The next day, the one after Preparation Day, the chief priests and the Pharisees went to Pilate. "Sir," they said, "we remember that while he was still alive that deceiver said, 'After three days I will rise again.' So give the order for the tomb to be made secure until the third day. Otherwise, his disciples may come and steal the body and tell the people that he has been raised from the dead. This last deception will be worse than the first."At a conference several years ago, I saw Joe White do an incredible one-man drama as the cross-maker who was building the cross on which Jesus was to be crucified. He hefted the timbers, and with a hand-axe he actually hewed the notches in the log, then nailed them together...talking all the while about Jesus, how Jesus had stirred things up in the neighborhood, and about the crucifixion to come.
"Take a guard," Pilate answered. "Go, make the tomb as secure as you know how." So they went and made the tomb secure by putting a seal on the stone and posting the guard. (Matthew 27:62-66, NIV)
White, as the cross-maker, made a powerful point. He described the process of crucifixion, and how Jesus had claimed to be coming back three days after he died. The cross-maker's words are instructive here, as best I remember them:
"Nobody comes back after they are crucified...nobody. It's horrible, it's agonizing, it's hideous - and then you're dead. Period. Nobody comes back from that. And if Jesus dies, and he doesn't come back, in 20 years, no one will remember this crazy carpenter from Nazareth. He'll be just one more religious crackpot; just one more feeble attempt to raise up folks against Rome, and one more pathetic failure."What indeed?
"But," he thundered, "...what if he's telling the truth?"
What if the story, and all the pomp and ceremony, of Easter morning is more than just something that we repeat because "it's what we always do" on the first Sunday following the first full moon after the Spring equinox?
What if the witness of the women and the apostles is true? What if this Jesus person really did rise from the dead, for you and for me?
A lot of you reading this may well say, "Well, Steve, of course it's true. We believe, and we say that we believe - every single Sunday." Well, I'd celebrate that statement - but I'd also ask a question, and make a suggestion.
The question I ask myself this morning is simply this: how is the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ going to change my life, and the way I deal with the rest of the "children of God" in my life, on the day after Easter? Will I continue with "business as usual," now that Lent and Easter Sunday are over? Afer the fasting and the prayer is done, will it be "the same old same-old"?
Or will the two "great commandments" and the "one great commission" become central in my life? Will I look at living my life like a sheep, or a goat (Matthew 25:31-46)? What is the answer of my life to the resurrection?
I am reminded so often of Brennan Manning's tragic analysis: "The greatest cause of atheism in the world today is Christians, who proclaim Jesus with their lips, and reject him with their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable." Am I proclaiming Jesus with my lips, or my life? I know, as a sinful man, I'm bound to fail...but am I willing to try? That's the question.
The suggestion I'd make is this: if you were in church on Easter Sunday, it's very likely that there were unchurched or nominally-churched folks so close to you that you could smell them. And perhaps someone among them is asking Joe White's question, right now: "What if Jesus was telling the truth? What if everything I heard on Sunday is true?"
The suggestion? Pray for those people. Pray for the long-term church members, who are showing up by rote or out of obligation, that they might hear the saving message of Christ anew, and be changed. Pray for those who came because their parents or children or friends invited them (even if they didn't want to come) that they might feel the Presence of God in the greetings, in the prayers, in the sermon, in the music and in sharing the peace, at the communion rail, and in the fellowship hall afterwards.
Pray that those who are "new" will be transformed - and that those who are "not new" will be renewed, and restored.
I leave you with Joe White's final words:
"...if Jesus dies, and he doesn't come back, in 20 years, no one will remember this crazy carpenter from Nazareth...but if he DOES come back, this coming Sunday will be remembered for all time! No war, no persecution, no threat of death will ever be able to quash a story like that! If what Jesus said is true, what happens on Sunday will change the world..."Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?" (John 11:25-26, NIV)