Easter Sunday - "Sunnyhill" Herne Bay Evangelical Free Church

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Reading: Mt.27:62-28:15

Before and after… the facts and the attitudes


Introduction
Do you ever watch those make-over programs on TV? Perhaps it’s a house, perhaps it’s a garden, but at the beginning of the program it’s a real disaster. But then the team goes in and does its business – there is a transformation as huge changes are brought about. You can hardly remember what it was all like before so you’re shown photos which enable you compare the state "before" and "after".

Well I want us to consider Easter in this way this morning.

Firstly, we will look at the facts – before and after.

And then secondly, we will look at the attitudes of some of the people associated with the Easter story "before" and "after".

So with no more ado let’s get going.


The Facts themselves
As Easter is the pivotal point of the Christian faith and the Christian faith is totally bound up with Jesus of Nazareth the facts we must consider relate first and foremost to Jesus himself. The Bible gives us plenty of information and the facts are clear enough.

  • Jesus had gone around doing good, preaching and teaching in Israel for the preceding three years.

  • During that time he had established a dedicated band of close followers and he also benefitted from a good deal of good will from the ordinary people.

  • The Jewish leaders however did not like him. They considered him a dangerous man who was a threat both to the nation and more particularly to their own interests. They consequently wanted to get rid of him and plotted against him to attain their aims.

  • It appeared that they had succeeded when during that famous week they managed to secure firstly his betrayal by one of his followers and then his condemnation at a series of highly questionable judicial proceedings.

  • His condemnation was followed by scourging which was a particularly brutal form of flogging. It was not uncommon for men die from scourging alone.

  • The already seriously physically weakened Jesus was then led away to the place of execution where he was crucified until he was dead.

  • Before he was taken down from his cross the soldiers made doubly sure he was dead by plunging a spear into his side – they had an interest in not making any mistakes for if they let a man escape it was they who would be made to take his place and soldiers knew enough about crucifixion to make very sure that they avoided any risk of that for themselves.

  • Jesus body, once taken down from the cross, was hastily wrapped in a linen shroud and laid in a tomb that was then sealed with a large stone.

  • The first Good Friday was over and it was all quiet the following day – nothing happened!


  • But on Sunday it was all change!

  • The stone no longer sealed the tomb!

  • The body no longer lay in the tomb!

  • Jesus had gone!

  • Instead of Christianity dying out with the death of its founder it was soon to be launched into a world-changing movement proclaiming that Jesus had won the victory over death and was alive again!

  • Beginning on Easter Sunday the NT contains record after record of his appearances to his followers not as a man who had escaped the clutches of death as a mere survivor but as a man who lived in newness of life having conquered death itself.

  • These appearances took place in a wide variety of different settings and scenarios: he appeared to individuals, to small groups, to medium sized groups and on one occasion at least he appeared to more than 500 people at one time.


The Christian faith is a faith which is firmly anchored in historical realities. Jesus’ death by crucifixion is an historical fact. But the resurrection is no less an historical fact. Indeed if it could be shown that Jesus did not rise from the dead there would nothing of any substance left to believe in. Ideas and philosophies may change but you can’t change what has happened in history.

The importance of Jesus’ resurrection is demonstrated throughout the NT which refers again and again to his resurrection, to his being raised from the dead, or quite simply to his being alive. This is the message that has been carried by the church throughout the centuries to the ends of the earth. This is the same message I’m telling you about today.

Before? Jesus, a good man, is dead and buried.

After? Jesus, the only mediator between God and men, is very much alive!


Some of the prevailing Attitudes
Well we’ve looked at the fact and we readily acknowledge that the events of Easter are extraordinary. To try to get a better grasp of them I want us now to take a few moments to think about the attitudes of some of those involved. We will look at four groups of people and consider their state of mind "before" the resurrection of Jesus occurred and their state of mind "after" the resurrection had taken place.

The four groups we will briefly consider are:

  • the Jewish authorities

  • the guard

  • the women

  • the disciples



The Jewish Authorities
These men were hostile towards Jesus and had wanted to get rid of him. They had enjoyed what they thought was their triumph over him as he died upon the cross. And you’d think that now they would be happy and satisfied. The reality was a little different…

They were nervous.

Oh, it wasn’t because they thought that Jesus was going to rise from the dead – after all a large slice of them didn’t believe in the very idea of resurrection full-stop – but they did know that Jesus had taught his followers concerning his own resurrection.

The leaders were worried that Jesus’ followers might try to do something that made it look as though a resurrection had taken place. They were totally wrong in making this assessment of Jesus’ disciples - they had had all the stuffing knocked out them – but more of that later.

The leaders feared that Jesus’ disciples might try to steal Jesus body and then put about some fictitious story about him having conquered death. Such a scenario was utterly unacceptable to the Jewish leaders and they took steps to ensure that nothing of the sort might take place. They went to Pilate and sought permission to put a guard on the tomb to prevent any such thing happening.

Their attitude "before"?

  • They were glad to think they had at last finished with Jesus

  • Yet they were nervous that he might still exert an unhealthy influence over his followers


Then Easter Sunday arrived and these leaders now had to react to a new set of circumstances. Let’s see what happened and how they reacted. What will their attitude be now?

Some of the guard they had put in position went to them and reported what they had taken place!

