Sunday, April 20, 2014

Too Good to Be True?

Early on Sunday morning, as the new day was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went out to visit the tomb.  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.  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.  And now, go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and he is going ahead of you to Galilee.  You will see him there.  Remember what I have told you.”  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.  And as they went, Jesus met them and greeted them.  And they ran to him, grasped his feet, and worshiped him.  Then Jesus said to them, “Don’t be afraid! Go tell my brothers to leave for Galilee, and they will see me there.”     Matthew 28:1 - 10 (NLT)
Have you ever waited for something with great expectation, and then the whole picture changed?
In February 1967 I waited in a little room off the main sanctuary of the Smithtown Methodist church.  Waiting was difficult for this good event.  After what seemed an eternity, my brother Thom and I finally stepped into the side aisle.  We took our positions at the front of the church and began waiting again.  Then, she appeared.  The "she" was Elizabeth, my bride-to-be.  The wait was worth it!  She was beautiful, my best friend, and she was walking that aisle to become my wife.  My only thought (that I can remember) was:
This is too good to be true!
The two Marys must have felt that way.  The angel told them Jesus had risen from the dead.  They were awed, anxious and overjoyed.  They began to run to tell the disciples, filled with a mixture of joy and trembling.  This was definitely too good to be true. 
The question for them (and us) is:
Was the resurrection too good to be true?
Four hundred years before Jesus was born, the Greek philosopher Socrates drank poison and waited to die with his disciples around him.  One of them asked, Shall we live again?   The dying man could only say, I hope so, but no man can know.[1] 
Hope in the resurrection is too good to be true for many people.  Hope in the resurrection was too good to be true for the disciples Friday morning as the soldiers took Jesus away from Gethsemane.  It was too good to be true later at Pilate's house.  Hope in the resurrection was gone Friday afternoon at Golgotha.  Their hope was beaten, bloodied and blown away as Jesus was carried from the cross.  Their hope was laid on a stone ledge in a borrowed hole in the ground.  Their hope was now dust.  Their dreams of the Kingdom of God on Earth were too good to be true!
Sadly and tenderly Sunday morning the women came to anoint the body of Jesus.  Their hope was shattered also.  But, then there was an empty tomb, and an angel, changing hopeless resignation into hopeful rejoicing.  They believed.  They wondered.  Their hearts raced.  Could it actually be true?  Or was this really too good to be true?
The angels told them to go tell the disciples. 
Suddenly, in the midst of this confused flight to tell the disciples, the Master appeared.  He greeted them!  But, was this Jesus, or a ghost?  The women were confronted with the reality of the resurrection.  And when resurrection is standing in front of you, you’re confronted with the one question that makes sense, and must be answered:
Do you believe?
And then a second question:
If you believe, what happens to those who accept this resurrection?
Here’s what happens when you accept the resurrection as fact:

#1 When you accept the reality of the resurrection you'll see Jesus

This passage has always reminded me of what an elderly preacher once told me about faith.  He said, There are people who say (about Christianity), 'I won't believe it till I see it.'  Their problem is they won't see it until they believe. 
The women accepted the angel's message about Jesus' resurrection.  They began to act upon it; they began to run to tell the disciples, and they saw Jesus. They saw Him because they accepted the reality of his resurrection on faith.  They believed; they saw!

#2. When you accept the reality of the resurrection you'll worship Jesus

The word for worship means to prostrate oneself.  The women fell on their faces with respect and awe for Jesus.  (I believe I would also if I'd just seen a dead man get up and walk!)
The reality of the resurrection is such that it causes us to want to worship Jesus.  The answer for empty churches and empty hearts these days is not more programs or things to do.  The answer is the resurrection.
When Saul was on the road to Damascus to persecute the church, he met Jesus.  He immediately began to worship, saying, "Lord, what do you want from me?"  When the reality of the resurrection becomes your reality, you won't have to ask someone else what to do – you will fall down and hold onto Jesus' feet, because your heart won't let you do anything else!  You’ll see Jesus, you’ll worship Jesus, and…

#3.  When you accept the reality of the resurrection you'll tell others about Jesus

The angel (v.7) and Jesus (v.10) both told the women to go and tell someone.  The real resurrection is something that is too good to hold down. 
And so, Your  Questions today: 
Do you believe in the resurrection, and will you tell someone? 
British minister, W.E. Sangster, began to lose his voice and mobility in the mid 1950's.  Disease caused muscular atrophy.  Sangster's voice eventually failed completely and his legs became useless.  On Easter morning just a few weeks before his death, he took a pen and shakily wrote his daughter a letter.  In it he said,
It is terrible to wake up on Easter morning and have no voice with which to shout, 'He is risen!' – but it would be still more terrible to have a voice and not want to shout.[2]
On this resurrection morning, let me encourage you to believe the reality of our Lord’s resurrection – He's alive.  Accept this “too good to be true” reality for yourself and see Jesus, worship Jesus, tell others about Jesus. 
Do it in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

[1]The Bible Illustrator, (Hiawatha, IA, Parsons) Idx          2156-2157
[2](Leadership, Vernon Grounds, Winter 1987), 40

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