Month: April, 2013

Listening for Jesus: by Pastor Dan Haugen (April 21st)

Listening for Jesus 

By Pastor Dan Haugen  

 

Every now and again, the lessons will seem to drift off to what seems like an unusual direction. Before Christmas, it seemed the Gospel lessons were meant more for Easter and now it seems that we have a lesson that has little to do with the season of Easter when we speak of the glory of Christ’s resurrection. Our Gospel lesson in John takes place before the events of Passion Week, before Jesus’ death on a cross, before His resurrection. So why does this happen from time to time and why this lesson now?

It’s because they have everything to do with the season when you take the time to listen and think about them. At Christmas we have passion week lessons because it was for this reason that Christ was born and now we have this lesson during the Easter season to remind us of exactly who Christ was and the importance of us, His sheep, listening to Him. What good are all of the events of Passion Week if we refuse to listen to the lessons God would have us learn through them?

The last three Sundays we have been looking at the texts that tell us that Jesus had, indeed, risen from the dead. We’ve seen Him appear to Thomas, we have heard of when He appeared in the upper room, we have witnessed through the Word as He fed his disciples along the shore of the lake.

The last three Sundays have relayed the glorious message of Christ’s resurrection. We have been reminded of fulfilled promises and our place in God’s kingdom. But today we see who Jesus really is, the Son of God, the Good Shepherd.

First, our lesson shows that Jesus and the Father are one. We get to see beyond the resurrection. Today we, once again, take the opportunity to listen as Jesus reminds all of us of the places He plans to take those who put their trust in Him.

Our lesson starts out with Jesus walking in the temple, in the colonnade of Solomon as Jews gather around Him asking, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.”

Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe. The work’s that I do in my Father’s name bear witness about me, but you do not believe because you are not part of my flock. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life.”

Jesus says those who trust in Him will hear His voice. He is telling the Jews gathered there that he is the Christ. He tells them that He has told them over and over again who He is, but they still refuse to believe. Unfortunately, this is also what happens with far too many people today, many, even, who call themselves Christian, He speaks and they do not hear.

This is the lesson that God has been bringing to us for several weeks now as we go through a transition He says, “listen to my voice, understand your calling, let me lead you as a shepherd leads his flock.”

Jesus wants you to hear His words. He wants you to understand who He is and what He wants to give us in this life. He wants us to know and believe that He is our shepherd and we are His sheep. He wants us to follow His voice, to hear His words, to experience the peace and comfort he has to offer us in our lives. But, too often, we have a difficult time hearing through all the clutter and noise of the world. Our goal should be to have such a relationship with Christ that His voice is all we can hear over the chatter and chaos that the world offers.

An elderly lady whose hearing had all but failed experienced a lot of difficulty understanding what was being said to her by people. They would try getting real close, talking real loud and even cupping their hands and screaming in her ears to little avail. She had been married for over 60 years to a kind and patient man and they loved each other very much. It was strange to many that when her husband talked to her she could hear him when she couldn’t hear anyone else. He would take her hand in his, look deeply into her eyes and speak in a tone which was only slightly louder than normal and his wife always heard and understood.

Those of us who have been married for awhile know that there really is nothing strange about this. It’s a matter of relationship and understanding. It’s about a special kind of love and compassion, a link connecting two people. There was a bond of awareness, trust, mutual love and sympathy that enabled the man to have the patience to communicate with his wife in such a way. There was these same attributes that allowed her to surrender to her husband in her time of need.

Our goal is to have this same kind of relationship with God. He’s done His part in His patience with us hard-of-hearing sheep, we need to learn to surrender to God in our time of need and really listen as we gaze into our very souls searching for the tender eyes of Christ.

One of the consequences of the resurrection and one of the things that God is asking us to understand about our Risen Lord, is that we need to hear His voice and follow that voice despite the sounds of dissention all around us.

 Though we might struggle at times to hear His still small voice, though it seems we are often deaf to His words, Jesus, in our lesson, is reminding us that He is patient with us. Jesus wants a bond of trust and understanding between us so that we can hear His voice and trust in Him to guide us to the places and purpose He has already chosen for us.

