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Dear friends in Christ,
The city of Helen, Georgia, just north of here, was a logging town in decline during the 1960’s. The city decided to resurrect itself by becoming a Bavarian alpine town, in the Appalachians instead of the Alps. In 1969 the city mandated that every building be designed or redesigned in a classic South-German style. Even the local Huddle House and Wendy’s are designed in such a way. All of this was to make Helen attractive to visitors. They have done a good job in doing so. I like going there. I am not alone.
When Judy and I lived inAtlantathe first time starting in 1977, Helen had a Christmas store that was renowned. In my opinion it was the center piece of the city. It is no longer there. That Christmas store was unique. It was always busy. You could go there almost anytime and there would be a line to get inside. They made the middle of July like the middle of December. The air conditioning was cranked down extra low; you would wind through the store and up stairs and you would see all kinds of Christmas trees on display. Christmas carols were playing. There were all kinds of displays of trees and lights and ornaments. They made money by selling ornaments that were usually made in foreign lands and very unique. Our kids loved going there. For 12 months a year it was Christmas.
Today our profound biblical question is usually heard in late March or April. Today’s question takes us to that empty grave on that first Easter Sunday as we hear the angel ask the women, “Why Do You Seek the Living among the Dead?” 1) The answer is humanly unreasonable; 2) Yet with God, the answer is more than feasible.
It is such a blessing to have all kinds of accounts of the resurrection of Jesus in the different books of the Bible. Different authors saw from a different point of view and with different eyes. Many saw. Many witnessed. Among those who saw and have given witness to truth of Jesus’ resurrection were women. They played a huge role that first Easter morning that changed the world. Luke says, “On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb.”
Jesus had committed his spirit to the Heavenly Father just before the setting of the sun on that previous Friday. The Sabbath was about to begin. Jewish Law stated that anyone touching a corpse on the Sabbath was unclean. So the burial of Jesus was a rush job. That’s why those women were there as the light dawned on that Sunday morning, that first day of the week. They were there to embalm the body of Jesus and do it well.
What they found was not what they expected. “They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus.” No one was expecting to see an empty grave. Yet remember they were told exactly that. Jesus had told them on a number of occasions that he needed to go toJerusalem to suffer and die at the hands of the high priests and teachers of the law and rise on the third day. While Jesus said it, apparently their ears weren’t listening and their hearts didn’t believe it. To rise from the dead is unreasonable.
This past week I was driving somewhere and drove past a church with a cemetery. A funeral had just taken place. The tent over the gravesite was still there. Flowers adorned the gravesite to attempt to make an ugly scene beautiful – death had claimed still another person.
As a pastor I think about these things. The gravesite was close to the road. I wondered how many people would drive by and see the evidence of death to get them thinking about the last thing that will happen to all on this earth. As a pastor I also began to think that on Judgment Day, this is a place where I wouldn’t mind to be. Some powerful things are going to happen at a cemetery. Jesus promised, “Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out!” Every person who has ever died will come forth from the grave. That’s the promise of Jesus.
Yet, the thought of someone living after he has died is scorned by so many. In Jesus’ day, the religious leaders of the people were supposed to be some of the smartest. Annas and Caiaphas had served and were serving as high priest. They were Sadducees. Sadducees debunked the thought of heaven, the certainty of eternal life and the resurrection. And they were the religious leaders! A resurrection from the dead was unreasonable.
Two decades later, Paul went from city to city proclaiming the truth of the resurrection of Jesus in the city of Athens, the Oxford of Jesus’ time. He was told that he was a “babbler” because he was preaching “the good news about Jesus and the resurrection.” When Paul was on trial before Festus and Paul was delivering his message of the resurrection, Festus shouted out, “You are out of your mind, Paul! Your great learning is driving you insane.” Think about that - to believe in a resurrection from the dead is considered insanity by some. That hasn’t changed.
