An Easter Sunday Message – To listen to the audio recording, CLICK HERE or scroll to the bottom.
Today is the Sunday we Historically set aside to celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. The Son of God. The Messiah. If you were expecting colorful plastic eggs and fluffy bunnies, that’s just misinformation. Just as in December we observe and celebrate the Birthday of Jesus, around this time of the year recognize his death and resurrection. We celebrate it.
Now there is no Christianity without the resurrection. I’ve covered that in many a-message here at Viroqua Naz, especially on Easter Sunday. But today I’d like to shift our expectation for focusing on Jesus’ Resurrection and really begin to look at how it impacts our life, here and now. And just like anything that the bible teaches, people either believe it or they don’t. I hope you’ve come with an open heart and mind today. Because if you believe that Jesus has forgiven your sin, he gives you a new life. Oh there was and will be a physical resurrection, but a spiritual resurrection is one we have to wrestle with in our day to day life.
So what passage will we look at first? Matt 27:51-54
As you are finding this passage in your bible or on your smartphone, let me give you a tour of what’s happened prior to verse 51.
Jesus is on the cross, between two thieves or rebels. One mocks Jesus, the other humbly puts his faith in Jesus. Jesus assures the second man of paradise with him. Jesus is continuing to die, suffering on the cross. He cries out a few times. Soldiers in charge of His execution bring him a sponge soaked with wine vinegar and offer it to Him. Jesus cries out aloud one last time. Probably the biggest cry of anguish the world has ever heard. Then he gives up his Spirit. Then the Son of God Dies.
Pastor Matt. I Don’t know if you remember, but this is resurrection Sunday, not Good Friday.
I know. I know. But this will turn into a resurrection story very quickly. And not “three days later.” It becomes about resurrection right away.
Let’s look at verse 51.
51 And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split. 52 The tombs also were opened. And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, 53 and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many. 54 When the centurion and those who were with him, keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were filled with awe and said, “Truly this was the Son of God!”Matt 27:51-54 ESV
The Death of the Son of God sent shockwaves into the physical realities of this world
The Curtain in the temple was torn in two – we don’t hear who tore it. Just that it was torn.
Earthquake that split rocks
Speaking of rocks, tombs were more cave-like than “hole in the ground” graves. These tombs got opened. Whatever was covering the entrance that may have protected the bodies of the dead, were cracked or moved out of the way. The tombs were now escapable from the inside. Which is a good thing because…
the bodies of the saints who had died (Were buried and placed in the tomb) were raised to life.
Now this last part is where I’ve always struggled with this part of the story. Let me ask you…
Have you ever read a scripture…then formed a picture in your mind of how it “went down,” never giving it a second thought? That’s the image you think of each time you read it? Maybe you do, until you are in a group setting or you hear a sermon that makes you evaluate the way you pictured what happened? That ever happened to anyone? Oh, no? Maybe it is just me.
Let me show you my mistake. I read it too fast then pictured it happening like this:
Jesus dies. All those powerful things happen. The saints are raised and go about in the city appearing to many people.
Yes. Yes, and not yet.
You see the way the scripture actually reads, says that only after Jesus was raised did they leave their tombs and go into the city.
Were they stuck in there? Were they resurrected but not strong enough to move around? Were they super confused?
Not likely, we don’t know and maybe.
We don’t have any stories (from scripture) of who these Saints were.
The Resurrected Life
- Much like these folks, sat in their tombs…we are given new life in Jesus Christ – our Fresh start, and we might…
- Feel Trapped – like church is the only place we can be ourselves. Worship God on Sunday, fellowship with believers, but come Monday I have to endure the grind of “the world”.
- Be confused – what if we do it wrong. What if we scare some people? We were “dead” (in sin) now alive in Christ… That might sound and seem pretty strange to others around me…
- Feel Weak. Not ready to share my faith. Not strong enough. Still give in to temptation.
It’s these three ideas I want to explore in today’s message. The Resurrection of Jesus means the resurrection of us, but will we stay in our tombs: feeling trapped, confused or weak? Or will we find our way into the light?
Let’s look at feeling trapped.
Perhaps no one has ever tied you up in a straight-jacket, but professional illusionists like David Copperfield and Penn and Teller would have certainly employed this device. It constraints your hands and arms. Now of course, if you or I were put in a straight-jacket, it probably wasn’t our choice, but illusionists choose to be put in them in order to escape and mystify a crowd. The illusionists, though they are all tied up and seem to be not in control…are exactly where they want to be. They know how to get out. They know how quickly they can do it. They have the power, all the while making us believe they don’t. Maybe that’s the trick.
Believe it or not, some Christians have a tendency to feel trapped. There are two “places” a Christian might feel trapped.1) inside the church 2) outside the church (Not just a building)
If you are on fire for Christ, He’s speaking personally to you, you’re growing in your faith and you are passionate about telling the world about this new life you have in him, chances are the trapping happens inside these walls.
