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Sermon April 21, 2019

Princeton Presbyterian Church (EPC) Sermon # 1394

April 21, 2019 (Easter) Luke 23.44-24.12

Dr. Ed Pettus

(This is an extended outline, not a verbatim transcript.)

 

 

“Raised From Death to Life”

 

 

  • He Breathed His Last

 

23.44It was now about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour, 45while the sun's light failed. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. 46Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” And having said this he breathed his last.

 

Easter is predicated on this truth that Jesus breathed His last on the cross. He gave His life. In essence, Jesus was not crucified against His will, but He gave Himself up for this. He gave His life after committing His spirit to the Father and then letting go of His last breath. His life was not taken from Him, but freely given. It was given at the time and place of His choosing.

It’s Easter Sunday and I know that I am supposed to race right to the empty tomb, but I want us to remember what came before resurrection. There was the cross, the cruel death on a cross. Normally a man would die of suffocation on the cross, unable to lift the weight of his body off the lungs. It usually took days for someone to die on the cross. But Jesus was different. Jesus gave His last breath at the time of His choosing. All those who presided over crucifixions were surprised that Jesus died so early. Normally the soldiers would break the legs of the crucified to hasten their death. But not Jesus. What they did hear was Jesus commit is spirit to God and He breathed His last.

He was dead. No more breath. His lifeless body hung on the cross. It was over and as far as those who saw it knew at the time, everything was over. All their hopes and dreams, all their joy and excitement over the coming Messiah had vanished on the cross. Their memories of what Jesus had told them were crushed.

 

  • To Watch It Happen

 

47Now when the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God, saying, “Certainly this man was innocent!” 48And all the crowds that had assembled for this spectacle, when they saw what had taken place, returned home beating their breasts. 49And all his acquaintances and the women who had followed him from Galilee stood at a distance watching these things.

 

It is difficult to image what it was like for the women and all those who followed Jesus as they watched him die. Grief has a way of shutting down the mind. The shock of a death on the cross for one who is innocent is even more alarming. It is no wonder they did not remember the things that Jesus has spoken about his suffering and death. It is no wonder they did not remember that he also said he would rise again. They stood at a distance watching these things. There was nothing they could do to stop it. Peter tried to stop it when Jesus would talk about it or when the guards came to arrest Jesus. But Jesus told him both times not to resist what Jesus would suffer. The women could not stop it; all they could do was watch from a distance, crying, wailing, helpless.

 

  • An Incomplete Funeral

 

50Now there was a man named Joseph, from the Jewish town of Arimathea. He was a member of the council, a good and righteous man, 51who had not consented to their decision and action; and he was looking for the kingdom of God. 52This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. 53Then he took it down and wrapped it in a linen shroud and laid him in a tomb cut in stone, where no one had ever yet been laid. 54It was the day of Preparation, and the Sabbath was beginning. 55The women who had come with him from Galilee followed and saw the tomb and how his body was laid. 56Then they returned and prepared spices and ointments.

 

Luke’s version of the burial of Jesus shows that there was not sufficient time to prepare Jesus’ body. John’s gospel states that there were spices and ointments given for the body, but still not much time to do things properly. So the women follow Joseph of Arimathea to the place where Jesus ‘ body was taken. They would know where to go when the Sabbath is over and the body could be properly prepared. There was probably something more troubling to their hearts in that the body had to be taken so quickly to the tomb. Part of the grieving process would have been in preparing the body. But that grief was put on hold. More reason to be upset and confused and tormented by this death.

 

  • The Sabbath Rest

 

On the Sabbath they rested according to the commandment.

 

In the Bible that I was reading this one line is the second part of Luke 23.56, but it is set apart from the first half of the verse. This is, of course, a translators decision to set this one line apart from the rest. But I think it is also appropriate to do so. Here the Sabbath interrupts the story. Here the Sabbath buffers death and life. Here the Sabbath pauses our grief and anticipates something to come. I don’t want to make too much of this but I think that this line is interesting to the story precisely because it gives a pause, a moment in time, a rest from the pain of death – because the next verse (24.1) begins with the word “But”. Death – Sabbath – But...

 

  • Jesus Ain’t Here No Mo

 

24.1But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared. 2And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3but when they went in they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. 4While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men stood by them in dazzling apparel. 5And as they were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? 6He is not here, but has risen.

 

But… the next day, the first day, Sunday...early in the morning, they went to the tomb and the stone was rolled away! Death, Sabbath, but, life!

