_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ April 8, 2012 - Pastor Dale
(March 28, 2005) Newsweek magazine: The cover story by Jon Meacham is called “How Jesus Become Christ.” The article asks this question: “How did a Jewish prophet come to be seen as the Christian saviour?” Here is the first paragraph:
The story, it seemed, was over. Convicted of sedition, condemned to death by crucifixion, nailed to a cross on a hill called Golgotha, Jesus of Nazareth had endured all that he could. According to Mark, the earliest Gospel, Jesus, suffering and approaching the end, repeated a verse of the 22nd Psalm, a passage familiar to first-century Jewish ears: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” There was a final, wordless cry. And then silence.
Meacham points out, correctly, that the disciples, dejected and confused, did not expect a resurrection. The women who went to the tomb intended to anoint the corpse. But to their surprise, instead of a dead body, they encountered an angel inside the tomb who said these amazing words, “Don’t be alarmed. You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him” (Mark 16:6).
Meacham describes the early reaction to the news of the resurrection this way:
And so begins the story of Christianity—with confusion, not with clarity; with mystery, not with certainty. According to Luke’s Gospel, the disciples at first treated the women’s report of the empty tomb as “an idle tale, and … did not believe them"; the Gospel of John says that Jesus’followers “as yet … did not know … that he must rise from the dead.”
And from that uncertain beginning sprang the Christian movement, which today numbers over two billion people—one-third of the world’s population. A recent Newsweek poll reveals that 78 percent of Americans believe that Jesus rose from the dead. The article notes that you cannot explain the spread of Christianity apart from the resurrection. If the bones of Jesus could be dug up in some first-century tomb, then as Paul says in I Corinthians 15, our faith is vain and we are of all people most to be pitied.
‘Christianity is exploding in growth across the world, with more than 200,000 people becoming born-again Christians every day. In China there are more than 20,000 per day becoming Christians, and in South America there are 35,000 per day. All together there is more than a million people per week becoming Christians. With more than two billion people confessing Christianity today, Christianity is the largest, most influential block of humanity in the world.’ (From: Victorious Eschatology)
Each Christmas I am fascinated all over again with the story of the birth of Christ. What fascinates me most is that it is a story of incredible contrasts. In preparing this Easter message I noticed a truly amazing contrast that is absolutely full of meaning. I invite you this Easter Sunday to consider with me the contrast between the message of the resurrection and the place or setting in which it was first announced.
Here is the theme of today’s presentation: The Message from the Graveyard.
Don’t let this freak you out but I love walking through cemeteries– especially very old ones. This behaviour has nothing to do with an obsession with death, but rather an obsession with life. It is amazing what you can discover of a person’s life by the message chiselled in a headstone. For instance – and I love this one – “Temporary Residence Only”. How suggestive is that regarding the life of the person who left that instruction?
Some 2000 years ago a handful of women came to a graveyard; rows of tombs carved into the rock face of the mountainous terrain just outside the walls of Jerusalem. The gospel writers stated it this way: Matthew says, “Late on the Sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week.”Mark says, “Very early on the first day of the week.”Lukesays, “On the first day of the week, at early dawn.”John says, “Now on the first day of the week … Mary Magdalene came early to the tomb.”
They were not making this journey in search of a resurrected Jesus. In fact they were coming to anoint the body of a very dead Jesus – or so they thought. Resurrection was the farthest thing from their minds.
But to their shock, surprise and utter confusion the Roman seal upon the stone was broken. The stone was rolled away. The posted guard of soldiers was scattered. The tomb was open. They looked inside. It was empty. Jesus was gone. The tomb was empty forever.
And then this: an angel stood beside them and said two of the most powerful sentences in the entire Bible: “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, for he is risen, just as he said.”
Then the manifestations of the resurrected Christ began to pile up. Mary met Jesus – alive from the dead. Two disciples on the road met Jesus – alive from the dead. The apostles met Jesus – alive from the dead. Doubting Thomas met Jesus – alive from the dead. Then 500 people at one time met Jesus– alive from the dead.
