The Living Among the Dead

Luke 24:1-8

 

I once took a large group of teenagers and adults on a mission trip to the south side of Chicago.  If you don’t know Chicago, the south side ain’t exactly the good side.

(Driving church vans through downtown.)

(Finding no easy access places to do something fun.)

(Seeing the man drop a wad of cash.)

(Meeting the lead singer from Nickelback.)

(Regaling us with the story, including a bad-trip-turned-good ending.)

 

So why do I tell you this story today?  What does it have to do with Easter?  Well, the content of the story has very little to do with Easter.

But it’s a great story, isn’t it?  It’s got everything you want—humorous situations, conflict and difficulty, tug-at-your-heart good deeds, and even famous people and places.  The ability to tell good stories is a gift from God.

Having someone around who will regularly share good stories is an equally good gift.  And today, we remember the best story of them all.

 

Of course, I don’t mean “story” in the sense of a fairy tale or some made-up tale you might tell your son or daughter before bed each night.

I’m talking about a retelling of something that actually happened.  And it truly is the best story of them all.

If there’s a church that regularly proclaims and celebrates the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and you find yourself bored at church—then you simply aren’t paying attention!

This story isn’t the best simply because of its captivating and dramatic elements, though that is certainly a big part of it.

 

It’s the best story because it’s the foundation of our faith.  Easter is a launching point of sorts.  Easter isn’t the one Sunday when you better really tune into God.

Easter is what makes you desire to tune into God during all the other Sundays—and really every moment of every day.

Today, my desire is that Easter becomes a launching point for you—a moment in time where things changed, your life was revived, and you looked at the world differently.  Speaking of looking at things differently, let’s look at today’s passage.

It’s found in the 24th and final chapter of the gospel of Luke.  It’s perhaps a familiar one to you, but I want to focus on one particular part of it.

We will begin with the first verse of that chapter.  I invite you to read along with me in your Bibles, or simply listen as I read.  (Read Luke 24:1-8.)

 

I’m not going to go into great detail about how we got to this point.  We covered that a good deal on Thursday and Friday nights.

Plus, you probably know at least some of the story.  Friday is for death and burial.  Today is for resurrection.  But, suffice to say, these ladies have come to give Jesus a proper burial.  After His death on the cross, things got kind of hectic.

He had to be quickly buried so as to get it all done before the Sabbath began.  These women are bringing appropriate burial spices to make things on the up-and-up, so to speak.  Of course, they face the problem of the giant stone.

This large rock covered the entrance to the tomb.  Other gospel writers mention the women’s concern over how they might be able to move it.

Upon arriving at the tomb, they notice that their problem is solved.  The stone has been rolled away.  Of course, this poses a whole new set of problems.

 

First of all, why was this stone rolled away—and who did it?  Secondly, once they entered the tomb, they noticed that Jesus’ body isn’t there.

If things weren’t bad enough, with the death of their beloved leader, now they face the confusion and pain of wondering if someone had stolen His body.

According to the scripture, they didn’t have much time to mull this over.  Two men in gleaming clothing appear beside them.

The women bow down before them, probably in part out of worshipful reverence and in part out of cowering fear.

And they ask the women a very important question.  Why do you seek the living among the dead?

They then go on to remind the women of Jesus’ words—namely, that He must be handed over and executed, but also that He would rise on the third day.

The passage states that the women then remembered His words.

 

But I want to spend some time hanging out with their question—why do you seek the living among the dead?

These ladies are in the wrong place!  Jesus isn’t there anymore!  His is risen!

But I really think that there is even more going on with this statement.  It stirs a great deal of pondering and wondering in my mind.

Why are you looking for the living among the dead?  To be sure, just the day before, Jesus was among the dead.  In fact, He was dead.  He quite literally died.

We cannot downplay the significance of this, especially on a day such as Easter.  In Jesus, we see that life can come from death.

Death is not the end.  There is more to the story.  We might even find that our best life—ultimate and abundant—can be found only after death.

 

But think about the question again.  Why do you seek the living among the dead?  You know, we categorize our society, our nation, and our world quite frequently.

