Sunday, April 1, 2018

Easter Sunday: Living a Risen Life

This morning people from around the world are filling Christian church buildings. Most of the world agrees that today is a special day. The day Jesus rose from the grave. The day God defeated sin and death once and for all. The day our sins were finally wiped off the face of the map. Because of an event that took place two millennia ago, you and I have the hope of eternal life.

But I have to tell you this morning, in all honesty, I’m not sure we really get it. I mean, yes, our buildings are full. More people will attend church this morning than any other Sunday of the year. More people remember Jesus and His sacrifice on this day than any other occasion. But I’m convinced we still just don’t get it! Sometimes the Easter story becomes like rote memory. We can recite it. We know it backwards and forwards. We believe it! But have we lost sight of its significance?

Sometimes, it helps me remember the significance of my story by hearing my story through someone else’s words.

Some of you may remember a movie that came out in 1997 called Amistad. Amistad is the true story of a group of Africans who were captured from their homeland and sold into slavery. They were forced upon La Amistad, a slave ship that was bound for America. During the journey, however, they overtook the slave traders and gained control of the ship. Eventually, however, they are captured and put on trial for murder, knowing they might die for their actions, or worse yet, be turned over once again to the slave traders. There is a great scene in this movie. Two of the these Africans lay awake at night, the night before their trial. One of them has obtained a copy of the Bible—a book he’d never seen before. He began reading it. And in this moment, he is sharing the story—that he has learned simply through the pictures—with his friend. Watch with me as we see our story through someone else’s eyes.

I have a question for us church. If Easter is so special, if this event means so much, if this event is not just a “story,” why do so many of us live our lives with our heads down as if we’re chained and headed toward certain doom? I call you this morning, on Easter Sunday, to take the advice of Sinque, this African prisoner. Pick your heads up, because you are no longer dead. You have been alive in Christ! You life may seem dark right now, but remember, the best news the world has ever heard came from a graveyard near Jerusalem!

READ LUKE 24:1–12 (CEB)

Don’t you just love Peter? I love Peter because I am able to empathize with him so often. A man who made so many mistakes. A man who wanted to do right, but so often found himself in the wrong place or making the wrong decision. If you remember, the last time Peter was mentioned by Luke, Peter was denying Jesus! Look at that passage with me.

READ LUKE 22:54–62 (CEB)

Look, it doesn’t get any worse that that! Peter blatantly rejected Jesus and then had to look Him in the eye. Don’t you wonder what the next 72 hours must have been like for Peter? In the mire of depression. Thinking he had messed up beyond repair. I imagine Peter sitting in a room and not saying much for these three days. Wishing he could make it right. Wishing he had just one more chance to speak to his friend, to say he was sorry, to say he didn’t mean it. Wishing the world would just end so he could escape the pain and humiliation.

The next time we see Peter is here in Luke 24. It’s no surprise to me that when these women return with this news that Peter is the first one out the door. While everyone else was doubting the story of the women, Peter got up and ran to the tomb. He saw for himself the rolled away stone and the fallen strips of linen. Later that day, he would speak to Jesus face to face. Do you know why Peter got up and ran to the tomb?
  • He, perhaps more than anyone else, needed a resurrected Jesus.
  • He, perhaps more than anyone else, knew what “lostness” felt like.
  • He, perhaps more than anyone else, needed a reason to live.
  • And Jesus’ resurrection gave him that reason to live.
Church, Jesus is risen! The question for us is this: Does His resurrection instill within us a will to live? Yes, Jesus’ resurrection gives us the promise of eternal life in heaven one day. But Jesus’ resurrection gives us even more than that. It gives us the will to live today! News of His resurrection made Peter get up and run. News of His resurrection ignited a fire in the lives of those disciples. Those timid, scared people turned the world upside down. Jesus’ resurrection changed their lives. Has it changed yours?

Are you still sitting in that dark room with those first disciples? Shrouded with fear. Feeling sorry for your actions. Without a purpose for life. Or, have you heard the news: Jesus is alive!

During the Second World War, the US Army was forced to retreat from the Philippines. Some of their soldiers were left behind, and they became prisoners of the Japanese. The men called themselves "ghosts." They were “souls unseen” by their nation. They were forced on the infamous Bhutan Death March, forced to walk over 70 miles knowing that those who were slow or weak would be bayoneted by their captors, or die from dysentery and lack of water.

Those who made it through the march spent the next three years in a hellish prisoner-of-war camp. By early 1945, 513 men were still alive at the Cabanatuan prison camp, but they were giving up hope. The US Army was on its way back to help. But the POWs had heard the frightening news. Prisoners were being executed as the Japanese retreated from the advancing U.S. Army. Many of the POWS gave up all hope for survival. Their wavering hope was however met by one of the most magnificent rescues of wartime history. In an astonishing feat, 120 US Army soldiers and 200 Filipino guerrillas outflanked 8,000 Japanese soldiers to rescue the POWs.

Alvie Robbins was one of the rescuers. He describes how he found a prisoner muttering in a darkened corner of his barracks, tears coursing down his face. “I thought we'd been forgotten,” the prisoner said. “No, you're not forgotten,” Robbins said softly. “We've come to take you home.”

So many of us live our lives like this scared POW in the corner, feeling we’ve been abandoned by God. I don’t know all of your stories. Some might be in the midst of a broken relationship. Some might be in the midst of an addiction. Some might be like Peter (having rejected God outright). Some of you might even wonder why you came this morning. Well, it’s Easter, that’s what people do. Can I share with you some good news?

Easter is more than an international holiday. It’s more than Easter eggs and bunny rabbits. It’s more than nice Sunday clothes and high worship attendance. Easter is our annual reminder that we’re not forgotten. You’re not forgotten. God came to rescue you.

Let me leave you all with the advice given by an African prisoner, bound in chains on the way the trial that would determine his fate. Lift your head up. See the cross of Christ. And notice something: Jesus is no longer hanging there! He’s alive. Won’t you join Him in that life?

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