First Reading: Acts 10:34-43
34Peter opened his mouth and said: “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, 35but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. 36As for the word that he sent to Israel, preaching good news of peace through Jesus Christ (he is Lord of all), 37you yourselves know what happened throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee after the baptism that John proclaimed: 38how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. 39And we are witnesses of all that he did both in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree, 40but God raised him on the third day and made him to appear, 41not to all the people but to us who had been chosen by God as witnesses, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 42And he commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead. 43To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”
1Protect me, O God, for I take refuge in you; I have said to the Lord, “You are my Lord, my good above all other.” 2All my delight is upon the godly that are in the land, upon those who are noble among the people. 3But those who run after other gods shall have their troubles multiplied. 4Their libations of blood I will not offer, nor take the names of their gods upon my lips. 5O Lord, you are my portion and my cup; it is you who uphold my lot. 6My boundaries enclose a pleasant land; indeed, I have a goodly heritage. 7I will bless the Lord who gives me counsel; my heart teaches me, night after night. 8I have set the Lord always before me; because he is at my right hand I shall not fall. 9My heart, therefore, is glad, and my spirit rejoices; my body also shall rest in hope. 10For you will not abandon me to the grave, nor let your holy one see the Pit. 11You will show me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy, and in your right hand are pleasures forevermore.
Second Reading: Colossians 3:1-4
1If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. 3For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
Gospel: John 20:1-18
1Now after the Sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. 2And behold, there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. 3His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. 4And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men. 5But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. 6He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. 7Then go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and behold, he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him. See, I have told you.” 8So they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. 9And behold, Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came up and took hold of his feet and worshiped him. 10Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.”
The Rest of the Message
More than two centuries ago on June 18, 1815, the combined forces of Austria, Russia, Great Britain, and Prussia, under the leadership of the British General Arthur Wellesly Wellington, engaged the army of the French Empire under Napoleon Bonaparte in a climactic battle to decide the outcome of the war for the European continent. There, near the Belgium town of Waterloo, those two armies engaged in fierce combat. By prearranged agreement, the British army, at the end of the day, was to signal back to the coast the outcome of that battle through a series of smoke signals. The message would then be communicated across the English Channel and hand delivered to the King of England in London.
As evening approached at the end of that day’s fierce fighting, in which more than 25,000 men lost their lives, English communication experts on the coast awaited the smoke signals declaring either victory over their dreaded foe or defeat of their army — either hope for the future or despair in their battle for freedom for the entire European continent. Soon their wait came to an end.
Over the top of a distant hillside, they were able to make out the distinctive smoke signal message from Waterloo, and they began to translate it. The first word was unmistakable: “Wellington.” The second word also soon followed, and it said, “defeated.” However, as soon as those two words were received, the wind suddenly shifted, and the sky was filled with dark, low clouds. It was impossible to determine if there was any more to the message or not. They were left with the message, “Wellington defeated.” In great sorrow, they turned and communicated that fact across the English Channel and on to King George and to the people of England.
That night, all of England lay in deep sorrow, heartbroken to receive the news that their general, Arthur Wellington, had been defeated by the French emperor, Napoleon — for now it seemed that there was no hope of stopping the expansion of Napoleon’s power and no hope for them for the future. They had only to wait until Napoleon’s forces crossed the channel, invaded their homeland, and placed them as well under the cruel slavery of his rule.
After a dark night of despair, the following morning British soldiers once again searched the skies for messages. And once again they saw the word, “Wellington,” signaled to them. The next word was also the same, “defeated.” But this time, in the bright blue skies of a morning sun, a third word appeared, a word that made all the difference in the world, a word that changed their sadness into joy, their grief into rejoicing. For the third word read, “Napoleon.” You see, the correct message, the complete message that they were unable to receive the night before read “Wellington defeated Napoleon.” And the rest is history.
Napoleon’s army was conquered and freedom for the European continent was secured. Napoleon had met his Waterloo that fateful day in 1815. I think we can, on this Easter Sunday, draw a parallel between what happened at Waterloo and what happened more than two millennia ago in Jerusalem at the death of Christ.