Yet we are so easily distracted in all the rush of life. Part of the reason we get so lost and deaf to His voice is that we have learned to hear only what we want to hear and we tune out Jesus and tune in all the sounds and words of the world as it rushes by. Maybe part of our problem is that we don’t yet have that trusting relationship so essential to the goal of listening only to Him. And maybe part of our problem is that if the word’s God offers us don’t match what we want to hear, then we simply stop listening and this, in turn, causes us to miss all the things we should be hearing. Far too much of our listening is centered somewhere other than Jesus.

I found another story then can help explain this: ‘Two men were walking along a crowded city street. Suddenly, one of the men remarked, “Listen to the lovely sound of the cricket.” But, as hard as he tried, the other man could not hear it. He asked his friend how he could possible hear the sound of a cricket amid the roar of the traffic and the sounds of all the people. The first man, who was a zoologist, had trained himself to hear the sounds of nature. He didn’t explain to his friend in words how he could hear the sound of the cricket, but instead, he reached into his pocket, pulled out a half-dollar coin, dropped it on the sidewalk, and watched closely as a dozen people began to look for the coin as they heard it clanking around amid the sounds of the traffic and the other people. He turned to his friend and said, “We hear what we listen for.”

Maybe that’s our problem with the voice of Jesus as He tries to guide us to those places he has chosen for us. We hear everything else but Him because were not willing to listen. We haven’t taken the time to train our ears. We don’t want to hear His voice because it might be saying something that will challenge us, or convict us. In the meantime we’ve learned to tune out His voice instead of focusing on it.

The Jews heard, but they did not believe. They saw the signs but they didn’t get the message. We can say, “those terrible ignorant sinners” but that would only mean we haven’t taken account of our own ignorance. We have heard his words over and over again throughout our lives. Through bible study and preaching, in the sacrament and from fellow Christians we hear the message but our hearts remain cold and we don’t believe. If we did believe we would live our lives as a testimony to that. We still find it difficult to center our lives around Christ. We still resist His attempts to guide us.

In one way we have an advantage over the Jew’s of Jesus’ time, we have the whole story. We have seen in scripture the powerful work of God. Since Easter Sunday we have heard incredible testimony of our risen Lord. If we take these testimonies to heart then we should be able to trust in Him, follow Him, and believe in His loving intentions for our lives.

But sadly, many people still doubt and because of that doubt, fail to trust in Jesus as their true Savior. Many people are still searching for an answer, still searching for meaning and purpose in their lives. With all of life’s burdens, they have found no one to help them carry the load.

Many people are still wandering aimlessly in life, with no real direction, no goals, no idea of what to make of their lives, what they really want to accomplish or what to do with the gifts God gave them.

I think one reason so many people have no direction is because they have not decided in their hearts to let Jesus have control, they have not surrendered to Him so that He can be their shepherd in whose voice they find protection and comfort. It’s our Savior in whom we will find the direction in our lives that we seek. It’s in Him that Redeemer will find the path to the goals he has set for us.

I want to end with a story that speaks of a guide who will show us the path through the abyss of life:

