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You Can’t Keep The Son From Rising

Matthew 28:1-10

I’m going to read now from the Word of God, the Easter story as we find it in the Gospel of Matthew, and then a single verse from the eighth chapter of Paul’s letter to the Romans. I shall begin the reading at the 62nd verse of the 27th chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, then reading through the 10th verse of the next chapter. Here is the story of Easter. “Next day, that is, after the Day of Preparation, the Chief Priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate and said, ‘Sir, we remember how that imposter said, while He was still alive, “After three days, I will rise again.” Therefore, order the sepulcher to be made secure until the third day, lest His disciples go and steal Him away and tell the people He has risen from the dead, and the last fraud will then be worse than the first. Pilate said to them, ‘You have a guard of soldiers, so go and make it as secure as you can.’ And so they went and made the sepulcher secure by sealing the stone and setting a guard.”

“Now, after the Sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the sepulcher. And behold, there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from Heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat upon it. His appearance was like lightning and His raiment white as snow. And for fear of Him, the guards trembled and they became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, ‘Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for He has risen as He said. Come and see the place where He lay, and then go quickly and tell His disciples that He has risen from the dead. And behold, He is going before you to Galilee. There you will see Him. Lo, I have told you.’ And so they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and they ran to tell His disciples. And behold, Jesus met them. And He said, ‘Hail.’ And they came up and they took hold of His feet and worshiped Him. Then Jesus said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. Go and tell My brethren to go to Galilee and there they will see Me.’”

And then Romans 8:11. “If the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus Christ from the dead dwells in you, then He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies.”

Soli Deo gloria. To God alone, be the glory. 

Let us pray. Now may the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts by acceptable in Your sight, oh God, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.

The article appeared in Reader’s Digest. It was written by a man named Clarence Hall. He was telling of a journey which he made to Jerusalem during Holy Week. He was scheduled to participate in the Sunrise Service which is held each year on Easter at the site of the Garden Tomb. Now, that’s one of two traditional sites where the church claims that Christ was buried. And that particular site is the one which, to my way of thinking, is the more likely. And there, Clarence Hall was to have a part in that great service. As his sense of anticipation began to build, well, the night before Easter seemed endless to him. He was restless. He just couldn’t sleep. And in the midst of his wakefulness, he turned to his friend, his name was Abdul. He was a Christian Arab and he was serving as Clarence Hall’s guide in the Holy Land. He turned to Abdul and he said, “Do you think the night will ever pass?” And Abdul smiled in reply and said, “Never fear, my friend. The day will come, for you can’t keep the sun from rising.”

Just two hours later, Clarence Hall joined the throng of thousands as they made their way to the site of the Garden Tomb, there to wait for the dawn. And the dawn came, as it always comes in the Middle East, with great suddenness. The sun burst above the horizon and banished the gloom and filled the whole place with a glorious light. And at that moment, at the moment of light, thousands and thousands of voices rose and began to sing, “Jesus Christ is risen today. Hallelujah!” 

And Clarence Hall writes, “I realized for the first time that what Abdul had said had a double meaning. That just as you can’t keep the sun from rising in the morning, so you can’t keep the Son of God from rising in resurrection glory.” 

Yes! That’s why I stand here today, to say to you that Jesus Christ is alive. We are Easter people and hallelujah is our song.

Now, I know. I know that in this modern, sophisticated, intellectual 20th century, that sounds a bit far-fetched, a bit preposterous, a bit unbelievable, fantastic, too good to be true. But no more far-fetched now than it was then on that Sunday morning nearly 2,000 years ago when the women got up early and went down to visit the tomb. They carried with them nothing more than their pain-drenched memories. They never expected the sun to rise that day because the sun had gone down forever on all of their hopes and their dreams. And they certainly never expected the Son of God to rise that day, oh no. Oh, they knew. He had said things like that before His death. He had mentioned the fact that after His death, He would, on the third day, rise again. But Pilate and the religious authorities, well, they’d taken care of that good and proper! Yes, they had ordered the tomb to be sealed up tight, and they had taken a squad of armed soldiers and they’d set them there to guard that tomb around the clock. There would be no resurrection, real or imagined.

So those women went down to the tomb with eyes filled with tears and hearts laden with sorrow. Their lives were as dark as the dark night that enshrouded them. But then came the dawn. Then came the rising of the sun. And wonder of wonders, there they met Jesus, no longer dead but now very much alive! And they reached out, the Bible says, they reached out and they touched Him! And they held Him and they knew, yes, He is alive! And the darkness was banished and it was light again and joy flooded their souls! And the Bible says they went running! Yes, they went running back to the disciples to tell them what had happened.