The message went out: He’s Alive! And it continues to go out to this very hour.
But the first announcement – the first declaration of that message of resurrection took place in a setting of death, against the backdrop of tombs. The first declaration of Christ’s resurrection took place in a graveyard.
What is the significance of that setting to us in this house this morning? Simple! Many of us right now are in that place described in the Newsweek article: a place of confusion, not with clarity; a place of mystery, not certainty. Many things in your life are passing through what, Bill Goatherd described many years ago as, the ‘death of a vision’. Your hopes, dreams, ambitions, visions, ministries are passing through a season of death. Like those women on that first Easter morning you are in the presence of the tomb, and in that tomb is everything you ever hoped for in life.
If that is where you are this Easter Sunday morning then I have more than just good news for you; I have great news, incredible news: You are exactly where you need to be to encounter angels and to receive a fresh and new revelation that Jesus Christ (your Lord and Saviour) is alive forever. And what that means for you is that all those things in your life that have passed through death and are hidden away in the tomb are going to burst forth in a brand new state – a state of resurrection life.
I hope you see the contrast between the setting and the message delivered into that setting. And I hope you understand the communication in that contrast, i.e. even the place of death cannot resist or hold back the message of resurrection life.
A Personal Story: It was not so long ago that every hope, dream, ambition and vision in my soul was taken through this passage of death. I had given up on ministry, the church and life itself. I can tell you this was not a short season. All my doctrines and theologies – all the stuff I was confident I knew – also passed through death. I thought I knew how to pray, how to preach, how to love Jesus and how to be of strong faith. And lest I forget – all those lofty and exciting prophetic words over my life also ended up in the tomb.
And then one day while walking in a place I do not usually walk I came upon (by Devine accident) a very old and very abandoned graveyard. The headstones were scattered, broken and sunken into the earth. But the state of my soul and my love of history drove me to examine the faded letters on the disappearing markers.
Suddenly it happened! I cannot describe the experience to you. I wrote of it in my first book – the story is called ‘Listening to the Stones’. What I can tell you is that the names on the stone were William & Elizabeth Lewis and that they died the same year – 1837; 112 years before I was born, and 158 years before I found their grave.
The stone had almost been swallowed by the earth, but I scratched and clawed away the grass, leaves, grapevines and earth until at last I could read what was written on the bottom of the stone. It was a single verse of scripture from the book of Job, with one minor alteration –the personal pronoun ‘I’ was changed to ‘We’: ‘We know that our Redeemer liveth.’
I can never prove this, nor can I ever doubt it, but the moment I read those words I am sure and certain the angels of God once more were dispatched to a graveyard. Once more they, along with the Holy Spirit, exploded a message in my spirit.
It was not a message of death but rather a message of life in a place of death. I knew that my dreams, hopes, ambitions, ministry, faith, theologies, gifts and callings would all live again, but this time they would live not as a matter of mere religion but as a matter of resurrection life. They would now live only in the life of Christ Himself.
The message Pastor Adam posted on the sign last week communicated the same principle: ‘When you are down to nothing, God is up to something’. And if I may add to that:until we are down to nothing we have difficulty discovering the “something” that God is up to.
An ancient legend says that in the early church when a believer was to be martyred for his faith here is what took place. As they tied his hands and led him to the stake, he was asked if he had any last words. He shouted out, “He is risen.” Unknown to the authorities, in the surrounding hills, the Christians had gathered to watch the execution. When they heard the words, “He is risen” … They cried out with one voice … “He is risen indeed.”
This I know is fact: This is how they greeted one another in the early church: “He is risen!” Response: “He is risen indeed!”
Let’s do that right now. I will shout – “He is risen!” You shout back – “He is risen indeed!” At the end of that shout I want the Shofars to be blasted.