Written by Bryan Niebanck
Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.Luke 24:5
Today is a day that I look forward to, as do many. We see many people in church, we may be going to see family later; many are back home from far away, at least for a short weekend. Having these times together are good enough reasons to rejoice as any. We have just been through the small books that compose the epistles of John in our book group, and one point that spoke to us was John’s desire to be with the people he was speaking to in person. That is part of the reason why he kept the actual letter so short: He wrote, “Although I have much to write to you, I would rather not use paper and ink; instead I hope to come to you and talk with you face to face, so that our joy may be complete” (2 John 12). Talking with someone online, or over the phone, or worse, through text, is not as rewarding as talking with someone face to face. John knew this. Paul knew this. And we know this too. We celebrate those who can be with us here this weekend and we hope for many more times like this to happen in the future! Of course, we can qualify though, that although face to face is best, we can and should still utilize other means of contact when there is no other way. John still sent a letter as he looked forward to traveling to see the people he was writing to. But that does not change the power of face-to-face gatherings.
We can be sympathetic with the disciples, then, who were grieving the loss of interacting with Jesus face to face. Jesus had told them that he would still be with them, but they were losing the power of that face-to-face conversation. If you have ever lost someone special to you and they or someone else have told you that they are still going to be with you always, you know it is not nearly as good as when they were here on earth with us, and therefore it doesn’t seem terribly comforting. It was not comforting for the disciples either. They were lost. They had given their entire lives to the mission of Jesus. They scattered during the events of Holy Week, and as they regathered behind closed doors, they were lost, grieving, and confused.
Many of us are the same way today. We are lost, hurt, grieving, and confused. We grieve the loss of a particular way of life, of a job, or of our ability to do certain things. We are hurt by people who do not seem to care about our well-being, people who use us and our generosity, or people who guilt-trip us into helping them. We are confused by the divisions we see being sown in society, and all throughout the world. What are we supposed to do with all of this? Why doesn’t God do something about it? How are we supposed to respond? Some of you may think that we are not supposed to ask God the big “Why?” question, because God always knows best. But do you think that the disciples responded to the death of Jesus just saying, “God knows best.” Do you think they may have questioned why it happened the way it did? Even if God did know best, it doesn’t mean that even the closest followers of Jesus are not allowed to ask the questions that are on their minds. It does not mean that you are not being faithful either. I would argue actually that it means that you are being more faithful. You are coming to God with it. You are allowing God the opportunity to speak into your feeling, and you are taking that opportunity to be with God. I know that you are facing a question right now that you may be even ashamed of thinking, because you think that you should be better than you are if you are supposed to be a Christian. But you need to acknowledge who you are, and what you are thinking, if you are ever going to come to God honestly. God does not want us to try to deceive him. God knows it all already anyway. He will meet you where you are, and work on bringing you closer, as long as you are honest with yourself, with others, and with God about where you actually are. Jesus likes humility. If Jesus can meet Peter ready to drown in the Sea of Galilee, and turn him into someone who told all who would listen, “We are witnesses to all that he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem,” God is clearly powerful enough to work with anything and anyone. All you have to do is to be one to seek.
I have two challenges for you this Easter and this Easter season. First, come to God as you are. Bring to God whatever you are thinking, whatever you are ashamed of, and whoever you are now. All that God cares about is the direction you are facing; whether you are turned away from or towards God. God does not care how far or how close you are. After you resolve both to face God and to be honest with God, your next challenge is this: Believe God. This is the hardest one. It is hard to believe God when there is a world of evil, hate, and suffering all around you. It is hard to believe God when people die due to senseless acts of violence, especially when it is someone or somewhere close to your heart. But Jesus did not promise believers a life absent from suffering. Jesus promised eternity in heaven for all who believe, but warned that the road on earth would be difficult. The road on earth tries to get us to turn away from God. And sometimes it succeeds. We envision the day when God’s kingdom will reign both in heaven and on earth, but that day is not today. We are set here to be the little bit of God’s kingdom that we can be. When you realize that you cannot control the world, but you can control your reaction to it and how you interact with the world, I think that means that you believe in the power and the grace of God. You know that you cannot change the world in a day, but you can change the heart or attitude of maybe ten people in your life just by being pleasant, kind, and a generally positive person. And those ten people can then go on and make their impact on a hundred people. Some of you may recall the story of a boy throwing starfish back into the water. They had all washed up on the beach. When the boy is asked why he is doing this, because he cannot possibly help all of the starfish dying on the beach, the boy responds by picking one up, throwing it into the sea and saying, “I made a difference for that one.” Believe in God, one smile at a time.
We read the resurrection story from Luke this morning, where Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and other women came to the tomb with spices to anoint Jesus and found the stone rolled away from the tomb. If you find some of these things about God hard to believe right now – maybe you hear people even in your life who tell you that God did this or God did that – bear with me. Listen to how Jesus’ very own disciples responded to the news from these women: “Returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen clothes by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened” (Luke 24:9-12). He had to see the tomb for himself before he believed. So it is not a surprise that even in the first century, people considered this story of the resurrection an idle tale. In fact, the people saying that this was an idle tale were so many that John, another of the apostles, felt the need to respond to this in writing so that Christians would not be tricked or tempted by these unbelievers. He writes, “Many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh; any such person is the deceiver and the antichrist! Be on your guard, so that you do not lose what we have worked for, but may receive a full reward” (2 John 7-8). Jude, the brother of James and half-brother of Jesus by Mary and Joseph, also had the same warnings, saying that we have to “contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints” (Jude 3). It is with some of his encouraging words that I will leave you with today: “But you, beloved, must remember the predictions of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ; for they said to you, ‘In the last time there will be scoffers, indulging their own ungodly lusts.’ It is these worldly people, devoid of the Spirit, who are causing divisions. But you, beloved, build yourselves up on your most holy faith; pray in the Holy Spirit; keep yourselves in the love of God; look forward to the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life. And have mercy on some who are wavering… now to him who is able to keep you from falling, and to make you stand without blemish in the presence of his glory with rejoicing, to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, power, and authority, before all time now and forever” (Jude 17-23). Over the next few weeks, we will study the faith and belief of the disciples, and also ourselves, during tumultuous times. We will attempt to answer how we can find belief when we find it a struggle. But today, we rest in the confidence that Jesus is indeed Risen! Let all God’s people say, “He is Risen indeed!” May all glory and honor be to God! Thanks be to God. Amen.
10:34 Then Peter began to speak to them: “I truly understand that God shows no partiality,
10:35 but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.
10:36 You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ–he is Lord of all.
10:37 That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced:
10:38 how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.
10:39 We are witnesses to all that he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree;
10:40 but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear,
10:41 not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead.
10:42 He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead.
10:43 All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”
1 Corinthians 15:19-26
15:19 If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.
15:20 But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died.
15:21 For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead has also come through a human being;
15:22 for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ.
15:23 But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ.
15:24 Then comes the end, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father, after he has destroyed every ruler and every authority and power.
15:25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.
15:26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death.
24:1 But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared.
24:2 They found the stone rolled away from the tomb,
24:3 but when they went in, they did not find the body.
24:4 While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them.
24:5 The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.
24:6 Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee,
24:7 that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.”
24:8 Then they remembered his words,
24:9 and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest.
24:10 Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles.
24:11 But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.
24:12 But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened.