Easter Sunday Sermon
Happy Ressurection Sunday… or Easter Sunday. I hope the video works out. This is the first time I have tried this. If it doesn’t work, I will share the written sermon.
God is a revealing God. In many religions, their god is one who reveals himself or herself to a few special people— perhaps people who are especially pious or religious or enlightened or wise. Even today in Christianity we tend to think in those terms. We think that certain deserving people are given the gift to receive secret or special revelation from God.
Easter Sunday reminds us that God does not work in ways that make sense to people. But just to make this clear let’s look at other places in the Bible.
God revealed himself to Moses, a child of slaves, a murderer and a shepherd. Yet God called him, and he freed the Israelite people and gave them the Mosaic Law. Understand that being a shepherd was not a respected role. It was the role of the young, the poor, and the unreliable. In the Bible, a man named Jesse was a sheep farmer… but we find that he was not the one taking care of the sheep as a shepherd. It was not his firstborn son, nor his second, nor third, fourth, fifth, or sixth. It was his seventh son, the youngest who had to be with the sheep. And yet it was that youngest son, named David, that God called to be the king of Israel, and writer of many Psalms.
At Christmas we are reminded of this fact that God does not reveal Himself to the people we think should be informed first. We might think that the Jewish religious or government leaders should first hear. Yet, who were the ones to hear? A young woman named Mary, probably in her upper teens…. A man named Joseph who was a builder… both of them from a generally unimportant village in a generally unimportant little Province of the Roman Empire. Who else? Well, there were more shepherds… people of the lower class. The Magi… foreigners… not even Jews. In fact, it was these foreigners who told the religious and government leaders about the arrival of the Messiah.
Jesus chose as His disciples other men from Galilee… some fishermen… a tax collector… one or two political revolutionaries— not people who were respected. John tells of Jesus sharing His good news with a respected Jewish religious leader… Nicodemus. But then in the very next chapter, John records Jesus sharing His good news with a barren Samaritan woman… at the time she would be seen by the Jews as a despised person in a despised gender of a despised race. As John records it, it is not clear whether Nicodemus understood what is being said, and whether any good came from the conversation, But John notes that the Samaritan woman not only understood what was told her, but that she shared the message with her village and the whole village responded joyously to the message of Jesus.
So when we get to the Resurrection… the absolute proof that Jesus was not punished by God for being a false prophet or a blasphemer, but a reliable and favored voice of God the Father, who would be the first have it revealed to them. Our first temptation may again be that the resurrected Messiah would reveal Himself to the religious and governmental leaders of the Jews. He was identified as “the King” or Messiah, or chosen leader of the Jews, so it would make sense that the Jewish leaders would receive the news first.
However, we might say, No, Jesus would first reveal Himself to the Twelve… His core group of disciples… the men who joined Him in the Lord’s Last Supper.
The first to find out about the resurrection were not Religious leaders or Jewish leaders, or even the Twelve disciples of Christ.
The first to find out about the resurrection were non-Jews. They were Roman soldiers, Not followers of Christ, not followers of the Jewish Law, not followers of Jehovah God. They were foreigners and most likely pagan.
Matthew 28 says, verses 2 through 4.
“There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men.”
The story continues with the Roman soldiers in verses 11 to 15.
Some of the guards went into the city and reported to the chief priests everything that had happened. When the chief priests had met with the elders and devised a plan, they gave the soldiers a large sum of money, telling them, “You are to say, “His disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep.” If this report gets to the governor, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.”
So the soldeirs took the money and did as they were instructed. And this story has been widely circulated among the Jews to this very day.
God chose to reveal the resurrection of Christ first to these Roman guards. This was not necessary. Jesus could have resurrected without an earthquake, without an angel, without a flash of lightning, and without the grave opened up for all to see. This was done for the benefit of the soldiers, so they could be the ones to tell the Jewish leaders.
