58. Sermon Text - "Sunnyhill" Herne Bay Evangelical Free Church

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58. Sermon Text

Special Service

Believing in what?

Time drags sometimes doesn’t it? You’ve got an important appointment coming up and it dominates your thinking but it’s still a day away. Or maybe you’re going away on a long-planned for holiday and the departure date has almost arrived. You’ve got everything ready and... you’ve just got to wait. But then the day comes and you’re up early and on your way.

It was like that for those ladies who are mentioned in v.10 of Lk.24. Some of them are named: Mary Magadalene, Joanna and another Mary but there were others there too whose names we haven’t been told. These women had been there when Jesus was executed. They had stood nearby watching as Jesus was crucified. And they had continued to watch when his dead body was taken down from the cross and placed in a borrowed tomb. And then when everything was over they had returned home to prepare their spices and ointments which they planned to use to complete the funeral rites to honour their former friend.

Then the Sabbath intervened and they could do nothing, nothing but wait. It must have been a long day as they waited but at last the Sabbath came to an end. As the first day of a new week began to dawn these women were to be found making their way once again to the garden tomb where they fully expected to find Jesus’ dead body.

They certainly weren’t expecting what happened next and initially they found it all very distressing. Come with me and let’s look together at what was about to unfold.

An Empty Tomb
After Jesus’ body had been laid out in the tomb a great stone had been rolled against the entrance to close it off but as the women approached they soon discovered that things at the site had changed.

As they had made their way towards the tomb in the early morning quietness before the city bustled into life the women had talked together. What were they going to do about that stone? If they were to anoint Jesus’ body then someone would have to move the stone for them, but who would do that?

Then as they neared the tomb they were met by an unexpected sight - the sealed tomb was no longer sealed – it was open! That great stone had been rolled out of the way already!

It’s hard to imagine how they must have felt. What was going on? They couldn’t stop now and so they pressed on and entered the tomb to see what they could see. And to put it quite simply they didn’t see what they expected to see – the body of Jesus had gone and they didn’t have a clue as to what to make of it all.

The word that Luke chose to describe their reaction to what they saw, or rather to what they didn’t see, was the word “perplexed”. If they had been expecting a resurrection then we might have expected to hear that they were excited or perhaps filled with throbbing anticipation but that wasn’t the case. They couldn’t make sense of what they were seeing - they were perplexed. And that means that they were confused and that they were worried.

Something had occurred that took them by surprise and they weren’t happy about it. What was going on?

It was while they were still in this anxious state that they became aware that there were two men standing beside them and these were no ordinary men either – they were dressed in dazzling apparel – their clothes were shining – were these men or angels?

If the women had been perplexed a few moments before their perplexity now morphed into something else, fear. They hadn’t been prepared for any of this and they were frightened and in their fear they didn’t dare to look at these men but turned their gaze towards the ground.

Empty Heads
And the men spoke! They asked a question and what a question it was! It wasn’t the type of question that waits for an answer though. It was the type of question that lets you know that you’ve been making some big mistakes: your understanding is all skew-whiff and because of that you’ve been acting very foolishly indeed. This is what they asked:

v.5 “Why do you seek the living among the dead?”

You can’t really answer a question like that, can you? It really is a challenge to rethink the whole situation.

Of course the women were there looking for the body of a man they had seen crucified. They had seen and heard what had gone on. They had watched as a spear had pierced his side when the soldiers assured themselves that he was well and truly dead. They had observed others take his dead body down from the cross, bind it with spices and a shroud and lay it in a stone cold tomb. And now their plans had nothing to do with seeking “the living” instead they were sadly seeking “the dead”, that’s why they were there. After all, where else were they to go to find the dead body of their dead friend. They didn’t expect to see him alive again – he must be among the dead!

But the question that the men/angels put was founded upon a sure foundation. It flowed out of a reality that these women as yet did not understand – though, as we shall see, it was a reality they ought to have understood! You see while their hearts might have been full of compassion their heads were empty, they weren’t thinking properly at all.

The men had a message to share with these women and through them that message would be shared with the group of scared disciples and through them the same message would be proclaimed to a lost world. This is what that message said and it spoke about Jesus:

·         He is not here
·         He is risen
·         Remember what he told you

And now we must spend some time thinking about this.

There are a number of significant implications that flow from the explanation that these men/angels shared with the women.

When they said that “he is not here” their words point to a genuine, literal fact. Jesus’ body was no longer present in the tomb. And when this is taken together with the further explanation of “he is risen” we are clearly being presented with a literal and physical resurrection from the dead! And this is crucially important.

You see some people can’t cope with the idea of a real resurrection and they dream up their ridiculous theories as they try to water the idea of resurrection right down. These people try to tell us that all the gospel writers meant to convey was that Jesus’ memory somehow lived on among his followers, that his teaching continued to inspire them.

