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Easter Sunday

Then Came Sunday

What an emotional week it had been.

On Palm Sunday, there had been great excitement as thousands of people had greeted Jesus on His way to and into Jerusalem, but the excitement had been dispelled by Jesus who, shortly after arriving in the city, had violently and loudly chased money changers and sellers of animals out of the Temple. However, the excitement had been rekindled as children in the Temple had begun to once again honor Jesus, showing their excitement that He was with them.

On Maundy Thursday, Jesus had a quiet meal with His disciples, but that had been followed by Jesus and His disciples going to the Garden of Gethsemane where Jesus prayed, three times asking God to come up with some way for Him to become the Savior other than dieing. Each time, though, Jesus also agreed to God’s plan if crucifixion remained God’s will.

After praying, Jesus had been arrested. 

He had been bound and taken to six trials, the first three were before Jewish leaders, the last three were before Roman authorities.

During the trials, Jesus was falsely accused, physically and emotionally mistreated, and eventually sentenced to death. 

Then Jesus had been crucified. Mid-morning on Good Friday, Jesus had been nailed to a cross. The cross was set up. Jesus was left to die. 

While on the cross, Jesus said some things, including a prayer asking God to forgive His tormentors, granting salvation to someone else being crucified that day, and making sure His mother and one of His disciples would be taken care of.

Six hours later, Jesus died. His body was taken from the cross and prepared for burial - shortly before 6:00 that Friday evening, Jesus was buried. The tomb had been closed. Soon it had been sealed. 

Saturday turned out to be a quiet day. A day that gave the followers of Jesus time to think about all that had happened. To think of the wild roller coaster ride of emotions - from joy to anger, from a quiet meal to Jesus being arrested, from watching Him being crucified to hearing Him say from the cross things that indicated He still loved people, then watching Him be buried.

All the hopes the followers of Jesus had for a good spiritual future were squelched. What a horrible day Saturday was.

Then came Sunday.

Early on the first Easter Sunday morning, I cannot help but think the sadness felt by the followers of Jesus on Saturday was still the mood.

That was true for some of the women who had been followers of Jesus. It was also true for the men who had been Jesus’ disciples.

For the women, they were, Sunday morning, concerned that Jesus might not have been properly prepared for burial. Two men - Joseph, who had asked for and was given Jesus’ body, and Nicodemus, who offered to help him - had prepared Jesus before He was buried, but I think the women wanted to make sure those two men had done the preparation properly. If they had not, it would have been dishonoring to Jesus. The women did not want that to be the case.

Early Sunday morning, with their concern filling their minds and their hearts, some of the women who had followed Jesus left where they had spent the night. They had with them the spices needed to prepare Jesus for burial. As mentioned, Joseph and Nicodemus had already taken care of Jesus, but the women wanted to make sure. With the needed spices, the women left where they were and started walking to where Jesus had been buried.

How the women intended to get to Jesus, I do not know. Remember the tomb had been closed. A big stone had been rolled to cover the tomb’s entrance. The women were not strong enough to move the stone. And the tomb had been sealed, which had been done by Roman authorities. No one in or out of his or her right mind ever dreamed of breaking an official Roman seal.

How the women intended to do what they wanted to do, I do not know. Apparently, neither did they know since one of the things they talked about as they walked was who was going to open the tomb for them.

Nonetheless,  the women continued on their way. Guess what. When they arrived at the tomb, the tomb was open. The stone closing it had been moved. The official government seal was broken, the ends blowing in the wind. The Roman soldiers who were supposed to be guarding the tomb? They were laying on the ground like dead men.

Actually, the guards were not dead. They just appeared to be. What had overtaken them was fear. Such great fear they had fainted. Fear that had happened when suddenly an angel came from Heaven.

Some accounts state there were two angels, but the point is that some being from Heaven had come, grabbed the stone, and, with no concerns at all about the weight of the stone or Roman authority, had moved the stone away from the tomb’s entrance.

When the women arrived at the open tomb, the angel talked to them, telling them to not be afraid. The angel added he knew they were looking for Jesus, but, the angel said, “He is not here.” Why? It was because He had risen from the dead. 

The angel asked the women to remember Jesus had told His followers that He would die, but that on the third day after His death and burial, He would come back to life. The angel proclaimed that is what Jesus had said and that is what had happened.

I wonder if the women believed what the angel told them. If not, that is certainly understandable. After all, they knew Jesus had died and been buried. And the emotions of the past several days must have muffled their thinking skills.