I grew up in church. I’m only 38, but I’ve been hurt by Christians. I have seen others hurt by Christians and I am sure that I have unfortunately hurt others. Hurt people, hurt people. All within the context of the local church, the local gathering. Unless you are new to the faith, you’ve probably experienced one or more of these hurts in your lifetime.
It’s hard to love each other like Jesus taught. It’s hard to trust one another when that trust has been lost. When we are in between worship gatherings and group study times, we don’t hold the non-Christians in our life to that kind of standard. They don’t spiritually frustrate us when they act sinfully. It’s in their nature. But born again, faith professing believers!
Christians. We hurt each other. That hurt causes us to feel trapped. We can’t wait until noon when the service is over. We hope no one asks us about our issues because we don’t feel like talking about it. When we feel trapped, we look for an escape. A way out of the straight jacket. We look for the light at the end of the tunnel.
There are also folks who find our time together to be a peaceful experience. They escape the frustrations and worries and hurt and anger of their day to day life. They saturate in worship: hearing and reading the scriptures, Singing the songs, caring not if they are in tune, and fellowshipping with other Christians. Lingering in the presence of God and His Children during the weekly gatherings. But inevitably, people start to leave and go home. Someone starts to turn off the lights. The time for gathering on this day is over. Time to head back to the grind. When we were at the worship gathering, we felt more like ourselves. Now we just do what we can to survive.
Whether it is the stress of your work, expectations of your family, or the bombardment of temptation surrounding you…you just want to get out, to escape.
I wondered if the Resurrected people felt trapped in their tombs, is that why they didn’t come out sooner? We can’t know for sure, but if they woke in their tombs…even if the door to the tomb was open…would they really be able to get out?
To use another analogy, it’s much like prison. Take away a person’s hope of ever getting out, if you can break their will…you don’t need to lock the cell. They’re trapped.
But thankfully, for those resurrected saints something changed and they did head for the light, finding the doorway open wide.
Confusion and Trust
Why didn’t they come out of the tombs? I can only speculate that I would have felt pretty weird. You wake up, wrapped in clothes from head to toe, lying on a cold stone table. Tombs at this time would have one central area for the most recently deceased. Then after the body decays, the bones would be collected up, placed in a container of some sort and then tucked into a small space in the tomb, surrounding the central stone table. So needless to say, it’s not an experience many or any of us would be prepared for dealing with.
Liken it to waking up in a morgue, much to the medical examiners surprise.
The Confusion they may have felt can be reflected in the confusion we may have in our New Life in Christ. We are radically changed by his power, but to the outside world…we look the same. You’ve heard me say this before but new believers are some of the most effective evangelists, or at the very least, excitable inviters! Discovering your fresh start in Jesus Christ is something you can’t keep to yourself. Share it. Live it. The connections that a new believer has to their previous life helps to facilitate bringing more lost people to Jesus. That all sounds great, Pastor. But where does the confusion lie?
If you are a go-getter, in your face, take no prisoners type of personality, this part might not apply. But for those of us who over analyze things, who are concerned with people’s potential reaction to our New Life…it may be tempting to tread lightly.
What if…What if I do it wrong? What if it ruins my friendship, my family, my marriage. Let’s look at this last scenario. Knowing the bible says something on this topic, may help boost our trust that God will work this whole thing out.
12 To the rest I say this (I, not the Lord): If any brother has a wife who is not a believer and she is willing to live with him, he must not divorce her. 13 And if a woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is willing to live with her, she must not divorce him. 14 For the unbelieving husband has been sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife has been sanctified through her believing husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy. 15 But if the unbeliever leaves, let it be so. The brother or the sister is not bound in such circumstances; God has called us to live in peace.1 Cor 17:12-15 NIV
The plan is not that faith in Jesus would separate people, but rather bring them together. In this case, a husband and a wife have made a covenant. Marriage vows. The direction that Paul gives to the Corinthians specifically (and us generally) is that relationship ought to be preserved because it actually benefits the unbeliever. They may yet come to the Lord. But if this life change is too much for them and the unbeliever leaves, breaking the marriage vows, the believer isn’t responsible for that.
You might be able to transfer this into other relationships. Keep being their friend, their brother or sister, friendly co-worker, neighbor. If they cut off the relationship because you pray for them, share the gospel with them, invite them to a church event…that’s not on you. You don’t need to be confused. You are not responsible for how another person will respond to you. You and I are responsible to obey God, as he’s given this new life that we should share with all people. Trusting God to work things out in the end.
