Hallelujah! Christ Arose!

Matthew 27:57—28:10

Intro – Martin Luther’s life was filled with stress and burdens.  During a particularly difficult period he was depressed and carried the weight of the world on his shoulders.  He came home one day to find his wife dressed in black – her funeral dress.  He asked, “Who died?”  She replied, “God did, by the way you’re acting!”

A curious note follows Matthew’s narration of the resurrection – Mt. 28:11-15  While the women were on their way, some of the guards went into the city and reported to the chief priests everything that had happened. When the chief priests had met with the elders and devised a plan, they gave the soldiers a large sum of money, telling them, “You are to say, ‘His disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ If this report gets to the governor, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” So the soldiers took the money and did as they were instructed. And this story has been widely circulated among the Jews to this very day.

There was no doubt in the minds of the chief priest and elders as to the significance of what had happened – that’s why they had demanded the tomb sealed and guards posted in the first place – and now this!

They calculated the consequences, made the expedient decision – the rumor must spread – who better than the guards? – money was paid, the lie began – “his disciples came and stole his body while we were asleep” – right, as if.

These guards were battle hardened, tough-as-nails Roman soldiers – assigned to this despised task of guarding the tomb of a dead Jew. 

This Jesus, they had crucified on Friday – they had confirmed the death.  They knew their business – this man was dead – but these Jews couldn’t be satisfied – so here they were pulling guard duty in a graveyard.  Night number two.  No one would get by them.

Through the long hours they watched – swearing at one another and cursing their luck.  Darkness came – they lit a fire.  They sat quietly now – movements around them kept them alert and on edge.  Then as night edged into morning – the rays of early dawn began to bring a blueness to the sky above them.

Suddenly, it began – the earth began to tremble, the ground began to shake – they were tossed around like rag dolls in a dryer.  It was an earthquake like they had never felt before – then to their horror, the stone on the tomb they had been guarding began to roll away – but not by a gang of men.  A being that blinded their eyes with its brilliance had moved the stone and was now sitting upon it.  Some of them fell on their faces, others ran for their lives.  Nothing like this had happened before and their bravery crumbled in the face of the power of God himself.

Within hours, as the sun peered over the horizon, the women came to the tomb, carrying spices and materials for preparing the body.  As they entered the cemetery, they saw signs of destruction – when they came to the tomb – they were taken aback by what they saw – the enormous stone had been rolled away, and an angel sat upon the stone – Mt. 28:5-7  The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.”

So the women hurried away from the tomb, frightened by what they had seen, yet filled with joy – the angel’s words ringing in their ears – “He is not here; he has risen, just as he said.”

Out of the depths of their gloom and depression that had enveloped them since they had seen Jesus’ lifeless body taken from the cross Friday evening, suddenly their hearts were filled with joy at the presence of the Lord.  He has risen!  Just like he said he would.

Hope beyond hope – yet here as the final confirmation of Jesus’ power and glory, he appears to these believers, risen from the dead. “Do not be afraid.  Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”

If we are to fully understand the life, mission, claims of Jesus then death cannot be the last chapter.  If Jesus’ bones still lie in some undiscovered tomb, we would have no substance to our faith, no claim to heaven, no confidence in our salvation.  As Paul wrote, “We would be, of all men, most to be pitied.”

But Hallelujah!  Christ arose!  There is no greater cause for celebration and joy than the resurrection.

Not just that the historical truth of it confirms our faith, but it is the very power by which God works in our lives – Rom. 8:11 “And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who lives in you.”

Peter confirms that when he writes about God saving Noah in the days of the flood and how baptism symbolizes how God saves us “by the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 3:21)

Isn’t that exactly what Paul was trying to tell us in Ephesians 2 – You were dead because of your sin – but God, because of his mercy and grace, made you alive again in Christ Jesus.

For Paul, the power of the resurrection can never be fully understood or appreciated until we see the condition from which we were raised:  “You were dead.”  It’s not just that we have some faults and bad habits, or that we haven’t grown up and matured, or that our potential hasn’t been realized – we were dead.

In Romans 6, he uses other language – we were enslaved to sin, under Satan’s control.  We might have believed we were in control of our lives, but in fact, Satan was our master.  We were being led like cattle to slaughter – not kicking and screaming to a fate we didn’t want – but we went docilely, following after the world, thinking this was the way to go.  Satan is so deceptive – he blinds us to reality.

We will never understand the significance of the resurrection until we realize what we were resurrected from.  Resurrection is important only to those who are dead.

What do you do with resurrection talk when someone you love has died?  You remember the story in John 11.  Jesus’ friend Lazarus had died, and the funeral was 4 days earlier.  Jesus comes and Mary and Martha are consumed with grief.  And Jesus starts to say something about being the resurrection and the life, and then Martha interrupts… “Yeah, yeah, yeah… you don’t understand, Jesus, he’s dead.”

What do you do with resurrection?  The dirt has been shoveled, the stone has been sealed in place, it’s over.  The death certificate has been signed, the will has been executed, the family has grieved, another worker has taken over his desk at the office.

Jesus arrives.  Too little, too late, thought all of Lazarus’ friends.   “If only he had come four days ago when there was still hope,” said Martha.  “Take me to the tomb,” said Jesus, “Roll away the stone.”  They had been to funerals before.  They knew that after a few days, the inevitable stench would be more than they could bear.  Jesus looks up and prays, “Father, do this, not for me, but for them.”  And then words that cracked through the tombs like a starter’s gun – “Lazarus, come out!”  The onlookers’ breath stopped, a shiver went up their spines.  In the entrance of the tomb appeared a form wrapped in linen strips and head covering. 

