April 19, 2014 | Brian Bill
I love how kids are attracted to Easter…even though they don’t understand everything about it.
When asked what Easter is all about, an eight-year-old girl responded, “You get eggs and remember God.” That’s not bad. The kids are actually experiencing a black light easter egg hunt right now…some of you probably wish you were with them!
A four-year-old exclaimed, “It’s the day that God woke up.” That’s pretty good.
A seven-year-old captured it well when she said, “It’s when Jesus got alive.”
That reminds me of the grandfather who wanted to see how much his four-year-old granddaughter knew about the Easter story. He put her on his lap and asked, “Julie, why do we celebrate Easter?” Without hesitating, she said, “Jesus was crucified. After He died, His body was put into a grave. They rolled a big stone in front of the opening. A bunch of soldiers guarded the tomb. On the third day, there was a big earthquake and the stone rolled away.” Grandpa was pleased with how much his granddaughter knew about the Easter story but then she continued, “When the earthquake happened, the entire town went to the tomb…And if Jesus came out and saw His shadow, they knew there would be six more weeks of winter!” At least she had part of the story right.
A little boy was not exactly happy about going to church on Easter Sunday. His new shoes were too tight, his tie pinched his neck, and the weather outside was just too nice to be cooped up inside. As he sulked in the back seat of the car, his parents heard him murmuring: “I don’t see why we have to go to church on Easter anyway. They keep telling the same old story, and it always comes out the same in the end!”
Well, it is the same story every Easter and it does come out the same in the end. But the story is far from old or out of touch. In fact, it’s epic.
The word “epic” in our culture refers to that which is colossal, stupendous, impressive, extravagant, remarkable, cosmic and extremely awesome. In its classical definition, an epic is a grand narrative that tells an exciting story about a great hero, like Lord of the Rings, the Iliad and the Odyssey (not the minivan). It actually comes from the Greek word for song; because Greek poets like Homer sang their poems. We can truly say the singing today has been epic!
Having said that, the word “epic” may be one of the most overused filler words ever. If everything is epic, than nothing is epic. I’m told that epic is the highest level in the “World of Warcraft” and I know it’s the name of a medical record system used by hospitals. Here are some other uses I came across:
- The Green Bay Packers are an epic team.
- I got off work an hour early. Epic.
- We got front row seats and it was epic.
We’re glad you’re here today because you have front row seats to Epic Easter. We could say it like this: The Resurrection of Jesus Christ is the most epic event ever! It separates Christianity from any other religion or philosophy.
Did you hear the true story out of Mississippi two months ago where workers at a funeral home were preparing to embalm a man when he started to kick in the body bag? Can you imagine how surprised they must have been? Family members were called and were overcome with joy. Some called it a miracle but medical personnel believe that his pacemaker had stopped working and then started again. Unfortunately, while this man lived for a couple more weeks, he died and is still dead.
Jesus was dead for three days and came back to life…and He’s still alive today!
Let me introduce you to some characters in this epic story from the 20th chapter of John’s Gospel.
Mary Magdalene had been delivered from some major spiritual issues. She was one of the last ones at the cross and now she’s the first one at the empty tomb. When she saw that the stone had been removed, she mistakenly thought that someone had stolen the body of Jesus. She then ran to tell Peter and John the bad news.
When John arrived, he looked in the tomb and the Bible says, “He saw and believed.” Three different words for “seeing” are used in this account. In verse 5, the verb simply means, “to glance or look in.” In verse 6, the word means, “to look carefully.” The word “saw” in verse 8 means to “perceive with intelligent comprehension.” It’s the idea of seeing with an inner light that leads one to a conclusion. In other words, the light went on for him.
While things clicked for John, things progressed a little more slowly for some of the other individuals in the first Easter drama. Let’s look now at seven epic exclamations.
