The Reason to Believe

Sermon 1800 Luke 24.1-12 April 17, 2022

What a beautiful spring day! And look at all of you! It is great to see so many in church. To be quite honest, we haven’t had this many people worshipping the Lord at one time since before March of 2020. Easter. So many good things packed into this day. Good food, family around, even no school tomorrow on Easter Monday.

I could just go on and on and on about how wonderful this day is and what a pleasant time we all are having, but deep down I would be bowing to the voices of those (and each of us has that voice inside us—I’ll get to that later) who say most of Christianity is a culture thing. As soon as it talks about existential realities it turns into a “lie to me, I promise to believe” sort of thing. So I am going to pop a few bubbles today. I won’t be talking about the season of rebirth, how tasty ham is and the adorable Easter eggs that await you at home. I want us all to walk out of this building today knowing that what brought us here is not just the message of a day, but something we can reflect on every day and hold onto as long as we have breath.

The Reason to Believe

1. Heart and head will fail (1-3, 9-12)

2. Visions will fall short (4-5).

3. The Promise fulfilled remains (6-8)

We are a skeptical bunch. So were the Marys who went out to the tomb that early Easter Sunday morning.

“On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took 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 (1-3).”

They weren’t going to the tomb to welcome Jesus back to life. They believed Jesus was dead. Their firm and considered trust that Jesus was dead showed in the hour of their approach—first thing in the morning, while the sun was still coming up. Their sad job should not be put off until later in the day. It might already be a bit late. You see, they had brought burial spices to finish the funeral of Jesus. Because it had been so late in the afternoon before they finally got permission to take Jesus’ body off the cross, with the nearness of sunset about to usher in the Sabbath, they cut the burial rituals short. They had over seventy five pounds of spices to wrap up in the burial clothes of Jesus. They didn’t have the time Friday before the sun set and ushered in the Sabbath when no self-respecting Jew would do any work. So on Sunday, at the first light, when the Sabbath was officially over, they were on their way to the tomb to finish the burial of Jesus. They expected to find Jesus dead. It only made sense. That’s what your heart told you.

If we are looking for emotional reasons to believe, our heart will always fail us. No matter how close we are to the situation, we finally have to let go. We finally have to move on. It is hard. It is painful. But, as any teenager suffering through a break-up can tell you, you move on.

The women who had touched Jesus, handled his dead body, washed it and anointed it, they knew he was dead. They knew he would stay dead. The best the heart could do was to hold his memory in their heart as they gave his mortal remains their last, loving respect. The emotions can run high, but in the end, they will run dry.

But the head is no better.

“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 (9-12).”

The disciples get the report. They understand the words. But the words of the women did not match up with the reality the disciples knew. Jesus had died. They were all afraid the Jewish authorities would track them down and crucify them next. Dead was dead. Even when Peter, impetuous as always, ran to the tomb and saw it for himself, he still did not know what to make of it. It didn’t add up.

Reason will always tell us Jesus is dead. Long after the emotions have faded reason will remain. If we are Christians because of heart or head, watch out! Heart and head will fail.

But what about the supernatural? Certainly if a messenger from the beyond were to speak to us, a heavenly visitor, a vision--that would be different!

The reason to believe does not lie in visions. Visions will fall short.

“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 (6-7)?’”

Angels appear! Even today nobody has clothes so white they gleam like lightning. Heavenly angels appear to the women while they are inside the tomb. Did that vision of angels convince them? No! They were frightened. They were so afraid they bowed down to the ground. Every kid who has just gotten thoroughly chewed out by a parent or coach can tell you what that’s like. “What did they say?” “I don’t know—they were really mad!” Everybody who has been chewed out by the boss knows it. “What did the boss say?” “I don’t know—all I could remember was that he was really angry at me!” If how something is said outweighs what was said, then the very fact that angels appear isn’t going to help get the message across. The very first words the angel speaks to the women, “Why do you look for the living among the dead?” don’t faze them at all. His words are lost on them.

The sensational, the visions, the appearances, the talk of a seventh heaven or a tunnel of light appearing to someone during a particularly difficult surgery, none of those things are the reason to believe. They will capture our attention for a time, for all of the wrong reasons, and then, whether they are debunked or not, off we go on our merry and unthinking way.

Here’s the reason to believe. The Promise fulfilled remains.

“‘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 (6-8).”

