A Stone's Throw From: #7
There’s an old Peanuts cartoon in which Charlie Brown tells Lucy they have to stop fighting and finder a kinder way to resolve their conflicts. He tells her that the planet is filled with people hurting each other, that it’s possible that they, as children, can make a new world order.
Lucy listens for a minute and the POW! She slams him to the ground and walks away saying, “I had to hit him quick, he was beginning to make sense.”
Apart from God’s purpose in and through the Cross, I’ve often wondered if that wasn’t part of the reason the Sadducees and Pharisees reacted like that did to Jesus’ teaching. It was beginning to make sense. And if it made sense then it meant their faith was inconsequential, their lifestyle without purpose and their whole life had been without meaning.
Rather than repenting, renewing their faith and embracing God’s purpose for their lives, they protected their life and lifestyle by eradicating the one whom they thought was the threat. Whatever their motive, through their manipulations, Jesus was arrested, tried, condemned to death and crucified. With his death, darkness descended on Israel and in the hearts of followers of Jesus.
Their hope, their dreams, their vision of the future died with him. And like Jesus, their hopes, dreams and vision were sealed away in a tomb forever. The disciples and all there other followers found themselves hiding and cowering in fear for their own lives. Their spirits were crushed. Their faith was dead and buried. The only thing they could cling to was each other. But that was Friday.
Listen as Luke describes what happened two days later on Sunday. Luke 24:1-12 (NRSV)
 But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared.
 They found the stone rolled away from the tomb,
 but when they went in, they did not find the body.
 While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them.
 The women were terrified and bowed 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, but has risen.
 Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee,
 that “the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.”
 Then they remembered his words,
 and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest.
 Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles.
 But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.
 But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened.
The women discovered the empty tomb. The angels proclaimed the Good News of the Resurrection. The disciples were hard pressed to believe but then Peter; Peter of the foot in mouth disease; Peter who took three steps on the water, lost his courage and sank like the rock Jesus called him at Caesarea Philippi; Peter the thrice embarrassed denier ran to the tomb. He saw the cloths lying there and he believed. He believed and that’s what draws us here today. We believe. While the disciples had a hard time believing until Peter told them what he had seen and Jesus stood in their midst; we believe.
After all these years, we still believe. Despite the church’s failures and misguided practices we still believe. After all the attacks on Christianity and all the attempts to debunk and ridicule the veracity of the Bible, we still believe. Why is that? Well, first of all, truth will always win out. The Good News of the Resurrection Jesus Christ from the dead cannot die because He IS Alive.
He is alive and that makes all the difference in the world. The Good News of the Resurrection gives us Hope For Today and Hope For The Future.
I. HOPE FOR TODAY:
A. The truth is that Jesus died on that cross. He was as dead as the two thieves who died with Him. They buried Him in a borrowed tomb and sealed Him away, forever. Or so they thought. You see,
while Sin and Death were clapping their hands in glee, singing “Hit the road Jack and don’t you come back no more.” God began singing, “Up From The Grave He Arose.” God had the final word and that word changes everything. Resurrection. That’s the final word and it gives us Hope For Today.
B. A number of years ago I stopped by to visit a woman who’s husband had died and whose funeral I’d held about two months before. She and her husband had no children. They only had each other and they doted on each other. They went everywhere together. And you hardly ever saw them when they weren’t holding hands. The day Everett died, Emma closed the blinds and pulled all the curtains and sealed herself in the darkness of her grief.
It was one of those dark, drizzly days and when I entered her house, it was like stepping into a tomb. We sat down and went through all the first few minutes of informalities. And then Emma burst out with, “Is the resurrection real?”
I answered, “Yes.”
She in turn asked, “Well, how do you know?”
We talked about the passages of scripture that dealt with the resurrection. We talked about those where Jesus foretold his own resurrection and told us of the promise of the resurrection. We talked about how we had to accept it on faith. It was all very Biblical and theologically correct. I would have gotten great marks back in seminary. But I could tell it wasn’t getting through.
With a deep sigh Emma said, “I want a sign.”
I told her the only sign I knew of was the empty tomb. Emma said, “That’s not enough. I want more than that.”
As we talked the rain had been coming down harder and harder as the storm blew through. It had gotten even darker. To be honest, the day seemed to match our moods. I was depressed I’d come to help and didn’t do a very good job.
Before I left, we prayed and I prayed for a sign for Emma; something to ease her grief and to help her know the truth of the resurrection. As I walked down the hall, I felt pretty useless as a Pastor because I hadn’t been able to reach her.
I stepped outside and started down the walk. At first I didn’t even notice that the sun was out and it had stopped raining. I heard the bolt on the door click and then I looked up. The sky off in the east was still dark and stormy but the western sky was beginning to lighten up. I immediately turned around and rang the doorbell.
