Easter Celebration


Author: Gareth Russell Date: Sunday, April 16, 2017 Campus:

New Beginnings
Easter Sunday 16th April 2017
Grand Union Vineyard Church

On Good Friday, Jesus was crucified. He was crucified in the Roman authorities eyes because he was a threat, a rebel, an inconvenient influence on the people. In God’s eyes Jesus was crucified because in order for God to be in relationship with us, he needed a sacrifice for our sin. He loved us so much that he chose not to punish us for our sin but instead punish Jesus.

In Jesus death, our sin was forgiven. Our past forgotten. Our relationship with God restored.

This morning we are celebrating that Jesus is alive.

On Easter Sunday in 1960, the great Methodist preacher W.E. Sangster lay speechless and helpless. He was able, however, to write a message to his daughter, Margaret: ‘It is terrible to wake up on Easter morning and have no voice with which to shout, “He is Risen”. But it would be still more terrible to have a voice and not want to shout.”

This morning I have a voice, and I want to shout that Jesus is risen.

If we understand this and what it means, this morning should be a morning of joy and celebration. A morning of thankfulness, a morning of victory.

This morning we are here to celebrate that death was defeated in those 3 days. This morning we are here to follow Christ’s example and give our lives again as living sacrifices.

This morning we are Easter people. People who are living in the light of resurrection. People who once were lost, now are found, and are giving our lives to worship our Saviour. This morning we are worshipping Jesus, the Son of God, the Prince of Peace and the only one who was Mighty to Save.

From the Message paraphrase of the Bible, in the first book Paul wrote to the Corinthians, it reads: “If there’s no resurrection for Christ, everything we have told you is smoke and mirrors, and everything you’ve staked your life on is smoke and mirrors...And if Christ wasn’t raised, then all you’re doing is wandering about in the dark, as lost as ever...If all we get out of Christ is a little inspiration for a few short years, we’re a pretty sorry lot.”

Christopher Hitchens, who was for many years one of the most famous and vocal atheists this country ever produced once said this: “I would say that if you don't believe that Jesus of Nazareth was the Christ and Messiah, and that he rose again from the dead and by his sacrifice our sins are forgiven, you're really not in any meaningful sense a Christian.”

This morning, I am hear to tell you that there was resurrection. That Jesus did defeat death. That he rose three days after being crucified and that, instead of a little inspiration for a few short years, we are promised salvation for eternity.

Let’s read Mark 16:1-8.

The account of the resurrection appears in each of the Gospel books, but this morning we are going to focus on Mark.

Because each of the gospel accounts were pitched at different audiences, there are some slight variations in the detail, but all four Gospels agree that women were the first to discover the empty tomb and to receive the news of the resurrection.

In Mark we are told there were three: Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of Jesus, and Salome.

In Matthew only two are named: Mary Magdalene and the “other Mary”

In Luke, there are more: “Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them.”

John, only mentions Mary Magdalene by name, although others are implied.

However, it is not the names here that are important, it is the sex of the individuals.

No first century Gospel writer would ever have dreamt of mentioning women as witnesses of the empty tomb unless it was true.

Why? Because in those days women did not count.

The rabbis used to say, “Sooner let the words of the Law be burt than delivered to women”

In the Jewish morning prayer there was a line in which the men said, “Blessed art thou, O Lord our God, King of the universe, who hast not made me a woman.”

However, God was not, and is not bound by prejudice. God gave value where society chose to ignore, discount, or devalue.

God loves turning our prejudices on their head.

God’s Kingdom is an upside down kingdom.

An unexpected Kingdom.

God is not interested in what is fashionable.

What looks good.

What is perceived to have worldly value.

He says “Whatever you did for the least of these, you did for me”

He says “Love your enemy”

The resurrection story is challenging the social norms. What is seen as acceptable discrimination.

Even in a post modern world, where every opinion is perceived to be acceptable for the individual who believes it, we still have prejudice. We still see people with world eyes. We still attribute value based on what others think.

This is not the Kingdom God builds.

In this moment, with these women, the individuals who were valued least within society, were the first to meet the angel, hear the good news of Jesus resurrection, and were given the mandate to tell the disciples.

God uses those who society think unusable.

God speaks to those, who society ignores.