A traveler was returning to his home from a journey to a distant country. At nightfall he arrived at the entrance to a vast forest. Unable either to delay his journey or retrace his steps, he was prepared to traverse the sullen forest when he came upon an old shepherd from whom he asked the way. “Alas!” cried the shepherd. “It is not easy to point it out, for the forest is criss-crossed by hundreds of paths winding in every direction. They are almost all similar in appearance, though all with one exception lead to the Great Abyss.” “What is the Great Abyss?” the traveler inquired. “It is the abyss which surrounds the forest,” replied the shepherd. “Moreover, the forest is filled with robbers and wild beasts. In particular, it is ravaged by an enormous serpent, so that scarcely a day passes but we find the remains of some unfortunate traveler who fell prey to it. Still,” the shepherd continued, ” as it is impossible to arrive at the place where you are going without traversing the forest, I have, through a motive of compassion, stationed myself at the entrance of the forest to assist and direct travelers. I have also placed my sons at different intervals to assist me in the same good work. Their services and mine are at your disposal, and I am ready to accompany you if you so desire. The candor and venerable appearance of the old man satisfied the traveler, and he accepted the proposal. The shepherd held a lantern with one hand and with the other took the arm of the traveler. They then set out upon their journey through the dark forest. After walking for some distance, the traveler felt his strength waning. “Lean on me,” said the shepherd. The traveler did so, and was able to continue the journey. At length the lamp began to flicker. “Ah!” groaned the traveler. “The oil is nearly spent, and the light will soon be gone. What will become of us now?” “Do not fear,” consoled the shepherd. “We shall soon meet one of my sons, who will supply us with more oil.” Just then the traveler perceived a glimmer of light shining through the darkness. The light shone from a small cabin by the side of the narrow path. At the sound of the shepherd’s well-known voice, the cabin door swung open. A seat was offered to the weary traveler, and some plain but substantial food was set before him. Thus refreshed, the traveler set out again, guided by the shepherd’s son. In this manner the traveler journeyed on for the rest of the night. From time to time, they stopped at different cabins built along the path. At each stop he obtained refreshment, a bit of rest and was furnished with a new guide. With the dawning of daylight, the traveler arrived, without incident, at the farthest boundary of the forest. Only then did he appreciate the magnitude of the service rendered him by the shepherd and his sons. At the very edge of the forest, right before his feet, lay a frightful precipice, at the bottom of which he could distinguish the roar of an angry current. “This,” said his guide, “is the Great Abyss which my father spoke about. No one knows its depth, for it is always covered with a thick fog which no eye can penetrate. As he spoke, he heaved a deep sigh, and wiped a tear from his eves. “You seem grieved,” said the traveler. “How can it be otherwise?” replied his guide. “Can I look at the abyss without thinking of the thousands of unfortunate people who every day are swallowed up in it? In vain do my father and my brothers offer our services. Very few accept them, and of those few the greater portion, after journeying for a few hours, accuse us of needlessly alarming them. They despise our advice and set out on paths of their own choosing. The consequence is that they soon lose their way and are devoured by the serpent, murdered by robbers, or plunge headlong into the abyss. You see there is only this one little bridge by which the Great Abyss can be crossed, and the way which leads to the bridge is known to us alone. Pass over with confidence,” continued the guide. He turned to the traveler, embraced him and said, “On the other side is your true home.” The traveler, overcome with gratitude, thanked his charitable guide and promised never to forget him. He crossed the narrow bridge and discovered he was now in his own land. His family was there to welcome him.

Jesus is our guide both personally and as a family in Christ who will guide us home, we have but to filter out the sounds of the world and listen for His still small voice. Jesus says, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me; and I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish.” Trust in Him to lead you where you should go. Amen.

Courageous Thomas: Pastor Dan Haugen (April 7th)

Courageous Thomas

I found our Gospel lesson today one of the more difficult stories in the Bible to write on because I have to confess it hits so close to home for me. Like Thomas I’m often looking for signs. It would be so much easier if God would just give the most obvious sign so we could shed the doubt and confusion of so many people, including ourselves sometimes. Every now and then we hear some skeptic somewhere say, “If God is real, why doesn’t He give us a sign,” Of course; ignoring all the signs God has given already. Maybe it would be easier if God did something that left no doubt.

A man named Frederick Buechner asked the question in one of his sermons, “why doesn’t God send us a sign to dispel all doubts, like a message from the sky, written by the arrangement of the universe, with suns and moons to dot the I’s and cross the t’s, so that the night sky would read, “I am God! I really do exist!!!!”

Woody Allen has said he would believe in God if God would send him a sign – such as making a large deposit in a bank account under the name, “Woody Allen.”

Of course, it’s nothing new to desire a sign from God. We all want a sure confirmation of our beliefs. Sometimes it’s not enough to tell others, “I believe, just because.”

Jesus recognized this and said in the fourth chapter of John verse 48, “Unless you see signs and wonders, you will not believe.” It’s this kind of thinking we see coming from Thomas in our Gospel lesson for this morning.

Through the years, Thomas has taken a beating. Historians and biblical scholars have not been kind in many cases. In fact, they have traditionally been almost unfair in their treatment of this member of the twelve apostles of Christ. That’s why it’s hard to admit sometimes, that there is a lot of Thomas in us.

It’s not to say that they didn’t have good reason to be somewhat critical. After all, Thomas was like many of us and demanded a sign. He wanted proof that Jesus was, indeed, risen from the dead.