Finally we have forward movement in the Easter story. Their emotions failed them. Their head was not better. Visions fell short and left them stuck in fear. But the Promise fulfilled remains.

The Promise. Wait a minute! Don’t the angels mention lots of promises? Jesus promised he would be arrested and condemned. Jesus promised he would be executed. Jesus promised he would rise from the dead. Oh, yeah. And there were lots of other promises, too. The promise of a Virgin Birth, the promise of Jesus being God and man, the promise of him living in Galilee, the promise of him making the lame walk, the deaf hear, the blind see. The promise that he would be betrayed for thirty pieces of silver. I could go on and on. The promise that not a bone of his would be broken and they would look upon his dead body when they had pierced him. Please, someone stop me otherwise we will be here until Pentecost!

But all those promises are one. There is only one Promise God made to us. You see, if we break down the Promise into all these little promises, they become little fulfillments and intellectual exercises. They may even thrill us like a well-written novel or song. They may capture our imagination like a message from another dimension. But then we will go on our merry (and damned) way. Call it what you want. Information overload. Tuning it out. Off we will go and it won’t matter at all to us. Words, words, words.

But if it is the Promise, the one Promise, the lasting, abiding, remaining forever Promise, that makes an impact on us.

So, what is that promise? What is that Promise which remains, the sum and substance of all these little promises?

The Promise is that God says to us, “I will save you.”

That’s it. God promised to save us. As soon as mankind fell into sin in the Garden of Eden God said, “I will save you.” He would bring about that rescue from sin through the Promised Savior. See the connection already? And for that Promised Savior to be the one who would rescue us from sin and be stronger than death, he would have to be both God and Man, as God promised. And that sin might be punished, Jesus, the Promised Savior, would have to take that punishment upon himself, which he did on the day he died, the day we call Good Friday. And to show that sin was fully paid for, that there was nothing standing between us and heaven, Jesus had to rise from the dead, which he did, as he promised. “Then they remembered his words.”

He is risen! He is risen indeed! Easter is the proof Jesus is who he says he is. No human being can raise themselves from the dead. Oh, prophets of old raised other people from the dead, but just think of it. When you are dead, all your power is gone. Your soul, that animate part of you, is no longer on this earth. You can do as much on earth as a rock—actually less than a rock because some irritated girl can throw a rock through her former boyfriend’s window! If Jesus were only a man, he would have no power to raise himself from the dead. But as God, he has that power and he used that power, just as he promised. “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.”

And since Jesus is a human being, there is life after death for human beings, and not a Casper the Friendly Ghost existence, a flesh and blood existence.

Ah, but that is just what we are afraid of! We know there is a heaven and a hell. Our consciences tell us that. The punishment human institutions can hand out is horribly lenient compared to the severity of the crimes. Would life imprisonment for Adolf Hitler been just recompense for the millions of lives he snuffed out? Was death by hanging truly justice for all the misery Mussolini caused the world? No, if there really is justice (and I’m not even thinking of villains who die peacefully in their sleep and escape all earthly justice), punishment must come in the next world. That’s why the Bible warns against vigilantism. “Vengeance is mine, says the Lord.”

What’s to say we won’t go to, well, you know where? Some days we feel pretty guilty.

His is risen! He is risen indeed! Easter is the proof that Jesus finished what he came to do. Easter is the proof the debt of sin has been paid in full! When Jesus died on the cross, he said, “It is finished.” He was claiming he, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, had paid for the sins of all the world. You can claim you paid your bill all you want, but unless you have proof, you are still on the hook! Easter Sunday was the proof. The empty tomb was God the Father’s way of telling us the payment had been received in full and the debt discharged. We are forgiven. New life with God is ours. Eternal life with God in heaven awaits all. Faith grasps the Promise and makes it ours. Easter says we will go to heaven. There is nothing to be guilty about anymore. We find this in Jesus’ words, in the Bible, God’s word of promise to us. That’s

The Reason to Believe

1. Heart and head will fail (1-3, 9-12)

2. Visions will fall short (4-5).

3. The Promise fulfilled remains (6-8)

Before long all those Easter eggs will be eaten. The Easter candy may go a lot quicker. The Easter decorations will be put away for another year and the beautiful spring days will give way to the harsh heat of summer. But our faith in the Easter message will never be used up, packed or fade away. It will be as near and open to us as our home Bible.

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