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Easter Sunday
Light of Christ Anglican Church
The Rev. Michael Moffitt, April 4, 2021

And Now for the Rest of the Story

Text: Mark 16:1–8

I love Easter morning! There is a sense of joy and relief even though the resurrection itself happened over 2,000 years ago. It’s just that we have finally completed the Lenten season, and our focus has been on our sin and the absolute need for our savior, which is absolutely true. We have been compelled to remember that it was also our sin that made the cross of Christ necessary, so this day when we celebrate the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, it is a breath of fresh air. This celebration is ongoing because Jesus who was resurrected from the dead brought us new life that goes on for all eternity.

I once read a story about a children’s Sunday school teacher who was teaching a class on Easter morning. She was trying to get the children involved in the story by helping them picture Jesus coming out of the tomb alive. She asked the question, “What do you think was the first thing that Jesus said when he stepped out of the tomb?” A little girl in the back of the class jumped up waving her hand in the air and saying, “I know, I know!” the teacher looked at her and said, “OK Bethany, what do you think was the first thing Jesus said as he stepped out of the tomb?” and the little girl threw both arms in the air and shouted, “TA-DAAAA!”

Now I doubt if that was what Jesus said but I do love the sense of celebration that the little girl was bringing to the most important event in history. 

During Holy Week, our focus has been on the Passover and Jesus instituting the Lord’s Supper where he reinterpreted the meaning of Passover and revealed that he had come to be the sacrificial lamb, a perfect sacrifice made once and for all. We spoke of the Lord’s Supper as the place where by faith we feed on the body and blood of Christ and encounter his living presence. Then on Good Friday our focus was on the darkness, hopelessness and despair that our Lord suffered on our behalf, so that we would never have to face such sorrow and hopelessness ourselves, if we embrace him in repentance and faith.

Today, we come face to face with the fact that in Jesus Christ we can be set free from the penalty of our sins and enter into an eternal relationship with our God and Creator. On this resurrection morning, we can reflect and rejoice that because of Jesus’ resurrection, sin and death are defeated and the way is open for us to enter the Holy of Holies to come before the Lord in worship, praise and adoration. All this is true, but that is only a part of the story. This is amazing, powerful, and wonderful news but it’s not the end of the story and for some here today, this could be the beginning of their story with Jesus, for others a continuation of their life with Jesus, and for some, it may just be a story.

To fully understand what happened on that first Easter morning I would like us to go back and consider the story from Mark’s account in chapter 16:1–8.

Remember that it was on Friday that Jesus was crucified and laid in the tomb. Friday evening at sundown was the beginning of the Sabbath and this was no ordinary Sabbath, but the Passover Sabbath. No work could be performed from sundown on Friday until sundown on Saturday, but it wouldn’t be light enough for the women to go and complete the burial ritual that had been done in haste on Friday evening. There wouldn’t be enough light until Sunday morning to do the work. So, for approximately 36–40 hours the disciples and friends of Jesus had to simply wait. I guarantee that it was the longest wait of their lives, as they were grieving, overwhelmed with the shock, sorrow and hopelessness of the brutal death of the one they believed to be their Messiah. I know that it was especially difficult for the disciples because they had each run away in fear of their own lives, but it was likely an especially dark time for Peter who had denied three times that he even knew Jesus.

If you’re like me, you have probably identified with one of the disciples more than others. We don’t really see too much character development in the Gospels, but for Peter, Thomas, James, Judas Iscariot, and John we can get a pretty clear picture of their personalities. I really love the Gospel of John, his Epistles, and of course the book of Revelation. His passionate love and devotion for Jesus can be felt through his writings. If given a choice I would want to be like him, but in reality, Peter is my doppelgänger. He was loyal but impetuous, quick to act and speak, and he had an inflated opinion of his bravery. I think I understand him pretty well.

I would like to be able to say that I have never had to deal with the kind of guilt and shame he was dealing with, but I have. I have done things in my life that brought pain and suffering to my family and to others. I can remember thinking that they would never forgive me, and I also assumed that God was done with me as well. I remember not knowing how to go forward or if I even wanted to because everything seemed so dark and hopeless. I couldn’t think of anything else but how much I wished I hadn’t done or said what I did. If only I could go back and change it I would, but I knew that I could not. I wonder how many of you here this morning know what I’m talking about.