God loves those, who are made by others to feel unloveable.

This is our God. If this is God’s heart, it must also be our heart. We must prioritise the least, the last and the lost. We must love those who others see as of no worth. We must submit to those around us, who are poor, orphaned, widowed, lonely, downcast.

We must be their champion.

The Easter story is not for the middle classes. The Easter story is for everyone.

It is not only the fact that the women were highlighted in this account that is of interest, it is also the actions of the women in this story are fascinating.

Clearly they were living in confusion and fear. The man who had been their inspiration, their leader, and their hope was now dead.

Their minds were messed up. Their emotions must have been all over the place.

But, in even in that mental haze, they wanted to show their devotion and love.
Because of the climate of Palestine, it was important to cover the dead body in spices for preservation. However Joseph of Arimethea and Nicodemus had already covered Jesus body in over 34kg of spices after placing the body in the tomb.

There was no real need for the women to cover the body a second time. And in the Palestinian climate, to cover the body after two days would have likely been a useless exercise in any case as the damage would have already been done.

And this mental haze was not just limited to the spices, they were rushing to a tomb that was covered by a heavy stone - so heavy that none of them, nor even their collective efforts would be able to shift.

According to one New Testament manuscript, twenty men could hardly move it.

As they travelled to the tomb, they ask each other repeatedly, “how exactly are we going to get to the body once we get there”

However, they wanted to show their love. They still wanted to serve their Saviour. They wanted to do whatever they could for him, even in death.

They showed their devotion.

These women were still with Jesus, even when the disciples had disowned him.

They were committed.

Even if their actions were a little eccentric or misunderstood, the motivation for their actions was a love of Jesus.

And that is a great challenge for each one of us.

Are we willing to look foolish for Jesus?

Even when it might mean taking a risk, having a conversation with someone close to you, making a meal for someone who you really don’t like, offering to pray for someone who you have only just met?

Even if you have to be a little uncomfortable, are you willing to take that step as a result of your devotion to Jesus?

God commands us to be obedient.

He has called us to love Him and love others.

Are we obeying that call?

If we do, the stones that we cannot move in our own strength, God will move. He is faithful.

The things that represent the old way of living, can be defeated and the stone rolled away to give us new life, new hope, and total freedom.

Will there continue to be times where God feels distant? Maybe.

But that is not the reality. He is always with us, always guiding us, always loving us. He is faithful.

Always.

And, he is always with us despite our faults.

In verse 7 we read the angel telling the women, “Go tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you to Galilee. There you will see him just as he told you.’”

Why was Peter singled out?

Was he more special than the others?

If it had read, “Go tell Peter and the disciples...” then yes, it may have been surmised that Peter was being highlighted as the special one.

But there is a different emphasis here. Peter is not to be forgotten. “Go and tell his disciples and don’t forget Peter”

In some ways, Peter is being singled out, but because he was the disciple who had most failed Jesus.

Put yourself in Peter’s shoes.

Jesus was your life. He was your mentor. He was your friend. He was the Messiah.

You had told Jesus that you would never disown him.

You had been so disgusted even at the thought of it.

You had been told by Jesus that not only, would you disown him but you would do it three times in a matter of hours.

That prophecy becomes a reality and in Jesus’ hour of need, you have disowned him, rejected him.

You feel sick. You feel guilt. You feel ashamed of yourself.

Jesus is now dead. All you had, is lost.

But then, the message comes. The women have seen the tomb. The tomb was empty. The burial clothes were laid on the floor.

An angel was there.

The angel had a message.

Jesus is alive. And, Peter, he wanted you to know this.

Jesus is alive. Peter, he asked that you particularly be aware.

Jesus is alive. Hope is alive. I am alive.

This message from the angel would have assured Peter of Jesus’ love for him and of Jesus’ forgiveness for those moments of rejection.

In one way or other, we have all failed Jesus.

Not just in our old life. But also, since we have called ourselves followers of Him.

We have all failed him.

The message that the angel brings to us this morning, is that there is a new beginning. There is fresh hope, forgiveness is real, and we can again find renewal.
We don’t deserve a message of hope.Yet God, in his love acts beyond what we deserve.

The message of Easter is a message of grace. There is a God who loves, forgives, and restores. Easter is a time of new beginnings.