I don’t know about you, but when I look at the world around us, I say to myself, “really? This is the best we can do as human beings?” There is despondency in the world over our leadership in our state, in our country and in the world. We tread down the vulnerable and the defenceless. We exploit those around us for our own ends, and all that politicians and other leaders seem to be engaged in, with a few notable exceptions is hang on to power at all costs. On top of all that we are concerned about our environment, our standard of living, for those of us with children moving into adulthood, what is their future going to look like, how will they cope? It is when I think on these issues that I find myself turning afresh to the Easter story, the story of empty tombs, and new life, and a resurrected alive real Jesus and what this might mean for the world we live in.
One of the real conundrums that I find about the Easter story, and I have spoken about it a bit in my sermons during this period of Easter is that the empty tomb stories in the Gospels don’t naturally tell us that Jesus is risen. According to the Gospel stories they engender more questions rather than answer them. Nowhere in the Gospels does it record that the women or the disciples on going to the tomb and finding it empty say ‘Aha, he is risen!!!” The closest we get is in John when Peter goes into the tomb and John records “he believed.” however, and it is a big however, he is only believing the witness of the women that the tomb is empty. For the very next verse says “For they did not yet know the scripture that he must rise from the dead.”
What the empty tomb story does do for us is set us on a journey of enquiry, to discover why the tomb is empty. The encounter with the risen Jesus either on the road to Emmaus, or in the Upper Room, or in Galilee gives the answer to why the tomb is empty. In last weeks blog I dealt with the issue of doubt. This week I want to deal with the issue of how on earth does the empty tomb, and the risen Jesus make a difference in my life, and the life of the world? These are deep questions, and I suspect we will not get to the bottom of it all, but even if we scratch the surface it will be worth it.
As I noted above the empty tomb did not start the disciples off on their quest to tell the people around them that Jesus was risen. The empty tomb puzzled them. What set them on their trajectory was their encounter with the risen Jesus, either on the road to Emmaus, in the Upper Room, or in Galilee. This encounter was not a figment of their imagination. They didn’t speak of Jesus being “Risen in the hearts” or “minds.” They were not speaking a strange language out of grief, they were speaking a strange language out of a conviction that Jesus was raised from the dead, and somehow the world was different even though it didn’t look like it.
At its heart the Christian revolution was a revolution from the ground up. It required two things. One, a person committing their life to Jesus, and two, living that life in a community of faith, where the whole was bigger than the individual. They were convinced of one major thing, Jesus was raised from the dead, he had gone to be with God the Father, and finally, and this was most important, he was coming back again. This return of Jesus impelled the disciples and the early followers of Jesus to evangelistic fervour. However, they were also concerned that they should live in the meantime, while we are all waiting for his return, in a certain way, and it was not the way of the world.
The world at the time was in turmoil. There were wars going on, the environment had been hammered by the eruption of Mt Vesuvius, the political class were exploiting the people, the powerful were exploiting the weak, the vulnerable and defenceless had no way of defending themselves against the oppression they were experiencing. They were concerned for their future, for where they perceived the world to be heading, and what would be the next calamity to overtake them. Sound familiar? We live in a modern version of the world of the early church. Thus the message for us must be just as important and relevant as it was 2000 years ago.
What the early church did was proclaim that Jesus was raised bodily from the dead. This, they said had ramifications for the world, because He is the Lord of all, whether or not the world accepts that or not. They further went on to say that this was all part of the plan of God from the beginning, and humanity has had an excuse to ignore God up to now but that was no longer the case, because Jesus was truly risen from the dead. They also said that every human being was made in the image and likeness of God, and therefore every human being had value and worth. It mattered not who they were, what position in society they had, all were equal in the sight of God. No wonder this was scandalous to the world at the time, and is scandalous even today. Even though we talk this day and age of the equality of persons we very rarely exercise that belief. If we did there would be no homelessness, no poverty. All would have access to good medical services. Children would not be exploited, etc. The early church also said to the people of the day, it matters not where you are in your life, and in society, if Jesus is raised from the dead then you have hope. Hope that this life is not all that there is, that when you put your faith and trust in the Lord Jesus then you will be able to cope in the situation you are in because you will not be in it forever. The church not only said Jesus was raised from the dead, but they said he was coming back again. This was ultimately the hope that drove them to evangelism, drove them to even forgo their own lives in martyrdom. This witness (That’s what the word martyr means) so inspired those who witnessed, their often gruesome, deaths to turn to God, for they reasoned that if people were willing to forgo their lives in this way for this supposedly dead Jesus then there must be something in that, and they wanted it for themselves.
We see here a pattern. Those who have nothing to lose by giving their lives to God in Christ Jesus and living their lives according to God’s will are more willing to do so than those who see that in giving of their lives to God they will have to forgo their own authority and power.
The reality is we need people in power to be Christian just as much as we need people across all socio economic strata to be Christian. For in the end, when all have bent the knee to Jesus, then the world will truly be living as it was meant to be from the beginning of creation. To become a Christian does indeed mean giving your life to Jesus and living according to His plan for your life, however, it does not mean you can’t be a person of influence, but what it does mean is that you use your power and influence for God’s purposes, not your own.
If you are feeling like the world has left you behind, if you feel that the world is going into an uncertain future and you are worried about it, if your home life is not what it should be, or if you are concerned about life in general and you are not a Christian then can I encourage you to make Jesus the centre of your life, and get involved in a community of faith nearby? As you do that get to know the story of the empty tomb, and Easter Day and the story of Jesus and how he calls each of us to live our lives according to His purposes, for those purposes are good and honourable. If you are a Christian, and the above applies to you as well, then can I encourage you to look afresh at the tomb and Easter story, and look afresh at the hope that we have in Christ Jesus? As Christians we should not be concerned about the future, for our future is in Christ and the surety of His return to judge the living and the dead. What we need to be doing as Christians is being confident about who we are as the people of God. We need to be living our lives in service and love to one another and those around us. We are not to be “Door Mats” for Jesus but we are called to live the new life of Jesus in the world. We are to show to the world that Jesus is truly risen and that he matters by the way in which we live our lives in the here, by our concern and care for those who need our care and concern, and with one eye looking to the future hope of the return of Jesus. This is notoriously difficult to do for we get caught up in the world so often. This is why we need to be involved in a faith community, so that we can seek the encouragement and teaching of the church as we seek to live out our lives in service and love for one another.
The Empty Tomb, the Resurrection gives us a new perspective on life. Jesus is risen, and we are called to live that new life here and now, and into the future for God, for ourselves, and for the world, and we do all this by making God the centre of our lives. No other way works.