Our Scripture lesson this morning is taken from the 24th chapter of the gospel according to Luke, Luke the 24th chapter. And I'm going to begin to read at verse 1, and we’ll read through verse 12 of that chapter. I'd invite you to open your copy of the Scripture and follow along as I read. Again I would remind you that we believe the Bible to be God's word. It is our authority. We believe that it is inspired, that it is inerrant. It is trustworthy; we've found it to be so. Luke the 24th chapter, beginning to read at verse 1:
1Now upon the first day of the week, very early in the morning, they came unto the sepulcher, bringing the spices which they had prepared, and certain others with them. 2And they found the stone rolled away from the sepulcher. 3And they entered in, and found not the body of the Lord Jesus. 4And it came to pass, as they were much perplexed thereabout, behold, two men stood by them in shining garments: 5And as they were afraid, and bowed down their faces to the earth, they said unto them, Why seek ye the living among the dead? 6He is not here, but is risen: remember how He spake unto you when He was yet in Galilee, 7Saying, The Son of man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again. 8And they remembered His words, 9And returned from the sepulcher, and told all these things unto the eleven, and to all the rest. 10It was Mary Magdalene and Joanna, and Mary the mother of James, and other women that were with them, which told these things unto the apostles. 11And their words seemed to them as idle tales, and they believed them not. 12Then arose Peter, and ran unto the sepulcher; and stooping down, he beheld the linen clothes laid by themselves, and departed, wondering in himself at that which was come to pass.
May God bless to our understanding this morning this that we have read from His holy word.
Now as we come to our time of silent meditation and prayer, I have a special request that I want to share with you. Yesterday morning I received a long-distance telephone call from Taiwan, around on the other side of the globe. I'm not in the custom of receiving such long-distance calls and was very curious about this one. Jimmy Lyons, a minister in the Presbyterian Church, a representative of the Mission to the World, was in Taiwan and shared with me the fact that the home of the Reverend and Mrs. David White, who are ministering at Christ's College in Taipei, had burned to the ground the night before, Friday night. All of the possessions of the Whites were lost although they were protected themselves. Mr. White had injury to his leg, but otherwise they are alright, except that everything that they own was burned up. I would ask that you would pray today for the David White family. You’ll notice their names on the back of our bulletin, representatives of our church in Taiwan. So as we come to our time of silent prayer this morning, normally I ask that you make mention of your own personal need, and I do that again; that you would pray for those around you, and I do that again; also I would ask that you would pray for David and Barbara White and their children. Let us now unite our hearts together in prayer.
God in heaven, we are grateful this morning that Thou art able to meet our every need. We thank Thee that Thou dost minister to us and through us to Thy people. We praise Thee, O God, for the fellowship that we have in the Lord Jesus Christ. We thank Thee that we can bear one another's burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ. So, our God, we come before Thee and make our requests known unto Thee today, confessing our own sin and acknowledging our own unworthiness, even to be in Thy presence; but knowing, our Father, that Thou hast made us in Thy own image and that Thou dost know us far better than we know ourselves. And Thou knowest our proclivity to sin and Thou hast given to us a way of escape. And Thou hast given to us the One who has paid the penalty for our sin, and it is in His blood that we trust this morning. We have heard of Him and our trust and our faith and our confidence is in what He has done in our behalf. We thank Thee, our Father, for Thyself: for Thy power and Thy majesty. We thank Thee for the way in which Thou hast met our every need. So frequently, O God, I confess that I think of the way in which Thou hast supplied my physical needs, and yet, Lord, there are so many other things besides this that are far more important than my food or my clothing or my shelter or my health or the health of my loved ones. Father, I thank Thee this morning that Thou hast given me the assurance of my salvation, that Thou hast given to me “a peace that passes all understanding.” I thank Thee, heavenly Father, that Thou hast enabled me to be numbered among the children of God. I thank Thee heavenly Father, that Thou hast placed within me a new song of praise. Thank Thee, heavenly Father, that Thou hast established my going, Thou hast given to me meaning for living. Father, as I thank Thee for these things that Thou hast given to me personally, I realize that this is not something that has come because of my goodness or my merit. Lord, all of my goodness, all of my righteousness is as filthy rags. And so this morning, O Lord, I thank Thee that Thou hast broadcast Thy wonderful message to