A Christ For All Seasons
Christmas and Easter! Those are the big ones, aren't they -- the days when everyone comes to church. I suppose that Christmas is the favorite. It is hard to compete with angels -- and a baby -- and shepherds -- and Wise Men. It is also hard to compete with presents under the tree -- and pumpkin pie.
It wasn't always so, you know. For most of history, Easter was the favorite. Christmas had to compete with Pentecost for second place.
But a person shouldn't have to choose between Christmas and Easter. Both are supremely important -- and both can be wonderfully fun. It has been a long time since I was a child, but I can still remember the Easter egg hunt. A few of the eggs were specially marked, and if you found a marked egg they gave you a dime. That doesn't sound like much now, but it was huge then. A dime would buy a lot of candy. At that Easter egg hunt, I found a marked egg. The shell was cracked, so I doubted that it was worth a dime -- but it was. What a special Easter!
But, of course, Easter is important, not because of Easter eggs, but because of Jesus' resurrection. That is really what we come to celebrate.
But why should we care about Jesus' resurrection? Why should we care about something that happened so long ago? How does that affect our lives? Don't we have more pressing issues to deal with -- wars and rumors of war -- budget deficits -- job problems -- marriage problems -- children problems -- roofs that leak -- cars that need fixing.
As they say, "When the alligators are biting your ankles, it isn't easy to remember that you came to drain the swamp."
And when you are out of work -- or having marital problems -- or caught up in any of the difficulties that threaten to undo us -- it isn't easy to remember that the resurrection of Jesus matters.
Or, perhaps, it matters too much. It might seem that the resurrection is one of those great issues so far above us that it doesn't affect our lives where the rubber hits the road.
I am reminded of the couple who had been married fifty years. Someone asked the man their secret of success, and he spoke about an agreement that they made early in their marriage. They agreed that he would make the major decisions and she would make the minor decisions. When asked for an example of a minor decision, he said, "Well, she got to choose where we would live and how many children we would have." When asked for an example of a major decision, he said, "I got to decide whether we should admit Red China to the U.N." Some of the great issues are so big that they seem irrelevant.
But the resurrection of Jesus is not like that! The resurrection of Jesus is important, because it shows us that God cares.
The resurrection is important, because it shows that God is willing to get involved in our lives -- is willing to help us -- is willing to get his hands dirty to solve our problems.
We usually talk about the resurrection as important because it breaks the bonds of death-- defeats the defeater -- makes it possible for us to live eternally. That is true! But sometimes, when we are struggling with day to day problems, it is difficult to care about eternal life. Our immediate concern is finding a job -- or getting out of debt -- or getting our marriage back on an even keel -- or helping our child through the teenage years.
But, if it is true that Jesus' resurrection prepares the way for eternal life -- and I believe that it is -- it is also true that Jesus' resurrection promises God in our everyday struggles -- it promises that God cares about every detail of our lives.
-- After all, the Jesus who rose from the dead was the same Jesus who healed a leper -- who gave a blind man his sight -- who healed a centurion's servant.
-- The Jesus who rose in splendor on Easter Sunday was the same Jesus who was born in a stable -- the same Jesus who had no place to lay his head -- the same Jesus who got along famously with sinners but not so well with religious people.
-- The Jesus who now lives in glory is the same Jesus who worked as a carpenter's helper in Nazareth -- who trudged the dusty roads of Galilee -- who endured nails in his hands and a sword in his side.
The Bible tells us that Jesus was tempted just like we are (Heb. 4:15). He lived through the rough and tumble of life, just like we do. He did it in a time when there was no air conditioning -- no indoor plumbing -- no central heat. He did it in a humble place -- where people were under the thumb of Roman soldiers. He had no radio or television to carry his message to the outlying lands.
In other words, Jesus came down from his home in heaven to live on this earth -- not in the best of human circumstances, but in the most ordinary circumstances.
If you and I were suddenly to be reduced to the kind of life that Jesus lived, we would think that God was punishing us for some terrible sin.
If we were to find ourselves living in a one-room house with no plumbing -- walking to work -- no telephones -- no television -- no Nintendo -- no books -- no soft bed -- we would be totally miserable. But that is the kind of life that Jesus lived.
And, if the way that Jesus lived seems difficult, consider the way that he died. It is difficult to imagine a death more terrible than crucifixion. Jesus' death demonstrated his determination to experience not just the ordinariness of our lives, but life at its worst -- death at its worst.
-- His death on a cross is testimony that he is with us in every experience -- every difficulty.
-- His resurrection is testimony that he can help us through every experience -- every difficulty. It tells us that he has extraordinary power to help us -- and that he will use it to help us.
Strangely enough, we are often open to Jesus' help only in the worst of circumstances -- when we are really desperate -- but Jesus wants to help us in every circumstance. You fathers and mothers know what I mean. You don't want your son or daughter to wait until they are in jail to give you a call. You want them to call whenever they have a problem -- whenever they need help or counsel -- before things get out of hand. In fact, you want them to call just to say hello.
And so it is with Jesus. Jesus wants to help us in every circumstance. Jesus wants to be there for us in good times and bad -- in big things and little -- in worship on Sunday and at work on Monday. Jesus wants to help us to make good decisions. He wants to help shape our lives. He wants to help us decide whom to marry. He wants to help us raise our children. Jesus' resurrection promises God's help in every situation of life.
And Jesus' resurrection promises God's help in death. The resurrection is God's promise of eternal life, which means more than living forever -- eternal life means living now AND forever in the presence of God.
In my years of ministry, (as little as that has been) I have seen people cope with the problems of life and the problem of death. I can tell you that resurrection faith makes a difference.
-- I have seen people of resurrection faith faced with difficulty. I am not going to tell you that lives are always simple -- but I will tell you this. They have a faith foundation that steadies them when trouble hits. They know that God loves them. At their best, they remember to ask, "What would Jesus do?" And when they act in faith, their faith helps them through the crisis. It keeps them going. It keeps them from making it worse. It gives them hope. It assures them that God is with them -- and that God will lead them through the valley into the sunshine beyond.
-- And I have seen people without faith faced with difficulty. Too often that is like watching a boat drifting on the water -- subject to every wave and current -- rudderless --helpless. You don't want to live like that. You want to live a life of Easter faith.
Today -- Easter -- is the first day of the rest of your life:
-- My prayer for you is that the Holy Spirit will touch your life here and now -- and give you an Easter faith.
-- My prayer is not that God will make your life easy, but that he will guide you with a steady hand through every difficulty.
-- My prayer is that, in life and in death, God will comfort you with his love and strengthen you with his presence.
-- My prayer is that your Easter faith will shine like a beacon on a mountaintop, reminding you from whence your help comes -- because your help comes from the Lord. That is the Easter promise -- your help comes from the Lord.