When you think of Easter what is the first thought that comes to mind? In our secular society, there are many non-religious traditions associated with Easter.
It has been a tradition in my family as long as I can remember for the children to get up on Easter Sunday morning and hurry outside to find colored Easter Eggs hidden throughout the yard! Easter baskets and chocolate Bunnies have always found their way into our home.
And I’m certainly not against new clothes, or at least our best clothes being wore on Easter Sunday. After all, it is a very special day.
But as much fun as these and other traditions may be, I hope the first thing that comes t o your mind on Easter Sunday is the real reason we as Christians celebrate. Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, was raised from the Dead on that first Easter Sunday. So, more correctly, this is the celebration of Resurrection Sunday! The Empty tomb, the rolled-away stone, the discarded grave clothes, the petrified Roman soldiers, the angelic announcement—all these are symbols and events that point to the one great truth: CHRIST THE LORD IS RISEN TODAY!
Over the years I have enjoyed the poems of C. Hastings Smith, who called himself “The Poet of the Ozarks.” This poem is entitled “THE FIRST EASTER.”
A Roman cross stood ghost-like and it wore a crimson gown;
The Roman spikes were empty; they had taken Jesus down.
The grinning dice were lying with their black eyes opened wide; A silver spear was bleeding with the red blood from His side.
The wind was wet with weeping, the moon bore a fevered breath,
Calvary had been staggered with a catastrophic death!
Like orphans in the valley, the olive trees signed and swayed,
Remembering their branches were His shelter when he prayed.
Shadows streaked Praetorium and darkened the bribers’ gold;
The twisted form of Judas was hanging, rope-burned and cold.
Barabbas had been pardoned and the mob was satisfied—
At last, Pilate was relieved, the Jew had been crucified!
The Sabbath sun was shining on the lilies near His tomb.
Could seeds of Resurrection burst forth from a granite womb?
Could His hands, hammer-mangled, unlock the closed gates of dread?
Would He fulfill His promise and rise up from Joseph’s bed?
I see a woman running and her eyes are wide as day,
“Come quickly. Oh, come quickly; they have stolen Him away!”
With anxious feet they hurried to an open, empty tomb;
Then he came walking to them and faith leaped from every bloom!
Today we ask the question, “What does Easter Mean?” Let’s reflect on that for these few moments we have together this morning.
I. WHAT DID CHRIST’S RESURRECTION MEAN TO THOSE WHO DISCOVERED IT THAT FIRST EASTER MORNING?
a. To the Women who got up before dawn and took the walk to the tomb: We have no way of knowing for sure what was going through their minds. The scriptures tell us that as they were walking they wondered about the stone blocking the entryway to the tomb. They knew Roman guards were posted there, so perhaps they were thinking they could convince them to open the tomb so they could finish the embalming process. At some point in those early hours the Bible tells us there was an earthquake. That would have caused more concern at the possibility of damage to the tomb. And then, to get within visual distance of the tomb and see the stone rolled back—that must have caused concern. But to find the tomb empty—at least of the body of Jesus, and to encounter angels who told them that Jesus was alive and they should go back and tell his disciples—that must have been the shock of all shockers. The Bible says they went back and were afraid but when they did tell the disciples, they were branded as women with idle talk and were not believed. But Peter and John at least decided to investigate!
b. There was Mary Magdalene. John’s Gospel gives us a detailed account of her Easter morning experience. It is a tender account of a woman who obviously was broken hearted over the death of her Lord. We don’t know a lot of details about her life other than the statement that Jesus had cast out 7 demons from her and that she became a loyal follower of Jesus. His death must have been devastating for Mary—after all, she owed him everything. Had it not been for Jesus she would probably have been dead, or at least still tormented by the demons who possessed her. And now, in the garden just outside the tomb, she meets Jesus! What did the resurrection mean to her? It meant that the One who meant everything to her had come back to her! As she reached out for him, I’m sure she was thinking, I’ll never let him go again! Jesus had to tell her to let go…
c. And what about Mary, the mother of Jesus? She had carried him in her womb, given birth to him in Bethlehem’s stable, heard the prophecy of Simeon that a sword would pierce her soul also (Luke 2 36). She had been influence by her other children to try and take Jesus away from the crowds because his siblings were convinced he was going crazy. And she had stood at the cross and suffered with him as he struggled to breathe until there was no strength left, and she had seen him breathe his last breath and die. Some of you know what it is like to lose one of your children in death—it is the worst possible thing a parent, a mother, could experience. General Superintendent Dr. Jim Diehl spoke of how he suffered so much when their youngest son died of cancer—and then he said his wife Dorothy suffered 3 times worse than he. And Mary had been there when they laid Jesus in the tomb. Remember the account of the Widow of Nain and how Jesus had stopped the funeral procession and raised her son back to life. That was nothing compared to what happened that first Easter morning. Mary, who had pondered all those things in her heart for 33 years, and then laid her son’s body in the grave, and gone away crushed. What do you think the Resurrection meant to her that morning? Her son who was dead was alive again—and alive forevermore!
d. And then there were the Disciples—particularly the Eleven. They had left their livelihoods to follow Jesus. Peter, James, John, and Andrew had left their fishing business. Matthew had walked away from the tax collection tables. For 3 years these men had forsaken all to follow after Jesus. They had committed their lives, their homes, their future, their survival to Jesus. And then Jesus was arrested and crucified and placed in a tomb. They had “bet the farm” so to speak, on Jesus and now he was dead. What was left for them? What would they do now? And then the women’s testimony Jesus was alive—What do you think the Resurrection meant to them at this point? The 3 years they had spent with Jesus were not in vain. There was hope. There was a future. And more importantly, there was Jesus—alive!
e. And what about the Religious Leaders who had been responsible for taking His life? And what about Pilate who had given permission for him to be crucified? What did the Resurrection mean to them? Interestingly, after the Resurrection there is no record that Jesus met with any of those unbelievers—only with those who believed in him and with his own family.
f. So what did the Resurrection mean to these 1st century believers? Paul gives a brief summary in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8: For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born. So how did Paul feel about the Resurrection? In verses 9 & 10 he wrote, “For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect…” The Resurrection meant everything to Paul and the early preachers of the Gospel.
II. AND NOW, 2000+ YEARS LATER, WHAT DOES THE RESURRECTION MEAN TO US?
a. I cannot begin to tell you everything the Resurrection means—Time will not permit it and my brain certainly cannot fully grasp it. But this I know<
i. With the Resurrection God’s Plan of Salvation was completely validated. On the cross Jesus had cried out “It is finished!” In 2 Corinthians 1:20 we read, “For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ. And so through him the “Amen” is spoken by us to the glory of God.”
ii. With the Resurrection of Jesus as the first fruits from the death, we have the assurance that we too will be resurrected. 1 Corinthians 15: 51-53 says. “Listen, I will show you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed—In a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will all be changed.”
iii. And, I will never forget what my Chaplain Instructor, Coleman Akin, said about the Resurrection when I was in a Seminary class: The Resurrection of Jesus means that we are never alone. He is with us. He has given us His Spirit. In the Great Commission at the end of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus promised his disciples he would be with them always, until the very end of the age. In another place he told his disciples that when just 2 or 3 of them came together in His Name, He would be there.
So, what does Easter Mean to You?
Whatever else it means, I know that He is living. He is ever interceding for me, He is pleading my Case to the Father, and someday soon He is coming back for me.
My Jesus is alive!