Believing the unbelievable

easter-sundayReading: Luke 24:1-35

Text: Luke 24:11

And their words seemed to them like idle tales, and they did not believe them.

Today 5th April is Easter Sunday. 

Today we commemorate the greatest event in the history of mankind, the resurrection of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.

And this is a joyful occasion, and I am sure that we all mean it when we wish each other a Happy Easter. And for Christians it means the joyful victory over the suffering, and the death and darkness of Good Friday.

However, when I again read through the account of the resurrection in the four Gospels I found that the first reaction of this mighty event was not joy, but perplexity and even fear. And instead of receiving the risen Lord with joy and jubilation, the disciples and followers of Jesus were terrified and dumbfounded, and they did not believe it.

Oh they had heard Jesus telling them what would happen, and they knew that He had told them all about it, but they had not understood the message. And therefore when it really happened, when they could see with their own eyes and hear with their own ears that what Jesus had predicted had come true, they were  dumbfounded, because that was something they had not expected to happen.

They had wept at the cross and on the way to the tomb, they had been disappointed at His death, but at least they had accepted it and had come to terms with the fact that He had died. But no one in their wildest dreams had ever expected that this was the way that Almighty God was working out His plan and purpose for a fallen world.

And yet it was, the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ was the culmination and the acceptance of the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross of Calvary. It was in accordance with God’s plan of salvation which He made even before the foundation of the earth was laid.

And although even today many people do not believe it, even today it has become an unbelievable fact of history for millions of people, for Christian believers it has become the foundation and the central fact of Christian history on which the Church is built. Without this fact there would not have been a Christian Church today.

The apostle Paul puts it so well in his letter to the Church at Corinth in chapter 15, where he says:

And if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty.

If there had been no resurrection my friends, we might as well not be here today to celebrate it, because my preaching would be empty, and your faith would be empty as well. You would believe in something that did not exist, our faith would be in things that have no eternal value. If we are Christians whose only hope is that God may give us a good time while we are on this earth, if that is all there is to it in our religion, then, according to the Bible we are to be pitied. Because in that case our faith will be in vain, and my preaching will also be in vain, it will be empty.

But now Christ is risen from the dead”, the Bible goes on to say, “and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.

The resurrection is true! And our faith is not in vain!

We do believe in a risen Christ, and we serve a living Saviour. The resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is the central fact of Christian history.

It is only believing Christians who put all their hopes and faith in a God who became human, and who literally died for His people, and was raised again in power and glory to rule His Church forever. And because Christ was raised from the dead, we know that the kingdom of heaven has broken into earth’s history.

God’s mighty power is at work in destroying sin, creating new lives, and preparing us for Jesus’ second coming. It is because of the resurrection that we know that death has been conquered and that we will live with Christ forever.

It is also that it is the resurrection which gives authority to the Church’s witness in the world. Our preaching will not be empty; it will not be in vain. We have a risen Lord to proclaim, who is alive and rules His kingdom.

Christ is for real, my friends, He is not legend, and the power that brought Him back to life is available to us too, so that we can witness and live for Him in an evil world.

You know, when people hear about the resurrection for the first time, they may react in different ways. And that is something we learn from the Bible account in the Gospel of Luke and in the passage that is now before us, Luke 24.

First there were the women we read about in the last two verses of the previous chapter, and this is what it says: “And the women who had come with Him from Galilee followed after, and they observed the tomb and how His body was laid. Then they returned and prepared spices and fragrant oils. And they rested on the Sabbath according to the commandment.”

They had stood at the cross, they had heard His last cry: “It is finished”, they had seen Him bowing down His head and give up the ghost. They knew that He had died, and when Joseph of Armithea received permission to give Jesus a proper burial, they were at the funeral and made sure that they knew where and how the body was laid. And after they had observed the Sabbath rest they returned to pay their last respect.

Now on the first day of the week, very early in the morning, they, and certain other women with them, came to the tomb bringing the spices which they had prepared. But they found the stone rolled away from the tomb. Then they went in and did not find the body of the Lord Jesus.

It was women who went first to the tomb to pay their last respect, and it was women who found that the tomb was empty. There was no Jesus, and when they stood there contemplating what to do next, suddenly the whole tomb was lit up, and they saw two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning.

Two heavenly beings and they spoke to them. It was angels who were the first to proclaim the Easter message:

He is not here; He has risen as He told you.

Jesus is alive, why are you looking for the living among the dead? 

You know, I can just imagine how those women must have felt when they saw those two angels instead of the body of Jesus. They were frightened, and they bowed their heads to the ground. But then they heard the message, then they heard the angels telling them that Jesus had risen from the dead.

And they lifted up their heads, and they remembered. They remembered that Jesus Himself had told them that all this was going to happen; they remembered that He also told them that on the third day He would be raised again. They remembered, and after the feelings of fear and frustration came the feeling of jubilation.

Jesus was alive; they would see Him again and hear Him again. And bubbling with excitement they must have run back to Jerusalem to tell the good news to the apostles.

Jesus is alive; He has risen from the death, exactly as He told us that He would. But then they got a shock, after all the joy and jubilation they were told: “Nonsense”.

As we can read in the words of our text: “And their words seemed to them like idle tales, and they did not believe them.” It sounded to them like nonsense and like idle tales.

And is it not often he same today, my friends, you preach the greatest news in the world, you tell people about the Lord Jesus Christ, preach the Gospel of salvation, and our words seemed to them like idle tales, and they do not believe us.

I am not going to preach a long sermon today, I know that you have heard it all before and that it is The Gospel truth. But I would like to mention the reaction of one man to the story of the women.

