Sermon will begin right after the music (typically around the 3 minute mark)
Lay Reader = Luke 24:1-12
But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. 2They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3but when they went in, they did not find the body. 4While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. 5The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. 6Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, 7that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.” 8Then they remembered his words, 9and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. 10Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. 11But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. 12But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened.
We are starting a new series looking at heroes of the faith – the men and women in the Bible who had a character trait or who did something worth copying today. And who better to start with than the Big Man himself – Jesus! Next week we’ll have a guest preacher – Jory is a local college campus missionary who grew up at this church. He’ll share about the incredible bravery of Esther from the Old Testament.
But this week we’re focusing on Jesus. There’s a lot that we might want to copy from Jesus’ life, but I wonder what are we able to copy?
After Jesus rose from the grave, he actually stuck around for quite a while. And our next text is shortly after the women found the tomb empty and the stone rolled away. Listen carefully to see how Jesus answers the disciples’ questions and shows them what they can copy as they see the resurrected Jesus.
36While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 37They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. 38He said to them, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? 39Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” 40And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. 41While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” 42They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43and he took it and ate in their presence. 44Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” 45Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, 46and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, 47and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48You are witnesses of these things. 49And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.” 50Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them.
Every month we have a free family movie night for the community, and in April we showed Mary Poppins Returns. I expected it to be just unabashed strip-mining of our nostalgia, but it was actually pretty good and able to stand on its own. But there’s definitely a lot of call-backs to the original. If you remember the scene from the original where Mary Poppins measures Michael and Jane, how does it play out? The tape measure says that Michael is “extremely stubborn and suspicious.” And Jane is “rather inclined to giggle and doesn’t put things away.” And then they ask Mary Poppins to measure herself, and what does the tape measure report? “Practically perfect in every way.” There’s a nice reprise of that in the new movie as well.
So if we’re trying to be like Mary Poppins, how much can we copy? I’ve never figured out how to slide up the banister instead of sliding down. And I could only slide down when my parents weren’t watching. I’ve never figured out how to fly using nothing but an umbrella. I’ve never danced with cartoon penguins. And I certainly haven’t figured out how to be practically perfect in every way. Well – maybe if you asked me to evaluate myself when I was 17 I would have said that – but definitely not recently!
There are some things we can copy from Mary Poppins. She has some nice phrases. She has some wisdom. But a whole lot of what she does we can’t replicate. In fact – and this is a bit of a spoiler alert so cover your ears if necessary – near the end of Mary Poppins Returns, there’s a large group of men who are trying to save the day, and they get oh so close. But they wind up just a little short.
So Mary Poppins flies up there holding her umbrella and takes care of it herself. Which she could have done at any time instead of having the men risk their lives in a dangerous stunt that ultimately fails. Sometimes you just need Mary Poppins to come and save the day.
Contrast that with what Jesus tells his disciples after his resurrection in our text today – “I am sending upon you what my Father promised.” “He opened their minds to understand the scriptures.” “Lifting up his hands, he blessed them.” Or if you look a little further ahead in the Bible, Jesus tells them “You will be my witnesses” right before Jesus disappears to heaven. The post-resurrection message of Jesus is pretty simple – “I’ve cleared the way, now it’s your turn.”
It’s my turn. It’s your turn. It’s our turn, now. Jesus cleared the way, but now he’s handing the baton to us. That’s a humbling and inspiring message.
It’s humbling because, whereas Mary Poppins was practically perfect in every way, Jesus was actually perfect in every way. So can we really take the baton? Can we really copy Jesus? Can we do what he did?
If you’re not a Mary Poppins fan, maybe you watched the Masters recently? Do you remember the young Tiger Woods? He was so good, so dominant, that they changed whole golf courses to try to other golfers a chance to compete with him. He used to be this image of perfection – of course a lot of things went off the rails for him and largely due to his own decisions. But now he’s back and winning, but in a very different way. He was the 47th best golfer off the tee. He wasn’t crushing the ball. He wasn’t super accurate with his drives. But he was first in hitting the green after the drive. He was first in sinking long putts. That’s much more relatable than how he used to win. I have personally never hit a 300 yard drive. Or anything even close to that. I would need some kind of cannon to do that. But I have made a long putt before – that’s at least possible for me. Of course, it was probably when I was aiming somewhere else and it accidentally went in, but it’s at least possible.
