Sermon Podcast Audio
Do you like surprises? Okay, how many of you are normal and don’t like surprises? I don’t. My family and the staff here at church will tell you that I can be a little bit of a control freak and surprises are one of those things I have no control over and therefore I don’t care for them too much.
And for me, it doesn’t matter if it is good surprise or not; I would prefer a heads-up and not to have anything sprung on me. A few weeks ago was my birthday. Right after I got into the office that morning our preschool director, Bobbie, came to me and said she needed some “technology help” in Room 5. Me, being the nice guy that I am, consented to help and took off with her to the preschool side of the building. I had my suspicions. There were clues this was not just a “come and help me with my computer” moment.
As I entered the room, it all became very clear. Ryan had schemed with Lynn and Bobbie to have the preschoolers sing happy birthday to me. They had a birthday crown all ready for me and a chair in the middle of the front of the room. And as soon as I was seated, Bobbie asked, “How old do you think he is?” Some wonderful child, who will obviously not go very far in life, said 60. Thanks for that! Nothing says happy birthday like telling someone they look old enough to be your grandpa!
And then the singing commenced. Ryan thought it would be great to capture this moment. I do try to be a good sport and put on a happy face. And to be honest, even though I may not like surprises, I do like attention. This is no shock to those who know me! So it was still a win!
During the years of our marriage, Kerri has prided herself on surprising me multiple times, from surprising me with the Yamaha keyboard I had been drooling after (she snuck around behind my back to make it happen,) to the “I’m pregnant with our third child,” even though we haven’t talked about this or planned for it surprise. To be fair, she was as much or more surprised about that one as I was.
Surprises. Some people love them. Others despise them. They range from good surprises like reuniting with a loved one who has been deployed overseas or a thoughtful gift from someone, to the bad surprises of an unexpected tax bill, or that medical diagnosis you hoped you would never hear, or the unexpected announcement of the death of someone very close to you.
That very first Easter could accurately be described as a surprise. Nothing about this day almost 2,000 years ago was expected. It truly came as a big surprise. It was completely unexpected, something that the disciples, the religious leaders, the entire world, never saw coming.
The Unexpected Easter
We have the benefit of hindsight. Today, we can easily put two and two together. Jesus’ ministry his compassion, his love, his parables: we see the life and work of Jesus play out before us in the first four books of the New Testament. But from the perspective of someone in the middle of what must have felt like chaos, disappointment, and the biggest letdown of their life, this was unexpected.
Luke, a guy who lived in the first century, who was known to be a doctor and an astute historian, came to faith in Jesus when missionaries went out from Jerusalem and started telling others about Jesus. He did his research and talked to the eyewitnesses, the people who were there. He wrote what we know as the gospel of Luke in the New Testament and he wrote it, as he says, “so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.” —Luke 1:4
In Luke 24, we see his account of that first Easter morning.
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. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. 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.
When they came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others. It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the apostles. But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense. Peter, however, got up and ran to the tomb. Bending over, he saw the strips of linen lying by themselves, and he went away, wondering to himself what had happened. —Luke 24:1-12
Let’s remember what had just happened a few days earlier. They had seen their friend, the one whom they had given up their lives to follow, do many miraculous things, like making lame people walk, making blind people see, casting demons out of people (they watched those people go from acting insane to being normal,) calming the sea and storms. They’d seen a lot of great things.
But what rang fresh in their ears, the images they could not get out of their heads, were the images from a few days ago. They watched his brutal beating, watched his struggle to carry the top bar of the cross down the street while people mocked him, spit upon him, threw things at him. They saw him nailed to a cross and lifted up on that cross while the world continued to mock and ridicule him. They saw him struggle for every breath. And they saw him die.
They were there when the soldiers pierced him in the side with a spear, puncturing his heart to ensure he was really dead. They saw the rush to get his body off the cross and into a tomb before the Sabbath began or his body would have had to stay on the cross for another day. (The laws of the Sabbath prevented them from doing any work from sundown Friday evening to sundown Saturday evening. And taking a body down from a cross or placing a body in a tomb would have been considered work, so was therefore forbidden.) They saw his lifeless body lowered from the cross and then placed in a tomb.
An Unexpected Miracle
There are a lot of unexpected moments surrounding this event. This was an unexpected miracle. The expectations of the women and the disciples was nothing more than an undisturbed corpse in a tomb. They’d prepared the spices. They were in such a rush on Friday that they couldn’t get the body prepped and ready like they normally would, so they were doing it as soon as the Sabbath was over. They thought he was just like every other person who had come and claimed to be the Messiah. Everyone expected him to be and stay dead. They never thought, “We will prepare his body if it is still there, but let’s hope for something different.”
But when the women arrived, they had the surprise of their lives. Met by angelic beings, they were told he was alive. This was truly unexpected as seen in their reaction. But it shouldn’t have been. Jesus had been talking about it for three years. He had even spelled it out for his disciples. They shouldn’t have been caught off guard. But they were.
It’s like they weren’t able to see something right in front of their faces. It’s like doing an Easter egg hunt with your kids. Has this ever happened to you? You go outside. You hide the eggs. The kids are patiently (or not so patiently) waiting for you to get done so they can go get them. You open the door and they run out and begin snatching up as many eggs as they can find.
And as a good parent, you’ve been nice. You’ve hidden them where they can be found. But inevitably, one kid wanders around with a lost gaze; they can’t seem to find any of them. And so you go help them. You gently guide and direct them to the place where the big florescent pink egg can easily be found. And that kid still looks at you and says, “What? I don’t see it.” And in your mind you think, “What is wrong with my kid? How can they be so blind?! IT’S RIGHT THERE IN FRONT OF THEM!”
