Easter Sunday March 31, 2024 . . .“He is risen as He said” John 20:1

Easter Sunday March 31, 2024 . . .“He is risen as He said” John 20:1

March 31, 2024

“He is risen as He said”

John 20:1

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

It all began just over a hundred years ago, in Orlando, Florida, back in December of 1918. That’s when a sports cartoonist and world traveler named Robert Ripley first published a cartoon entitled Chumps and Champs. You see, back in the day, photographs were expensive, and there was no easy way to print them for mass distribution. So newspapers hired cartoonists instead.

So in December of 1918, since it was a rather slow news day, Ripley decided to put together some of his previous work--cartoons he had never published before, like J. Darby of England who jumped backwards twelve feet, or S.D. See who hopped one hundred yards in eleven seconds, or Jim Burnett of Australia who jumproped 11,810 times in four hours.

The rest, as they say, is history.

And, believe it or not(!), in the days that followed, Robert Ripley soon became the most popular man in America, receiving three thousand letters a day, (which comes to over a million letters a year). He even earned a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame! At its peak, his cartoons were translated into seventeen languages and published in more than 360 newspapers around the world, with a readership of eighty million people.

Even today, his column is still in print and holds the title of the longest running syndicated cartoon in the world.

And if you were to visit any of the twenty-eight Believe it or not “Odditoriums” around the world, you could see things like authentic shrunken heads from the Amazon or a genuine vampire killing kit from the nineteenth century, equipped with all the necessary tools to ward off vampires. You can stand beside an 8 foot, 11 inch model of Robert Wadlow, the tallest man in the world, or crawl through Titanoboa, the largest snake to have ever lived.

It’s strange! It’s wild! It’s wonderful! Believe it or not!

Today, Easter day, also brings us face to face with one of the hardest-to-believe events ever in all the world--the news that Jesus is risen from the dead.

I’ll read the words of John chapter 20: “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 disciples, 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” (John 20:1-10).

It had been a hard week in Jerusalem. The chief priests plotted to get rid of Him. “But not during the Feast,” they said, “or else the people may riot” (Matthew 26:5). One of his own betrayed Him. Another denied Him. And all the rest ran away.

Then came the mock trial before the Sanhedrin. Caiaphas demanded, “Tell us if You are the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One!” And Jesus answered, “I am.” In disgust, they slapped Him, spit on Him, and handed Him over to be crucified.

At first, it wasn’t easy to get Pilate to agree. But with trumped up charges of treason and sedition, not to mention a more than cooperative crowd shouting, “Crucify,” what could he say? And by 9:00 Friday morning, their plan was accomplished and the deed was done. Jesus was right where they wanted Him--nailed to a cross and waiting to die.

Finally at 3:00, at the very moment He died, an earthquake rattled the foundations of Jerusalem. The dead rose from their graves and the Temple’s veil tore in two. “Get some guards and pay them well,” the chief priests said. “Then we’ll put this whole Messiah-thing to rest.”

That was Friday. Now it’s Sunday. And together the women set out, at the break of dawn, for the tomb, to anoint the body of the One they loved. Thankfully, it was a cool spring morning, not the height of summer, or else the stench of death would have been too much.

And as they came within sight of the tomb, they prepared themselves for what would be the most difficult task of all--to move the stone. There were three of them, but they were women. If only one of the disciples, one of those big strong fishermen, hadn’t been afraid to come.

But when they came to the tomb, they stared in astonishment and disbelief. The stone was rolled away! And overwhelmed with anxiety, fear, anger, sorrow, and grief, they looked at one another and asked, “What have they done with Jesus?”

The closer they came, the more their knees knocked and their hearts pounded. And mustering up all the courage they could find, they approached the unguarded, open tomb.

Their worst fears were realized. Jesus was gone! And worse still, an intruder suddenly appeared, a strange, young man wearing a brilliant white robe. They stared at him in amazement, not knowing what to say or do.

And it was in that moment that he spoke the most profound truth anyone could ever hope to hear. “Don’t be afraid,” he said. “You’re looking for Jesus of Nazareth who was crucified. He’s not here. He’s risen, as He said. See where His body was laid. Now go and tell His disciples and Peter, that He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see Him, just as He told you” (Mark 16:6-7).

And dropping their spices and perfumes, they ran to tell the others. And as the streets began to bustle, people stood and stared at the sight of three women, dressed in mourning clothes, yet running full speed, bearing strange, amazing, fantastic, earth-changing, wonderful news. Jesus was risen from the dead!

Jesus’ resurrection from the dead lies at the heart and center of our Christian faith. St. Paul made that perfectly clear when he wrote, “If Christ be not raised, your faith is in vain, you are still in your sins. Then those who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost” (I Corinthians 15:17-18).

Take away Christ’s resurrection and we have nothing but a crucified Lord. Take away Easter and we have nothing but sin and death.

“But Christ has been raised,” writes Paul, “the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (I Corinthians 15:20).

This wouldn’t be the last time the world would hear of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. In the book of Acts, the apostle Peter would stand before the Sanhedrin, the very men who, just days before, had condemned Jesus to death. “It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth,” he said, “whom you crucified, but whom God raised from the dead, that this man now stands before you completely healed” (Acts 4:10). And when that same ruling council stood in judgment over Stephen and condemned him to death, he said, “Behold, I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God” (Acts 7:56).

And in the city of Athens, standing before the leading scholars and philosophers of his age, the apostle Paul said it again: “God has set a day when He will judge the world with justice by the Man He has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising Him from the dead” (Acts 17:31).

There is no more important day than Easter Day. Take it away and we have nothing. But give us Easter and we have the hope and promise of life and resurrection from the dead.

If you know anything about astronomy, you’re probably familiar with what physicists call “black holes.” Roughly speaking, they’re places in the vastness of the universe that acts a lot like a giant vacuum sucking everything near it into oblivion.

In the past, astronomers believed they existed only in galaxies that are millions of light years away. Now they believe they’ve discovered one--Sagittarius A--in the dead center of our own galaxy, the Milky Way. And while it seems to be sleeping at the moment, someday, they say, it could suck in our entire galaxy and everything will be gone!

On that first Easter morning, as those women made their way to the tomb, they must have felt as if they had fallen into some kind of a black hole. And so did the apostles as they were hiding behind locked doors.

And in certain ways, we can’t help but feel that way too. Visit any cemetery and you’ll see them. They’ve taken loved ones, spouses, children, and parents. One of them even waits for you too.

And that’s why today, Easter day, means more to us than anything. Because of Jesus and because He now stands risen from the dead, we never, ever have to be afraid again.

And so we sing in the words of the hymn: “He lives, all glory to His name! He lives, my Jesus, still the same. Oh, the sweet joy this sentence gives, ‘I know that my Redeemer lives!’”

Heavenly Father, God of all mercy, we believe that Jesus is not only alive, He’s the Lord of life. Through His death and resurrection, He destroyed the power of death. Grant us the peace of Your presence that we may know You are with us. And as You are with us, we will not be afraid. This we ask in Jesus’ name. Amen