Posted by: Johnold Strey | April 11, 2009

Sermon for the Festival of the Resurrection of Our Lord (2009)

THIS IS NOT WHAT YOU WOULD EXPECT!

  1. A risen Lord
  2. A changed life

Text: Mark 16:1-8

Introduction

He is risen!  He is risen indeed!

You take a vacation to Los Angeles.  You’re riding the Metro subway system, when suddenly a passenger comes up and greets you.  It’s one of your best friends from high school that you have not seen in years!  You certainly didn’t expect to come across your old friend while on vacation and riding the subway, but would you deny that this is your good friend from years gone by just because you didn’t expect it?  Of course not!  It would be the height of foolishness to think so.

You walk out to the mailbox to check your mail.  As you sift through the unwanted junk mail and unwelcome bills, you come across something from the IRS.  It’s probably your tax refund.  You open it up, and it is $1,000 more than you expected.  Wanting to make sure there isn’t a mistake, you call your accountant and then contact the IRS to find out why your refund is so much larger than anticipated.  But sure enough, your accountant and even the IRS confirm that the refund check is the correct amount.  You certainly have reason to be skeptical, and you have good reason to check it out before cashing the check, but once all the data points you to a real and valid refund, you wouldn’t tear up the check just because you didn’t expect it.  It would be the height of foolishness to do so.

The women who were close followers of Jesus walked out to his tomb on the morning after the Sabbath.  The last time they saw Jesus, he was beaten, bruised, bloodied, and finally buried.  But the sight they saw — an empty tomb and an angelic messenger — was not at all what they expected to see.  And because they weren’t expecting the resurrection, they had a very hard time initially absorbing it.  And in all honesty, the resurrection of anyone from the dead is not something that any of us would normally expect to encounter on any given Sunday morning.  But that should not prevent us from checking out whether or not it occurred.  And if the data points to Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, it would be the height of foolishness to deny it just because we didn’t expect it.  So let’s look at a portion of the data.  Let’s look at the resurrection account from Mark’s Gospel.  Mark shares with us something rather unexpected.  A risen Lord is not what you’d expect.  Neither is the changed life that results from believing in the risen Lord.  That’s not what you’d expect, but since our lives are often filled with unexpected occurrences, it would be wise for us to check out what Mark has to say.

I.

new-testament-illustrations-052The women who traveled to Jesus’ tomb may not have expected a resurrection, but should they have expected it?  I quickly scanned through Mark’s Gospel and counted how many times Jesus predicted his death and resurrection prior to the second half of Holy Week.  I counted eight predictions of his death and resurrection in Mark.  Keep in mind that Mark is the shortest of the four Gospels; he never claims to have recorded everything Jesus said and did, and he concentrates much more on Jesus’ deeds and actions than his words and teachings.  (That doesn’t mean he doesn’t concentrate on Jesus’ teaching, but that he leans more toward the historical accounts).  A couple of those predictions are subtle, but eight predictions in the shortest Gospel should tell you that Jesus had been prepping his disciples and followers for his death and resurrection for quite some time.  Even though the women did not personally hear each one of those predictions, they should have expected a resurrection when they woke on Sunday morning.

But a risen Lord is not what they expected.  I see several different indications in Mark’s Easter account that show us that the women were not expecting a risen Jesus.

  • The Sabbath ended at sunset on Saturday. That was also the “sunset” for the Sabbath restriction against work. So on Saturday night, the women purchase spices that will help them complete Jesus’ burial process which had been hastily done on Friday afternoon because the Sabbath began at sunset on Friday evening.
  • They wake up early on Sunday morning and are on their way to the tomb as the sun begins to rise. They’re expecting to find a dead body needing a completed burial process.
  • They travel to the tomb, and because they are so grief stricken, only then do they realize that they have a dilemma. Who will roll the stone away from the entrance?
  • As they get closer, they can see the stone has been moved! Now, at this point, if they had remembered Jesus’ predictions, the bells would have started to ring and the light bulbs turn on above their heads. But they still didn’t get it. Mark’s original language shows us that they kept on staring at the open tomb with close attention because the sight itself appears to be unusual.
  • Surely the light bulb would turn on when they saw the angel. But Mark doesn’t say they “got it” when they saw the angel. No, they were distressed when they saw the angel.
  • The angel finally tells them the straight facts. Yes, Jesus was crucified on Friday. But the fact is that he has risen. His burial spot is empty. Given his multiple predictions of a resurrection, and given that the Roman guard was not prone to slip-ups while on duty, it appears that we have a resurrection. But the fact that the angel has to state the resurrection point blank suggests that up to this point, the women still didn’t get it. A risen Lord is simply not what they expected.

