Someone has commented that if history is ever to come alive for us, we must resist the perpetual “fast forward.”
We do not capture the electricity of the Olympics, the suspense of the Super Bowl; we do not understand the elation at the end of World War II, do not see the past through the past’s eyes, or come anywhere near the courage of those days if we are always, mentally, peeking ahead – Well, we all know how THAT turned out.
Of course we do.
Those who were there did not.
If you have a Christian heart, it could very well break if you let it visit history’s most miserable Saturday, and manage to resist the “fast forward.” You can at least try to make that day come alive, though it refuses.
You see…God the Son was dead.
Those who had known Jesus awoke to a Christ-less world, too horrible to contemplate. No doubt, the head-shaking led to heart-wrenching tears at the most unexpected moments:
- A sword called GRIEF cruelly jutted from Mary’s chest;
- A prison called FEAR contained the disciples in a lightless, locked room;
- A millstone called SHAME almost pulled Peter under.
It’s a wonder he survived; Judas did not.
Of course, every soul in the upper room could have nursed an inward smile, even then. Moments that excluded all happiness might still have held joy; thoughts, memories, recollections of the miraculous, the amazing; the recollection of simple parables which wrenched gasps of amazement from the crowd.
And Jesus had made them a promise.
He had told them that grief itself would cry tears of sheer delight. Christ had told them, again and again, that he would rise.
The promise could have been enough for them. They could have merely believed him…and have known how it would all turn out.
Shame on them that they didn’t.
- Mary did not anticipate her tear-stained face seeing the Lord Jesus; she did not anticipate her wailing cries to so suddenly turn into a breathless exclamation: Teacher!
- The two disciples at Emmaus did not their broken hearts to be mended and set afire as the risen Christ walked with them explaining Scripture.
- The gathering of apostles and disciples did not anticipate their own breathless shout that Sunday evening, when the lock of death was shattered by the appearance of Christ.
So very soon Peter would hear the unmistakable Voice call to his boat from the short; he would pull on his cloak as he jumped into the water - perhaps expecting to walk across its surface, as before - and would sit down to breakfast beside a fire, served once more by Jesus…like always.
But in the meantime, his was a needless, gloomy sulk.
- Behind us are the moments in history that tell us how much we are loved by God because of all he endured;
- Ahead of us is the renewal of all things, the end of this sinful world as we know it – an end which began at a first-century tomb.
And in between we live…in a world that feels like a perpetual Saturday, even though – for the Christian – life is a never-ending Easter Sunday. Because Jesus lives, the “fast forward” button is precisely the button we can always push –
because the END is carved in Jerusalem stone, and in the resurrected hands of our victorious Christ.
In circumstances that exclude all happiness because of all the WISHES that didn’t turn out and because of the PAIN of loss…
…we have a JOY that looks back and ahead – a joy that rises above the merely NOW of the daily drudgery, a joy that floats far above the temporary happiness of this world, a joy which God drops down to you and to me like a divine, unbreakable rope ladder – a joy that NOTHING can touch.
But how can we know? How can we know this is true and certain? How shall we speak confidently about this JOY, this NEW LIFE?
Paul tells us:
1 Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. 2 By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.
3 For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance:
This matters! If you don’t preach Christ crucified and risen for the forgiveness of sins, you will most certainly miss out on the love of God and the Joy of Easter!
…that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that 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, as to one abnormally born.
The sheer number of witness is astonishing – as if the testimony of Christ himself were not enough, here is the testimony of God’s people, proclaiming the risen Lord!
12 But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. 15 More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. 19 If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.
20 But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.
The dead will be raised at the end of time. Your loved ones who died in faith are not lost – and your faith is not misplaced or futile. Even the time, energy, resources which you spend in service to Christ here & now will not be lost – nor are they an exercise in futility! Why? Because Christ Jesus has risen from the dead! This is certain! Your sins are forgiven! We can speak this with clarity, we can speak words of comfort!
And the certainty of the resurrection means that, in every circumstance, we speak with clarity and comfort about this truth which we know and God has proven.
You could think of it this way:
The story is told of a man with a horse; and one day, that horse ran away.
His neighbors said: “Oh, what a bad thing has happened to you! Terrible! You’ve lost your horse!”
To which the man replied: “You say too much. You don’t know whether it is good or bad; you should only say that my horse ran away.”
When the horse came back into the pen, leading a dozen other horses with it, the neighbors gathered to say: “Sir, now we know what you mean! What a good thing that your horse ran away – now you have twelve more! Wonderful!”
But the man patiently replied once more: “Again, you say too much. We don’t know whether it is good or bad. Only say that now I have 13 horses.”
One day while the man’s son was training those horses, getting them acquainted with bit and bridle and saddle, the son broke his leg.
What do you suppose the neighbors had to say?
Or - what did they say a little later when the country went to war, and the son with his broken leg couldn’t go?
Always they opened their mouths to name one circumstance good and another bad, as if they knew things they could not possibly know; as if they were qualified to answer things no other human being can. What should happen? What will happen a day or an hour from now? Which events will turn out badly, which circumstances will work out into happiness?
Always the man replied: “You say too much.”
Isn’t that how it always happens….do you get it?
Dear Christian: It is only with an open Bible in your hand that you can say anything at all with certainty.
It’s not up to us to decide what is good or bad; in an uncertain, Saturday world, that is the only and last refuge of hope or happiness. Quite to the contrary, for the Christian: God has told us the certainty of the resurrection. And this resurrection certainty leads to clarity and comfort for the Christian!
So let us not say too much about events where we have no certainty.
Instead, let us come back to this Easter tomb, the one where death lies buried and Satan crushed. Let us speak of what we know, because we know it with certainty:
- Yes, God is immeasurably good, and we can trust him in all things;
- Yes, God’s purpose, long-term eternal purpose, is unfathomably wonderful – and that single, solitary purpose is to get as many of us to heaven as he can, whatever the cost to himself, whatever the cost to us;
This is the greatest good. The rest is trivial.
The facts lie open before us: Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that 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…
This resurrection certainty leads to clarity and comfort – comfort that is clear, grounded in the unshakeable Word of God, comfort that readily admits the pain of life in this world and points back to baptism as the place where God buried you and raised you to a new life with his Son…
…and call it devil-inspired blindness to prefer any other blasted thing in this world over the treasure of simply knowing Christ, knowing that we are forgiven, and knowing that our lives here find their meaning, their purpose, their eternity in HIM.
Because at his birth, Jesus was swaddled in strips of cloth and placed in a borrowed feed trough; at his death, he was wrapped in strips of linen and placed in a borrowed tomb.
And today, so many years ago, his body and soul were reunited; he exited that tomb, crushing death under his feet. It’s true, it’s certain, it’s fact!
Let us take up the cross of Christ, as each previous generation has; it is for the sake of this joy, the joy of the resurrection, that the apostles followed the least manipulative call in history: If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” And they called it worthwhile! And they know, today, that all the pain and suffering and sacrifice WAS worthwhile!
While we wait to see the face of Christ, that great glistening light at the end of our mortal tunnel…they already do! They already join in the eternal song of resurrection: Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and riches and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and blessing!
Christ is risen! He is risen indeed - AMEN!
I’m indebted to Prof. Mark Paustian for his treatment of Easter joy and worldly happiness.