Have you ever felt like you were STUCK in some grief—STUCK in some great sadness or fear?
To be more specific, have you ever woken up the day after something bad happened in your life—and at first you FORGOT about that bad thing or you thought it was all just a dream—but then you came fully awake and it hit you…this bad thing really did happen—and you realized you’d have to face another day dealing with all the feelings that surrounded it? Do you know what I’m talking about?
I remember waking up the day after my dad died. At first, I thought it was just another day but then my brain “came on line” and it hit me that I no longer had a dad on this earth. I had reached that age in life that we all usually get to—that age when we are fatherless…and as the realization sunk in I was overwhelmed with a great sadness…the same feelings I had felt the day before when I got the call that dad had passed. I thought, “I don’t have a dad anymore. There will be no more phone calls where I can ask for sermon help or pastoral advice. My dad is gone. I won’t see him again until I get to Heaven.”
Do you know what I’m talking about? I know you do because we all go through times like that. We all have mornings when we wake up and it hits us, “Oh, that’s right I have cancer.” Or “The divorce is final.” Or “I lost my job.”—things like that. It’s a horrible feeling isn’t it? It makes you want to pull the covers over your head and flee back to the false peace of sleep. This week I gave this feeling a title. I call it, “stuck in Saturday” because I think that’s how the disciples felt when they woke up on that Saturday morning after Jesus’ crucifixion.
Let’s back up a bit in our study of The Story and try to get the setting of this particular Saturday in our minds. On Friday Jesus had died a horrible death. As I said last week, He endured a physical and spiritual suffering that we can only begin to imagine. And you would think that crucifying Jesus—you would think that putting Him through that agonizing death…would have been enough for the religious leaders who had felt threatened by Him. You would think this would put an end to their concerns about this group of people who believed Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah. But no—these guys were STILL worried—nervous—afraid, that Jesus’ followers would STAGE a resurrection by stealing Jesus’ corpse…just to keep His movement going. You see, these religious leaders—Jesus’ enemies—they knew one thing Jesus had repeatedly said was that He would rise again—and they couldn’t have his followers staging that kind of thing. So, to make sure no one tampered with the tomb that contained His body, the same people who convinced Pilate to have Jesus crucified convinced him to provide soldiers to guard the tomb. Pilate even had the stone door sealed and to tamper with a Roman seal was against the law. Everyone knew that. They knew that anyone who broke that seal that would probably end up on a Roman cross themselves.
Well, these Jewish religious leaders needn’t have been worried about the disciples because after Jesus’ arrest they had run for the hills. They had no plan to steal the body. In fact, they didn’t remember Jesus’ teachings as well as the Jewish religious leaders because they weren’t even thinking of His rising again. No—that Friday evening after Jesus’ death the disciples were depressed, frightened, distraught, and confused. Lucado writes, “They cowered in Jerusalem’s cupboards and corners for fear of the cross that bore THEIR name.”
And, in their defense, I would say their cowering is understandable because there had been a pretty abrupt change in Jesus’ popularity in that prior week. I mean, Jesus had gone from, “what’s hot” to “what’s not” very quickly. He went from the Triumphal Entry where people cried, “Blessed is He Who comes in the name of the Lord!” to five days later where the same people were saying, “If He’s really the SON of God, let Him come down from that cross and save Himself!” And now Jesus’ horribly beaten, pierced dead body lay in a tomb guarded by a detachment of Roman soldiers. So, these guys weren’t thinking of keeping the “Jesus movement” alive because they knew Jesus was dead—a sad fact that was obvious to all who had witnessed His crucifixion!
J. Vernon McGee, a famous preacher from yesteryear once received a letter from a woman…a letter that said, “Pastor McGee, our preacher said that on Easter Jesus just swooned on the cross, that He didn’t really die, and that the disciples helped Him get back to a healthy state. What do you think about that Pastor McGee?” And good ole J. Vernon wrote back and said, “Dear Sister, strip the shirt off your pastor’s back and then beat him with a heavy whip thirty-nine times. Nail him to a cross, hang him in the sun for six hours. Run a spear through his heart. Place him in an airless tomb for three days and tell me what happens.” Jesus DIED on that cross. The Roman soldiers who were experts in the art of death certified it—and Jesus’ disciples knew that which is why they believed His movement was as dead as He was.