 

As I was preparing this sermon, I kept visiting the deep south in my mind and how we would have said Jesus is no longer in the tomb. That’s where this point of the outline comes, “Jesus ain’t her no mo”. Yes, it’s a double negative and therefore not proper English, but it’s still how a southern drawl would express the empty tomb. I went to my Gullah New Testament to see what Luke 24.6 said. Gullah is the coastal language of South Carolina and Georgia islands of many blacks. We used to use it when I was growing up in Charleston SC. In Gullah Luke 24.6 is this: “Jedus ain’t yah. E don git op from mongst de de, an e da libe gin!” Now what purpose do I have in sharing some of my early language skills growing up in the south? If nothing else, it may help us all remember that Jesus’s death was followed with the pause of Sabbath and the bursting news of life again. Three days later with the news that the tomb is empty! Jesus ain’t here, He done get up from among the dead and He done live again. He is risen! He lives! He lives today! He is the living Savior, living Lord, living Messiah, living Master, living Healer, He lives! When the women come to the tomb they discover the most incredible news imaginable, He is not here, but has risen!

We would think it unbelievable. Too good to be true. But here it is, Jesus ain’t here no mo!

 

  • Memories Rekindled, A Story to Tell

 

Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, 7that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.” 8And they remembered his words, 9and returning from the tomb they told all these things to the eleven and to all the rest. 10Now it was Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James and the other women with them who told these things to the apostles, 11but these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. 12But Peter rose and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; and he went home marveling at what had happened.

 

 

Remember? Don’t you remember? It’s not really a question, but a command. Remember how he told you this would happen. Memories are stunted when the shock of crucifixion and death are clouding the mind. Memories take time when grief has paralyzed one’s senses. Memories take a few days to recover. Where is the will? Where are the papers we need? Where did he put the money? You know those memories that come after a death.

But it does not take long for the memory to rise up just as Jesus has risen. One verse later they remember that Jesus told them he would be delivered to these men, crucified, and rise again on the third day. This is the third day.

I’ve got good news! Have you ever had the opportunity to deliver a message to someone that was so good you just could not wait to burst open with it? We usually approach someone saying, “guess what?” Big smile, they don’t have a clue, so we tell them the good news. This news from these two angels is the best news we have for anyone on the earth. This is the best possible news to tell others, and yet, we don’t take it to others with the same kind of excitement and joy as we do with other less worthy news. I’m not saying this to make us feel bad for not sharing the story of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. I just want us to remember as the women did, that Jesus said He would suffer and die and rise again. Remember it every day and perhaps, if we remember it every single day, we will catch the same energy of the women who told the disciples.

Remember too that the disciples did not believe them. They thought it was an idle tale, a fantasy, too good to be true, and they did not believe them. Some people will not believe us either. Either they will think it too good to be true or they’ve heard it all before or they just simply refuse to believe it. I wonder how the women responded to the disciples when they first told them. I doubt their disbelieve dampened the joy of the women one bit. Peter, at least, when down to see for himself. Let the men verify this idle tale. Peter is said to have marveled at what he saw, or perhaps, at what he did not see, for he did not see Jesus. Maybe the women were right after all. He marveled. Surprised, astonished, this is marvelous! Jesus is no longer in the tomb.

 

Look at the progression of events in this three day period. Jesus breathed His last on the cross. They were eye witnesses to the death. Perhaps they stood looking in disbelief that this could be happening. They took His lifeless body to the tomb, the cold, hard, dark tomb where there is no life. The women saw Him placed there. They did not have much time to prepare the body. But then time came to a stop, a day of rest, a day of grief, a day of confusion and sadness, a Sabbath rest. This was not a normal Sabbath, not a day of honoring God’s command for rest and worship, not a day of remembrance and celebration for God’s deliverance. This was a disturbed Sabbath. It was a day to buffer between death and life. But on Saturday, their Sabbath day, they did not know that yet. On Sunday, the first day of the week they discovered that Jesus had been raised from death to life. From the time He breathed His last to the time He breathed again was a day of commandment. Stop what you are doing. Rest. But what the Sabbath provided was a time to prepare for the best news possible.

This is why I like separating the Sabbath line from the rest of the story. It sets up the Good News of the Gospel. It sets up a rhythmic time between death and life, the reverse of what we normally think as we live then we die. But isn’t this really the way we experience Sabbath, from the deathly tiredness of work, to the rest we need, to a refreshed life. Death – rest – new life.

Maybe there are two hooks for Easter this year: the good news that Jesus ain’t here (in the tomb) no mo and the good news that Sabbath leads us to new life at Easter and every Sunday. (See, there is good reason for blue laws!) Sabbath leads to rest and life. Jesus it that rest and that life.

We’ve heard this story every year of our Christian life at least once and hopefully multiple times throughout every year. It is our story to remember and tell just as the women did in telling the disciples. It is our story to tell to the world that needs so desperately to hear and know that life is possible in a world that only offers darkness and corruption, as Paul says it in Philippians, “a crooked and twisted generation” (2.15). Easter is the counter message to what is twisted in our world and culture and society. Easter is the message of life for a world filled with deathly anti-Christian messages. Easter is our story for the world, to live and to tell. So let’s go forth to tell it, Jesus ain’t on the cross and He ain’t in the tomb no more. He lives!