Let’s be honest.  It’s not every day of the week that resurrections occur.  If you are prone to feeling a little skeptical about the Easter account, there is no harm in acknowledging that.  But then you should really take the next step and check out the information.

Sadly, many skeptics and critics don’t check out the information.  Theories trying to explain away the resurrection evidence in Scripture abound.

  • Some say that Jesus fell into a comatose state as a result of the crucifixion, and the cool tomb brought him back to consciousness. But medical experts who have examined the crucifixion accounts say that this is simply impossible.
  • Some say that the disciples mistakenly arrived at the wrong tomb and that’s why they found it empty. But how would Paul, the former persecutor of the church, be converted by an appearance of the risen Jesus if this was the case of tomb confusion?
  • Some say that the disciples, in their grief, either had deluded visions or they saw someone who looked like Jesus and somehow confused that for a risen Lord. But why would James, the half-brother of Jesus, who earlier thought Jesus was out of his mind, come to faith in his brother’s resurrection if he, better than anyone else, could identify a look-alike that wasn’t actually Jesus himself?
  • Some have even suggested that the whole thing was staged by the disciples. But would the disciples fake Jesus’ resurrection and then knowingly die for something they knew to be false? Yes, people have died for false causes that they thought were true, but would the disciples lay down their lives for something they knew to be false?

Of course, these aren’t the only theories proposed.  And sometimes this skepticism is taken much further.  Perhaps a combination of theories can account for the disciples’ supposedly mistaken view of Jesus’ resurrection.  But when we reach that far into the barrel for an explanation, we have to remember how unlikely such theories are.  It’s like rolling dice.  If you roll one die, you have a one in six chance of coming up with the number you want.  If you roll two, and both have to have the number you want, your chances decrease dramatically from one in six to one in thirty-six.  So when creative combinations of theories are proposed to explain away Jesus’ resurrection, maybe that’s the sign that our sinful nature simply doesn’t want to believe what is before us!

Perhaps you would not expect a risen Lord.  But that is exactly what Mark and the other Bible writers present us.  And we need to remember that the New Testament is the most accurately preserved document from the ancient world.  Perhaps our sinful nature needs to be silenced, our human opinions set aside, and we need to come face to face with this reality.  Though we would not expect it, Easter Sunday presents us with a risen Lord Jesus who has conquered death.  That is not a “perhaps.”  That’s a fact!  He is risen!  He is risen indeed!

II.

You can imagine how the news of a resurrected Jesus would be a welcome report for the women who arrived at the tomb.  But you can also imagine how the initial shock at the discovery would almost be too much for those loyal ladies to take in with such little time to absorb it.  After all, this was life-changing news!  Their hopes that Jesus was the Messiah had gone from 60 to zero on Friday, and then from zero to 100 in an instant at the empty tomb.  But the life-changing impact certainly hadn’t struck them yet.

To say that the resurrection changed their day would be a massive understatement.  But the women even had a hard time seeing that.  They came to finish a burial, but the angel sent them on their way with a different task.  “Go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.'”  The disciples were just as befuddled and confused as the women at the tomb.  And they certainly had a great burden of guilt weighing them down.  They talked big in the Upper Room during their Passover celebration, but then ditched out on Jesus in Gethsemane at the moment of his arrest though they said they would stand by him to the death.  Peter especially had an enormous weight of guilt on his conscience.  Not only did he ditch out on Jesus, but he denied him three times — with curses, no less — even though he said he would never do such a thing!  The disciples certainly needed to hear about the resurrection, because the resurrection meant that their sin was buried with Jesus in the grave and their forgiveness was proclaimed by the vacant Easter morning tomb!