Well, on Saturday morning the disciples woke up in various hiding places throughout the city. Perhaps as they wiped the sleep from their eyes, at first they forgot all that had happened and looked forward to another day with Jesus…but then THEIR brains came on line and it hit them. Jesus was dead. All the memories of the arrest two nights prior and the flogging and crucifixion of the day before flooded their minds. Jesus was dead—it was all over. So they weren’t thinking of the future. In their frightened minds, there was no such thing. In a very real sense they were “stuck in Saturday.” For, as Lucado writes, “On Saturday the enemy had won; courage was gone, and hope caught the last train to the coast.” Let’s read Matthew’s account of what happened that weekend—including Easter Sunday. Take your Bibles and turn to Matthew 27. We’ll begin with verse 57:
Matthew 27:57 – As [Friday] evening approached, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who had himself become a disciple of Jesus.
58 – Going to Pilate, he asked for Jesus’ body, and Pilate ordered that it be given to him.
59 – Joseph took the body, wrapped it in a clean linen cloth,
60 – and placed it in his own new tomb that he had cut out of the rock. He rolled a big stone in front of the entrance to the tomb and went away.
61 – Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were sitting there opposite the tomb.
62 – The next day, the one after Preparation Day, the chief priests and the Pharisees went to Pilate.
63 – “Sir,” they said, “we remember that while He was still alive that deceiver said, ‘After three days I will rise again.’
64 – So give the order for the tomb to be made secure until the third day. Otherwise, His disciples may come and steal the body and tell the people that He has been raised from the dead. This last deception will be worse than the first.”
65 – “Take a guard,” Pilate answered. “Go, make the tomb as secure as you know how.”
66 – So they went and made the tomb secure by putting a seal on the stone and posting the guard.
Matthew 28:1 – [BUT…] After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went [back] to look at the tomb.
2 – There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from Heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it.
3 – His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow.
4 – The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men.
5 – The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, Who was crucified.
6 – He is not here; He has risen, just as He said. Come and see the place where He lay.
7 – Then go quickly and tell His disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see Him.’ Now I have told you.”
8 – So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell His disciples.
9 – Suddenly Jesus met them. “Greetings,” He said. They came to Him, clasped His feet and worshiped Him.
10 – Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell My brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see Me.”
So, as we just read, that Sunday morning the disciples received the greatest news ever heard—news that got them “unstuck from THAT Saturday—and every other “Saturday” for the rest of their lives! They learned that, just as He had promised, Jesus had risen on the third day. And this news changed everything. The gloom of that Saturday awakening was gone instantly! But this news did not just affect the lives of the FIRST disciples—it has affected the lives of every disciple since. That first “Easter sermon” ever delivered—“preached” by those women—has changed literally everything!
Think of their sermon for a moment. Other than Jesus’ instruction to meet Him in Galilee—the message those two Marys delivered was just three words in English: “He has risen!” It’s just one word in Greek: “EGERTHE” but be it one or three, so much changed because of this short sermon! Let me put it this way: because Jesus rose we no longer need experience a “stuck in Saturday” sorrow! Jesus’ resurrection changes all such Saturdays—past, present, and future!
In fact, those are the three points I want to hang my own Easter sermon on. Sorry—it’s going to be more than three words!
(1) First, Jesus’ resurrection has changed our PAST!