1. Jesus meets us right where we are.
After John and Peter leave, verse 11 tells us that Mary stood outside the tomb crying. In Verse 14 Mary turns around and sees Jesus but doesn’t recognize Him. He then spoke words of comfort when he asks her a question in verse 15: “Woman, why are you crying?”
In that culture weeping for the loss of a loved one was done in a very loud voice. This was more than just a silent tear running down her cheek. She was grieving greatly, her shoulders heaving. The Greek word is constant, unrestrained sobbing. Jesus gently invites her to talk about her tears. Friend, Jesus knows all about those things that make you sad. He understands your fears and anxiety. And He wants to walk through your pain with you.
Jesus doesn’t always take away our agony but He stands on resurrection ground as the answer to our sadness
Think of all the tears that have been shed through all the years of human history. Jesus doesn’t always take away our agony but He stands on resurrection ground as the answer to our sadness. And there’s a day coming according to Revelation 21:4 when “He will wipe every tear from our eyes, when there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain…
Jesus meets Mary right where she is and begins to reveal Himself in the midst of her sorrow. Don’t miss the fact that the first person Jesus appeared to was a woman with a bad past. The Savior came for sinners, didn’t He? He offers hope for the hopeless and healing for our hurts, habits and hangups. Are you crying on the inside today? Jesus knows all about it. Invite him into your pain. He will meet you right where you are.
2. Jesus knows us personally.
It’s kind of funny what takes place in the second part of verse 15: “Thinking he was the gardener, she said, ‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him and I will get him.’” I don’t know why she would think the gardener would be interested in stealing a body, but she’s obviously not thinking clearly because of all the grief she is experiencing.
In His second exclamation, found in verse 16, Jesus said just one word to her, “Mary.” Actually, in the original he uses her Aramaic name, “Miriam.” He speaks her native name in her native tongue. This was the name that family and friends used. Jesus always called her Miriam when He spoke to her.
Many of you have a name that only your family calls you. My dad gave me a name when I was a little boy that he still uses today. Whenever he calls me “buckshot,” I immediately drop what I’m doing and look up. It’s my name and when he speaks it, I know my dad has a smile on his face.
All Jesus had to do was speak her name and verse 16 tells us that she immediately turned toward Him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni.” [Ra-bone-eye], a term of highest respect. It was more than just “rabbi.” It was like she was saying, “My master and my teacher.”
Have you ever stopped to think that Jesus knows everything about you, and loves you anyway? He cares deeply for you, regardless of what you’ve done, or how you’ve been living. In Mark 16:7, the angels tell the women specifically to tell the disciples and Peter that Jesus was alive. Even the angels wanted Peter to know that it wasn’t over just because he had epically bailed on Jesus. God loves to fully restore fallen people.
I like what Max Lucado says, “God loves you just the way you are…but He loves you too much to let you stay the way you are.”
The Resurrected Christ is speaking your name this morning. Tom. Mary. Gary. Stephanie. Val. Marc. Do you hear Him? Will you follow Him? He knows you personally and will meet you right where you are.
3. Jesus gives us a message.
After hearing her name, Mary drops to her knees and Matthew 28:9 tells us that she grabs on to His feet in worship. Now that she’s found Jesus she doesn’t want to let go. Jesus then gently rebukes her, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet returned to the Father.” Mary was still going to have a friendship with Him, but it was going to be much deeper and richer once He ascended into heaven.
After reframing their relationship, Jesus then gives Mary a message: “Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” I love how Jesus uses the term, “my brothers.” This is the first time he does so. He’s called his followers “servants” and “friends” but now that He is alive from the dead, He has inaugurated a new relationsip through the new birth. Those who proclaim His name are now brothers and sisters.
Mary was responsible to deliver the news about this new relationship. The first two letters of “Gospel” make up the word “Go.” Isn’t it interesting that left to herself, Mary would have been content to just sit at His feet and soak up the fellowship and teaching? We’re a lot like that as well. We would rather sit than serve. We would rather gather together than scatter with the gospel message. Mary gets up and goes.
