Easter Reactions

Luke 24:1-12

April 8, 2012 | Brian Bill

This week I came across the back-story to the popular Easter greeting: “Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!”  This statement of faith has been recited on Resurrection Sunday ever since the time of the early church but it took on some added meaning some 80 years ago in Russia.

In 1930, an atheistic communist leader named Nikolai Ivanovich Bukharin addressed a huge assembly on the topic of atheism.  He did his best to dismantle the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  After speaking about an hour, he asked if anybody had any questions.  There was deafening silence in the auditorium and no one moved.  But then a man got up and approached the platform.  He walked over to the podium and stood right next to the communist leader.  He surveyed the crowd, looking left and then to the right.  Finally he shouted out, “Christ is Risen!”  The crowd reacted by rising to their feet and their response came crashing in like the sound of thunder: “He is Risen indeed!”

Friends, the resurrection demands a reaction.  In the face of doubt, fear and guilt, we proclaim that Christ is risen; He is risen indeed.

While many of you know that on Easter Sunday we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ, I came across a recent Gallup poll that found only 42% of Americans associate this day with Jesus rising from the dead.  Maybe that’s because we focus too much on the Easter Bunny or Easter Egg Hunts or binging on Easter Peeps (I’ve already eaten today).  I want to make sure that we not only know what happened on Resurrection Sunday but that we react and respond to it. 

We’re going to go backwards chronologically this morning.  What I mean by that is we’re going to begin on Easter Sunday night with a doubter named Thomas, who ended up becoming devoted.  We’ll then focus on a group of worried women on Easter Sunday morning who moved from fear to faith.  We’ll conclude by contemplating how guilt can be replaced by grace as we see what happened to a Centurion on Good Friday.

My guess is that you’ve encountered some doubt, fear and guilt yourself.  I pray that when we’re finished you’ll react and respond so you can experience deeper devotion, fuller faith and the gift of God’s grace.

From Doubt to Devotion

After Jesus was raised from the dead, His followers gathered together in an upper room on Sunday night.  For some reason, a dude named Thomas was not there when Jesus made an appearance.  Later when he heard that Jesus had showed up, he crossed his arms and exclaimed: “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it.”

We don’t really know why Thomas wasn’t with the other disciples that night.  Maybe he was so down and disappointed when Jesus died that he just turned inward and pulled away from people.  As a result he missed seeing the Lord and his mind filled with doubt.  Solitude only feeds discouragement, which can grow into despair.  Some of you doubt this whole faith deal and you’ve unplugged from people who can help you grow spiritually.  Could I encourage you to make going to church a practice for you?  If this is your first time to attend a service in a long time, look at it this way…you’ve already made the first step.  Come again next week and you’ll be well on your way.

Thomas’ words help us to differentiate between doubt and unbelief.  A person who doubts says, “I cannot believe.”  A person who is filled with unbelief says, “I will not believe.”  In the Greek text, Thomas uses a double negative: “I positively will not believe.”  

A week later, the disciples are gathered together once more, and this time Thomas is with them.  Even though the doors were locked, Jesus shows up and says to doubting Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands.  Reach out your hand and put it into my side.  Stop doubting and believe.”  He then talks with Thomas in a very personal way as He invites him to deal with his doubts by touching His hands and side.

The phrase, “Stop doubting and believe” is literally translated, “Stop becoming faithless but become a believer.”  Just as the Lord had a personal interest in “doubting Thomas,” He wants to deal with your doubts and disbelief as well.  Some of you may have some genuine intellectual questions about the Christian faith.  If you do, and you’re serious about getting some answers, the Lord will give you the evidence you’re looking for.  

However, some of you may be hiding behind your questions and doubts when the truth of the matter is that your heart may be hard and you don’t want to believe.  In other words, you’re not really interested in the proof of Christianity because you don’t want to stop living the way you’ve been living.  Your problem may not be intellectual in nature; it may be moral.  

Instead of wondering, he worshipped

Jesus welcomed Thomas with all of his doubts.  Friends, the road to real faith often starts with questions.  Faith isn’t a feeling but a conscious choice to believe what God has said.  Faith acts even in the midst of doubt.  When Thomas came face-to-face with the Resurrected Christ, He made a bold confession in verse 27: “My Lord and my God!”  Instead of wondering, he worshipped.  He went from doubt to devotion.

By the way, if you’re struggling with doubt, join us the next two Sundays as we examine the evidence and learn how we can deal with our own doubts.

Because Christ is risen, we can move from doubt to devotion.  Next we’ll see that our fears can be replaced by faith.

