The Audacity of Easter
The Audacity of Easter Matthew 21:1-15 The first Easter did not get off to a very good start. The disciples were cowering behind locked doors for fear of the Jews. Peter had promised to be brave, but they all failed. All of the men had failed Him. There had not been time to finish preparing the body for burial because of the approaching Sabbath. At least, this is what the women thought. They took great risk being outside in the pre-dawn hours. But they came, nevertheless. They went out the gate of the city to the sepulcher of Jesus. We aren’t exactly sure of the number of them. We know that Nary Magdalene was one of them. Matthew, in this morning’s text adds another Mary. Luke adds others. What is important is that they went when the men stayed cowering behind locked doors. The women did not come expecting the resurrection. It must have been a very somber journey. They came to show proper respect for the dead body of Jesus. The words Jesus had repeatedly told them about his resurrection had not registered on them. Before the women came, there was a great earthquake, and the stone which covered the tomb was rolled away. It says an angel in glistening white clothing had done this. It then said that the keepers of the tomb were terrified and became like dead men. The question is when did the keepers see this? Did they see this before the women arrived and fled? If so, were these soldiers the first witness to the resurrection? In both the Old Testament and New, it is recorded when one saw the LORD, they became weak and undone. The disciples fell into a deep sleep at the Mount of Transfiguration. Sleep is a metaphor of death. Isaiah was undone. Daniel and John both fell as dead. The keepers were like dead men when they saw this. It is ironic how the Jewish authorities gave the guards money to say that they fell asleep. Soon after this, the women came to the tomb where they were confronted by the angel. They must have been both confused and terrified. The King James uses “Fear not” as the first words coming out of the angel’s mouth. The Greek more precisely renders it “Stop being afraid.” He continues by saying that the women had come to seek Jesus, that is His dead body. He then tells them that He was not there in the tomb. He had risen from the dead just as He had told them. He invited the women to look into the tomb and see for themselves. I can only imagine the women being completely undone from what they had just witnessed. We read from the Gospel of John that it did not originally sink into Mary Magdalene’s mind that He had actually risen. She would later ask someone whom she presumed was the gardener where they had taken the body. She said that she would go retrieve it herself. The angel commanded them to return to where the cowering men were and bring the good news of Jesus’s resurrection. On the way Jesus met them and greeted them. I tend to think that Mary Magdalen had stayed behind at the tomb while the other women went. This would harmonize the resurrection accounts considerably. These women immediately fell at Jesus’ feet and worshiped Him. He told them to tell the brothers that they should return to Galilee, which they would eventually do after several appearances around Jerusalem. All Israel was to know that Jesus is alive, then the entire world. The rest of the passage is the greatest cover-up in history. The authorities did not want the word to get out. They tried to shut down Easter. The world is still trying to shut down Easter. Here we are at Easter, and the authorities are telling the Christians in many places that they cannot leave their homes for Easter services for fear of the Coronavirus. Christians are to remain behind the locked doors of their homes. Many are in great dread of this virus. Others have been threatened with jail and fines for attending services. In Greenville Mississippi, the mayor and police actually fined parishioners on church property $500 each for being in parked cars with the windows up listening to a sermon. We must remember that Christians have assembled for 2000 years on Easter and on other Sundays without interruption. They have been chased into the catacombs to escape persecution. They have suffered torture and death. Yet they still came together and worshiped. The services continued in times of war and peace. They continued to meet during the times of plague. They met in Chinese house churches and still meet there in threat to life to limb. The Christian faith is the most persecuted faith on earth. Should we let the threats and bullying of government officials stop us? I think of meeting at a Coptic Orthodox Church on Palm Sunday a few years ago after holding our services at the Methodist church I was pastoring. Two of their main churches in Alexandria had been bombed earlier that day. The priest there at the church I had attended knew some of the people who had died. Many children were massacred. Yet they continue to meet. I would remind officials who would try to oppress the church and are using this virus as an opportunity to do so that these leaders are in great danger of eternal judgment. The Jewish leaders who had wrongfully condemned Jesus to death and continued by severe persecution of the church, the same leaders who tried to cover up the resurrection by bribing the guards, suffered the loss of the Temple and their influence in 70AD as Jesus had prophesied. You cannot hide the resurrection. Neither can you hide from the resurrection. The message of Easter is not to be kept behind locked doors. It is to be boldly proclaimed. It is time for the men of God to rise up and be counted. We don’t do this by means of arms. We are to be armed only with the Gospel. We are not sent to kill but to save and, if necessary, to suffer for it. We are reminded that Jesus suffered in our place while we were still at enmity against him. But being pacifistic does not mean we are to be obedient little sheep. There is a time to say that we must obey God rather than man. We must be firm in our resolve. I am certainly saying we should take all reasonable steps not to spread the virus. So we wont congregate at the liquor and pot stores which seem for some reason to be essential. We will maintain safe distances. We certainly mean no harm to anyone, especially our brothers and sisters in the faith. But at the same time, the Coronavirus is not our lord, nor are those who would exploit it to crush us. Many churches are offering their services on-line this year. This is better than nothing, but remember that the same people who are using the Coronavirus to keep us from meeting are also actively trying to censor the Internet as well. The Zoom app has many privacy concerns as much of the data is being harvested by hostile opponents. If they can keep us from worshiping in person, they will also soon prevent us access to all media. Do not think they won’t try. So we might as well be bold now. Another problem with virtual church is that the resurrection of Jesus is not a virtual event. And the bread and cup are not virtual either. The disciples ate with Jesus after the resurrection. He invited them to grope him to see that He was no ghost. The resurrection is the most physical of events which occurred in space and time. Too much liberal theology wants to reduce the resurrection to some spiritual sense. The bodily resurrection is an in your face answer to this. Christ is alive! He is risen from the dead! He is ascended to the Father’s right hand. He is there making intercession for us. This includes those who are suffering for His name. He is returning to judge the heavens and the earth. If people are not prepared, they will be lost eternally to a place where they will gnash their teeth and suffer for ever. This is the clear teaching of the Bible. We do not look for man and science to solve the problems of the world. They create at least as many as they solve. A vaccine for the Coronavirus might help some in the short term. I would certainly hope that happens. But whether or not you were vaccinated against Coronavirus or some other disease means nothing as we are all appointed to die, and after that the judgment. We need to be vaccinated against our many sins and our outright rebellion against the rule of God. The good news is that there is already a vaccine for that. Jesus shed his own blood as an antibody for our sins. By faith we are saved. Even death could not kill Jesus our LORD. And neither can death kill us. So go forth this Easter day as you are able. You have the antidote. Offer it to others as well. Cause them no threat from the Coronavirus but tell them there is a more deadly virus they need be concerned with. Not everyone will get the Coronavirus and some are immune to its effects. But the virus of sin affects everyone. Most of those who suffer Coronavirus will recover in this life. But the virus of sin is universally and eternally fatal. The wages of sin are indeed death. But there is good news. The LORD whose resurrection we celebrate today is the cure.