The Case for Hope

Series: Preacher: Date: April 16, 2017 Scripture Reference: Luke 24:1-12

1 – On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb.

2 – They found the stone rolled away from the tomb,

3 – but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus.

4 – While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them.

5 – In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead?

6 – He is not here; He has risen! Remember how He told you, while He was still with you in Galilee:

7 – ‘The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’”

8 – Then they remembered His words.

9 – When they came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others.

10 – It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the apostles.

11 – But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense.

12 – Peter, however, got up and ran to the tomb. Bending over, he saw the strips of linen lying by themselves, and he went away, wondering to himself what had happened.

In my last couple years of high school and then every year of college I worked as a night auditor for Holiday Inn—first in Dover, Delaware—and then in Florence, Alabama. As a NIGHT auditor, my shift started at 11PM and ended at 7AM. My job—which I am sure is now done by computers—my job was to balance the books for the day—to find errors and correct them.  This had to be done before the next day’s business could begin—hence the 11PM-7AM shift.

For me it was a job that took hours of concentration. You see, there would always be mistakes in the way desk clerks during the previous day had rung up bills and accepted payments—and it was my task to go through all their transactions and find them. Big errors didn’t bother me because they were easiest to find. Big blunders always stand out.   No—the ones I feared were the small errors. I mean, many nights I spent hours going through invoices—looking for a penny.

Plus—I’m not a PM person—my body and mind starts turning off about 10—so forcing myself to stay awake—and concentrate on a task that required mental focus was agonizing. By the way, this is when I started drinking coffee. Sometimes even with the help of all that caffeine I wouldn’t finish until 4 or 5 AM.

One of the things that interrupted my concentration were all the “odd” people who tend to come into a motel lobby in the wee hours of the morning. I could tell you some crazy stories!  There were times I was very afraid because I faced all these “interesting” people alone every night. It was always just me and the night people. I was the only employee on duty.

Here’s something else—as I said, my job was done in the darkest dark of night—and I’m not a darkness kind of guy. I love the light. For me darkness is oppressive—and depressing. For me darkness magnifies bad—and shrinks good. Well, as soon as I began this job I understood why they refer to this as the GRAVEYARD SHIFT. I mean, it felt like I was working in a dark tomb all night—trying to think—enduring all the weird—and often scary—people who come out in the dark.

In fact, the only part of the job I liked was the end of my shift—because as I walked out the door every morning the sun was rising—the birds were singing—a new day was dawning. I mean, after a long dark night of hopelessness—looking for accounting errors and not finding them—a night of fear, dealing with strange people—many of them drunk—when the sun came up that was all gone—hope was back.

I share this because in my mind there are parallels to my Holiday Inn job experience and that first Easter morning. Think of it—those women left their homes and made their way through other tombs to find the tomb they had first visited two days prior—they made this trip in the wee hours of the morning. I mean, going to anoint Jesus’ body was literally their “graveyard shift.”

And—they had experienced—not one night—but an entire a weekend of darkness and despair—beginning with that horrible day Jesus’ was crucified—and the unnatural darkness that had covered the entire world.

By the way—the Gospel writers aren’t the only ones who tell us of this darkness—and the earthquake that happened when Jesus died. Other historians do—many of them. If I had time I’d quote them all—but I will share one. His name is Phlegon and he was a Greek historian who wrote an extensive chronology around AD 137. In it he said, “In the fourth year of the 202nd Olympiad (i.e., AD 33) there was ‘the greatest eclipse of the sun’ and ‘it became night in the sixth hour of the day [i.e., noon]—so that stars even appeared in the heavens. There was a great earthquake felt in Bithynia, and many things were overturned in Nicaea—northern Turkey.”

So, there was worldwide darkness—far more fearful than that faced by your typical graveyard shift laborer. This darkness was terrifying—unnatural—it was during the middle of the day. Then there was the fear of being arrested and facing their own crucifixions—the fear that had the disciples huddled in a hidden room. But on top of all that was the despair that came from the realization that Jesus was dead—Jesus Who taught as no man ever taught—Jesus who healed the blind, lame, and sick—Jesus Whose friendship and companionship filled the disciples’ God-shaped hole—the hole that is in every human heart—Jesus Who raised the dead—was dead Himself—beaten so bad He shed most of His blood even before the cross—and then nailed to the cross where He died. That spear piercing His side and entering His heart of hearts proved that.

