Isaiah 25:6-9, Luke 24:1-12
April 5, 2015, Easter Sunday
Are you a “Jesus Follower?” That’s how my brother spoke about his faith, and my mother’s faith, at her service. He said they were both “Jesus Followers.” I don’t think I ever heard the faith described in quite that way, have you? Would you consider yourself a Jesus Follower? In essence, that is what it means to be a Christian, isn’t it? Jesus is “the center of it all.”
I was listening to a sermon on-line the other day. And in it, the pastor was talking about how the name of Jesus is used in our modern culture. Actually he talking about how it was not used. He talked about the fact that, in our age, people are reluctant even to speak the name of Jesus, for “fear of offending someone.”
I want you to think about that! Here we are on Easter morning. We’re talking about Jesus, how he is the only begotten son of God! He is “the head of the Church!” – the “Author and finisher of our faith!” Today and always he is our Risen Lord! And yet we’re noting that some people are reluctant even to mention his name for fear of offending someone! That was unimaginable a century ago! But here we are, celebrating Easter. And many people in this world will gather today as families and have meals. They’ll even go to church! But, what about following Jesus? They may talk about him. For some, they’ll mention him in passing. And some will just “tolerate” his name being spoken, because you can hardly talk about Easter without mentioning his name.
Well, as you can probably tell, that is my point for today! You can’t talk about Easter without talking about Jesus! He’s “the center of it all!” Oh yes, there are bunnies and eggs and those marshmallow chicks! (I love those things!) Yes, there are family dinners, and celebrations of all kinds. And all that fun and celebration is great! But I want to say today unequivocally, that Easter is about Jesus! He is the center of it all!
You know, it’s funny. If you stopped just about anyone on the street and asked them about Jesus, they’d probably be able to give you a fairly orthodox answer. It’s common knowledge, and most people could still tell you, that Jesus lived, he taught, he died, and he came back from the dead. And like the Pharisees with Lazarus, they might not even debate his resurrection! They might well accept that it happened. But that’s not the same as being a follower, is it?! What about you?
Let’s look at the story. Luke tells us that the women went to the tomb that morning. And clearly they were not expecting anything to happen. They were simply there to finish the burial process. Because Jesus died just before the Sabbath Day began, and they didn’t have time to prepare his body properly. So they came that morning with the various things they needed to finish that process. As much as Jesus told them what was going to happen, they didn’t think it would.
In Mark’s Gospel account, they were talking along the way. And they were asking each other who was going to roll away the stone. A stone like that was much too heavy even for three women to move. Apparently they hadn’t thought that part through very well. But when they got there, they found that the stone was already rolled away. And this part is interesting. Some scholars tell us the word translated “away,” was a word that more accurately meant “separated by a distance.” In other words, the stone was rolled far away!! Put that into your mental picture. The huge stone may well have been described as having been “flung aside.” The actual moment of resurrection was one of great power. I’ve often wondered what it might have been like for someone to have seen it and described it. Matthew comes the closest. He describes an earthquake and an angel rolling back the stone. But he never actually says that the women were there to see Jesus resurrected.
But they did see the angels! Luke describes there being two of them. Others specify an “angel.” Regardless, they all describe a powerful, frightening being or beings. These women were terrified! They fell on their faces, trembling! In other versions the angel says what angels usually have to say to people, “Be not afraid!” Because angels were fearsome beings!
What does the angel say to them here? He asks, “Why do you seek the living among the dead?” I love that! But the weren’t seeking the living, were they? They were looking for a dead guy! The angel was saying, in a sense, “Why are you seeking someone who’s dead? Because Jesus isn’t!” He is risen! And then he gives them what amounts to the biggest “I told you so” in history! He says, “Remember how he told you exactly how all this was going to happen?!” And he had!
Well, still wondering what all this meant, the women returned to tell the others what had happened. And of course all the disciples “believed the women’s story and rejoiced!” No they didn’t! They thought their words were an “idle tale” – a fairy tale! And they refused to believe them. As I’ve said before, the first Easter was characterized by unbelief and skepticism! It took a while for all this to sink into the disciples’ heads – into all their heads! Even days and weeks afterwards, they still didn’t know what it all meant. Next week we’re going to read the next story in Luke’s account, the “Road to Emmaus.” There, Jesus himself explained it all to them! Because they didn’t know what to think!
So, now we are on the other side of this. We’re on the “Easter side of the crucifixion!” We know the women’s words were not a fairy tale! And again, we believe this happened, don’t we? And again, most people do! This is the great Easter story! And Jesus is “the center of it all.” Paul told the Corinthians, “If Christ is not raised from the dead, then your faith is in vain, and our preaching is in vain!” (I Corinthians 15:14) “It makes no sense!” “It’s good for nothing!” But he was raised from the dead! And this became the turning point in all of history! This is when the calendar was reset! We started counting the years all over again from this point. And Jesus is the center of it all!
But, having said that, the question still remains. Do we follow this risen Jesus? At the beginning of the year we said that believing does not necessarily mean following. So how do you fit into all of this? Do you believe? Do you follow? This event changed the world. But has it changed you?
Today I say to you, be a “Jesus Follower.” Be proud to be a Jesus Follower. Don’t be afraid to say his name. Sure, be respectful of people. Be gentle the way you approach them. Don’t make assumptions. Don’t be offensive. Be loving. Be caring. Be joyful and hopeful. Say what’s important to you! And as Peter said in his letter, “Always be ready to give answer to anyone who asks about the hope that lies within you .”
But be a Jesus Follower. You have that hope lying within you! Know that hope! Know that Jesus is the center of it all! The Lord is risen!
Eternal God, we thank you that you loved the world – and us – so much that you sent your only Son. Help us not just to believe, but to follow! Help us to know the hope we have in him. Help us to know that we have been redeemed, because he has died and he is risen. We thank you, and we praise you, and we pray in Jesus’ name, Amen!