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Homeward Bound: Life Is Forever!

Matthew 28:1-10

Easter is not an argument; it is an announcement—the announcement that the forces of faith have routed the enemies of good for good. Easter is not a debate; it is a declaration—the declaration that life, your life and my life, life is forever. Lilies do not argue; they bloom. Anthems do not whisper; they resound. Spring does not falter; it bursts wide open. Beauty does not hide itself from view; it flaunts its glory. Love does not come as some icy proposition; it comes as a red hot proclamation. Easter does not tiptoe quietly into our experience; it erupts upon us like dead bodies erupting from sealed tombs—announcing once and for all and forever that light is stronger than dark; that good is stronger than evil; that love is stronger than hate; that hope is stronger than despair; and that life is stronger than death. Easter is not a debate; it is a declaration—the declaration that Jesus Christ is risen from the dead and life is forever!

Easter puts a song in our hearts because Easter declares just how wonderful we are!

That’s right, you heard me correctly—Easter declares just how wonderful we really are. After all, in God’s eyes, you and I were worth an Easter.

A colony of grubs lived at the bottom of a slimy pond. Every once in a while, one of the grubs would climb up the stalks of the lily pads that lived on the surface of the water. And the grub would climb up the stalk and break through the surface of the water and then disappear never to return. One of the grubs became fascinated by this, curious about it, felt a call in his own life to climb higher. So he crawled up the stalk of the lily pad; broke through the surface of the water; inched his way out across the leaf of the lily pad floating on the water. There he experienced the warmth of the sun, a feeling of warmth that he had never known in his life. And in that warmth he fell asleep. While he was sleeping, his carapace parted and there emerged from that ugly little grub a magnificent dragonfly, wings iridescent with the colors of the rainbow. When the little creature awakened, he looked and saw in himself a splendor he had never seen before. He felt in himself a desire he had never felt before—a desire to fly—and fly he could and fly he would and fly he did, soaring up into the sparkling skies, high above that slimy pond.

My beloved, that is a parable of Easter. Because Easter is the proof that the great secret hope that lies at the center of us all is true! There is, you see, at the center of every single one of us, whether we admit it or not, the hope that life is somehow more than just this life. I don’t know if you caught it in the morning paper today or not, but on the front page, the story of the airliner which had to make an emergency landing at our airport yesterday. Must have been a time of fear and chaos among the passengers. One of them, a young woman, had this to say: “I don’t really believe in God, but I still was praying like crazy.” Do you hear what I’m trying to say? When all of us get honest, whether we are willing to admit it openly or not, when we get honest, we know that deep in the secret places of our souls there is a hope that this life is somehow not all that we mean when we say “life”. Easter is the declaration that this life is not the end. That you and I are on our way to life eternal. That you and I are destined for a splendor like no splendor we have ever known. That you and I are going to experience the reality of Heaven—soaring into the atmosphere of that holy place. You and I, Easter declares, are homeward bound. The secret hope at the center of us all is true. Of course there are so many people, it seems to me, who have not been gripped by that Easter hope. And those people, to my observation, at least consciously or unconsciously, confront a great ultimate despair. I mean after all, what is the sense of giving yourself to some great and noble purpose in life if in the end you and every other great and noble purpose is going to die and be lost in the earth? What is the sense in pouring your love into another life when in the end all of the great loves of your life are going to flame out in a sad farewell with no possibility of meeting again? If life is nothing more than just our “three score years and ten,” or perhaps by reason of strength our “four score years”—if that’s all that life is, then what is the point of the whole human experience? If that’s all there is, something down inside of all of us cries out: “Then that is not enough.”

But then there is Easter, and Easter declares that there is more to life than just this life. Easter declares that you and I are so important to God that He gave us an Easter. God so loved the world—God so loves you, God so loves me—that He gave His only begotten Son. Why? So that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. Easter declares that you and I are destined for the splendor of Heaven. You and I are homeward bound. And when you come to understand that in your life, it will put a song in your heart. It will change your whole self image because you will understand how important you are to God. You will understand just how wonderful you really are. Easter puts a song in our heart because it declares that we, you and I, in God’s eyes are worth the gift of Easter.

