Luke 24:1-12 (Easter Sunday)
St. John, Galveston 4/17/2022
Rev. Alan Taylor
+ In Nomine Jesu +
Grace to you and peace, from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Sometime back, a prominent TV preacher said that any pastor worth his salt should expect to raise at least a couple of people from the dead over the course of his career. Being that I’ve been a pastor now for nearly 30 some years and that I haven’t raised a single person from the dead, I either need to get busy raising the dead, or perhaps I need to look for another career. That is, of course, if I were inclined to follow the advice of this televangelist.
Certainly, there are a number of instances in the Bible where people were raised from the dead. The prophet Elijah, for instance, raised from the son of a widow who had given him food during a severe drought. And the prophet Elisha, not to be outdone, restored the son of the Shunammite woman to life. The Gospel of Mark tells the story of Jairus’ daughter whom Jesus raised from the dead. And perhaps most famously, Jesus raised Lazarus, a man who had already been entombed for four days, from the grave.
Who can forget though the preaching-related fatality and resurrection recorded in the Book of Acts? At one point the Apostle Paul had preached so long and was apparently so boring that a listener, Eutychus by name, fell asleep and fell out a window to his death. Well, it wasn’t actually the fall that killed him. It was the abrupt landing. At any rate, Paul rushed down and restored him to life, preserving his reputation as a healer, if not as a preacher. I certainly hope that if I ever do raise someone from the dead it won’t be because I preached them to death. Come to think of it though, this particular incident didn’t seem to hurt Paul’s reputation any, did it?
In all seriousness, the various accounts in the Scriptures of people being raised from the dead and the insistence of some that every pastor should have to his credit at least a couple of instances in which he raised someone from the dead, indicates a reluctance, on our part, to believe in something we’ve never seen. In other words, when Elijah raised the son of the widow, people would say, “this is God’s prophet and he not only can raise the dead, but he has raised someone from the dead!” What the people were expected to believe was attested to by the miracles worked by the prophets and by other servants of God. They had, proof, if you will, of what they believed.
And, the fact is, you and I would love to have proof too, wouldn’t we? And yet, we are told that faith, “is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Still, we want proof. We want to see results. We want to see action, verification that we haven’t believed in vain. Take a look, some time, at the NY Times bestseller list. It seems that there are generally several books on the list about prayer, but ultimately about secrets for obtaining results in life through prayer, verification of faith, if you will. There’s a book titled, “The Financial Miracle Prayer,” and another one, apparently for the person who’s too busy to wait for a miracle, titled, “Healing the sick in 5 minutes.” And then, to sort of sum things up, there’s a book titled “Powerful Prayer Method for All Prayers.” It seems that we really do want to see to believe.
On the first Easter morning some women went to the tomb to anoint Jesus’ body with oil. It was a Jewish custom to do so. It was their way of confronting and of dealing with death. They didn’t deny it. Rather, they would hold the body of the deceased while they anointed it with oil and spices.
On this particular occasion, however, they saw that the stone had been rolled away from the tomb and the body of Jesus was not there. Amazed and frightened, they were reminded by two men, angels actually, that Jesus had risen from the dead just as He had told them He would. At that point they hurried back to the other disciples to tell them the good news. Luke then tells us that their words seemed to the other disciples, “like idle tales and they didn’t believe them.”
There it is again, proof…the seemingly insatiable human thirst for proof, to believe only what can be seen. It’s a nasty sin that dwells in all of us, something to repent of once again this Easter Sunday morning as we celebrate the resurrection of our Lord Jesus.
Eventually, all the disciples came to believe that Jesus had, in fact, risen from the grave. God’s Word accomplished the purpose for which it was sent. Reluctant hearts and minds were persuaded by a superior power to believe. What was not seen became the new reality. Death had been swallowed up in victory. On that day, the grave became but a portal through which the righteous would enter with Jesus into glory.
Jesus’ resurrection fundamentally changed the Christian view of death. By the way, I think recently we’ve moved in a direction that isn’t healthy in terms of how we deal with death. Christian funerals are beginning to be viewed as celebrations of life, as if death no longer brings with it grief and sorrow. When Jesus was raised from the dead, He certainly gave us reason to rejoice, even as we face the death of a loved one, but death still hits us hard. While we’re joyful that the one we loved in life is “in a better place,” the fact is, we still desperately want them to be here with us.
Jesus’ resurrection fundamentally changed the Christian view of death. As Paul wrote, “we grieve, but not as those who have NO HOPE. There is a hopeful grief. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.”
And so, seen or not seen, by the witness of the apostles and by the power of God’s Word, for centuries, Christians have confessed “I believe in the resurrection from the dead and in the life of the world to come.” It is a simple, and yet, precise confession of faith that allows each of us to live our lives with a new hope and with a new perspective. And, by the way, it’s a hope and perspective to be honored and celebrated the other 364 days out of the year too.
Several years ago, I received a phone call from a friend of mine, a seminary classmate. He called to tell me that his wife, of 47 years, had died and that her funeral would be on the Day of the Easter Vigil, yesterday. He was very composed, but I could hear the pain in his voice. He said, “my wife has gone to be with the Lord.” What an amazing way to speak of death! “My wife has gone to be with the Lord.” Death has become the portal through which the righteous, that is, those who have been clothed in baptism in the holiness and righteousness of Jesus, enter into His glory.
So, when I die, please don’t anyone raise me from the dead. If it’s all the same to you, I’ll wait for Jesus, who will raise me up on the last day.
“He brings me to the portal
That leads to bliss untold,
Whereon this rhyme immortal
Is found in script of gold:
“Who there My cross has shared
Finds here a crown prepared;
Who there with Me has died
Shall here be glorified.”
In Jesus’ name. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting. Amen.
+ Soli Deo Gloria +