Easter Sunday (Historic)
April 15, 2001
Death is Dead!
Where were you when Elvis died? Even though I was only twelve, I remember it clearly. Our family was vacationing in northern Minnesota. We were at a gas station in International Falls, on the Canadian border. Where were you when John Lennon was shot? Where were you when the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded.
We have a way of remembering events like that, don’t we. When something startling happens, when someone famous dies, for some reason those things get burned into our memories.
It is my prayer that you remember today, dear friends. It is my prayer that you remember Easter worship 2001 at Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church where you heard about a death, the most shocking announcement of all time: DEATH IS DEAD! That’s right, DEATH IS DEAD! Our greatest enemy – dead! Our greatest fear – gone! Our greatest doubt – removed. DEATH IS DEAD, and Life lives! This happened through Jesus Christ, who rose in victory and triumph Easter morning. There is no doubt that this is true. There was never any doubt that Christ would win. There isn’t any chance that he can’t deliver you from death and bring you safely into his eternal kingdom of heaven. For so certain a truth is Easter that even centuries before it happened, centuries before he lived and died and rose again, Jesus spoke through the prophet Hosea:
"I will ransom them from the power of the grave; I will redeem them from death. Where, O death, are your plagues? Where, O grave, is your destruction? – Hosea 13:14
Easter means that Jesus lives. Easter means that you live. Easter means that DEATH IS DEAD! Thanks be to God!
1. Your Savior Destroyed Your Enemy
Easter is the most incredible message the world can hear. Yet people don’t believe it, and even we in the weakness of our faith are slow to believe it too. DEATH IS DEAD? How can that be? Our experience screams at us, “That isn’t true!” Four people dead already this Easter weekend on Atlanta roads. A father killed this past week as he was taking his kids to a Hawks game, killed by a random act of violence, the innocent victim in a high-speed police chase. Everyday there is an obituary column in the newspaper. Everyday people pass from this life to the next. How in the world can I stand up in the pulpit and proclaim DEATH IS DEAD?
Yes, in one sense death is still very much in the world, very much lurking around our lives. Death is our greatest enemy. Look at mankind. Virtually everything we do is geared toward prolonging life and postponing death. We put alarms on our houses. We put air bags in our cars. We warn our kids not to run out into the road. We try to eat healthy. We walk, we ride, we jog, we pump iron (some of us, anyway). We go to the doctors. Don’t misunderstand me; our bodies are gifts from God and we should take care of them. But that’s not the point I’m making. The prophet Isaiah once wrote that death hangs like a cloud over the whole planet, THE SHEET THAT COVERS ALL NATIONS (Is. 25:7). No matter how much success we may experience, no matter how much fun we might have, no matter what kind of estate we may accumulate, in the end there is the grave, there is death. Even before we die, we have been to the funeral home, we have stood by the casket, we have trudged to the cemetery, we have paid our respects to people we casually know, but also said good-bye to those we dearly love. Death has PLAGUES – it plagues us with doubt, it plagues us with fear, it plagues us with sorrow.
Is being in debt to creditors a problem? Sure. Does arthritis cause pain? Yes. Does having our hopes and dreams dashed hurt? Of course. But there is no enemy like DEATH, an enemy that stirs up fear just by the mention of his name.
Death came into the world through sin, the Bible says. St. Paul to the Romans, AND IN THIS WAY DEATH PASSED UPON ALL, FOR ALL HAVE SINNED (Ro. 5:12). No, death isn’t merely a scientific, biological problem. You know, the other night on TV there was a science show telling of a farm in Wisconsin (the location wasn’t mentioned, for security reasons I suppose) where a genetic scientist is cloning pigs and altering their genes so that a pig’s heart and other organs can be transplanted into humans to prolong life. Will it work? Who knows? But will science ever find a cure for death? No. Mark Twain once called death the “ultimate statistic; one out of every one dies.” If the Lord Jesus doesn’t return first, we too will each march off to the grave. Hosea is right; the GRAVE HAS POWER. Death has DESTRUCTION; DUST WE ARE AND TO DUST WE WILL EACH RETURN, the ultimate proof of our sinfulness. We feel guilt. Deep down we know that we are sinners. We’re afraid to die and stand before our Maker.
But, now, come with me to that empty grave of Jesus, my dear friends, and look inside. HE IS NOT HERE; HE HAS RISEN! I don’t really care what the popular views of Jesus are – that he was only a great teacher, that he was only a great role model, that he was merely a man with conviction who bravely died for his beliefs. He’s more than that; he’s your SAVIOR, AND HE HAS DESTROYED YOUR ENEMY.
The other night Public Television was broadcasting “Jesus Christ, Superstar.” I had never seen it (of course I was sooooo young when it first came out). I don’t really recommend it, but I guess I watched the last part of it out of theological curiosity more than anything else. Liz and I were both moved by the crucifixion scene. And we sat there waiting for the resurrection…but all that came were the credits. It ended with the death of Christ – that’s all folks!
