Matthew’s Messiah: His Resurrection
Few of us who ever sat at the feet of Dr. Kenneth Phifer, my professor of preaching at seminary, will ever forget the things he said and the lessons he taught. One of those lessons jumps to the forefront of my mind today. He taught us that “because Christians celebrate the Lord’s Day on Sunday as a remembrance of the resurrection, there is a sense in which every sermon ought to be an Easter sermon. Every sermon, either directly or indirectly, ought to proclaim Christ’s resurrection victory.” That is so true. But it is especially true on Easter. Jesus Christ is alive! And because Jesus Christ is alive, you and I are to be Easter people and “hallelujah” is to be our song.
Oh, I know that it sounds fantastic, unbelievable, too-good-to-be-true to say that Jesus Christ is alive. Actually it is no more fantastic and unbelievable today than it seemed 2000 years ago when those women went to the tomb early on a Sunday morning. They carried with them nothing but their pain-drenched memories. They didn’t expect the sun to rise that day because the sun had gone down forever on their hopes and their dreams. And they certainly didn’t expect the Son of God to rise that day. Oh, sure, He had talked about doing that before He died, but Pilate and Herod and the Jewish authorities and the Roman soldiers had taken care of that. They worked together to guarantee that there would be no resurrection—real or imagined. They sealed up the tomb and set a squad of armed soldiers to guard it around the clock. And so the women approached the tomb in the dawn’s early light, their eyes clouded by tears, their hearts heavy with sorrow. But there, wonder of wonders, they met Jesus Christ, the Messiah, not dead, but very much alive! That earth-shaking bit of news wound up toppling an empire and changing the world. Mind you, the throne of the Caesars was not tipped over by the Sermon on the Mount. It wasn’t brought low by any miracle Jesus ever performed. It wasn’t knocked flat by any parable that Jesus ever told. It wasn’t even crushed by the brutality of the death Jesus suffered on the cross. No, that empire was ended by the undeniable fact that Jesus was raised from the dead. And since then, no individual, no group of people, no land, no nation, no empire, no earthly power has ever been able to silence the trumpet blast of this great truth: Jesus the Messiah is alive! And because Jesus Christ is alive, you and I are Easter people and “hallelujah” is our song. Therefore, look with me now at what the Messiah’s resurrection really means for us…
The Messiah’s resurrection means that we cannot be defeated by evil.
I will have to admit that on that first Easter morning it looked like Jesus was a loser. There He was bottled up by a great stone set against the mouth of a borrowed tomb—thirty-three years old and already wiped out, a failure by most people’s standards, a colossal flop. But then something incredible happened.
Get the picture, please: The stone-cold corpse of the Galilean carpenter stretched out on a rock-hard slab, eyes glazed over in death, no life, no movement, no color. But then suddenly, by the power of God, where there was no life, now there is life. Where there was no movement, now there is movement. The eyes see, the ears hear, the heart pounds, the mouth forms words, the limbs move. Where there was no color, now there is color—rainbow within rainbow. Jesus Christ is alive! Here then is the miracle which has transformed the ages: We have a God who sent His Son to a cave-stable in Bethlehem and we have a God who delivered His Son from a cave-tomb in Jerusalem. We have a God who would not let His Son be defeated by the evil that infects this world we have a God who will not let us be defeated by evil either.
Some years ago now, a man walked into a New York City bookstore. Joy so radiated from the young man’s face that the clerk was moved to say: “You certainly seem very happy.” The young man replied: “l am. You see, I’ve just returned from the Vietnam War. I was a prisoner of war for four years and then just recently was released.” The clerk said: “Well, you do have good reason to be happy.” But the young man then said: “Actually, I am happy about much more than that.” He then went on to explain that while he was in prison, a fellow prisoner gave him an old, beat-up, dog-eared book to read. It happened to be a book about the resurrection of Jesus. It was called Who Moved the Stone? by Frank Morison. This young POW read that book and in so doing he learned that the people who belong to Jesus have a strength and a power which other people do not seem to have. The young man said to the clerk: “I claimed that power for myself and I was changed. I realized that I could not be defeated by the evil that surrounded me in that prison camp. In fact, I was freed two years before I was released. So I’ve come here to see if you have a copy of that book. I want to share it with my wife. I want her to know what I now know.”