And Easter puts a voice in our ear because Easter declares just how magnificent our Messiah is!

I want you to think with me for a few moments about some of the things that Jesus said in His life on this earth. Magnificent words, words like these: “Come unto me all ye who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest.” Or “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” Or “Love your neighbors as you love yourselves.” Or “I have come that you may have life and have it abundantly.” Magnificent words from the Messiah filled with great promise. And yet I would submit to you that the most remarkable thing Jesus ever said in His life was the statement: “I will rise from the dead.” That in and of itself constitutes the most remarkable promise that He ever made. “I will rise from the dead.” Now just suppose for a moment, that those words were a lie. Just suppose that Jesus did not actually rise from the dead. Do you see how that would then cast every other word that he ever spoke into a state of suspicious suspension? Think about it: “Come unto me.” Not if He’s not there! “The meek shall inherit the earth.” Not if they’re crushed into it the way He was on Good Friday! “Love your neighbors.” Romantic balderdash! You better get what you can get while you can get it because this is the only place where you’ll ever have a chance to get it! “I have come that you may have life.” Poppycock, if the one who said it is still sealed in a tomb somewhere! Do you understand that if Jesus did not rise from the dead, then that cast every other word that He ever spoke into the category of the absurd?

But then there is Easter and Easter declares that Jesus did precisely what He said He was going to do. Do you understand that Christianity is the only faith system in the world centered upon an empty tomb? Abraham, declared by the Jewish people to be the father of their faith, lies firmly ensconced in a carefully tended and defended tomb in the disputed city of Hebron. No resurrection for Abraham! Buddha when He died, according to the holiest writings of the Buddhist tradition, died “with the utter passing which leaves nothing behind.” There is no resurrection for Buddha! Mohammed died on June 8, 632 A.D. in the city of Medina, and there he is buried. On that day every year thousands of devout Muslims visit the site of his tomb. No resurrection for Mohammed! But Christianity is different. At the center of Christianity there is an empty tomb with a broken seal and a shoved aside stone. Jesus is not rotting in some Palestinian grave, He lives and reigns eternally. Jesus has risen from the dead just as He said He would!

It happened 20 centuries ago and today more that 2 billion people across the face of this earth believe it—and believe it with their lives. And when you know it and believe it in your life, you will discover that your life is unstoppable, indomitable, and unconquerable!

I am thinking right here and now about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. When he was just 26 years old, he was preaching in the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama. He was facing, as were all other black Americans in that time, the greatest social curse ever to blight and stain our beautiful America—slavery and the bigotry which came after it. But Martin Luther King heard the voice of Christ whispering in his ear, calling him to work for change. Not far from the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church there was a little diner where only whites were served. It was on Maundy Thursday that year that Martin Luther King, in the service of worship in his church, announced that it was his intention to go to that diner and to be served. On the next day, Dexter Avenue Baptist Church was packed, it was Good Friday. Martin Luther King stood up and preached his Good Friday sermon. And then when he had finished he came down from the pulpit and he began to walk up the aisle, headed out to take his stand at that diner. The congregation didn’t quite know what to do. They all stood in absolute silence. No one knew quite what to do or think or say. They knew that terrible prices were paid in those days for doing those kinds of things. They had no idea what kind of price he was going to have to pay. And so they didn’t know what to say, and they stood in absolute silence while he walked up the aisle and headed out the church. But there was a lady sitting up in the balcony there and she leaned out over the edge and she looked at him and said: “There he goes, just like Jesus!”

My beloved when you know this magnificent Messiah of ours, then you will have the voice of Jesus Christ in your ear as you move through life. You will hear that voice delivering to you His pledge, His promise, His presence—and when you have that, you cannot lose. Easter puts a voice in our ear, because Easter declares just how magnificent our Messiah really is.

And then Easter puts a light in our eye because Easter declares just how fantastic our future is!

