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Gospel: John 20:19-31 (NIV)
- Hymn CW 448 “Now Let the Heavens Be Joyful”
- Hymn CW 938 “This Is the Feast”
- Hymn CW 456:1-2, 4-8 “O Sons and Daughters of the King”
- Handbell Choir “The Strife is O’er”
- Hymn CW 800:4,5 “How Firm a Foundation”
I recently read a news report about an Army veteran named John Crabtree who had been receiving military benefits from the government. He was wounded in Vietnam and on permanent disability. One day, out of the blue, he received an official notification from the government of his own death. Needless to say, this was quite a shock!
John sat down and wrote the government a letter stating that he was, indeed, very much alive and would like to continue to receive his benefits. The letter did no good. He then tried calling the government. Have you ever tried calling the government? This required the patience of Job and the persistence of Noah! The phone calls, of course, didn’t change the situation either. Finally, as a last resort, the veteran contacted the local television station, which ran a human-interest story about his situation and he finally started receiving his benefits again.
During the interview, the reported asked him, “How do you feel about this whole ordeal?” The veteran shifted in his chair and said, “Well, I feel frustrated by it. After all, have you ever tried to prove that you’re alive?”
How maddening it was for this veteran to prove he was actually alive! It took him many months to finally convince the government that he wasn’t dead nor was he ever dead. Jesus also had a difficult time convincing people that he was actually alive. But Jesus wasn’t declared dead because of an error in paperwork. Jesus was declared dead because he was dead. Countless pints of his blood oozed out of His helpless body during His merciless flogging. Extreme fatigue from sleep deprivation and blood loss made His body powerless. The crushing weight of His own body collapsing His lungs so that He asphyxiated; He suffocated upon the cross. Medically and truly, Jesus died.
The Roman soldiers, whose own lives depended upon making sure people were successfully and painfully executed, made certain Christ was one-hundred percent dead. They checked if Christ Jesus was faking dead by driving a spear into His side. The pain alone would have caused anyone to scream or at least to tense up his body. Christ’s lifeless body gave no reaction. As soon as they removed the thick blade, blood and water poured out. This also proved Christ’s death. If a body is alive, it naturally closes shut an open wound. Christ’s body was dead; it no longer maintained that defense system of closing an open wound and, therefore, whatever was inside (blood and water) poured out of Christ’s corpse. If He was alive, the would would’ve closed and only blood would’ve been present working to clot the wound. It didn’t. Christ was dead, one-hundred percent dead.
After Easter Sunday, that all changed. After Easter Sunday, Christ’s body was one-hundred percent alive! How would Christ prove that He was alive when everyone knew He was dead? Hundreds of people cried out in unison for His death shouting, “Crucify Him!” Thousands actually saw His beatings, witnessed his death march carrying the cross and gazed upon His bloodied body handing on the accursed tree. Tens of thousands heard the news of Christ’s death the following day as they attended the celebration of Passover. Hundreds of thousands knew within days of Christ’s death when all those Jewish pilgrims left Jerusalem and told their families, neighbors and friends about their trip to Jerusalem and how the sun was dark for three hours during the middle of the day as the Man from Nazareth was crucified and killed. The Man they thought would overthrow Rome was dead. Case closed. The tomb was sealed. The Pharisees were dancing in the street. Pilate was thrilled the potential riot was calmed. And the Christians mourned in unquenchable anguish.
Look at the disciples. Like young children scared of the boogieman, they cowered in the locked upper room. They entombed themselves behind four walls and a barricaded door. When voices were heard outside their bodies froze in place, the hair on their arms shot straight up to attention and their pulses raced producing a cold sweat. These cowering Christians would have collapsed in fear if even a stray cat scratched at their door!
These were the bold disciples? Peter once cut off the ear of the servant of the high priest. Now, he sat in a corner rocking in fear. James and John once were toted as the “sons of thunder” because of their tempers and their courage. Now, they rang their hands together as they paced within their self-made cage. All of the disciples at one time agreed with Thomas’ declaration, “Let us also go [to Jerusalem] that we may die with Him.” (John 11:16) Now, they all were quaking in fear because they were convinced that the Pharisees were going to nail them to the cross just like they did to Jesus.