What an opportunity these leaders now had! They were now in possession of some very important information carried to them by men in their own employ but what would they do with it? Would they allow the new information to bring about a rethink? Would they change their formerly hostile attitude towards Jesus?

Some people just don’t like to face the facts! These leaders didn’t and there have plenty of others down through history who haven’t either. I hope it’s not the case but maybe you are one of those people who doesn’t want your settled ideas to be upset by the facts.

Instead of seizing the opportunity of rethinking their prejudices, the Jewish leaders reacted in total denial. They didn’t want to believe that Jesus really had been raised to life and so quite simply refused to consider the possibility.

The truth had been told to them but they would not listen. Instead they stuck to their original idea, unlikely though it was, and they tried to make out that Jesus’ own disciples had stolen the body. Knowing there wasn’t any truth in their case they turned to bribery – it had worked when they had bought Judas’ betrayal of Jesus and maybe it would work again here. They paid the guard to spread the false report and promised to stand by them should they get into hot water with the governor.

The attitude of Jewish of the leaders "after" is made up of:

  • Denial

  • Deception

  • Blame


I wonder if any of those attitudes describe your reaction to the good news of Jesus Christ. It’s interesting that people still show these same attitudes today – many folk still try to blame the church for not believing in Jesus.


The Guard
We don’t really have much to go on as far as the guards are concerned though I imagine they thought of it as a bit of easy money as they were employed to carry out some simple night-watchman activities. After all they knew that Jesus’ followers hadn’t put up much resistance when Jesus was arrested and most of them don’t seem to have had the courage to show up at the crucifixion. No, the guard didn’t have much to worry about from that quarter.

Guard a tomb? Money for old rope.

But something happened that profoundly affected these men. The events terrified them! There was an earthquake, there was an angelic messenger, there was the stone rolled away from the tomb which was now empty and there was no sign of Jesus but they knew it wasn’t because his followers had stolen him away.

The guard left the scene and returned to the city where some of them went to report what had happened to the Jewish. What else could they do? They couldn’t make head nor tail of it all.

These men must have been surprised that for their failed mission they were rewarded with a bonus payment and soothing promises of support. Who cares if the report to be spread is untrue – it was nice to have some more money and a bit of security in life. And similar attitudes dominate so many in the world today!

I wonder what price they got for selling their souls that day. I wonder how much wealth and comfort is needed to keep you from the facing up to the truth.
The guard had received a real shock – fear had grabbed them but oh how short-lived it was and how quickly it was replaced with thoughts of material well-being.


The Women
Several women had followed Jesus from Galilee and had supported him. They had been present at the cross as he died and some of them had followed to see where his corpse was laid to rest. They planned to return so that they might be able to give him a proper send-off with the herbs and spices used to embalm a dead body.

These women were no strangers to tears they would have wept at the cross and they were to weep again in the graveyard as sadness was the dominant emotion now in their lives, sadness and resignation. Life, they thought, had ended for Jesus but life would somehow have to go on for them.

They too received an enormous shock. On the way to the tomb they were worrying about how they might move the huge stone away from the tomb but upon arriving in the garden they find it’s already been rolled away and the tomb is empty!

Their shock is compounded as an angel stuns them with an extraordinary and unexpected message. Jesus has risen, he tells them, and they are to go and pass on the good news to the rest of his followers.

Joy now mixes with fear – after all they are in uncharted waters how could they be calm about it all? They set off to do what the angel has told them.

Delight and awe take over as they meet the last person they expected to meet that day as the risen Jesus personally greets them.

These women had set off to perform some rather depressing funeral rites, they were sad and somewhat confused but they are ready to be transformed when confronted with a new set of facts and a fresh set of circumstances. They responded quickly and simply with joy and wonder to the resurrection of Jesus – will that be your response too?


The Disciples
Finally we come to the disciples. Having followed Jesus for three years they were now languishing in the depths of despair and despondency. They had seen one of their band become a traitor, another, the most vocal of them all, had denied Jesus three times, and they had all failed in courage abandoning Jesus to his cruel fate.

They were fearful – their Master had been executed and they feared they might be next on the Jewish leaders’ hit list.

They weren’t expecting anything positive at all they were just trying to keep their heads down.

Some of the women come with the wonderfully exciting news – Jesus is alive! But they can’t take it in – they are suspicious of their silly women with their old wives tales. They are full of doubt and slow to believe.

Detractors of the Christian faith sometimes make the accusation that the accounts of the resurrection are all about wish-fulfillment – the disciples and other followers of Jesus saw what they desperately wanted to see. But the facts simply don’t square with such a suggestion. No-one expected anything – they all believed they’d seen the last of Jesus – his resurrection was the last thing they expected!

And yet these men did come to believe. Their fears crumbled before the reality of the risen Christ. Yes, they were slow to believe but they did get there in the end and when they did everything about them was transformed. The truth is capable of bringing about just that sort of transformation – it was then and it still is today!

Soon these men would be preaching boldly in Jerusalem filling the city with the name of their risen Lord. Soon the missionary enterprise of the church would be underway taking the good news of Jesus Christ crucified and raised from the dead to the nations of the world. Such was their impact that they were even described as those men who "turned the world upside down."


Conclusion
And so my friends the question we must ask ourselves this morning is how does my attitude towards Jesus change knowing that he has been raised from the dead?

May the Lord have mercy on our souls and cause the entrance of his Word to bring light  into our lives.

Amen.

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