The great poet, Alfred Lord Tennyson, wrote an imaginary account of the life of King Arthur. It’s called “The Idylls of the King” and in the poetic narrative when Tennyson came to the point where King Arthur was dying, he described the death of this Christian king like this—He said that as the king lay dying, three queens came to him. Their names were Faith, Hope, and Charity. And those three queens, he said, lifted up the dying king. And they carried him out to a small boat. They placed him in the boat, and they climbed into the boat with him. And then they set sail out to the sea. But interestingly enough, and in contradistinction to every other depiction of death that we find in either poetry or art, Alfred Lord Tennyson noted that the boat turned and sailed not to the sunset, the traditional picture of death. No. He said the boat turned and sailed to the sunrise.

No sunset and evening star
And one clear call for me

No, none of that for Alfred Lord Tennyson! Instead he ends the narrative with these words:’

And suddenly a new sun arose
Bringing with it a new year.

My beloved, for Christians that is not fiction, that is fact. Because Easter declares that there is no darkness in this life which does not end with a dawn. You and I are not the people of the sunset. No! You and I are the children of the sunrise!

Dr. Barry Bailey tells of attending a performance of Shakespeare’s play “A Midsummer’s Night Dream.” The play was being performed in Shakespeare’s home town of Stratford-On-Avon. The comical character in the play named Bottom was being portrayed in this particular performance by the great British actor, Charles Laughten. You may remember him. There came a point in the play where Bottom is to die. And Charles Laughten, according to Dr. Bailey, threw himself into that particular part of the role with everything he was worth. He really knew how to die. He went at it over and over. He played every bit of it right to the hilt. And ultimately he was left lying on the stage. Charles Laughten lying there on the stage with a great portly belly of his—rising and falling like the ebb and flow of a tide—delivering great dying gasps as he did. And the audience was so captivated by the performance that they began to gasp with him. Then finally there came that moment when there was a great shudder of his body on the stage and the whole stage shook, and then he breathed his last. And the audience, so caught up in what was happening, began to applaud. You know what Charles Laughten did? He got up and took a bow! I love it! He got up and took a bow!

Do you understand, that is what Easter is! They killed Jesus Christ, killed him dead as a doornail, but on Easter morning he jolted open that tomb and stood up—and he took a bow! And what happened to Jesus is going to happen to you and it’s going to happen to me. The Master himself said it. He said: “Let not your hearts be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you, and if I go and prepare a place for you, then I will come again and I will receive you unto myself so there where I am, there you may be also.” What happened to Jesus, is going to happen to us. And that’s the vision of glory that belongs to Him and belongs to all those who belong to Him.

See my friends, Easter comes and declares just how fantastic our future really is! Easter declares that there is no grave that will ever hold us. You and I are heaven bound! Easter declares that the vision of the glory and the victory of Jesus Christ is going to be ours as well. That will put a light in your eye. Easter puts a song in our heart. It declares just what we are worth to God. Easter puts a voice in our ear. It declares how magnificent is our Messiah. And Easter puts a light in our eye—it declares just how fantastic our future really is.

Bishop Kenneth Goodson used to love to tell the story about the very famous painting of the crucifixion, which one year during Holy Week was put on public display in a store window in downtown Winston-Salem, North Carolina. It was an incredible painting. In fact, the blood flowing from the crown of thorns looked so real that you almost felt like you wanted to reach out and wipe it away. Early one morning, a businessman on his way to work stopped in front of that store window and paused to gaze at the painting. And then he was joined by a young newspaper boy who was making his early morning rounds. They stood in silence for a few moments and looked closely at the painting. Then finally the businessman shook his head and turned and walked away muttering to himself: “What a pity! What a shame!” The young newspaper boy called out to him as he headed off up the street: “Hey mister, hey mister! Didn’t you know? Didn’t you hear? He ain’t dead anymore! He’s alive.”

Didn’t you know? Didn’t you hear? He ain’t dead anymore, he’s alive! He is risen from the dead, just as he said. And that means that you and I, in Christ, are Easter people. You and I, in Christ, are the children of the sunrise. You and I, in Christ, are the pilgrims of the dawn. You and I, in Christ, you and I are homeward bound. Hallelujah and Amen!

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