Faithlife Sermons

Come Alive: The Power to Change

Come Alive (Holy Week 2020)  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  14:21
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Let us pray…Gracious, holy, redeeming God, we come today filled with awe and wonder at all that you accomplished that first Sunday morning nearly two thousand years ago. Here we are that many years later and we still shout, “He is Risen, He is Risen Indeed”. As we gather ourselves to hear a word of comfort for our world and our time as we reflect on the resurrection story, we ask you to bless us with open hearts, minds, ears, and spirits so that we may hear you and your small, still speaking voice in our ears this day, Amen!
Have you ever feared driving over a high or extremely long bridge? If so, you’re not alone. In fact, some people are so afraid of bridges that they will drive hours out of their way to avoid them. Others try to cross but have a panic attack in the middle of a bridge and can’t go on. They block traffic. Because of this the operators of some of the longest and highest spans in America now offer a driving service. On request, one of the bridge attendants will get behind the wheel and drive the car over the bridge.
In 1991 Michigan’s Timid Motorist Program assisted 830 drivers across the Mackinac Bridge, which is five miles long and rises two hundred feet above the water. At Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay Bridge, which is over four miles long and rises two hundred feet above the water, authorities took the wheel and helped one thousand fearful motorists.
Today, bridges aren’t the only things causing fear in people’s hearts. In any terrifying situation the way to get over the paralysis of fear is to do like these motorists—turn the wheel over to someone else. Turn the situation over to God and then trust him. You have to cross that bridge, but you’re not doing it alone, and God is the One in control. Larson, Craig Brian. 750 Engaging Illustrations for Preachers, Teachers & Writers. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2002. Print.
As we gather this day to explore the story of Jesus’ resurrection, let us explore what it means to fear and how we can overcome fear in our every day lives...

Some Background...

