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April 12, 2020

EASTER Sermon Matthew 28:1-6  . . “He has risen as He said”

“He has risen as He said”

Matthew 28:1-6

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

Born in January of 1881, Albert Henry Ross grew up in Stratford-on-Avon, England, the son of a wine seller.  At first, he worked in advertising, and then in printing.  During the first World War, he was an instructor for the Royal Flying Corps and served in British intelligence.  For a time, he was even an amateur astronomer.

But among his many occupations and interests, there’s one thing he liked to do more than anything else, and that was to write books, like a science-fiction novel called, Sunset, and a documentary novel called, War on Great Cities.

But having such a keen, sharp, analytical mind, there was something that really bothered him, or rather Someone--and that was Jesus Christ.  In fact, he went so far as to wonder if He, and everything the Bible said about Him, was all just a myth.

This is what he said:  “When I first began seriously to study the life of Christ, I felt that, if I may so put it, His history rested on very insecure foundations.”  In other words, who knew if any of it was true?  After all, his teachers had taught him that the Bible wasn’t reliable.  It couldn’t be trusted.  Even more, contemporary author and philosopher Aldous Huxley said, “Miracles do not happen.”

So for the sake of his own peace of mind, he decided to research and to write a book on the seven last days of Christ.

But things didn’t turn out at all like he planned.  He said:  “It was as though a man set out to cross a forest by a familiar and well-beaten track and came out suddenly where he did not expect to come out.  The point of entry was the same; the point of emergence was different.”  And while he at first planned to call his book, Jesus, the Last Phase, when he finished it, he called it, Who Moved the Stone?

He wrote:  “There most certainly is a deep and profoundly historical basis for that much disputed sentence in the Apostles’ Creed, ‘The third day He rose again from the dead.’”

On that first Easter day, there was a flurry of activity like there had never been before.  Normally, graveyards are pretty quiet places, especially so early in the morning, especially on a Sunday morning.  But not this cemetery, not this morning, and not Easter morning.

First, there were those women all dressed up in black mourning clothes making their way out to the tomb.  And as they went, they brought spices to anoint the body of their Lord Jesus.

You see, when they took Jesus down from the cross, He was as dead as dead could be.  Soldiers would have broken His legs.  They had already done that to the other two.  But to be absolutely sure He was dead, one took a spear and pierced Him in the side.  Then, with Pilate’s permission, two friends came to lay His body in a tomb.

The Bible doesn’t tell us what the women talked about as they made their way to the tomb, but we can guess.  Maybe they talked about how quickly things had changed since Jesus rode into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, or about Judas, who had betrayed Him for thirty silver coins, or about the mock trials or the injustice.

Jesus had touched their lives.  He had changed their lives.  But now, after six hours of misery and three hours of darkness, He was gone.  The tongue that had spoken such words of comfort, was silent.  The hands that had healed so many, were still.  The eyes, which saw no difference between men and women, rich and poor, slave and free, were closed in death.  And His mind, filled with such power and wisdom, rested silently in the grave.  Jesus, their Lord and Master, was dead.

Now came the grim duty to prepare His body for burial.  He had cared for them.  Now they would care for Him.

And as they walked through the darkness, the sun barely peeking over the horizon, they prepared their minds and their hearts for what awaited them at that grave.

There was just one problem.  Who would move the stone?

The Romans wouldn’t.  The grave was sealed and they were sure to keep it sealed.  The Jews wouldn’t.  They had begged that Jesus be crucified.  And the disciples wouldn’t.  No one had seen either hide or hair of them since Thursday night.  There was no way they would come to the tomb.

But when they arrived in that dim morning light, there were no guards to bar them from the place of burial, no soldiers with their swords or spears pointed at their hearts.  There was only quiet and order at Jesus’ garden tomb.  And the stone, which they had so feared, was picked up and laid down on the ground.

Cautiously and carefully, they approached the entrance.  There was no sign of a struggle, no foul play.  And the cloths in which Jesus was buried were neatly folded in place.  Certainly no grave robber would have taken such time.

But as they stood wondering how all this could be, that’s when angels, sent from heaven, greeted them with the words:  “Why do you seek the living among the dead?  He’s not here; He’s risen as He said!”

Of all days, Easter is the very most important day, because it focuses our hearts and minds on the highlight of our Christian faith--the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  This is not just some wonderful gospel story or another in a series of amazing miracles.  It’s what our faith is all about.

