April 1, 2018
Experience the Truth of Easter!
Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!” So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. Then Simon Peter, who was behind him, arrived and went into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, as well as the burial cloth that had been around Jesus’ head. The cloth was folded up by itself, separate from the linen. Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.) Then the disciples went back to their homes, but Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot. They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?” “They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus. “Woman,” he said, “why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?” Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.” Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet returned to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’“ Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her. (NIV1984)
Dear fellow worshipers of our living Lord and Savior,
Fifty-five years ago today my father called up his mother on the phone and told her that she had to come over to the house right away because Marlys (my Mom) was in labor and she needed to come watch the kids while my Dad took my Mom to the hospital. I’m told that my Grandma chuckled and asked my Dad if he actually thought that she would fall for that. My Grandma did not believe him! Why? She thought it was an April Fool’s joke! It took my Dad so long to convince his Mom that my Mom was indeed in labor and that he was not trying to play an April Fool’s joke on her that by the time Grandma got over to our house it was too late to get my Mom to the hospital. My little sister Susie was born— at home on April 1st, 1963.
While the origin of April Fool’s Day (at least according to Google) fluctuates from the late 1500’s to the early 1700’s April 1st is now commonly known as a day for people to pull “pranks” on others to see if they can get them to believe something that is simply not true. That’s precisely why I got a big smile on my face when I saw that this year, the glorious Festival of Easter is today— April 1st! Ever since the day that Jesus physically rose from His grave people have been saying that it’s all a “hoax,” a “prank” that the disciples tried to pull on the people around them. Praise and thanks be to God, my friends! Purely by His power and purely by His grace we know the truth! No matter who laughs at us, no matter who thinks we are “out of our mind,” no matter who adopts Ebenezer Scrooge’s “Bah! Humbug!” attitude the historical fact is this: He is risen! He is risen indeed!
On this joyous Easter Sunday we have come together in the name of our living Lord and Savior for a very special and a very specific reason. We come here today to: Experience the Truth of Easter! As we Experience the Truth of Easter let’s turn our attention to two things. First, let’s see that the Truth of Easter brings joy to the grieving. Second, let’s see that the Truth of Easter brings confidence to the confused.
The apostle John reveals to us that there was a great deal of grief on that first Easter Sunday. He specifically focuses our attention on Mary Magdalene. Mary Magdalene was there when Jesus was crucified. She saw His suffering. She saw His pain. She saw Him die. Now, early on that first Easter morning the grieving Mary Magdalene went to Jesus’ tomb to anoint His body with spices in accordance with Jewish burial customs. But when Mary Magdalene arrived at Jesus’ tomb her grief turned to utter devastation! The tomb was empty! Jesus’ body was gone! The only logical conclusion that Mary could come to was that someone had stolen Jesus body! Therefore, we are told that Mary ran to Peter and John and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!” Later, after Peter and John had come to the tomb and left again, we find a grieving Mary Magdalene weeping— just weeping— outside Jesus’ tomb. But then— Mary Magdalene experienced the Truth of Easter!
John tells us that Mary experienced two extraordinary events on that first Easter Sunday. First, she looked inside Jesus’ tomb and saw two angels who asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?” Then, she saw someone whom she thought was the gardener who also asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?” In her grief and through her tears Mary did not recognize her risen Lord and Savior— until, until the risen Christ gently said her name, “Mary.” Suddenly, Mary experienced the Truth of Easter in all of its wonder and in all of its glory! Now with tears of joy welling up in her eyes Mary cried out: “’Rabboni’ (which means Teacher).” No one would ever be able to convince Mary Magdalene that Easter was a “hoax,” just a “prank” that Jesus’ disciples tried to pull on the people around them! Mary Magdalene now knew the joyous Truth of Easter. From that day forward Mary openly proclaimed the glorious Truth she experienced on Easter Sunday— “I have seen the Lord!”
While there are many things that bring grief into our hearts and into our lives today, my friends, while there are many things that cause our eyes to overflow with tears, nothing devastates us more than when someone we love dies. The loss that we feel, the emptiness that we experience, the dark devastation that descends upon us is all but impossible to put into words. There is only one way to overcome that grief. There is only one way to dry those tears. There is only one way to dissipate the depth of that devastation. We must go back and experience the Truth of Easter!
The living Lord who lovingly looked at this grieving woman and gently spoke her name, “Mary,” now gently calls out to us as we grieve over the loss of a loved one. He calls out to us with the comforting confident words, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die” (John 11:25). When we have experienced the Truth of Easter, my friends, when by the grace of God we know that everyone who dies believing in Jesus as their living Lord and Savior is guaranteed eternal life in heaven— then even in our grief we are able to rejoice! Even in our grief we have the joy of knowing that we will see our loved one again at the blessed family reunion of all of God’s children in heaven! That is the joy that only the Truth of Easter can give to us!
Turning back to our text for today we see that the same glorious Truth of Easter which brings joy to the grieving also brings confidence to the confused. When Peter and John heard Mary Magdalene say that someone had stolen Jesus’ body they both ran to the tomb as fast as they could. When John arrived at Jesus’ tomb he couldn’t bring himself to go inside. It was just too painful! He simply looked into the tomb and saw that it was indeed empty. Peter on the other hand did go inside the empty tomb and look around— completely confused! John tells us, “He (Peter) saw the strips of linen lying there, as well as the burial cloth that had been around Jesus’ head. The cloth was folded up by itself, separate from the linen.” What happened next? We’re told that the apostle John “saw and believed.” We’re told, “They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.” We’re told, “Then the disciples went back to their homes.” I think it is pretty safe to say that on that first Easter morning both Peter and John were quite confused about what had taken place and why. Did that confusion last? Absolutely not!
On the evening of that first Easter Sunday the disciples’ confusion was converted to confidence when they too experienced the Truth of Easter. The risen Christ appeared to His disciples and said, “Peace be with you!” From that day on— and especially after the day of Pentecost— Peter and John joyfully joined Mary Magdalene in confidently confessing the Truth of Easter— “I have seen the Lord!” He is risen!
Stop and think about it, my friends. It is the Truth of Easter that now gives us confidence as we journey through life in this world. When we are troubled by our sins the Truth of Easter gives us the confidence of knowing that through faith in our crucified and risen Lord, all of our sins are completely forgiven! When we are uncertain about what tomorrow holds for us, the Truth of Easter gives us the confidence of knowing that our living Lord lovingly holds us in the palms of His nail-scarred hands. When people try to shake our confidence as Christians, the Truth of Easter gives us the unshakeable confidence which comes with the confession: Christ is risen!
While there are people today who would tell you that Easter is just a “prank,” a “hoax” that Jesus’ disciples came up with to “fool” people into thinking that Jesus had risen from the dead, by the grace and power of God we do indeed know the truth! My prayer on this glorious Easter Sunday is that each and every one of us will experience the Truth of Easter each and every day of the year! I pray that the Truth of Easter will bring joy to your heart— even when you are grieving. I pray that the Truth of Easter will fill your heart with confidence— even when life confuses you.
He is risen! He is risen indeed!
To God be the glory!