From Fear to Faith

As we rewind from Easter Sunday night, let’s look at what happened early Easter morning.  A group of women went to the tomb to anoint the body of Jesus.  Their purpose is clear but they don’t really have a plan for how they’re going to accomplish this.

They actually have some pretty strong emotions going on.

  • They’re Anxious“Who will roll the stone away?”  (Mark 16:1-2)
  • They’re Alarmed – When they get there, they find that the stone was rolled away, and then they encounter an angel.  The Bible says that “they were alarmed.” (Mark 16:5)
  • They’re Afraid – According to Matthew 28:5, the angel tells them, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified.  He is not here; He has risen; just as he said.” After hearing that Jesus is alive they’re told to go and tell the disciples and that Jesus would meet up with them in Galilee.  Mark 16:8Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb.  They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.”  Matthew 28:8 adds, “So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples.”

My guess is that some of you are filled with anxious thoughts.  Maybe you often get alarmed and frankly, you’re just plain afraid.  Are you battling some fear today?

Can I give you some great news this Easter?  You can move from fear to faith when you encounter the risen Christ.  In the very next verse we read these words: “Suddenly Jesus met them, ‘Greetings,’ he said.  They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped Him.”

If you want to move from fear to faith, you must come to Christ, cling to Him and give Him first place in your life by worshiping Him.  You can have your doubts replaced with devotion and your fears will flee when you reach out to Christ in faith.

From Guilt to Grace

Let’s now go back a few days to Friday and focus on a man who had a really tough job.  Have you ever watched the show called “Dirty Jobs” with Mike Rowe?  He’s done everything from being a chimney sweep to an ostrich farmer to a garbage pit technician to an animal hoof cleaner.  He only has to do these junky jobs for a few hours, however.

The guy I want to talk about had to do whatever Rome told him to do.   He was a career military man and his title was Centurion, which meant that he had 100 soldiers under him.  He was like a Navy Seal or an Army Ranger in that his training was highly specialized and often dangerous.  Part of his responsibilities involved being an executioner.  He was rough and tough, coarse and vulgar and no doubt numb to the pain he inflicted on others.  He took pride in carrying out the direct orders of Pilate the governor.

He and his team were on crucifixion duty many times.  On this particular day their task was to crucify three criminals but first they were charged with flogging a man that had riled up the religious leaders.  The Centurion and his squad knew how to do this in a way that brought the criminal as close to death as possible.  Legally they had to stop at 39 lashes but sometimes they lost count.  After beating him to a pulp, his soldiers mocked him, threw a purple robe over the open wounds on his back, jammed a crown of thorns onto his head, smacked him with a staff, slapped him hard and often as they spit into his face.  When they finally arrived at the execution site after a tortuous walk, they threw Jesus to the ground and nailed his wrists and feet to an old rugged cross.

They hung him up to die about 9:00 in the morning.  The Centurion started to notice some things about the man on the cross in the middle.  While the other two complained and cursed, Jesus seemed peaceful, almost like He wanted to be there.  He even looked at the crowd, which included the religious leaders, the soldiers and the Centurion and said, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”  

The Centurion almost lost it when he saw the tender affection this man had for his mother when He made arrangements for a friend to take her into his home.  He also overheard paradise promised to a professional criminal and started to feel really guilty for what he had just done.  And then around noon the entire sky turned black and stayed that way for three hours.  He heard Jesus moan, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  

The Centurion was fixated on the face of the one in the middle.  He somehow seemed in control even though he was close to death.  He then looked up to heaven and declared, “Into your hands I commit my spirit.”  And then he heard him cry out, “It is finished.”   And then rocks rumbled and the earth heaved so much that he fell face first into the dirt.  

When the Centurion saw all this and how Jesus died, he knew he needed the life that Jesus offered

When the Centurion saw all this and how Jesus died, he knew he needed the life that Jesus offered.  He needed to have his guilt forgiven.  He was in desperate need of grace and so he responded immediately with these words found in Mark 15:39: “Surely, this man is the Son of God!”  

In Reader’s Digest a man recounted what happened one day when he was golfing with a buddy: “We were approaching the fourth hole…and suddenly the sky turned ominous, and it began to rain and thunder.  We rushed to shelter under a gazebo near a metal fence.  As the storm grew in intensity, a bolt of lightning hit the chain link fence and lit it up like a neon sign.  It was a while before any of us could speak.  My buddy turned to us and said, ‘You know that five I had on the first hole – it was really a seven.’”  Seeing the power of God made him feel guilty and fear God’s judgment…and to get some things right in his life.

In Luke’s gospel we read that the Centurion “…praised God and said, ‘Surely this was a righteous man.”  Luke 23:48 records what others did: “When all the people who had gathered to witness this sight saw what took place, they beat their breasts and walked away.”   

