Sunday, April 5, 2015

Following Jesus: Out of the Tomb

(A sermon based on Mark 16:1-8 for Easter Sunday)

We have been following Jesus through all that he experienced during Holy Week. We followed him into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, we followed him into Simon’s house (where he was anointed by an anonymous woman) on Wednesday, we followed him to the table on Thursday, and we followed him to the cross and the tomb on Friday. Now, on this Easter Sunday morning, we are going to follow him out of the tomb.

Interestingly, we are told less about Jesus’s resurrection than we are any of the other events at which we have looked. While we are given some wonderful and helpful stories about his post-resurrection appearances, we are told nothing of what actually happened in the resurrection. Oh, we know that he rose from the dead—and that’s enough—but we are told nothing of the process and we are given none of the details. There are good reasons for those intentional omissions. For one, no one actually saw what happened. For another, if someone had seen it they probably wouldn’t have been able to describe it. So the event is left, as it should be left, shrouded in mystery.

How then can we follow Jesus out of the tomb when the Bible doesn’t let us go into the tomb with him? How can we even imagine coming out of the tomb with Jesus when we are not told what happened when he was raised from the dead?

In a real sense we can’t. Jesus’s tomb is Jesus’s tomb and we can’t go into it. But we have our own tombs. And because Jesus came out of his tomb we can come out of ours.

Many of us are entombed by our awareness of our mortality and by an accompanying fear of death. We need to hear the great truth that because Jesus came out of his tomb by the power of God we will come out of our tombs by the power of God.

One day Jesus will return and our graves will open and we will be raised. That is wonderful news! Some of the most powerful passages in Scripture lead us to celebrate our future resurrection. Here is one of them:

Listen, I will tell you a mystery! We will not all die, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For this perishable body must put on imperishability, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When this perishable body puts on imperishability, and this mortal body puts on immortality, then the saying that is written will be fulfilled: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.” “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” 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 (1 Corinthians 15:51-57).

So death holds no ultimate power over us; one day because Christ has been raised we will be raised.

Many of us are entombed in our sins. We all too often reduce our sin to the wrong or bad things we do. The heart of sin, though, is pride; it is thinking that we matter more than anyone or anything else and living as if we do. Such sin robs us of real love and of real life.
But the sin that drains our life from us also holds no ultimate power over those who have trusted in Christ; right here and now in this day we can be raised with Christ and we can walk in newness of life. That is wonderful news also! And here is an equally powerful text from Paul about that new life:

What then are we to say? Should we continue in sin in order that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin go on living in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin. For whoever has died is freed from sin. But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. The death he died, he died to sin, once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus (Romans 6:1-11).

The sin—the mindset and heart stance of pride, self-centeredness, and self-protectiveness that shows itself in words, actions, habits, and practices that cause us to harm others and ourselves—does not have to keep locking us away from the life that can be ours in Christ Jesus our Lord. If we open our hearts and lives up to the resurrected Lord he will empower us to live the resurrected life here and now.

And that life will be so full of God’s love, of God’s grace, and God’s life that we will be amazed.

Once we experience the life- and love-giving power of God in this life, we will have no trouble believing that the God who raised Jesus from the dead will also cause us to rise. Once we experience the life that God can give us now, we will have no trouble believing that God will give us life then.

We can follow Jesus out of the tomb now and we can follow Jesus out of the tomb then.

Thanks be to God …

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