In our text today, Jesus says that we can actually do some of the things he did. We can actually copy him. It’s possible.
So first let’s notice what we already have in common with Jesus.
First, he went out of his way to make sure we knew he had a real body just like us. We sometimes say on Easter that “the stone was rolled away.” Why does that matter? Well, it means that Jesus walked out. He didn’t become a Force ghost like Obi Wan Kenobi in Star Wars after he died. He had to walk out. There’s a classic fiction book called The Stars Our Destination, and in that book humans have learned how to “jaunt” or teleport themselves. Jesus didn’t teleport out of the tomb. The stone was rolled away – he had to walk out. “The stone was rolled away” is also a statement about Jesus’ death. He really died. The stone couldn’t be moved from the inside, so that means Jesus didn’t just take a sleeping potion to fake his death like in Romeo and Juliet and then escape in the night. He really died. And he really rose again. And the stone was rolled away so he could walk out.
So Jesus – even the resurrected Jesus – had a real body of flesh and bone. The disciples in our text were terrified and thought he was a ghost. But Jesus had them touch him and he ate broiled fish with them so they knew he was physically real.
So God’s plan for you and for me IS NOT for us to become disembodied spirits like Obi Wan’s Force ghost or Casper the friendly ghost or one of the Hogwarts ghosts from Harry Potter. God’s plan includes our physical bodies, our flesh and bone, our here and now.
So we have our bodies in common with Jesus. And we can copy him by working to make our physical world right here and right now look more and more the way that God wants it to look. In fact, if you want the easiest way to copy Jesus tonight, just have broiled fish for dinner! I recommend a nice tartar sauce to go with it.
Jesus wasn’t a ghost, he was flesh and bone. And he wasn’t some otherworldly physical specimen, he had a pretty regular body. We know this thanks to the Bible itself, which says, “There was nothing attractive about him, nothing to cause us to take a second look.” We don’t need superhuman or ghostly or Mary Poppins-like abilities, we have the same physical abilities as Jesus.
We also have something a little less tangible that Jesus had – God’s blessing. We know that Jesus was blessed, right? He had God’s favor. When Jesus was baptized, God’s voice proclaimed, “this is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” That’s a pretty good endorsement. But do we have that?
Let’s imagine that Easter didn’t happen. Let’s imagine that the Gospels ended on Good Friday. If that were the case, then the last scene of our story would have been humans killing the Son of God and all of his followers abandoning him. Not a good look for us. We’re gonna need to hire a PR firm for damage control.
But that was Friday. Today is Sunday. Easter Sunday. Resurrection Sunday. The day when everything changed. Instead of receiving God’s wrath for Good Friday, Jesus rises again and he does something interesting at the end of our text. He leads them out and blesses them.
He doesn’t condemn them for abandoning him on Friday. He blesses them forward on Easter Sunday. You have God’s blessing, not God’s wrath. We have God’s blessing. That’s pretty good news!
In families when a parent feels betrayed by a child, what is the threat? “I’ll take you out of the will! You’re dead to me!” That’s a curse. But Jesus, even after being betrayed, decides to bless us, to include us in the will, to say, “You’re more alive than ever before!” We have God’s blessing. In fact, Jesus takes it a step further and says we will be “clothed in power from on high.” We have God’s blessing, and we have God within us, just like Jesus.
Let me back up to something that’s easy to miss. Jesus took the disciples to a specific place when he blessed them. He took them to Bethany. Bethany was a very important place for Jesus’ ministry. Bethany was one of the major places where the poor and the sick could receive help. It also probably had the main leper colony nearby. Several of Jesus’ miracles took place in or near Bethany. And one of the most memorable that would have echoed in the disciples’ minds that day – Bethany was where Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead.
So, standing at Bethany with Jesus, the disciples would have had a lot to remember. Remember – Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead – we are being blessed with the same hope of resurrection. Remember – Jesus healed the sick – we are being blessed to do the same. Remember – Jesus brought comfort to the poor – we are being blessed to do the same. Remember – Jesus told people the good news of God’s favor – we are being blessed to do the same.
And Bethany was also on the way out of Jerusalem. It was a crossroads on your way to other places. So remember – Jesus told us “that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations” – Bethany is the first stop along the way after Jerusalem.
