Sunday, April 8, 2012

Christ the Victor

As we have seen throughout this Lenten season, the last 24 hours of Jesus’ life were filled with betrayal, lies, accusations, failure, abandonment, suffering, brokenness and pain. When Jesus was finally laid in the tomb and the stone sealed the grave it looked as if this was the end. As the sun set on Friday it looked as if all the ugliness, violence and evil of the world had won and that sin had prevailed, but if we take a closer look at the story of Jesus burial – we see that this isn’t true because hidden in that story are the seeds of hope and resurrection.

Look at Mark 15:42-46. Now this Council which Joseph was part of was the Sanhedrin, which was the same group of men who earlier that same day had falsely accused Jesus and sent him to Pilate seeking an execution. So there was at least one member of the Sanhedrin who had seen something positive in Jesus and while he wasn’t willing to help Jesus at the trial, he now steps forward in faith to help Jesus. Joseph’s presence at the cross is that glimmer of hope that shows us that evil and sin doesn’t have the last word. There is always hope.

If we look at John’s gospel we see that Joseph wasn’t alone when he went to take Jesus body off the cross, there was another man with him, Nicodemus. Nicodemus was also a member of the ruling council, or the Sanhedrin, and he was the one who had come to Jesus years earlier asking him want it meant to be born again. At that time Nicodemus came to Jesus during the dark of night because he was afraid of being associated with Jesus and his movement, but he felt like Jesus had the truth and he wanted to learn more. When he comes to Jesus here at the cross, he is not ashamed. Nicodemus approaches the cross boldly and helps take Jesus down and it is Nicodemus who brings with him 75 pounds of spices that they would use to wrap Jesus body for burial. Nicodemus presence at the cross and his gift to Jesus shows us that there is hope for resurrection because here is a man whose life had been changed by Jesus. Nicodemus was a changed man. He had once been afraid and filled with doubt but here we see him filled with faith and courage. He has been born again and his presence at the cross shows us that there is hope. Darkness doesn’t have the final word.

So even as Jesus is being taken off the cross and his grave is sealed we see a glimmer of hope. Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus show us that there is still faith and there is still the hope of new life and changed hearts. So when the third day arrives and the women make their way to the tomb maybe all is not lost. Now the women come early to properly wrap Jesus body because there had been no time to do it on Friday. When Joseph and Nicodemus took Jesus off the cross it was close to sunset which marked the beginning of the Sabbath which meant that they could not do the final work of preparing Jesus body for burial. The women come to do that and they come fully expecting the grave to be sealed and the body of Jesus to be lying inside. In fact as they make their way to the tomb they begin to ask themselves how they are going to roll that heavy stone away so they can get to Jesus.

That concern was quickly forgotten when the women arrive and see that the stone had already been rolled away. Now the accounts of the resurrection from this point on are all a little different, which for some people is unsettling, but for me it makes perfect sense. The resurrection of Jesus is such an unexpected and in many ways unbelievable event that as people looked back on it - everyone remembered different details, but there are some things that are clear to see in all 4 gospels. #1, the women are filled with fear when they see an open grave and #2 the disciples have a hard time believing that the tomb is open and that the grave clothes are empty and that Jesus is alive. I actually find it encouraging that the disciples struggled to believe. Even after seeing the open grave and the empty grave clothes they struggled to believe which means that our struggle to believe 2000+ years later makes a little bit of sense. Just like the disciples, sometimes it is hard for us to wrap our minds around the reality of Jesus resurrection and while we don’t how it happened, we can be confident that it did.

While there is no scientific proof that we can point to which says that Jesus rose from the dead, we are not without facts which help us accept this as truth. What we know is that Jesus died and that of his followers saw him alive. Those are facts. In light of those facts some still want to say that Jesus didn’t die but just passed out on the cross and then slowly revive in the coolness of the tomb. The problem with this is that Roman soldiers were experts at crucifixion and they didn’t remove someone from the cross unless they were 100% sure that person was dead. So Jesus was dead when Joseph and Nicodemus laid him in the tomb, but even if there had been some remote chance that Jesus had not died, there is simply no way that in his weakened state due to blood loss, dehydration and a pierced lung that Jesus would have been able to have enough strength to unwrap his body, move away a huge stone by himself and walk out of the tomb.

We also know that Jesus body wasn’t taken away by the disciples. First of all there was a guard at the tomb and even if the disciples had been able to get past the guard and steal the body, it makes no sense that they would have suffered the persecution and pain they did for something they knew was a lie. Many of the disciples suffered and died because they believed in and proclaimed that Jesus rose from the dead and there is no way they would have done that if they had known Jesus had not in fact risen. They would not have given their lives to a mission they knew to be a failure.

We also know that the appearance of Jesus after his death wasn’t a ghost or spiritual apparition that they all saw. First of all Jesus appeared to too many people in too many different places for that to make sense, but Jesus actually offered his body to the disciples to touch and hold on to. Jesus then eats with them and he does this specifically to show them that he is not a ghost but physically present with them.

While we can’t explain what happened while Jesus was in the tomb and while we don’t know how Jesus actually rose from the dead – all the evidence points to the fact that he did and that Jesus is not just victorious over his grave but that Jesus is victorious over all things and nowhere is that victory more clearly seen than in the life of his disciples.