You see, the fact that Jesus rose from the dead shows that He was not just another one of those numerous MORTAL religious leaders who come and go, cluttering the pages of history, people whose deaths silenced their outrageous claims. No, in spite of the predictions of many, the historical record shows that the movement Jesus Christ started—THE CHURCH—still thrives and grows, precisely because He still lives. For example, Voltaire, the famous French philosopher once said that the Bible and Christianity would pass within a hundred years. Well, Voltaire died about two and a half centuries ago and the church of Jesus Christ is still here and His STORY, the Bible, is still the best-selling book of all time. In 1882 Friedrich Nietzsche said, “God is dead,” because He believed the dawn of science would be the doom of the Christian faith. He was obviously very wrong. You may have heard a play on Nietzsche’s famous statement. If not, here’s how it goes:
“GOD IS DEAD!” – Nietzsche
“NIETZSCHE is dead!”— God
The Communist dictionary once defined the Bible as, “A collection of fantastic legends without any scientific support.” Well, most of the huge communist governments of the past are gone…and the church is thriving. By the way, the dramatization of the Bible that was done on the History Channel recently, even though it was a bit flawed in some of it’s telling—was the highest viewed cable show ever. Max Lucado sums this all up by saying, “Everyone who has tried to bury the Christian faith has discovered the same thing. It won’t stay buried any more than its Founder.” And Lucado is right. The movement Jesus Christ started, the church, is still here because Jesus us still here. His resurrection proved that Jesus was indeed Who He claimed to be—and, as we have read in The Story, throughout His life, Jesus made some fantastic claims as to His identity. Let’s review them:
- He said that He existed eternally with God (John 8:58)
- He declared that God had sent Him (John 8:23, 38)
- He affirmed that He and the Father were one (John 14:10)
- He contended that His relationship with God was so close that to know Him was to know God, to believe in Him was to believe in God, and to see Him was to see God (John 14:9-10)
- Jesus pointed to the experience beyond death and asserted that to miss Hell and make Heaven, one had to believe in Him (John 14:6)
These were fantastic claims! Well, when Jesus died and was placed in the grave, all of these claims seemed to be buried with Him. But, when He was raised from the grave, these claims were confirmed. As Paul declared to the Romans, “Jesus by being raised from the dead was proved to be the mighty Son of God.” (Romans 1:4)
Well, we can look BACK—look at the past—and see that this fact has impacted all aspects of human history. The late Dr. James Kennedy wrote, “Some people have made transformational changes in one department of human learning or in one aspect of human life and their names are forever enshrined in the annals of human history. But the PAST shows that Jesus Christ, the greatest man Who ever lived, has changed virtually every aspect of human life.”
And, our Lord promised to do exactly that. In Revelation 21:5 He said, “Behold, I make all things new.” And that is what He has done. Literally everything Jesus touched has been transformed. For example, He touched time itself, and we see that because His birthday alters the way that we measure history. Think of it, every atheist who writes a check is forced to acknowledge Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection when he dates it. Jesus has also transformed architecture. To take Him out of history, would mean you would have to tear down all the churches and beautiful cathedrals around the world. Jesus has transformed art and music. Without Jesus there would be no Last Supper by Da Vinci, no Madonna. Without His life to inspire it, the most beautiful music that has ever been put on score, sung by a voice, or played by an instrument would never have been heard. Jesus life inspired the way humanity responds to the needy. Our Lord set the great example of helping the poor, of caring for the poverty-stricken and downtrodden. He bid His followers to go and do likewise. And they did, and still do! In fact, history reveals the more they mature, the more it becomes SECOND NATURE for them to do so.
Without Jesus’ life and example there would be no Red Cross or Easter Seals, no Salvation Army, no World Vision, no Samaritan’s Purse, no Compassion International. In fact, many historians attribute the creation of THE HOSPITAL ITSELF to Christianity because in the United States, the first hospitals were started by believers.
Whenever a place in the world is hit by a disaster like Katrina in our gulf region or Haiti with its earthquake or India and the Tsunami…whenever things like this happen thousands of Jesus’ followers hurry to the area to help. In fact, they are usually the first to do so and many times the most organized.
We could go on and on and on listing Jesus’ impact on education and civil rights and science and government and economics and basic morality because it is easy to LOOK BACK over the pages of history and see the impact that Jesus’ resurrection has had. The fact is, no one would want to live in a world in which Easter Sunday never dawned. Without His life, death, and resurrection, ever morning we would all awake and feel “stuck in Saturday!”