And that man was Peter of whom we read in the verse that follows our text: “But Peter arose and ran to the tomb; and stooping down, he saw the linen cloths lying by themselves; and he departed, marvelling to himself at what had happened”.

Peter did not take the story of the women for granted, but he also did not dismiss it out of hand, but he went and made sure for himself. And when he saw that what the women had told him could be true, he marvelled to himself. This was not faith in the resurrection of Jesus, but he marvelled at the possibility that it could be true.

And there are many people today who are like that, they marvel at the possibility that Christianity could be true, and that the message of salvation could be true, and who are willing to find out for themselves if this is so.

Peter did find out, but not until he met with the risen Christ, and assured Him that he did love Him, more than anything else in the world. And if anyone of us would like to make sure for themselves, they also need to meet with the living Christ, and not seek Him among the dead, but only where He can be found.

And we can find Him in prayer, or meet with Him in His house and among His people. And we can meet Him and hear Him speak to us in His Word, the Bible. That’s what Jesus did with the two disciples who were on their way to Emmaus, remember that story? You can find it in this same chapter of Luke we are dealing with at the moment.

Easter had made an impact on their lives, to such an extent that they were willing to talk about it, and to discuss it with one another. They were even willing to share it with a stranger who had joined them on the road.

But they had not understood the meaning of Easter. They had not understood that redemption can only come through sacrifice. And that forgiveness of sin can only be through the shedding of blood, they had not understood the Scriptures.

But then came Jesus to make sense out of things. Then came Jesus to explain everything and to put it all in the right perspective. And bit by little bit, He opened the Word of God to them and explained from the Scriptures why all these things had to happen in this particular way.

Jesus made sense out of the things they could not understand.

And, you know, my friends, He will do the same for us. Whenever there are situations in our life which make no sense to us, and which we can not understand, Jesus is willing to explain it to us. Whenever we are stuck for words in a spiritual conversation, Jesus will slip up beside us, and He will join that conversation, and He will explain the situation from the Word of God.

Because that is what He did with Cleopas and his friend, He joined the conversation. While they were talking and discussing with one another, Jesus came up and walked with them. Unexpected, He just slipped up beside them and joined the conversation. And they did not even recognise Him, not only because they were kept from recognising Him, as the Bible tells us, but also because they did not expect Him to be there.

For them Jesus was dead and buried and they had left the holy City completely defeated. And although the women had told them of the fact that Jesus was no longer in the grave, although they had heard about the resurrection story of the Angels, the whole situation seemed to those two men to have no explanation, their hopes and their dreams had been shattered.

And He needs to do this, my friends, because the story of Easter is the most unbelievable story in the whole world. And the cross of Jesus is still a stumbling block to many people today. And it is still foolishness to those who are perishing.

If Easter has made an impact on us, my friends, if the cross of Jesus Christ is the life giving symbol in our life, then, let’s talk about it, let’s proclaim it. Let us take this life giving message to our brothers and sisters who are living at the fringe of the Church. And, for goodness sake, my friends, let us be positive about it.

We’ve got something which they need, we have a risen Saviour to proclaim. 

For too long we have been deceiving people, by not being positive about what the Church has to offer. For too long we have flattered people with trivialities and with things that don’t matter. We have the living Word of God and the life saving Gospel of salvation in the Lord Jesus Christ. And what the Church needs most of all, my friends, is dedicated members, in whose life Easter has made an impact.

It needs members who are willing to work in harmony with one another. Members who are willing to sacrifice their time and money and talents and everything else for the well-being of others. It needs members who are so convinced of the truth of the Gospel that they can not keep it for themselves, but will do everything they can to share it with others.

To convince others of the truth of it, and to challenge them for their commitment. We need to stop pussy-footing the Gospel, my friends, we can no longer afford to soften the truth of the Gospel in order to please people, there is far too much at stake. And not just the well being of the Church, but the eternal well-being of our brothers and sisters  is at stake. And we all must be filled with a loving concern and reach out to them with the only thing that can be of lasting value and benefit to them, the Gospel of salvation in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Let us take this life giving message to our brothers and sisters who are living at the fringe of the Church.

You know, Jesus never softened the Gospel, He never deceived people.

When He noticed the negative way that Cleopas and his friend were talking, and when He noticed their unbelief, He rebuked them and said: “How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken”. And it is about time, my friends, that our Churches will do the same.

It’s about time that we also challenge people with the truth of the Gospel, and that we make clear to them that they need the Church, and that they need Jesus, and that they need salvation. And that is a task that is laid upon each and everyone of us. And if Easter has made an impact on us, if we do believe in the risen Lord, if Christ has laid His claim upon us, then this is a task we can never get away from.

Is it so with us, my friends? Is the impact of Easter and the realisation that Jesus is alive so great that we can not contain it and that we must share it?

Then I can promise you that it will be well with us. The Christian message is never fully ours until we have shared it with someone else. And if we do share it with others, then I can promise you that it will be well with our Church, because that is what the Church is all about, sharing our faith.

We will recognise Jesus for what He is, the risen Christ, the One who conquered death and the grave and even hell itself, and only because so that we may have life, life abundant, and life everlasting.

And to Him be all the glory and the praise, now and forever.    Amen!

Pastor-Walter-PosthumaThe Lord bless you and keep you,

The Lord makes His face to shine upon you

And be gracious unto you;

The Lord lift up His countenance upon you

And give you peace.   Amen.

by  Pastor Walter Posthuma Th.C. (Hon.HM)


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