Easter Dawn Worship

Sunday, March 31, 2024

Watch the livestream beginning at 7:00 a.m. on Sunday. After the livestream is finished, the video will be available to watch at any time.

First Lesson: Isaiah 25:6-9 (NIV)
Second Lesson:  1 Corinthians 15:19-26 (NIV)

Gospel: Mark 16:1-8  (NIV)


  • Hymn: CW 443 “Awake, My Heart, With Gladness”
  • Psalm: 118E “Let Us Rejoice”
  • Hymn: CW 447 ” Christ is Risen, He is Risen Indeed”
  • Hymn: CW 938 “This Is The Feast”
  • Hymn: CW 510 “In Christ Alone”
  • Hymn: CW 453 “The Tomb is Empty”

Easter Dawn           March 31, 2024
Mark 16:1-8              Pastor Wolfe

God on Trial: Vindication

About this time last year, actress Gwyneth Paltrow and a man named Terry Sanderson went to trial over a ski crash that had happened six years earlier. Both claimed the other was to blame: he sued for damages, and she sued for defamation. In the end, the jury decided in favor of the actress. Google it and you’ll find a headline from exactly 1 year ago today that read “Gwyneth Paltrow gets vindication at ski collision trial.” A few months before that, an Illinois man was released from prison after serving nearly 30 years for murder. A fresh examination of DNA evidence proved he wasn’t the killer. “I feel vindicated,” he said.

To be vindicated is to be cleared of guilt. To be proven right in a sense. After weeks of seeing God on trial in our Lenten series today we see Jesus vindicated. Cleared of guilt. Proven right.

After what took place on Good Friday, it sure looked like Jesus was wrong. He had been put on trial by the Jewish leaders and declared guilty of blasphemy. They convinced Pontius Pilate to hand down the sentence of death by crucifixion. This was not only one of the most painful ways to die, but one of the most shameful and disgraceful forms of execution ever dreamed up. It was usually reserved for the worst of criminals. Murderers, traitors, the worst.

As Jesus hung between two criminals, bleeding and dying, he looked so weak and powerless. If he were as good as he claimed to be, wouldn’t God rescue him? If he were God as he claimed to be, couldn’t he escape? The crowds certainly didn’t hide those accusations. But nothing happened. The women who had followed him watched as he breathed his last—like every other person who had ever hung on a cross. When it was over, they watched as Joseph of Arimathea took Jesus’ lifeless body and buried it in his own tomb. So much had happened so quickly. And it didn’t look good for Jesus. As darkness settled over the land, there was silence, and the women were left alone with their thoughts.

In a modern courtroom trial after a lengthy jury deliberation, a defendant might say, “Those were the longest hours of my life. It seemed like time was standing still.” There’s no way of knowing exactly what was going through the minds of Jesus’ followers in those hours, but we can imagine: sadness, confusion, doubt, fear.

Maybe you can relate. Someone you loved deeply has died. The funeral is over, and your friends and family are on their way home. As darkness settles on the day, it’s too quiet, and you feel very alone. That’s when the question come. When the emotions flow. “Lord, I feel so lost and confused. I just don’t understand.”

It’s not just the death of a loved one that can leave us feeling that way. Thoughts of our own death are always lurking in the background. Whether or not we’re conscious of it, there’s this sense that time is running out, our bodies are failing, or our minds are fading. Even for the young, there is anxiety about making the right choices—friends, love, college, and career. It’s the vertigo of a million possibilities and the recognition that time is limited. And considering the shortness of this brief life, our sinful choices appear all the greater. How we let down our Savior! Jesus wasn’t guilty, but we sure are.

While we might not know exactly what the women were thinking on Easter morning, Mark tells us what they were doing. At break of dawn, they went to the tomb to anoint Jesus’ body—one final act of love for their teacher. But when they got there, they saw the stone rolled away and a young man in a white robe. “‘Don’t be alarmed,’ he said. ‘You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him.’”

