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The Feel Of Victory Is In The Air

Matthew 28:1-10

Today we call that Friday “Good.”

But I daresay that the disciples and the admirers of Jesus called it anything but a good day then. In fact they would have called it “a bad day—no, worse than a bad day—no, the worst of all bad days—the day Christ died.” Yes, that’s what it was with them—the worst of all days. And the next day was no better. It was Saturday, the Jewish sabbath. And while the sabbath was in effect, no work could be done. That meant that the followers of Jesus could do nothing more than think. Oh, how their minds must have dwelled on the events of the last days. It had all happened so swiftly. Just Thursday evening He had celebrated the Passover with His disciples. Then He had gone to pray in Gethsemane. It was not unusual for Him to go out at night to pray. He did it often. But that night was different. Suddenly events began to unfold with such startling force that they were like fireworks exploding in the night sky. Judas betrayed Him with a kiss, an act of love sickeningly transformed into an act of treachery. Then armed soldiers seized Him. The disciples fled in fear. There then began that middle-of-the-night trial which ever since has been called “the worst miscarriage of justice in all the history of the world.” They took Him in chains first to Annas, then to Caiaphas, then to Pontius Pilate, then to King Herod, then back to Pilate. By morning, Pilate had had enough. The decision was made. Pilate washed his hands of the whole dirty mess and handed Jesus over to be crucified.

It had happened so fast. It was all so hideous, so unthinkable, so unbelievable. Yet it had happened. He was gone. They were alone. Frightened. Confused. Dejected. The bottom had dropped out of everything. The King is dead. The King is…dead. I wonder if we really grasp the awful surge of despair and forsakenness which must have fallen like lead weights on the hearts of the disciples on the Saturday after Calvary. For three years they had anticipated the dawn of each new day like children at the first light on Christmas morning. But now, suddenly everything ahead of them was dark and foreboding. Oscar Wilde’s words in “The Ballad of Reading Jail” could well have described the disciples during the torturous hours of that Saturday:

We did not dare to breathe a prayer
Or give our anguish scope.
Something was dead in each of us
And what was dead was hope.

Yes, the King is dead. And because the King is dead, hope is dead, too.

So imagine their shocked surprise, their supreme joy, their unutterable astonishment when, “after the Sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week”, the cry rang out: “The King lives!” The stone had been rolled away. The tomb was empty. Christ had been raised from the dead. Death could not finish Him. Sin could not stop Him. The worst of days had given way to the best of days.

The scriptures had promised that “joy comes with the morning”, and indeed it was true. That first Easter morning was so climactic that their Jewish Sabbath, steeped in centuries of cherished tradition, gave way to the Christian “Lord’s Day.” The resurrection was so breathtakingly powerful that their new faith became known as “the religion of the dawn.” And then Christ was so marvelous, so near, so majestic, and so real that very soon they added a ringing doxology to the prayer He had taught them to pray—a doxology which peals forth in the Church to this day: “For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever!” That’s the message of Easter…

Yes, His is the kingdom.

That is to say that God is in firm control of the world and nothing can stymie His sovereignty. Wrong-doing is a dead end street. Evil hasn’t got a ghost of a chance. “Lo, His doom is sure.” The world may cry: “Nail Christ to the cross, and release Barabbas. Let violence and banditry and dishonesty go free.” Indeed they are crying it today in Russia and in South Africa, in Nicaragua and in Afghanistan, in Libya, and in Lebanon. But the Christian in our world has something else to say: “Christ our Lord has risen from the dead. Let light shine in the midst of the darkness. Let right triumph over wrong. Let love gain victory over hate.” And it is so. God has the last word. His is the kingdom.

Arthur John Gossip has written: “If we are to help people to be valiant in their Christian living, it means that we should be ringing out over the world that Christ has won, that evil is toppling, that the end is sure, that nothing can for long resist our mighty and victorious Lord. That is the tonic we need to keep us healthy, the trumpet blast to fire our blood and send us crowding in behind the Master, singing happily on our way, ready and eager to face anything, laughing and singing and recklessly unafraid, because the feel of victory is in the air!”

Yes, the feel of victory is in the air. I know, sometimes we wonder how it all is going to turn out. Is the last chapter of human history to be war and famine and pestilence and death? Is the A-bomb or the H-bomb or the neutron bomb going to determine the ultimate fate of our world? Are these things stronger than God? Easter says “No!” For here death and tragedy are turned into life and hope. And that means that if it should be that the world is vaporized by mushroom clouds of destruction—and we all know it could happen—then God will transform those clouds of destruction into the clouds of His glory, just as He transformed the death of Calvary into the glory of Easter.