the whole world, so that many in the congregation this morning are able to say with me, “Thank You. Thank You for assurance and thank You for peace. And thank You for joy, and thank You for establishing our going, for giving us purpose in living all because of Thy merit.” We praise Thee, O God, this morning that it is our privilege to join together in acknowledging the lordship of Jesus Christ. So today on this Lord's Day when in this very special way we celebrate the resurrection of our Savior, I pray that the Holy Spirit might show us what it means to believe in a living Lord Jesus Christ, One who indwells the believer. And so, our Father, enable us to see that where Christ lives there is no place for criticism, no place for hatred, no place for gossiping tongues, no place for these things that are so easily a part of our lives. Enable us, O God, to see that Jesus makes a difference. We thank Thee for the presence of the Holy Spirit in our meeting. Thank Thee, O God, that He will take the things of Thy word and show us Jesus. And, Father, we thank Thee that He enables us to go out of here living for Jesus Christ. The world needs to see Him, needs to hear His voice. And I pray, O Lord, that we’ll be the instruments in Jackson that will carry that message to our neighborhood, to our city, and then, O God, to the uttermost parts of the earth. May we be found faithful in this. And, O God, may we not leave it to somebody else, but may we assume our responsibility and may we be found faithful. We thank Thee, our Father, for the way in which Thou hast ministered to us and through us to the community and to the world. We thank Thee for our ministry in this church. Thank Thee, O God, for those who have set the pace for us, for our elders and our deacons, for our Sunday school teachers and workers, for those who help us in music. O God, never let us take for granted the ministry of our leadership. We pray for these men and women then who labor sometimes sacrificially in order that our children may hear the good news of salvation in Christ, that we ourselves might be lifted up in worship to see the Triune God. Heavenly Father, we pray that Thou wouldst extend the ministry of this church. We thank Thee for the way in which the church family responded this week when Thou didst reach down into our congregation and take one of our members. We thank Thee, O God, for the fellowship of believers who responded to the need of a family. We pray that Thou wouldst continue to minister and to bless. And through what looks to us to be bad news, would Thou get glory for Thyself? Comfort and strengthen, we pray. And then, our Father, we thank Thee and praise Thee for the watch care that Thou hast exercised over David and Barbara White and their children. We thank Thee that in this narrow escape Thou art already ministering, and we pray that Thou would supply every need that they have. I pray, O God, that the church at home would be compassionate, that we would not easily shrug off this terrible loss of all that they had, but that we might again have the privilege of responding to the need of those we love. How we thank Thee, Lord, for David's ministry, for his faithfulness to Thy word, for his effective ministry on the campus of that college. We pray, O Lord, that through this experience the hand of the Lord would be seen clearly, bringing glory to Thy name. Now, our Father, we thank Thee for what Thou art going to do in this hour. May hearts be open to Thy word. May we be able, O God, to receive the precious word. And may we be able to see Jesus high and lifted up. We pray this in His name. Amen.
Several years ago I clipped out an editorial out of the Manchester Guardian, one of the great newspapers of our time, in which an interview was taking place between the reporter and a leader in the Anglican Church, Archdeacon McNutt. In the article the Archdeacon is quoted as saying, “What makes life purposeless and petty and vain and indeed intolerable to thinking men and women? It is the thought that it leads nowhere and means nothing.” I thought that that was a significant statement by a widely respected and loved churchman who puts his finger upon the pulse of the people of his country and the people of ours, and comes with an answer that certainly needs to be listened to.
What makes life purposeless and petty and vain and indeed intolerable for thinking men and women? It is because it leads nowhere and means nothing.” This is exactly the case if we have no certainty concerning life after death. We move forward, moving relentlessly on into the jaws of death. We are running a race that seems to have no goal. We’re building something that will be left unfinished. We’ll never be able to see any results of the labor of our hands. And that's the way it is with much of the world's population today. Life has no integrating factor. And so is it any wonder that people who have no certainty concerning the future are easily discouraged? Is it any wonder that there are those of our own membership who are filled with discouragement and frustration? Is it any wonder that there are hundreds of thousands of students in the colleges and universities of our land today that have no meaning in life and no goal? How awful to find oneself taking part in the terrible death march.
