When I was young, I didn’t much like the idea of going near, much less in, a graveyard. When I lived in Springfield, IL, however, a few of us more adventurous types found our way back across some train tracks, a train trestle, a decent-sized stream, some gnarly trees and overgrown bushes and discovered an old cemetery deep in a farmer’s field. The cemetery was really old. In fact, if I remember correctly, there were no grave markers later than the late 1800’s. Almost always, we would go in groups. At least that was true of me. When there, we of course would tell “ghost stories” and scare each other.
Now that I’m older, now that, by the grace of God, I can more fully contemplate the importance of Christ’s resurrection, I view cemeteries in a totally different way. What Jesus did to pay for my sin, for everyone’s sin through His horrific suffering and gruesome death by crucifixion, “and who through the Spirit of holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead” (Romans 1:4), brings to light the greatest Good News ever: the final enemy—death—has been conquered and stripped of its power. Because of the resurrection, death now becomes an open door to eternal life for all believers.
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The reality of Jesus’ resurrection is dramatic, awesome, and beautiful. It is not only the basis for our salvation but it is the basis for the salvation of everyone and anyone in the world. No other religion/faith system in the world has such a message. NONE. None has such truly Good News of sins forgiven, meaning in life, purpose and power for life, and victory over death. Those who say that all religions are alike, and/or you just have to be a good person are, at best, well intentioned, but quite literally—DEAD WRONG.
Let me briefly do a few comparisons:
Confucius was born in 551 BC. He came from a prominent and well-to-do family. He was remarkably intelligent and intellectually savvy. He became highly respected and held many titles within the government as well as internationally famous. Many of his proverbs are still quoted today. But Confucius died in 479 BC.
Buddha was born in 557 BC. Known as a seeker after truth, perhaps his best known work is Four Noble Truths. Although he was a continual pessimist, he had many followers. There are still many people in the Near East today who are devout followers of Buddha. But Buddha died in 483 BC.
Mohammed was born in 570 AD. Mohammed conquered his world by sword. He had youthful vision, but history records that he was prone to hysteria. He too had a large following group of “believers,” and he still does. But Mohammed died in 632 AD.
Then there’s Jesus of Nazareth. Born to humble parents in a manger in Bethlehem, he undoubtedly grew to be a strong young boy demonstrating great wisdom at an early age. When he left his father’s carpentry business, his teaching and miracles soon attracted thousands. He was both lauded and despised as Messiah or a revolutionary. Jesus also died. When His life ended on a cross suspended between two thieves, almost all His followers had left Him.
Who Rose From The Dead?
When you compare Jesus, Confucius, Buddha, and Mohammed there are a number of similarities. They were all recognized as great teachers with some good ideas and practical wisdom. However, there is one decided, substantial, stunning, miraculous difference:
- Confucius never rose from the dead.
- Buddha never rose from the dead.
- Mohammed never rose from the dead.
JESUS DID! On the third day, Jesus burst forth from His three-day prison, destroying Satan’s power, devastating sin’s power, and defeating death’s power. Jesus Christ our Lord, “through the Spirit of holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead.” Because of the resurrection of our Lord we have a living hope, a confident faith, a continuously joyous attitude—even when we face death. And we are able to do so by grace through faith for all time and eternity!
EASTER is the Best News there possibly could be … and it comes from a CEMETERY, from a GRAVEYARD!
So what? How does this “Best News” from Easter morning’s empty tomb have any importance or impact for my life?
I believe this uniqueness in Christianity—of having a resurrected Savior as the “head” of our faith and all that entails—impacts our daily faith, our attitude, and our present life in at least three different ways. You can see this in one of the Easter accounts from Matthew 28:1-15.
Easter is Great News … in spite of the dark prospects we face in life
In the first verse of Matthew 28, we read that both Marys were going to the tomb of Jesus. They were discouraged. They were despondent. They weren’t expecting anything. They weren’t looking for a resurrected Lord but rather for a dead Jesus. They had ointment and spices to anoint the corpse of Jesus.
What I have come to view as something of special importance is that the resurrection of our Lord was first declared to these two ladies. It was NOT first shared with the wealthy, not to those who would be considered prominent, not to the powerful, not to religious leaders, and not even to his disciples. This Great News was first shared with these two ladies who had been loyal to Him and even followed Him to the cross. I think there is a connection.
- They came looking for the grave but they discovered His glory.
- They came sadly and slowly but they left joyously and quickly.
- They came to weep but they left worshiping Him.
The resurrection turned everything in their life right side up: their attitudes, their outlook, their prospects on life, their hopes. It was wonderful Good News in spite of the dark prospects.
Easter is Great News … in spite of the big problems we all face.
