Hope for Today

Jesus is Risen! We celebrate the truth that has shaped the whole world more than anything else. Check out yesterday’s Easter message. I hope this is a blessing to you. Thanks for reading and listening.

Hope for Today

One of the shows Lisa and I enjoy watching is Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. We loved it when it was on years ago and we are very much enjoying HGTV’s revival of the series (although the excessive amount of product placement and in-show advertising is getting a little old if one of the producers happens to be watching this). One of the best parts of the show for me is the big reveal moment. I love seeing all of the different expressions of joy and delight that people have when they see their new home for the first time. Some are more subdued. Some are wild and over the top. Most land in between those two extremes.

How do you respond to good news? I guess that really depends on what it is. Some good news might make you jump up and down with excitement. Some may leave you marveling in wonder. But have you ever experienced news so good you didn’t even know how to react? Like millions of other folks around the world, I’ve gotten hooked on actor, John Krasinski’s new YouTube channel called “Some Good News.” With a colorful logo behind him designed by his daughters, he takes about 15 minutes each week to share some good news in the midst of all the bad. It’s really a wonderful, creative response to the season we are in right now. The first two episodes have been fantastic.  

The second episode in particular attracted a ton of attention because of the second half. One little girl’s mom tweeted to Krasinski that her pre-teen daughter was highly disappointed that the shutdown resulted in her missing out on the chance to see the mega-hit musical Hamilton on stage. But, they salvaged the evening by watching the recent Disney hit, Mary Poppins Returns. Well, Krasinski’s wife happens to be Emily Blunt, who played Mary Poppins in the remake. While Krasinski was talking with the little girl, Blunt popped onto the screen with him. Her reaction was shock. Then it got better. Suddenly, Lin Manuel Miranda popped into the Zoom call from his home and the little girl about fell off her chair. She couldn’t make a sound. She was just wide-eyed with her mouth covered at seeing her Broadway hero there on the screen with her. Then it got even better. Miranda hit play on the titular song from the musical and suddenly lots of people began popping onto the Zoom call with Krasinski, Blunt, Miranda, and this little girl. Who were these people? The entire, original Broadway cast of Hamilton all singing their parts from their homes for what was truly an incredible moment not just for this girl, but for everyone who has watched since. And the whole time she just stared at the screen wide-eyed and mouth covered. It was beyond what she could even process. If you haven’t watched the video yet, you need to go look it up and check it out.

Sometimes we encounter things that are so good that we don’t even know how to react. I want to tell you the story this morning of some people who encountered some good news that, at first, they didn’t know how to react to either. Sometime in late March in about the year 30 A.D., the followers of Jesus were excited. Their rabbi was growing in popularity all the time. His relationship with the crowds that followed had stayed pretty tumultuous, but they had been fairly recently confirmed in their belief that He really was the Messiah. They were following the one who was prophesied to bring the glory back to Israel. And they all knew what that meant too. Sure, Jesus kept saying these weird things about His dying at the hands of the Romans and Jewish religious leaders, but that had to be metaphorical somehow. He was the Messiah. They were as confident of this as they could be. And because He was the Messiah, He wasn’t going to die.

Then things got better. Jesus rode triumphantly into Jerusalem. This was going to be the moment. This was going to be the moment that He finally revealed His identity to the world. This was going to be the moment when He was made King of the Jews as He rightfully was. This was going to be the moment when the people of God would rise up under their rightful king and throw off their pagan oppressors for the last time. They were going to reign in an eternal kingdom in peace and harmony…after the battle, of course. So they sent word on ahead and people prepared the way with palm fronds and their own cloaks so that not even the soles of His donkey’s feet would have to touch the ground. They shouted His praises for all the world to hear. It was a celebration like no other. This was the moment.

He arrived in the city, went straight to the temple…and that was it. He looked around for a bit, and then went back to Bethany a couple of miles north to settle in for the evening. The next day seemed more promising. He marched into the temple complex and made a big scene of turning over the tables where the moneychangers were working and throwing them all out of the place. This certainly drew the ire of the religious elite running the place, but it didn’t turn into anything more significant than a series of debates between them and Jesus in which He utterly dominated and embarrassed them. That was certainly fun to watch, but He wasn’t doing the things the Messiah should be doing. Maybe He was just waiting for the right moment at the height of the excitement of the coming Passover celebration. Yeah, that was it.