That’s how it was with the disciples. Jesus had talked about it. And the disciples certainly weren’t strangers to miracles. They’d even seen Jesus raise a man from the dead. Lazarus, a good friend of Jesus, had died and by just the power of Jesus’ spoken word, he was raised from the dead. But in this moment, there was confusion and fear, questions, shock, and amazement. This was an unexpected miracle.
An Unexpected Messenger
Not only was it an unexpected miracle, but as the resurrection of Jesus is announced, we find that the first people told about it, those who are told to go and tell others, are unexpected messengers. What do I mean by that? Well, we have to understand that in the first century, women had no social status at all. In fact, a woman’s word wasn’t worth much. It couldn’t even be used in court as testimony.
In the second century, a Greek philosopher named Celsus wrote a number of arguments against Christianity. And in one of his arguments, he wrote that Christianity cannot be true because the accounts of the resurrection are based on the testimony of women — and we all know women are hysterical. HIS WORDS —NOT MY WORDS!
Many people back then agreed with him. Women were marginalized and their testimony worthless. But what if the use of the women as the first messengers of the resurrection wasn’t proof against it, but was actually proof that it had occurred?
Think about it for a second. If you wanted to get a global movement off the ground, if you were trying to recruit as many followers as possible, the last place you would go to get witnesses to your movement would be those the world had said were useless. If the first century church wanted people to believe the resurrection was a real event, they would have never created a story whose main first witnesses were women.
Why mention it at all? Why not start with Peter? He ran to the tomb. He saw it. Or go to someone else, some other man, to show as a witness to this event. But no. Here we see an unexpected witness that actually gives more credibility to the story, more proof that Jesus wasn’t still dead. He is alive.
An Unexpected Message
Lastly, we see an unexpected message. The tomb was empty. The women were the first witness to this miracle. And what was the message they were told? Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here. He is risen.
In this question, was a challenge. It was a challenge to their understanding of who they thought Jesus was versus who he had now shown himself to be. This moment shows they didn’t understand who he really was or what he really came to do.
Jesus is who he said he is. He did what he said he would do. He is the Messiah, the Promised One, the One they had been waiting for, the One who had come to save them. But he had come not just to save the Jewish people; Jesus had come and through his death and resurrection he was bringing salvation to the entire world.
In this unexpected message, the angels got to the heart of it all. The people all thought Jesus was dead. And we can’t fault them for that. After all, would you have expected anything different? Probably not. But the message of the resurrection is that Jesus is not meant to be thought of as dead. He is not to be sought among the dead.
As the people reflected on this message, I have to wonder if they began to see the deeper message of this moment. I wonder if they thought back to the words of Jesus when he told them:
“I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” —John 10:10b
or when he said to them:
“I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die.” —John 11:25-26
These words had to begin ringing in their ears, because we know that the message of the resurrection is first, Jesus is alive. Jesus has defeated sin and death and the grave. But it is also a message that whoever believes in him can also live.
The same power that raised Jesus physically from the dead is the same power that takes someone far from God, someone dead in sin, dead spiritually, and raises them to new life in Jesus Christ. That’s the unexpected message of Easter.
And it is because of the resurrection that this message is credible and trustworthy, because if Jesus didn’t rise from the dead, then this is all pointless; it doesn’t matter. But because he rose from the dead and is alive today, then we must accept all that he said. You don’t have to like or even agree with his teaching, but you must confront the reality of his resurrection.
And if he rose, and his teaching is validated, we must believe him when he said that He is the way. He is the truth. He is the life. And there can be life in nothing else. None other.
This Easter morning, we come to the tomb and we find it just like the women and Peter did…empty. And when we see the empty tomb, we have to ask ourselves the question: “What happened to Jesus?” We can’t look into the empty tomb and just walk away, because the resurrection demands a response, because everything hinges on the resurrection.
If we treat him like just another dead founder of a religion, a teacher that taught good things, or a prophet who challenges our thinking, if that is as far as we make it with Jesus, we will never find him, because like the angels said, He is not there. He is risen.
But how many of us are guilty of just that? How many have been seeking Jesus in all the wrong places? Where are you seeking salvation from? Where are you seeking purpose and satisfaction and peace in this life from? Are you looking in all the wrong places? Or are you looking to Jesus?
Can I tell you that life isn’t usually in the places this world tells us to look. We will not find life in ourselves, or in physical pleasure, or in financial success, or our job, or other relationships. And just like life isn’t where we usually think to look, death is never where we expect it to be.
When we go looking for life in the wrong places, we usually find emptiness, disappointment, and spiritual death. We will never find life in success or fame, or even in religion. We need to stop looking for a dead Jesus and realize that he is alive.
Why? What difference does this make? Why did Luke and the other guys who wrote the gospels feel it important to tell us this story? I think John, one of Jesus’ disciples who also wrote about these events, sums it up best. He writes:
“But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” —John 20:25
The unexpected message is a message for you this morning. It is for all who believe there is a message of life for you, regardless of your past or your present. Jesus died for you and Jesus rose for you. You may be reading this today and not even fully understand why, but you are reading it on purpose. God wanted you here today so you could hear this message.
Don’t be like the women or the disciples in the story and miss what is right in front of you. Do you believe? Are you tired of looking in the wrong places for him? The resurrection demands a response. How will you respond today?