And what does he know? He knows what it is to be one of the Easter people. He knows what it is to have the strength of the Risen Messiah so living in you that you cannot be defeated by evil.
And the Messiah’s resurrection means that we cannot be discouraged in spirit.
I will have to admit that on that Sunday morning in Jerusalem before the tomb opened, things looked rather discouraging. Here was Jesus, the hope for so many hearts, the light for so many lives, now cold and dead and locked away in a grave. But He didn’t stay there. And with His march from the darkness of the grave into the dawn of a new day, there came the end of discouragement.
I learned about a young man in Scotland who developed cancer of the throat and tongue—terrible for anyone, of course, but especially for him. He was a professional singer, a tenor. Radical surgery was required. He was told that after the surgery he would not speak or sing again. As he was on the operating table and the anesthetic was about to be administered, the surgeon said to him: “Is there anything you desire before we begin the surgery?” The young man said: “Yes, there is.” And with that, he sat up on the table, and he began to sing the words of an old hymn written by William Cowper:
There is a fountain filled with blood,
Drawn from Emmanuel’s veins
And sinners plunged beneath that flood
Lose all their guilty stains.
On he sang, verse after verse after verse, until there wasn’t a dry eye in the whole operating theatre except his own. And then he came to the final verse, which he sang even more triumphantly than the others:
Then in a nobler, sweeter song
I’ll sing Thy power to save
When this poor lisping, stammering tongue
Lies silent in the grave.
His voice would be laid aside, but would he give in to discouragement? No, a thousand times no! Why? Because he had in him the same power that raised Jesus Christ from the dead. That is the testimony of a young Scots tenor who today is mute, but who still praises God. He knows what it is to have the strength of the Risen Messiah so living in you that you cannot be discouraged in spirit.
And then the Messiah’s resurrection means that we cannot be destroyed by death.
I will have to admit that on that first Easter morning it looked like death had the upper hand and the last word. Not so. It’s so clear when you read carefully what actually happened. In fact, let me acknowledge that there is something in the story of the first Easter that I had missed until now. I had always thought that the sequence of events was as follows: The angel came down, rolled away the stone, then Jesus stepped out of the tomb. But that’s not what happened at all. I did not see it until now. Here is what actually happened: First Jesus came out of the tomb, then the angel came and rolled away the stone so that the women could see in and realize that Jesus was alive. That is an incredibly important detail. It means that no stone, no tomb, no grave could hold the Messiah. And because that’s true, you and I can face death unafraid. No grave will ever hold us either.
Now I know that we will go on weeping when our loved ones die—and because we love them, we ought to weep for them. However, we do not weep as those who have no hope, because Jesus Christ has been there and come back again. We can lift up our bowed-down heads and we can wipe away the tears from our eyes because Jesus Christ has been there and come back again. We can know that while we may be separated for a time from those we love, ultimately we shall be reunited with them in that place where the load is lifted and the gate is open wide, because Jesus Christ has been there and come back again. We can know that our God is the sure conqueror of death and that love can never, ever lose its own, because Jesus Christ has been there and come back again. We can know that beyond death, beyond the grave, beyond the river, there is a land where the fields are ever living green, because Jesus Christ has been there and come back again. So let the glad anthems of the Easter people ring—with the news that Easter people cannot be defeated by evil, cannot be discouraged in spirit, cannot be destroyed by death, because Jesus Christ has been there and come back again.
Dear friends, this is the only Gospel the New Testament knows. This is the only Gospel I could ever preach. Jesus Christ is alive and because Jesus Christ is alive, He can come to live in your life and in mine. He can bring us safely through our earthly journey. He can lead us triumphantly through the gates of Heaven. Jesus Christ is alive, and because Jesus Christ is alive, we are Easter people and “hallelujah” is our song!