As scientist and engineer Henry Morris once wrote:  “The bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is the crowning proof of Christianity.  If the resurrection didn’t happen, then Christianity is a false religion.  But if it did, then Christ is God, and the Christian faith is absolute truth.”

Another scientist, physician, and assistant professor of medicine at Washington University in St. Louis, Joshua Swamidass, wrote:  “I am a scientist.  Still, on Easter, I celebrate that, about two thousand years ago, Jesus rose from the dead.  And this event, in first-century Palestine, is the cornerstone of everything.”  And he wrote:  “In the same way that trust-like faith in science is connected to evidence, so is the faith I have in the resurrection.”

So what was the evidence that convinced him?  He said, “Without the physical resurrection, two thousand years of history are left begging for explanation.  No other event,” he said, “in all recorded history has reached so far across national, ethnic, religious, linguistic, cultural, political, and geographic borders...What happened so many years ago that reframed all human history?”

Besides, he said, not only was Jesus a real person in history who died a violent death, when He died, those who followed Him were frightened and scattered.  Yet within days, they had a strong, bold, and confident faith that stood in the face of sustained, murderous opposition.  Every one of them was willing to die for what they saw.  What changed them?

And in his book, Can a Scientist Believe in Miracles?, professor of nuclear science and engineering at MIT, Ian Hutchinson, writes:  “The historical evidence for the resurrection is as good as for almost any event of ancient history.”

And he’s not alone.  Think of French mathematician, physicist, and inventor Blaise Pascal, German astronomer Johannes Kepler, Irish chemist Robert Boyle, Austrian geneticist Gregor Mendel, and British-born scientist, Michael Faraday.  Ernest Rutherford, the father of Nuclear Physics, once called him, “one of the greatest scientific discoverers of all time.”  Albert Einstein kept a picture of him on his study wall!

Scientists, yes, but Christians too, for every single one of them believed in the resurrection.

Not too many years ago, there was a game show called, Let’s Make a Deal.  It was a show where contestants would choose between a prize they could see and another prize hidden behind a curtain.

Now while the prize they could see was usually nice, like a stereo or a TV, you never knew what was behind the curtain.  Was it a new car worth thousands of dollars, or was it a Zonk prize, like bacon jewelry, shoes made out of butter, or a giant red wagon?

Imagine choosing the wrong prize, and losing out on something worth thousands of dollars!

So it is with the resurrection.  You can live your life chasing after the things you can see, or you can pursue the things you can’t see, what the apostle Paul called, “The prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus,” “a glory,” he wrote, “that far outweighs them all.”

And the proof, the central fact of all history, is the resurrection.

One more thing.  You know the story of the Tin Man in The Wizard of Oz.  You remember how he once got caught in a rainstorm, and began to rust.  Only when Dorothy came along and oiled him could he begin to move again.

That’s the movie version.  But if you’d read the book, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, by Frank Baum, you’d know the story behind the story.

You see, once upon a time, the Tin Woodsman had been a real man who fell in love with a beautiful girl, and dreamed of marrying her.  But the witch hated their love, so she cast a spell on him and, one by one, his limbs had to be replaced with artificial tin limbs.

But the tin limbs allowed him to work like a machine.  So with a heart full of love for his maiden, and arms that never tired, he seemed destined to win over the witch’s spell.

But the Tin Man said, “I thought I had beaten the Wicked Witch then, and I worked harder than ever; but I little knew how cruel my enemy could be.”

For one day, the Wicked Witch made his axe slip, so he cut himself in half.  And though a tinner was able to put him back together again, he no longer had a heart.  So he lost his love for his girl, and never cared whether he married her or not.

Then when Dorothy found him rusting in the woods a year later, he said, “During the year I stood there, I had time to think that the greatest loss I had known was the loss of my heart.  While I was in love, I was the happiest man on earth; but no one can love who has not a heart, and so I’m resolved to ask the Oz to give me one.”

Life has a way of doing the same to us too.  And while we might go through all the motions of life--busy, productive, and efficient--we’ve lost our heart.

But the crucified Christ, the risen Christ, can, like no other, renew our hearts with hope.

Alleluia!  Christ is risen.  He is risen indeed.  Alleluia!

 

Lord Jesus, risen Savior, who has crushed Satan’s head and conquered sin and death, we adore You as Lord and God.  Remove all sin, scatter our doubt and let Your Spirit dwell within us that we may someday, by Your grace, behold Your glory.  This we ask in Your name.  Amen

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