Unlike the other apostles, Thomas wasn’t around on Easter morning to see the empty tomb, or to speak with the angel at the entrance, or to recognize the return of their beloved teacher from the grave. When the others told Thomas that Christ was alive again, it didn’t seem that there was even a hint of wonder or acceptance. Instead, there was an all too human skepticism. We can see this skepticism in his response when he says, “Unless I see the scars of the nails in his hands and put my fingers on those scars, and my hand in His side, I will not believe.”

Now we have no doubt of Thomas’s belief in Jesus as the Christ. In one of the few times he is mentioned in the Gospels, we hear him declare his trust in Jesus and was even prepared to die with Jesus if he were to make his way back to Judea to go to Lazarus’s grave. John 11:16 says, “Then Thomas (called Didymus) said to the rest of the disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” But even at this, he knows the finality of death and he is a skeptic to the testimony of the others.

We can almost see Thomas shifting his eyes and folding his arms while he raises his eyebrows at Peter as he thought, “Pete, how gullible can you be? Peter, poor, poor Peter, you are in denial. Jesus is dead. We saw it ourselves and nothing can change that. It’s time to move on.”

Thomas matter-of-factly and openly dismissed the story as a fable, responding to this story in much the same way we do when we read a tabloid story about an alien that looks like Elvis being discovered in an old farmhouse somewhere or a healthy and fool-proof way to lose 20 pounds in three days.

 The news of the Resurrection was easy to dismiss. The first reports of the Resurrection took place in the dark, cold early morning hours. The first witnesses were women who had been emotionally and mentally strained with grief and were overcome by what they had seen during the confusion of the arrest of Jesus, his trials and finally His crucifixion. With their eyes full of tears, their hearts full of pain and sorrow and their minds full of confusion, how could one possibly expect them to see and think clearly? Thomas probably thought, “they must have found the body stolen and imagined the rest, or perhaps they had imagined it all.”

Even later, when the Apostles explained that He had also appeared to them, it didn’t matter. Like the account of the women, he probably thought their story could also be easily explained away. And so, when approached by the others with this unbelievable news that their master was alive, Thomas replies with honest doubt.

And because of this doubt, nearly everyone has been rather harsh in their evaluation of poor old Thomas. We look at him with our disappointed glares much like a teacher would give to a bright student who has failed a test. “Come on Thomas, surely you could have done better then that. Surely you could have mustered up enough faith to believe.”

Most of us are not kind to Thomas. We look at him as a failure in faith. And yet, whether we will admit it or not, in many of us who are faithful, there exists a bit of a doubting Thomas. Far many of us are like Thomas then we would like to believe, or admit. We, too, have doubts at times.

We doubt that God cares for us or loves us when we go through trials. Sometimes we doubt our salvation because of some kind of doubt we have in ourselves, not seeing ourselves as God sees us. Many in this world even doubt the resurrection ever took place or the very existence of God.

We don’t DENY any of these, because if we did we probably wouldn’t be here. We don’t deny, we doubt. We want to believe 100% but also we wonder – what if? What if God doesn’t really care all that much about little ‘ol me? What if salvation is not really possible after all? What if Jesus really didn’t rise from the grave but remains buried in some unmarked and forgotten tomb somewhere in Israel? What if God doesn’t exist?

Perhaps the reason so many of us look down on Thomas and describe him with such harsh words such as “doubt” and “failure” and “unfaithful” is because when we see Thomas, we also see a reflection of a part of us, a part that we don’t like, a part that we wish wasn’t there. For who among us has NEVER, EVER felt some twinge of doubt creeping up in their thoughts?

Is the Bible true? God? Christ? What if it’s not? What if?

We all have doubts at one time or another, about one thing or another and the way most of us deal with our doubt is to suppress it. We ignore it and refuse to admit it to ourselves and we certainly refuse to admit our doubts to others. As if were dealing with some unforgivable crime or mistake, we hide from everyone any evidence of our doubt and we wear a mask of uncompromising faith as we pretend to believe without question. After all, what kind of Christian would we be, could we be, if we admitted that we had a lack of faith sometimes that resulted in doubt.

We treat doubt as if it’s some kind of spiritual disease and in a sense, that’s exactly what it is. But we make a mistake by dealing with doubt by suppressing and ignoring it. Pretending to be faithful and pretending not to have doubts will never solve the problem or heal the disease. Sooner or later, those same doubts will creep up on you again unless you prepare yourself properly.