Well it’s certainly true that Jesus’ followers didn’t forget him nor did they forget his teaching but resurrection means far more than just that. After all why is it important for the gospel writers to tell us that “he is not here” and “he is risen” if his memory and his teaching is all that matters? If that were true then his corpse would still have to be somewhere! But the corpse wasn’t there – or anywhere else for that matter. No-one has ever been able to throw down Jesus’ dead body and say “Here it is! All those stories about rising from the dead are false.” How the Jewish leaders would have loved to have been able to produce his corpse but they couldn’t, indeed no-one could, because his corpse wasn’t a corpse any more for Jesus was risen from the dead! He is risen and he is alive!

And this means that death had lost its grip on one of its victims!

The enemy that stands opposed to you and me is no longer the all-powerful foe it once was! There is life beyond the grave and Jesus’ resurrection offers hope to all of us who will put our trust in him.   

Don’t you go wasting your time and effort looking for the wrong thing in the wrong place. You can be just as misguided as those women were that first resurrection morning. They should have known better and you should know better too!

Now why do I say that?

Well just look at the third element to the angels’ explanation. Having made it clear that they were talking about a literal, physical resurrection the angels told the women shouldn’t have been surprised because they should have been expecting just that. After all they already were in possession of all the information they needed and had they acted upon it they would have behaved in a very different manner. They certainly wouldn’t have become perplexed and frightened and they wouldn’t have tried to “seek the living among the dead”.

Remember, remember! Don’t you remember what Jesus taught you all while he was still up north in Galilee?

What these women were observing was no recent and novel idea it was the fulfilment of a carefully constructed plan, one Jesus had told them about some time ago. The angels continued to explain reminding the women of what Jesus had taught:

·         He must be handed over – and, yes, he had been
·         He must be crucified – and, yes, he had been
·         He must rise again on the third day – and it was that third day and, yes, he had been raised! He was and is alive!!

Jesus had risen and the women really ought to believe it for the first and most important reason that Jesus had said beforehand that this was going to happen!

And this is the first and foremost reason why you too should believe that Jesus is risen from the dead! You haven’t seen an empty tomb and some folded grave clothes but you don’t need to! You have the word of Jesus himself!

How powerful and how dependable is the word of God! How we ought to savour it, to believe it and to trust it! And how foolish we are when like those women we also fail to remember the truth that we too have been told! How easy it is for us to have empty heads too!

Now the type of question that the angels put to those women could so easily be repeated in slightly different words to us:

If the question came to the women:

Why did they seek the living among the dead?

then surely we could be asked:

Why do you often behave as if Jesus is not alive?
Why do you act as if there is no God in heaven?
Why do you think everything depends upon you?

Most of us I imagine want to be sure about the facts of our faith and it is certainly a good thing to be confirmed in our beliefs, but I wonder if some of us are looking for the evidence we feel we need in the wrong place. We can turn to a variety of resources: the archaeological record, the history of the church, logical arguments – the list can doubtless be prolonged and all will serve to confirm the truth of the resurrection – but none of these is as important as the Word of God. If you want the truth don’t think you’ll find it by ignoring the Bible.

The perplexity and fear that those women experienced would never have been felt had they done the simple thing, the right thing. And what was that you may ask? It was to remember what Jesus had already told them!

And maybe that’s just what some of us need to do – we may have heard it all before but we need our own memories jogged.

So we need to go back to the Bible, to where God has spoken to us. We need to go back to the Bible where Jesus’ coming into the world is described and explained. We need to go back to the Bible to read it and to believe it.

Now this is hardly rocket science is it? But just because something is simple doesn’t mean I’m automatically going to be doing it? Am I reading my Bible? Are you?

All of us need our memories need jogging from time to time. It’s all too easy to have heard the truth and to have known and even understood the truth but then to drift and to gradually forget what we once knew. How easy it is to let the really important things to be pushed onto the back-burner where they soon end up no longer exercising any influence on our lives either in what we think or in what we do!

It would appear that those women had not spent their Sabbath Day of rest reflecting or meditating on those important truths that Jesus had taught them on more than one occasion. He had spoken about his sufferings and death and also about what would happen next but the women (as the rest of the disciples) weren’t listening. The result was that instead of interpreting the events that were taking place in the light of God’s word these women were relying upon their own faulty understanding. And their interpretation of what was going on was quite wrong.

You see, when you side-line God’s word and prefer your own wisdom to that of the Bible, you’re going to draw some very mixed up conclusions. The result for these women was that they were not at all prepared for the reality that confronted them. It was staring them in the face but they simply weren’t ready for the resurrection.

