A Savior Who Serves: Rising
Topic: Biblical Verse: Mark 16:1–16:8
The Resurrection of Our Lord – Easter Sunday
April 8, 2012
“A Savior Who Serves: Rising”
It’s Easter morning – a bright and beautiful day with flowers and trees in bloom. But what really is the meaning of Easter? Is it chocolate rabbits and egg hunts? Is it family gatherings in spring with ham or lamb on the menu? One Sunday School teacher questioned the students in her class about this. “What is the meaning of Easter?” she asked. Silence all around with all eyes on the floor, as each student hoped not to be the one called on. Finally, one boy blurted out, “Is that when three guys on camels bring Easter eggs to the baby Jesus?” The teacher shuddered. Another student, looking more confident, volunteered: “Easter is when my mom gets a new dress for church, and we all go out for brunch afterward.” A third student raised her hand. “I know what the meaning of Easter is. It’s when Jesus was crucified and put in the grave, and they rolled a stone in front of it.” Greatly encouraged, the teacher said, “That’s right! Keep going.” “And then, very early on Easter morning…” the student trailed off, lost in thought. “Yessss… what else?” the teacher tried to draw out the answer. “And then, very early on Easter morning, Jesus comes out of the tomb, and when he sees his shadow, he goes back to sleep and we have six more weeks of winter.” My friends, today we celebrate the glorious truth of what Easter really means: that Jesus really did come out of the tomb and rise from the dead.
We are here today from many different places, from many different life situations, with many different needs. We may be here today because someone invited us to come with them. We may be here because we’re always here for Easter – we could not imagine Easter Sunday without being in worship. Some of us are here because we’re visiting from out of town. I’m not so much concerned with how you’ve come to be here for Easter. What I’m concerned with is how you’ll leave on this Easter Sunday. How will the good news of Jesus’ victory over sin, death, and the grave – what Easter is really about – impact your life? During the Lenten season, we followed the theme of “A Savior Who Serves.” Week by week, we looked at different ways in which Jesus came not to be served, but to serve, and to offer his life as a ransom for us all (Mark 10:45) – through temptation, through teaching, through cleansing, through betrayal, through denial, through dying. Today we conclude this series under the theme: “A Savior Who Serves: Rising.” May the Lord’s rich and abundant blessing rest upon the preaching, the hearing, and the living of his Word, for Jesus’ sake.
At age seventy-seven and in the closing years of his life, Thomas Jefferson, after two terms as president, turned to a project that had occupied his mind for many years, and that was the creation of a book of moral lessons drawn from the four Gospels of the New Testament: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. With painstaking precision, Jefferson literally cut verses from Greek, Latin, French, and King James Version English editions of the New Testament, pasting them into a volume he called The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth. Produced in 1820, six years before his death at age 83, this came to be known as the Jefferson Bible. Along with other founding fathers, Jefferson was a believer in the principles of deism, which held that a supreme being had created the world but no longer intervened directly in daily life. Nevertheless, Jefferson was devoted to the teachings of Christ, but he did not always agree with how these were interpreted by Biblical writers, including the four Gospels. Jefferson chose not to include the miracles of Jesus, such as the feeding of the 5000, or anything that he thought of as “contrary to reason.” Jefferson’s version of the New Testament concludes with Jesus being laid in the grave, and stops there. There is nothing about Jesus’ resurrection. You can see one of the original copies of Jefferson’s versions of the New Testament for yourself. Through May 28, The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth is on display at the Albert H. Small Documents Gallery at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C. As monumental a figure as Thomas Jefferson was in the founding of our nation, we get a clear picture about what Easter really meant to him. Mr. Jefferson held that Jesus of Nazareth was a great moral example, a life to emulated, a teacher for the ages, but a Savior who rises from the dead? Apparently not. Scripture by subtraction is bad enough, but if it all ends at the grave, and that’s it, then what’s the point? If crucifixion does not lead to resurrection, then, as St. Paul tells us, “we are of all people most to be pitied” (1 Corinthians 15:19). If Good Friday does not lead us to Easter Sunday, then it’s all terrible hoax, and truly “we are of all people most to be pitied.” A few verses beyond what we read in today’s Epistle lesson (1 Corinthians 15:1-11), St. Paul writes: “... if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. 15We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. 16For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. 17And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. 18Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied” (1 Corinthians 15:14-19).
The words of that “young man” in today’s Gospel, the angel of God who spoke to Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome there at the tomb on that first Easter morning, still speak to us today: “You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen… ” (Mark 16:6). In the midst of so many things that we are seeking after in this life – identity, security, and meaning – it all comes down to this central truth: we worship a Savior who serves by rising in triumph over sin, death, and hell, who now lives and reigns to all eternity. People before and after Mr. Jefferson have denied the believability, the reality, the validity of Jesus’ resurrection. That is nothing new. We hold fast to this truth: “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Corinthians 15:20). He has swallowed up death forever. With the prophet Isaiah we say: “Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us. This is the Lord; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation” (Isaiah 25:9). Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! Amen!