When we treat doubt by ignoring it, we become like the man who feels a sharp pain in his chest, but refuses to call a doctor for help. Maybe if I ignore it, it will go away. We feel the doubts. We are disturbed by our questions about God, Christ and the Holy Spirit. We feel doubts and our response is to ignore it. Maybe the doubts will go away.

But doubts don’t go away on their own. They remain, especially if we ignore them. If we are hard on Thomas, if we look down on him, maybe it’s not because he, like us, felt the pain of doubt. Maybe we look down on him because he, unlike many of us, had the courage to confront his doubts head on.

Thomas was, indeed, a man of great courage. As we mentioned before, when Jesus announced his intention to go to Jerusalem and die, the reaction of Thomas was, “Let’s all go and die with Him.” And it was with courage that Thomas faced his doubts. He knew that ignoring these doubts would not make them go away. If anything was going to resolve them, it would be by facing them head on. “Unless I see the scars of the nails on His hands, and put my finger on those scars, and my hand in His side, I will not believe.”

One week after Thomas expressed his doubts, Jesus appeared to him and told him, “put your finger here, and look at my hands, reach out and put your hand in my side. Stop your doubting and believe.” And Thomas believed.

All his doubts were resolved. And not only that, but he was able to go beyond this and make a greater step of faith beyond what most of the other disciples had made.

Others had described the Risen Jesus as Rabbi, prophet, Messiah and king. But it took Thomas, who after having expressed and faced his doubts, was able to say with great faith and belief, “My Lord, and my God.”

Having faced his doubts, Thomas was able to resolve the questions of faith and doubt that had been with him. Having faced his doubts, he came out with a stronger faith then ever before.

Being free from doubt is a good thing and something to strive for. Jesus himself said, “Happy are those who believe without seeing!” But IF we have doubt, and most of us do on certain things, it is best to face them and search God’s Word for an answer rather then to ignore those doubts and hope they will simply disappear.

God gave us a beautiful mind and he wishes for us to use it. He doesn’t expect or even wish for blind faith. No one should believe just because someone told us to believe. God gave us His Word to answer the questions which, if not faced, become doubt. I believe it is God’s great desire that we find faith through knowledge and sometimes that knowledge is only found when we face out doubts head on. For only then will our faith grow and be nurtured to be a stronger, more realistic faith.

Thomas should no longer be seen as the one with the weakest faith. He should be seen, rather, as the one brave enough to confront his doubt. By Thomas’ example, we too can find the courage to confront those questions we dare not ask. God has offered Himself to us, to guide us and strengthen us by His Word. In that there is no doubt. Amen. 

Empty Easter Promises: Pastor Dan Haugen (March 31st)

Empty Easter Promises  

I have a routine every morning when I get to the church. I start with prayer, read the email and respond to what I need to and start what I have to do for the day.

 Every now and again I’ll receive a funny joke or story in my e-mail. Sometimes I receive things that really make me think. This morning I would like to share something I received that I think goes very well with what we are going to talk about this morning.

A young man from a wealthy family was about to graduate from high school. It was a custom in their family for the parents to give their graduates an automobile. “Bill” and his father had spent months looking at cars, and the week before his graduation, they found the perfect car.

On the eve of his graduation, his father handed Bill a gift wrapped Bible. Bill was so angry that he threw the Bible down and stormed out of the house. He and his father never saw each other again. It was the news of his father’s death that finally brought Bill home again.

As he sat one night going through his father’s possessions that he was to inherit, he came across the Bible his father had given him. He brushed away the dust and opened it to find a cashier’s check, dated the date of his graduation – in the exact amount of the car they had chosen together.

As I thought about this story it reminded me of this day, Resurrection Day, the day we were given the greatest of gifts but one that many don’t bother to open.

How many people in this world have done the same thing to God. Literally tossed aside a wonderful gift, a wonderful promise, because they don’t understand it, or they just don’t believe it could be possible. In our world we are taught that if it sounds too good to be true then it probably is. So many of us have been taken in by “empty promises” that we become leery of anything or anyone that tells us we can have something for nothing. What’s the catch? The world simply doesn’t work that way. But you know what? God does! God has never made a promise He didn’t keep and He doesn’t promise us anything that is too good to be true.