There are important lessons for us to learn from all this. The lessons are by no means new and you have probably heard them all before. In fact, I have mentioned them already this morning but I must press them upon you. I do so knowing that these lessons are so simple that I fear that my exhortations will fall on deaf ears. Some of you listening to me will do what you’ve done before with them – you’ll simply smile, perhaps nodding in agreement, before you totally ignore them. But I must still press on and encourage you to take these matters seriously.

Read the Bible regularly for yourself. Don’t be content to own a copy and then leave it gathering dust somewhere. Read it. If you find that the size print in the copy you have has shrunk over the years be daring and buy yourself a new copy. If the English is difficult to understand buy yourself one which you can understand. Then read it. Yes, I know that some of the Bible is difficult to understand but I also know that a great deal is very easy – so begin with the easy bits before you move progressively on to that which is deeper and more profound.

Some of you may have read the Bible a long time ago and you think that’s good enough – it isn’t. Don’t be satisfied with a casual, nodding sort of acquaintance with the Bible. Do what you can to grow in your understanding. Make sure you really do understand the basics of the faith but don’t stop with the elementary doctrine of Christ – press on to maturity. Don’t be content to be a baby Christian all your life as though milk is all the satisfying diet you need and want – just as a normal baby moves on from milk to solid food so should you if you’ve become a real Christian.

Attend church services regularly where truth is proclaimed, where you can be reminded of what you already know and where you can be taken further to discover more truth. Don’t starve your own soul by trying to get by on a strict minimum.

And think about the truth that you know and what you are learning.

Useful Lives
It was when the angels reminded the women about what Jesus had taught them that the women did remember and when they did suddenly lots fell into place for them. But they received more than just personal help, they were now in a position to be of help to others too.

So when the encounter with the angels ended the women went back to the other followers of Jesus who were there in the city and they tried to share with them what they had learned and what they had been brought to understand.

But my! can’t Christians be obtuse and discouraging at times! This little group of women brought exciting news back to the disciples but it turned out that these disciples weren’t in any hurry to believe or to allow themselves to be influenced by these women. Yes, they were discouraged but they were also in danger of becoming cynical as they pursued a path that would only serve to make their discouragement worse. What did those women know anyway? Why were they making up these idle tales and talking such nonsense?

I wonder do you welcome the enthusiastic witness of others to help and encourage you or have you allowed yourself to become cynical over the years. Perhaps you began the Christian life with great hopes but over time you’ve become disillusioned. You’ve not given up the name of Christian but you’ve so watered down your expectations that you are ready to treat with scorn any advice that invites you to change your mind and to do things differently. If you have, then let me urge you to focus on the facts rather than on your feelings or even your past experiences. When the women spoke to the disciples they spoke the truth and it was the disciples who needed to change.

Well those women spoke not only of what they had seen at the tomb but also how they had been reminded of what Jesus had taught. It was the reminder of that teaching that had shaken them and brought them to their senses – but it didn’t seem to move the others very much at all. And yet it was the ladies who were right, they were the ones who had begun to think properly.  The majority who dismissed their report as a fairy tale were the ones who were missing out on the joy of the resurrection and the new hope it was bringing. Don’t be like them!

Not everyone was left unaffected however by their testimony. And you don’t need to go on unaffected either. While the reaction of the majority was rather disappointing and discouraging Luke tells us that at least one person reacted differently.

Just because many of the people you perhaps talk to about the Christian faith react to you as though you too are telling make-believe stories there may well be others who, like Peter, react differently. Peter did what he could to find out whether what the women had had to say could be corroborated – so he went to see for himself.

And when he got to the tomb he saw a pile of linen grave cloths. That was it – it doesn’t seem like much does it? But it fitted with what the women had said; it fitted with what Jesus had taught. That was all that Peter saw but it was enough to send him on his way back home marvelling. He now knew something extraordinary had taken place and it filled him with wonder and amazement. I don’t know at quite what point Peter believed but he was most certainly on his way to believing in the resurrection of his Lord and Master Jesus Christ and the journey involved a real sense of astonishment.

Do you know anything of such astonishment? I hope you do because the gospel story really is astonishing when you stop to think about it. The God who has been offended and ignored by his creatures sends his choicest possession, his own unique Son, to save the offenders from their sin. Yet those offenders don’t want him and, in their desire to do things their way, they reject his love and hound him off to death of a cross. But that is not the end of it. This dead Son lives again and offers forgiveness of sins and eternal life to those doubly guilty offenders.

My friends, Christianity is truly astonishing and if you are never amazed by the different elements of God’s wonderful plan of salvation then I fear you know very little about Christianity at all. But not only is Christianity astonishing it is so because it is really true!

Do you believe that Jesus rose from the dead? And have you put your trust in the Living Lord Jesus to be your Saviour?

May God grant us all that living faith which unites us to Jesus and keeps us untied to him for eternity.

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