Philip Casmer

Remember How He Told You…

by Philip Casmer on March 27th, 2016
Luke 24:1-12

Friends, on this Easter day, there is no thing more important than that you remember how Jesus told you…

Of course, by necessity there are many other things that stick in our memories.  Family camping trips and that time your brother fell into the lake.  Easter Egg hunts on the still-wet lawn in Spring.  The smell of bacon as your dad makes breakfast in the morning.  These are sensory; there are more significant things too.  Your wedding day.  The birth of your first/fifth child.  How you clinched your first job.  Some memories are almost “happily ever after”.  Of course, among those significant memories there are also the other kind that poke holes in “happily ever after”.  Like when your girlfriend dumped you for someone else.  Or how you sat in the doctor’s office and listened to his life-changing diagnosis.  Or if you were the parents who found out it was your twoAmericans who died with the bombs in Brussels.  It’s often this kind of catastrophe that elbows in, oversized, and pushes out things we ought to remember, isn’t it?  Even things God’s said?

How that must have been also true for Jesus’ disciples – men or women!  They’d watched Jesus arrested, beaten, condemned by wicked men.  They’d watched as soldiers drove nails through their friend’s hands and feet and hoisted him up on a cross to die over tormented hours.  Finally a friend had taken their teacher’s body and put it in his own tomb.  The teacher they’d loved – the one whose feet one had anointed and wiped with her hair, the one who’d healed countless sick, the one who’d opened God’s Word and shifted life into a new perspective – death shouldered in and crowded out whatever they might have remembered.

Because reality is horrible in these ways that you know too, Jesus’ words can be hard to believe.  You see it in the women going to prepare a dead body.  Or when they find the grave empty, literally they are “perplexed”.  They don’t remember Jesus’ promise to rise from the dead on the third day – they didn’t believe it.  And when the angel reorients them and they remember and they run back to the disciples believing, the disciples think they’re crazy and they disbelieve it – they obviously don’t remember what Jesus had said or don’t believe it either.  When Peter goes to the empty tomb to see it for himself, he doesn’t do the Resurrection victory shuffle, he goes home wondering what had happened (that’s not a faith word), because he doesn’t know, he doesn’t believe, or because everything he can see around him seems so much more real than what Jesus said.

How often doesn’t that happen to you?  Maybe a bit like when you read to your kids at night and leave them to dream of Jack & the Beanstalk while you head back downstairs to battle lasagna leavings out of your Pyrex?  Like that, aren’t there some times we’d say or feel that what God says is nice and all, but we’ve got real things to get on to?  Like car payments, marital strife, 40hr work week, economic depression.  We go to work, we push the paper, we make the paycheck.  Or we make the everyday as beautiful as we can – create life, buck the system, change the world.  But don’t be deceived!  Whether you accept it and do it or buck it and try to change it, there’s a recognition that this world is full of a catastrophe and death that seems very real.  The writer of Ecclesiastes captured it really well: “I find this outrageous—the worst thing about living on this earth—that everyone’s lumped together in one fate…Life leads to death. That’s it.”[1]

Or is it?  If you ever feel like this Easter thing is too fairytale, if you ever pass it by for other more real stuff, there is absolutely nothing more important than that you remember how Jesus told you.  Because you and I will tend to forget in the midst of all the things we think are so real, Jesus tells it to you like it really is.  Listen to the angel’s words again: “Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: ‘The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’ ”

Friends, the how of his telling is so important.  Jesus isn’t telling a fairy tale escape into “happily ever after” – his story is deadly serious.  The prime reason Jesus came was because life really is like Ecclesiastes told it – despite all the systems and advancements and helps humanity can come up with – it’s death for all and all over the place, over and over again.  Jesus describes the cause of that death in the sins we see.  He said: “[O]ut of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander,”[2]; you have only to watch the news to know; you can’t have missed it in Brussels; you’ve surely seen it in the workplace.  But don’t forget how Paul drove home the tragic reality for each of us, personally:  “I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out.”[3]  And so there is God’s ultimate finality, “the wages of sin [sins like those, sins you have, sins I do – the wages] is death.”[4]

Easter confronts evil and loss, every bad memory of ours, and the epic reality that sin sets the world apart from a holy God.  It confronts it with the utmost seriousness, because it says that we cannot save ourselves from these things.  No, because the world’s corruption in sin is serious, Jesus wants us to remember that the Son of Man came to be handed over to sinful men and to die.  Nothing short of the death and rising of the very Son of God can save us.  And so that is what God gave.  Paul said it this morning, “Christ died for our sins.”[5]

To the disciples that seemed like a catastrophe.  But you know, it’s interesting – when we think of “catastrophe”, we’re usually talking of tragedy.  But way back in Greek language and theater, catastrophe is a technical word.  There it’s the “sudden shift”, the final resolution in a story that unravels all the trouble and brings things to a close.  At the catastrophe of the cross and grave, God is unraveling the trouble of sin so that you can see the unexpected, positive outcome.  The angel said, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen!”  The message of faith in Christ is this good news – this good and amazing shift – that the sin and death we cannot beat is forgiven and dead because Jesus rose to life again.  He is the “living one” and he guarantees that we truly live.  How we said already this morning, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade.”[6]  The promise of Easter is that, aside from anything you can do, humanity’s problem of death, your struggle against sin – it has been beaten by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.  And, for those who remember with believing hearts, everything is shifted now, to hope and resolution.  Even in the midst of all this death, the things that would have overpowered us, they cannot take life away from us – we have the victory in Christ, are able to live for Christ and those around us now, are going to live an eternal inheritance with Christ forever.  That’s how life really is…

Others would disagree…  The famed astrophysicist, Neil deGrasse Tyson, for example, once said, “The atoms of our bodies are traceable to stars that manufactured them…and exploded [them] across our galaxy, billions of years ago…we are atomically connected to all atoms in the universe. We are not figuratively, but literally stardust.”  Do you know why he says that?  It’s a dramatic shift to resolution: he knows his supposed reality is harsh – that you are just dead matter – so he adds the appealing flourish that you’re matter that really matters…you’re STAR-matter!  Sounds almost like a fairytale…

And I could tell you why you ought to believe the fact of this Easter resurrection account: that 1st century authors quoted 1st century eyewitnesses among their 1st century audience for corroboration; that no self-respecting Jewish male would prove his story primarily on the eyewitness accounts of women (no offense, 21st century ladies, but that’s the way it was); that these writers shared their own abject and regular failures – finally not even believing this central thing, not at first; that of the remaining 11 apostles, 10 died as martyrs because they wouldn’t let go this one fact of the resurrection and the last one died of old age, a pastor who loved this doctrine as much as the rest (that’s a pretty good rate of return on a lie); or that St. Paul says if this didn’t physically happen, Jesus himself is a liar, so are we, and our faith is worthless, dead – we ought to toss it out…

For a happier ending instead, let’s listen to what Jesus is really saying to us today.  Unlike the astrophysicist or anyone else, Jesus bids you remember notthat you are just like everything else, but that he is incredibly different: “HE HAS RISEN!”  And that matters to you, for what we sang about Jesus on Good Friday is reality, “In his hands he holds the stars, His voice shall speak to end our wars, and those who love him see his scars And look into his eyes.”[7]  Do you know what they find there?  That they are loved; that they matter.  Dear friends, to Jesus Christ, you are not just dead matter.  No, you matter more than all the stars.  For no shining star but only for you did he live and die and rise to life again.  So that now no matter how long those brilliant stars might burn, you will outlive them in brilliant life with Jesus Christ forevermore.  To have that kind of confidence, that kind of joy, to really truly live, just remember how he told you…

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