May 3rd, 2020

Something Happened

FOURTH SUNDAY OF EASTER – MAY 3, 2020
Text: Acts 13:15-52
Title: “Something Happened”
This week we continue in the High and Holy Season of Eastertide by looking at Paul’s sermon as recorded in the Acts of the Apostles. Remember the setting of this message – not long after the first Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter Sunrise, the appearances of the Risen Christ, and His ascension. Paul brings the message of salvation – “But God raised him from the dead….that through this man forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, and by him everyone that believes is freed from everything from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses.”
It has been well said that Eastertide is “the between time”. Certainly, on the Church calendar, it is between our Lord’s resurrection and his glorious ascension. It represents the time between his first coming and his second. We talk easily of the resurrection, almost casually, but do we believe it? Do we live it?
We live in an age of honest doubt about outworn ideas; we cannot believe something simply because our forefathers and mothers always have. Skepticism seems to be at an all time high, and perhaps deservedly so. We are bombarded by advertisements of every sorts. Some estimate that number to be as much as 5,000 per day. We know for sure that there are millions and millions of bits of data generated every second, and that much of it is directed towards us – all urging us to spend our time and talents on whatever is being promoted. In fact, you have to work hard to tune them out, to scroll on by, so to speak.
So the question is this: Do you hear the message of the Gospel, or is it lost in the noise?
Modern man and woman are at once great skeptics, and yet most gullible at the same time. Our skepticism naturally arises when the lie of selfishness and the false values of society fail us. We are most gullible when the shell of pretense and self-sufficiency cracks. The truth is this: We choose to doubt the power and witness of the resurrection, while choosing to believe that we can earn our own salvation and inherit the world. This is why Jesus wept over Jerusalem.
When a loved one dies, we wonder, wanting to believe, but who of us has not stood at the graveside and asked ourselves “What really happened here? What was said? What has God done?” In his book “Look Homeward Angel”, the author, Thomas Wolfe, at his brother’s death, falls to his knees and cries: “God, whoever you are, wherever you are, if you are, take care of my brother tonight.” A powerful confession in the midst of doubt.
And so our problem – and the problem with the resurrection – is not so much the idea of a bodily resurrection – nor what shape we will take after death – the real difficulty is comprehending that God Almighty “very God of very God” became “very man of very man” and so took sin and death by storm. Something that no one before or since has ever been able to do. There’s the power – so much power that even the stones may cry out “Hosanna!”
The resurrection means that SOMETHING HAPPENED so radical and different that the world will never be the same. So, what was changed?
The resurrection did not change sin; it changed sins power over us.
From the beginning of the Church, and from the first efforts at fulfilling the Great Commission, there have always been people that are converted at every revival. They stumble forward on the sawdust trail and seek to start over again and again. Deep within the human psyche is a strong desire to be born again, to wash the slate clean, to imagine a return to a time of innocence (if there ever really was one), and to be purged with hyssop and be whiter than snow (Ps. 51). But, also due to our condition, all that “coming forward”, all those “mountain top experiences”, all the “starting over” can verily make a mockery of the Gospel.
Perhaps, like me, you have asked: Why, if I am starting over in Christ, am I still in sin? The Apostle Paul wrestles with the same: “Wretched man that I am, who will deliver me from this body of death?” You see, sin goes on, even post-conversion; but its power is diminishing. With Easter, you and I are raised to the possibility of New Life – today! “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away. Behold, the new has come.” This is our reminder, that though we slip back – the New Life is always there. Today’s resurrection of the believer is a conquering of the very sin that holds us back from salvation and growth in sanctified living. Not by our efforts – but only through the atoning work of God in Christ – then we are made fit citizens of the Kingdom! Therefore, the resurrection did not change sin – it lifted its power over us. Even in the midst of sin, we proclaim the eternal truth of the Good News!
The resurrection did not change death, it changed the power of death over us by moving us beyond grief; by dispelling our fears; by giving us an eternal hope.
Like the women at the empty tomb, we come looking for the dead, trying to hold onto the past, but our loved ones are not there. Soon it will be Decoration Day at our local cemeteries. Many, many flowers will be brought out in honor of our loved ones who have died. In the Middle East they place small stones on top of the tombs as a sign of their visit, as a memorial. This can be a proper and useful activity reminding us of our personal history, of the goodness of life’s affections, and of thanksgiving to God for all He has done in life and death. But too often this is a ritual which seeks to hold onto the past, to try and construct our lives around the way things were, an effort of pretense – as if death did not exist – our human frailty insisting that death be denied. But the dead are gone, and we can’t bring them back. Death is real, and in this life, final. Until we see that, we cannot understand the power of the resurrection.
The resurrection does not change the fact of death. Rather, it unravels its grip upon us. Through the death and resurrection of Jesus we are assured that nothing can separate us from God. And so, death is no longer to be feared for God raises the dead by the victory of our Lord Jesus Christ. Real power, and it is a power that is at work!
The resurrection did not change the fact of evil – it changed its power over us, making us able to stand up to evil and unrighteousness.
Evil is still around, but the Risen Christ is ahead of us, leading us. Going before us to Galilee. He will not remain in the tomb where we can keep him safe, where he won’t meddle in matters of injustice that will touch us all. He is out among us, working righteousness. But how much easier it is to keep a dead Jesus in his tomb! Once Jesus gets out of the tomb, there is no telling what he will do.
Once an irate woman accosted her pastor in the hallway before morning worship, and said, “Preacher, if Jesus knew what was going on in this Church, he would be rolling over in his grave!” Interesting theology, isn’t it? How we love to keep Jesus in his grave. But we cannot – “He has gone.” “He is risen.” “He is not here.” “He is gone to Galilee.” Where is He? Gone to Galilee – not a place on the map; rather the work of Christ, there is Galilee!
He has gone before you to Galilee – to do His work – Whenever you or I hold out a bowl of stew and a piece of bread to a homeless person – there is Galilee! Whenever broken-down souls, battered by life’s trials, pass to one another bread and wine – there is Galilee! Whenever enemies meet in peace and make the beginnings of real reconciliation – there is Galilee!
And it is the resurrection that makes this possible. For God, in raising Christ, has broken the bonds of sin, and death, and evil in the world, so that you and I may be raised to New Life! Something happened, indeed!
For the stone that was cast aside has become the chief cornerstone! For the one who was despised and rejected has become the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords, and the kingdoms of this world is become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ, and yes, He shall reign forever and ever. Amen.