The truth of the matter is, the world is full of empty promises. Though we continue to rely on the world and what it has to offer, we are continually disappointed by the results of that faith. We watch T.V. and the advertisements tell us we need this or that to be truly happy, if only we would buy their miracle product. It doesn’t take long to realize, however, that the world is full of promises it doesn’t keep, promises full of emptiness. But we as Christians know that God is different. Instead of promises full of emptiness, on Easter, He gave us emptiness that is full of promise.

This morning, I would like us to think about the promises of Easter and, as I see it, there are three of them that are especially important. Each promise is shown through something empty that assures us that God’s promises are real, an empty cross, an empty tomb and empty burial clothes. It’s the very fact that these three things were left empty that shows us that God’s promises are real, because they couldn’t hold Jesus. He couldn’t be stopped by a cross, the tomb, or even the clothes He was buried in.

Let’s first look at the empty cross. Because the cross was empty, we have the fulfilled promise of the forgiveness of our sins. Let’s go back to that first Easter morning.  It is early morning, the sun has started to show its first light but it has not yet risen. A few of Jesus’ followers – women – are on their way to the tomb where Jesus has been buried. It’s been a long journey in their sorrow and they have been walking for about ½ hour. There is little conversation as they find themselves lost in their thoughts. They think about what they have lost and what they must now do. Their task is a sad one. They are going to anoint the body of the one they called Messiah. As they come to the top of a rise in the path, they all stop and stare of in the distance.

As you look with them, you see something to your right. Just outside the city stands a gruesome reminder of the events of just a few days ago. Do you see it? Over there, silhouetted by the glow of the morning sky, on the top of the hill the locals call, “the Skull.” Three crosses.  The one in the middle, that is the one that I want you to see. That’s the one Jesus hung on. Take a close look at it. Look up at the top – those bloodstains are from the crown of thorns that was crushed into Jesus’ skull. The stains in the end of the crossbar – they came from the nails that were driven into His hands. The main beam – it was soaked in blood – blood from His back – blood that was bled when the Roman soldiers beat Him with a cat-of-nine-tails. It also has stains from the blood that poured from His side when another Roman spear was run through His side to see if He was dead – HE WAS. They made sure there was no mistake.

The soldiers knew it, the Roman officials knew it, the Jews knew it – but together they made up a lie. “The disciples stole the body” they would say. Can you imagine 11 fishermen overpowering a company of Roman soldiers, moving a two ton rock and stealing the body of Jesus just so they could claim that He had been brought back to life and then willingly die to protect that lie?   That’s because Jesus really did die. He really did rise again. God really did fulfill the promise He had made to us and we really are saved because of it. That’s why I want you to see the cross this morning. It is the place where He died – but today, it is empty, empty of the body of Jesus, but full of God’s promises. Today that cross is full of hope, for you and for me. The promise of the empty cross is that you and I are forgiven, because it was on that cross that Jesus paid the penalty for our sins.

Today we avoid talking of sin, it’s not politically correct to acknowledge it sometimes. But the simple fact is; we are all sinners. Look to your left, look to your right, look in front of you and behind you and you will see other sinners just like you. Every one of us has failed.  So here is the problem… according to God’s law, the wages of sin is death. Because we have sinned, we deserve God’s harshest judgment, eternal death – hell. However we have only to look at the empty cross where Jesus suffered to save us from that sin, paying the penalty that we deserved. 1 Thessalonians 5: 10-11 says, “For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live in Him.”

When Jesus breathed His last, he cried out, “It is finished.” The Greek means also, “It is completed.” The penalty was paid on the empty cross.  Because of what happened on that cross you and I now stand forgiven. The first empty promise of Easter is the empty cross filled with the promise of forgiven sins.

Let’s now go back to the women on the path. After pausing briefly to look at the empty cross, they continue on their way to anoint their Messiah laying in the tomb. As they go one of them wonders aloud, “who will move the stone for us?” They have good reason to be concerned because the stone is a very large one. Not only that but the Romans had sealed it, so no one was allowed to move it without permission. Even with this on their mind, the ladies continue down the path.