What did this mean? Even though Jesus had predicted his death and resurrection on several occasions, it seems it was too much to process. If the women had expected Jesus to be alive, they wouldn’t have gone to his tomb to anoint his body! Mark continues, “Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb.” But soon it would sink in. Later that day, Jesus would appear to them…and to Peter…and to two disciples on the road to Emmaus…and to ten of the disciples behind locked doors. And a week later to the same ten plus Thomas. And then to five hundred believers at once. The early Sunday reports of an Easter miracle were corroborated again and again by eyewitnesses. All willing to take the stand and testify. The good news was true: Jesus’ life ended in life, not in death. His headline read: “Victory! Vindication!”

Paul spells it out in 1 Corinthians chapter 15. If Jesus had not risen, we would have no reason to believe that he was anything more than a fraud, another criminal dead from crucifixion. We would have no reason to think his words of forgiveness carried any weight. And we surely wouldn’t expect to have any better fate after death. “If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead” (1 Corinthians 15:19,20).

Easter is vindication. Jesus looked like a criminal hanging on that cross, but there was a reason he didn’t come down from it and prove himself. He loved us too much to do that. He wouldn’t because his work wasn’t complete. Jesus didn’t come down from the cross to prove that he was the Son of God because he knew he was about to do something even better: He rose from the dead! On Easter, Jesus’ claim about himself was proven right. He is the God-man, the Messiah that he claimed to be. His resurrection is vindication for against every slander and every doubt about who he is.

Easter is vindication for what he did as well. It wasn’t just the charge nailed above his head that made Jesus look guilty. It wasn’t the criminals on either side or the taunts of the crowds alone that gave that impression. It was also his cry from the depths of punishment: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46). Jesus did have guilt on the cross—not his own but ours. We heard the purpose of the cross on Good Friday: The Lord laid on him the iniquity of us all. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us. God placed our sins on Jesus and he carried their guilt in our place. By raising his Son from the dead, the Father put the exclamation point on Jesus’ own words from the cross: “It is finished.” Easter is vindication! Jesus did what he came to do. Sins are paid for—yours and mine.

There’s a hint of that forgiveness in the angel’s message to the women: “Go, tell his disciples and Peter” (Mark 16:7). Why Peter? Remember the last thing that Peter had done to Jesus: he denied even knowing him. But Jesus’ resurrection means that sin is forgiven, and Jesus wanted Peter to know it. Later, Jesus would personally forgive and reinstate him. “You denied me, but I will never forsake you.” In this way Peter is the pattern for ever sinner. Jesus loves and forgives us too, even for the times we’ve doubted him, for our sinful choices under pressure, for our fear and despair. Jesus would tell us too, “You have worried, doubted, and done all kinds of things, but never will I leave or forsake you.”

You see, Easter is vindication also for those who place their hope in Jesus—like Job of long ago who declared, “I know that my redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand on the earth . . . yet in my flesh I will see God.” (Job 19:25,26). Jesus’ resurrection is proof that Job was right. If Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, we do have hope beyond this life. Again in our reading from 1 Corinthians Paul called Jesus the “firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Corinthians 15:20). The firstfruits were a symbol, a promise, of the whole harvest to come. So Jesus’ resurrection is the promise of resurrection for all his people: “Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him” (1 Corinthians 15:23). That day will be our ultimate vindication.

But even now, Easter is vindication for us as we live as people judged by this world. There has been a lot of talk about the decline of the Christian church in the United States. God is on trial, and so are we as his children. In our country’s short history there has never been a time with greater challenges to the Christian faith. But know this: as long as Jesus lives, so does his Church. We may be afflicted by temptation and trouble and harassed by a hostile world. But we are on a triumphal march to glory.

We know what God has proclaimed: Sin is forgiven. Death is defeated. Jesus is Lord. Christ and his people have been put on trial, but Easter brings the final verdict: Vindication in victory. Alleluia! Amen.

Recent Worship Services