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Living as if Easter were Ground Hog's Day

4/11/04

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Did you hear about the preseminary interview of one of our guys going to seminary? They asked him to tell the story of Jesus. He began with the virgin birth, went on to tell of His preaching, miracles, and love for sinners. He powerfully told how Jesus was betrayed by Judas, condemned by the church leaders, crucified by the Romans, and buried in a rock tomb. The committee was breathless, but then he concluded, "And on the third day Jesus rose from the dead, came out of the tomb, saw His shadow and went back in for 6 more weeks of winter." That's a joke of course, but it's no joke that many Church people, live as if Easter were Ground Hogs Day. What does Ground Hog's Day mean for your life? Whether Pochatowanee Phil sees his shadow or not has no impact on the rest of your year, does it?

For the women in the opening of our text Easter was no more significant than Ground Hog's Day. They go to the tomb on the first Easter not to worship a risen Lord but to find a dead body. In their minds death had defeated Him who had said He was the resurrection and the Life. Death had carried away Jesus as it had carried away their mothers and fathers, their sisters and brothers. The death they felt at work in their bodies, shadowing their lives, leering at them from tragedy, disease, and accidents had done to Jesus what it had done to so many before.

The women would've been here earlier but Luke tells us, "On the Sabbath they rested according to the Commandment." Jesus had lived proclaiming that He has come to fulfill the Commandments, but He had died trying so to speak. So when the sun set on Good Friday, these pious women kept the Sabbath Law as they had all their lives. All of the Laws dos and don'ts hung over their heads and hearts like a pall.

Jesus was done doing for them. He who had lifted their hearts by telling them that He was the ransom for their sins, the fulfiller of the Law, their Way, Truth and Life was now dead. A dead Jesus is done doing things for you, so you need to do things for Him. They needed to come to this place of the dead to properly bury the body of Jesus. Jesus could no more do for them then lifeless idols could do for their followers. He was dead; they were alive, so they must now do things for their dead Jesus.

Do you even know if the Ground Hog saw his shadow this year? You live your life the same either way, don't you? Well, if you're life is the same whether or not Jesus rose from the dead, then Easter is no more important than Ground Hog's Day. I can give you a simple 3 question test to see if Jesus is dead or alive to you. Are the Commandments God's last word to you? Is life as a series of have to's and do not's? Are the Commandments God's plan to show you how to get to heaven? Then Jesus is dead to you.

Next question, what hold's sway in your heart? Does guilt? When you can't sleep at night what seeps into your conscience? 1,000 sins? 10,000 ways you've let people down? Do you feel the need to defend yourself, to make up excuses for what you've done or failed to do? Do you regularly promise yourself or others, "Next time I'll do better?" Then a risen Jesus is no more important to your life than a ground hog in Pennsylvania.

Last question. How are you with death? Do you regard it as having a legitimate claim on you? Are you like Anthony Hopkins in "Meet Joe Black?" Does death assert it's claim in every heart pang, every funny looking mole, every cold chill? Can you only feebly say, "No" to death because you know of nothing more powerful, more certain than death? Novelist Saul Bellows said that we've passed from the 60's assertion that "God is Dead" to "Death is God." And doesn't all medicine with it's millions of warnings, all of simple logic and all of plain reason say, "Amen. Death is God?" If your heart tells you death is unbeatable, then death reigns in your life not a living Jesus.

You are where the women in the text were, but the Lord wouldn't let these women live for long as if their Lord, their Savior, their God was dead. The women go into the surprisingly opened tomb expecting what you expect to find in a tomb: death, but they find instead angels clothed in lightning. But how they are dressed in not as important as what they say, "Why do you look for the living among the dead? He's not here; He has risen!"

The angels do more than preach the resurrection to women under siege by death, the Law, and their sins, they point them back to Jesus' preaching, "Remember how He told you, while He was still in Galilee: 'The Son of Man must be betrayed into the hands of sinful men, be crucified, and on the third day be raised again." Then the text says, "They were remembered." The Word worked remembrance in their hearts. They were reminded that there was a divine necessity to Jesus' betrayal into the hands of sinners. He was God's Ransom in place of sinners. There was divine necessity to the crucifixion: God had declared that all who broke the law were under it's curse. He also said that whoever hangs on a tree is cursed by God. These women knew Jesus had never broken God's Laws as they had, but they had seen Him nailed brutally to a tree as one cursed by God: The dark sky 3 days earlier and Jesus wretched cry to God about being forsaken proved that.

