Sunday, February 8, 2015


Imagine that you are the proverbial fly on the wall. There you are, inside that tomb when two men carry in the body of a third man. You hear them grunt as they carry the body. You smell the spices that were applied to the body. You see them gently lay the body down and leave the tomb. Then, there is a grating noise as the mouth of the tomb is covered over with a stone. And then, there is complete stillness, complete darkness and complete silence.

But unlike all the other times, after a few days something happens. It startles you. At first, you don't know what it is. But then you recognize it. Someone has taken a deep breath. And then, he slowly lets it out. And you can almost feel a sense of satisfaction in that breath. Then, the earth shakes a bit, the stone at the mouth of the tomb is moved away and the once-dead body stands up and walks out.

Something astounding has just happened, and you witnessed it all. Someone once dead is now alive, never to die again. Jesus’ resurrection.

But so what? Jesus has been raised from the dead. An oddity has occurred. So? Does that make any difference, any real difference, for you? That's what we're going to look at this morning. Listen as I read John's account of what happened, in John 20.1-18.

I’m going to focus on two items in John’s account of Jesus’ resurrection. The first is where Jesus says to Mary,

go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’

What is that all about? To understand the significance of what Jesus said we need to take a look at something most people don’t understand. We need to take a look at death.

When someone talks about death, he is usually talking about a body with a heart that isn't pumping anymore. Death is a physical thing. So, the Easter proclamation, 'Death is conquered' makes no sense to most folk. Down deep they are feeling, 'No, death's not conquered. One of these days I'm going to die. And I don't like that thought. In fact, it scares me to think about it. And as I get older and my body doesn't work as well as it used to, I get even more scared. I may shout 'Death is conquered!' on Easter Sunday to join in with the other folk at church, but I know that it really isn't.' What do you say to someone who is feeling like this? And bear in mind, I'm talking about an honest to goodness Christian who's feeling like this. What do you say to him? Or maybe I should say, what do you say to yourself when you’re feeling like this?

One place to start is to explain what the Bible means by death. Sure, death is about a body that no longer works. But it includes lots more than that. Death doesn’t destroy a body. It destroys a person. And people are more than just bodies. Being a person is also about relationships. So, when the Bible talks about death, it’s talking about something that has happened to relationships, too. Death destroys that aspect of being a person.

God had warned Adam about that fruit. ‘In the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.’ So, when Adam sinned, when he ate, death began its destructive work. It began to destroy his body. But it also started its destructive work on his relationships. Adam's relationship with creation was broken. Instead of responding to him with abundant fruitfulness, there would be thorns and thistles. Adam's relationship with himself was broken. Instead of understanding himself, his heart became a mystery and confusion ruled far too often. Adam's relationship with Eve was broken. Instead of the two becoming one in body and soul, there were feelings of being unloved, arguments about who's right and too many nights of going to bed angry. And Adam's relationship with his God was broken. Instead of a sense of peace, the comfort of knowing that he is loved and the enjoyment of blessing upon blessing, Adam saw the angry face of an offended God. Or maybe I should say that Adam no longer saw God’s face at all. This is death. What were once beautiful relationships are now lying in pieces, shattered. A slowly deteriorating body that will one day stop working is just icing on the cake.

But Jesus knows that death has received a mortal wound. Death itself is now dying. And that’s why He can say,

go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’

First, His brothers? Jesus never referred to His disciples like that before. Something has changed. A relationship has been changed, transformed. Instead of a formal relationship between Jesus, the master, and His disciples, now there is a brotherhood. The relationship is not new, but it has been changed. The brokenness that expressed itself so often is being healed. Death is being reversed.

Jesus is the older brother you never had, the one who would always look after you, the one who would love you no matter what, the one who would rather suffer death Himself instead you. And if that relationship is being healed that means that every other relationship – with yourself, and others and with God, and yes, even with creation – is also being healed.  Or at least they can be. Jesus has acted. He has struck death a fatal blow. And that means that you can enjoy rich, deep, lively relationships. You can have that aspect of being a person healed. Death is being reversed.

But then there is the rest of that sentence.

I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.

Again, something has changed. Jesus talks about 'my Father and your Father … my God and your God.’ Jesus had never joined Himself to His disciples in their relationship with the Father. But now He does. God is Father to them just as He is Father to Jesus. Something has changed.

So, the relationship that you now have with the Father is like the relationship that Jesus has with the Father. Just as the Father declared His love for Jesus, He declares His love for you. Death is being reversed.

The relationships that death had crushed since the days of Adam are now in the process of being healed. The closeness that was originally intended is being restored. Things have changed. Death is being reversed.

But how was Jesus able to do this? What happened that could result in such an amazing change? This is where those angels come into play. Mary sees them. They ask her a simple question, and she answers. And then, they are out of the picture. They have nothing more to do in John’s account. Why did John bother to include them at all? What are they doing here? There is a reason, of course. Notice how John describes the scene.

… two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet.

There is more detail here than you'd think was necessary. That’s because John is painting a picture of something. Does the layout – two angels, one at each end – ring any bells? How about the Ark of the Covenant? That was the golden box that contained the Ten Commandments and some other things from Israel's time in the desert. It had a lid, also covered with gold. And on this lid were two golden angels - cherubim, to be precise – one on one end of the lid and one on the other. The lid was called 'the mercy seat'. Each year the high priest would take some blood from a sacrificed animal and sprinkle it on the lid. In doing that, atonement was made for the people. Forgiveness of sin.

That’s the picture. Here is the reality. Jesus, our high priest, has taken some blood – not the blood of bulls and goats, but His own blood - and He has sprinkled the mercy seat of the Ark – not the picture of the mercy seat but the reality. And while the high priests of Israel would have to repeat this year after year after year, Jesus did it once. Atonement. Forgiveness of sin. Forgiveness of your sin. And here’s the point. By dealing with sin, Jesus dealt with death.

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Jesus has done something amazing. He has dealt with your sin. And because of that He has conquered death in you. Your sin and your death. Once‑broken people are being made whole. Relationships, once shattered, are being healed. And even the problem of bodies that will one day no longer function is being dealt with. Here, remember last week’s sermon on how to die. And also remember what you profess: ‘I believe in the resurrection of the body.’ The body you now have will be transformed so that, just like Jesus, you will never again die. Death is being reversed.

So, what do you do with this? You believe it. It’s the Gospel. Believe it. But believe it in such a way that you live like you believe it. Jesus began a new era when He walked out of that tomb. Death's grip has been broken. The life of eternity is beginning to bloom in you. Believe it and live it.

Do this for other Christians. So many of them do not know what you know about how Jesus actually has conquered death. These things have not been explained to them. They are, in so many ways, sheep without a shepherd. And so, they live in fear of death and without the understanding that Jesus can right now bless His people with relationships that are beautiful, relationships that work. They are living as if Jesus hasn’t defeated death when they could be enjoying so much more of what He has done.

Do this also for those who aren't Christians. As the veneer of Christianity wears off our culture, there is nothing good to replace it. And more and more people are sensing that. Some, sensing this more clearly than others, show it in the destructive things that they do to themselves and others. Then, there are those who don't see it so clearly but still know that something is wrong. They feel it, but don’t understand what’s going on. And so, life for them is just a matter of filling up each day with things to do and then scurrying about to accomplish it all.

But if these, both Christians and not, could see you believing the Gospel of Jesus' resurrection and living like it, their lives would be changed. For some, it would be the beginning of an amazing life with the one who conquered death. The others, those already Christian, would come to understand so much better those words that they have merely mouthed. Jesus is risen! He is risen indeed! Death is conquered. Thanks be to God.