But it would still be some time before the effect of the resurrection sunk in with the women at the tomb.  Rather than immediately running to the disciples, they initially kept this all to themselves.  “Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb.  They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.”  Mark’s original Greek words literally say, “Trembling and confusion had the women” — a powerful way to say that they were utterly distraught.  They didn’t expect the resurrection, and as a result they couldn’t see how the resurrection changed their day, let alone their lives!  Only later, we learn from the other Gospel writers, do the women see the risen Jesus and then go and tell the disciples what had happened.

A risen Lord may not be what people expect on Easter morning.  But just as shocking and unexpected is the difference that the resurrection makes.  The resurrection is a historical fact, but it is not only a historical fact.  It is also religious truth that makes an unexpected but real difference in your life.  Faith in the resurrection results in a changed life.

new-testament-illustrations-054Do you struggle with guilt?  I don’t know too many people who don’t in one way or another.  Jesus’ resurrection speaks clearly that your real guilt before God for your real sins against his will has really been erased from God’s eyes, washed away in Jesus’ blood and buried permanently in his tomb.  The resurrection gives you a changed life because your sin and guilt are gone through Jesus’ victory over death.

Do you have fears about death?  Unless someone can manage never to think about it, I don’t know too many people who don’t have some real, honest fears about death.  Jesus’ resurrection speaks clearly that death has been defeated on your behalf.  Jesus himself promised that through faith in his resurrection, you too will rise to live with him forever in heaven.  The resurrection gives you a changed life because it promises you eternal life.

Do you find it hard to confess your faith to others?  I don’t know too many Christians who can talk about their faith as easily and naturally as they do about their kids or their job or their favorite hobby or sport or movie.  But Jesus’ resurrection speaks clearly that we have a message to confess boldly.  Because the resurrection is a fact, we have good reason to study the gospel more faithfully and confess it more fervently.  The resurrection gives you a changed life because it gives you a reason to confess Christ to others.

Do you find yourself coming to God’s house for Easter and Christmas because it’s family tradition or socially expected?  There are plenty of people in our world who fall into that category, and maybe you do too.  But Jesus’ resurrection speaks clearly that we need to encounter this message regularly and often.  Jesus’ resurrection is fact, and that fact confirms everything else he has said, including the importance of regularly nurturing our faith with his forgiving Word.  The resurrection gives you a changed life because it gives you the reason why you will all come back next Sunday, and the Sunday after that, and every week.

Do you find yourself feeling a bit apathetic about Christianity or living your life in line with God’s will?  Again, you are in good company; many feel the same way.  But Jesus’ resurrection speaks clearly that we cannot deliberately persist in a sinful way of life that ignores God’s will in his Word.  Scripture tells us that at our baptism we were connected to Jesus’ death and resurrection.  Our sins were washed away at the baptismal font and we were clothed in Jesus’ bright white righteousness.  So now we have reason and power to fight against our sinful nature every day.  Why then would we return to a willfully sinful way of life and completely turn our backs on God’s Word in persistent unbelief and deliberate denials of his commands?  The resurrection gives you a changed life because it declares us God’s forgiven saints who daily fight the good fight against our old sinful nature.

Conclusion

The faithful female followers of Jesus came to the tomb on the first Easter and discovered something they didn’t expect.  And so have we.  We wouldn’t expect a resurrection, but that is what Scripture places before us today.  We wouldn’t expect that a two thousand-year-old historical incident could affect our lives today so profoundly, but that is what Scripture also places before us today.  Then again, God is in the business of doing things in ways we wouldn’t expect.  So put your faith in this fact, and let this fact fill your life with the peace and pardon and promises of God.  He is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Amen.

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