I once came across a cartoon of two Roman soldiers standing by the empty tomb. The stone was rolled away and ONE soldier was looking very worried because he knew they had failed in their responsibility. But the other one shrugged and said, “Don’t worry about it. A hundred years from now, no one will remember.” Well, he was wrong wasn’t he! All mankind remembers this historical fact. The impact of the resurrection of Jesus is has been felt for 2000 years now.
(2) And it continues to be felt—for it affects our PRESENT.
You see, the same RISEN LORD, lives IN US as Christians right now—today. As we sang at our Sunrise service,
“I serve a risen Savior. He’s in the world TODAY.
I know that He is living whatever men may say.”
I SEE His hand of mercy. I HEAR His voice of cheer
and just the time I need Him He’s always near.
He lives! He Lives! Christ Jesus lives today.
He walks with me and talks with me along life’s narrow way!
He lives! He lives…salvation to impart.
You ask me how I know He lives? He lives within my heart!”
Every Christian knows that is true! We know the difference our risen indwelling Jesus makes in our day to day lives. We know the peace of His still small voice. We know how He calms our fears! We know the results of His guidance in life’s decisions. We know the power He gives us to live abundant lives! In fact it was Jesus’ continued living presence with them, even after His ascension, that motivated and empowered the FIRST disciples to change. They went from cowards hiding behind locked doors to bold evangelists sharing the life-changing message of the Gospel with people in Jerusalem and Judea and the uttermost parts of the earth. They literally turned the world upside down—because Jesus lived IN THEM empowering them to do so.
Ken Davis writes about a woman who looked out of her window and saw her German shepherd shaking the life out of a neighbor’s rabbit. Her family did not get along well with these neighbors, so she knew this was going to be a disaster. Well, she grabbed a broom, pummeled the dog until it dropped the dead rabbit out of its mouth. Then she panicked. She did not know what else to do. Then she got an idea. She grabbed the rabbit, took it inside, gave it a bath, blow dried it to its original fluffiness, combed it until that rabbit was looking good, snuck into the neighbor’s yard, and propped the rabbit back up in its cage. An hour later she heard screams coming from next door. She went next door and asked her neighbor, “What’s going on?” Her neighbor cried, “Our rabbit! Our rabbit! He died two weeks ago. We buried him, and now he’s back!” Well, people in the first century knew that rabbits and RABBIS tend to stay dead. N. T. Wright says, “There were many messianic movements in the first century. In every case, the would-be Messiah got crucified by Rome as Jesus did. In not one single case do we hear the slightest mention of the disappointed followers claiming their hero had been raised from the dead. They knew better.”
Jesus’ disciples didn’t “know better” because they knew Jesus had risen. They saw Him. They ate with Him. And on top of that, after Pentecost, they FELT HIM move into their hearts. Listen friends! The reason the Gospel message is just as fresh, relevant, and powerful TODAY as it was when it was first preached and written is because Jesus still lives! He lives IN US and gives us the power to live as He lived. The same power that raised Jesus from the dead can vitalize the most depressed, disillusioned, and defeated person. As Paul puts it in Romans 8:11, “Once the Spirit of Him Who raised Christ Jesus from the dead lives within you He will, by the same Spirit, bring to your whole being new strength and vitality.” Bruce Larson writes, “The events of Easter cannot be reduced to a creed or a philosophy. We are not asked to believe the doctrine of the resurrection. We are asked to meet this Person raised from the dead. In faith, we move from belief in a doctrine to knowledge of a Person. Ultimate truth is a Person. We meet Him. He is alive.”
Let me just stop at this point and ask: Have you met this Person? Does He live in your heart? Do you know the Risen Jesus? I will testify that I DO! He’s my closest Companion. He’s the Solid Rock of my life. He’s my Anchor — my Fortress. I couldn’t do anything without His power and presence because He’s not in a tomb. He’s in my heart—because He is risen! He is risen indeed!
