The Death of Death
The Death of Death
There are moments in time when all of a sudden something happens and everything changes. There are so many examples of this that it's almost hard to pick. I was thinking about the movie The Lord of the Rings. In the second movie The Two Towers they're hauled up in Helms Deep, which is a protective cave. They're in there, and they're just trying to hold off the evil armies. Sure enough, it's going bad. It's going real bad. They're losing the battle. There's this one scene where all of the great warriors are there and they're deciding that they're just going to ride out for glory. They're going to die, but they're going to go out swinging. You're sitting there and you're thinking, Oh man, this is going really bad. They come on out and all of a sudden there's this scene where Gandalf the White shows up on the mountaintop, and the sun's coming up and he's got all of the horsemen with him. All of a sudden at that moment it just got real.
When all of a sudden in a moment everything changes, that's a powerful reality. I'm here to tell you the empty tomb of Jesus changes everything. The fact that that tomb is empty changes everything. Not only for us as individuals but for who we are, how we live, and why we live the way that we live.
God's work can't be stopped.
Jesus, the Pharisees, and the chief priests had issues. They're like the Democrats and the Republicans today. They just don't get along. Jesus was offensive to the chief priests and Pharisees because he undermined their authority. He was subversive to their power. To use a modern phrase, they thought Jesus was a royal pain. Everything about his ministry bothered them. The fact that the disliked tax collectors, the immoral harlots, and the uneducated common people all flocked to Jesus really bothered the religious people. They were blemishes to them. So they were tired of Jesus. They wanted this whole Jesus thing to be over. They remember when he was still alive he said he was going to be resurrected from the grave. So they go to Pilate.
It's interesting that the Jewish people were not allowed to use their own military. They had been under Roman rule for a number of decades at this point. So they had to go ask for permission. They go to Pilate and they say, "Listen. Can you secure the tomb? We don't want his disciples to come and steal him."
What this is teaching us is that you can't stop the work of God. The chief priests and the Pharisees they wanted to stop Jesus from being resurrected from the grave, and they thought, We're going to make a plan and there's absolutely no way that this is going to continue.
I think it's important that we remember that we can't stop the work of God because I think if we're all honest we all try in some ways, don't we. There are things going on, circumstances in our lives, situations where God wants to bear fruit in our lives, and we're, in a way, putting our proverbial foot down, Mm-mm. No way, Lord. You are not going to do that.
That's why one of the most common ideas in the Bible is the idea of surrender or trust. Many of us know what it's like to resist what God is doing. Just like the Pharisees and the chief priests we say, "God, this is unacceptable in my plans." For the Pharisees and the chief priests, Jesus was unacceptable to their plans. So they were trying every which way to stop what God was doing.
Notice what is said at the end of verse 65: "So that the last deception will be worse than the first." They're saying to Pilate, "Listen. The first deception that Jesus told people was that he was the Messiah. We don't believe he's the Messiah. That's bad. But you know what would be worse? If his disciples come and say he's resurrected from the grave. That would be a huge problem for us. So can you take care of this for us, Pilate?" Notice what Pilate says. "You have a guard. Go your way. Make it as secure as you know how."
I don't think it's by chance that this is the precursor to what happens next, because in verse 66 it says, "They went. They made the tomb secure, sealing the stone and setting the guard." In this verse we realize that at the tomb there were three obstacles to Jesus being resurrected.
First, there was a stone rolled in front of the door. Now, unlike today where we bury people in the ground at the graveyard or someone is cremated and there's a hole dug and they're put in that way or if they're cremated and there's a mausoleum. This was a cave that had a huge rock in front of the door. So there's a physical barrier, a physical obstacle, this huge rock, to the resurrection of Jesus.
Second, they sealed it. The idea of sealing showed the political authority of Pilate saying "This is all right that we seal this tomb." So the politics of the day said Jesus ain't coming out of that tomb.
Third, there's the guard set. Not only is there a physical obstacle and a political obstacle, but now there is a good, old-fashioned personal obstacle.
This is the set up for resurrection Sunday. They're trying to stop what God is doing, the work of God. In Matthew 28 we see that those obstacles don't work. This is that classic resurrection account. The simplest way to say it is "He is risen." Although there's all these obstacles, there's this big stone, there's the seal of Pilate, the guards are there, ain't nothing going to stop what God's doing. Ain't nothing stops that.
He is risen.