As one man said to me not long ago when I questioned him…He's just now a month and a half away from graduation from a leading institution of higher learning, and I asked him what he's going to do. He said, “I have no idea. It seems as if I'm just a part of a terrible death march.” It's enough to make the heart sick, is it not? Those of you who have children in colleges and universities are wondering, are you not, what's my son going to do? What's my daughter going to do? Am I going to continue to educate my son, my daughter beyond the level of the undergraduate school? Am I going to be forced to continue to see that that child moves on and on and on, and becomes a professional student simply because of their frustration and discouragement? It's enough to make the brain reel, isn't it? It's enough to throw us into despair.
Now to counteract this kind of burden there are those men who have dreamed up some kind of immortality. They talk about “sweet by and by,” or they talk about “a beautiful isle of somewhere.” And that's the kind of answer that some present to us. But dreams are not certainties. To imagine something is not to have the assurance of that something. To have a philosophy is not to have a guarantee. And can we know? Is there any kind of light for our darkness? Is there a fact that will give meaning to these fast-passing days in which I'm living? Is there something that will give me a sense of accomplishment in these days of frustration? Is there something that will help me to realize that I am moving toward a significant goal?
A businessman in my study recently expressed almost this same thought that the young man expressed. He used different words, but he was saying the same thing as he expressed to me the fact that life did not have any meaning for him. It was getting up in the morning, going through the routine, going home at night, going to bed, getting up in the morning, going through the same routine with no goal, nothing in mind as to what's out there. Can I know? Is there anything that will give meaning? Well, Archdeacon McNutt went on in his interview to say this. After he's asked the question, after he has said, “It is the thought that leads nowhere and means nothing,” he says this, “And then comes Easter, and there behind the broken and distorted foreground of life as we know it stands up shining in the sunlight of God the fact of the risen Christ. Here is the great interpreting, unifying fact we have been seeking.” We have the fact then according to Archdeacon McNutt. We have the integrating fact, the fact that lifts life from a senseless runaround to a great significant enterprise. Easter really does make a difference, doesn't it? It really does. When we think of the risen, living Lord Jesus Christ…The person that knows Christ is a different person who knows that the Christ of Easter has been lifted to a level of significance, and then life has a goal.
The New Testament gives us several examples of the difference which the resurrection of Christ makes in the lives of men and women. I wish that we had time just to work through the gospel accounts of the resurrection of Christ, but let me just summarize these for you, and think with me along the lines that we are given in Scripture of the meaning of the resurrection. In the account which Matthew gives to us of that great Easter morning, we have the picture of the risen Lord Jesus meeting the women who had discovered the empty tomb and were going back to tell the news. And the Lord Jesus met those women with a great word, and that word is “Rejoice!” These women had been mourning ever since their beloved Master had been taken from them. For them the Lord Jesus had become the great fact which gave life meaning, but with the crucifixion then darkness seemed to settle down upon them. And life now was leading nowhere; it meant nothing.
Now it was into this kind of sorrow…it was into this blackness that the risen Savior bursts. And what else should He say except, “Rejoice!” It's the risen Christ that gives beauty for ashes. It's the risen Christ that gives the oil for the joy of mourning. It is the risen Christ that gives the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness about which the prophet Isaiah spoke. Then, then the word “Rejoice!” is not a vain word, is it? And so many times I’ll hear people say, “Well, I hope you feel better.” I've spent quite an amount of time at Wright and Ferguson, and down there as I sit sometimes with a family and listen as friends come walking by, and they’ll say, “Well, we're thinking about you.” And they mean well. And perhaps you have said exactly the same thing that they have said. And others will say, “Cheer up.” And we have nothing better to say, do we? How many times have we uttered such empty words as “Well, I hope you feel better”? We say that kind of word to encourage the person, to build up their spirits, to lift them up.
The Lord Jesus Christ met those women that morning and He gave them reason to obey the greeting. He stood before them as a mighty conqueror, the conqueror of death. How wonderful it is this morning that I can say to you who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, you that have received Him as your personal Savior, He says, “Rejoice!” Now I know that I'm talking to some that are frustrated. I know that I'm talking to some that are discouraged. I know that I'm talking to some that have burdens. But there's no better word than the word of the Lord Jesus when He said to those women, “Rejoice!”
