A sermon by Harry Goodhew
“Why do you look for the living among the dead? “He is not here; he has risen!” (Luke 24:5-6 NIV)
On Good Friday we fixed our attention on the cross and the grave. We looked at death. Without doubt a wonderful and unique death; liberating believers from sin and judgment; but it finished with a broken body in a borrowed grave. Yes, it finished in death – Jesus in the embrace of the universal master and conqueror of all. He died. End of story?
No! “He is not here; he has risen!”, say the angel messengers.
Today is Easter Sunday. We listen once more to those astonishing words spoken to the women at Jesus’ tomb preparing to perform the traditional burial rites for their dead Master.
But, Jesus was not there. He had risen: magnificently and eternally alive: the conqueror of death. Today is our day of joy and celebration. “Christ is risen.” “He is risen indeed”
Easter Sunday says it is Life that reigns not Death. Death may be universal but Life is eternal. Death is an intruder. As John says as he begins his Gospel, life was associated with the Word who was God, and that Word, that life-giving Word, became flesh. In his flesh he bore God’s judgment on sin and in that flesh, transformed, he rose: Life triumphing magnificently over death.
There are a great many reasons for you and me to know, to remember, and to live, with Jesus’ victory over Death.
Perhaps the first and most obvious is the universal experience of death. We all die. That makes death a very personal issue for each of us. But death holds no threat for the Christian. With confidence and expectation we hear the words of Paul written in the light of the resurrection of Jesus:
“Death has been swallowed up in victory”
… thanks be to God!
He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
(1 Corinthians 15:54-58 – NIV)
Those of us in churches that use either the Apostles’ Creed or the Nicene Creed in public worship have us confess that: “We believe in the forgiveness of sins: the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting” or that “We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins”, and, “We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.”
Some, because of intense suffering, may long for death. For most of us who follow Jesus, the thought of the process of dying is not something we anticipate with great relish; yet for us death has ceased to be an enemy, it is now a friend who ushers us into the presence of our merciful Saviour and Lord.
Beyond personal death, we can see in our world, as it comes to us through our various media outlets, multiple expressions of the touch of death on human life: war, drug-dealing, intrigue, deception, abortion, forced child labour and prostitution, and the exploitation of the poor.
These, and many others, are summed up for me in the hideous experience of Elie Wiesel who, with his father as Jewish prisoners, was forced to look into a pit of burning children’s bodies: “Never shall I forget that night, the first night in camp, which has turned my life into one long night, seven times cursed and seven times sealed. Never shall I forget that smoke. Never shall I forget the little faces of the children, whose bodies I saw turned into wreaths of smoke beneath a silent blue sky.”
These, and a myriad other examples, cry “Death”. Yet in the face of such things we can shout “No”: Life will finally triumph, for Jesus is risen.
Jesus, by his rising to life, brings a path for us to follow that will lead us through the personal experience of dying and which, as well, gives us a confident expectation that Death and Evil will not have the last word in our world. God is just; he will judge evil and death. They will have no place in the new heaven and earth that he has promised.
The resurrection of Jesus has other implications for those who are his. It gives us a path to follow day by day.
Listen to these words.
Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. 3 For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
5 Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. 6 Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. 7 You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. 8 But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. 9 Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. 11 Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.
12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.
15 Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. 16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. 17 And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Colossians 3:1-17 – NIV)
Christ is risen and by God’s mercy, we are risen with him. We are called then to live a “risen” life, not a life marked by death.
Death overcome in the resurrection of Jesus, Death and Evil defeated in his death and finally to be entirely removed when he returns, and a new life to be lived that will culminate in heaven and in God’s new heaven and earth: these are the legacies of that first Easter Sunday.
Bringing the power and effect of all that Good Friday and Easter Sunday accomplished, into our lives day by day, is both the fruit of those events, and, as well, the manifestation of the saving grace of Almighty God.
When Paul wrote to his friends in Philippi he told them that he was “confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6 – NIV)
Our salvation is all from God. He it is who works in us to will and to do his good pleasure (Philippians 2:13), and he is the One who is able to keep us from falling and to make us stand in His presence without blemish and with great joy (Jude 24).
The Spirit of God addresses us as he addressed those who first read Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians saying:
4 For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love 5 he predestined us to be adopted as his sons(and daughters) through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. (Ephesians 1:4-6 – NIV)
It is God who brings the power of the cross and Easter to operate effectively in us. Our part is to look to him moment by moment for all we need to walk in the path that God has called us to follow.
Faith’s handmaiden is prayer and we are to pray for what God has promised us. The Bible is the record of God’s promises to us. Faith daily reads, recalls, and receives those promises and prays for their effectual operation in us.
Though spiritually reborn to faith in Jesus by the Holy Spirit we still live with the refractory character of our own hearts and with the challenges of our surrounding society and of the lord of Death himself. Each of these is formidable, so we need to be sure of our resources for success. Psalm 46 at verse 1 says: “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.” Of this last statement one commentator has written, God “is always there. All we have to do is run to this refuge. It was a truth Martin Luther rejoiced in and made the starting point of his hymn “A Safe Stronghold”.
God has given us at least three other resources to walk the path that the Risen Jesus calls us to follow. There are his ordinances of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. These confirm, convey, and support his promise that his life, death, and resurrection are our salvation. The fellowship of believers as the Body of Christ has within it God-given resources for sustaining us as we share in its life.
A hymn that speaks of the Spirit of God whom the Risen Jesus sent as the fruit of his death and resurrection says:
And every virtue we possess
And every victory won,
And every thought of holiness
Are His alone
Part of the 1563 Heidelberg Catechisms says:
Because I belong to him,
Christ, by his Holy Spirit,
assures me of eternal life9
and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready
from now on to live for him.
For all this Jesus died and rose again.