"After the Sabbath, on the first day of the week began at dawn …" The Jewish Sabbath is from sundown on Friday to sundown on Saturday. In that day after sundown on Saturday you don't really do anything. So now this is Sunday morning at dawn we have Mary Magdalene and the other Mary. They are coming to see the tomb. It's interesting that another one of the Gospel writers tells us that they had brought anointing spices. They weren't coming to see a resurrected Savior. They were coming to anoint the body of a dead One. They didn't realize that Joseph of Arimathea had tried to take care of it. Hastily, properly burying Jesus. So these women they're not coming to see a risen Savior. They show up, but in verse two, this sure just got real, "There was an earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone from the door and sat on top of it."
How many of you have ever been in an earthquake? It's kind of scary. I remember when we lived in the Bay Area, all of a sudden the house would start to shake, and you get frozen. But now there's an angel at the tomb. He just rolls the door away. His face is like lightning. What does he do? He sits down on top of it. You got to love the angel. It's the swag of the angel. You don't ever think about the angel having swag, but they do. He just plops down, and. "The guards shook for fear, and they became like dead men." They got frozen.
Notice what the angel says to the women. The angel says, "Don't be afraid. For I know that you seek Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen, as he said." Jesus told people he was going to be resurrected from the grave. Now I realize today, Easter Sunday, there's a lot of people who are thinking, You know what? I just don't believe that Jesus was resurrected from the grave. You know what? I have real reasons not to believe in the resurrection. Who can really believe that Jesus was dead and he came back to life again? I realize that's a legitimate argument. I held that argument. I didn't grow up in church, so I haven't always believed that Jesus rose from the grave.
Do you like to watch crime dramas? Every time you see a scene in the emergency room there's a moment when somebody flat lines, where all of a sudden their heart stops beating. Then what do they do? The people in the emergency room move into action. They go grab the AED, the automated external defibrillator. When somebody's heart stops they try and shock the heart to start again. Now do you guys believe in an AED? Do you believe those things would work? We all believe in an AED. It's the same thing. If mankind can figure out how to bring somebody back to life whose heart stopped beating, you don't think God knew how to do it first?
Think about all our objections to the things said in the Bible. I was talking to someone recently. "How can you believe in the virgin birth?" Easy. It's called In Vitro Fertilization. You can take an egg out of a woman. You can take some sperm. You put them in a little test tube. You can put that back in a woman who's never known a man she can have a baby. If humanity can figure out how to do that, don't you think God who created humanity can figure it out first?
Resuscitation back to life is normal. Now, don't get me wrong, though. Jesus is unique. Because everybody who gets resuscitated back to life at some point they die again, except for Jesus. I'm here to tell you the fact that Jesus was resurrected from the grave should not be an intellectual hurdle. Why? Because it happens all the time. Humans figured out how to do it. God knew first.
I want you to make sure that we all realize that Christianity would have never gotten off the ground two thousand years ago if they ever just produced the body. When all this stuff starts going on, he's resurrected from the grave. All they had to do was say, "No, no. His body is right here. Look. Here he is." This thing would have never gotten anywhere. But they weren't able to produce the body. Why? Because he wasn't there. The stone was removed. He was risen just like he said.
Come and see. Go and tell.
Now what happens next is exciting, because notice what the angel says to Mary and the other Mary. First the angel says, "Come and see." Then the angel says, "Go and tell." I think this is an important reality for us—that all of us need to come and see, and then we need to go and tell.
I realize as a pastor that many people only come to church on Easter and Christmas. It's like your twice-a-year duty to the Almighty. I understand why a lot of people don't come to church. I mean, think about it. The songs. They're good songs. Band's pretty good. But the talking head up in front is kind of annoying. After you hear him for a couple of weeks you figure you have heard everything he has to say. Then, we have to do this again?
The reason I think this is important is because the reason a lot of people don't like to come to church regularly is, as pastors we forget to equip people to come to church and then to be the church. There is this dual reality that you come and see, and then you go and tell. Oftentimes as pastors we can be really good at saying, "Come to church" rather than saying "We come together so that we can have a profound experience with the reality of the resurrection and now we want to see you join with God's story in this generation." It's not good enough just to come and see.
The angel doesn't say, "Listen, Mary and Mary, the tomb is empty. I got some folding chairs for you and some Arnold Palmers. Sit down. I've got some sandwiches. Relax." No. The angel says, "Come and see." They see and he says, "Now go and tell his disciples that this is all really happening." Then they start going, and they're excited, and all of a sudden Jesus shows up. He says, "Rejoice." They start worshiping him. Then what does he say? "Let's all hang out here and hug and sing Kumbaya forever?" He doesn't say that. He says, "Now go and tell my disciples to go into Galilee. I'm going to show myself to them."
We come and see so that you and I can have profound experiences with the reality of the resurrected Jesus. Once we have that experience we need to go and join God's story in the world. Coming to church only feels fulfilling when we are also simultaneously joining God's story in this world.