Apparently, the women had followed the procession from Pontius Pilate’s Praetorium to Golgotha where Jesus was crucified. They hung in there the whole time with Jesus, following behind, weeping and praying that he would be released. Even as he hung on the cross they waited prayerfully wondering if he would come down and defeat the enemies of God, but he died and was placed in a tomb. Most likely they were not dealing with shame, but with great sorrow, and they were the ones who got up early on Sunday morning and went to the tomb to surround the body of Jesus with spices to offset the odors of decomposition. This was the Jewish custom, and they were going to be faithful to the last for their Lord.

Along the way they wondered among themselves who would roll away the stone for them. A Jewish tomb was generally small, so the stone needed to cover an opening that was 4–6 feet in diameter and approximately one inch thick. The stone would be set in a grove that was on an incline in front of the entrance and would have to roll down to cover the opening. It is estimated to have weighed between 1,000–2,000 pounds depending on the size of the hole. To open the tomb, the stone would need to be pushed back up the incline which would require at least two very strong men. When arriving they saw that the stone had already been rolled away. Let’s read Mark 16:5–8,

And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe, and they were alarmed. And he said to them, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.” And they went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.

Everything about this encounter had to completely overwhelm and shock the women as they heard the angel speak to them. Their emotions were likely raw and so the angel begins by trying to comfort them saying, “Do not be alarmed,” but I don’t think that really captures the moment sufficiently. The word the angel uses in Hebrew means “terrified” or “severely alarmed” and most likely fits into the reaction in the Scriptures when someone sees an angel. He was likely saying, “Don’t be terrified.” No one was going to come up to an angel and say, “Hey, what are you doing here?” These are the Heavenly host, the warriors of God, and not the little cherubs that we see on Valentine’s Day cards.

Matthew 27:65–66 reminds us that Pilate was asked by the Pharisees to add guards at the tomb of Jesus, so his followers couldn’t come and steal his body. We know that the women couldn’t have physically rolled it away and the disciples would not have been able to overcome the guards and most likely no one else would have wanted to. The angel had rolled it away, so they could see that Jesus had risen from the grave. Jesus in his resurrected body wouldn’t have needed to have the tomb opened as we can see in later Gospel accounts where he walked through doors. It was open for the benefit of his followers.

The angel then confirms that he understands who they are looking for,

“You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him?”

There are several examples in the Scriptures of people being raised from the dead before this, such as the widow’s son in the days of Elijah and Lazarus, who Jesus raised from the dead. Each of them was brought back from the dead, but none of them were resurrected. Each of them was raised in the same body that they died in, and even though they were raised from the dead, they died again. Resurrection isn’t just living again; it’s living again in a new body perfectly suited for eternity. Jesus was not the first one to be brought back from the dead, but he was the first one to be resurrected. In Colossians 1:18, Paul writes,

He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything.

What the angel is describing for the women would have been more than they could comprehend at the time. I can only imagine that this was like being caught in a whirlwind and seemed to happen too fast to comprehend, but it’s the next words that I want to focus on the most:

“But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.”

At this point Mark wrote that the women fled trembling and in astonishment because they were afraid. They were given a message from Jesus to convey to Jesus’ disciples and Peter. I love to imagine the scene when Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome came bursting through the door where the disciples were staying and told them the message that Jesus had given to the angel for them. Their excitement and joy must have been amazing but the message from the angel seemed too much to hope for. Jesus was calling for “HIS disciples AND Peter” to come to Galilee to meet him, just as he had told them. They had to be absolutely stunned, not knowing what to believe. I love that Jesus, knowing their sorrow, guilt, and misery gave them a command that required them to move. The time for sorrow, guilt and misery was past and Jesus was alive and wanted them to meet him in Galilee. Hadn’t Jesus said this to them the night of his betrayal, just three days before. Mark 14:27–28,

And Jesus said to them, “You will all fall away, for it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.’ But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.”

