We Have A Living Hope in Jesus
The Mystery of Easter Revealed
A sermon based on John 20:1-18
Sunday, April 20, 2014 -- Easter Day
Imagine this scenario: Every day, Bob went to work, he would ride the elevator all the way to the bottom floor of the apartment building that he lived in. But when he came home from work, he would ride the elevator back up to only the 6th floor. Then, he would take the stairs to his apartment on the 10th floor. He did this every day, unless it was raining. If it was raining, then he would ride the elevator all the way up to the 10th floor. Why?
Here's another one to think about. Ann is lying on the floor dead. There's broken glass and water all around her. Stuart is asleep on the couch seemingly oblivious to the death that has occurred. How did Ann die?
Did you ever read those one-minute mysteries—those puzzles where you're presented with a scene, and you have to figure out what happened to make that scene make sense?
Now just so that you won't be trying to figure these two out during the rest of the sermon instead of listening to me, I'll just give you the answers.
The reason Bob would only go the 6th floor on his return home from work was because he was a very short man and 6 was the highest button that he could reach in the elevator. But on days that it rained, he had his umbrella with him, and he could use that to hit the "10." And it might help you to know that Ann is a fish, and Stuart is a cat. And the glass and water all around Ann on the floor is from her fishbowl that Stuart successfully knocked over before taking a nap on the arm of the couch.
Now let's try one more. On Friday night, a man died. He was buried on that same night. On Sunday morning, some friends of his arrive at the tomb where he was buried to pay their last respects only to discover that his body is gone. What happened? That's the mystery we examine this morning. And the answer is already given to us in John 20:1-18…
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. 2 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!"
3 So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. 4 Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5 He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. 6 Then Simon Peter, who was behind him, arrived and went into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, 7 as well as the burial cloth that had been around Jesus' head. The cloth was folded up by itself, separate from the linen. 8 Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. 9 (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.)
10 Then the disciples went back to their homes, 11 but Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb 12 and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus' body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.
13 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." 14 At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.
15 "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."
16 Jesus said to her, "Mary."
She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, "Rabboni!" (which means Teacher).
17 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.' "
18 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.
I. All Hope is Lost
Have you ever been faced with a mystery that you just can't crack? A puzzle you couldn't solve? A magic trick you couldn't figure out? It can be frustrating, can't it? Confusing? Maybe even lead you to toss up your hands in exasperation and despair, crying, "I'll never figure this out!"
That's the way it may be in math class for some kids. Or that's the way it can be for some adults trying to figure out how to get out of debt, or figuring out to fix the relationship mess they're caught it. They just can't figure it out. They feel like just giving up. They'll never get it! So why bother? They might even come close to despair.
That must have been some of what Peter was feeling on Friday and Saturday after he heard that Jesus was dead. You see, you and I celebrate Good Friday every year, knowing that Easter is just around the corner. We expect it. But Peter didn't. (He should have expected it, since Jesus told him pretty clearly what would happen. But he didn't.) Can you imagine the despair he must have felt?
Peter must have felt that all hope was lost. His friend, his mentor, his Savior, was dead. The one in whom he'd put all his hopes for a better future, the one in whom he'd put all his hopes for eternity with God… was now dead, cold and lifeless, in some tomb. Peter took a gamble, and left his prospering fishing business to follow this Rabbi. He gambled, and he lost. Jesus was gone.
It should have been different for Peter. Peter should have known better because Jesus told Peter that he would suffer, die, and on the third day rise again. If only Peter would have listened better. If only Peter had believed Jesus—really trusted what he'd said. He wouldn't have lost all hope.
Have you ever felt the way Peter must have felt? Have you ever lost all hope? Have you lost hope for some broken relationship gone, out the window, when the other person has moved on and remarried? Have you ever lost hope for a better life, when instead of a promotion you got a pink slip? Have you ever lost hope for financial peace when some new crisis caused another major setback?