I want to encourage you and challenge you. There's nothing more fulfilling than after you have a profound experience with the resurrected Jesus than to put on that faith and be a part of changing the world in Jesus' name. That's where all this stuff gets worked out into reality. I can bore you with stories forever of people including myself who found God saying, "Listen. I want you to join me, and I want you to serve kids. I want you to serve students. I want you to serve people on the margins. I want you to serve business leaders who have everything but feel lost inside." When you find yourself in the story of God, not only coming and seeing but going and telling, then all of a sudden you get, "Oh, this is why we come to church, because it's a family reunion and then we scatter throughout the world blessing people in Jesus' name."
For some of you, you love Jesus. You've been following Jesus. For some of us as God's people we come and we don't serve, and all we do is we watch everyone else serving and then we think that we're supposed to be like the American Idol judges for how well they're serving. That's never healthy, is it? Simon Cowell he's kind of caustic. Right? I know he's not on American Idol anymore. You ever hear that guy sing? No. He can't sing, but he can sure make fun of everybody who can sing. I'm here to tell you. You'd rather be a singer trying than the guy sitting there picking on people who are trying.
How did Mary and Mary respond? They're both terrified and overwhelmed with joy. They were fearful and they were full of joy. When Jesus sees them he says, "Rejoice." then he says, "Don't be afraid." This Resurrection Sunday I believe that Jesus' counsel to you and I is exactly the same. First: Don't be afraid. We all know what it's like to be filled with fear. We all have it. Could we just be honest about that? We all struggle with fear. Why do we struggle with fear? Think about the word fear, f-e-a-r—false expectations appearing real. See, the reason you and I struggle with fear is because we think we understand what tomorrow's going to hold, so we have an expectation. The problem is it's false. But we can get little legs with it because it appears real. So our struggles with fear are real because there are just certain things that you and I are not in control of. There are certain things that you cannot say, "This is going to be the day of my last breath. This is going to be the day that I retire," because a million things are going to happen, unexpected things. So we have fear. But Jesus tells them "Don't be afraid, rejoice."
The presence of Jesus will change your fear to joy. Joy is not situational or circumstantial. Joy is a disposition of the heart that says, "God, you are God, and I trust you." I know there's many of you racked with fear. In the same way you choose fear you can choose to trust God and rejoice. From a Christian perspective, Christians with joy is the best testimony of the finished work of Jesus Christ. Grumpy Christianity is part of the problem. We should rejoice with unimaginable amounts of joy because he's risen.
In the twenty-first century west we realize that men and women are equal but different. Women are equally intelligent to men and maybe more so. Women have the same skills, although unique. So there's uniqueness, but men and women are equal. But in Jesus' culture, in the Roman culture women were not even allowed to testify in a court of law. I know that sounds crazy and archaic, and it is crazy and archaic because we don't value that. But in that day women were not allowed to testify in a court of law.
Now what's amazing for those of you who are skeptics about the Bible and you think, Oh, this is just some crazy wives' tale. If you're going to tell the story that Jesus is the resurrected Messiah and you want it to run forth with validity in first century Palestine, you do not have women be the ones who testify of the resurrection. They weren't even allowed to testify in a court of law, and they're the ones who are the apostles to the apostles, all the guys who God chose who Jesus walked with for three years. They were nowhere to be found. The women were there, and Jesus says, "Listen. You go tell my boys that I am alive."
If you wanted to write a story that was going to change the Roman Empire, you needed to take that out. It needed to be Peter. It needed to be John. It needed to be James and Andrew. But, no, it's Mary Magdalene and the other Mary. I mean, think about how powerful that is. If you want to write a story that's going to have some legs in that culture it's definitely not the gals sharing it. But they were the ones who were there, who saw. They were the apostles sent to the apostles saying, "He is resurrected from the grave."
Don't believe the cover-up.
In verse eleven we see that the officials tried to create a cover-up. Don't believe the cover-up! You can imagine. Mary and the other Mary are going to the apostles to tell them, "He is risen." The guards go to the chief priests and say, "You are never going to believe what happened." They tell them the whole story. "There was an earthquake, and there was this crazy angel, and he opened the door and he was sitting down on it. We freaked out. He's gone." The officials respond, "This is what we're going to do. We're going to pay you money, hush money, and we want you to tell them that the disciples came while they were sleeping and took the body away."
Now I hope you realize this is a bad cover up. This is like "The dog ate my homework." Because if this is true, not one but all the soldiers had to be asleep. Not only that, all of these soldiers had to sleep through an earthquake and construction. This would be like sleeping on ten Ambiens, and you don't do that. You don't wake up from that. But all these soldiers had to be asleep. All of them had to sleep through all of this mess. Even though they were sleeping and they missed the whole thing, they knew who did it? I don't have enough faith to believe that. Not only did they miss the whole thing and sleep through it, even though the stone got moved they knew who did it, too. It's just a cover up, because we don't want to have to deal with the fact that Jesus truly is alive today.