So Easter keeps coming back year after year to say to us that life can only work out one way—and that is God’s way. And if there is a Caiaphas or a Pilate or a Caesar or an earthly empire that is going to try some way other than God’s way, then that individual or that group or that nation or that empire is doomed to disaster. For Jesus Christ is the King of kings and He is the Lord of lords. His is the kingdom!

And His is the power.

There are different kinds of power. The brute force of a bulldozer can knock down a stone wall, but it cannot sculpt that stone into something as beautiful as Michelangelo’s “Pieta.” The power of a jet plane can take us almost anywhere we want to go quickly, but it cannot give us a reason for going there. Technology can offer us an appliance which has the power to dry our hair, but it cannot dry our tears. Yes, there are different kinds of power, and the power of Easter is the power to transform human life.

So many people don’t see that. So many people see this as a nightmare time in which we are plunging into darkness. This story was in the newspaper, so it may be true. There was a woman who was visiting in New York City. It was her first time there. She had heard about all the crime and violence, so she was quite anxious. She was staying in a hotel which had a parking garage underneath it. She pulled into the garage late one evening, parked, and began walking toward the elevator. She had seen enough TV shows to know what happens in deserted garages at night. She was very nervous. She got to the elevator and pressed the button. The elevator doors opened. She stepped in. Before the doors closed, there stepped into the elevator a large man with a large dog on a leash. The man didn’t say anything—he just pressed the bottom. The doors closed. Then he spoke: “Lie down!” Immediately she dropped to the floor in a panic. There was an astonished pause, and the man said: “Madam, I was speaking to my dog.” And he helped her up and brushed her off and gave her a ticket to a Broadway show!

Well, there are a lot of people who are like that—they are so terrified of the circumstances around them that they are easily panicked. In this country last year, 18,000 people were murdered, but 25,000 people committed suicide! They saw only darkness, and they were afraid of it. They needed to see the power of Easter.

One Sunday at the Broadway Tabernacle Church in New York, Charles Jefferson preached about power. He shared all that he had been able to learn about electricity and then he asked: “If there is a power that can light our homes and our offices, then what kind of world would it be if there were not also a power to light our hearts and our lives?! He then told of all he had been able to learn about gravity, and then he asked: “If there is a power at work to hold down our homes and to keep great buildings in place, then what kind of world would it be if there were not an equivalent power to hold and to keep us?” That is so true.

And because that is true, I want to say to you today that it is the height of human arrogance and the depth of human ignorance to say that the God who pulled off the first Easter can’t pull us out of death this Easter! Some people look at death as going into the dark. The Christian looks at death as “waking from earth’s night of sorrow into heaven’s day of eternal bliss.” The difference between those two points of view is the Risen Lord Jesus Christ. His is the power!

And His is the glory.

Think of it for a moment. Jesus, without money or arms, has conquered more millions than Alexander, Caesar, Mohammed, and Napoleon put together. Jesus, without scientific expertise or advanced degrees, has shed more light on things human and divine than all of the philosophers and scholars combined. Jesus, without training in linguistics or public speaking, spoke words of life such as have never been spoken before or since and produced effects which lie infinitely beyond the reach of orator or poet. Jesus, without writing a single line, has set more pens in motion and furnished the themes for more sermons and discussions and works of art and learned volumes and sweet songs of praise than the whole of great people from ancient and modern times. His is the glory.

Strange then, isn’t it, that when He comes to us He comes so quietly, so gently, so tenderly—standing at the door and knocking. This is His supreme glory, that He comes to us with such relentless, unexpected love. That’s His way. When He was raised from the dead, did He immediately strike down Caiaphas or humiliate Herod or pulverize Pilate? Not at all. He simply appeared to those He loved. And He will come to you, my friend, if you give Him half a chance. For this is His greatest glory—that He loves you and He wants to move into your life and make of you a brand new person.

He will come to you. He cannot be stopped. John Masefield wrote a play about the crucifixion in which one of the characters tells Pilate’s wife of the death of Jesus. Pilate’s wife asks: “Do you think He is dead?” The answer comes: “No, lady, I don’t.” She says: “Well then, where is He?” The man replies: “He’s let loose in the world, lady, where neither Roman nor Jew can stop Him.” Yes, that’s what Easter says! He is let loose in the world and no one can stop Him. Oh yes, I tell you, the feel of victory is in the air! Christ our Lord has risen. He is risen indeed. Don’t you think the rafters ought to be ringing with the sound of our singing? Don’t you think our hearts ought to be pounding with that glorious good news? Don’t you feel the victory that is in the air?

For

His is the kingdom.
And His is the power.
And His is the glory.
Forever!
Amen and amen.

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