the world’s salvation bled--Jesus Christ, the King of Glory, now is risen from the dead.  Hear us for the sake of Jesus.  Amen

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