Weakness and Power
Do you set an alarm in the morning to make sure you get up at a certain time? When that alarm goes off, after you’ve smacked the snooze button, or like me…frantically tap on the screen of your smartphone, do you feel refreshed? I hope so. Every night before bed, our family prays together. One of the regular things we pray for is a “good night’s sleep.” I wonder if my prayers should be more specific?
“I pray I’m refreshed and ready to go in the morning, not feeling exhausted or tired in the least.”
Yes, it shouldn’t surprise you that when it’s this pastor’s turn to say the family night time prayer, it can turn into a sermon…a sermon that causes children to fall asleep where they sit.
But even when I pray those things…I don’t always feel refreshed in the morning. Do you? So we hit SNOOZE, roll over and try and get about 8 more minutes of sleep before the silly alarm goes off again.
I can’t be sure, but with our New Life in Jesus we may experience a burst of sudden excitement, like an alarm going off: “I got to tell all my friends!” We experience victory in some areas of our lives, but soon what we discover is the challenging side to this New Life.
“God wants me to stop this? Give up that destructive behavior or attitude?”
That’s when our old life and new life clash. We feel drained at the prospect of putting up a fight. Fighting temptation can get exhausting. And tired Christians say platitudes like, “I’m just a sinner saved by grace.”
When I hear people say this, it sounds like they are still stuck in the mire of sin. Like a drowning person, who believes they are safe somewhere…rather than repeatedly sinking beneath the waves.
Christians of all strides may struggle with feeling inadequate to stand up to temptation, but God’s word says,
“No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.”1 Corinthians 10:13 NIV
The word endure has NEVER been synonymous with “giving in to.” In the New Testament, Endure, ὑποφέρω (hypopherō) mean to “sustain or bare up under.” If you’ve watched a weight lifter do any kind of lifting, that’s the picture we have. The Temptation is not GONE. You are simply able to endure it. It doesn’t crush you. It doesn’t defeat you. In fact the very act of enduring the temptation puts temptation in its place.
Can I just get there by sheer willpower? No. You and I need help. So God enlisted the best Helper. The Holy Spirit is there to empower us to say NO to Sin. It is possible. You can Live a life fully devoted to God, saying no to temptation. How? The Power of His Holy Spirit in you.
Let’s bounce back to the tombs in Matthew 27. Jesus died and people came alive, resurrected. Jesus is buried in a tomb, stone rolled in front of the entrance. It was a new tomb, so no other ancestral bones occupied it. And there he lay until that morning when he was Resurrected. It’s that resurrection power, I’d suggest, that empowered the formerly deceased to appear to many in the Holy City.
We can live a New Life, a Fresh Start. It doesn’t have to be the same old same old. We can ὑποφέρω (hypopherō), we can endure, with the power of the Holy Spirit.
As we conclude the message today, I want to point out something. I realize the main part of this message has been about speculative examples “Why didn’t they come out sooner?” But this is for certain: their resurrection was a direct result from Christ’s crucifixion and they left after the time of his resurrection.
That’s super important because just like when I formed, in my own imagination, that the saints left their graves as soon as they came alive, that’s not what the bible actually says. We will want to be careful about things like that because it can easily become what we believe the bible to say rather than what the bible actually says. If we are not careful, the misreadings can solidify in our minds and become more “gospel” than the gospel.
That’s why we should be reading the bible not just by ourselves, but in community. Sermons and small group bible studies are great places to start. If I had been studying this with others, I might have come to my epiphany sooner.
Echoing back to those tombs, there were saints who were raised when Christ died.
Did they feel trapped? They couldn’t leave their tomb, even though the door was wide open…They had died. How was this even happening?
1- Do you feel trapped? Whether in the church or outside of it. One feels like home and the other, like a foreign planet. Trapped with no hope? Head for the Light. The light of hope in Jesus. He saves you and you can overcome the worries and troubles of the world, inside the community believers and outside it. Head for the Light.
Did those saints get confused, waking up in the grave?
2- Are you confused, wondering how you might share your faith…how you might be perceived? The opposite of confusion is clarity. Clarity comes from Trusting in the one who is faithful to teach and guide you. Your steps, your world, your actions. Trust. He will give reassurance so you don’t have to wonder, “Is he really doing anything?” He is. Don’t get confused. You can trust God.
Did the saints hit snooze in the tomb? Were they too week to get going? We don’t know. But we do know that when our faith is tested, we might show ourselves to be weak.
3 – Weakness
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.2 Corinthians 12:9 NIV
Paul latched onto the word of Christ. When he felt inadequate, unable to overcome something in his lift, the solution was the Power of Jesus Christ.
You and I can have that same power. We can stand up under it…Endure it. We can rebuff temptation and live a life totally devoted to God.
Head toward the Light. Trust God for Clarity. Believe and receive his Power.
If you ever have any questions please comment in the comment section below or send me a direct message. I’d love to know you took time to read or list to this message.