Knowing they might not believe him, the angel told the women, “Come. Look inside the tomb. See that what I say is true, that Jesus is no longer in the tomb.”

The women accepted the invitation. They stepped closer to the tomb. They did look into it. 

Indeed, Jesus was not there, which should have brought an explosion of joy to them. But still the women were troubled, thinking someone must have come and stolen Jesus’ body. With that, they never would be able to make sure He had been properly cared for. They would never, any time in the future, be able to pay their respects to Jesus.

The women were still sad, but the angel then gave them an assignment. Even though they did not yet believe Jesus had risen from the dead, the angel told them to go tell the disciples what they had seen, which was an empty tomb.

That assignment was a critical one for three reasons. It was critical because it gave the women something to do, because the disciples needed to know what had happened, and because of very important wording. The assignment was, “Go tell the disciples - and Peter - that the Lord has risen from the dead.”

“And Peter.” How wonderful those words were. You see, shortly before Jesus had been  arrested Thursday night, He had predicted the disciples would desert Him. Right away, Peter spoke up, denying he would ever leave Jesus. Peter went so far as to promise to die with Jesus if it came to that. Yet Peter had left Jesus when He was arrested, which means Peter’s bragging was a whole lot more impressive than his actions.

And there is this. When Jesus was enduring one of his six trials, Peter was in the nearby courtyard. At least he was that close to Jesus, but not once, not twice, but three times, when identified as being a follower of Jesus, Peter had denied such a relationship. The first time he claimed he did not understand the woman who identified him was saying. The second time he claimed he did not even know Jesus. The third time Peter added to his denial the curse on himself that if he was lying, he should be struck dead on the spot.

God did not strike Peter dead, but Peter did lie. He did deny Jesus three times. That had also happened Thursday night. It added more heartache to him as Friday, then Saturday turned into Sunday morning, which makes the angel’s words so very wonderful. “Tell the disciples - and Peter.”

Can we imagine the joy those angelic words brought to Peter when, a bit later, he heard them? He had failed, but Jesus must have forgiven him. Jesus was apparently giving him another chance. What a wonderful message that was.

The women obeyed what the angel told them to do. They went from the tomb to where the disciples were. They announced to the disciples - and Peter - what they had been told and what they had seen, which was the empty tomb. 

However, the disciples were not so sure they believed what the women told them. It sounded fishy since they, too, knew Jesus had die and been buried. It sounded like maybe the women were hallucinating. And remember women then were not as respected as they are now. The disciples were not sure they could believe what the women told them.

What the women said sounded very far-fetched, but two of the disciples - Peter and John - decided it was at least worth checking out. So they left where they were. 

As it is recorded, they did not just go. They ran, partially, perhaps, because of the fear of being seen in public. After Jesus was killed, it had to be assumed the disciples might be next. The faster they ran, the less time they would out in the open. They ran also because of excitement.

Peter and John ran to the tomb in which Jesus had been buried. When they arrived, they noticed the tomb was open.

At first, John stopped at the tomb’s entrance, but he stooped down and looked inside the tomb.

Guess what he saw. Just as the women had reported, there was no body in the tomb. There were the two pieces of burial clothes that had been around Jesus, but what had been around Jesus’ body was empty, laying in kind of a folded manner where the body had been. What had been around Jesus’ head was empty, rolled up where the head had been.

John stopped at the tomb’s entrance, but Peter, ever the adventurous one, went into the tomb. He, too, saw what John saw. He, too, like John and the women, did not see Jesus.

Then John joined Peter inside the tomb. Suddenly it occurred to John that Jesus had said something about coming back to life on the third day following His death. This was the third day. Since Jesus was no longer in His tomb, maybe what Jesus had predicted had come to pas.

It is not stated whether Peter believed, but John did. I cannot help but think Peter soon joined him in believing. Together, back with the rest of the disciples, both Peter and John must have at least begun to convince the others Jesus was once again alive. 

I imagine the women who had been the first ones to visit the empty tomb were feeling good that their report had been confirmed and that they were now being believed, but can we sense the change in mood? A gloomy, fearful, sad Saturday had turned into a troubling Sunday morning, but then some women and then Peter and John had seen the tomb empty. 

Shortly after Peter and John left the tomb, one of the women actually saw Jesus alive. Later that day, two more people received the wonderful news of Jesus being alive. 

Easter afternoon, two men were walking to the nearby town of Emmaus. As they traveled, they were joined by another walker. 

That one just suddenly appeared with them. The one who joined the two men noticed they looked sad. He asked why. They said it was because of all “the terrible things that had happened recently in Jerusalem.” 