Folks are either male or female, black or white, old or young, Type A or Type B, and on and on it goes.  How about this?

Everyone we meet is either living or dead.  Of course, I’m not talking about the physical sense here.  Not too many of us spend a great deal of time with corpses.

But it the spiritual sense—and, incidentally, isn’t that all that matters?—everyone you and I meet is either alive or dead.

Each and everyone of you sitting in this room—you are either alive in Christ or dead in your sins.  I don’t know if you believe that or not, but I do.

I believe it because I have faith in God, and I believe that’s what it says in His Word.

 

We live in a nation that has been described as “a Christian country”.  Sometimes we hide under that banner.  We hope that the label will be enough to cover us.

We put “Christian” on our facebook status, all the while having very little understanding of what that term actually means.

We keep a Bible in the house and perhaps read it when we face a crisis.  We have a membership in a church but only truly know perhaps 10% of the other members.

We agree with conservative values and various other traditions.  But we don’t look alive.  We go about our routines, delight in our kids, and stress over money.

And we do it, day after day after day.  But I don’t know if that makes us alive.  Agreeing with Christian principles doesn’t make anyone alive.  Here’s a good test in regard to this whole “alive or dead” topic.

 

Today we celebrate the culmination of the roller coaster of all roller coaster weekends.  On Friday, Jesus died.  It was as brutal a death as there ever has been.

He suffered physically, emotionally, and spiritually.  He was buried.  On the third today—today, Easter Sunday—God the Father raised Him from the dead.

Why?  We could go on and on with different possible answers to that question.

But look at it like this.  Do you think God went through all that—do you think Jesus willingly suffered as He did and the Father miraculously raised Him from the grave—so that you could live the way you are living now?

 

The resurrection is the critical moment of the Christian faith.  Don’t claim Christianity if you aren’t going to sell out for the resurrection.

Jesus came and died and rose in order that we might be brought from death into life.

We were transferred from the kingdom of darkness and into the kingdom of light.

If Jesus didn’t die, then we have no hope of standing before God.  You and I were born into a sin nature—sinful through and through.

Have you ever noticed that selfishness isn’t so much a learned trait, as it is a natural one?  We are tainted and stained from the moment we start this life.

Our sin is nothing short of rebellion of and disdain for God and His purposes and character.  Therefore we deserve punishment.  Therefore we deserve death.

 

The crucifixion was God’s message that He would take care of us—that He would stand in our place.  Jesus took the sin and death and punishment from us.

The resurrection was God’s proof that death had been destroyed.  What hope do we have if we follow and worship a mass of dried and crusty bones in a tomb?

Our hope is in a savior who lives, who is still with us, and who has provided a better way for us.  Life is found in living with, in and for this Savior.

Is that how you live?  To be sure, none of us pulls that off all the time—but is that ever how you have lived?

 

Easter Sunday truly is about leaving the land of the dead and moving into the land of the living.  Do you think Jesus rose so that you might be able to do all that you’ve ever wanted to do—to live life on your own terms?  What a lie we’ve been fed!

Life is only found on His terms.  God is the one who brought forth life, in the physical sense.  And He’s the only one who can provide it in the spiritual sense.

I fear there is an epidemic of dead folks parading through our churches and communities.  It likely stems from wanting an easier way.

I thank God that Jesus didn’t seek the easier way.  We want right standing with God without any sort of commitment or discipline.

We want heaven without it disrupting our way of life.  We want Jesus to bless us and then stay the heck out of our affairs.

For too long that was me.  Some days, it still feels like me.  I wanted the blessings of knowing about Jesus without having to actually know the man Himself.

 

Listen, folks.  What you know about Jesus—whatever facts you can spout off about His life and death and resurrection—it doesn’t amount to a hill of beans.

You have to a have a real-life relationship with Him.  You have to have a daily walk.

He has to come to bear on your other relationships, your daily decisions, your work or school, and your activities within the home and outside of it.

That, my friends, is life.  Life comes when we sacrifice that deceptive “freedom to do whatever we want” and make ourselves slaves to Jesus Christ.

