Isaiah 25:6-9, John 20:1-11
Easter Sunday April 12, 2009
“A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you. I will remove from your flesh your heart of stone, and give you a new heart… And I will put my spirit within you…” (Ezekiel 36:26-27)
Ezekiel spoke those words six hundred years before the time of Christ. God’s people were in exile, and they felt like they were without hope. In his ministry, Ezekiel tried to bring hope to that desperate situation. And in doing so he spoke of the new covenant God would be making with his people in Jesus Christ.
Fast forward almost six centuries. We come to a time when God’s people were experiencing a similar hopelessness. They were in exile in their own country, occupied by the armies of one of the greatest empires the world would ever know. But they had seen a glimmer of hope in this young rabbi from Galilee, a man who had spoken so lovingly and passionately about the kingdom of God. But then it had all come crashing down again. To see him brutally executed was a death blow to their hopes.
Crucifixion was always a public event. It was usually reserved for those who would rebel against Rome. It was meant to deter anyone else who might have similar desires for rebellion. The aim of the spectacle was to declare that “You are part of the empire. Accept it! Anyone who would rebel will suffer a similar fate.” “Resistance is futile!”
So any dream they had of the end of the captivity in their own land died with Jesus that horrible day. But it was more than that. There was also a glimmer of hope of another kind. In a certain sense the people had been in spiritual exile. Since the garden, their relationship with God had suffered. They had been created into a perfect relationship, reveling in the very presence and companionship of God himself. After that, even though the whole history of God’s people was the story of God choosing and calling and covenanting with them, it was also about their rebellion, neglect, and apathy toward God. And in Jesus, they had seen something of that garden. In him, they had gotten a taste of that relationship with God which was the longing of every person. It had shone and inspired them for a brief moment, and now it was gone.
In a certain sense we have all been in exile. That rebellious seed in all of us. That desire to be masters of our own domains and destinies, has created in us that same tendency to forget, and neglect and forsake our creator, even though deep within us we long for that relationship with him. Our lives are not what they were created to be, our hopes are shaky, our joy is fleeting, our journey in this life seems aimless.
My friends, Easter has changed all of that! The good news of the resurrection is this. Jesus is alive again so that we can be alive again! Let me say that again. Jesus is alive again so that we can be alive again!! Do you get that? This is not just about eternal life. This is about a new life. This is about being alive in the way we were created to be alive. This is about those wonderful words of Saint Irenaeus from the second century, “The glory of God is man fully alive!” We are made fully alive through this event we call Easter. I hope we see that today. Because of Easter, a new journey begins!!
Did you see the movie “My Big Fat Greek Wedding”? There is one magnificent scene in that movie in which Ian tells Tula “I loves you.” And she says, “Why?” “Why do you love me?” And his answer was perfect, “Because I came alive when I met you.” Friends if you understand that, if you understand that awakened sense of meaning, and joy, and purpose, and the exquisite awareness of life, then you understand Saint Irenaeus, and you understand Easter!
Through Ezekiel, God told the people, “A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you. I will remove from your flesh your heart of stone, and give you a new heart… And I will put my spirit within you…” Ezekiel’s words are true on Easter morning! Because Jesus lives, we will live also!
Paul said that, too. In First Corinthians, he was explaining to the people about their “rebellious seed” and the new life in Christ. And he says these words which Handel set so powerfully to music. (And it’s been hard “just to read them” ever since!) “Since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead.” Do you remember that? Well listen to the next verse! “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ Jesus shall all be made alive.” (I Corinthians 15:21-22) Now please notice. That’s not an error in translation. It doesn’t say “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be given eternal life.” It says, “All are made alive.” “Being given eternal life” is about our status. “Being made alive” is about our heart. That’s what I want you to understand about Easter!!
There was a sign on the wall of a company where a lot of people had desks and cubicles. And the sign said, “Those who don’t believe in the resurrection of the dead should see this office at quitting time!” You know what that means, don’t you? There’s a difference between the monotonous routine and the liveliness. “The glory of God is man fully alive.” Like that office at quitting time! That’s why Jesus came. That’s the glory of Easter! He wants to make us fully alive!!
Let me read you a passage from one of my favorite authors, John Eldredge. In his book called “Waking the Dead” he writes this. “You have been pardoned for every wrong thought and desire and deed. This is what the vast majority of Christians understand as the central work of Christ for us. And make no mistake, it is a deep and stunning truth, one that will set you free and bring you joy – For a while.”
