What surprises about the Easter gospel is all the surprise over Jesus’ resurrection. The women are surprised to find an open, empty tomb. The disciples are surprised, and don’t initially believe the news. It’s not as if Jesus hadn’t told them. At least three times in advance He said that He would be crucified and on the third day rise again. Three times. And still they didn’t believe it. The women were going to the tomb to finish a hasty burial not look for a risen Jesus. When they heard the news from the angel, “He is not here, He is risen,” they were surprised. When they saw the risen Lord, they were surprised. In John’s gospel, Mary doesn’t even recognize Him. She thinks He’s the gardener. She wants to know where the body of Jesus was. No one believed Him.
This tells us a couple of things. First, it tells us that these people were not as gullible and goofy as some people today would have us think. They knew that dead men don’t ordinarily rise from the dead. At least on their own. Certainly Jesus raised some people from the dead, three to be exact, but they didn’t raise themselves. They needed Jesus. Lazarus didn’t walk out of his tomb unassisted. He needed the word of Jesus to raise him. And since the one who raised the dead was now dead, it seemed reasonable to assume that He wasn’t going rise again, at least not in the sense of a risen body and an empty tomb. So they were surprised.
It also tells us that we shouldn’t expect people today to buy into our Easter joy and greet us with a hearty “Christ is risen, alleluia!” A lot of people still don’t believe it today. At best, they believe it’s a pious myth; a worst, a religious deception and a hoax. But if the closest disciples of Jesus didn’t initially believe, why should we expect anyone today to believe it?
That’s why it was so important the Jesus was seen risen from the dead. The women saw him. They grabbed onto his risen ankles and wouldn’t let Him go. The disciples saw Him several times over. Over five hundred people saw Him at one time. It took two eyewitnesses to establish legal truth in the ancient world. This is truth 250 times over. A few people with vivid imaginations might be mistaken. A dozen or so people might conspire together to create a story they know isn’t true. But five hundred are hard to fool. Our faith is based on fact: Christ has died; Christ is risen. Those are the facts on which our faith rests.
St. Paul in his letter to the Corinthians reminds us that if Christ isn’t actually raised from the dead, then we are really wasting our time here this morning. In fact, we are the most pitiful of all religious people who have ever walked the face of the earth, if Christ is not risen. If Christ isn’t risen, then our trust in Him is pointless. He was mistaken when He said He would rise again, if He didn’t rise. If Christ isn’t raised, then our preaching of Christ is pointless because He’s really nothing more than another religious teacher or philosopher, and the world has plenty of them already. Nothing new here, if Christ isn’t raised.
If Christ isn’t raised, then you and I and the world are still stuck in our sins, under the law, condemned to eternal death. Our future is a grave from which there is no return, no resurrection, no hope, no life. If Christ isn’t raised from the dead, then our faith is empty. We believe in the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting, in that order. We confess it as our creed. But if Christ isn’t raised, if Jesus’ tomb isn’t empty, then there is no resurrection of the body, and there is no life everlasting. We may as well just go and hunt some Easter eggs, eat some Easter ham and chocolate bunnies, and have a drink, for tomorrow we die. If Christ isn’t raised.
But Jesus Christ is risen from the dead. That’s the news of the bright angel to the surprised women. “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for He has risen, as He said. Come, and see the place where He lay.” He is not here. The grave could not contain Him. He is the Resurrection and the Life. Death could not hold Him. The women saw the empty tomb. They saw the risen Lord. And with that wonderful mixture of fear and joy they ran to tell the disciples.
Christ was crucified for our sins and raised for our justification. His cross is the atonement for our sins. Every sin of every sinner is answered for on His cross. His resurrection is our justification. We stand before God justified because Jesus stands risen from the dead. The debt was paid on the cross. The dividends are paid out in the resurrection.
Here’s an easter surprise for you. You have been raised with Christ. Yes, you. Baptized into His death and life, have been raised with Christ. His resurrection is yours, now, by faith in Him. Though you live in the flesh that is destined to die, for flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, yet in Christ you live. You are raised with Him. You are seated with Him at the right hand of God. All that is Christ’s is yours. His death, His life, His glory, all these are yours in Him.
This calls for a new way of thinking – a “repentance” in the proper sense of that world. A re-thnking. “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” Set your minds on the “above things,” where your baptismal birth is from, where your life is, where Christ is. This doesn’t mean we walk around with our heads in the clouds and ignore what’s going on around us. We have vocations and responsibilities, we have families and communities and a congregation. We live in this world, a world redeemed by Christ the crucified. But we live as those who are in the world yet not of the world. The world doesn’t define us. Christ does. The world doesn’t tell us who we are, Christ does. The world doesn’t give us life, Christ does. He is our life. He is our Resurrection. He is our hope.
It means that we’re not pulled into the vortex of despair and doubt and disbelief by what we see and hear in the world – wars and rumors of war, in the middle east, in north Korea, the crime in our streets, the unrest among nations, the despair of our politics, the demise of our cultures. We won’t live in fear or isolation or despair. We hold the things of this world with the loose, dead hand of faith in Jesus. We live in hope and joy. We’re resurrection people. First day of a new creation people. We have seen the dawning day on the horizon of history, we know that the night is almost over, the grave has lost its grip on us. Jesus has broken through and conquered. He is the firstfruits, the first to rise with more to come. Christ is risen, and the future is bright with Him.
He is not here, that is, He is not in the grave. But He is here, present among us, His Word, His Baptism, His Body and Blood. There you will find Him – crucified, risen, reigning – for you, for your life, for your forgiveness, for your salvation. Every Sunday is an Easter. Every Lord’s Day is Resurrection Day. Every time the Word of Christ is preached and heard, whenever you eat of the bread and drink of the cup, you proclaim the death of the risen Lord until He comes. Christ has died! Christ has risen! Christ will come again to raise the dead.
Go and tell. Don’t keep it to yourself. The world has to know. The angel told the women. “Go and tell His disciples,” he said to them. “Go and tell the world,” He said to the disciples. Go and tell what you have seen and what you have heard. No, the world won’t believe you, but tell it anyway and let the Spirit blow when and where He pleases to work faith. You just go and tell. You are that bright angel for those around. Point them to where risen Jesus is to be found – in His body, the Church. In His Baptism, in His Supper, in His Word. This dying world needs to hear that Death has lost its sting.
The sting of Death is Sin, the power of Sin is the Law. But thanks be to God. He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
What a wonderful surprise!
In the name of Jesus,