Date: Easter Sunday – April 16, 2017
Text: Exodus 14:10-31; Exodus 15:1-18; 1 Corinthians 15:1-11; John 20:1-18
Context: Easter is the center of the Christian faith. Jesus either rose from the dead as He prophesied, thereby affirming his identity as the Son of God, or his life and death have no greater meaning and purpose for us today. Some want to see Jesus as only a kind teacher, but a kind teacher doesn’t claim to be God. A more comprehensive examination of what Jesus said and did leads us to one of three conclusions. He might have been crazy – suffering from delusions of grandeur or some other form of mental illness whereby he believed himself to be divine. But that’s not a person we should follow. Jesus might also have just been thoroughly evil, knowingly lying to his followers about himself and everything else. The final option is that Jesus is who He claimed to be – the Son of God come to save us from our sins and death by offering his life sacrificially for us. The empty tomb leads us to only the third conclusion, and this leads us to celebration of the goodness of our God and his triumph on our behalf. He is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!
Exodus 14:10-31 – The single-most formative event in the Old Testament, in terms of creating a sense of identity as the people of God is God’s rescue of his people from slavery and genocide in Israel. This victory is accomplished in stages. The first stage is actually bringing his people out from Pharaoh’s land, having decimated the Egyptians through a series of brutal plagues and demonstrations of power. But the final victory comes when God draws Pharaoh out of Egypt to pursue the Israelites with his powerful army. Few things could have been as terrifying as hearing the rumble of chariots, watching the immense dust cloud they raised advancing on the horizon. The Israelites are not warriors and are probably not very well armed. They anticipate a massacre. But God delivers his people and instead destroys their enemy. This foreshadows Christ’s victory on Easter morning, and also prepares us, his Easter people for a two-stage revelation of the fullness of God’s victory. Jesus has freed us from the power of sin and Satan and death, though we still see these enemies dangerously active and ominous on our horizon at all time. But on the day of our Lord’s return, the true victory will be obvious to everyone.
Exodus 15:1-18 – Moses and the people of God burst into song as they watch the waters cover over the powerful army of Pharaoh. God has accomplished the unimaginable – the utter defeat of the most powerful empire in the area, and the miraculous salvation of his people through the Red Sea. This song captures the haughty arrogance of Pharaoh and his glittering troops and chariots before their total and complete devastation at God’s hands. Likewise we are to praise the Lord who delivers us from our enemies and promises to bring us to his chosen place. Victory is complete already, but we anticipate witnessing the full repercussions of that victory when our Lord returns in glory and honor.
1 Corinthians 15:1-11 – The Gospel, the good news of God, focuses exclusively on our Lord and his victory over the power of death and the grave. This is the first importance. We often want to turn our focus too quickly to our response to this victory, to the process of our sanctification. But sanctification is only possible when we receive the justification won for us in the death and resurrection of the Son of God. To pass too quickly by his victory and obsess about our response is to miss the Gospel. The resurrection is not incidental to the Christian faith, it is the center upon which it stands or falls. Either Jesus rose from the dead and we are saved from our sins, or He didn’t and we are still in our sin and guilt. Hundreds of people could attest to our Lord’s post-resurrection appearances. This was Paul’s message. He did not create it, he simply relayed it faithfully and it became the center of faith for those who heard it.
John 20:1-18 – John’s description of Easter morning focuses on Mary Magdalene, rather than the other ladies reported in the other gospels. This is not contradictory, but complementary. John fills us in on Mary’s particular experience which differed from what the other women experienced but was related to the same truth of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. Peter and John race to the tomb to see for themselves. Mary presumed that someone had taken or moved the body, but the sight of the burial cloths on the floor of the tomb made it clear this could not be the case. Nobody would have taken a naked dead body from the tomb, taking the time to remove the burial cloths from it first. So it is that John believes that Jesus has risen from the dead.
Mary followed Peter and John back to the tomb, and as they depart she remains behind. The two disciples do not appear to have spoken to her or otherwise indicated their conclusions to her, and so she weeps under the assumption that the body has been moved or stolen. So certain of this is she that she pays no real attention to the angels. So certain is she of this that she mistakes Jesus for the gardener, hoping that perhaps he knows the whereabouts of the body and can let her know.
The details are simple but compelling. Writing many years later, they are still crisp and clear in John’s mind. It is these details, this reality, that has been the center of John’s life for decades. The tomb is empty. Jesus is risen. Reconciliation with God the Father has been accomplished. Forgiveness is delivered. Grace reigns. Where we would settle from deliverance from debt, from tyrannical government, from sickness or disease, Jesus comes to deliver us from nothing less than Satan, sin, and the grave itself. He is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!