But then that moment came and went too. And then things got worse.

They had the Passover meal together, Jesus said a whole bunch of stuff, He was arrested, tried, and sent to be crucified. And their hope died. I don’t know if I can help you fully understand the emotional weight of that moment for the disciples and Jesus’ other followers. Maybe like this: Do you know what it’s like to cheer for a losing team? I grew up on Kansas City Royals baseball with Hall-of-Famer George Brett as my baseball idol. Then Brett retired and the team was bad. Really bad. For years. Then decades. Then a whole generation. They found head-shakingly embarrassing ways to lose. Every time there was even the slightest glimmer of hope, it was soon squashed into oblivion. A successful season became marked by not losing 100 games.

And then in 2014 we were suddenly good. Really good. The whole season came down to a wild card play-in game against the Oakland Athletics on September 30th. The winner went on to the post-season and the loser had to try again next year. My dad was actually sitting on the front row for the game and held up a sign wishing Noah a happy birthday that made the national broadcast. The game is legendary in Kansas City. After being down four runs late in the game, we made a comeback and played it to extra innings. Three extra innings. We came from behind yet again to win it in the bottom of the 12th. Excited doesn’t even begin to discover it. We had all the momentum in the world. We swept the Dodgers, swept the Orioles to storm into the World Series, and won a decisive 10-0 victory over the Giants to force a game seven. Everything hung in the balance for a generation of fans that had only ever known failure and defeat.

The game wound up being a bit of a pitchers’ duel. The scored stayed locked at 3-2 into the bottom of the ninth when we managed to get hometown hero, Alex Gordon, to third base—the furthest we managed anybody against Madison Bumgarner that night. Ninety feet. Ninety feet separated us from World Series glory. Jesus’ time in Jerusalem that week for the disciples felt like they were 90-feet from glory. Almost there. And Salvy Perez was at the plate! Then, he popped up a foul ball with two strikes that was easily caught, and the game was over. So close…Now, take that generation’s worth of waiting and multiply it by several generations. Dozens of generations. Generations of failure and defeat. And they were this close.

Saturday, the Sabbath, would have been the most depressing they’d ever known. The weight of the loss would have felt like a thousand pounds sitting on their chest. They all sat around in utter shock, fearful of being found by the Jewish leaders or Roman soldiers and subjected to the same treatment their Lord had received.

Then came Sunday.

Don’t those words bring a little swell in your spirit? Then came Sunday. But the disciples didn’t know any different. Early that morning it was just the second day after their hopes had been extinguished. Jesus’ followers knew two things that morning. First, Jesus was dead and everything He had taught and promised was a lie. Second, they hadn’t finished preparing His body for burial before the Sabbath started and they needed to go back to His tomb to take care of that. Mark describes it like this: “When it was already evening, because it was the day of preparation (that is, the day before the Sabbath), Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent member of the Sanhedrin who was himself looking forward to the kingdom of God, came and boldly went to Pilate and asked for Jesus’s body. Pilate was surprised that he was already dead. Summoning the centurion, he asked him whether he had already died. When he found out from the centurion, he gave the corpse to Joseph. After he bought some linen cloth, Joseph took him down and wrapped him in the linen. Then he laid him in a tomb cut out of the rock and rolled a stone against the entrance to the tomb. Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses were watching where he was laid.”

Mark describes what follows like this in Mark 16:1: “When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they could go and anoint him.” This was a standard Jewish burial. The body was wrapped in about 100 pounds of linen and spices. It effectively mummified it and prevented it from smelling too badly while it decomposed enough for them to collect the bones and put them in a smaller box called an ossuary so the tomb could be used for other people. Verse 2: “Very early in the morning, on the first day of the week, they went to the tomb at sunrise. They were saying to one another, ‘Who will roll away the stone from the entrance to the tomb for us?’” The stone would have effectively sealed the tomb keeping in what needed to stay in (bad smells) and out what needed to stay out (grave robbers). It would have taken several strong men to move it. There was no way the three of them were going to get it to budge even an inch.

