I am really excited to be here with you this morning. To celebrate that Jesus is alive and to share in communion with brothers and sisters. There is also another reason that this is a special occasion for me. It’s only the second time I’ve been to a worship service on Easter Day for almost 18 years. For all those years I spent every Easter at a wonderful Christian teaching event in the UK called Spring Harvest. Last year was my first time to miss it.
And guess what, it appears to be going very well without me. The only one of us who is indispensable is Jesus. Without Jesus, life has no meaning.
In the Easter story, just two days ago life had lost all meaning for the followers of Jesus. They had thought he was the Messiah, but on Friday he was killed. He was executed by cruel men, and he died. It was over. What faith they had seemed to vanish with him. The Messiah could not die, so how could he be the Messiah they had so keenly waited for?
Where did they go after the crucifixion? Not a single one of them went to his tomb the next day, on the Saturday. The Gospels don’t tell of them going to prepare him for burial. The day after the Sabbath, on Sunday morning, some women went along, but none of the men.
Where do we find the men? Look at today’s scripture reading. Hiding behind locked doors because they are so afraid. They are frightened that what happened to Jesus will happen to them, and so they are hiding.
This is incredible. What cowards they are. How little they understand. Obviously none of them believe in the resurrection. The earlier part of John 20 describes how the women went to the tomb in which Jesus’ body had been placed by Joseph of Arimathea and by Nicodemus. They found the massive stone door moved aside and the body gone.
Why was the stone moved? What reason was there to move the heavy stone and unseal the tomb?
It wasn’t necessary to move it to let Jesus out, as we can see in verse 19.
The reason was probably therefore to let the disciples in. So that they could see for themselves that Jesus was gone. And so that anyone else who wanted to look could also see for themselves.
So Mary runs to fetch John and Peter, who then race back and enter the tomb.
She tells them: “They have taken the Lord’s body.” It appears that it is not her assumption that he has been resurrected, but that his body has been stolen.
Peter and John however understood for the first time the Scriptures that said Jesus must rise from the dead. Perhaps here is as good a place as any to point out that Jesus did not come back from the dead in the same way as Lazarus had done not long before.
In Lazarus’ case, he kept the same body. And this body was still prone to ageing. In due course Lazarus died again, and his body followed the natural course of decay. It is no more. Jesus had a new body. He had a resurrection body. Today he still has a resurrection body, and today he is still alive. You can talk to him.
Then the men go back home while Mary stays outside the tomb. She is still bewailing the body snatchers when she meets Jesus, who tells her to stop crying and to go and tell his disciples that he is going to be ascending.
So off she goes and tells them. He has resurrected, but he has not yet ascended.
How would you respond to news like this? Would you call the local TV Station to tell them the amazing thing that just happened? Would you tell the internet? Would call all your friends and have a party. What did his eleven closest followers do? They locked themselves in a room because they were afraid that they would be the next to be crucified.
Jesus appeared a number of times before he left this earth. Each time he appeared only to people who believed in him. He did not appear to King Herod, nor to Pontius Pilate, nor did he go to the Sanhedrin to explain to them the errors of their ways. Jesus only met with people who already believed in him.
And here they are in our Bible reading today, cowering in terror, fearful for their lives.
Then suddenly, Jesus is standing there among them.
We have to pause here, because this is a key moment in the history of Christianity. This is a game changing moment. These eleven fearful timid men are never going to be able to build a global movement.
But the resurrected Jesus does something amazing and they are transformed.
He tells them that he is sending them, just as God sent him. Verse 21.
Their job is to carry on his job. His mission is now their mission. After Jesus had commissioned his disciples, then he empowered them. After they accepted his commission, he breathed on them and he said – verse 22 – ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’
Once they had received the Holy Spirit these men no longer hid behind locked doors but fearlessly proclaimed the risen Jesus to the world, and happily and willingly embraced crucifixion and other terrible deaths.
Easter Sunday, today, is when Jesus overcame death. He gained victory over the powers of death, and that victory is ours through faith in him.
When we believe in Jesus several things happen.
One is that we share in his victory. We shall not die, but we shall also have resurrection bodies. Glorious new bodies that don’t age or ache or get ill.
Friday looked like defeat, Sunday is sweet victory.
Jesus did not just promise this, he demonstrated it. His disciples saw the reality and were changed by it. Their faith levels went through the roof.
When we believe in Jesus we get a new purpose in life. We no longer live to work. We no longer work to provide a home for our family. We no longer have a family because we are lonely.
When we believe in Jesus his gives us his purpose in life. He sends us as he was sent, to do what he was sent to do.
All of us who believe are called to go out and take God’s forgiveness to people who are sinning. All of us. This is what he told everyone to do. It is fundamental to being a follower of Jesus. It is not the silver badge for super Christians, but the basic task of us all – you, me, everyone.
Another thing is that we can meet with Jesus when we believe in him. He will come and stand with us and greet us, and he will breath on us and fill us with the Holy Spirit.
If we don’t allow him to fill us with the Holy Spirit, we will be unable to carry on his task. Unless you allow Jesus to come to you and change you, you will spend the rest of your life hiding behind locked doors, afraid to let anyone know you are his follower in case something hurts you.
Today the tomb is empty. Jesus is resurrected. We have inherited his mission. We have the Holy Spirit. We can do it – because of his victory and because he is alive.
Let’s embrace his victory this morning and celebrate Easter together.