Summary: An Easter Sunday sermon about trusting in the eyewitness accounts of Jesus' resurrection and believing in the power of Christ's resurrection to change our lives.
Today, Christians around the world celebrate the greatest event of the Christian faith and we believe the history of the human race; the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. Now, this isn’t just about the resurrection of one man from the grave. What this event means is what is profound and earth-shaking. Because what it means is that if Christ has been raised from the dead, then sin, evil, hate, hurt, wounds, suffering, tragedy, and even death will not have the final word in our lives on this planet. This is a truly astounding message filled with hope and triumph; if it’s true.
Believe it or not, that’s a pretty common question, even among people of faith; is the resurrection story really true? As a matter of fact, just last year, I was having a conversation with some colleagues right before Easter about the different resurrection accounts in each of the gospels. They’re all just a bit different, and as we discussed their differences, it was enough to raise questions among the group about what, if anything, was really true.
I think this is something we all wrestle with at some point. You know, early on in our faith journeys, we begin reading the Bible, and often we start with the gospels. And we read through Matthew and learn about Jesus’ birth, his ministry, his teachings and healings. Then we get to the part where Jesus is arrested, and put on trial, and then brutally beaten and hung on a cross to die. As we soak in that very horrendous account, we think to ourselves, “That’s it? This is terrible. This just can’t be right. Surely this isn’t the end of the story.” Then we turn the page and there are the women arriving at Jesus’ tomb only to discover that it’s empty, and an angel appears to tell the Marys that Jesus has been raised from the dead. We may not believe in the resurrection at that point, but that’s a good ending to the story. It makes you feel all warm and fuzzy inside, like when the Prince and Princess ride off into the sunset and “live happily ever after.” It may not be true, but it’s a great way to end the story. So then we read Mark, and we get to the end, and again we come to this part about empty tomb, and we think again, “Yes, that’s how the story is supposed to end.” We continue on into Luke, and maybe even John, and eventually it hits us. Something inside us is touched and suddenly it’s not just a good ending to the story because we begin to think to ourselves, “this is true. I choose to believe this is true.”
You know when the women who first discovered the empty tomb ran to tell the disciples that Jesus had been raised, they didn’t believe the women. Jesus’ own disciples didn’t believe that he had been raised from the dead. It’s no wonder we ourselves have doubts, this is a hard thing to believe. Yet this is all we have to go on, this what we have; we have the testimony, these witnesses who saw the resurrection of Jesus 2,000 years ago. And even though that was so long ago, there is something in us that wants this story to be true. Who wants evil and suffering and death to be the end of the story? We want hope, and love, and grace, and triumph, and life to be the final words. Even in the midst of doubt, we want this story to be true because we know what it could mean for our lives.
Even though we have not seen or touched the resurrected Jesus, there were people who did. There are six accounts in the gospels of people interacting with Jesus after he was raised from the dead; either we can choose to believe these witnesses, or not. I, myself, cannot prove to you that Jesus was raised from the grave, but I will tell you today that I do believe Jesus’ resurrection story is true; it’s why I celebrate most especially today, but everyday. Because this is the light that gives life.
So as we ponder this morning the magnitude and meaning of Jesus’ resurrection, we are going to look specifically at one of those encounters that a couple of disciples had with Jesus on the day of his resurrection. Luke tells us that on that same day, two of Jesus’ disciples were traveling from Jerusalem to Emmaus, which was about a seven-mile journey. These men had followed Jesus to Jerusalem a week before. Then they had watched as he was put on trial, beaten, and hanged on a cross. They must have seen the skies darken on that Friday afternoon and heard Jesus as he cried out to God one last time before dying. They were probably there when Jesus was laid in the tomb. It may have taken some time for the reality to sink in, but there was no avoiding the truth, and they knew it; Jesus, their teacher, was gone. So, not knowing what else to do, they leave Jerusalem. There is no reason for them to stay there now that Jesus is dead, and so on the third day after Jesus’ death, they climb out of bed early in the morning, pack up their belongings and begin walking to Emmaus.