Scriptures tell us that early in the morning on the first day of the week, Mary went to the tomb of Jesus to grieve His death. The spices and embalming supplies indicated her intention. Her tears revealed her anguish. The message on her heart was: Jesus defeated. Death had done Him in. Death had won over the Savior. For He was now dead and entombed. No one can deny what she was feeling, it was all understandable.
Our church teaches, that for the believer, death is a passage to a new life. But when death comes to a loved one, when death visits someone dear to us, when it’s the death of a friend we cherish, it’s hard to see the whole message. Death obscures our sight. Death clouds our vision. Death puts us in a fog and keeps us from seeing the whole message. That’s how it was for Mary — and even worse. For Mary, Jesus was more than friend, was more than just a teacher she loved. Jesus was the One she believed in. He was the One she hoped was the Savior. So, when Mary stood outside the tomb, she was convinced that it was over. She was certain it was done. Gone were her hopes for the future. Deeply shaken was her faith in God — for Jesus was defeated. Perhaps that’s why when she got to the tomb, things got really confusing.
When Mary arrived at the tomb, the stone had been rolled away. And when she didn’t find a body inside, she assumed someone had taken it. What more must she endure? First, the arrest of Jesus in the garden; His trials before Herod and Pilate, then His flogging, abuse, humiliation and finally His cruel death on the cross. It was more than she could stand, so she fled from the garden. Running quickly back to the disciples, Mary told them what she had seen. “They have taken Jesus’ body and I don’t know where to find it.” Peter and John went running to the tomb to see what happened and Mary came along behind. Completely forgotten, Mary arrived at the tomb, overcome by grief.
For her, the message was clear. Jesus was defeated. She had seen Him cruelly mistreated. She was witness to the walk of shame through the streets carrying His cross. She saw Him stumble, fall, and saw Simon of Cyrene pressed into service to carry Jesus’ cross to Calvary. Mary heard the nails driven into His hands and feet. She heard the dreadful thump as the cross was dropped into the hole. She saw the darkness come over the land and she heard Jesus’ final words: “into your hands I commend my spirit” and she watched in horror as He breathed His last. All the physical evidence pointed to the fact that Jesus was dead and gone. No one expects the dead to rise until the resurrection. Every visual signal she could see said one thing, Defeated. The truth is, we’re more like Mary than we’d like to admit.
So, before we criticize Mary for her unbelief, we need to look at ourselves. How often do we see the signs and yet fail to believe. We can be surrounded by people in whom faith abounds in deeds of kindness and love, and yet fail to understand what faith can mean for us. We can sit in sanctuaries with lovely crosses. We can sing hymns of praise and prayer. We can join in Easter celebrations and yet go home unchanged, untouched by the miracle of the Resurrection. Yes, we’re more like Mary than we’d like to admit; we’re slow to believe and unable to see the rest of the message. So for our sakes, let’s once again examine the evidence.
It’s well known that this is a generous congregation. There are folks here who faithfully support Dallas Christian Ministries, our Disaster Response ministry, and our other benevolent agencies. And I applaud you for that. However, I think it’s good for us to take a moment, from time to time, to examine how we spend what God has entrusted to us. We need to look at our bank statements and ask, how much do we spend on things like cable TV and cell service. And what about our discretionary spending like eating out, movies, or on luxury items, verses our giving to God? Or look at how much time we spend reading books or newspapers, or in watching TV.
Do we spend more time reading a newspaper than in reading the scriptures? Do we read other books more intently than God’s word? Or how about the music on our lips? Do we know the latest advertising jingle better than we know any of the songs in the hymnal? We’re more like Mary than we’d care to admit; slow to believe, slow to change, acknowledging only part of the message. Like Mary, we can stand at the mouth of the open tomb and still cannot see. We hear the words of the angels, and yet let our lives remain untouched by the miracle of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead.
Fellow disciples, the good news of Easter is that God knows how hard it is for us to believe. God knows how tightly our sinful, human nature clings to this world. God knows how easily it is for our hearts drift from faith, how quickly our lives can betray us. And because of that, God sends us another message. Easter gives us the rest of the message, “Jesus defeated death.” The message of Easter proclaims the whole story. Because Jesus lives, we too shall live.