There is even a part of us that has problems believing that on the great Day of Judgment all who are in their graves will come out. That seems so unreasonable. Why? Most of us have been at a graveside. Our loved ones were lowered into the grave and dirt was thrown over them. We watch helplessly. It’s so final. To reverse death the effects of death seems so undoable. The person that dies in a fire and his body is reduced to ashes, the person who dies because cancer ravages the body, the person who dies in an act of war and has his body parts blown to kingdom come are promised life again and a perfect body? How can that be? Job wrote these words of promise, “Yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes—I, and not another.” Where is the proof?
Does anyone know someone who has seen the other side and has come back? Three weeks after I finished my vicar year, the older pastor of the two at the church where I was had a heart attack at O’Hare Field in Chicago. They said they couldn’t get a heart beat for twenty minutes. Then it happened. They told Pastor he had been dead for twenty minutes. I asked him if God gave him a glimpse of the other side. He smiled and said, “No, God didn’t give me that blessing.” There are all kinds of stories out there that some did. They are all very interesting. I am not going to stand here and debunk them, but how many people do you know were there and back? How many people have you seen that have been raised from the dead? My Mom has been in a mausoleum in Green BayWisconsinsince 1979. That hasn’t changed. My father since 1987 and that hasn’t changed. Why are you seeking the Living among the dead? That seems like such an unreasonable question – even foolish…until God gets into the picture.
That’s what happened that first Easter morning. The women had come to the grave so early. They saw that the stone in front was rolled away. What was inside? Absolutely nothing! “While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: ‘The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’ ” Then they remembered his words.”
The Bible gives us so many reasons to believe that Jesus who was dead is living. The ones closest who would want to believe he was alive had to be convinced against their human reason. The women didn’t go to the grave because they knew they would see it empty. They went to embalm the body of Jesus. What they saw knocked their socks off. They weren’t expecting it.
That wasn’t true only of the women but also the disciples. Jesus had told his disciples multiple times that he had to go to the city of Jerusalemand suffer and die at the hands of the chief priests and elders and teachers of the law, but on the third day he would rise again. They heard the first part well enough about dying. Remember when Peter protested. “Far be it from you, Jesus. That shall never happen to you!”
But Jesus had to convince them against their human reason. They saw him with their eyes and touched him with their fingers and talked and walked with him. He convinced Peter; he convinced the doubting Thomas; he convinced the belligerent Paul; the apostle John said, “We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard.” Paul wrote about the different resurrection appearances. “He appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. 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. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.” They saw it with their eyes so we could see with the eyes of faith.
There are other things to consider. The prophets said it would happen. Isaiah wrote about the Savior who would suffer and die and rise, “Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the Lord makes his life a guilt offering, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the Lord will prosper in his hand.” After suffering as the guilt offering for all, Jesus’ days would be prolonged. Psalm 16 says it so clearly, “Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will rest secure, because you will not abandon me to the grave, nor will you let your Holy One see decay.” The Holy One, Jesus, would not see decay. Why? Because he would rise from the dead.
I heard something this week that made me laugh so hard I nearly fell out of my office chair. A lady inNorth Dakotacalled in to a radio station with a suggestion. She said for the third time her car hit a deer. She said it happened each time where there was a sign for a deer crossing. She had a suggestion. If they put the deer crossing signs in places where the cars weren’t going so fast, people would be safer. In fact she said they should double up deer crossings and school crossings because cars are already going slow in school zones for the children and it made sense then that the deer would also be safer. Apparently she was under the impression deer read the signs and cross the road only where there are deer crossing signs. She sounded totally serious.
But you know what? There is absolutely nothing funny about thinking the resurrection is a hoax or a joke. The truth is this, “Because Jesus lives we will live also.” We need to hear that and be reminded of that everyday. Easter is needed twelve months a year.
In a few weeks we will be voting for a new president. Every day there seems to be a headline about one candidate or the other. On November 7th all will be over. The headlines will tell us who the next president will be. While the headlines on that day will be memorable and historical there is no greater news than what was delivered to the world on that first Easter, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen!” When he died he paid for sin. When he arose he assured us that our sins have been taken away once for all. We are declared completely forgiven. There is no greater news.