A shout went up, “Lazarus!”  “Take off the grave clothes and let him go,” Jesus told them.

There, John ends the story.  But what do you do with a resurrection?  He was dead, now he’s alive.  John does tell us that because of this some put their faith in Jesus, while others solidified their resolve that Jesus was too dangerous to be left alive.  Put yourself in Lazarus’ sandals for a moment.  You’ve been given a second chance in life – literally!  If you had any doubts about who Jesus was, they have been silenced.  Suddenly, priorities are focused, and your life has a sense of purpose you have never experienced before.  What were once important and urgent matters now seem petty and insignificant.  There is nothing you would not do to lay down your life in service to Jesus, the giver of your new life.

Perhaps something is beginning to sound familiar.  In baptism, we experience a death, a burial and a resurrection, also.  Jesus stood at the tomb of our grave and called our name to come out.  Like Lazarus, we have been given a second chance at life.  What will we do with it?  Will it transform our priorities and purpose?  Or will we stand there with grave clothes hanging off our body, unconvinced that anything has changed?  God has not raised us to continue in the status quo.  Christ did not die that we would stay the same.  As Paul wrote, “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.  Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.  For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.” (Col. 3:1-4).

It’s Friday, But Sunday’s Comin’  (Tony Campolo) 

It’s Friday

Jesus is on the cross, dead, no more.

But that’s Friday and Sunday’s a comin’

It’s Friday

The sky’s dark and the ground’s shaking.  Three bodies hang limp on Calvary’s crosses and the smell of death is heavy in the air.

But that’s Friday and Sunday’s a comin’

It’s Friday

Judas’ coins are still jingling down the temple steps and Peter is sobbing in a dark corner.

On Friday Mary’s crying her eyes out and disciples are running in every direction – like sheep without a shepherd.  No hope in the world.

But that’s Friday and Sunday’s a comin’

It’s Friday

The cross is still sticky with blood – spit is still dripping off the sign they nailed over his head, “King of the Jews” – the dice they rolled for his robe are still lying there in the dirt.

But that’s Friday and Sunday’s a comin’

It’s Friday

Pilate’s washing his hands.  The Pharisees are calling the shots.

The Roman soldiers are strutting around with their spears.

But that’s Friday and Sunday’s a comin’

It’s Friday

They’ve laid his body in the tomb and rolled a stone across the entrance.  And the soldiers are guarding a dead man.

But that’s Friday and Sunday’s a comin’

It’s Friday

And those forces that oppress the poor and make people suffer and cry and steal their hope and leave them in despair – they’re in control now.

But that’s because it’s Friday and Sunday’s a comin’

It’s Friday

And Satan’s dancing a jig, because he thinks he’s won.  And he rules the world and every king and country and government is under his command.  And every business does his bidding, and every institution is under his control.

But that’s Friday and Sunday’s a comin’

It’s Friday

The demons are laughing and partying because they’ve never seen their master so happy.  Sin has conquered – death is the victor!  They’re taunting the angels and heckling the heavenly host.

But that’s Friday and Sunday’s a comin’

It’s Friday

And the saints are hiding in the upper room, and the church Jesus promised is just a bitter memory – the gates of hell really have prevailed against it.

But that’s Friday and Sunday’s a comin’

It’s Friday

And you’re walking away from the cemetery where you just buried your child.  And every prayer you prayed for God to heal her just seemed to go unanswered.  And life never seemed so empty as it does right now.

But that’s Friday and Sunday’s a comin’

It’s Friday

The doctor just told you you have cancer, and we’re trying new treatments every day, but this kind just doesn’t seem to respond and it’s growing fast.  You’d better get your affairs in order.

But that’s Friday and Sunday’s a comin’

It’s Friday

And the company you worked for for 25 years just downsized you out of a job, and now you’re 55 and unemployed and nobody is interested in somebody your age.

But that’s Friday and Sunday’s a comin’

It’s Friday

And you don’t have a friend in the world, and God never seemed so silent, and life never seemed so lonely, and you’re not sure you can even think of a reason to keep on living.

But that’s Friday and Sunday’s a comin’

It’s Friday

And everybody says God is dead, and religion’s a joke, and you’re a fool for wasting your time.

But that’s Friday and Sunday’s a comin’

It’s Friday

And if you’ve ever thought that life was unfair, and God wasn’t listening, and nothing you believed counted for anything – you’d better hang on to your seat…

‘Cause it may be Friday but Sunday’s a comin’

It’s Friday

But God has a grin on his face, ‘cause he knows what’s about to happen.  He has the key to the tomb, and Jesus is waiting for his voice and he knows all hell is about to break loose when they get the word that the tomb is empty.

And it may be Friday but Sunday’s a comin’

And it may be Friday,

But that’s just the day God let’s everybody realize we aren’t going to get it right – and we don’t have all the answers – and we aren’t in control – and our best intentions still end up nailed to a cross.  And on Friday Satan gets to gloat and howl.

But that’s Friday and Sunday’s a comin’

It’s Friday.  And Friday isn’t the end of the story, and God isn’t finished, and Satan hasn’t won.  It may be Friday, but God has the last word, and the last word is “Sunday’s a comin’.

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