And so we have the same mission, the same commission as Jesus. Jesus came to proclaim repentance and forgiveness of sins to all nations. We have that same mission. You aren’t an accident. You aren’t an afterthought. You aren’t a meaningless waste of space waiting to die. You are part of Jesus’ mission to the whole world! You have a purpose!
Jesus spent basically his whole life living for others. That’s something we can copy. That’s not Mary Poppins flying on her umbrella. That’s not Tiger Woods smashing a 300 yard drive down the middle of the fairway. That’s not superhero stuff. That’s something we can do. Living for others is more like Mary Poppins’ wisdom, or Tiger Woods sinking really long putts, or being a regular hero instead of superhero. It’s hard, but it’s doable.
But it starts with us on the inside. Jesus tells his disciples to proclaim two very specific things. Do you remember? Repentance and forgiveness of sins are to be proclaimed in God’s name to all nations.
We’ve spent the last couple of months talking about forgiveness. How would it feel if someone forgave all of your debt? Car payment? Wiped out. Credit card debt? Wiped out. Medical bills? Gone. Home mortgage? Zero balance. Late on some bills? Paid off. Got some parking or speeding tickets? Written off. Borrowed money from family or friends? All done. How would that feel?
Would you feel a weight lifted? Would you feel free? Would you feel like things are different now? Would you have the opportunity to do different things without having to worry about those debts?
There was a survey recently that asked people about the things that separate them from God. The decisions they make that get in the way of their relationship with God. About two-thirds of the people surveyed agreed that they made decisions that moved them further from God.
Of those who agreed with that – those who admitted they weren’t perfect and thought they needed to fix some things in God’s eyes – there were two radically different plans for addressing that problem. About half of them thought it was up to them to…will themselves to just be better. I have tried that many times. I personally find that willing myself to just be better isn’t a winning strategy most of the time. Maybe you’ve had better success at willing yourself to internal change. If so, you can probably make a lot of money writing self-help books. I’ll show you how to self-publish. It’s easy.
But I think this strategy is a little sad. I know I make bad decisions in God’s eyes. My plan is to try harder to be better. But I’m going to fail over and over and over again anyway. That’s sad because there’s no off-ramp. You’re stuck. You can’t ever fix the problem.
The other half of the people in the survey said that they make bad decisions all the time in God’s eyes, but that Jesus decided to heal their relationship with God anyway. That’s the good news. That’s freedom. That’s Easter Sunday. You’re going to mess up. But you’re not just supposed to feel guilty and then try harder until you fail again. Your relationship with God was paid for on Friday and secured forever on Easter Sunday. That’s freedom.
And that freedom allows us to choose repentance. Repentance means turning around – going in a new direction. So if you want a better life, God’s offering it to you. Not because you feel obligated or forced by God, but because you want some things to be different. If you wish things were different, God’s offering it to you.
If you wish there was another way, God’s offering it to you. On Easter, Jesus overcame death. He can overcome whatever is weighing you down, too.
Ellen’s son Walker has autism, and a new experimental medication made him aggressive and out of control. Walker is solidly-built and 6’3”, so he’s not easy to corral. She rushed him to the hospital for help, but he was fighting and trying to escape. Five officers were called in to try to stop him, and as she watched, Ellen thought, “They’re gonna kill him.”
But in the middle of the melee, a lone voice started singing, “It’s a beautiful day in this neighborhood, a beautiful day for a neighbor. Would you be mine? Could you be mine?…Won’t you be my neighbor?” Suddenly Walker’s demeanor changed, he joined in, he started giving high fives to the security officers instead of angry swings.
Sergeant Keith Miller, public safety officer, parent of his own boy with autism, wanted to try something other than physical force to help Walker calm down. Instead of force, he chose compassion and creativity. Instead of what everyone else was doing, he chose love. Instead of being an officer, he chose to be a neighbor. Later when he was interviewed, he said, “As parents, we’re there to help (our kids) deal with their obstacles. And if we can’t do it by ourselves, there’s other people out there to help. And I want to be one of those other people.”
That’s the kind of transformation that we have available to us thanks to Jesus. We, too, can choose compassion, creativity, and love. We too can be one of those “other people” ready to help transform lives. We too can have new life. We too can be like Jesus. Jesus cleared the way. With Jesus’ victory in our back pocket, now it’s our turn. That’s the message of Easter. Amen.