Sermon on Easter, 2021
This sermon is translated from German into English. You can find the original video here
That’s why Easter.
What good news it is that we are celebrating today and that we want to make ourselves aware of in a completely new way.
- The stone has rolled away.
- The grave is empty.
- Jesus lives.
- And I would like to read the Easter story with you, as we find it in Matthew 28: 1-10
1 In the end of the sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, came Mary Magdalene and the other Mary to see the sepulchre. 2 And, behold, there was a great earthquake: for the angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat upon it. 3 His countenance was like lightning, and his raiment white as snow: 4 And for fear of him the keepers did shake, and became as dead men. 5 And the angel answered and said unto the women, Fear not ye: for I know that ye seek Jesus, which was crucified. 6 He is not here: for he is risen, as he said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay. 7 And go quickly, and tell his disciples that he is risen from the dead; and, behold, he goeth before you into Galilee; there shall ye see him: lo, I have told you. 8 And they departed quickly from the sepulchre with fear and great joy; and did run to bring his disciples word. 9 And as they went to tell his disciples, behold, Jesus met them, saying, All hail. And they came and held him by the feet, and worshipped him. 10 Then said Jesus unto them, Be not afraid: go tell my brethren that they go into Galilee, and there shall they see me.
What are people hoping for these days?
Many hope that we will return to normal soon.
- Unfortunately that didn’t work out at Easter, but people keep hoping it will happen.
- Many put all their hopes in the vaccine.
- Then I can no longer get life-threatening illness myself And when everyone is vaccinated, then we go back to normal.
- Many pious people hope to return to the churches soon.
And I am sure that one day we will celebrate that we beat Corona
And I can already see the headlines in front of me: Corona – the greatest enemy of humans has been defeated. But you know, no matter what some politicians want to tell us: Corona is not the greatest enemy of us humans. It’s all just a distraction. Because there is a much bigger enemy. At some point we will know what we can do about Corona, we stay at home, we limit our contacts, we get vaccinated. We fight. But there is nothing we can do about this Enemy.
We don’t like to talk about it, we don’t like to be reminded, because we are pretty powerless against it. We think we can always go on like this. But with Corona it caught up with us and that’s why we’re afraid, and we’re trying to push it back again. But at some point it will hit each of us, including you, 100%. Inevitable, whether you like it or not. It is death. Death puts an end to our life. This is cruel. And we know: none of us can escape it. And that’s how it happened to Jesus. Whereby we actually have to recognize, when we read the Bible, that Jesus himself chose the way to the cross.
The women go to the grave early in the morning. They want to anoint the body of Jesus with oils, as was customary at the time, because they had not been able to do so immediately after the crucifixion because of the upcoming Sabbath. In Markus’ report, we are told that the women ask themselves who should actually clear away the stone for them. I don’t know if they were hoping for the Roman guard who guarded the tomb because there were rumors that Jesus would be resurrected, and they wanted to prevent the body from being stolen.
Suddenly they experience an earthquake. And this earthquake – an earthquake is always a sign in the Bible that God is doing something tremendous here.
God comes in all his might – and the earth shakes. There are also other biblical passages that show that God treats us humans in a very fine way, with Elijah, where God acts with a gentle breath of wind, but here, like on Good Friday, there is an earthquake that shows that something tremendous is happening here. Like a piece of music, there is a big bang and suddenly everyone is wide awake. Jesus once said: When people are silent, the stones will cry out (Luke 19.40).
And this morning the stones screamed. An angel is coming, a blatant description. The stone in front of the grave is rolled away. The guards fall to the ground as if dead. The women are horrified. No wonder how would you react? Therefore, the angel says to them: You need not be afraid. It’s like a big stage has been set for what’s next: Curtain up: I know you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; he is risen. Words that change everything. All world history changes with this Sunday. Jesus is not dead – he conquered death and lives. The women look at the place where his body was lying. Where was Jesus? Wasn’t he dead? No, a centurion had checked it, they had seen it with their own eyes as he stabbed Jesus in the side of Jesus. A mixture of water-like serum and blood oozed out – medical evidence of the onset of death. The Romans were masters of their craft. Did they steal his body? But that couldn’t be, because Roman soldiers had been there as guards. Nor had they mistaken the grave or just imagined the resurrection. The Romans could easily have refuted that later. All you had to do was get the right body out. But precisely because the Romans knew the rumor of Jesus’ resurrection, they had it guarded by a trained fighting force.
And then the risen One meets them himself.
He simply says: Greetings, as if it were the most natural thing in the world. And yes, Jesus predicted it would come that way. But they hadn’t understood that, couldn’t admit it. First he appears to the women at the grave, then to the disciples, who had shut themselves up in despair; after all, there were over 500 eyewitnesses to his resurrection. When Paul later wrote about it in a letter to the Corinthians, most of them were still alive. So the recipients of the letter could question them.
As a side note, the first witnesses were women. The historian Josephus said: At that time a testimony from women was not legally valid because of the frivolity and audacity of the female sex. Ok sorry, I didn’t say that. But the Bible is honest, it should have picked better first witnesses if it was invented. Even then, the curfew at Easter didn’t work. Jesus actually lives. Resurrection cannot be explained. It blows our horizon because God himself acts in his power, which we cannot grasp. But now it was true, they had seen him and talked to him. Despair and darkness gave way to hope and joy. Beloved on, if Jesus really rose from the dead, then that is the only foundation in life that really supports, and also the only foundation in the current crisis that really supports. In other words: what if the grave hadn’t been empty 2000 years ago? Then there would be no hope for us. Why is that? With the resurrection of Jesus, God confirms what Jesus said and lived, because Jesus foretold his death for us and his resurrection. And that means:
1. The stone of guilt and shame has rolled away.
Maybe the guilt you have put on yourself or the shame of something you did weigh you down like a rock. There is a heavy burden that you carry, and you wonder how to deal with that guilt. Perhaps the burden is not so great, and yet we see our own failures all too clearly.
