Sermon 04-12-2020: “To My Father and Your Father”

April 15, 2020

Scripture: Luke 20:1-18

As much as I dislike this situation, there is something very fitting about preaching to an empty room on Easter Sunday. There are a few people here, of course, which is about how many showed up to the tomb on the first Easter Sunday. John’s gospel only mentions Mary Magdalene, but we know from the three other gospels that there were other women with Mary. The reason so few show up at Jesus’ tomb is simple: none of Jesus’ closest friends and disciples actually believed that Jesus would be resurrected. 

The women went to the tomb expecting to anoint Jesus’ body for burial. 

By the way, do you know why this was important? In ancient Judaism, burial was a two-step process. The first step was to bury the body in the tomb. And then one year later, after the body had decomposed, you would go back in the tomb, retrieve the bones, and put them in a bone box—or ossuary. And in the meantime, if someone else in your family died, you’d go and bury that body as well, in the same tomb. That’s why you would have a stone in front of the tomb that was made for rolling away. Tombs would be regularly opened and closed. 

And this may sound gross to us, but that’s why it was so important to carefully wrap the body, anoint the body, in spices and heavy perfume when you first buried it: in order to minimize the smell when you reopened the tomb later. That’s why the women showed up at the tomb on Easter Sunday morning. And that’s why no one else did

No one believed that Jesus was going to be resurrected!

I’ll never forget—seven or eight years ago—seeing best-selling author and atheist scientist Richard Dawkins being interviewed on TV, not long after he published his best-selling anti-God book called The God Delusion. The interviewer asked him how he explains the testimony and behavior of Jesus’ disciples after Jesus died if a resurrection didn’t occur. And he said, in his very smart-sounding English accent, “Oh, well… in the ancient world when charismatic leaders died, these sorts of legends about their being resurrected happened all the time!” I’m sure he’s a better scientist than historian because he’s completely wrong on history!

This popular myth is easy enough to refute from scripture: In Acts 17, Paul presents the gospel to some of the most learned, scholarly, philosophical men of the ancient world, in Athens. And his presentation is going pretty well—at least at first. But then he gets to verse 31 and says that God raised Jesus from the dead. Then the next verse: “Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked.” And this was the point at which Paul had to abruptly end his speech.

Well, hold on… If ancient people were so gullible, and they routinely believed that charismatic leaders were resurrected, why did these Athenians mock Paul? According to Richard Dawkins, they should have said, “Oh, yes… Of course, Paul. Resurrections happen to people all the time. Makes perfect sense!” But they mocked because people in the ancient world were not gullible. They knew that when people died, they stayed dead.

And so does Mary Magdalene. She finds the tomb empty, and notice she doesn’t say, “Hooray! Jesus has been resurrected, just like he said he would be”? No. She runs back and offers the other disciples the most likely explanation—that Jesus’ tomb had been robbed and his body stolen. 

This goes to show, contrary to a popular myth, that Mary and the other disciples were not gullible people. They were not easily persuaded that Jesus was resurrected. They knew from personal experience and common sense and the medical science of their day that when people died, they stayed dead. Besides, while many Jews did believe in a resurrection—it was something that happened to everyone all at once, at the end of history. Prior to Jesus’ resurrection, no Jew ever believed it happened to one person in the middle of history. That was against their religion—and all of Jesus’ disciples were orthodox Jews. 

What would have caused them to completely revise their understanding their core religious beliefs? Nothing other than the fact that they were convinced that it really happened! Jesus was resurrected.

There were, after all, dozens of would-be messiahs a century before and a century after Jesus lived. Like Jesus, they were charismatic leaders. Like Jesus they had devoted followers who loved and believed in them. Like Jesus, they were killed by the Romans. Yet not one time did any of their followers claim that their messiah had been resurrected. Not once! It only happened after Jesus died. 

I wonder why? Because in the case of Jesus alone, his disciples were convinced that he was resurrected.So convinced, in fact, that most of these disciples would later lay down their lives for their belief that Jesus had been resurrected. And you may say, “Yes, but people die for false religious beliefs all the time—what about the 9/11 terrorists? Well, sure, people get martyred false religious beliefs—but they don’t do so while knowing that those beliefs are false.

I say this because many skeptics of the resurrection want to say that the disciples were part of a conspiracy: they stole the body to convince the world that he was resurrected; they knew that it wasn’t true. But if so, why would they die for that belief? They wouldn’t!

I could go on. There’s much historical evidence that the resurrection really happened, and I love talking about this stuff. Instead, I’ll leave you with one more interesting and hard-to-explain fact that corroborates the truth of what the gospels report. It’s this… In today’s scripture, as in the other three gospels, the first eyewitnesses to the empty tomb and the resurrection were women

If the disciples of Jesus wanted to invent a story about Jesus being resurrected, they would never use the eyewitness testimony of women. Why? Because in this very patriarchal, chauvinistic culture of the first century, a woman’s testimony was not considered trustworthy. In fact, it wasn’t even admissible in a court of law. So if you wanted people to believe you when you said that Jesus was resurrected, you wouldn’t tell the story like this… It’s considered embarrassing to the cause of the Christian movement. A second-century Roman opponent of Christianity named Celsus even complained that the resurrection couldn’t be believed because it was a tale first told by a bunch of “hysterical women.” 