As we all know, life is full of problems that we are powerless to solve. Think about it, have you ever felt like your life was out of control, like you were weak and ineffective in some situation whether it’s trying to break a bad habit or save a relationship or get out of debt or parent your kids or manage your schedule or just powerless to live right? The fact is, the reason we fail in these, the difficulties of life, is because we were never meant to live life on our own power. No, we were meant to live life empowered by a relationship with our Creator and Redeemer.
That’s what Paul was talking about in 2nd Corinthians 4:7ff when he said, “We have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.” In other words the secret of success in life is knowing Jesus Christ as Savior and following Him as Lord—letting Him live in and through us! Only a personal relationship with our RISEN LORD can empower us to change the ways we all know we need to change.
In a Christianity Today article back in 2007, Mark Galli writes, “Many years ago, my wife and I were having a marital ‘moral discourse,’ and I was becoming increasingly agitated. In my fury, I yelled at her and aimed my fist at a section of the dining room wall. Unfortunately, the Holy Spirit failed to guide my hand between the studs, as He usually had done, and instead I hit a stud right on. I broke a knuckle. A deathly silence settled in the room. While I came from a family in which nothing got done until someone yelled, Barb came from a family in which yelling brought things to a standstill. So she was not going to speak to me for weeks. As I writhed in physical pain, I also writhed in emotional pain. I was a moral failure of a husband. As I tried awkwardly, with one hand, to sweep up the bits of sheetrock strewn on the floor, I felt a hand on my arm. I turned around, and it was Barb. She said something apologetic. I said something apologetic. And then she embraced me for a long time. She had every right to pronounce a grand moral imperative, condemn my behavior, and distance herself from me. That surely would have taught me a lesson. Instead, she embraced the angry sinner, and rather than teaching me a lesson, she helped heal me.”
How did this husband see his sin so quickly? How did this wife forgive in the heat of that moment rather than walk away in silence? The answer is Jesus. Our Risen Lord makes that kind of behavior possible. He lives in us and empowers us to forgive. He makes us into the husbands and wives and parents and employees and neighbors…the kind of people we long to be—need to be. In fact, that’s one reason Jesus came back from the dead, to empower us to live as He lived. I mean, Jesus didn’t die and then rise again just to be studied and oohhed and aahhed over. No. He died and rose again to offer through His blood and His life, NEW LIFE—transforming power to live an abundant, successful, fulfilling life. Do you remember Paul’s words from Ephesians 1:18-20? He says, “I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which He has called you, and His incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of His mighty strength, which He exerted in Christ when He raised Him from the dead!” Paul is reminding us here that the same power that enabled Jesus to RISE FROM THE DEAD 2000 years ago is available to help you and me RISE ABOVE OUR PROBLEMS today. Jesus’ resurrection proves to us once and for all that no problem is too big for God to handle. No situation is hopeless if it is turned over to Him. If God can bring His Son back to life, He can cause a resurrection in any aspect of our lives as well. You and I need not experience any more “stuck in Saturday” mornings!
So, let me ask you, what has died in your life? What dreams; what hopes; what relationship; what vision? Is there a particular sin that has you in its grip? What has you “stuck in Saturday?” Remember, no situation in life is beyond Jesus’ resurrection power! Claim that power for your own!
So we can look BACK and see that Jesus’ resurrection has impacted the PAST. We can look AROUND and see that it changes our PRESENT,
(3) But perhaps the greatest news is it changes our FUTURE!
And we need our futures changed because we know that DEATH awaits us all one day. In his book, God’s Story, Your Story Max Lucado shares the true story of Carl McCunn, an affable Texan with a love of the outdoors. In the late 1970’s McCunn moved to Alaska. He took a trucking job on the Trans-Alaska Pipeline, where he made good money, fast friends, and concocted an adventure that still stirs bewilderment in the forty-ninth state. At the age of 35, McCunn embarked on a five-month photography expedition in the wild. Friends describe how seriously he prepared for the quest, devoting a year to plan-making and detail-checking. He solicited advice and purchased supplies. And then in March of 1981, he hired a bush pilot to drop him at a remote lake near the Coleen River, some 70 miles northeast of Ft. Yukon. He took two rifles, a shotgun, fourteen hundred pounds of provisions, and five hundred rolls of film. He set up his tent and set about his season of isolation, blissfully unaware of an overlooked detail that would cost him his life. You see, Mr. McCunn had made no arrangements to be picked up. And his unbelievable blunder didn’t dawn on him until August—five months after he arrived. We know this because of a hundred-page loose-leaf diary the Alaska state troopers found near his body the following February. In an understatement the size of Mount McKinley, McCunn wrote: “I think I should have used more foresight about arranging my departure.”