As it would turn out…they didn’t have to worry about that. Verse 4: “Looking up, they noticed that the stone—which was very large—had been rolled away.” Now, put yourself in their shoes for a minute. What are you thinking right now? If you answered that question with some form of, “They were excited because Jesus was alive,” you’re badly mistaken. They didn’t believe Jesus was going to rise from the dead. They figured someone had stolen the body. That’s why they went into the tomb to check it out. They weren’t looking for people. They were looking to see if their worst fears were going to be confirmed—that the Romans or Jewish religious authorities were going to deal Jesus and His followers one last painful blow by stealing His body and parading it around like a trophy.

Listen to what happened next and don’t miss the humor here. I can imagine Peter telling Mark about this having to stop periodically because he was laughing so hard. Verse 5 now: “When they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side; they were alarmed.” No, they were terrified. They were scared out of their skin. “‘Don’t be alarmed,’ he told them.” Right. Too late. “You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified.” Yes, thank you for that, Captain Obvious. Why else would we be here at His tomb poking around?

And though they didn’t even remotely understand it at the time, the next seven words would completely change everything about the world even more thoroughly than anything else has ever changed it. All of reality would now be filtered through these words. And they didn’t have any idea what they meant. I mean, they heard them, but it was news that was good so far beyond what they had even thought to hope that they didn’t know how to react. Listen to this: “He has risen! He is not here.” Think about that for just a minute. This is the resurrection of the Son of God. This is the single most consequential event in history. There’s not a close second save Jesus’ own birth. Nothing else comes even remotely close. And in Mark’s Gospel, at least, it gets seven words and no fanfare. The angel’s only proof is to say, “See the place where they put him,” as if that settles it. No celebrations. No rejoicing with great joy. Instead, the angel acts as if this is just a normal Sunday morning. You’re looking for the guy who died. Yeah, He’s not dead anymore. He got up. See? He’s not here. “But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you to Galilee; you will see him there just as he told you.’” The world changed. And how did these women react? “They went out and ran from the tomb, because trembling and astonishment overwhelmed them. And they said nothing to anyone, since they were afraid.”

Jesus rose and the world was never the same. The world isn’t the same. Because Jesus rose from the grave. But in that moment, nobody knew what to do with the news. They couldn’t process it at first. It was so far outside anything they knew how to understand that they just didn’t. They were like the little girl being surprised by the original cast of Hamilton suddenly appearing on her computer screen singing her favorite song from the show.

Well…is that all we can do with the news today? Stare in shock and run away? Hardly. The resurrection didn’t just change the world. It made it better. How? I’m glad you asked. Jesus’ followers gradually worked out just how good this news really is over the course of the next several years and we’ve been celebrating ever since. But we celebrate not just because of what was, but because of what is. You see, the resurrection isn’t simply an historical event, although it is indisputably that. It is a present reality, one by which you can be changed, by which your life can be transformed today. How? Three ways.

The resurrection means you can be right with God. Listen to what Paul wrote to the believers in ancient Rome: “For while we were still helpless, at the right time, Christ died for the ungodly. For rarely will someone die for a just person—though for a good person perhaps someone might even dare to die. But God proves his own love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” That is, in that state you were in when you knew you weren’t right with God—Jesus died for you while you were like that. Listen to what comes next: “How much more then, since we have now been declared righteous by his blood, will we be saved through him from wrath. For if, while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, then how much more, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life. And not only that, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received this reconciliation.”

Are you with him here? Jesus’ death on the cross paid the price for your sins. It reconciled you to God. That’s a great and awesome truth all by itself. But Jesus didn’t stay dead. He rose again. And when He rose, He made what was previously a one-time deal a permanent reality. Listen: Had Jesus stayed dead, all the sins ever committed to that point in history would have been covered, but not any of the ones since. See the problem there? What I mean when I say that because of the resurrection you can be right with God is not something general, although that’s certainly true. What I mean is this: Because of the resurrection you can be right with God. Your sins are covered. It doesn’t matter what they are. It doesn’t matter how bad you think they are. You can be right with God. All those feelings of being not good enough can be thrown right out the window. It doesn’t mean they’re wrong; it just means they don’t matter. Jesus knew you weren’t ever going to be good enough, loved you anyway, died in your place, and then rose from the grave so that He can now offer you eternal life if you’re willing to have it. You can be right with God.

