A GOD WHO RISES The Resurrection of Our Lord, Easter Sunrise
John 20:1-18 Behold the Man Series
April 21, 2019
1 Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. 2 So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” 3 So Peter went out with the other disciple, and they were going toward the tomb. 4 Both of them were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5 And stooping to look in, he saw the linen cloths lying there, but he did not go in. 6 Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen cloths lying there, 7and the face cloth, which had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen cloths but folded up in a place by itself. 8 Then the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; 9 for as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead. 10 Then the disciples went back to their homes.
11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb. 12 And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. 13 They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” 14 Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to him in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher). 17 Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’ ” 18 Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”—and that he had said these things to her. (ESV)
P Alleluia! Christ is risen!
C He is risen, indeed. Alleluia!
How easily those words roll off our tongues this Easter morning. We speak them with gusto, even early in the day when young children are yawning, or even fallen back to sleep and adults are wishing they could still be in our warm beds. We know the truth! We proclaim the resurrection of our Lord into whom we have been baptized. We declare that the one who died has conquered death. We announce that the grave is empty of its former occupant, released from its bondage to decay.
But Mary could not those words that first Easter, not at first, anyway. No such thought even entered her mind that morning. Of course she had heard the prophesy of Jesus that after three days he would rise again. But all that had been drowned out by the dead certainty of Good Friday. She had heard his expiring groan as he gave up his spirit. She had seen his body pierced by the centurions’s spear and the blood and water pour out from his side. She had watched as that lifeless corpse was taken from the cross, wrapped in the shroud of grave clothes, and placed into the tomb. She saw the stone rolled into its place, guaranteeing no escape from that chamber. Soon, however, she would be able to join her voice to ours in the hymn of Christ’s victory over death.
But that’s not where our story today begins.
I. IT BEGINS IN A CULTURE OF DEATH
People of the first century were constantly confronted with the stark reality of death. Rome felt no compunction about displaying the execution of its victims for everyone to see. There was no shielding of children from the gruesome ritual of crucifixion. The death penalty was a very public, and very ugly display. Even the flogging which preceded this execution was put on display as a warning for anyone who challenged the authority of Caesar. Even without this, death was a daily experience. Life-expectancy was not great. Illnesses conquered in our generation often claimed the lives of family members and friends. Wild animals and highway brigands were a constant threat. The Didache, a first-century compilation of the teachings of the apostles highlights this culture of death:
And the way of death is this: First of all it is evil and full of curse: murders, adulteries, lusts, fornications, thefts, idolatries, magic arts, witchcrafts, rapines, false witnessings, hypocrisies, double-heartedness, deceit, haughtiness, depravity, self-will, greediness, filthy talking, jealousy, over-confidence, loftiness, boastfulness; persecutors of the good, hating truth, loving a lie, not knowing a reward for righteousness, not cleaving to good nor to righteous judgment, watching not for that which is good, but for that which is evil; from whom meekness and endurance are far, loving vanities, pursuing requital, not pitying a poor man, not laboring for the afflicted, not knowing Him that made them, murderers of children, destroyers of the handiwork of God, turning away from him that is in want, afflicting him that is distressed, advocates of the rich, lawless judges of the poor, utter sinners. Be delivered, children, from all these. (Didache [The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles], Ch. 5: “The Way of Death,” ANF 7:379.)
Does this description seem eerily familiar? It should, for it is the same kind of world in which we live. We like to sugar-coat it all, but it is still the way of death. We dress up the dead in fine clothing and a beautiful casket to hide the severe truth of the grave. We conceal the stench of death with bouquets of flowers that fill our nostrils with sweetness. We call it “pro-choice” rather than what it is, “pro-abortion.” We speak of a woman’s choice rather than an infant’s death. We ignore the aged, shuttling them into institutions where we don’t have to deal with the problems of aging and dying. We even refer to the intentional ending of human life with sweet-sounding terms like “euthanasia.” Death comes in other forms as well. A man nearing retirement is laid off to make way for a younger, and less-expensive replacement. We waste food at an astronomical rate while children starve in foreign countries. We stuff our bodies with all kinds of foods which elevate our blood pressure, bring on diabetes, cause joint-damage, and lead to heart disease. We don’t call it a culture of death, but it is, just the same. Death is all around us—in our nation, in our families, in our bodies.
This is what Mary anticipated as she and the other women trudged to the tomb the first day of the week. While sadness ruled the day for them, it was not something with which they were unfamiliar. We also know it well.
II. THIS CULTURE OF DEATH GAVE WAY TO THE PROCLAMATION OF LIFE
Mary found the tomb empty of its occupant. She did not understand what had taken place that morning. She ran to tell Peter and John. “The stone has been rolled away! Someone has taken the body of our Lord! We don’t know where they have laid him!” Mary was convinced that Jesus was still dead. She thought of nothing else. And why should she? After all, dead is dead. People don’t come back from the grave. Her Lord’s strength had all been taken away at the cross. Prophecies were just words. The crown of thorns, the furrowed back inflicted by the soldiers, the nails, the cross, the blood and water flowing from his side, these were reality. The presence and the question of angels could not alter her conviction. Even the appearance of Jesus was taken for the gardener. Then Jesus spoke her name, “Mary,” and the truth of life burst forth, vanquishing her grief. She clung to him with a joy that could not be extinguished.
Then Mary was sent on a mission. She became an apostle to the apostles; a “sent one” to the “sent ones”:
“Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’ ” (17).
At once Mary ran to the disciples:
“I have seen the Lord!” (18).
Jesus rocked her world of death. Everything she once believed was now an open question. Everything she once assumed without question was not thrown out the window. Jesus who was dead was now alive!
This is the truth we declare and in which we rejoice today. We live in this culture of death with the truth of life, life that conquers death. Behold the God who rises, the risen man. The lungs once filled with fluid now breathed the air, full and free. The heart that had been pierced and drained was now filled with blood, pumping it through every artery and vein of his body. The eyes that had closed in death now shone with life and joy. The voice that had been stilled filled the air with the declaration of life. Jesus Christ, true God and true man, was alive again, and forevermore. Not only is he alive, but in him we have life. In the midst of this culture of death, life beams forth, even from our dying bodies. With the psalmist we confess:
“I shall not die, but I shall live!” (Ps 118:17a).
“The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone!” (Ps 118:23).
Into this world enamored with death, we bring the good news that death does not have the final word. Jesus, who conquered death has the final word. His word is life, for you, for me, for everyone who stakes their lives upon his resurrection. I shall “recount the deeds of the Lord.” (Ps 118:17b). We have been given the task of proclaiming a new heaven and a new earth which God has created in Christ, risen from the dead.
The apostle confessed:
But in fact, Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a Man has come also the resurrection of the dead.
Adam brought a culture of death into this creation. With his rebellion, all humanity has fallen under the shroud of death.
But we live in this culture of death with the joyous proclamation of life. Christ has been raised from the dead. He is the firstfruits, and we will follow. Indeed, all who place their hope in him have already conquered death. In Christ, all are made alive.
Behold the man who suffered, who died, and is alive forevermore. Amen.
P Alleluia! Christ is risen!
C He is risen, indeed. Alleluia!