Sunday, March 27, 2016

Resurrection of our Lord
Easter Sunrise
Job 19:23-27
Psalm 118:15-19
1 Corinthians 15:51-57
John 20:1-18
or
Easter Day
Isaiah 65:17-25
Psalm 16
1 Corinthians 15:19-26
Luke 24:1-12

But as for me, I know that my Redeemer lives.

They didn't know, did they? Those first disciples on that first Easter morning did not know what had happened to Jesus. No matter how much He prepared them for what was happening, they were not really prepared. They were still thinking in their own terms. Jesus was the king they wanted and when He died they didn't know what to do. They ran to hide, certain that they would be next. Some of the disciples even headed home, like the two on the road to Emmaus. We have no idea where Thomas was hiding. He doesn't show up until a week later. The women went to the tomb expecting to finish the work of burial that was so hurriedly accomplished on the Sabbath. They were grieving as if Jesus was dead. They had no idea that they would soon discover that their Redeemer lives.

It is easy for us to look back at those first disciples and think that they were foolish for missing it. Didn't Jesus tell them this is how it had to be? How could they not realize that a little patience would prove Jesus' words to be true? It is easy for us for two reasons: we know the rest of the story and we have the Holy Spirit to help us see. We would not have been any different if we had been there. We will experience the grief of Good Friday with the knowledge that it happened because of our own sin and for our sake, but we will do so with the knowledge that we'll sing Hallelujah on Sunday.

Hindsight is twenty/twenty vision.

We also see now how all the Old Testament scriptures fit into God's plan. They knew the words and hoped for their promise, but it isn't until after the Resurrection that they know it is true, not only about God but about Jesus Christ. Job says, "But as for me, I know that my Redeemer lives. In the end, he will stand upon the earth." The psalmist says, "For you will not leave my soul in Sheol, neither will you allow your holy one to see corruption." Isaiah says, "For, behold, I create new heavens and a new earth; and the former things will not be remembered, nor come into mind." These are all promises that point to the work of Jesus on the cross. He is our Redeemer. He is our Salvation. He gives us life. His new covenant will bring new things to the world. It was planned, and the promises were fulfilled on the cross and then the empty tomb.

We will see in the texts for the next few weeks, during the forty days of Easter, that Jesus had to reteach everything He had taught them in the three years leading up to the cross. Even then, they needed Pentecost to bring it all together.

Think about the life we are promised and which is ours by faith. Isaiah talks about that promised world. Jerusalem will rejoice and God's people will sing. God will rejoice because His city and people are happy. There will be no more grief. Children will not die, and people will live long and accomplish everything for which they had been created. They will benefit from their own hard work, and not pass their blessings to others without enjoying them. "'The wolf and the lamb will feed together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox. Dust will be the serpentís food. They will not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain,' says Yahweh." The world as we know it will be turned upside down. Or should I say, it will be restored to that which God created it to be.

Isn't it interesting that we wander for forty days during Lent, learning everything we need to know. We are doing so in a world full of chaos and confusion. Then we spend forty days after Easter learning everything we need to know, but there's something different. We see that chaotic and confused world through a new perspective. During Lent we see the promise as they did in Jesus' day, that the Messiah came to set us free from the world. During the Easter season we finally see that Jesus wasn't an earthbound king we must follow, but that He is the Living God who redeems us and sets us free from the greater enemies: sin and death. The Old Testament promises have new meaning and we have a much different purpose. We are not called to simply follow Jesus, but we are sent out to be His people, to take the Gospel to the world so that they too will benefit from the promises that are not just for the here and now, but are for eternity.

Easter is a turning point, not just for the disciples two thousand years ago, but for us today. See, we might know that our Redeemer because we know the rest of the story, but we still need that Redeemer to turn us around. We need His forgiveness for our daily failures to live according to His Word. We need Him to continue transforming us into the people He is calling us to be. No matter how well we know and understand the promises of God, we have not reached the point when our perishable flesh is imperishable, our mortal flesh immortal. As long as we live, we must wait for the trumpet sound.

It is finished; the work is complete. However, we live in the already but not yet of God's promises. We have eternal life even as we wait for it.

In Easter, we see the fulfilling of the promise made through Isaiah the prophet: that God will create new heavens and a new earth, and that the lion will lie down with the lamb. As we catch a glimpse of that promise being fulfilled, we feel a longing for the time when we will not experience hurt or destruction. This is especially true in those times when we are facing difficulty in our world. As people are still suffering from disappointment and defeat, they need to know that God is doing something about it.