It’s always bothered me, always. It’s always bothered me that the disciples didn’t believe them. I mean, dear Father in Heaven, these men had spent three years with Him! They’d heard every word that He ever spoke! They’d seen all the miracles He performed! They’d watched Him as He exercised His enormous power over the forces of nature and the forces of super-nature. They’d watched as He had literally raised people from the dead before their very eyes. They’d seen it all, they’d heard it all, and yet now, when confronted with it, they didn’t believe it. Just a bunch of excited women. Their nerves are overwrought. Their emotions are all upset because of their grief and so they’ve taken to seeing things that are not there and hearing voices no one else hears. It’s just an idle tale, just another unsubstantiated rumor, that’s all it is. No one ever comes back from the dead.

But something, I don’t know what – oh, I wish I did. I don’t know what it was, but something – maybe it was something that the women said or maybe it was the tone of their voices or maybe it was something in their eyes. I don’t know what it was, but something, something made Peter and John lay aside their doubt and go to the tomb to see for themselves. And what they found there so transformed them that they transformed the world. What they saw there so gripped their lives and turned them around that they spent the rest of their days delivering the message, the very message which has drawn you to this place today, the same message which has drawn hundreds of millions of people to places just like this all over the world today.
And the message was simply this. We have met a living Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is alive. We, you and I, we are Easter people and hallelujah is our song. 

And therefore, I want to write on your heart today in a way you can never forget it, I hope, the great resurrection Gospel of Jesus Christ. 

For we are Easter people and Easter people cannot be defeated! They cannot lose!

Oh, I know. I know early on that Sunday morning before the dawn, in the darkness, I know that Jesus looked a lot like a loser. I mean, here He was bottled up in a burrowed grave, smothered in the shroud of death. He was 33 years old and already wiped out. He had no followers, they were long since gone. He had no real accomplishments to which He could point. Wrote no books, elected to no office. Not a great leader of the people. He had nothing. He was dead. A failure by anyone’s standards, a colossal flop. Get the picture, please. Here was the stone-cold corpse of a young, Galilean carpenter, tragically put to death, stretched out now on a stone-cold slab in a moist, dank grave. Pale, ashen, eyes glazed over in death. No life there. No movement there. No color there. Skin cold and clammy.

And then suddenly, there in the darkness, suddenly there came the power of God and instantaneously, where there had been no life, now there is life! Where there had been no movement, now there is movement! The eyes begin to flutter and then the ears begin to hear and the mouth begins to form words and the limbs begin to move and to stretch, and the blood begins to pound and the heart begins to resuscitate and the color returns. Where there had been no color, now there is color, rainbow upon rainbow. Life in the midst of a tomb. And Jesus Christ, in that moment, got up from the cold stone slab and walked out into the garden with the dawning light about Him, alive forevermore. And in that moment, Jesus said no, once and for all, to all of the forces of evil that exist in this world. No, He said, to Pontius Pilate who had rendered judgment on His life. No, He said, to those who had tried to cross Him out on a lonely hill. No, He said, to the power of death itself. No. The power of God is in control and nothing will ever stop or defeat the power of God.

And here is the miracle which has transformed the ages. Our God is a God who sent His only begotten Son into a manger in Bethlehem. And our God is a God who then delivered His only begotten Son out of a tomb in Jerusalem. And our God is a God who would not let His Son be defeated by the forces of evil in the world. And our God is a God who grants to us that same power. Because we are His, we cannot be defeated either. That’s what Paul means when he writes, “If the Spirit of Him who raised Christ Jesus from the dead lives in you, then He, by that Spirit, will give life to your mortal bodies.” You cannot be defeated, not now, not ever!

It was just a little more than ten years ago now. A young man walked into a book store in New York City. His face was radiant with joy. It was so noticeable, in fact, that the clerk in the book store said, “My, you seem rather happy today.” And the young man said, “Yes, I am happy. You see, I’ve just returned from Vietnam. I was a prisoner of war there for four years and now I am released.” And the clerk said, “Well, no wonder you’re happy.” And the young man said, “Oh, yes, I’m happy about that but I’m also happy about so much more than that.”

And the young man went on to explain that while he was locked in a cage out in the jungle, a prisoner of the Viet Cong, one of his fellow prisoners, happened to slide through the bars of his cage, an old, beat-up, dog-eared paperback book. It happened to be a book about the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The book was entitled Who Moved the Stone? by Frank Morison. And this young man read that book. And in the course of the reading of that book, he began to understand that the people who belong to Jesus somehow possess a strength and a power which other people just do not have. And so he said to the clerk, “I claimed that power for myself, and I was changed. And I tell you, I was set free two years before I was ever released. And I’ve come to this store today to ask you if you have a copy of that book because I want to share it with my wife. I want her to know what I know.”

And what did he know? Oh, he knew what it was to be one of the Easter people. He knew what it was to have the power, the same power of the same Spirit that raised Jesus Christ from the dead living within him and giving him strength and power for his life. He knew what it was to say, “I am one of the Easter people and hallelujah is my song.” For the Easter people, make no mistake about it, the Easter people cannot be defeated in this life. No, they cannot lose. 