The second group that God revealed the resurrection of Jesus to were the disciples of Jesus. However, it was not the Twelve disciples. Actually, it was revealed to the women who were disciples of Jesus. Different accounts give different information of who these women were.
John mentions Mary Magdalene. Matthew mentions Mary Magdalene and another Mary. Mark mentions Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome. Luke mentions Mary Magdalene, Mary the Mother of James, Joanna, and “other wormen.” So we know at least four by name. Mary Magdalene, another Mary who was probably the mother of James the Less, Salome the mother of John, and Joanna one of the financial supporters of Jesus.
Reading from Matthew 28 again, verse 1 says,
After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb.
Continuing with verse 5-10
The angel said to the women, ‘Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quckly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.”
So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them. ‘Greetings,’ he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”
Much like the situation with the guards. The resurrection did not have to be shown to the women. The stone did not need to be rolled away. The angel did not need to speak to the women. God did not need the women to tell the Twelve where to meet. And Jesus did not need to show himself to the women at all. But Christ chose to reveal Himself first to the women and have them carry a message to the Twelve.
What can we gain from this?
First, God does not reveal Himself the way we expect. As noted earlier, God does not normally reveal Himself primarily to the wise or powerful or even the good. The story of God is not how some awesome and important person was so great that God decided to start communicating with Him. Rather, the story of God is about God… who reveals Himself to all, and potentially through all. God does not speak to those who deserve talking to God any more than that God saves those who deserve to be saved. Jesus is as likely or even more likely to talk to a poor and despised woman of a despised people group as He is to talk to a great religious leader, or a king or a Roman governor.
Second, In God’s Kingdom there is a new order. Much like the magi, foreign pagans, sharing the good news of the coming of the Messiah to King Herod and the Jewish religious leaders, and the Roman guards sharing the good news of the resurrection of Christ to the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem, A time has arrived when the message of salvation is no longer the “property” of the Jews. It is now available to the Samaritans, the Persians, the Romans, the Greeks, all peoples as much as it is to the Jews.
There is a new order within society as well. Jesus welcomed Mary of Bethany to be trained at His feet along with the Twelve, even while Martha was saying this was wrong. In His resurrection, Jesus chose to reveal Himself to the women to teach the men instead of the other way around.
The Kingdom of God is not about foreign or local, The Kingdom of God is not about male or female. The Kingdom of God is not about slave or free. God is God of all, and works in and through those in whom He chooses.
That is a good message for us. Frankly, I am not special… at least no more special than anyone else. And I am not one to judge, but I think most of us would say that we are not that special. We are just ordinary people. Yet, ordinary people are exactly the people that God is looking for.
Just a few weeks later, God uses 120 ordinary men and women, who with the empowerment of the Holy Spirit of God go out and share with hundreds of ordinary people in many many different languages, and God uses them to change the world.
It seems strange to celebrate a Day of such joy for all people, yet celebrating it separate from each other as many struggle. Some suffer from the Covid-19 virus. Some suffer from loss of job or business. Other peoples have their own struggles. In Kenya there is a plague of locusts destroying crops in their path. In many places churches are being destroyed and Christians persecuted or even killed. Many families have their own private tragedies. Yet this is what the early church did. They suffered greatly, and yet they celebrated. The disciples of Jesus were so convinced of the resurrection of Christ that they could serve confidently and even joyously— not ignoring the suffering, but finding meaning in that suffering. I pray that you can rejoice in the good news of the Risen Savior.
Let us pray. “Our Father and our God, we thank you for sending your Son, not only to die for us… but to live again as demonstration of your plan for us. That we can live again. And we thank you that you have revealed yourself to each of us, at different times and different ways… not because we have earned that blessing, but because of your desire to bless us and bless the world through us. Lord guide us, empower us, and enbolden us to find ways to share your message in this time of fear, loneliness, and disconnection. We thank you for what you have done in history, and what you are doing in our lives this very day. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen