What’s your favourite thing about Easter? Is it the candy? Colouring eggs? Getting a new outfit to wear for the occasion? While those things are nice, I think the best thing about Easter is the special worship service and the opportunity to sing Easter hymns. Their melodies and words are upbeat and serve as a refreshing change from the stark hymns of Lent. Do you have a favourite Easter hymn? I’m sure you do and I hope we’ll sing it this morning. If not you’ll have to come back because we’ll be singing Easter hymns for the next month.
In our devotion together this morning I want to share with you an Easter hymn that’s not so familiar. It’s not a new hymn, far from it; it’s been around for about 3,000 years. Wait a minute, how can it be an Easter hymn if it’s that old? Although Easter is only 2,000 years old, God’s people knew about it long before it happened. They knew about it because God told them about it. In fact one of the most favourite Easter hymns today is the oldest Easter hymn on record. “I Know My Redeemer Lives” were words first penned by Job under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit 4,500 years ago!
The hymn that I want to share with you this morning was written by King David of Israel. Although David wrote the words of this hymn we could really say that it’s Jesus’ Easter hymn since he is the one speaking throughout it. And although David wrote the hymn and Jesus is speaking in it, we’ll see that this ancient Easter hymn is our hymn because what was true for Jesus, his victory over death, is true for us.
Won’t you join me in speaking the words of this ancient Easter hymn? You’ll find the words of the text, Psalm 16:9-11, printed on page 18 in your worship folder. As we join together I want you to take note of the two reasons we sing for joy on Easter. We sing for joy because 1) Jesus was not abandoned to the grave, and because of this 2) we will enjoy eternal pleasures at God’s right hand. Let’s read Psalm 16:9-11 together. “Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will rest secure, 10 because you will not abandon me to the grave, nor will you let your Holy One see decay. 11 You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.”
The words of Psalm 16 sure don’t sound like the words of a man who knew he would face a horrible death does it? Jesus didn’t fear death because he knew that it wouldn’t be the end of him. He knew that God would not abandon him to the grave or even let his body decay.
Those words of confidence proved to be true. Three days after Jesus died on the cross he came back to life. How can we be certain of this? There were eyewitnesses. First Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene, then to the other women, then to Peter, then to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, then to the disciples minus Thomas in a room somewhere in Jerusalem, then to the disciples plus Thomas, then to the disciples on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, then to five hundred of his followers at once, then...do you want me to keep going? I can but I won’t because I think you get my point. Jesus really rose from the dead and we can be certain of it because he was seen by many different people at many different times.
These weren’t “Elvis” sightings either. The people who saw Jesus weren’t crackpots. The Chief Priests and Elders were the ones who were cracked up, for after receiving a report about the empty tomb, they didn’t hesitate to make up the story that Jesus’ disciples had stolen his body. We can understand their scepticism, for even the disciples were sceptical at first but at least they went and checked it out. Peter and John ran to the tomb to see that it was indeed empty. Not only that but they saw that the grave clothes had been left behind, not in a big heap as if someone was in a hurry to strip them off, but as if Jesus’ body had passed right through them (John 20:6)!
The Chief Priests and Elders must have wondered how this could happen? How could Jesus’ body be missing when they had sealed the tomb and posted a guard? Once they realized Jesus had really risen, the disciples knew how it could happen. It happened because Jesus is the Son of God and can do anything, even raise himself from the dead. They also realized that this is what Scripture had prophesied would happen for as we’ve read in Ps. 16 David said that God would not abandon his Holy One, Jesus, to the grave.
Knowing why Jesus rose from the dead is just as important as knowing that he rose. He rose from the dead because this is what God foretold and when God speaks it happens. But now why did Jesus have to rise from the dead? In order to understand that, we first need to learn why he had to die.
What’s the purpose of a lightning rod? You know, those metal objects that stick up above towers, and can be found on many homes in thunderstorm prone areas. Their purpose is to attract lightning bolts and then channel that awesome energy safely and harmlessly to the ground. By taking the blast of a lightning bolt, lightning rods have saved many houses. Jesus was a lightning rod. He stood tall above mankind by his perfect life and then absorbed the blow of God’s wrath against our sin. In doing so we have been spared the pain of God’s wrath.
Now why did Jesus have to come back to life? Well to prove that he had absorbed God’s wrath and defeated sin and death, Jesus had to come back to life. Think of it this way. If there was a rattlesnake in your house and an animal control person came to get rid of it, would you go in the house if the animal control person went in but never came out? I don’t think so. You would assume that the rattler won that round. What if the control person went in and came out with the rattler’s fangs embedded in his shin? While you might feel sorry for the animal control guy you’d also assume that it was safe to go inside. For even though that snake might still be slithering around your house shaking his rattler, without its fangs it no longer has the ability to inflict damage. The snake has now become more of a nuisance than a danger.
That’s what Jesus did with death. He took away death’s ability to kill when he suffered its bite. Yes, death still rattles around making a nuisance of itself but it can no longer do permanent damage. Since Jesus rose again we can be certain that we too will rise from the dead, for just as the Father did not abandon his Son to the grave, he will not abandon us.
What about the decaying part? David said that Jesus’ body did not see decay; will the same be true of us? Unfortunately, no matter how hard you try to preserve a body it will start to decay at death. Even well-preserved Egyptian mummies have decayed to the point that that they look more like an old piece of leather stretched over a skeleton, than a healthy human body. So if our bodies decay what good will the resurrection be for us? Wouldn’t we be better off having our bodies cryogenically frozen so that when a cure is found for the disease that killed us we could be brought back to life with a decent looking body? That may sound like a good plan but even if a cure is found for the disease that brought death in the first place, we wouldn’t be any better off. Our joints would remain arthritic, our eyesight and hearing would be just as poor as when we passed away, and we’d still be living in this sin-filled world.
Although our bodies will decay at death, they will be glorified on the Last Day. That means that our bodies will be unable to grow old, tired, sick, or die for they will be immortal and able to live with God. That’s why David wrote: “you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand” (Psalm 16:11b).
Does this sound like something you want to be a part of? If not, consider the alternative. Jesus says that those who die without faith in him will also come back to life but will be condemned to an eternity of suffering and pain. I suspect, however, that most, if not everyone, here believes in Jesus as their Saviour. After all that’s why you are here right? If so, let me ask what you are doing to strengthen your hold on eternal life through faith in Christ Jesus? What are you doing to feed your faith? Are you praying? Great, unfortunately prayer doesn’t feed faith; it’s an expression of faith. If you’ve been asking God to strengthen your faith his answer to you is this: study the Bible. Paul said, “Faith comes from hearing the message, and the message his heard through the Word of Christ” (Romans 10:17).
Friend, if God has created faith in your heart, do all you can to strengthen it. Join us more often to hear the Word, for the more you do the stronger your faith will be. What’s the big deal about having a strong faith? You either believe or don’t believe right? Yes, that’s true, but it’s also true that while a diamond is worth the same whether an adult or child carries it, it’s a lot easier to take the diamond away from a child than it is an adult.
If this is the first time you’ve heard what God has done for you through Jesus and you’ve liked what you’ve heard, come and learn more. There’s so much more to the Bible than this one ancient Easter hymn. Even if this is all we had, we would never grow tired of singing it because it shows us how our future is secure in Christ Jesus. For he is risen, he is risen indeed! Amen.