Will you rise when Jesus calls your name? When you do, He’ll take your sorrow and your shame and give you a message to share with others.
These first three exclamations are given to Mary in the garden on Easter Sunday morning. The next two are expressed Easter Sunday night, while the disciples are gathered in fear, locked behind a thick wooden door in an upper room.
4. Jesus provides peace in the midst of anxiety.
The Resurrection is all about reconciliation.
While the followers are fearful and ambushed by anxiety, Jesus miraculously appears in the room and gives his fourth epic exclamation: “Peace be with you!”
Yet He still holds His arms of peace open to you.
Jesus wants to extend peace to you as well. He doesn’t gloss over your past. He is well aware of the mistakes you have made and the failures you’ve had. He knows how you’ve scorned Him, denied Him, and rejected Him. He understands your anxiety and unbelief. Yet He still holds His arms of peace open to you.
The New Testament describes at least three spheres of peace:
- Peace with God – that’s the vertical dimension. Romans 5:1: “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Because of what Jesus did on the Cross, you and I can now be at peace with God. This word can also mean, “to set at one again.”
- Peace of God – this takes place internally. Philippians 4: 7: “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
- Peace with others – when we have peace with God and we experience the peace of God, we can then extend peace horizontally. Matthew 5:9: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the sons of God.” This could be translated as “peace workers.” We’re called to make peace when we’re in conflict with someone.
Jesus offers you peace today. Do you want this peace or are you content to cower in the corner? Don’t lock yourself behind thick walls and shut others out. Instead, allow the Lord to give you His perfect peace.
5. Jesus gives us a job and the power to do it.
In verse 21, Jesus again says, “Peace be with you!” He then commissioned them by giving them a job to do: “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” Just like Mary was told to go and tell, now all of his followers are given a task to tell as well.
Are you searching for purpose and meaning in life? Jesus offers everything you’re looking for. Once you surrender your life to Him He will give you a job to do and a toolbox full of gifts and abilities that you never dreamed you’d have. N
The Resurrection of Jesus Christ is the most epic event ever!
6. Jesus calls us to deal with our doubts.
While the disciples who gathered in the upper room on Easter Sunday night received peace and power, just like Sam did, Thomas wasn’t there to see Jesus with his own eyes. When he heard what he missed, he crossed his arms and said in verse 25: “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.” In the original, it’s quite forceful: “I positively will not believe!”
We don’t really know why Thomas wasn’t with the others that night. Maybe he was so down and disappointed that he just turned inward and pulled away from people. Have you ever done that? I think many of us have. Thomas desperately needed to be with people, but he chose to go it alone. As a result he missed seeing the Lord.
Friends, no matter how discouraged you are, you need to be with God’s people on a regular basis to hear God’s Word. Solitude only feeds discouragement, which can grow into self-pity. Make it a practice to gather with others in church each week, whether you feel like it or not. That way you’ll be sure to not miss Jesus when He shows up!
A week later, the disciples are gathered together once more, and this time Thomas is with them. Even though the doors were locked again, Jesus miraculously appeared and for the third time said, “Peace be with you.”
The sixth exclamation is found in verse 27: “Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.’” Jesus knew exactly what Thomas had said a week earlier; and now invites him to deal with his doubts by touching His hands and side.
I love how tenderly Jesus deals with the doubts that Thomas has. Thomas gets a bad wrap but all he wanted was some proof. There’s nothing wrong with that. Jesus has room for his doubts and actually wants him to feel, or touch the truth. The gospels show one story after another of people struggling to believe. Just about everyone who met Jesus doubted at one time or another. Could I encourage you to lean into your faith and doubt your doubts?
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 disarm your doubts and your 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.
Did you know that Jesus made 11 different appearances to no less than 500 different people over a period of 40 days after the Resurrection? There’s proof for the resurrection if you’re willing to ponder it.
Having said all that, I wonder if some of you may be hiding behind your questions and doubts? The truth of the matter is that you may have a hard heart and 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.