The message of Easter is that life is not over at the grave. The dead do rise on the last day because Jesus defeated death. The message of Easter is that life does not end in darkness; life is not over when we die. The message of Easter is that Christ has died. Christ is risen, and Christ will come again. The message of Easter is that Jesus conquered death. This is the message we believe; this is the message we share, and these are the words that we hold to be true. Jesus is our hope for the future, He is our joy of life with God. As the hymnist penned, “Because He lives, I can face tomorrow. Because He lives, all fear is gone. Because I know He holds the future, life is worth the living, just because He lives.” Because He lives and reigns, we too shall live. His victory is our victory. His resurrection is our resurrection. His rising to new life is new life for us as well.
In the fifth chapter of the gospel of John, Jesus said this, “I tell you the truth whoever hears my word and believes in God who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned. He has crossed over from death into life.” It wasn’t until Jesus spoke Mary’s name that she believed. It wasn’t until He said, “Mary,” that she recognized Him. And that’s important for us to remember. As St. Paul reminds us, Faith comes from hearing (Romans 10:17). Faith is ours when God speaks our name. Faith is dependent upon God’s word for us. Faith is God’s action in our lives and God’s grace in our hearts. Faith is born when we hear God; it’s ours when God speaks.
Want to grow in faith? Then draw nearer to God’s people in worship and allow God to speak to you. Want to experience the presence of Christ more fully? Then stand closer to Him and listen for Him in prayer. Join in worship, open the Bible, read it more faithfully and bow your head more often in prayer. Stretch your spiritual muscles by reaching out in love to someone in need. The fact that Jesus overcame death is the glorious message of Easter. Through the death and resurrection of Jesus, we are set free, free from death’s cold grip, free from our sins and wrongdoings, freed to live as children of God. When Mary heard Jesus speak her name, she knew the rest of the message. That’s why she fell at His feet in worship. And that’s where we belong as well.
Tigyne belonged to the Wallamo tribe in the interior of Ethiopia. In the years following WWII, missionaries carried the message of Christ to this people, and one of the earliest converts was Tigyne (Ti-gene). Raymond Davis was the missionary who knew him and freed him. I say freed him because Tigyne was a slave and his decision to follow Jesus displeased his master, who refused to allow Tigyne to attend Bible studies or go to church. In fact, his master frequently humiliated Tigyne for his faith. But for this young Christian, it seemed a small price that he was willing to pay. There was another price, however, he could not pay.
Tigyne could not purchase his freedom. His master only wanted $12 for him. But for a slave who has no salary, it might as well have been a million dollars. However, when Davis learned that Tigyne’s freedom could be purchased, he saved his money and gave Tigyne back his life. Tigyne was now free — both physically and spiritually.
Not long after his received his freedom, the government in Ethiopia was overthrown and all foreign missionaries were expelled from the country. Twenty-four years passed before Raymond Davis was allowed to return to Wallamo. However, through all those years, Tigyne had not forgotten and he longed to see Davis again. When he heard that his friend was returning to Africa, he went to the mission station to greet him. Because dates on the calendar and times on the clock didn’t mean much to Tigyne, he just kept coming back day after day.
Finally, Davis arrived, riding in a car driven by a native pastor. When Tigyne saw the vehicle come round the corner, he ran to the window and took Davis’ hand and began to kiss it over and over. The local pastor slowed the car so Tigyne could run beside it. As he ran, he yelled to his friends, “Behold. Behold. Here is the one who redeemed me. Here is the one who set me free. He has returned as he promised.”
Finally, the car slowed to a stop. And as Davis stepped out, Tigyne dropped to his knees, put his arms around the legs of the missionary he had not seen for 24 years and began to kiss his dusty shoes. Davis reached down to bring him to full height and there they stood, their arms around each other, tears of joy running down their cheeks. This is the same joy that God has for us when we hear the rest of the message. This is God’s grace for us.
The message of Easter isn’t “Jesus defeated.” The message of this Resurrection Sunday is that God’s love and grace has triumphed. Death’s power is gone. Death’s rule is over. Jesus defeated death. He has triumphant over sin, death, and the grave; thus, we have hope for the future. He is the Lord of Life and the Savior of our soul. And this is the message that God speaks to our world today — Jesus defeated death. May God bless us this Easter season and throughout .the year and may He fill our hearts with the joy of the Resurrection.