The problem, he goes on to say is that too many people assume that the cross is the central idea in Christianity. And think about it. It’s everywhere! Is anyone wearing a cross? I have one behind me. And it is very heavy! And that’s good symbolism, because indeed the cross is weighty. But the forgiveness offered on the cross has been thought of as the most important thing in our faith. And the problem with that is that too often the resurrection has been almost an afterthought. Yes, it got Jesus out of the grave, and back from the dead. His ministry could then continue through his followers because they knew he was still with them. And that’s good!
The resurrection also proved that Jesus was who he said he was. That’s good, too. Remember, Jesus himself laid down the challenge. Not only is Jesus who he said he was because he had the power to rise again, but he did it after telling them he would. That added to the amazement. Even the angel at the tomb felt compelled to point that out. “Do you remember how he told you this was going to happen?” Easter wasn’t just a miracle, it was fulfillment of his prophecy – his prediction. This was like Babe Ruth pointing to the bleachers in right field, and then hitting a home run right there!
Don’t get me wrong! All that is wonderful about Easter! And we could go home today having heard that assurance in the Easter message and feeling wonderful we are part of his kingdom, knowing we’re following the right guy, even knowing that his promises to be with us are true and reliable. But the resurrection is so much more! It’s not just about Jesus coming alive again. It’s about us coming alive again.
Peter wrote, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through (What? The cross? No through) the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead!” (I Peter 1:3) That’s our hope. Paul said this in his letter to the Romans. “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. (not in the assurance that we will live forever, but 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.” (Romans 6:4-5) We are not just given eternal life. Sometimes that’s what we think is meant by new life. It’s more! In Christ we are made alive!!
I was amazed to read recently that the cross was not used as the symbol of Christianity for almost the first four hundred years of the Church. I didn’t know that! But think about it! The cross wasn’t depicted in works of art. It wasn’t used as a symbol or a decoration. And as one writer said, “Four hundred years of the most vibrant Christianity [went] by without the cross as its rallying point! Those who walked with Jesus, and those who walked with those who walked with Jesus, didn’t make the cross central. …when the apostles preached, it was about (what?) the resurrection!”
That’s amazing! And it makes sense. Some of my favorite words in the Bible are in I Corinthians 1. And those are words about the cross, the power of God. Yet, it is still the resurrection that is the central theme of Christianity. In the cross, Jesus paid the price of our forgiveness. And that is a wonderful thing. But forgiveness is only half of the story! In the cross, Jesus gave us life eternal. But in the resurrection, he gave us new life! But how many Christians are satisfied with the atonement and the forgiveness alone? And because of that, as Eldredge asked, “how many people in how many churches are apathetic and even bored with their life of faith?”
A story is told of a rich man in Texas who instructed his heirs that, when he died, he was to be buried behind the wheel of his beloved Cadillac. Sure enough, with that much money, you can have anything you want. So the day of the funeral came, and a large crane was being used to lower this beautiful, gleaming Cadillac into a huge hole, and a crowd of mourners and well-wishers was standing around. And there was this man dressed in a full tuxedo, seated behind the wheel of this magnificent car. And as the car was slowly being lowered, one of the well-wishers was overheard to say, “Man, that’s really living!”
I think you understand that story. God wants us to be “really living.” And if you’re still not sure about this, go to Jesus’ own words. Why did he come? To atone for our sins? Yes! To teach us? Yes! To proclaim the kingdom in our midst? Yes! To minister to those in need and show us how to do the same? Definitely! But in his own words, why did he come? He tells us in John 10:10. “I have come that they may have life, and have it abundantly!”
I was going over some old sermons the other day, and I came upon the very first sermon I delivered in this place. It was called “Living the Abundant Life” (Anybody want to guess the date? It was July 10, 2005.) And it was on this very subject. God wants for us abundance, not just salvation. The new covenant predicted by God through Ezekiel was not just about a “new start,” it was about a “new heart.”
That doesn’t mean our life will be happy. That doesn’t mean it will be free of hardship. Paul often recounts the persecution he suffered – the beatings, the stonings, the public ridicule, the imprisonments. But none of that mattered! Not even those things we can be eternally grateful we don’t have to endure! What mattered was that he had that newness of life given us in the resurrection!
The Glory of God is man fully alive! Jesus came alive again so that we too can be alive again! Happy Easter everyone!!!
Eternal God, help us to know that because our redeemer lives, we can live also. Instill in us the joy that nothing can ever separate us from your love in Christ Jesus. We offer ourselves to you knowing what you have done for us on that great and glorious day of Resurrection. We praise you. We thank you. We glorify you! And we pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.