I believe that there's some of you who have been spending every ounce of your energy not to deal with the fact that that tomb is indeed empty. If Jesus did conquer death, then we have to deal with him. Don't miss the fact that your ambivalence to dealing with Jesus is still dealing with Jesus just the same. God created each one of us to have to deal with Jesus. It's the most important question in the world—What have you done with Jesus?
What's interesting about that question is that if Jesus is who he said he is the only proper response is absolute allegiance. Because straight up, if he conquered death, he's the only One who's ever done that. That's powerful, isn't it? The one teacher in history, the one philosopher, the one religious leader who is alive today, not just another dead one. I want to encourage you today. If you are here and you have never made that decision to align your life with the Giver and Sustainer of life. If he conquered the grave, you want to join him in that. If he conquered shame and brokenness, you want to join him in that. So do I. It's the only logical place to be—with Jesus.
I'm here to tell you, because I know what happens now. You say that and someone says, "Well, God will never accept me the way that I am." He accepts you exactly the way that you are. But you know what's awesome about who God is? He loves us too much to keep us the way we are. He's changing all of us. We never arrive. We're all in process. It's just a matter of if we're going to say, "God, I'm willing to let you do the work you want to do on me from inside, not the outside. I'm going to let you move in and change this life from the inside." God is not afraid of where you've been. What you'll find is that if you turn to Jesus today he has already been waiting for you to turn. Just come.
He was seen by many.
I'm going to close with these verses, verses 16 & 17. It says here, "Then the eleven disciples went away into Galilee, to the mountain which Jesus had appointed for them. When they saw him they worshiped him; but some doubted."
We're going to close today with this reality that he was seen by many. Not only did Mary and Mary see him, but the disciples do. They go over to Galilee, and Jesus reveals himself to them. It says, "Some worshiped him, but others still doubted." Now I'm going to turn to my Bible to 1 Corinthians 15. The Apostle Paul in verse 3 says this, "For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures." So it begins that Jesus died, and the Scriptures said he would do that. He goes on, "And that he was buried and that he rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, so that the resurrection was also testified in the word. He was seen by Cephas then the twelve." Cephas is Peter. So verse 5 is the exact thing we just read, that Peter and the disciples saw Jesus resurrected. Look at what it says verse 6: "After that he was seen by over five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain until the present. Some have fallen asleep. After that he was seen by James, then by all the apostles. Then last of all he was seen by me also, as one born out of due time."
You hear what Paul said? He said, "Look, not only did the apostles see him, but five hundred people saw him at one time, and many of them are alive right now." Now, we call this eyewitness testimony. Imagine this, you're here at Crossroads and you all wrote down "Fusco's wearing a white button down shirt." Now imagine in twenty years somebody says, "Uh-uh. Fusco wasn't wearing a white button down. We know Fusco doesn't wear button downs. He was wearing a Mighty Mouse T-shirt." Am I wearing a white button down shirt today? Yeah. People in twenty years can say whatever they want to about what I'm wearing today, but you're all here and you've seen it. We value eyewitness testimony, don't we? We realize that that is the most valid form of reality. Paul is saying, "Listen, we all saw him. Five hundred people saw him at one time, and many of them are still alive today. So no matter what people say in twenty-first century America or twentieth century America, it's all revisionist history." It's all saying Fusco had a Mohawk and a Mighty Mouse T-shirt on, on Easter. It's just not real. Just because people are scholars doesn't mean you can go back and rewrite what happened.
The reason why the empty tomb is so important is because Jesus, who did nothing wrong, conquered death. It's the death of death. Jesus murdered death finally. You and I are mortal, but if we put our faith and trust in Jesus we take on Jesus' immortality. You and I have corruption in our hearts, but as we believe in Jesus we take on his incorruption. We hit that point where it says, listen, "O death, where is your sting? Hell, where is the victory?" You know what? They lose. It's over. That's why he says, "We are more than conquerors." That we have the victory through Christ Jesus our Lord.
That's what Resurrection Sunday is all about. It's about the victory that Jesus won by conquering the grave. All he asks of you or anyone is that you would simply believe in his victory, that you would trust him. Then the Holy Spirit takes up residence inside you, and you begin to lean into that victory in your own life. If you're mortal, you want immortality. If you have corruption, you want incorruption to be gifted to you. All you have to do is believe upon Jesus. That's it. So this Resurrection Sunday, the choice is yours.
Daniel Fusco is the Lead Pastor of Crossroads Community Church in Vancouver, WA.