4/20/03, Easter Sunday

“While It Was Still Dark”
John 20: 1-18

  friend was telling me recently how her preacher father was old and had become too weak to preach. She asked him, "Dad it must be awful not to be able to stand up in your pulpit and proclaim in Easter Sunday, "Christ is Risen!" His comment, in whispered words was, "It would be worse to be able to and to miss saying it."

You have possibly heard the true story of how an old guard Soviet Politburo chief had lectured a large group of Russians for over an hour on Communist atheism and how there was not proof of God, or of the fable of Jesus' Resurrection. Finally he sat down convinced that he had debunked Christianity once and for all. Then an old man in a black robe took the podium, looked out over the crowd who recognized their old Russian Orthodox Priest. He shouted just three familiar words of greeting, "Christ is Risen!" In mass the crowd responded with the familiar liturgical retort, "CHRIST HAS RISEN INDEED!"

So, I say to you this morning: "CHRIST IS RISEN!" And you all respond with one voice: ______ __ _____ ______!

Our great affirmation, joining with the voices of believers all around the globe on Easter Sunday, is the greatest evidence of the Resurrection. With our affirmation we are saying that we have an inner and spiritual faith in the Resurrection of Jesus as the first example of our own resurrection as being the core of our mutually held Christian Gospel; or as we call it, "The Good News." The act of Jesus rising from the dead is the actual Gospel, The Good News. The biographical books chronicling the specifics of the life of Christ were written later for Christians who had already accepted the Gospel of Jesus' Resurrection. We call Matthew, Mark, Luke and John's books, "Gospels," because they tell the story of Resurrection. It's a story that is absolutely true! Today is a day for exclamations and the highest joy! As C. S. Lewis said, "The first fact in the history of Christendom is a number of people who say that they have seen the Resurrection." (Miracles, chap. 16, par. 2)

The first person to visit the tomb was a woman who had been something of a wayward person before Jesus befriended her and included her in the inner circle of the disciples. Seeing the stone rolled away she ran to get Simon Peter, and John the best friend of Jesus. Later, in his book, The Apostle John carefully pointed out that Mary Magdalene begun her journey, "…while it was still dark." (John 20: 1, NRSV)

Is it too much of a stretch to say that we all come to Him while it is still dark. Indeed, the only way to experience the sunrise is to begin the day in darkness. There is a sense in which all people are groping in darkness until they experience the Good News of the Resurrection morning.

Although it is most precious to us as a heart felt experience, there is also evidence to re-affirm the historical fact that Jesus was resurrected. The explosion of the Christian Church may be the primary evidence. Something great had to happen to turn these few defeated disciples into a Mighty Army that has gathered momentum, like a rolling snowball, through the succeeding two thousand years. There is no record of any of those hundreds who actually saw the resurrected Christ ever recanting, even though most died of torture. The evidence of the existence of Western Civilization itself, as a product of the Church, is another point in favor of proof. Most remarkably; however, are the millions of changed lives that have become trophy examples to the reality of the Gospel. Who can doubt that wherever our faith has gone mere human beings have risen to higher standards, purposes and have done great things? Easter hope is the very core of our society. And it all began while it was still dark.

When Mary Magdalene ran to get Peter and John they went into the tomb and found it empty. Mary stayed outside in the garden weeping. She had not yet realized that Jesus was resurrected. Jesus gently revealed himself to her. When she first saw him she assumed that he was the gardener. Then, when he spoke to her, she recognized him. Her reaction was to run back to the other Apostles and disciples to tell them, "I have seen the Lord!" (v. 18) The woman who had begun her journey in darkness became the first to proclaim the Good News, and even more, Mary Magdalene, out of whom Jesus had cast seven demons, became the very first Christian of billions who would later follow Him.

Easter is the greatest story ever told! Only God could have thought it up. To those who hear it for the first time, it sounds like a fairy tale; however, it is a historical fact that is absolutely true. Also, it is the only answer that satisfies humanity's haunting questions related to what happens to our inner souls after our bodies die. Easter's answer is the only answer that satisfies, by saying--- "Yes! Life does go on beyond death! It's a story that is absolutely true! Today is our day for exclamations and the highest expressions of joy!

If all of this sounds like mumbo jumbo to your ears you might consider the story of two men who worked in a furniture manufacturing plant in North Carolina. One was a carpenter who drove the same type nails into the same place on the same shaped boards as they were fed by an assembly line day after day. The other man stapled cloth across the seats of the same chairs. One fellow looked at the other and remarked, "I can't wait till my vacation!" The other fellow said, "I am not going on vacation because I am dead." "What do you mean that you are dead?" "Well I went bear hunting with some rich friends out west last winter and a giant bear rushed toward me and my gun jammed, so the bear killed me and I am dead!" The other guy said, "That's nuts, you are standing here right beside me and you are living!" The story teller made his point, "Do you call this living?"

Living for Jesus may not change your mundane job, but it will change your heart and soul, and your attitude toward your exciting new life, in Him!

a sermon synopsis by C. Robert Allred, Th.D., Pastor

4/20/03, Easter Sunday

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