Sunday, April 12, 2009

Easter Sermon 4/12/09 “Dead Man Walking”

Matthew 28:1-10

1 After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb.

    2 There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. 3 His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. 4 The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men.

    5 The angel said to the women, "Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. 6 He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. 7 Then go quickly and tell his disciples: 'He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.' Now I have told you."

    8 So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. 9 Suddenly Jesus met them. "Greetings," he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him. 10 Then Jesus said to them, "Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me."

One of my favorite Easter hymns to sing is "He Lives." Sometimes I do not feel like it is Easter unless we have sung this hymn. The first verse and the chorus go like this:

I serve a risen Savior, He's in the world today,
I know that He is living, whatever men may say;
I see His hand of mercy, I hear His voice of cheer.
And just the time I need Him, He's always near.

He Lives, He lives, Christ Jesus lives today!
He walks with me and talks with me along life's narrow way
He Lives, He lives, salvation to impart!
You ask me How I know He lives?

Some of the lyrics are very good and describe what I think is accurate. I think we serve a risen savior who is in the world today. I see his hand of mercy. I believe he lives. The problem that I have with this hymn has to do with the very last line of the chorus. It says, 'You ask me how I know he lives, he lives within my heart." On first thought, this appears to be nice and good. Jesus certainly does live in my heart, but there is SO much more. After reading the gospel accounts and the teachings of Paul I am quite convinced that they believed something much more earth shattering had happened on Easter.


In Matthew's gospel the two Mary's go to the tomb and when they get arrive, there is an earthquake. An angel rolls the rock away, which Mark tells us was a concern for the women. His appearance according to Matthew is "like lightening." Matthew has already told his readers that when Jesus was resurrected dead folks came out of their graves and appeared to many.


Matthew, of all the gospels, portrays the resurrection stories with power and pop. This is no ordinary event. This is not something the two women imagined in their minds, this is a dramatic, life altering event. The guards witness this and become like "dead men."


The angle then explains to the women that Jesus has risen and instructs them to go and tell the disciples what they have witnessed and that Jesus would go ahead of them. Matthew tells us that they left the tomb quickly with fear and joy. On their way, Jesus meets them and they take hold of his feet and worship him. Jesus then tells the women to go and tell the disciples to go to Galilee.


Out of the Tomb and Walking Around


Recently, a number of explanations have been given to explain Jesus' resurrection. They have been:


  1. The body was removed by someone unconnected to Jesus
  2. The disciples stole the body
  3. It was the wrong tomb
  4. Jesus was not dead and walked out of the tomb
  5. Spiritual experience



I remember the movie, "The Green Mile." It was named this because the floor that the death row inmate walked was green. When the person walked to the chair, others would yell, "Dead Man Walking." The person was walking around, but really dead. When I read the resurrection story in the gospels, I see Jesus in the opposite light. Jesus was really dead, but now he has come alive and is walking around. This is the point the gospel writers have in mind. Jesus was alive, then dead, and then he was alive. Notice how Matthew shows this truth.


First, the tomb was empty. This is very important, but it does not completely prove that Jesus was alive, then dead, then alive. There are lots of things that could have happened to Jesus' body. The women could have just gone to the wrong tomb or someone, as Matthew notes is the story the Jews agreed to tell, stole the body.


Secondly, Matthew makes sure to suggest that Jesus appeared to the women on their way to the disciples. He then appears to the disciples themselves. Again, if Jesus' followers had just seen visions of him, then this too, could easily be explained. They could have been so depressed that they had visions of Jesus. They could have had a wonderful spiritual experience and decided to talk about Jesus "being in their hearts", but they don't.


The reality is that Matthew records in this story that the women saw that the tomb was empty and they had an encounter with the risen Christ. When Matthew puts these two things together, he wants his readers to understand that what happened to Jesus was a unique experience. Jesus was alive, then dead, then alive again. He was walking around in a real, physical, resurrected body.


It is also important to note that Jesus' was resurrected, not resuscitated. Marcus Borg explains that resuscitation would be for someone to die, then come to life in the same way they were before death. Jesus was resurrected, meaning that Jesus was alive, then dead, then alive in a new way, never to die again.


Responding in Worship


In the resurrection account in Matthew, I noted two places where the response to Jesus was worship. Notice that the two Mary's fall and worship Jesus when they meet him after leaving the garden tomb. When the eleven disciples meet Jesus they also worship him.


I love the song, That's What I love about Sunday by
Craig Morgan. The last verse of the song says,


That's what I love about Sundays

Ooh, new believers gettin' baptized,
Momma's hands raised up high,
Havin' a Hallelujah good time
A smile on everybody's face.
That's what I love about Sunday,
Oh, yeah. That's what I love about Sunday,


The thing I love most about Sunday is that every Sunday we celebrate the resurrection. We get a chance to have an encounter with the risen Lord. We receive our calling and we are given hope through Jesus' presence. It is this encounter at worship that enables me to live my life for God during the week. It seems that we only celebrate the resurrection of Jesus on Easter Sunday, but the early Christians celebrated the resurrection every Sunday. I truly believe we are missing the boat. We have the opportunity to have a life changing encounter with the living Jesus every Sunday when we come together in worship.


Responding in Witness


The second think I noticed was that three times, people are told to "tell the news." The angle tells the two Mary's to go tell the disciples the news. Jesus then repeats the command to tell the news to the disciples. Jesus then tells them all to "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you."

In Matthew's gospel, the resurrection is "Good New." The earth quakes, God sent an angle to announce the news to the women who was shining like lightning and white as snow.


I was reading an article in Newsweek entitled, "The End of Christian America." Apparently in a survey called American Religious Identification, the percentage of Americans who identify themselves as Christian dropped 10 points. The author makes this quote, "The Christian God isn't dead. But he's less of a force in U.S. politics and culture than at any other time in recent memory."


The article goes on to talk about how the conservative end of the church tried to take over politics and create a Christian nation, which he believes as failed. He says that America has always believed liberty over religion, meaning that Americans believe it is more important to be tolerant than to make everyone be one religion.


As I was reading the article, I would be a Christian who does not believe Christians must take over the government and enforce Christian values. I do believe that Jesus, the one who was resurrected, is the Lord of the Universe. I believe that this is good news. It is news that should transform our world.


It makes me wonder what our culture would be live if we really did believe the resurrection was good news. If we believed we were worshiping the Lord of the universe, I bet Sundays would be different. It we went out to share the best news in the world, I bet our culture would be transformed, whether or not a Christian was in office. I believe our kids would learn to love each other even if they did not have "official school prayer." Imagine what it would be like if Christians lived as these first disciples, in worship and in witness to the greatest event of human history. I would image the world would be a different place.

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