Jesus with no Easter? Christ’s life with no resurrection? I’m sorry, Mr. Andrew Lloyd Webber, that’s not all folks. Jesus Christ has destroyed death by his resurrection. That’s what he came into the world to do – not just to give us a few pointers as to how to improve the quality of our lives; he came to DESTROY DEATH, our greatest enemy. If he would have remained in the grave, death would have won. Christ would then be a liar and we would be lost. But HERE IS NOT HERE; HE IS RISEN. Yes, of all the religions in the world with their fine ideas, only Christianity has a leader whose grave you cannot visit. WHERE, O DEATH, ARE YOUR PLAGUES? WHERE, O GRAVE, IS YOUR DESTRUCTION?
2. Your Redeemer Gives You Victory
But now, Easter is so much more than learning how to face death without fear, with courage and dignity. After all, even philosophers, poets, and scientists can do that. I remember the astronomer Carl Sagan mention in an interview that he was looking forward to death as “the last great adventure.” Walt Whitman, who wrote a beautiful poem upon the death of Lincoln entitled, “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d,” wrestled with the thought of death in his verses. In the end, he decided that all we can do is embrace it like a friend: “Come, sweet, soothing death. Undulate around me, arriving, arriving..” His contemporary, the poet William Cullen Bryant wrote what some have called the most beautiful American poem, “Thanatopsis,” (which is Greek for “A View of Death”). And what was his view of death? In beautiful, flowing verse with elegant words, his bottom line was that the best we can hope for is that our body, placed in the earth, will by its decay help some other form of life spring forth. Our death helps produce life.
How empty! No matter how elegant the language, that message is depressing. God has so much more planned for us that merely to be fertilizer for ferns. That doesn’t dignify human beings. Jesus, however, gives us the highest dignity; he rose from death as our REDEEMER TO GIVE YOU ETERNAL VICTORY.
I WILL RANSOM THEM FROM THE POWER OF THE GRAVE; I WILL REDEEM THEM FROM DEATH… In the Old Testament that word “REDEEMER” has such beautiful meaning. It applied only to near relatives, who helped their kin out of dire circumstances. Jesus became our “relative,” became our “blood brother” when God became man. Jesus was born in Bethlehem. The Bible says that HE SHARED OUR HUMANITY (Heb. 2:14). True God, but also true man, born of the Virgin Mary. He ate. He walked. He talked. He slept. He ached. He hungered. He knew pain. He knew sorrow. He wept. He bled. He died.
But then he rose again from the dead. And all this he did for you to REDEEM you from sin, from death, and from hell itself. I KNOW THAT MY REDEEMER LIVES! WHAT COMFORT THIS SWEET SENTENCE GIVES. It’s comforting because Jesus, our brother, has erased our sins. It’s comforting because Jesus has paid the RANSOM for our release with his own blood. It’s comforting because Easter proves that God accepted Jesus’ sacrifice as payment for our sins. His resurrection declares to you that you are forgiven. Your sin is gone! Your guilt is dead! Every wrong thing you’ve ever done has been washed away by the blood of Jesus. And Jesus came out of the grave to tell each of you here today, I AM THE RESURRECTION AND THE LIFE. ANYONE WHO BELIEVES IN ME WILL LIVE, EVEN THOUGH HE DIES, AND WHOEVER LIVES AND BELIEVES IN ME WILL NEVER DIE. (Jn. 11:25-26). Do you believe this? Then death is not the end, but only the beginning of life.
And not just for your soul either, my friends. YOUR REDEEMER GIVES YOU VICTORY. It was not just the Son of God that came out of the tomb, but also the Son of Man. It was a human being that arose on Easter morning. By becoming a man, Jesus Christ also became our blood-brother. And his resurrection means that these tired old bones of ours will also come out of the grave and rise in glory. My soul will be reunited with my glorified body and I will live – yes me, not a copy, not a clone, but me! – I will live with my Redeemer in the eternal bliss of his heaven.
Compared to other cultures, we Americans are obsessed with our bodies and the way we look. Yet these bodies grow old, radically change, and finally wear out. But Easter gives hope to our bodies as well as our souls. WE WILL BE CHANGED, St. Paul wrote the Corinthians, IN A MOMENT, IN THE TWINKILING OF AN EYE AT THE LAST TRUMPET… WE WILL BE RAISED INCORRUPTIBLE (1 Cor.15). What dignity and honor God gives human beings, so much more than the poets and philosophers. YOUR REDEEMER SHARES HIS VICTORY OVER DEATH WITH YOU. He will raise us from death and give to our souls and bodies eternal life. That is his promise to all who believe in him, and God hasn’t lied to us yet.
Are any of you here skeptical about what Easter proclaims? Proceed through life at your own risk. Go ahead, continue to let uncertainty gnaw at you, fear chase you, and death terrify you. But, in my humble opinion, that’s no way to live. In fact, that’s not living; that’s just slowly dying.
Easter offers a better life and a sure hope. It’s more than bunnies and baskets of candy, more than nice flowers and long weekend, even more than a family dinner. Today is a day where the rubber hits the road. This strikes at the very heart of our human existence; will we live or is death the end?
They say that there are only two certain things in life: death and taxes. But, in view of Easter, really only one thing is certain. Today’s April 15. I’m sorry about the taxes. Those probably won’t ever go away, at least in our lifetime. But death has! That is what Jesus’ resurrection is all about. DEATH IS DEAD! Your Savior has destroyed your greatest enemy. Your Redeemer lives to share with you his victory. And you who believe in him WILL NOT DIE, BUT LIVE (Ps. 118:17). Amen.