April 9, 2023
Pastor Timothy J. Spaude
Text: John 20:1-18 (EHV)
What Easter Means to Me:
1. John: I am free from my doubts.
2. Peter: I am free from my guilt.
3. Mary: I am free from my grief.
Christ is risen! A blessed Easter to all. Do you have everything ready? House clean? Got all the food? Goodies for the kids? If you forget something that will be a problem. Even if you have it all ready, there may still be problems. I was reminded a week ago of the infamous Krutz Easter when the dog grabbed the ham off the counter and made a run for it. That’s a problem. But as inconvenient as forgetting something or a doggy dash may be, there are bigger problems we face, aren’t there? It’s easy to believe in the goodness of God when things go well in your life but what happens when there are troubles and problems? Is God for real? Am I maybe being punished for something? Maybe you are dealing with grief over a major disappointment or a first Easter without a loved one. Come along with me today and see what it means that Jesus lives. Let’s join others who also dealt with doubt, guilt and grief.
“Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb. She saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. 2 So she left and ran to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved. “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb,” she told them, “and we don’t know where they put him!” 3 So Peter and the other disciple went out, heading for the tomb. 4 The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and got to the tomb first. 5 Bending over, he saw the linen cloths lying there, yet he did not go in. 6 Then Simon Peter, who was following him, arrived and went into the tomb. He saw the linen cloths lying there. 7 The cloth that had been on Jesus’ head was not lying with the linen cloths, but was folded up in a separate place by itself. 8 Then the other disciple, who arrived at the tomb first, also entered. He saw and believed. 9 (They still did not yet understand the Scripture that he must rise from the dead.)10 Then the disciples went back to their homes.”
The Gospel of John’s Easter account draws our attention to three people. Mary Magdalene, Peter and John, the Gospel writer who calls himself “the other disciple.” All of them had problems, big problems that the Easter message, “He is risen!” solved. John’s problem was doubt. Can we blame him? Given that fact that he would live around 70 years after Jesus rose and ascended he was likely a very young man at this time. He was one of the three that Jesus allowed to see His glory at the Transfiguration. With the idealism of youth, I’m certain he gladly saw Jesus as the promised Messiah and put his faith in Him. And then the Garden of Gethsemane happened. Jesus arrested. The disciples running away in fear. Then Good Friday happened. Jesus crucified. Jesus dead! How can this be? To be fair, Jesus had told his disciples multiple times that he was going to Jerusalem where he would be handed over to the chief priests, where he would suffer and die and after three days rise again. But is that something you could believe without seeing? If I told you that tomorrow I would fly like Superman around the moon and back would you believe me? I could tell you that plainly twenty times and you would not believe until I did it. John had his doubts. Until he ran to the empty tomb and found that Jesus is risen. While he did not understand yet all the why about what happened he tells us he believed. Ask John what Easter means and he would tell you “I am free from my doubts.”
What about Peter? Maybe the reason John got to the tomb before Peter was that he was faster. Or maybe Peter wasn’t all that eager to really go to the tomb of Jesus. After all, the last time Jesus had seen Peter, Peter had been cursing up a blue streak to try to get people to believe that he didn’t know Jesus. That night in the high priest’s courtyard, Peter cursed and swore and said, "I don't know this Jesus you're talking about. I've never met him." Then Jesus walked by and looked at him. Peter had a guilty conscience. He wept bitterly. All that Friday, while he watched Jesus die, Peter had to remember that look on Jesus’ face. All day Saturday, while the disciples sat in stunned silence, Peter recalled Jesus’ face. Peter would never forget that look. His last act for Jesus was to deny Him.
Unless Jesus lived. Unless He was exactly who He said he was. Unless Jesus’ death was done purposefully to pay for sin. Unless Jesus would forgive him. The Bible tells us that after the events of Easter morning Jesus appeared to the disciples as a group. He was alive. Before that though Jesus came to Peter alone. Can you understand why? Peter’s guilt. Don’t you wish you could have been there to hear Peter blurt out, "Lord, I'm sorry! I didn't mean those words"? Did Jesus wipe away the tears of sorrow from Peter’s eyes and look into his face and say, "Peter, I forgive you"? The Bible doesn’t tell us exactly what happened between Jesus and Peter that day, but we do know that Jesus forgave Peter and Peter’s last act was not to deny Jesus but gladly tell people everywhere about wonderful forgiveness provided by Jesus. Ask Peter what Easter means, what it means that Jesus lives and he will say, “I am free from my guilt!”
On to Mary Magdalene. “But Mary stood outside facing the tomb, weeping. As she wept, she bent over, looking into the tomb. 12 She saw two angels in white clothes sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and one at the feet. 13 They asked her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She told them, “Because they have taken away my Lord, and I don’t know where they have laid him.” 14 After she said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, though she did not know it was Jesus. 15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Who are you looking for?” Supposing he was the gardener, she replied, “Sir, if you carried him off, tell me where you laid him, and I will get him.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and replied in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means, “Teacher”). 17 Jesus told her, “Do not continue to cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to my Father. But go to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father—to my God and your God.’” 18 Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord!” She also told them the things he said to her.”
Mary was overcome with grief. Jesus had driven seven evil spirits from her. Her gratefulness led her and several other women to followed Jesus and support his ministry out of their own means. She must have loved Jesus deeply. That’s why she was among the first to come to the tomb that morning to cover his dead body with spices. When she discovered Jesus was gone, she ran back in distress and confusion to tell the other disciples that someone had stolen his body. When she returned she just stood outside the tomb crying. She had lost more than a friend. The One in whom she believed was dead. How could she follow a dead Savior? But He wasn’t dead. He lives! Jesus appeared to her and her grief turned to joy. “I have seen the Lord!” Ask Mary what Easter means and she will tell you “I am free from my grief.”
So what does Easter mean for you? He lives. Do you struggle with doubts? All of us do at some time. Our belief and trust in God is easy for us when things go our way. But then tragedy strikes. The diagnosis is not good. The country and state you love moves further and further away from God’s good and gracious will. Doubts can creep. Are you real God? If so where are you? He is real. Jesus lives! He is in control even when it looks like everything is going wrong. For this time or any time when you struggle with doubts run to the open tomb. Jesus lives and will keep every promise to you. Or maybe guilt is your bigger problem. If not now it will be there at some point. When the bad things happen in life and the mind says “I know why. It’s because I did …” Listen. You can’t take back sin. You can’t undo it as badly as you would like to. Sin can only be forgiven. But that’s why Jesus died and rose. The very reason Jesus gave up His life was to pay for sin in full. Your sin in full. Everything, no matter how bad. The reason Jesus rose from the dead specifically so we would know today we stand forgiven, declared not guilty for every sin. One the price was paid Jesus came back to life. He lives! Or is grief what weighs on your heart? Some disappointment where something did not go the way you thought, hoped or prayed for or is someone missing from this year’s gathering? Just like with Peter John and Mary God might have you wait a bit to see the wonderful way He will work it out so while you wait go with Mary to Jesus’ empty tomb. He lives and because He lives we will too. Death is not the ending but the beginning. Jesus proves it. Jesus knows your grief and because He lives a day is coming when every tear will be wiped from your eyes.
Jesus lives. That’s the message of Easter. Now it may be that your life is so perfect you don’t need a living Jesus, eggs and bunnies will do, but I doubt it. Into every life comes doubts, guilt and grief and so for everyone comes Jesus. He lives. So what does Easter mean to me? I’m free, free to give up doubts about God when they come, free to let go the guilt of forgiven sin and free to let any grief turn to joy in Jesus, all because He lives. I pray the Spirit give you that meaning too! Amen.