Have you ever lost hope for ever having peace with God because of your sin? Let's face it. We, like Peter, have thought we'd fight for God only to find that our strength was not enough, nor was it even what God wanted. We, like Peter, have denied knowing Jesus by the way we speak and live, and even think, if not outright denying him in a crowd. We, like Peter, have heard Jesus words, but failed to believe them. Oh, we nod and smile and say we agree, just like Peter did, but when thing are tough and hope is lost, we don't really trust his words. We don't live our lives in quiet faith clinging to his promises.
Let's face it. We, like Peter have disappointed Jesus at almost every turn. And we, like Peter, ought to feel the despair of all hope lost. All hope of anything good ever again. And I think that's really what hell is all about. Not just eternal physical pain, but eternal regret, eternal hopelessness, eternal despair.
Yes, that's what we deserve for our sins against Jesus and against one another. And we have no hope for finding any solution to our problem. That mystery simply cannot be solved on our own, because we can do nothing to take back our sin, to unspeak our words, or unthink our thoughts. And we can't make up for what we've done. No amount of good will undo our evil.
The mystery of finding peace with God is out of our grasp. We just can't figure it out like it's some magic trick that defies our logic and taunts our intellect. And it can lead some to give up in despair, tossing their hands up in the air, crying, "I'll never be able to please God! So why bother even trying!"
But the solution to this mystery is revealed in Easter. It was revealed to Peter in the empty tomb. It's revealed to us in the pages of our Bibles. Here's how it happened for Peter…
II. A Living Hope Discovered
Early Sunday morning, some women came bursting through the doors of the disciples' secret hideout where they had bolted the doors, with their only hope that those who had tortured Jesus' to death, didn't come for them next. But the report the women gave made no sense. "The tomb is empty? Angels sent a message? Jesus is alive?" It was utter nonsense to Peter. And I hope I don't sound sexist here, but it was just a bunch a women bringing the report, after all. And in that culture, the testimony of women wouldn't even be allowed in court. It was too unreliable since it came from women.
So Peter and John would go investigate this mystery for themselves. They'd figure out what all this nonsense was about. And in their zeal to find answers, they set out on a footrace. John was younger, and perhaps in better shape, so he outran Peter and made it to the tomb first. But John was always thinking, pondering, working things out in his head before he acted. Not Peter. Peter was a man of action. There'd be plenty of time to think later. So even though he arrived second, he went in first, entering the tomb without hesitation. (By the way, this moment seems awfully real, doesn't it? Not like some myth or legend.)
But you can imagine Peter's surprise, can't you? Jesus' body was gone! But oddly, the grave clothes were there! Who would steal a body, but leave the clothes? And who would fold them neatly after the theft? And who would want Jesus' body anyway? Even if they thought they could steal some wealth, Jesus didn't have any. And even if he did, why take the body too? It just didn't all add up. What had happened here? What did it all mean?
John believed. He knew Jesus was alive. But Peter was still putting the pieces of the puzzle together. He wondered what it all meant. And after he went back home to ponder it all, Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene, who in turn ran back to report to the other disciples (sans Peter, John, and, of course, Judas). But it didn't make sense to them either. Later that evening Jesus appeared to two disciples heading to the small village of Emmaus just outside of Jerusalem. But between those two appearances, between visiting Mary Magdalene in the morning and visiting the Emmaus disciples in the evening, Jesus appeared to Peter.
The Apostle Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 15:5-8: "Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 …he was buried ….he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. 6 After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, 8 and last of all he appeared to me also…"
And with that appearance, the mystery was solved for Peter! He got it! Jesus really was alive! "Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 …he was buried ….he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures."
But the mystery still persists for some. Some believe like John did. They have the accounts of the Gospels, they have the empty tomb, they have the fact that no one has found Jesus' body to date, and they have the witness of the Christian church through the centuries. And that's enough. They get it. They believe.
