Repent: Turn to Jesus for Resurrection and Life

Pastor Jon Brohn
Sunday, April 16, 2017

Matthew 28:1–8 (NIV) 1 After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb. 2 There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. 3 His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. 4 The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men. 5 The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. 6 He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. 7 Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.” 8 So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples.

My dear friends in Christ,

What would we have expected to find as we walked with Mary Magdalene and the other Mary on that first Easter morning? Matthew set the scene for us, and it’s exactly what we would have expected. “After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb” (Matthew 28:1 NIV). The first thing we would expect to see is mourners. Two of Jesus’ faithful friends had come to pay their last respects to their teacher and friend. Mary Magdalene was especially thankful for Jesus’ friendship. Seven demons had possessed her until Jesus set her free (Luke 8:2). They had come to shed tears and to demonstrate their love for Jesus.

Where were these faithful friends going? Exactly where we’d expect them to go—a dreadful grave. Cemeteries are sad places. We’ll do anything we can to “nice-ify” them while we’re there. The memorial stones are carefully selected and placed. We bring beautiful flowers and plants to place on the graves. But deep down we know that we can’t spruce up death with pretty flowers and nice looking stones. Jesus’ tomb was brand-new—loaned to him by a rich man named Joseph of Arimathea. But even Joseph’s “Cadillac” tomb could not hide the fact that Jesus’ battered, lifeless body lay inside on a cold stone slab. What a dreadful end for the man they called “Teacher!” What a dreadful place to come and visit their friend!

These faithful women had come to make the best of it. As we would expect, they planned to provide Jesus’ body with some basic human dignity. Jesus had received a quick burial on Good Friday. On Saturday evening, after the Sabbath rest was over, the women went shopping for burial spices—myrrh and aloes. They would lovingly clean Jesus’ bloody body, gently sprinkle it with the spices, snugly wrap him in clean linen, tenderly place a burial cloth on his face, and let Jesus rest in peace. Then they would return to a life that would be dreadfully different without him!
All of this is exactly what we would expect. Nothing out of the ordinary. A dead man, a grave, and a group of mourners wanting to say a final, fitting farewell. If Matthew ended his account here, we would there would be no reason to celebrate today. This morning would be a colossal waste of time.

Suddenly, the unexpected took place! “There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow” (Matthew 28:2–3 NIV). Maybe we’d expect to see one of those cute, carved cherubs in the cemetery, but not a real live angel! The angel had frightened the soldiers almost to death. They passed out!

The angel brought a message to the women: “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified.” His next words were even more unexpected: “He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you” (Matthew 28:5–7 NIV). Can you picture the women’s reaction? Jesus? Not here? Alive? How could this be? The women examined the tomb, expecting to see a dead body, but no one was there. Only the grave clothes remained, empty and abandoned (John 20:6-7).

As they left the tomb, they witnessed something even more unexpected: “Suddenly Jesus met them. ‘Greetings,’ he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me’” (Matthew 28:9–10 NIV). In that moment the words of the angel and Jesus’ appearance brought about the unexpected. They changed the history of the world. The beaten and battered, poked and prodded, whipped and crucified One lives again!

“Just a second, Pastor. Did you say that a dead man came back to life?” Actually, I didn’t say it. An angel announced it. “He has risen just as he said!” Even better, Jesus proved it, standing in front of his friends and greeting them! Whether a person believes that or not doesn’t change what happened on Easter morning. Jesus physically rose from the dead. Turn away from any doubts or disbelief you might have! Instead, turn in joy to Jesus who is the resurrection and the life!

Jesus? Alive? That is unexpected! Our human reason can’t make sense out of all this. Our brains tell us, “It can’t be!” So, if this really didn’t happen, and if it’s all just a nice story, what can we expect?
First, we can expect to be left with our SIN. St. Paul told the Corinthians: “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins” (1 Corinthians 15:17 NIV). If Jesus is dead, when he said, “It is finished” (John 19:30 NIV) he would have simply meant that his life was over. A dead savior is a dead deception, a buried dream. If Jesus is still dead, then we’ve got a huge problem that’s three letters long: S-I-N! And deep down inside, every single one of us knows that “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23 NIV).

Second, if Jesus is still dead, we can expect that we are WITHOUT HOPE when we take our own personal trip to the cemetery! Paul also wrote: “For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost” (1 Corinthians 15:16,18 NIV). If Christ didn’t rise from the dead, we have no hope when a fellow believer dies. We have nothing to look forward to when we die either!

Finally, if Jesus is still dead—then we can expect our lives won’t be worth much either. Paul wrote, “And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith” (1 Corinthians 15:14 NIV). If Jesus is still in his grave—then this sermon is silliness, our trust in Christ is foolish, and our faith is worthless.

That’s why we need to cling to this unexpected truth—Jesus is alive! He really, physically, truly rose from the dead! God stakes his entire reputation upon these historical, unshakeable Easter facts! God proclaims his Easter truth to us so that we have a rock-solid foundation for our lives. The events of Easter are not what we expect but they provide exactly what we need!

What do we need? We desperately need the unexpected gift of God’s forgiveness. Jesus died on the cross to pay sin’s shocking price tag. On the cross, Jesus said that his work of saving us from sin was finished. Easter is the proof that what he said is true! The Scriptures tell us, “[Jesus] was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification” (Romans 4:25 NIV). Easter is the Lord’s public statement that our sin has been forgiven. Turn to Jesus for his forgiveness! He died and rose again to forgive every single one of our sins. That’s unexpected!
We need Jesus’ unexpected hope in life as we struggle through each day of our lives. We see the threat of war with Syria, Russia, and the continued problems elsewhere. Our economy isn’t exactly thriving. Earthquakes, tornadoes, floods damage homes and claim lives. We pray about our problems when we go to sleep. When we wake up, they are often still there. Some days it feels as if God somewhere out there beyond the reach of the Hubble telescope, while our problems stay right here—up close and personal. Our hope to make it through each day isn’t placed in a dead guy. No! Christ is alive. He made you and me a promise: “Surely I am with you always to the very end of the age!” (Matthew 28:20). Our living Savior will never go back on that unexpected promise!

We desperately need Jesus’ unexpected help with death! Death is a reality for all of us. We all dread walking into the funeral home to make arrangements for a loved one who has died. Seeing their casket lowered into the grave looks so final. Looks and feelings can be deceiving. Jesus compared death to falling asleep. He went through it so we don’t have to be afraid of it. He fell asleep in death and woke up again on Easter morning. One day we will fall asleep in death. On that day, just like the thief on the cross, we will be with Jesus in heaven. On the last day Jesus will wake up our bodies. We will rise from our graves, just like Jesus did. Body and soul, reunited, unexpectedly, thanks to Jesus!
What are you expecting from your Easter celebration today? We usually expect some quality family time here and at home. We expect a great breakfast downstairs in the gym. We expect lots of music and excitement here in the worship service. Don’t forget all the unexpected gifts Jesus brought for you this morning. They have nothing to do with baskets and candy and bunnies! Jesus promises you today that all of your sins are forgiven—your guilt is gone! Best of all, you don’t have to worry about that trip to the funeral home and the cemetery. Jesus has defeated that enemy forever, turning death into the doorway to eternal life.

Keep on celebrating these Easter truths all year long. Turn to Jesus. Always Jesus. Only Jesus. Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed! Amen.

To God alone the glory!

Sermon edited from 2017 Lent kit: “Repent: Turn to Jesus!” by Aaron L. Christie. © 2016 Northwestern Publishing House, Milwaukee, Wisconsin.