Well, these women walking in the despair of that dark Saturday night saw all that. They had heard Jesus cry out His last, “IT IS FINISHED.” And for them IT WAS FINISHED.  No more Jesus—no more miracles—no more hope. That’s how they felt in that pre-dawn gloom as they walked through the graveyard where Jesus’ broken body had been laid. They were weeping—they were afraid—they were hopeless. And—I want you to note that there is a very real sense in which today people walk through LIFE—like those women walked through that GRAVEYARD.

I mean, all people live in sort of perpetual “graveyard shift.” They are lonely—they are afraid—afraid of life and all the horrors that our nightly news broadcasts. Most of all people are afraid of the death that comes for everyone.

Do you see what I mean? Do you see the “graveyard shift” parallel?

Well, we rose in the pre-dawn darkness to gather here this morning because as the S. U. N. rose that first Easter morning, these women discovered that the S.O.N. had risen as well. And—the discovery that JESUS had defeated death was like the joy of a million sunrises. Fear was gone forever—HOPE—ETERNAL hope had come. I mean, everything changed because that tomb was empty. For the Christian—for the person in close relationship with God through faith in our Risen Lord—there would be no more darkness—for as the psalmist said, “even darkness is not dark to God—the night shines like the day.” For us—nothing brings us fear—because we know that even in the worst times of life—even in the “darkest times” — even in financial crisis and doctors’ dismal diagnoses—even then—ALWAYS—God is working for our good.

And—we don’t face the tough—hard to concentrate on—jobs of life on our own.  As Paul puts it, “We can do all things through Christ Who strengthens us.” We are never alone either.  Whatever comes our way, our all-knowing—all-powerful—all-loving Lord is an ever-present help—and that will never change—even to the end of the earth.

Best of all—the tomb now causes us no fear.  When we face our own death—or the death of loved ones—it no longer covers us with darkness. We can say, “It’s only death” — because thanks to Jesus—the sting has been taken out of this enemy we used to dread. Now—the darkness of death is just a shadow—and God walks with us through it—right on through to the glorious light of Heaven’s eternal day—a place where there will be no night.

I’ll share one story and then I’m done. On Easter Sunday 2009, you may remember that our nation was reeling.  The mortgage crisis was in full swing. The roller coaster nature of Wall Street was making everyone sick to their stomach. Retirement funds disappeared. Long—trusted financial institutions were being shut down at an alarming rate. Unemployment rates were skyrocketing. And, sensing heavy hearts in his congregation that Easter, John Ortberg, pastor of Menlo Park Presbyterian in Menlo Park, California—offered a powerful reminder about the hope of Easter—a reminder that would serve us well still on Easter Sunday 2017—as we deal with the terrifying headlines that are part and parcel of living on this fallen world.

Ortberg said:

“I cannot think of an Easter in recent memory where there was a bigger need for hope, for something that would breathe life into the human spirit.  A year ago, so many people—felt like they were on pretty solid ground. [Now they] find themselves in circumstances they never would have predicted. A lot of people are feeling anxious. They have pressures that they did not have [before]. They [regret] decisions they’ve made over this last year. They wonder where things will stand a year from now. Nobody ever wants a season of hard times to come, but when they do, they have a way of making you ask,  ‘What am I really counting on? Am I building my life on a foundation that’s solid enough that circumstances beyond my control cannot take it away? 

That’s why I’ve been looking forward to Easter [a time when] we gather to remember the only hope capable of sustaining a human life through everything. People have not gathered for the past 2,000 years to say, ‘The stock market has risen. It has risen indeed.’  They have not gathered to say, ‘The dollar has risen. It has risen indeed.’ Or, ‘the employment rate has risen.’ Or, ‘the gross domestic product has risen.’  Or, ‘General Motors has risen.’ Or, ‘The value of your 401(k) has risen.’  Here’s the one hope that has held up human beings across every continent and culture for two millennia of difficult times of poverty, disease, pain, hardship, [and] death itself: Jesus is risen. He is risen indeed.”

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