But others are more like Peter, still trying to figure it all out. Maybe they think the resurrection of Jesus is just too good to be true? Maybe they've been burned too many times. Maybe they just don't want to get their hopes up only to have them dashed again. Or maybe it's just too hard to believe. They trust their senses and they've never seen a dead person come back to life. And to them, it's like the puzzle of Bob on the elevator or Ann lying dead on the floor, but they don't have the solution. They just don't get it.
But consider the evidence. First, note that the disciples didn't believe right away. That's important to us because we know that the resurrection accounts aren't some made up stories that came from their expectant hope. They had no hope. Peter didn't believe Jesus' promise that he would rise from the dead.
And they gave an honest report of these events even when it made them look kind of dumb. They honestly reported that women were the first witnesses of Jesus' resurrection. But if they made up the story, don't you think they'd find credible witnesses that won't be dismissed right off the bat? But they told the truth.
Then you have the multiple appearances of Jesus to many different people at many different times. This was not an isolated event or one group vision. It was not some hallucination shared by hundreds. After all no one says, "Remember that dream we had last night?" The multiple accounts different enough to exclude the possibility of the authors of the Gospels copying off of each other. But they're similar enough to give enough evidence that would hold up in any court today.
But finally, we have the weight of the Scriptures which prophecy about the resurrection hundreds of years earlier…
When a certain atheist was presented with the mountains of evidence in favor of the resurrection of Jesus, he still refused to accept it. His friend asked him, "What would convince you? Could anything convince you?" And the man replied, "I could imagine discovering tomorrow morning that every tree outside my house has moved five feet. That needs some explanation. I don't know the explanation, but I won't immediately presume a miracle."
Well, neither would we, because most events actually do have a natural explanation, so it makes perfect sense to seek a natural explanation first. But let's suppose the trees did move five feet outside that man's house. But let's also suppose that 500 years earlier, someone claiming to be a prophet of God predicted that all of the trees in one certain neighborhood would move five feet in one night during one particular year. Suppose a man arrived that year to tell everyone that the tree-moving miracle would soon happen. This man claims to be God, teaches profound truths, and performs all kinds of other incredible acts that appear to be miracles.
Then, one day, hundreds of eye witnesses claim that they saw all the trees move five feet, just as the God-man predicted. They even suffer persecution and martyrdom to maintain this truth, refusing to recant their testimony that the trees moved. Skeptics continue to try to find some natural explanation for this strange event centuries later, but can't come up with anything that's even remotely plausible.
You might not immediately presume a miracle, but given that context, wouldn't it be reasonable to assume that the movement of the trees was
supernatural rather than natural in origin? Isn't it reasonable to believe that Jesus really is alive, given the mountain of evidence in favor of that truth? Don't we have a clear solution to the mystery? Jesus is not dead! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!
But so what? What's the big deal? Well, the big deal is that Jesus' resurrection proves who he is. He claimed to be the Son of God and then he rose from the dead. I think we have a good idea who Jesus is.
Jesus' resurrection proves that our sin is paid for! Jesus wrote the check with his sufferings. He signed it with his blood shed on the cross. And his resurrection is the receipt that God has accepted the payment on our behalf! Our doubts, our despair, our frustration with God, is all forgiven! We have peace with him!
Jesus' resurrection proves that Jesus lives right now to care for you, that, "He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us." (Romans 8:32-34)
Jesus' resurrection proves that there is more to life than just this life, that we too will rise from the dead just as Jesus promised: "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 11:25-26)
And Jesus' resurrection gives us hope even in this life. We have the sure and certain hope that we are at peace with God with sins forgiven. We have the hope that the power of forgiveness and love can change hearts and attitudes. We have the hope that prayer actually does change things, that it's powerful and effective. And all of this hope hinges on the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.
But the resurrection is a true, historical fact. The mystery is solved. And I hope that you will all join us for the next five weeks as we continue to look at this living hope we have in Jesus, as we examine it from Peter's perspective, looking at portions of his first epistle and seeing what Jesus' resurrection means for our daily lives each day.
But for now, know that the mystery of Easter is revealed: Jesus is alive! We are forgiven! For Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Amen!