The door opened and I took Emma’s hand, I pulled her outside and pointed. We both stood there in stunned silence as we looked at one of the most beautiful double rainbows I have ever seen. It was a horizon to horizon full double rainbow. The colors were brilliant. Emma started crying. And then she started laughing. She looked at me and through her tears and laughter said, “He’s alive.”
She hugged me, ran inside and started opening curtains and blinds.
The Good News is that God enters our lives and meets us where we are. God enters the ordinary and brings Hope For Today.
II. HOPE FOR THE FUTURE:
A. The Resurrection also gives us Hope For The Future. We are the children of God, that’s what God promised. And because of those promises, sometimes God gives us glimpses of the Resurrection, glimpses of the future and reminds us that one day there WILL be no more tears and no more mourning for those who follow Jesus.
In the very first church I served, at the request of the daughter, I’d been visiting one of the members who was in the VA Hospital, dying. I hadn’t been at the church very long so I really only knew the family from the few visits I’d made to the hospital. But in those visits, Charles and I had become friends. We were both former Coasties, veterans of the Coast Guard.
One night, about 3:00 am, the doctors had called the family and they called me. When I got to the hospital, the family members were all gathered around the bed. Their father looked pale and shrunken. His breathing was rapid and shallow. There was very little life left in him. It was obvious that he wouldn’t be with us very much longer.
I really didn’t know what to do or what to say. That was the first time I’d ever been faced with anything like that. I hadn’t had any training in grief counseling or what to say and do. So I did the only thing I knew how to do. We prayed. We joined hands around the bed. I held Charles’ hand and his daughter had his other hand. I was scared to death. I don’t know what I prayed. But the whole time I was praying for them, I was praying for God’s guidance and strength for me.
No sooner had I finished praying and every head was lifted than Charles opened his eyes. He was looking up. It looked like he was looking at something a long distance away. His eyes were clear and bright and a beautiful radiant smile filled his face. He took a deep breath and said, “Oh, it’s beautiful over there.” Then he died.
That family was given the rare opportunity to look into the face of one who experienced the reality of heaven; one who experienced the reality of the Resurrection promised by God.
I knew the Resurrection was a reality before I ever heard this man’s witness. Jesus said it was so. But I’ll never forget the look of joy and anticipation in that man’s eyes. You could almost see the hand of Jesus reaching out to welcome him home.
The Resurrection gives us Hope For The Future.
The Resurrection gives us Hope For Today and Hope For The Future. It also reminds us that this gift is meant for each of us. It’s personal, it’s not esoteric or for somebody else. It is for us. The Resurrection and the Hope it brings is for us.
In the movie The Ultimate Gift, the main character, Jason Stevens befriends a little girl, Emily, and her mother. Emily has an incurable disease and is dying. Jason has come to the hospital to check on his pint-sized friend, Emily. When he arrives at her hospital room he finds it empty and an orderly is changing the sheets.
In a panic, Jason asks about Emily. The orderly tells him, “She’s with God.” This takes him by surprise, but soon he (and the viewers) discovers that what the orderly meant was that she is praying in the hospital chapel.
Upon arriving at the chapel, Emily looks at him a little disdainfully because he has been absent for awhile. Emily sarcastically notes, “So, here’s my best friend.”
He tries to explain, but she cuts him off. Now that he has been to her hospital room he knows about her and her condition. She has cancer. She says, “No more mystery.”
Jason tries to comfort her by saying that he is sorry, but Emily snaps, “Shut up. Don’t be pathetic!” Emily looks over at a statue of Jesus with his arms raised, beckoning. She says, “I wonder if He takes advance orders.”
Confused, Jason asks, “For what?”
Emily says, “For my place, you know, there.”
Jason says, “What do you think it will be like?” and Emily confidently replies, “Butterflies. Lots of butterflies. Do you know God painted the colors of the butterflies with His fingers.”
Jason is startles, “I didn’t know you thought about stuff like that.” Emily, a little sad now, says, “I think about dying. I think there’s something basically unfair about a person dying. I even hate the idea!” Then Emily turns and sobs on Jason’s shoulder.
Jason, who has been a spoiled rich kid all his life, confesses, “You know, I don’t know much about God or Jesus, but (and he glances toward the statue of Christ), but I can promise that those arms are meant for you.”
Like Emily, we all hate the very idea of death but the Good News of Easter is that Resurrection is God’s final word. The arms of Jesus, first from the cross and then form the empty tomb, reach out to each of us to bring us hope of new beginnings, hope in the face of the darkness of death. The arms of Jesus reach out to us and fill us with hope. Hope For Today and Hope For The Future.
This is the Word of the Lord for this day.