After Jesus died the disciples were hiding in guilt, shame and fear. They must have experienced great guilt and shame because they weren’t there when Jesus needed them – they weren’t even there to help lay Jesus in the tomb and did you notice that they aren’t even the ones heading out early in the morning to make sure Jesus is properly buried. The women have more faith and courage than the disciples. The disciples are broken, defeated and living with the burden of their sin, but after the resurrection we see them bold and courageous. The victory of Jesus over the grave brought them victory as well, victory over fear, victory over failure, victory over their sin. It is the changed lives of the disciples that maybe more than anything else gives us the best evidence of that Jesus rose from the grave and it is the changed lives of Christians throughout history that also point to the truth of Christ’s resurrection.

Think about the Apostle Paul, he an encounter with the resurrected Jesus that profoundly changed his life. Paul had been the #1 enemy of the church. He actively and viciously persecuted the followers of Jesus by sending them to jail and giving approval to their execution by stoning, but an encounter with the living Jesus changed all that. Paul goes from being an enemy of Jesus to his most effective witness and while Paul couldn’t tell you what happened in the grave and how Jesus rose from the dead his experience with the risen Jesus radically and forever changed him.

Just like Paul I can’t tell you what happened during those three days or how Jesus rose from the dead but I can tell you that he did because his risen presence in my life has changed me. The victory of Jesus over the grave has changed and shaped my life. I have heard the voice of Jesus at times, I have felt his presence and been overwhelmed by his love and grace. I have found peace in the midst of storms, hope in the midst of depression, comfort in the mist of pain, forgiveness and love in the midst of sin and even again this week life in the midst of death. The victory of Jesus over the grave doesn’t just mean that death has been defeated it means that all the powers of darkness, sin and evil can be overcome and that in time they will be overcome and the resurrection of Jesus means that we can experience this same victory in our own lives every day.

The victory of Jesus means that we can find victory over doubt. Everyone who encountered the empty tomb that day was filled with doubt. The women couldn’t believe the tomb was empty and the disciples couldn’t believe the message of the women. When Thomas heard the stories of Jesus being alive from his friends whom he trusted - he was still filled with doubt. They all had doubts and fears and questions but eventually the risen Jesus gave them answers and his victory filled them with faith. In time they all found victory over doubt and so can we when we open ourselves up to God. Doubt and questions are not bad things if they move us to seek answers; the key is for us to be open to God as we search to find those answers.

The victory of Jesus over the grave also means that we can experience forgiveness even in the midst of our sin. Think about Peter. During the three days of Jesus being in the tomb he must have been consumed by guilt because of the reality of his failure. He had failed to stand with Jesus, he had failed to walk with Jesus, he had failed to acknowledge that he even knew Jesus - 3 times! The sealed grave must have led him to believe that his failure was final. There would be no hope of forgiveness or reconciliation and no opportunity for a second chance, but an empty tomb meant that the door was open for forgiveness. The victory of Jesus means there could be victory for Peter and the victory of Jesus means that there can be victory for us. While we know all too well the reality of our sin the victory of Jesus over death means that we can also experience the reality of forgiveness. The resurrection of Jesus means that our sin has been forgiven and that our failure can been redeemed. No matter what lies in our past the victory of Jesus means that we can move forward in life and faith. All is forgiven and all is redeemed. Everyone is given a second, and third chance.

The victory of Jesus also means that the power of evil and darkness in our world will never have the final say. We will still the reality of sin and evil and we will continue to see the brokenness of our world all around us, but this darkness never fully wins – God always emerge victorious. The victory of Jesus means that in the end God always wins and His life and love always prevail.

And then last, but certainly not least, the victory of Jesus over the grave does mean that death itself has been defeated. In 1 Corinthians 15 Paul writes, Death has been swallowed up in victory. Where O death is your victory? Where O death is your sting? God gives us the victory through Jesus Christ our Lord. When Jesus rose from the dead he didn’t just defeat death for himself but for all time which means that there is a resurrection and eternal life for all who place their faith and trust in Christ. On the cross Jesus paid the price for our sin and in the resurrection he shows us that we have been restored into a right relationship with God forever.

Christ emerges from the tomb victorious which means that there is a victory for us as well. There is victory over doubt, victory over sin and failure, victory over all the evil and darkness of our world and victory over death itself. Whatever is broken and hurting in our lives today can be healed through the power of Christ’s victory. Whatever fear or failure we experience today can be overcome in the power of Christ’s victory. Whatever sin we experience today can be forgiven in the power of Christ’s victory. Whatever need we have for life, life abundant here and now or the hope of life eternal in the kingdom of God can be claimed and trusted and lived out in the power of Christ’s victory. Today I invite you to not just remember that Christ rose victorious over the grave, but to accept the power of that victory into your own heart and life and to allow the power of Christ resurrection to bring you victory in every area of your life.

Next Steps: Christ the Victor

1. Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus risked their personal safety and reputation to take Jesus from the cross and lay him in the tomb. What might God be calling us to risk to stand with him? Like these two, what personal sacrifice do we need to make to be a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ?

2. Read the Resurrection account in each gospel. Notice the differences and similarities and ask God to shape your understanding of his victory in your own life through His word.
• Matthew 28:1-15
• Mark 16:1-13
• Luke 24:1-49
• John:1-23

3. Where do you most need the victory of Jesus to be experienced in your own life?
• To help you overcome doubt? Fear? Failure?
• Healing for broken relationships?
• Hope in the face of shattered dreams?
• Accepting God’s forgiveness and grace?
• Offering forgiveness and grace to others?
• Feeling loved by God and others?
• Finding hope for an uncertain future?
• Healing of mind, body or spirit?

Wherever victory is needed, ask God to bring it and trust that He will through the power of Jesus Christ and his resurrection.