Astonishment! – April 1, 2018, Easter Sunday!
Isaiah 12:2-6, Mark 16:1-8
Easter Sunday, April 1, 2018
This is the greatest miracle of Jesus! We’ve been following him in a number of different stories from the Gospel of Mark. And again, Mark was probably the earliest of the Gospel’s to be written. And as I said before, it was written as an “eyewitness account,” almost like a “news story” of the earthly ministry of Jesus Christ. It was, as Jack Webb used to say, “Just the facts!” But, as we’ve discovered, it’s also packed full of information and images and insights into Jesus’ life and ministry. I’ve really been enjoying it! I hope you have, too!
So far, we’ve seen Jesus teaching the people, and drawing larger and larger crowds. And we’ve seen him performing miracles! And I sometimes wonder which was more compelling to the people, the teaching or the miracles! I’m sure it was both. But certainly the miracles were a big part of what he did! And so far, by his miracles, Jesus has helped individuals – people with diseases, people with demons. Then, he’s helped crowds of people – the feeding of the five thousand! Now, this is his greatest miracle. And now he has helped all of the people! Including us!
There’s another difference here between this and the other miracles of Jesus. In all those other cases, he didn’t really announce what he was going to do. Oh, he hinted. Standing in the middle of the huge crowd by the sea, he said to his disciples, “You feed the people.” Standing next to the paralyzed man, lying there amid the debris from the hole cut in the roof, he said to the Pharisees “Which is easier to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or ‘take up your bed and walk’?” He sort of led up to things like that. We the readers know what he was about to do.
But if you think about it, this – the resurrection – is the only miracle he told them about in advance. He told them numerous times! And yet, they didn’t believe him! In fact, they were uncomfortable with what he was saying. Finally, Peter even “rebuked” Jesus about it. And I’m sure he was speaking for them all, when he said, “Surely, that will never happen to you, Lord!” “Stop it, with all this ‘death talk!’”
But Jesus didn’t! And he did! And it happened just as he said. And when it did, when he died, they were devastated! We can’t even imagine what they were going through! And now, now that he had risen, they were overcome with astonishment!!
I love that word! And this is even more! The women fled from the tomb, “for trembling and astonishment had come upon them.” They were frightened! It goes on, “and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid!” This was a lot more than just astonishment, wasn’t it?! This thing that happened was actually fearful to them.
Then, when the others heard it, it was something else. It was “incredible!” It was “unbelievable!” – literally! If you read a little more here in Mark, you’ll find a brief telling of the story of Mary Magdalene in the garden, when Jesus appeared to her that Easter morning. That story is told more fully by John. But Mark gives us a quick version. And then he says, “She went and told those who were with him. (His disciples) But when they heard that he was alive and had been seen by her, they would not believe it!” In Luke’s account he adds, “It seemed to them an ‘idle tale,’ and they wouldn’t believe it.” Some scholars say that meant “a fairy tale.”
So there was astonishment that first Easter morning. There was disbelief, over this un-believe-able event! And even more than that, there was “fear and trembling!” And I ask you this. Are we astonished? Are we amazed? Are we fearful? Or, is this just part of the story of Jesus? Do we hear it, and read it, and see no real power in it? Does it do nothing for us?
You see, one of the real problems with the resurrection of Jesus Christ is not “disbelief.” The problem is “indifference.” It is the eternal question, “So what?” On Easter, we say, “The Lord is risen!” And the traditional answer is “He is risen, indeed!” But for too many people, if they’re honest, when they hear, “The Lord is Risen!” their answer is, “So what?”
Think about it. Could that be a problem for you? Does this story just not hold a lot of power for you, or meaning? Or could it be something else? For some, the problem is that all of this is just so far detached from us. It all happened two thousand years ago! And as much as we say the words, it’s still hard to connect to it. It’s still hard to grasp, that “what Jesus did, he did for us.” We preacher types have been trying to keep that understanding alive in people’s minds for all of those centuries. Because it’s easy to lose the grasp of it!
Maybe we need to spend some time Easter day thinking about the impact all of this has on our lives. And that’s not easy. Because for many this is all just “ancient history.” And it’s hard to see how it applies to us today. That’s why I try to make these Biblical stories come alive. I like to try to bring them out of the past, or to put us back there – in their shoes! I know that’s what helps me personally. Otherwise, yes, it is all just a nice history lesson!
Sometimes we have a hard time seeing how this affects our lives… We can feel detached from that, as well. As I said before, It’s hard to connect the power of God to our lives! As I said a few weeks ago, sometimes we think, “Sure God, you can part the sea, and you can do all those great and powerful things, but my problems… I’m not so sure about that!”
Well, Easter can be like that! The Atonement of Jesus Christ can be like that! We might find ourselves thinking, “Yes, Jesus died for the sins of the world. But my sins… well, I’m not so sure about that!” That’s how we might feel! We don’t feel like our sins are gone. We somehow feel like our sins are beyond the power of Jesus’ Atonement. But, our feelings can betray us, can’t they?! We can’t think that God’s forgiveness is based on how much we feel we are forgiven!
So… This is me “reminding” you of the promises of God in all of this. This is me “exhorting” you to rely on those promises, despite what you might “feel” at any particular moment. And the “promise” of God on Easter day is that this is not just “ancient history.” It is for all times and all ages and all people! Jesus has paid the price! His Atonement is sure! He has won the victory. We – every one of us – have been redeemed! The astonishment is real! It was real then, it is real today! So be astonished!!!
Eternal God, we are astonished at your great love for us. You sent Jesus not when we deserved it, but when we needed it. You have come into our lives, not when we deserved it, but when we needed it. We give you praise for Easter day. We thank you for the victory which has been won for all times, for all people, and for us! Help us to know your presence this day, and the joy of our salvation, through Jesus Christ we pray, Amen!