And then you turn quickly over to the account which John has given of that same day. It's the evening time and Jesus enters the room where a few of the disciples met. And you remember that the Scripture says that He entered suddenly and without any kind of an announcement, and He uses the word peace, Shalom. Why did the Lord Jesus use that Jewish greeting to these men? Why did He use it? Well, someone will say, “Well, that's always the way the Jewish people greet one another.” And it is. But I want you to place yourself in the position of these Jewish followers of Jesus. These disciples were huddled behind the closed door because they were afraid. It wasn't because they wanted to shut other people out that they might have fellowship together. These were men that were afraid. The turmoil of fear gripped these men. Every footstep that they heard on the outside street filled their hearts with fear. Were these the soldiers that were going to come and pick up the followers of the Lord Jesus? Were these the footsteps of those Jewish leaders that were going to come and have them arrested and have them placed upon a cross as their leader had been? What was it that these men needed? They needed peace. And who could give them that peace? Beloved, it's only the risen Christ that could give that peace.
I don't need to remind you that we live in a world that's filled with fear…do I? We’re afraid of poverty. We’re afraid of sickness. We’re afraid of war. We’re afraid of depression. We’re afraid of our social position. We’re afraid of death. We’re afraid of what comes after death. I could go on listing fear after fear after fear. There are those of us who will become parts of something simply because we know that to be a status symbol, which indicates some kind of fear within us. The psychiatrists are continually dealing with people's fears. They call them “phobias.” There are some people that are afraid of heights and some that are afraid of depths. There are some people that are afraid of crowds, and then there are those that are afraid of no crowd. There are some people that are afraid of close places…and then there are those people that are afraid of wide places. We call these “phobias,” and they’re expressions of the same thing, and that same thing is fear. Psychiatrists can help a person overcome a specific phobia. I was interested yesterday to hear on the radio that they've working at least toward the development of some kind of thing that will enable a physician to check out a person to find out if he's schizophrenic, without going through the extensive tests that a psychiatrist puts a person through. The psychiatrist can help a person to overcome specific phobias, but he cannot free a soul from the terror of fear. Only One can do that. And in the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ there's no place for fear. He comes with peace to the fearful heart, and the soul casts off its fears in the presence of the risen, living Lord Jesus Christ.
Yesterday afternoon I stood beside a graveside and I read, as I frequently do, the 23rd Psalm. And I came to that passage that we love so very, very much, and you appreciate it, I know. Perhaps you would want it read at your funeral. And we speak of the Great Shepherd, and the Psalmist writes of the Great Shepherd and then he speaks of going through the valley of the shadow of death, and what is it that he says? “I will–” what? “I will fear no evil.” And yet, yet there are Presbyterians all over Jackson that are afraid today. How wonderful it was to sit with one of our families just about two weeks ago, and we were talking about this particular thing, and be able to say, “Our people die well.”
Oh, listen. There are professing Christians all over Jackson that don't die well. Afraid! Afraid of the valley of death! Afraid of evil. But the Lord Jesus Christ breaks in unannounced, and He says, “Peace.”
In the account which Luke gives to us we see how Easter means the banishing of despair and the renewal of hope. There were the two disciples that were walking to Emmaus, that little village outside of the city of Jerusalem, and their conversation was just as heavy as their feet…and there hearts were heavy as well. And the Lord Jesus Christ joined Himself to them and questioned them regarding the sad expression on their faces, and they recited all of the facts to Him. They did not know who He was.
And their last words were words that interested me. I did not read them this morning. It follows in the account in that same chapter from which I read. But you’ll notice as you read it, perhaps this afternoon, that the words of these men as they walked along with Jesus, the words were, “But we trusted that it had been He which should have redeemed Israel.” And the word trusted is a word that's in the past tense. Even their trust was dead. They had dreamed dreams when they were with Jesus. They had built palaces of hope…but He died, and their hope lay dead with Jesus. Their hope had given way to despair. And the new outlook that they’d had on life had suddenly vanished and beautiful words that they had been expressing themselves and hearing from the lips of the Lord Jesus Christ now were ashes. They had nothing left.
And then Jesus said to them, “Thou fools and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets had spoken. Ought not Christ to have suffered these things and to enter into His glory?” And their eyes were opened and they knew Him. How different must have been their trip back to the city of Jerusalem. How different. Their feet had wings because there was a new hope in their hearts and a hope which could not die. The outlook was brighter. It wasn't a dream now; it was a fact…down deep in their hearts.
How do you live?