Suddenly they feel the earth move! Frightened they look at each other, not certain what to do. After a few minutes, things settle down so they continue on their way. As they approach the burial site, they are still wondering about what had just happened when they come upon something even more remarkable. The soldiers lie unconscious, the stone has been moved and an angel, glowing like lightening, is sitting on it.

Listen to the angel’s words, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who has been crucified. He is not here; He has risen!” Jesus had risen! He was alive! The tomb was empty!  And what an amazing promise that holds. For in that empty tomb is the truth of the resurrection of Jesus Christ and the promise to every one of us that we too will be raised to eternal life.  To those who know Jesus Christ as their Savior, death no longer holds its sting and it’s no longer something to be feared. We no longer need to fear death because our eternal life has already begun.

A father and a son were traveling down a country road one afternoon in the spring when suddenly a bee flew in the window. Being deathly allergic to bee stings, the boy began to panic as the bee buzzed around inside the car. Seeing the horror on his son’s face, the father reached out and caught the bee in his hand. Soon, he opened his hand and the bee begun to buzz around the car once again. Again, the boy began to panic. The father reached over to his son, and opened his hand showing him the stinger still in his palm. “Relax, son,” the father said, “I took the sting, the bee can’t hurt you anymore.”  The empty tomb is God’s way of saying, “Relax child, I have taken the sting, death can’t hurt you anymore. Why was the tomb empty? Because Jesus is alive! He has risen!

Now back to our story. After the angel spoke to the women, they immediately went back to the apostles and reported all that had happened.  Upon hearing this almost unbelievable news, Peter and John immediately raced back to the tomb to see for themselves. When they got there, John stopped just outside the tomb but impulsive Peter rushed right in. The tomb was indeed empty, but that’s not all, Peter found the clothes Christ had been buried in. This could only mean one thing – Jesus was alive! If someone had stolen His body, they wouldn’t have first removed His burial clothes. Truly Jesus was resurrected! It wouldn’t be long before Jesus himself would appear to Mary Magdalene, and to all the Apostles and eventually over 500 people.

Jesus would once again sit with them, walk with them, talk with them, eat with them and once again have fellowship with them. The promise of the empty burial clothes was that Jesus was alive.  Jesus isn’t some “force” in the universe which influences people. He is a living Savior, and he desires to have a personal relationship with us, just as he did over 2000 years ago with His disciples. Think about that – the cross couldn’t hold Him, the tomb couldn’t contain Him and the burial clothes were not necessary, because Jesus is alive! Like us He can touch and talk and love. He did it the day of His resurrection and He still does it today. And, most importantly, He waits for that loving relationship with you with open arms. His invitation goes out to all who would believe.

Your invitation is to come to know Jesus. I’m not saying to know “about” Him but to really know him in a very personal way. You see, you can know about people but not truly know them. We all know about President Obama or Tiger Woods or Jay Leno but do any of us really know them? You can know Jesus Christ. You can know His love, His care, His healing and His forgiveness. He says in Rev. 3:20, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.”

It’s been nearly 2,000 years since our Lord was crucified, buried and resurrected. That first Easter Sunday, as the women went to the grave, they had no idea what was about to happen to them, they were not yet aware of the wonderful promises fulfilled that day.  Off in the distance stood the empty cross – the promise of the forgiveness of our sins. At the end of the path was an empty tomb – the promise of eternal life and inside the tomb lay the empty burial clothes – the promise that their relationship with Christ would continue.  You too can have all of these promises. You too can know the freedom of forgiven sins. You too can know the promises of eternal life and you too can know Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior.

I think at Easter, more than any other time of the year, we realize that God has made all sorts of promises, some even a little hard to believe. This morning we have heard three promises that God has made to us; the promise of forgiven sins, the promise of eternal life and the promise of a personal and meaningful relationship with Jesus Christ. My question to you is, will you take Him at His word? If so, then listen to this final promise, it’s found in Romans 10:13, “For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

This morning, if you have never accepted God’s promises in your life or if you find yourself wavering, He is waiting and probably wondering, “What’s taking so long?” Don’t wait until tomorrow, do it today, and know the joy of eternal life in Jesus Christ. May this Easter morning be the one that finally reminds you what the 1st Easter morning meant to us as the children of God. May God richly bless and keep you. Amen