As we begin to reflect on the story of that Sunday morning, we need to step back just a bit and briefly take a look at the picture from a much broader perspective…so let’s start with what happens on Friday morning. After Jesus celebrated with his disciples by eating a meal and washing their feet, he and the disciples enter the Garden of Gethsemane. It is in this place that Jesus is handed over to the Roman Temple Guard. It is also at this point that the disciples who were with him, all scatter in fear. I can only imagine how they felt in that moment. But we are told that they fear facing arrest and so abandon Jesus. We then move into a time of Jesus being brought before those who would decide that he would be crucified. In the midst of these interactions, we hear the story of Peter’s 3 denials. It was in fear that Peter denied knowing Christ because, although he stayed, he did not want to face arrest either. As Jesus is carrying the cross to Calvary on his back, we hear the story of Joseph of Arimathea, who in fear of the Roman Guard, assists Jesus to carry the cross after he falls for the third time on the road. Now, flash forward to Jesus’ final moments...after Jesus breathes his last earthly breath, a Roman guard pierced his side to ensure that he was truly dead. What happens next is really important…out of fear of God, the Roman Guard proclaims that Jesus was the Son of God.
There are some similarities in these stories but there is one stark difference. All of the fear that I have mentioned to get us to this morning’s story, relates to what can happen to our humanly bodies at the hands of others with one exception…the Roman Guard. The guard’s fear comes out of fear of God, not the Roman/human authority to which he reported. This will hopefully help us in understanding what was happening at the time of Jesus’ resurrection because what I am seeing in this story for us today is really applicable to the time in which we are living right now. So, let’s jump into that next...
Matthew 28:2–4 NLT
Suddenly there was a great earthquake! For an angel of the Lord came down from heaven, rolled aside the stone, and sat on it. His face shone like lightning, and his clothing was as white as snow. The guards shook with fear when they saw him, and they fell into a dead faint.
What we know is that two Mary’s have gone to the garden tomb to visit it at the first chance they get. What they are feeling is probably anything but fear. What Matthew tells us is that there is an event that causes fear to envelope all those in this scene. I don’t know about all of you but I have felt one earthquake in my life and that was enough for me. It was about 8 or 9 years ago and I was serving a church in Lancaster when it happened. As I sat at my desk in my study that day, I distinctly remember feeling the floor beneath my feet roll. Not rattle, not shake, but I could physically feel the floor roll, like how an ocean wave rolls into the shoreline. It was the weirdest and most shocking feeling I think I have experienced in my life. I can remember sitting there going, I must be going crazy, did the floor just roll beneath my feet. And then it happened again and I realized what was happening. Struck still by fear, I did nothing but just sit there trying to figure out what was happening.
For me, this is kind of how I envision the Roman guards feeling when they witnessed the angel of God descending upon the tomb. But again, I want to remind you that their fear comes as a result of God’s influence on this scene. The men who were told to stand there and watch an empty tomb probably did not expect anything to happen, I mean how could it, right? That’s the thing to remember with God, just when we think we have it all figured out, something happens and our whole perception changes.
Now, let’s switch gears a bit because I want to focus on the women in the rest of our time together this morning. Can you imagine how they might have felt as they approached the tomb that morning. Here they were, secluded for 3 days (we need to remember that for Jews, the Sabbath begins on Friday at Sundown and ends on Saturday at sundown). What this means is that they have not been able to visit Jesus’ tomb or even watch over it to make sure no one does anything to the body. The body is sacred to them. So when they are able, they leave the comfort and safety of wherever they were staying to go watch the tomb. Now, Matthew does not tell us, like Luke does, that they went to anoint the body. Rather, Matthew merely says that they went to visit the tomb.
So how do you think these two women might have felt as they approached the tomb to feel the earthquake, watch an angel of God descend out of heaven, and witness the two men (of whom they were probably more afraid than anything) faint with fear? I can imagine that they might have had much anxiety, much fear, and a strong desire to run. Yet, the angel speaks to them in a calming, peaceful voice and says,
Matthew 28:5–6 NLT
Then the angel spoke to the women. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I know you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead, just as he said would happen. Come, see where his body was lying.
In my own mind, I am thinking, “Yeah right. You just came down out heaven looking like you do, sending an earthquake as you did, and I am supposed to not fear?!?” But here’s the thing, although we don’t truly know if it was the voice or the words, we have to make the leap that the Marys did not fear too much because they stayed and continued to listen. I am thinking that it was probably God’s voice of reassurance, at least in my mind, that convinced them not to move or to run away at that very moment, even though they might have wanted to. Matthew does tell us...
Matthew 28:8 NLT
The women ran quickly from the tomb. They were very frightened but also filled with great joy, and they rushed to give the disciples the angel’s message.
They were afraid and honestly, who among us would not have been. But the other piece of this story that I want us to get into our hearts this morning is what happens next...
Matthew 28:10 NLT
Then Jesus said to them, “Don’t be afraid! Go tell my brothers to leave for Galilee, and they will see me there.”
Jesus meets them where they were. Jesus could have easily waited to appear until the women were back with the disciples. Jesus could have waited to appear until all 11 of the disciples and the two who were on their way to Emmaus later that day, were all together in one place. But this is the greatest thing about being in relationship with God through Christ…God will meet us exactly where we are, not wait for us to get where we need to be before greeting us, but right where we are in the moment. And God says to each of us, “Don’t be afraid.” I have heard it quoted that these words, or something like them, appears over 300 times in the Bible. I have also heard others say, “If God says those words that many times in what we have written for us, don’t you think that you might want to listen to them?”

Reassurance for Today...

I get it. It’s hard to hear those words amid the crisis within which we find ourselves today. There is a lot to be afraid of. The thing is though, God will meet us exactly where we are and assure us that there is nothing to fear. Let’s put it into God’s terms for a moment and I am going to be a little brutally honest here…not apologizing, just giving you advance warning…when God gives us a command, we should be following. When Jesus showed us an example of what it means to love by washing the feet of the disciples, including Judas Iscariot who sold his life for 30 pieces of silver, we should be following. When God shows us that there is nothing to fear in death itself because through our baptism we too are resurrected to life with Christ. If Christ tells us that he went ahead of us to prepare a place for us, then we need to believe that is exactly what we have waiting for us.
Listen gang, what is happening around us is scary. We have every right to be afraid, but if Jesus promised us to have an eternal life beyond this earthly plain and because of our faith in him, we are guaranteed that place, why do we fear earthly things? I think it’s time for a change in our mindset, a change in how we are viewing this world and begin looking at how it was that first Sunday after Jesus’ death. Yes, there was fear and rightfully so, but there was also great hope. The resurrection happened, just as Jesus said it would. We have the promises he made to those 12 because we are here this morning to celebrate what it means to be in relationship with God and one another. As we move into the coming week, I think it is high time that we start living like those two women who ran to the disciples to tell them that Christ is Risen because Christ is Risen Indeed and through him, we have life eternal…Amen.
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