Even as we know God is faithful, we still see suffering and pain all around us. People are still hungry. Enemies still wage war. Leaders still let us down. We still sin. In our hearts we believe that God is doing this new thing, creating this new world, bringing reconciliation and peace to His creation. But in our minds and through our experiences we know that the promise has yet to be fulfilled. Even though we are filled with joy on Easter, we wake up Monday morning to the reality of our lives. We look forward to heaven, but we live in this world now. And in this world, the lion eats the lamb.

The promise in Isaiah is not just for some far off place, but for a renewing of our world here today. God is not concerned only for where we will be for eternity, but how we live in the here and now. Heaven is something to look forward to, but it is also something to be experienced now. It wonít be perfect. Weíll still fail. Paul tells us that Christ must rule until He puts all His enemies under His feet. He rules now; we see this to be true on Easter Sunday, as we gather together to celebrate His resurrection. He was the first. We look forward to the day when He will come again. Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again. This is the hope for our Christian faith. One by one the enemies of Christ are being defeated, even as each personís heart is melted by Godís grace. It seems like it will never end, because just as one ruler is changed, another rises to fight against God. As one person comes to a lifesaving faith in Christ, it seems others are born to reject Him. But God is working. He is creating new heavens and a new earth. He is changing the world, one heart at a time.

But even as Isaiah tells us that the earth is being transformed as we dwell in it, Paul reminds us that our hope is for something beyond this world. If not, then our faith is pointless. If Jesus had not been raised and if we do not share in that new life, then we are to be pitied. But Jesus has been raised and we who believe will follow Him into the eternal life that God has promised. Heaven is our reality even as the earth is our reality. We live on the cusp of both worlds. On Easter we see the reality of His promises. His mercy is eternal. The old things are forgotten. He is making a new creation. We will live and are called to continue to tell the story.

We think of Easter as the end of a journey. Many of us will stop whatever Lenten discipline we began forty-some days ago. We'll eat the chocolate and drown ourselves in the coffee we've fasted from for too long. We'll set aside our devotional books, thankful that they helped us through our wilderness wandering but glad that we will have that time for ourselves again. We don't have extra worship commitments. As crowded as our congregations will be on Sunday, next week will seem empty. Easter is over; time to get back to normal.

Easter is a reminder that all our work stands on the promise of the empty tomb and there is much work to be done. God makes so many promises -- to the poor, to the lame, to the deaf, to the possessed, to the imprisoned, to the lonely, to the outcast, to the ill and more -- but the promise of Easter is the foundation of it all. The empty tomb means that our tombs will also be empty, that we will be raised with Christ and that we will rejoice in His presence for eternity. Founded on the hope of eternity, God's people can go out and face the reality of the world in which we live. Sometimes that means we'll face suffering and pain.

This doesn't make sense to the people of this world. They see our celebration on Easter and think it is foolishness. What good is an empty tomb when people are suffering? What good is eternity when there is physical or emotional pain in this world? They tell us that if our God is real, then there should be no suffering. They tell us that if our God really loves us, then we should be filled with good things and satisfied in our flesh. They think that real promise and blessing is in the fulfillment of every desire. Quite frankly, there are many Christians who think that faith is a guarantee for good feelings, self-satisfaction and happiness. But Jesus never promised that our life in His Kingdom would be easy. The joy of Easter is often followed by persecution by those who do not believe.

Just as there were those who did not believe in Jesus in His day, before and after the resurrection, there are still those who reject Him. These are those whom He defeats, one by one, heart by heart. His Word breaks the hardness in their hearts until they too see the reality of God's grace. How can we not give thanks and praise Him as we recount the good things He has done for their sake? How can we be silent? How can we not share this Good News with others?

There comes a time when our faith necessarily leads us to confront the world, but we do so with the promise of Easter. The Christians in Paul's day were persecuted because they did not conform to the world in which they lived. They refused to accept what was acceptable in their culture and society. They were pitied because they the promise of faith seemed so distant and unattainable. Why reject the pleasure of this life for something that seems so unreal? Why suffer when you can be satisfied? Paul reminds us that whatever happens in this world is nothing compared to what we will receive. Paul writes, "If we have only hoped in Christ in this life, we are of all men most pitiable." The pity goes to those who prefer to dwell in the world that is upside down rather than the world that Jesus turned to right, the one God intends.

Christian faith does not guarantee a charmed life. The empty tomb of Easter does not mean that everything will go well. It was the empty tomb that set the apostles on a road to persecution; most of them were martyred. The empty tomb does guarantee that we will join our Lord Jesus in eternity. He was the first of many, raised to new life to live forever in a world that will be transformed. It is the world we see promised in those Old Testament texts, where the wolf and the lamb will lie together and God's people will dwell in the new heaven and earth.

Through it all, I know my Redeemer lives and it is faith in Him that gets us through today and tomorrow until our flesh is finally and completely transformed into the imperishable and immortal bodies that will dwell with Him forever and ever.

A WORD FOR TODAY
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