7. Jesus calls us to saving faith.
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!”
Jesus did not come just to live a good life and to be a good teacher. He came in order to die as full payment for our sins. Did you know that epic is also used with negative terms? Like when your child has an “epic meltdown” or when parents have “epic meltdowns.” In a very real sense, each one of us have had an epic fail. The Bible says that we all fall far short of God’s glory and that the punishment for our sins is separation and death.
The resurrection validates all the claims of Jesus and verifies that He has conquered sin, Satan, and death. The disciples had the privilege of seeing Jesus with their own eyes. Thomas was able to investigate for Himself. But it wasn’t the seeing that saved them; it was their believing. Verse 29 gives us the seventh exclamation: “Then Jesus told him, ‘Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.’”
When you believe and receive Jesus Christ, you will be blessed because you will have believed without seeing.
This past week I asked some millennials for some help with how “epic” is used in our culture. Here’s one response I received: “It’s true meaning lands closer to ‘something so encompassing and foundational that to not see it and appreciate it would be to be blind.’”
The epic story of Easter must become personal for each of us. If we don’t believe, we are blind! In order for resurrection power to be available to you, you must accept Jesus on His terms, personally believing in Him even though you can’t see Him. Mary said, “They have taken away my Lord.” Thomas replied, “My Lord and my God!”
The epic-ness (is that a word?) of Easter ultimately points to this question. Are you going to believe? John 5:24: “I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word [you’ve just heard His words] and believes him [will you believe?] who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.”
The Resurrection of Jesus Christ is the most epic event ever! Because Jesus is alive,
- He will meet you right where you are
- He knows you personally
- He’s given you a message
- He provides peace
- He’s given you a job to do
- He’s big enough to deal with your doubts
- He’s calling you to saving faith
I love what Ron Hutchcraft says: “Jesus walked out of His grave so He could walk into your life.”
Jesus came into the upper room without using the door but He won’t come into your life unless you open the door to Him. Actually, according to John 10:9, Jesus said: “I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture.” The only way to be saved is to go through Him!
Here’s the bottom line: If you want Easter to be epic in your life, you must encounter Christ and accept Him into your life.
In 1930, an atheist names Nicholai Ivanovich, a communist leader who took part in the Bolshevik revolution of 1917, went to Kiev to address a huge assembly on atheism. He spoke for one hour and did all he could to dismantle Christianity. When he finished, he looked out at the crowd, and asked if anyone had any questions. Silence filled the auditorium.
And then, one man got out of his chair, came up to the platform, and stood right next to the communist leader. He looked at the crowd and then shouted out an ancient greeting that was well known to many Russians: “Christ is risen!” The people immediately rose to their feet and responded thundereously: “He is risen indeed!”
Let me make two points. First, the phrase isn’t, “He was risen.” It is, “He is risen” beause He’s alive right now. Secondly, a response has to be made. Jesus died in our place. He took our sins as full payment on the cross and rose again validating everything He did, but we need to respond to that. You can say, ok, Jesus is alive. So what! Well, the “so what” is that He is risen indeed and he is alive right now and because He is alive, I can be alive spiritually. And so we respond, “He is risen indeed!”
God, I have failed big time. I admit that I’m an epic sinner. I now turn from how I’ve been living and trust what your Son did on the Cross when He died in my place, paying the price for all that I’ve done. Thank you that you meet me right where I’m at and that you call me by name. You know me and for some reason you love me. I want to be at peace with you. And even though I can’t see you, I choose to believe you. I believe that you died on the Cross and rose again on the third day. And now I receive you into my life. I open the door to you. Save me from my sins. I want to be born again. And now give me resurrection power to live the rest of my life for you and under your leadership, for you are my king. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.
If you prayed that prayer and meant it, would you have the courage to just raise your hand so we can rejoice with you?
Closing Shout: He is Risen! He is Risen Indeed!