This is still AFTER they heard the news of Christ’s resurrection! The reports had come in. Mary Magdalene told them the angel’s message, “He is not here; He has risen, just as He said. Come and see the place where He lay.” (Matthew 28:6) Peter and John did some hard-hitting investigative work on the scene. They ran to the tomb and saw the neatly folded up burial cloths. The body had not been stolen. This was not a crime scene; it was a resurrection scene! Yet, it was too good to be true that Christ was actually alive. Sure, He raised Jairus’ daughter. Yes, Jesus raised the son of widow at Nain. Absolutely positive He raised Lazarus. But to raise Himself? “Nope.” They thought. “It’s too good to be true. In fact, it’s impossible.” Christ had to prove it to them that He was alive.
What does Christ have to do to prove to you that He is alive and well and in control of all things? Would it help if He walked through this closed and into this room? Would it help if He personally showed you His hands and side? What will it take to convince you that Christ is risen? Our lives don’t always show God that we’re convinced. If any one of us helped a lifeguard pull a lifeless body out of a pool and you witnessed that lifeguard perform a successful mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, wouldn’t you be so wowed by that ordeal that you’d tell all your friends, family and coworkers about it? “It was the craziest thing! This guy was dead. His lungs were filled with water. He had no pulse but then he came back to life again.”
Where’s that zeal for Christ’s resurrection? Shouldn’t you be shouting out loud to everyone you know and people you don’t, “It was the craziest thing! This guy was dead. Jesus was dead. His lungs were filled with carbon dioxide. He was dead for three days and then He brought Himself back to life!” Shouldn’t you be so wowed by the resurrection that you tell everyone you meet about Christ?
What makes this Sunday any different from last Sunday? Last Sunday was the yearly celebration of Easter. Salem Lutheran Church was packed with people! Did you notice all the empty spaces in the church today? Why? Has the joy of the resurrection left already? Was the resurrection proof proclaimed on Easter Sunday not convincing enough that so many people left? And before you think, “Yeah, those slackers. Where are they? I’m here!” Okay, before we get self-righteous…did you invited people to church today? Did you have as much joy and anticipation in your heart when you walked into church today as you did last Sunday? Probably not. Isn’t that slacking in the joy of the resurrection? What will it take to convince you that Christ is alive and well and is ruling over your heart every Sunday, every day? What will it take to convince you that Christ’s resurrection is an every day part of your life—both in the mundane times and the tragic times?
I want to tell you the story of the Cerak and Van Ryn families. I remember seeing their story on the Today Show about 15 years ago. They were also on Dateline. At that time, there was a horrific accident involving a van with college aged students. Sadly, half of the students died on the scene. One survivor was in a coma for five weeks. Phone calls were made in the middle of the night—the phone call that every parent dreads. The Cerak family was notified that their daughter died in the crash. The Van Ryn family found out their daughter was in a coma.
But there was a mix up, a mistaken identity. Because of the intensity of the accident and with purses thrown around the van, Whitney Cerak was falsely identified as Laura Van Ryn. The Van Ryn family spent every minute of every day for five weeks bedside with someone they thought was their daughter but was not. Over one hundred people came to visit the badly bruised girl and no one knew the mix up.
Once they discovered what happened, don’t you think these families would be bitter at God? Don’t you think these families would sue the police department and coroner for this mistaken identity and the heartache it caused both families? They weren’t. They didn’t. They both trusted the power and peace of the resurrection of Jesus! When the Cerak relied on the truth of Jesus’ resurrection to get them through the five weeks they thought their daughter had died. When they found out their daughter was alive, they ministered then to the Van Ryn family giving them the same peace and comfort through the power of Easter. When the Van Ryn family found out their daughter actually passed, they found peace in Jesus and a new connection to Van Ryn family.
They spoke so boldly and beautifully about the peace of Jesus’ resurrection on the Today Show that NBC doesn’t have that video available online anymore. I wanted to show it to you. But millions saw it when it aired. Their faith in Jesus and Easter moved them through tragedy into the triumph of peace.
And so do you. You have faith. The truth of Christ’s resurrection already resides in your heart. Follow it! Live in it! Draw peace from it! No longer shall Easter be the only day that your heart swells with joy in the resurrection. No longer shall you hide your faith before strangers as if they would crucify you for boldly believing. No longer shall you secretly worry and cower before the thought of your own pending death. Christ is alive and well and is ruling over heaven and earth and death at this very moment. It’s not too good to be true. It’s so good that it is true. It’s so perfect, wonderful, fantastic that Christ is risen because it changes everything! Christ’s resurrection proves that God was truly pleased with His Son and His sacrifice for your sins. Christ’s resurrection proves that God is now truly pleased with you and He has made you perfect before the Lord. It is oh so good that the resurrection is true! Christ is Risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! Amen.