How had they missed that? It now seemed so important. Jesus was calling for the very ones who had deserted him and he had said that he knew that they would. I love that he singled out Peter. I can imagine him hearing those words and saying to the women, “Wait, he actually said, ‘and Peter?’ He wants me to come too?” I can picture him falling to his knees for a moment as the strength left his legs. Jesus wanted him to come with the others. How could that be? Could it be that there was hope and the darkness would roll away and he could live again? Could things be like they were before his betrayal?

I can only imagine what those moments were like for the disciples and the women who had faithfully followed with them, but Matthew’s account says “then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him they worshipped him there.” Worship would seem the only reasonable response to the risen Lord, both then and now.

I’ve wondered if while they traveled to Galilee if they were asking themselves the question, “What else did he tell us that we didn’t catch?” Mark 8:31,

And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again. And he said this plainly.

You would think that Peter and the others would have remembered this but Mark recounts in Mark 9:30–31 that Jesus tells them this same scenario again but verse 32 says, “but they did not understand the saying, and were afraid to ask him.” Many have scoffed and questioned the mental faculties of the disciples, but I think that Jesus prevented them from fully understanding lest they attempt to stop him. He had come to do the will of his Father and nothing would stand in the way. It’s also important to note that Jesus could also have stopped them from crucifying him, but he did not, and for the same reason. He had come to do the will of His Father.

The disciples, when given the Holy Spirit, began to recall these things and saw how the Scriptures foretold all that happened to Jesus as well as the promises to those who would follow him by faith. We have been given his Word and the testimony of the Apostles in the Scriptures, which not only tell us why Christ came and died, but teach us all that God has for us in Christ. For those who come to Jesus by faith repenting of their sins and dedicating their lives to his glory are promised eternal life in the presence of God. We read from Isaiah 25:7–8,

And he will swallow up on this mountain the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations. He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken.

All the mourning and disgrace, including the sting of death, will be removed when God reigns over the earth from Mt. Zion. Paradoxically, death, the enemy which no one can escape, will itself be swallowed up. The Apostle Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 15:54,

When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.”

In Psalm 118:22–24 the Psalmist declares,

The stone that the builders rejected
          has become the cornerstone.
This is the Lord’s doing
          and it is marvelous in our eyes.
This is the day that the Lord has made; 
          let us rejoice and be glad in it.

Jesus became the cornerstone of the house of God and the day of his resurrection is to be the day that we rejoice about, no matter what is happening in any given day. And finally, in Acts we find Peter fully restored, full of the Holy Spirit and the head of the church in Jerusalem declaring in Acts 10:39–43,

“And we are witnesses of all that he did both in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree, but God raised him on the third day and made him to appear, not to all the people but to us who had been chosen by God as witnesses, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead.  And he commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead. To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”

The greatest testimony of all to the truth of the resurrection is the historical fact that the disciples lived the rest of their lives proclaiming that Jesus Christ had resurrected from the dead and was the Lord of all creation. They lived and served the one who had loved them so fully and forgave their betrayal of him. Out of their love of Christ most were persecuted and killed because they continued to proclaim what they knew to be true. They had encountered the resurrected Jesus, and nothing could make them turn back from following after him.

The Apostle Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 15:3–8,

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.

The Apostle Paul was martyred for the gospel as were all the disciples except John, who was forced to live in exile on Patmos for many years. For over 2,000 years the church of Jesus Christ has continued to grow, and men and women have gathered to worship God and have celebrated the resurrection of Jesus Christ on Easter morning. They have been willing to live and die because they have by faith encountered the living God through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. To know Jesus is to love him and follow him even when those around you can’t see the point.

This morning we have gathered to praise and worship Jesus Christ and to celebrate the hope and joy of the resurrection, not just because it is our tradition but because it is the truth, and we will both live and die for it. This has become our story and it hasn’t been completed and it never will. For those who have come to Jesus Christ by faith the story goes on throughout eternity.

I love the Chronicles of Narnia series by C.S. Lewis and in closing, I want to quote the last few lines of the final book, The Last Battle,

And as He spoke, He no longer looked to them like a lion...And for us this is the end...But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.

For those here this morning who have not come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ we invite you to begin your story with Jesus today, by making the decision to come by faith receiving Jesus Christ as savior and Lord.

Let’s pray.

©2021 Rev. Mike Moffitt

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