But, and this is the part that the betrayal and crucifixion had blotted out of their memories, as there was a divine necessity to Jesus' betrayal by sinners, for sinners and His crucifixion in place of sinners, so their was a divine necessity to His resurrection. Jesus had told them the path to His rising was by way of sin and death. They has seen Him bear their sins and they had watched Him die their death. As those 2 things were suppose to happen, so the third. Death must spit out the One who is life. Death must release the One who had no more sins to suffer and die for.

This is much more significant than a ground hog seeing a shadow. How differently the women went from the tomb than they came to it. They came for death and went away with life. They came to bury and went away to proclaim. They came mourning death's victory and went away announcing that death hadn't won at all. Luke simply says, "They came back from the tomb." But Matthew knows and you do too that these women ran. And when they reached the disciples they didn't say, "Jesus is risen' once. No the text says, "They kept on saying to the apostles these things." They spoke the news over and over again. Though the apostles didn't believe it, that didn't stop the women from speaking it. The apostles remained under the pall of death, but the women were free of it. They were different.

You can be too. Easter is more than Ground Hog's Day. A ground hog coming out of his hole rightly doesn't impact your life at all. But the coming out of a tomb by the God-Man who lived under all the Commandments in your place and who died because you've broken them all time after time can and should change your life from here to eternity.

If Jesus came to fulfill the Law of God, if Jesus took on your flesh and blood to keep the 10 Commandments in your place, what more needs to be done? Go ahead. Ask the devil, ask anyone else, ask your own conscience, what Law of God didn't Jesus keep and fulfill? Is there any Commandment over which you cannot write done in large, thick letters? So who can say to you now, "You can't claim heaven as your own till you do this or that?"

Now follow me. If Jesus fulfilled the Law, why did Jesus die? The Law requires sinners be punished, killed, and damned. Jesus was punished, damned to hell on the cross, and then died. If Jesus didn't break any of God's Laws then whose sins was He suffering, being damned and dying for? Why yours! Can you find a sin anywhere that the One called the Lamb of God who carries away the sins of the world did not carry away? Is there any sin so heavy, so heinous, so shameful, so brutal, so abominable that Jesus refused to carry it, to be punished for it, to die for it? Not a one. Since Jesus did pay for all your sins, even the ones you're afraid are too serious or the ones others won't let you forget, there is no sin you need to make up for, excuse, or fear you'll have to pay for. Jesus took care of them all.

The ground hog comes out when he feels like it, but Death had to spit Jesus out. There were no broken Commandments that Death could say gave it the right to keep Jesus in the grave. There were none of your sins left unpaid on the cross for Death to say, "Since Jesus didn't finish paying for your sins, I can keep Him." Death had to spit out this Man who is God in flesh and blood, because it had no claim on Him. Now listen: Death has no claim on those joined to Jesus either, so you can, you must live the rest of your life that way. A 4th century Church father said Jesus taught us to "live in contempt of death." Regardless of how age, sickness, logic, and reason relentlessly preach death into our ears, we can scoff at it, we can scorn it, we can do as some Christians in Africa do on Easter; we can laugh at it.

Isn't this what our Lord and Savior taught us? Didn't He look at the dead girl and say, "She's not dead but asleep." If Jesus called death sleep, then so can I. Don't tell me that cancer, heart disease, or some other illness is going to kill me, because the risen Jesus tells me, "These won't kill you but merely cause you to fall asleep." Don't tell me that I must die when my Jesus tells me the direct opposite. He says, "He who lives and believes in Me will never die." So let death threaten me, let it leer at me, let it stalk me all my days sure that in the end it will get me. Easter proclaims, Easter promises something different. Easter says, "Since Jesus lives you live. You need not consider death anymore significant than an afternoon nap."

The risen Jesus chases fear, decay, and death right out of the graveyard. It was only after the resurrection of Jesus that graveyards became places that people "visited" or decorated. It was only after Jesus rose that a graveyard was called a "cemetery," which is Greek for "sleeping place." Christians need be no more fearful of cemeteries then they are of bedrooms; they need be no more focused on death than they are on sleep because Jesus rose victorious over their death. O Jesus did see a shadow on Easter, but not His. Jesus saw the shadow of Death running for the hills because it had lost it's claim on Him and on all those connected to Him now that He had fulfilled the Law and paid for all sins. Amen

Rev. Paul R. Harris

Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas

The Resurrection of Our Lord (4-11-04); Luke 24: 1-11