Friday, April 10, 2015

A Race of the Lifetime - An Easter Sunrise Sermon

That fateful Friday so long ago. Can you imagine what it must have been like for the disciples, for the crowd, for the religious leaders? Here is Jesus, accused of blasphemy, though any excuse to rid them of this upstart, this threat to their powerbase, would have worked. He stood there silent.
He went before the authorities. Pilate talked with him, attempted to. “I have power of life over you.” “Only because my Father has allowed you that power.” What was Pilate to do? One hand his wife pressured him to have nothing to do with him, with his execution. Then on the other hand, the religious leaders were bent on having their way. They wanted Jesus dead.
He turned to the crowd, as a good politician does. He said to the crowd he figured was hailing him as king would take Jesus’ freedom over the scoundrel that was Barabbas. What shall I do with Jesus? Crucify him!
Can you feel the vitriol, the hatred for him? Imagine being there, being one of his disciples watching this take place, watching the finality of Jesus’ fate on the cross. Can you see the severity of his beating. It’d been a mercy had he fallen to it as so many have. He struggled with the cross, climbing the Hill of the Skull. Then there was the crucifixion. For 3 hours, darkness covered the sky. John watched him die. John watched as a spear punctured his side, his heart, and watched as his life essence flowed out of the hole. There was a finality as they took him down, as they quickly wrapped him and laid him in a tomb, as the Roman guard took position around the tomb.
Saturday, they cowered, the disciples. Would Jesus’ fate be like the rest? Little did they realize that Saturday would be like preparation for a race of a lifetime. It was as if “Runners, take your position!” Because as Sunday dawned, we would see a few races.
The first one was actually the last one run. The women who went out, not knowing that Jesus was quickly prepared already, to prepare his body, even after being in the grave. They loved him that much. So when they returned saying that He’s alive, the disciples, Peter and John, couldn’t believe it. They ran to where he was buried, and though John being faster, he had seen the finality of death. He stopped short, in case the women were mistaken in grief. He couldn’t go in.
Peter had no problem going in. He saw the linen folded neatly. But he wondered about it. John couldn’t believe it. But he did. Though he saw the brutality of Friday, he knew that the linen meant that today was the Greatest of Great Days. Peter still couldn’t understand, not yet, but he would.
This first race is alive today. Jesus in the Letter to the Church of Laodicea, calls those who do not trust, who do not take a stand, wishy-washy. They are worse than lukewarm water that is spewed from the mouth. People in this race believe that perhaps Jesus is a facet on this universal deistic model, that as long as a person is sincere, they will be ok. Ah, that is close to what the second race is about.
The second race was actually the first race. Imagine that you and 24 of your friends are guarding the tomb. It’s a bit trying, but being good military soldiers, you stand your ground. Then a supernatural earthquake not only knocks you down, but also knocks you out. When you and your comrades come awake, you see the impossible. The tomb is no longer sealed, but now open and empty. You quickly return to the ones who hired you because you don’t want to report failure to your commanding officer. So if anyone knew what to do in this situation, it would be your boss, the Religious Leaders of the day.
And this is where it becomes weird, interestingly so. When they report what had happened, those who hired them totally believed it. They didn’t doubt what had happened. Perhaps they had spent the week studying the Scriptures to see that Jesus could well be the Messiah. But as the Messiah, they would be out of a job. So they further commission the soldiers into lying with the promise of squaring it with their commanding officer.
Jesus being exclusive, it’s his way to the Father, to eternal life, or it’s eternal suffering and death, doesn’t make people feel too good about themselves. They want to deny Jesus’ existence, deny that he was really more than a good teacher. Yet the Gospel shows that it was a mere commission to lie about the truth that was known to the enemies of Christ back then.
This brings us to the last race, which was really the second race. That is the one with the women. They knew that they were not able to do anything for Jesus on Saturday since it was the Sabbath, so as soon as it was first light, it was safe to go and care for the Rabbi who meant so much to the world, or to them and the rest of the disciples, he was the world.
When the women arrived at the tomb, they saw the linen, and then as they were wondering, an angel appeared to let them know that one should not look for the living among the dead. Then they remembered His words, “destroy this temple and on the third day I shall raise it again.” They knew that Jesus was talking about this moment. They were excited so they hurried back to tell Peter and the rest.
Unfortunately, the disciples were slow to believe. Peter in Luke is said to be perplexed, not understanding the meaning of what the women have said. Yet here is the good news that comes from this race.
Not only did Peter come to believe, once he saw Jesus, but that God uses the unlikely sources to spread His good news. It wasn’t the religious leaders whom Gabriel announced God’s plan, for they were not looking, not caring. It was too an old woman, barren now to be with child. It wasn’t to celebrities that Gabriel revealed the plan, but to a young maiden named Mary, by now from a no count lineage of David. And it wasn’t to the same religious leaders that the angel appeared and announced Jesus’ rise from the dead, but it was to the women who came to minister to him.
Just as it is today, yes there are great preachers out there who appear to reach many people, who appear to bring many people to the decision of salvation, of faith in Jesus. But more times than not, those who make a decision at such a preaching event, a concert, whatever venue, people make a decision based upon the witness of their Christian friend, family, neighbor.
You don’t have to be some fancy preacher, some great church leader, to be used by God. And more times than not, He wants to use you, just as you are. Because you may be the only one who will reach certain people. So let me close with this question: Which race are you running? The one you run will be the race of your life.

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