So the only reason why John and the other apostles and evangelists told the story like this—with women as the heroes of the story—is because of the inconvenient fact that it also happened to be true! Which lended credibility to the resurrection itself!

I believe in the bodily resurrection of Jesus. And I suspect most of you watching this at home or on your devices believe in it, too. The most important question that I can answer this morning is, What does Christ’s resurrection mean

And the most important thing it means is this: Christ accomplished everything he set out to accomplish on Good Friday! 

Consider the apostle Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 15:17: “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.” Paul himself would say that the most important meaning of the resurrection is what God do on the cross, and the forgiveness of sins. Because Christ was resurrected, as Paul argues, we can know for sure our sins are forgiven.

Where do we see this meaning in today’s scripture? First, look at Mary’s interaction with the two angels in v. 12: “And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet.” One at the head and one at the feet. Why this detail? Bible scholars and theologians tell us that this is a very deliberate detail, which points us back to… the Ark of the Covenant.

We all know about the Ark of the Covenant because we’ve all seen Raiders of the Lost Ark. We know, for instance, that if you remove the lid on the Ark and you’re a Nazi, an angel will strike you down dead—he will melt your face off, right? I don’t know if that’s true; that isn’t in the Bible. But I do know that this lid is highly significant. It was solid gold, and it was called the “Mercy Seat.” It depicted two angels on the Mercy Seat, one at each end. See Exodus 25:18 and Leviticus 16. Once a year, on the Day of Atonement, the high priest would enter the Holy of Holies, the most sacred place on earth—where the Spirit of God dwelt in a special way—and the high priest would sprinkle the blood of a sacrificed bull and goat on this lid—the Mercy Seat—in order to turn away God’s wrath and make atonement for his and the people’s sins.

We remember Hebrews 9:22: “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.”

So it’s no accident that these two angels are standing at each end of the place where Jesus’ own sacrificed body had been laying. This is meant to remind Mary and the rest of us of the Mercy Seat. It’s as if the angels were saying to Mary, “Look: the blood of Christ has accomplished what the high priest and the sacrificial system in the Old Testament could only point to or symbolize. When the high priest sprinkled blood on the Mercy Seat, he was pointing forward to Christ. Christ suffered once for our sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring us to God. Christ died for us while we were still sinners, proving God’s love for us. Christ received the penalty for all our sins—past, present, and future—nailing them to the cross. Christ said, in agony of the cross, “It is finished,” meaning Christ did everything necessary bring us into a saving relationship with God! And the resurrection proves that those words are true.

And the resurrection proves that!

But not only that: See v. 17: Jesus said to Mary, “Go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” 

The resurrection proves that we are now part of God’s family. We are now beloved sons and daughters of our heavenly Father, through faith in Christ.

If we weren’t so familiar with the story, this ought to surprise us…

After all, if Jesus were like us, what might Jesus have told Mary to say to these disciples? Considering how most of them abandoned Jesus in his hour of greatest need; considering how one of them—his closest disciple—even denied knowing Jesus three times; considering how none of his disciples believed him when he told them that he would be crucified and resurrected; considering how they were nowhere to be seen while he was suffering on the cross; considering how, even now, when they should be celebrating Easter Sunday, they’re instead cowering in fear in the upper room behind a locked door… 

Considering all these things, we might expect Jesus to say to Mary, “I want you to go to those no-good, lousy, sinful, lying, cowardly bunch of  traitors who call themselves my disciples, and I want you to warn them that I’m giving them one more chance not to mess things up! One more chance and then I’m through with them!”

That’s what he might have said… That’s what they deserved to hear. But no… Instead, he talks about the change in status that has happened as a result of his death and resurrection: “Go to my brothers,” he says. “Tell them I’m going see my Father and your Father.”

There’s no anger toward these disciples. No threats… No punishment… Only acceptance… only love without condition… only grace. Do you see that? 

The resurrection means—get this! The resurrection means that the One whom Jesus called “my Father” loves you exactly as much, in exactly the same way, as he loves his only begotten Son. See John 17:23 and 26. You’re a member of God’s family by adoption, whereas Jesus was his Father’s only begotten Son. But I can speak from personal experience here: I was adopted. I have an  older sister who was not adopted. My parents loved me every bit as much as they loved my older sister! The love was just the same. And so it is with you when you become part of God’s family.

My mom… I wish you had known her… I wish she had a chance to know y’all. She was special. She told me not long before she died that after she and Dad adopted me, she lived in fear—for about two years… she lived in fear that someone from the government, someone from the adoption agency, was going to show up at the door, “I’m sorry, Mrs. White… There’s been a mistake. We’re going to have to take Brent back, give him to someone else.”

Mom said, “I don’t know why I was afraid that was going to happen. Because I wasn’t going to let that happen. No one was going to take you away from me. I would have fought with all my might to keep you! Because that’s how much I love you.”

The resurrection means that the love that God our Father has for you is like that… only it’s perfect… only it’s infinitely stronger… 

And God did fight to make you his own—he fought Satan and all the forces of evil that exist in the universe… he fought them, and even died for you as a result.

But the resurrection… it proves that he fought and won!

And if our Father loves you like that, do you think he’s going to let anything or anyone take you away from him? Do you think he’s going to let anything or anyone cause you any ultimate harm?

“For I am sure,” the apostle Paul says, “that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

The resurrection proves that. Amen?

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