That’s why He died and rose.  He rose so that you might see that He is Lord of all!  He rose so that you might surrender everything to Him—not just a Sunday here and there.  He rose so that your life might become His life.

And He rose so that, one day, you might arise from the dead yourself, and find an eternal life devoid of sin and suffering and pain, an eternal life in His presence.

 

The Bible is clear on this, no matter how we might desire to muddy the waters.

We can pick and choose which parts we want to take seriously.  We can use all the “Well, what He really means,” excuses that we like.

The fact remains that, unless we embrace the commitment and sacrifice of Jesus—unless that comes out in our own relationship with Him—we truly are still dead.

And I know very few people who prefer death—especially spiritual death—to eternal and abundant life.  But we face a serious question.

Especially those of us who are unsure of where we stand, the question stares at us.

What do we do about it?  How do we move from death into life?  And how in the world do we experience this diligent walk with our Lord and Savior?

 

Forgive me if this sounds like a shameless plug, but what about church?  We are here as an Easter-born community of faith.

The whole purpose of the church is to foster an atmosphere where people might actually meet with God and grow in their relationship with Him.

I know, I know.  The church is full of imperfect people.  And there are bound to be many in here who have been harmed by church.

You were involved at one time, but something or someone wounded you.  It’s an understandable reservation, but not a defensible one.

If we give up on anything and everything that is imperfect in this world, then we have nothing to hold onto.

And you might say, “I prefer to go it alone in my walk with God.”  Perhaps you feel as though you don’t need that community.  Again, it’s indefensible.

It didn’t work for Adam.  God saw that it wasn’t good that he was alone.  We need that community.  It’s a slippery slope when we take the “go it alone” stance.

Going it alone with God quickly becomes going it alone, period—doing things our own way, creating our own priorities and standards.

This is supposed to be a place that brings life to you.  And I can promise you, the staff here will do all we can to make that a reality—God-willing and helping us.

 

This body of believers cannot be a place we experience on a once-in-a-while or when-we-need-it basis.

Nor can Easter be merely an often-repeated special event.  Easter must be a launching point, as we said before.

It must be the start of something significant—or perhaps even the restart of something significant.

Today, you have the opportunity to choose life—alongside all the dedication and discipline that real life entails.

You have an opportunity to be one of the living, among so many dead in this world—among so many in need of Jesus.

You have the opportunity to be transferred from death into life.

 

That’s the Easter story.  Jesus came.  He called folks.  He served them.  He died for them.  And now He’s alive again—and He’s still calling.

You have the awesome privilege and responsibility of hearing and answering that call.  Today, your response doesn’t need to be to this sermon or the one delivering it.

Your response is to the Savior who bled and died for you, in your place.  Your response is to the risen King who reigns, and will do so, forever and ever.

Your response is to Him, and Him alone.  But before I give you that opportunity, I want you to truly consider this life offered by Jesus.

 

Maybe you’ve got bigger fish to fry later on today.  Maybe there’s an egg hunt or a big meal on deck for you in just a bit.

Is that meal really worth more than the life Jesus offers?  Maybe you didn’t come here today to have your life intruded upon.

Maybe you’re just here to fulfill your Easter-ly duties and move on with your life.

Do you really think that any life you can create on your own can compare with the life Jesus offers?  And can that life you create last forever?

Maybe you appreciate the sentiment of what Jesus did and what He says, but it just isn’t for you.  Let me ask this.  What exactly isn’t for you?

Is it the life He offers or is it the commitment required?  Is it the fact that it might cause you to surrender some things that you absolutely will not let go of?

If that’s the case with you, then I can tell you this plainly.  Anything you absolutely will not let go of is the very thing that you worship as god.

And there is only one God who can provide true life—it’s found in Jesus Christ.

 

Maybe you aren’t even sure what to do today.  But you can sense something stirring.

Something has touched you.  It has you curious—and maybe even a little scared.  Welcome to Easter.  You won’t find a person in the gospels, following the resurrection, who wasn’t at least a little curious and scared.

But such great love and power demands a response.  What is yours today?  (Pray.)