As the days shortened and air chilled, he began searching the ground for food and the skies for rescue. He was running low on ammunition. Hiking out was impossible. He had no solution but to hope someone in the city would notice his absence. By the end of September snow was piling up, the lake was frozen and his supplies were nearly gone. His body fat began to metabolize, making it more difficult to stay warm. Temperatures hovered around zero, and frostbite began to attack his fingers and toes. By late November, McCunn was out of food, strength, and optimism. One of his final diary entries reads, “This is sure a slow and agonizing way to die.” Isolated with no rescue—trapped with no exit—nothing to do but wait for the ending. CHILLING thought isn’t it? And puzzling—I mean, why no exit strategy? Didn’t he know that every trip comes to an end? It’s not like his excursion would last forever. AND NEITHER WILL OURS.
Take the fingers of your left hand and feel the pulse on the wrist of your right arm. That pulse will one day end. Your heart will have a final beat. Feel yourself breathe. One day those lungs will empty a final breath. If Jesus tarries, we will all die on day. Your family will call a funeral home to make arrangements. The mail man will deliver sympathy cards. This kind of thing will happen to all of us. That’s our future. I know it’s an uncomfortable fact to consider—but it’s true. As Carl Kuehner once put it, “Death is the most democratic institution on earth…it allows no discrimination, tolerates no exceptions. The mortality rate of mankind is the same the world over: one death per person.”
In Psalm 89:48 we find a question that we all know the answer to: “Who can live and not see death or who can escape the power of the grave?” NO ONE. Young and old, good and bad, rich and poor—either gender is spared; no class is exempt. On their own no one outruns or outsmarts death. Even the famous—those celebrities that seem to live eternally—even they die.
This is why at the beginning of every year a popular magazine put out an issue listing all the celebrities who died the year before. We all die: nearly 2 people a second, more than 6,000 an hour, more than 155,000 every day…57 million a year. The finest surgeon might enhance your life but he can’t eliminate your death. As Hebrews 9:27 says, “People are destined to die once.” That’s the fact—plain and simple. And we don’t like contemplating this fact. I mean, death seems like such a dead end BUT that’s why the news the first disciples learned that first Easter Sunday makes such a difference! You see, the Risen Jesus promises to do to YOUR tomb the same thing He did to HIS—EMPTY it. The fact is we can face our future, death included, with absolute peace…because Jesus rose. As Christians we know that death is not the final chapter of our story. Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in Me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in Me will never die.” (John 11:25-6)
During his historic crusade in London Billy Graham had a private meeting with Winston Churchill. Graham shared the gospel with the famous statesman and Churchill became a Christ-follower. We can see this in the way the Prime Minister planned his own funeral. According to his instructions, two buglers were positioned high in the dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral. At the conclusion of the service, the first one played taps, the signal of a day completed. Immediately thereafter, with the sounds of the first song still ringing in the air, the second bugler played reveille, the song of a day begun. Churchill made these plans to proclaim the fact that for the Christian death is not an alley with no exit but rather a thoroughfare from earth to Heaven.
Let me ask again—do you know Jesus? If not, who or what are you counting on in life? What is your foundation for YOUR future? What is YOUR “exit strategy?” Listen friends. 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 employment rate has risen. It has risen indeed” No—of course not. There is only one hope that has gotten human beings unstuck from Saturday for two millennia of difficult times of poverty, disease, pain, hardship, and even death itself…and it is this: “Christ is risen. He is risen indeed.”