“What things?” the newcomer asked. “What things?” the men responded. “Things about Jesus. The one we thought was the Savior, but who was put to death and buried.” 

The hope those two men had had was gone. That is why they were sad. And, they added, there was something else. That morning a report had begun circulating about the tomb where Jesus had been buried being empty. Some women said the tomb was empty because Jesus was once again alive, but that did not make sense. It just added to the confusion.

With that, their companion of the two men took over the conversation, explaining to them how, in all the Scripture, what had happened to Jesus was the fulfillment of prophecy about the Savior.

The two men were impressed with their companion. So impressed they asked him to stay with them that night.

Their hospitality included an evening meal. During the meal, the one who had joined the two men took some bread and broke it. 

At that very instant, the men recognized their guest. Maybe it was nail scars on His hands, but immediately the men knew who their guest was. They knew He was Jesus, who was very much alive.

Right away, Jesus was gone. He disappeared from the house as quickly as He had appeared to the men on the road, but the men were so excited they got up from the table and headed back to Jerusalem, anxious to tell the disciples what they had seen.

While reporting to the disciples what had happened, Jesus, who, a short time earlier, had suddenly left the men in Emmaus, suddenly appeared to the disciples. All the disciples who were there, along with the two from Emmaus, saw Jesus. They all knew He was alive.

*       *       *       *       *

Again, what a roller coaster of emotions - a wonderful entry into Jerusalem, Jesus cleansing the Temple, children continuing to praise Him, a quiet meal with His disciples, being arrested, tried, crucified, and buried, a day to think about all that had happened. 

Then came Sunday. The first Easter. A day of discovering the tomb was empty, which at first caused confusion. But then seeing Jesus alive. 

What a roller coaster of emotions. And you know what? The roller coaster did not stop for the followers of Jesus.

The disciples, including Peter, went on to have very important, very effective ministries for Jesus. In those ministries, they had some great successes, but they also had some very difficult times as they worked to get the Christian church started, as some to whom they would preach and minister would not listen to them and sometimes actively worked against them, as all but John were eventually be put to death because of their faith in Jesus.

Living as Christians was not going to be easy for the followers who saw the empty tomb and who saw Jesus alive on Easter. It is clear, is it not, that living as Christians now is not always easy with society seemingly so often so disinterested in and sometimes actively against anything Christian? As there are groups like ISIS who are so dedicated to killing Christians. A.s we so often have to battle our own human natures to stay true to the Lord

Living as Christians was not easy for Jesus’ disciples 2000 years ago. It is not easy for us now.

But we can survive. We will survive the same way the original disciples survived. We will survive as we continue to know and celebrate and proclaim and live our lives in ways that show our appreciation for the fact Jesus is the Risen Savior. The one who died for my sins - your sins - the sins of all mankind. The one who will and does forgive the sins of any and all who repent of their sins and accept Jesus as the Savior. The one who proved His ministry was not just in words. His ministry was also in action. Action proved by Him rising from the tomb, which happened on the first Easter Sunday morning. A coming back to life that will last forever, helping us day by day and year by year, now and always.

In a moment we will sing the closing song for today’s Easter celebration. Before that, one critical question. Do you believe in Jesus? That He is the Son of God, that He did die for your sins, that He did rise from the dead? 

Have you asked Him to forgive you, which is necessary for Him to be able to help you?Have you accepted His forgiveness? Have you asked Him to be the Lord - the leader - the guide - of your life? 

If you do know Jesus as the Risen Savior, great. That means you know the reason for today’s celebration.

If not, please - please - accept Jesus now. Ask Him into your life now. Pray for that so you, too, can celebrate. Not just today, but always. On good days and difficult or dangerous days alike.

Accept Jesus. Make sure you know the Risen Savior. Take care of that today.

The closing song for this Easter service is Because He Lives. We will sing the chorus, verse 1, then the chorus again. Let’s sing with joy.

Because He lives I can face tomorrow,

Because He lives all fear is gone;

Because I know He holds the future,

And life is worth the living just because He live.

God sent His Son, they called Him Jesus,

He came to love, heal, and forgive;

He lived and died to buy my pardon,

An empty grave is there to prove my Savior lives.

Because He lives I can face tomorrow,

Because He lives all fear is gone;

Because I know He hold the future,

And life is worth the living just because He lives.

The benediction is a unison reading of some very good news. Let’s join together. 

The Lord is risen!

He is risen indeed!

The Lord is risen!

He is risen indeed!

The Lord is risen!

Praise to the Risen Savior! 

The Lord is risen!