Ah, but not only that, the Easter people cannot be discouraged. They cannot give up. 

Oh, I know, on that Sunday morning before the dawn, things looked discouraging indeed. I mean, here was Jesus who’d been the hope in so many hearts and the light in so many lives, here was Jesus, dead, cold, locked away, over and done with, finished forever, or so they thought. But then just as you can’t keep the sun from rising in the morning, so you can’t keep the power of God from raising His Son from the dead. And there in the darkness of that tomb, the power of God broke in upon Jesus Christ and raised Him to new life. And when He walked out of that grave, He ended discouragement forever for those who belong to him.

I learned about a young man in Scotland who developed cancer. It was cancer of the throat and the tongue, terrible for anyone, of course, but especially so for him. You see, he was a professional singer. He was a tenor. People said he had a voice like an angel. And whenever he would sing in Scotland, the people would always crowd to hear him. Now radical surgery was required. He would not only never sing again, he would never speak again.

He was on the operating table and the surgeon, just before the anesthetic was to be administered, said to him, “Is there anything you desire to say before the surgery begins?” And the young man said, “Yes, there is.” And he sat up on the operating table and suddenly began to sing with a voice like an angel. He began to sing the words of a great old hymn of the church, a 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.” And on he sang, verse after verse after verse, with his voice triumphant so that there wasn’t a dry eye in the whole operating theater except his own. On he sang, verse after verse after verse, until he came to the last. And at the last verse, he stopped for a moment. He bowed his head and he closed his eyes. And then he lifted his arms on high and with a voice even more triumphant than ever before, he began to sing, “Then is a sweeter, nobler song. I’ll sing Thy power to save when this poor, lisping, stammering tongue lies silent in the grave.”

He would put aside his voice forever. He would never sing or speak again. But would he give in to discouragement? No! Because he had the same power of the same Spirit who raised Jesus Christ from the dead living in him and that Spirit gave life to his mortal body. That’s the testimony of a young Scots tenor who today is mute but who still sings praise to God in his life. We are the Easter people, yes, and the Easter people cannot be discouraged. They cannot give up. Oh, but there is more. 

The Easter people cannot die. They cannot be stopped by the grave.

Oh, I know on that Sunday morning before the dawn, it looked like death had the last word, yes. But then it was that God stretched out His arm and with His hands, cracked that grave wide open and then moved by His Spirit into the midst of the darkness of that tomb and stretched out His great, loving arms and wrapped them around the dead body of His Son and lifted Him up and breathed into Him life, a life that would never ever end. And from that moment to this, no one has ever been able to stop the trumpet blast of that great truth that Jesus Christ is alive. We are Easter people and no grave will ever hold us.

Oh, I know, we will still weep for those whom we love whom we lose to death, yes. And if we love them, we ought to weep for them. But you see, we will weep not as those who have no hope. We will weep knowing full well that Jesus Christ Himself has been there and come back again. We know that beyond the silent night of death, there is an endless day because Jesus Christ has been there and come back again. We know that our God is the sure conqueror of death and that love will never ever lose its own. We know that because Jesus Christ has been there and come back again. We know that those whom we lose to death, while we’ll be separated from them for a time, yes, to be sure, but ultimately, we will be reunited with them in that land where the load shall be lifted and where the gate is open wide because Jesus Christ has been there and come back again. We know that we can say of those whom we have lost to death, “That is my husband, my wife, my child, my parent, my friend.” We can say that because they are still ours. They are still alive.

Oh, it may be beyond the bounds of our vision, it may even be beyond the bounds of our understanding, but they are still ours and they are still alive. And one day, God will give them back to us in the glory of a life that will never ever end because Jesus Christ has been there and come back again. That’s the testimony of this book, and that’s exactly the way it shall be. We are the Easter people and the Easter people can never be defeated in this life, they cannot lose. And the Easter people can never be discouraged in this life, they can never give up. And the Easter people can never be destroyed in this life. Death and the grave will never hold them. That’s the Gospel of Easter. Jesus Christ is alive.

Please, do you hear me? People, I beg you, please don’t make the mistake of those first disciples who ran down to the tomb and who peeked in and who then went home unconvinced. Don’t just peek at Easter, not this year. No, claim it. Claim it for yourselves and say now, with the Apostle Paul, “The Spirit of Him who raised Christ Jesus from the dead is living in me and the Spirit of Him who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will give life to my mortal body.” Say it. Say it. Because you and I, we – oh, the wonder. You and I are Easter people and hallelujah is our song.

Let us pray. Oh, great God Almighty, just as You broke open the grave of Jesus Christ and raised Him to new life, so break open the tomb of our indifferentness and raise us to new life in Him that we may live fully in His power, not only for this life but for the life that is to come. We claim the resurrection promise through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

 

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