Untied We Stand!
One of my favorite stories is perfect to share with you on this Easter Sunday. It’s the story of a little boy who was afraid of the dark and he would never step into the dark alone. One night his mother asked him to go out on the back porch to get the broom for her. The little boy clutched up on the inside and said: ’’But Mama, I can’t do that. It’s dark out there!” His mother said: “Don’t be afraid. You’ll be okay. Besides Jesus is out there and He’ll protect you.” The little boy looked at his mother wide-eyed. “Jesus is out there?” he said questioningly. His mother spoke reassuringly: “Yes, He’s out there and He’ll take care of you. Now hurry up and get the broom for me.” So the little boy opened the back door ever so cautiously. Then he pushed the screen door open ever so slightly. Then he poked his head through and looked outside and cried: “Jesus, if you’re out there, would you please hand me the broom!”
Now I suppose that all of us have our own share of fears in life, don’t we? You might not be afraid of the same thing I am, and I might not be afraid of the same thing you are—but all of us, if we are honest, have some fears in life. And yet I believe that there is one fear all of us have in common—you, me, everybody listening to the sound of my voice at this moment—and that’s the fear of death. It may not be on your mind all of the time, or even most of the time, but at some deep level, it’s there and I want to deal with it today, and I want to deal with it in terms of one sentence from what is sometimes called “the greatest sermon ever preached.” It was the sermon preached by Peter on Pentecost. And in the midst of that sermon Peter said: “God raised Jesus up, having freed Him from death, because it was impossible for Him to be held in its power.” From that sentence I would like to draw three great Easter affirmations.
First, death cannot hold Jesus Christ!
What Peter is saying here is that death is like a trapper, and he uses snares and nets and cords in order to capture his victims, but he is unable to capture Jesus. The Easter message is that Jesus Christ is freed from death. He is loosed from its snares. He is unbound, untied, unshackled. Death cannot restrain Him.
There are some people who like to think that they are very modern and sophisticated. They like to think that they don’t believe anything unless it can be proven to them scientifically and validated for them logically. So when it comes to the resurrection, they often look at us and smile condescendingly and give the impression that they are somehow above such childish and elemental beliefs. But actually these so-called modern, sophisticated people are not really as scientific as they claim to be. For instance, let me read you some words from one of our greatest scientists, Wehner Von Braun: “In our modern world many people seem to feel that science has rendered the religious idea of eternal life invalid. But science has a real surprise for those skeptics. For science tells us that nothing in nature can disappear without a trace. Think about that for a moment. Once you do, your thoughts will never be the same. Nature does not know extinction. All it knows is transformation. You cannot destroy a molecule or an atom. You can rearrange them, even split them, but you cannot destroy them. So the Bible is exactly right when it says to us that death is not the end of life, but the changing of life from one form to another.” Fascinating, don’t you think, that both Scripture and science attack the source of our fear.
There is an ancient legend in Turkey about a man riding a cart to Constantinople. As he traveled along the road, he was waved down by a hideous old woman, begging for a ride. He invited her onto the cart and he asked her her name. She said: “My name is Cholera.” He recorded in horror. He said: “I cannot take you into the city.” She said: “But I must get to the city. I will make you this pledge. If you will take me to the city, I will kill only a dozen people. If I kill more than a dozen then you may take this dagger which alone can kill me—you may plunge it into my heart ridding the world of me forever.” He felt that he had no choice. He took her to the city. Within a few days, hundreds in the city had died of cholera. He went looking for her all through the city, and when he found her, he raised the dagger ready to end her life. But she cried out: “Stop. I killed only twelve. Fear has killed all the rest.”
There is truth to the legend. There are so many people who are bound and tied tight by the fears in life, especially the fear of death. I contrast them with F. B. Meyer, the great English preacher, who wrote a note to a friend and in the note he said: “I have just been surprised to discover that I have but a few days to live. Indeed, before you get this message I may already have entered the palace. Do not bother to write me back. I shall see you in the morning.” He could write that because he knew that Jesus Christ had been set free from death. The theme song of the Christian faith is not “Thanks for the memory,” but “Jesus Christ is risen today”! He is untied. He is unleashed. He is set free. He is loose in the world. Death could not hold Him.
And just as the cords of death cannot contain Jesus Christ, so they cannot contain the Church of Jesus Christ either.
Have you ever thought of the difference between power and control? There’s a woman who lives in the little town of Mason, Tennessee. Her name is Louise de Graffenreid. She was quite surprised one morning to wake up and discover a man standing over her bed pointing a gun at her head. He was an escaped inmate from the nearby penitentiary. She said to him: “You don’t need that gun. Just put it down on the table. I’m not going to run and I am not going to scream. I’ll fix you some breakfast. What would you like?” He was so stunned by the response that he lowered the gun and told her what he wanted for breakfast. She fixed him his breakfast. While he was eating breakfast she began to talk to him about her faith in Jesus Christ and about what Jesus Christ can do in a life surrendered to Him. As a result of her witness, Louise De Graffenreid led that young man to call the police, to turn himself in, and now he is finishing his term in prison—but when he gets out, he’s now got a whole new life of opportunity before him. Now in looking at the situation, one may say that the man, because he had the gun, was in control, but who had the power? You tell me.
