Altar Call – Opelika-Auburn News
April 20, 2014
The good news of Easter: the tomb was empty!
When I get to heaven there are many people I want to get to know. One is a musician named Robert Lowry. Back in 1874 Lowry wrote the words and the music for a hymn I dearly love. I don’t sing it often but I do sing it with gusto every Easter. I can hardly wait to join with friends in singing these words Sunday morning:
Low in the grave he lay, Jesus my Savior!
Waiting the coming day, Jesus my Lord!
Up from the grave he arose,
With a mighty triumph o’er his foes;
He arose a victor from the dark domain,
And he lives forever with his saints to reign,
He arose! He arose! Hallelujah! Christ Arose!
That song and the truth it proclaims stirs my soul. Whenever I sing it I want to shout and dance around the room lifting my hands toward heaven. But of course, being one of those sedate Methodists, I restrain myself so that my dignified friends will not think I have gone crazy. Perhaps in heaven shouting and dancing will be the norm. Years ago Methodists had so much enthusiasm for Jesus that they were known as “Shouting Methodists.”
I know church can sometimes be boring but that is the preacher’s fault, not God’s. The good news of Easter is flat out exciting. Just imagine how Mary and the other women must have felt when that angel walked up and told them they would not find Jesus in that tomb because it was empty! Their hearts were pounding! Jesus had said he would rise on the third day and he did it! He’s alive!
Easter is the most emotional day of the Christian year. Christmas is a distant second. The birth of Jesus is lovely and precious, a compelling story of God becoming flesh. Yet Easter stirs us to the depths. God raised a dead man to life! The impossible has happened. The tomb is empty!
Since that day multiplied millions of people have embraced the faith of those who witnessed the risen Christ in a new body. Those early witnesses began shouting the news: Christ has risen, just as he said he would!
The resurrection of Jesus was a turning point in history. Sadness could no longer have the last word. Joy had come to the world in the person of Jesus. Fear of death and hell could no longer hold us captive. He is alive! And he has promised life to his followers: “Because I live, you shall live also.”
No less a word than “hallelujah” can express the emotion evoked in the human heart by this good news! This sterling truth became the linchpin of a new faith – the Christian faith.
Some may doubt that the dead body of Christ was raised from the dead. The disciple Thomas did, for a few days. But the women who were close to Jesus believed he was risen. As they ran to share the good news with the disciples, the risen Christ appeared to them! No wonder they believed.
Hearing the news the women brought, and seeing their “great joy,” the disciples believed. They began telling the news to others, and thus began the spreading of the gospel “into all the world.” Ever since that first glad morning, the followers of Jesus have believed they had a “story to tell to the nations,” and the sharing of that story goes on to the present hour. That good news will be declared today from millions of pulpits across the world!
Perhaps, since Easter is such an emotional day, it would be helpful to imagine how we would have felt had we been present on that historic day. If you were one of the women walking to the tomb, you would have been sorrowful, your eyes reddened by crying. You are going to anoint the dead body of the Master with spices. Suddenly, the earth beneath your feet is shaking. God is at work!
The massive stone is rolled back, opening the door to the tomb. Your sad countenance is overwhelmed by the radiant countenance of the angel who, having rolled the stone away, now sits triumphantly upon it. Observing what has happened, you are trembling, but not quite as much as the Roman guards. They are so frightened that they fainted and now appear “like dead men.”
The angel speaks with a calm, reassuring voice and you are less afraid as the angel says, “Don’t be afraid. I know why you are here; you are looking for Jesus.” Then you hear the greatest announcement ever made. The angel says, “He is not here: for he is risen, as he said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay.”
You realize that the tomb was not opened so that Jesus could get out, but so that you could get in – to see for yourselves that the tomb is empty. You see that truly Jesus is not there. Now, still shaking, you hear the angel charge you – not the men – with the responsibility of announcing the resurrection of the Lord.
As you depart, now running with excitement, the risen Jesus appears to you. You recognize him; it is the Lord. He said he would rise from the dead, and he has. And much like the soldiers at the foot of the cross, you fall on your knees and cry, “Truly, this is the Son of God!” The Christ, the Messiah of God, is standing before you. Instinctively, you want to worship him.
Recognizing your fear, Jesus tells you not to be afraid. Even as he speaks the words, you remember how many times before you heard him say, “Fear not.” Now, he sends you on your way to tell “the brethren” the good news that he is alive. Think of your assignment: to go and tell fearful men that they can come out of hiding now because Jesus is alive!
Today there are still fearful men who need to hear this good news from women who have been “made alive” by the living Christ. Be quiet for a moment and you can still hear him say, “Go and tell others the good news.” What good news? The good news that because he arose, “up from the grave,” we too can have victory over “the dark domain.” We too can have the assurance of eternal life “because he lives.” We too can look death in the face and know that because He lives forever, we too shall live.
Beware of those false teachers who try to convince you that it does not really matter if Jesus rose from the dead. What matters, they say, is that like Abe Lincoln, his spirit lives on to encourage us to live by his profound teachings. That is nonsense. If there had been no resurrection, there would have been no New Testament. Had there been no resurrection we would have never heard of the Apostle Paul.
The early apostles were so convinced of the resurrection of Jesus that they were willing to die for their faith. If someone had stolen the dead body of Jesus while the guards were sleeping, and buried it in a secret place, only a fool would believe the apostles would have been willing then to die for their faith.
When the church was born, winning eager disciples across the Mediterranean world, it was because Peter and Paul were preaching the resurrection of Jesus. They believed it. They preached it. They taught it. They wrote letters about it. Because they did the Christian faith spread to the far corners of the earth and millions began embracing the living Christ as Lord of their lives.
The beat goes on and today’s believers are the latest people God has chosen to go tell the world that the tomb was empty. This is the great privilege of the disciples of Jesus: to tell others the good news that Christ is alive and they can get to know him. Hallelujah! I think today I will become a shouting Methodist! Glory! + + +