Down deep in your heart would you admit to living between Good Friday and Easter? It's a rather personal question, but I want to ask it. As your pastor I have that responsibility, don't I? Are you guilty of living between Good Friday and Easter? We've looked around and our dreams for a better world have faded away. Some of you have looked around and your dream for a better church has not materialized, right? Your dream for a better Jackson has not materialized, has it? Your dream for a world with peace in it has not materialized, has it? The stark reality that the world is controlled by the Evil One has suddenly hit you, and you've forgotten that Jesus rose from the dead. He lives. He's at the right hand of the throne of majesty in the heavens, and principalities and powers are made subject unto Him, and the book, the book is in His hand.
We don't look and we must not look to the spasmodic efforts of weak men to create a new world. Every time we go through an election I'm always amazed. I was interested this morning as I listened driving to church, the words of a man who now is going to run for mayor. I was interested in what he had to say. You know men are very interesting at this time, women too, by the way, as we make our spasmodic efforts and our wordy promises for something better. We say we're going to create a new world, a new city. We’re going to have better things. And we look to the man of Calvary, don't we, to the man of glory who will save to the uttermost those who come unto God by Him, and directing all things toward that great day when He will come again.
With the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ from the dead despair has died, and hope–living hope, pure hope–reigns in the heart of the believer. The resurrection of Jesus Christ has made good to us the redemption in His blood, and it's our privilege to lay hold of that great assurance. Listen. I quoted it just Thursday morning…sitting with a young girl who just had become a widow. And I quoted to her the promise that you've quoted, “We know that all things work together for good to those that love God, to them who are called according to His purpose.” And I stopped. And so many of us have stopped with that, but move on, would you? For the Apostle Paul writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit says, “For whom He did foreknow He did predestinate that we would be conformed to the image of His Son.” What better thing is that man should be conformed to the image of the Son of God? All of the ambitions of the world, all of the aspirations of all of the politicians and all of the world's leaders pale into insignificance in the face of this: that I might be conformed into the image of the Son of God. And the resurrection of Jesus Christ says it will be so.
Beloved, Easter makes a difference! It's more than new clothes. It's more than Easter bunnies. It's more than lilies. Easter makes a difference. I want to close with just two sentences from an Easter article. It was found in a secular newspaper. I quote, “A Christian is a risen person enjoying a newness of life which gives him moral and spiritual mastery here and now. Its source is from outside, from above–a spiritual life which in the vigor of its righteousness, truth and beauty discerns new ideals and attains them with the certainty of those sure processes which have their origin and fulfillment in the victory of Easter.”
Is that your experience, beloved? Let's be honest with one another, shall we? Is that your experience? Or is your experience that of the frustrated student who spoke of being caught up in what he referred to as “a death march”? Or is your experience that frustration of the businessman or the housewife? The Lord Jesus Christ says to you, “Rejoice!” He says, “Peace.” He promises hope. May the God of Easter, the God of the risen Christ, the God of the empty tomb be the God of reality in your life today. Will you be honest? Let us bow our heads in prayer.
Our Heavenly Father, this morning on this Easter Lord's Day, I thank You for the privilege of telling the story again. I thank You, Father, that this great congregation has had the opportunity of reading the word again, of hearing it expounded. And I pray, Heavenly Father, that every one of us may have heard the Holy Spirit as He would apply the truth to our lives. For those of us that are discouraged and frustrated, to those of us, our Father, to whom life does not have any meaning…I think of these high school students. I think of the college students here that are not sure yet. Life really doesn't make sense to them. It's all “what's in it for me.” It's all entertainment. It's all having fun. And, O God, I pray this morning that there will be that time today when young people and older people alike will be able to hear the voice of the Lord Jesus Christ calling us to serious thought and showing us that there is reason to rejoice; there is reason to have peace; there is reason to have hope. We look to Jesus, our Father, our risen Savior for that hope, that peace, that joy. We ask this in His name for His sake. Amen.
And now may grace, mercy and peace from God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit be with you and abide with each one of you who loves Christ sincerely. Amen.
© First Presbyterian Church.
This transcribed message has been lightly edited and formatted for the Web site. No attempt has been made, however, to alter the basic extemporaneous delivery style, or to produce a grammatically accurate, publication-ready manuscript conforming to an established style template.
Should there be questions regarding grammar or theological content, the reader should presume any website error to be with the webmaster/transcriber/editor rather than with the original speaker. For full copyright, reproduction and permission information, please visit the First Presbyterian Church Copyright, Reproduction & Permission statement.