In verse 2 of Matthew 28 we are made aware of the huge stone that had been rolled in front of Jesus’ tomb. Nevertheless, the ladies came to anoint the body of Jesus even though this large stone was there. When they arrived, they had quite a surprise: the big stone had been rolled away.
Before I make any further comment, this is what we need to remember: the stone was NOT rolled away so that Jesus could get out, but so that the disciples—so that we—could get in. The massive obstacle was gone and the women saw the tomb was empty!
Friends, God will always take care of your problems too.
- Christ’s resurrection power will either remove the problem so that you can be where you need to be; or
- Christ’s resurrection power will strengthen you so that you can endure any situation or problem where you are.
Easter is Great News … in spite of the certainty of death
What those ladies heard on that bright and beautiful morning was that God keeps His promises: He had raised His Son from the dead. The Romans soldiers had seen Him die. In fact, the centurion had reported to Pilate that Jesus was dead. Joseph of Arimathea took Jesus to the tomb and also saw that He was dead. This fateful news had spread over Jerusalem and the surrounding area.
Early in the dawn of that first Easter morning … everything “hung in the balance.” Nature waited to see what would happen to its Creator; the world waited to see what would happen to its true ruler; heaven waited to see what would happen to its King; hell waited in anticipation of evil’s victory.
And Easter morning came! On the third day—as promised—Jesus rose from the dead. After the angel told the women that Jesus rose, they “hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples” (verse 8). Good news won’t walk. Good News doesn’t stand still. Good News can’t wait!
In Jr. High basketball, I can remember the first basket that I ever scored: it kind of accidentally was thrown towards the basket and kind of accidentally fell in. My whole team was so excited and happy.
I can remember the birth of my first child. I was so excited at the sight of my daughter Leah I made my way around to the doctor to give him a hug. I also remember his discomfort as he reminded me that he was sterile. (My comment back to him: “Obviously, I am not.”)
I can remember the first time I got all “A’s” on my report card. I couldn’t wait to go home and show my parents.
Good News doesn’t sit around. For the women at the tomb and the disciples who would soon learn of the resurrection it meant …
… Forgiveness for the past. All the followers of Jesus would come to know that, even though they had deserted Him, had hurt Him by their fleeing, His resurrection would mean the opportunity for repentance, forgiveness, His strength to overcome, and another chance to do so.
… Joy for the present. Because Jesus lives, all His words and promises are true. The women and all Jesus’ disciples would learn to rejoice in their Lord always (Cf. Philippians 4:4-7). Jesus had overcome the final great enemy death. He would always be near them, with them through the thick and the thin. He would cause all things to work together for good. They didn’t have to worry about anything but rather learn to take every thing to the Lord in prayer.
… A slight glimpse and sure grasp of the future. Death, for the child of God, is not the end. It is an open door through the resurrected Christ, and for His sake, to eternal life. Jesus spoke these life-changing words of assurance and transformation to Martha in John 11 (verses 25 and 26): “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die.”
- Jesus took a tragedy and made it a triumph.
- Jesus took a crucifixion and made it a coronation.
- Jesus took a thick darkness and made it a blessed dawning.
- Jesus took an evil rebellion and overcame it with an Easter resurrection.
The longer I’ve been in the ministry and the more I’ve worked with people, the more I am convinced that people need three things in life:
- They need new beginnings … which most certainly includes forgiveness for the past.
- They need purpose for their present existence. Friends, there is no greater purpose than to live for the King of kings and Lord of lords, our resurrected Savior Jesus, in the strength that he supplies through our union with Him in Baptism (Cf. Romans 6).
- They need a horizon. Something beyond them, greater than them, that stirs and excites them, that challenges them. And that is to be the joy, the perfection, the excitement of eternal life with God in heaven! Easter is a realization that earth is not our permanent home, and that the best is yet to come. EASTER is so big and beautiful that it changes our life. Easter fulfills and covers all three of these primary needs.
Easter is not only a beautiful story, but God’s power, that can completely change and totally transform our lives. It is a power that not only raised Jesus from the dead, but can also raise you out of spiritual death into spiritual life. It is the power that can change your home. It is the power that can change your direction in life. It is the power that can take the void in anyone’s life and put the fullness of God into it. It is the power that is available to all who repent of their sins, confess them to the almighty God, and recognize in Jesus Christ forgiveness, salvation, the resurrection and the life. It is the power that is available to all who are baptized into Jesus to overcome any sin in their life. It is the power of God that enables us to stand in a cemetery with a living hope.
By God’s grace and in the strength of the Holy Spirit, may we daily recognize and celebrate the uniqueness of Christianity in the reality, joy and power of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Truly Great News from an unexpected place.