We know that we are guilty, that we are living or have lived in sin. There is deception, there is lies and half-truth; there is envy and hatred and lovelessness. You may also say that guilt is not your problem now. But the Bible makes it clear that guilt separates us from God. Because God is perfect and we are not. Nor can we simply gain access to God through a good life, just as we cannot say in court that our good deeds can be set off against the bad ones for which we are accused.
This crucified Jesus took all this upon himself. He saw our separation from God. He created us humans for a relationship with him. He longs to give us the best life, as it was said in the video earlier. And so he comes because he loves us and takes on this debt on the cross of Golgotha. Representing us. And God in heaven said “YES” to this sacrifice. He gave this “yes” abundantly in the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. My sinful past shall no longer burden me. This risen Jesus Christ has the power here and now to forgive all the sin and guilt of my life.
We are redeemed by the blood of Jesus: all of our guilt is forgiven. So God showed us the riches of His grace (Ephesians 1.7). The stone of guilt and shame has rolled away.
2. The stone of bondage has rolled away.
One consequence of Jesus’ resurrection and ascension to heaven is that God works in us with his power and Christ rules over all authorities and powers.
In Eph. 1.19-21 it says:
And what is the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power, Which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places, Far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come:
Perhaps you are weighed down by feelings of inferiority and fear of people.
Or it is diabolical, unpleasant feelings or addictions that take you captive. Your broken life and broken relationships.
Jesus gives us a new identity as sons and daughters of the living God.
We are loved We can learn to see ourselves as God sees us, and that sets us free. Forces in our lives that hold us captive can be broken because Jesus is Lord. And because God himself lives in us through his Holy Spirit, he gives us the strength and the ability to act differently than before. He wants to bring healing into our own lives and broken relationships. He changes us and wants to lead us more and more into the freedom of a fulfilled life with him. The stone of bondage has rolled away.
I spoke earlier of this last power of death that threatens us all.
But on Easter Sunday Jesus overcame death and opened the door to eternity. Death no longer has the last word – not with Jesus and not in my life either. Just as Jesus was raised, so will we too be raised to a new life. We are allowed to have a hope that goes beyond death, the hope of eternal life in God’s presence. This can take away the horror of death that we all face. Jesus says death is not all. This is how Jesus said before his own death:
“I am the resurrection and the life. Those who accept me will live even if they die, and those who live and rely on me will never die, not forever. Do you believe me?” (John 11: 25-26).
And confirms his resurrection:
But now Christ has been raised from the dead. He is the first one God raised, and his resurrection gives us a guarantee that those who died believing in him will also be resurrected. 1 Corinthians 15:20
Yes, the stone of death has also rolled away and we can have the hope of eternal life.
And another stone has rolled away: It is the stone of fear
4. The stone of fear has rolled away
When the women see the angel in front of the grave and are deeply shocked by what has happened, the angel says to them:
Do not be afraid! Mt. 28.5 Because Jesus conquered death, we can stand in front of a grave without fear. Can we look death in the face without fear. We don’t need to be afraid of a virus, we don’t need to be reckless either, but we can know that God and not a virus determines our end. Do we believe that?
And all is not over with death.
Rather, what we say in a cemetery is not an empty phrase that he who believes in Jesus and lives with him is better off in the eternity and presence of God than here and we will meet again.
God has given us his spirit, which lives in us and who wants to give us God’s peace and joy even in difficult situations.
A peace beyond our minds. And just this week I heard a story that impressed me very much, where someone experienced this peace in exactly one difficult situation. A peace that was given to her, yes. A peace that was sometimes attacked by panic attacks. But in view of Jesus, as Phil. 4,6-7 says:
Do not worry, but turn to God in every situation and bring your requests to him. Do it with thanks for what he has given you. Then the peace of God, which far exceeds all human understanding, will keep your thinking and willing in the good, secure in communion with Jesus Christ.
With a view to this Jesus and what he gives and has given me, she has experienced this peace again and again. The security in God’s hand. The confidence that he’ll do it well no matter what. I was very impressed. It’s something we hear from people over and over again. But we should strive to get this peace and joy in our lives wherever we experience fear. We read that God did not give us a spirit of fear. The stone of fear has rolled away. Jesus gives life.
Who does it all apply to?
It applies to people who personally accept the death of Jesus for their guilt and who begin a life in friendship with God. Who confide in him and align their lives with him. The Bible says that Jesus took everything on himself out of love for us. He wants to bring the best life for us and us safely to the goal of eternity with him.
I said at the beginning what people are hoping for these days.
- The grave is empty, Jesus lives
- the stone of guilt and shame has rolled away
- the stone of bondage has rolled away
- The stone of death has rolled away and
- The stone of fear has rolled away.
- That is the only foundation that really supports and gives hope.
Konrad Adenauer, the first Federal Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany, met in the early 1960s with the then better known evangelist Billy Graham.
I wish you this hope in your life. And I wish you an encounter with the risen Christ, just as the women had, so that you can believe for yourself that this Jesus lives and he loves me, and that the stones in your life that oppress you will be rolled away.
With the next songs we want to let him touch us,