When someone beat their breast in the first century, it was a sign of guilt and remorse.  As the crowd watched what Jesus went through, maybe they began to realize their role in putting Him on the cross.  They came to witness a show, but they left with feelings of woe.  The Centurion confessed that Jesus was the son of God and was converted.  The others said, “Let’s leave.”  What about you?  Are you going to believe or are you going to leave?  

Don’t leave; it’s time to believe and receive.  It’s not enough to just know some facts or just feel some feelings.  You must also make a decision and engage your will.  It’s your choice.  He’s waiting for you.  What are you going to do?

The word “believe” in the Bible means to “cling to, rely on, and trust in” and involves the intellectual, emotional and volitional elements.  In other words, it’s not enough to just know something in your head or feel good about it in your heart.  A decision of the will must be made.  

Easter requires a response; the Resurrection demands a reaction. 

As I think about the Centurion’s faith, three things hit me.

  • We’re just as guilty as he was for putting Jesus on the cross.  It was our sins that put Him there. 
  • Ask Jesus to give you His righteousness.  The Centurion praised God and proclaimed Jesus as a righteous man.  When we believe and receive, we’re given His righteousness in exchange.
  • You may need to stand alone.  We’re not told what happened with the other soldiers.  They heard and saw the same things that the Centurion did but we don’t read of any response from them.  Likewise, you may have to stand alone when you accept Christ.  

Several weeks ago I was at one of those gas stations that make you pre-pay before you buy your gas (I guess they want us to be in pain before we pump our gas).  When I went inside the attendant was laughing as he watched a car pull away.  I asked him what was so funny and he told me that the guy had prepaid for his gas and when he went back out to his car he simply got in and drove away.  His gas was paid for but he never filled up.  I asked the worker what would happen next, secretly hoping that he’d tell me that I could fill up on the other guy’s dime.  He told me that he’d be back because he had done it before.  As we both watched out the window, sure enough the driver came back.  He sheepishly got out of his car, waved at us, and filled up.

Friend, everything has been prepaid for you as well…but it’s not funny to pull away from the devotion, faith and grace that Christ wants to give you.  The Son of God died in your place on the cross so that your sins can be forgiven.  But you have to fill up before you can be forgiven.  You have to take what He’s given to you.  Will you come back to the cross and empty tomb right now and confess that Jesus is your Savior?  When you do, you can be converted…instantly, just like the Centurion.

I’m told that as you travel along I-10 in Louisiana there is a large billboard which catches your eye.  It stands high above the city just as you start up the Mississippi River Bridge. On it is a picture of Jesus Christ hanging on the cross, head bowed.  The caption underneath says in bold letters, “It’s Your Move!”  God has already taken the initiative in salvation.  Christ died for you.  Now it’s your move!


Friends, it’s not enough to just wish each other a “Happy Easter” or just attend an Easter service.  We must respond by believing and receiving.  It’s your move.  John 1:12 says, “Yet to all who received Him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God.”  And in John 5:24, Jesus adds: “I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.”

  • Are you ready to move from doubt to devotion like Thomas?  
  • Is it time to engage your faith so that fear will flee?
  • Do you want God’s grace to replace your guilt?

It’s your choice.  He’s waiting for you.  What are you going to do?   If you’re ready to receive Jesus Christ as your Savior from sin and you want to live under His direction for the rest of your life, will you pray this prayer with me?

“Lord Jesus, I know that I’m a sinner and that you are the Savior who died in my place and then rose again on the third day.  I want to respond to you right now by surrendering my life to you.  I ask you to come into my life and to forgive me for my sins.  I need to be devoted and have faith so I receive your gift of grace right now.  I confess that you are Lord and I believe.  I now receive you by faith.  Make me into the person you want me to be.  Amen.”

Well, it’s time to affirm our faith this morning.  If you prayed this prayer from your heart and you’re ready to proclaim that Jesus is the Son of God, will you stand right now?  I’m not going to leave you standing by yourself for long because in a just a few seconds I’m going to ask everyone to stand, but if you have believed and received Christ, your salvation is instantaneous, just like the Centurion’s was.  Will you stand and affirm that you’ve accepted His free gift of grace?  I’d love to talk with you after the service and give you a free book that will help you get started in your faith.  Come to the table in the lobby and I’ll give you one.

I’m going to say, “He is Risen!” and then if you believe this, I mean really believe it, meaning you have received the Resurrected Christ as your Lord and Savior, I’m going to ask the rest of you to stand and declare, “He is Risen Indeed!”  

He is Risen!

He is Risen Indeed!

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?