The resurrection also means your faith is never in vain. Listen to something else Paul said to the believers in ancient Corinth: “Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say, ‘There is no resurrection of the dead’? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation is in vain, and so is your faith. Moreover, we are found to be false witnesses about God, because we have testified wrongly about God that he raised up Christ—whom he did not raise up, if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. Those, then, who have fallen asleep in Christ have also perished. If we have put our hope in Christ for this life only, we should be pitied more than anyone. But as it is, Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.”

Do you see it? The nagging sense you had one time that there just may be something to all this Jesus stuff, enough in fact that you were going to try it on for size…the resurrection justifies it entirely. Because Jesus rose from the dead, we can take at face value everything He said. Everything He claimed about Himself and the world is true. All of it. Why? Because if a guy can predict and pull off His own death and resurrection, you go with what He says. If He wasn’t lying about that, then He’s not lying about anything. You can believe in Him with confidence because He will never lead you astray. And listen: I’m not talking about anything religious here. I’m talking very simply about having a relationship with Jesus. He’s worthy of your trust. More worthy of it, in fact, than anyone else to whom you’ve given that particular gift. Much of the religious side of Christianity isn’t unimportant (although I think we are learning in this season just how much of it really didn’t matter), but it is all secondary to the fact that your faith in Jesus is valid. You don’t have to let anybody tell you otherwise. Every sacrifice you’ve made; every experience you’ve given up; every service you’ve rendered; it all matters. Because Jesus rose from the dead. You can go back and see the place where they put Him. He’s not there. He is risen.

There’s one more thing this all means for you, and this one is a biggie. The resurrection means that death has no more power over you. Remember what Paul said and we just looked at? Jesus has been raised from the dead and is the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. What does that mean? What are firstfruits? That’s the very beginning of the harvest and a harbinger of what’s to come. What’s that mean? It means that if Jesus rose from the dead, other people are coming back from the dead too. How’s that going to work? We don’t know. Paul didn’t either. But he knew that it was coming. Listen to this from later in that same letter: “Listen, I am telling you a mystery; We will not all fall asleep [that is, die], but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we will be changed.”

Do you see what he means? Someday Jesus is going to return, and when He does, all those who have placed their faith in Him will receive a permanent, incorruptible body like He has. We don’t know when that’s going to happen. We don’t know what it’s going to be like. But we know that it will come. “When this corruptible body is clothed with incorruptibility, and this mortal body is clothed with immortality, then the saying that is written will take place: ‘Death has been swallowed up in victory. Where, death, is your victory? Where, death, is your sting?’ The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory [over sin and death] through our Lord Jesus Christ!” Amen?

Now listen, this doesn’t mean that, should our Lord tarry, these bodies aren’t still going to wear out and expire. Some of you know that all too well. What it means is that death isn’t the end. Death is not a foe to be feared any longer for those who are in Christ. It is a friend to be welcomed when that time arrives because it means we are one step closer to receiving the permanent, resurrection bodies, that will carry us into an eternity with Jesus. And there’s nothing in this world that can do anything about that. This coronavirus stuff is scary to think much about. But even as it keeps on burning through the world’s population, it has no impact on the hope we have in Christ because of the resurrection. Its end has already been foretold. Because Jesus rose there is a day coming when “death will be no more; grief, crying, and pain will be no more, because the previous things have passed away.” What remains is life; sweet and eternal.

Friends, the resurrection of Jesus from the dead is good news. The resurrection is good news. It’s good news that we react to by gratefully pursuing the life of Christ—the one who rose. The resurrection is good news. It’s good news that we react to by sharing it with others. The resurrection is good news. It’s good news we react to by refusing to buy into the fear and anxiety and despair that vie for control of our hearts. The resurrection is good news. It’s good news that we react to by rejecting the sin it destroyed in favor of the right relationship with God it made possible for us to have. The resurrection is good news. I wonder: Do you know it? Have you experienced it? Has it transformed your life? It will if you let it. It’s time to stop wondering what to do with it and embrace it for all you’re worth. The resurrection is good news.

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