You see, power always wins in the end. Jesus exercised very little control over the events of His life. Look at His death—how they arrested Him, tried Him, beat Him, and finally crucified Him. But in spite of the fact that they had control, He had the power—and in the end power prevails. The early church was not in control of the events of its days. It was tormented and persecuted, ridiculed and rejected. It was not in control, but it had the power—so much power that it turned the world upside down, brought the Roman Empire to its knees and started instead the spread of the greatest empire history has ever known—the empire of Jesus Christ. The church in our time possesses the same power.
Loren Eiseley, the great anthropologist, in his book The Immense Journey, tells about trying to catch two sparrow hawks. They were nesting on the eave of a barn. Eiseley slipped up on them and reached in to grab the two birds. He got the female in one hand but the male bird clawed at his other hand and sunk his beak into the flesh at the base of his thumb. He had to let the male go. He then proceeded to put the female hawk into a box, intending the next day to put her in a cage. The next day, he found a cage, but when he opened the box he was surprised to see that this great bird absolutely limp and still. She appeared to be dead. He picked her up and he could feel her heart trembling within. Then he noticed that her eye was focused on the skies overhead. On an impulse, he put the bird on the ground. She didn’t move. She just kept looking upward. Then suddenly from way up overhead there came a great piercing, echoing cry—and instantly that female bird thrashed into action, soared up from the earth, and headed straight toward the sun. Shielding his eyes from the glare, Eiseley saw the male bird circling high above, crying out, and the female soared up toward him. Eiseley described it as a moment of ecstatic joy.
Well, the church today sometimes trembles, sometimes quakes in fear, sometimes lies so still that the world thinks it has lost its life. But it keeps its eyes looking heavenward. And when the cry comes: “Because I live, you shall live also,” the church begins to soar. It flies upward and it flies farther than any organization or institution in the history of humankind. Jesus is loose—and so the church is loose in the world. It has the power and in the end, the power always wins.
So Easter declares that Christ is untied and Christ’s church is untied, and therefore individuals who are in Christ are set free as well.
Jesus Christ comes to us with His loving power—that is what Easter is all about. Jesus once said of Himself: “I am the light of the world.” And Fernclough, a Christian and a great scientist, said that the principal attribute of light and the most astonishing aspect of light is this: the speed of its coming. So when we need Christ in time of sin or sadness or despair or death—our own or those we love—He comes, He comes with incredible speed, He comes to loose us, to unbind us, to untie us, to set us free.
Some years ago now, a judge named Harold Medina presided over one of the most difficult and most notorious trials to take place in this country. Eleven communists were brought to stand before the bar of justice, accused of attempting to overthrow the government of the United States. Their strategy was to do everything they could to disrupt the trial. They were arrogant, belligerent, abusive, foul-mouthed and explosive. They focused their abuse upon Judge Medina, trying to cause him to lose his cool, and thus have the trial declared a mistrial. For seven and a half months everyday in court, the judge was subjected to unspeakable abuse. There came threats on his life. There came threats against his family. One day after 7 1/2 months, during a brief recess, Judge Medina was leaving the bench and he was suddenly overcome with dizziness. He went to a little anteroom and stretched out on a sofa there. Suddenly the weight of all those months of strain and abuse came crashing down upon him. It was too much. He cried out: “God, I can’t do it. I can’t go back into that courtroom again. I just can’t do it.” It was at that moment—and he wrote about this later—that, without a roll of drums or sound of trumpets, he became aware of the presence of God’s Spirit. It flowed into him, in absolute silence. And for fifteen minutes, he just rested there in the arms of his Lord. At the end of those fifteen minutes he got up, took his gavel, finished the trial—it was another month and a half long—and in so doing wrote one of the finest chapters ever written in the legal history of the United States. At the moment when he was feeling most bound, he was set free by the power of God. That’s the Easter promise to all of us who are in Jesus Christ.
I want you in your life to have the experience of John Gillespie Magee, Jr. He was born in China to missionary parents. At nineteen years of age in 1941, he was serving as a flight lieutenant for the Royal Canadian Air Force stationed in England. One day on a combat mission, flying at 30,000 feet, the words of a poem formed in his mind. Just a few weeks afterward, his plane was shot down and he lost his life—but not before the words of his verse had been loosed by Christ and set down for all to see and hear. Here is what that young nineteen-year-old Christian wrote:
Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds—and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of—wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there,
I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air.
Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue
I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace
Where never lark, or even eagle flew—
And, while with silent lifting mind I’ve trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand and touched the face of God.
Jesus said: “I am the truth…and you shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.” Claim Him as your own and the winds of the Spirit will send you soaring to the skies. You will be loosed. You will be unbound. You will be untied. You will be set free because it will be impossible for death to hold you in its power. Then you shall know the glorious liberty which belongs only to those who belong to Jesus.