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by Pastor Cherie Johnson

 

We’ve been on a journey for the last 7 weeks as we’ve explored what is essential in being a follower of Jesus. What is the least I can believe and still be a Christian? We found out some things we don’t have to do like judging others, whether they measure up. We don’t have to choose between science and God. We are allowed to have questions and doubts. In fact, they can be very good because they show that we are interested and we care. The bottom line is that we have to believe in Jesus. Christians have to believe in Christ, and therefore we have to take what he did and said seriously.

 

Jesus said that what matters most is loving God first and then loving our neighbors. Jesus said that he will be with us in our suffering. As we looked at last week, he knows what it means to suffer, through his whole life really in ways that all people do, but especially through his crucifixion and death. This week we look at the hope Jesus brings us through His resurrection.

 

Matthew 28:1-10 NIV
      1 After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb.
     2 There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. 3 His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. 4 The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men.
     5 The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. 6 He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. 7 Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.”
     8 So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. 9 Suddenly Jesus met them. “Greetings,” he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him. 10 Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”

 

The disciples and other followers of Jesus truly didn’t get it. When Jesus was killed on Good Friday, they thought the dream was over. All their hopes and dreams died with Jesus on the cross. They had believed he was the Messiah, their Savior who would drive out the Romans and set up God’s kingdom on earth.

 

From about a hundred years before to a hundred years after Jesus, there were 10-12 other Jewish revolutionary leaders and groups. They too wanted to push out the Romans, many claiming or having others pronounce them the Messiah. None of them were successful. The Romans (or their agents) killed the leader, and the uprising faded away.

 

Despite everything Jesus had said, none of the disciples were expecting him to rise from the dead. All hope was gone. An executed Messiah was a failed Messiah. On Sunday morning, they were still stunned, huddled in their upper room, trying to figure out what to do next.

 

Lost and alone, with all hope gone Judas Iscariot could not go on living. Hope is very important for our very survival.

 

Tom Hanks was in a movie that was all about survival and hope called Cast Away.  He received an Academy Award nomination for his role in that film, and it is the favorite of many. If you’ve not seen Cast Away, it’s a contemporary Robinson Crusoe type story, or perhaps you’re more familiar with Gilligan’s Island. In the movie Tom Hanks plays the FedEx trainer named Chuck Noland. Early in the film, Chuck and several of his colleagues crash into the sea in a company plane crash, killing everyone except Noland. The next day his life raft washes ashore on a deserted island, along with numerous FedEx packages from the airplane. Noland opens the packages, hoping to find items that would help him survive on the island. One box contains a pair of ice skates. Although you wouldn’t think ice skates would be much help on a deserted tropical island, Noland manages to find creative uses for them. He uses shoelaces for rope and one of the ice blades for a hatchet. He even uses one of the skates as a dental tool. I’ll spare you the gory details.

 

Noland also finds a package containing the volleyball, which becomes his one and only friend, Wilson. Another box contains videotapes which Noland uses as a rope. One of the boxes Noland finds on the beach has angel wings on the outside, but interestingly he never opens it. Instead Noland save that package the entire four years he lives on the island. When he finally departs the island on a raft, he lashes the unopened package on to his boat and takes it with him.

 

In the final scene of the movie, Noland, now safely back in the United States, drives down a lonely Texas highway with the unopened angel wings FedEx package in the passenger seat of his car. As he drives, you can hear his radio play Elvis’s old song “Return to Sender,” which is exactly what Noland is doing. He is returning the package to its original sender in rural Texas. He finally arrives at the house and knocks at the door, but nobody is home. Noland places the box at the front door along with a note that says, “This package saved my life.”  A few minutes later the movie ends.

 

So what did Chuck Noland mean when he wrote, “This package save my life?” He never opened it. He didn’t use its contents yet he claims it saved his life. If you’ve seen the movie, it’s obvious what he meant. The package symbolized hope for Chuck Noland. It represented his hope that one day he would leave that island, go home to family and friends, return to his job – and deliver that package. It was, quite literally, a package of hope. And that hope kept him going for four hard years on a deserted island. At one point the endless drudgery an overwhelming loneliness of the island almost drove him to suicide. But the hope of returning home kept him from doing so. “This package saved my life,” said Noland. But what he really meant was “Hope saved my life.” (Thielen, pg 116-118)

 

The disciples were feeling lost and dejected. Their dream was over. Their hope was gone. They were grieving the loss of their Messiah. How could they have been so wrong? The Marys went to the tomb to grieve and to be near their loved one. It was a very common practice then, and now, to repeatedly go to a tomb or a grave. There are only recordings of one visit to Jesus’ tomb though it appears in all four Gospels in the Bible.

 

All because the ladies encountered the last thing, the last person, they expected to see, the resurrected Jesus!

 

Hope was renewed! Eventually there was greater understanding of what Jesus had meant all along. Jesus the Messiah, or in the Greek the Christos or Christ, was not going to do something so mundane as drive out the Romans. Jesus defeated death.

 

The Gospels go to some links an effort to emphasize that Jesus was dead, not merely passed out, or in a coma or something. He was dead. He is alive. Neither is this merely a resuscitation like Lazarus. There is something different about him. He has changed. He, who had died, defeated death, and is now alive.

 

Yet, the resurrection of Jesus Christ is about more than bringing a lost comrade, a leader of a movement, back to life. It tells us that God brings life out of death. It isn’t limited to a physical body. It means all of those things that can almost (and sometimes does) make us wish we were dead: the death of a marriage, the death of a job, the death of good health, the death of a dream or aspirations, the death of hope and the future. Jesus’ resurrection, God’s bringing life out of death, “gives us hope for living and even hope for dying.” (Thielen, page 119)

 

All of Christianity rests on the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Otherwise, he is just another failed Messiah, a deluded man with some interesting bits of advice. The resurrection is what gives Jesus his authority. That gives us confidence that he knew what he was talking about. That is what makes people interested about what he said matters most, the relationship developed through loving God and neighbor. His example of service and sacrifice, his willingness to go through hours suffering with us, that is what makes it meaningful. At Christmas time we refer to Jesus as Emmanuel, God with us. At the time the New Testament was being written, the theological concept of the Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Ghost, had not been developed yet. What they did know is that Jesus was their Messiah, their Savior. Jesus asks Peter, “And who do you say I am?” (Mt 16:13)

 

“You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” (Mt 16:16). If God could come and be among us, God would be like Jesus. Therefore, we can have great hope because we have a God that loves us so much that He sent His Son so that we may have life.

 

During this sermon series, we’ve gone back to Genesis to examine who Jesus is when the Apostle John said that the Word was with God in the beginning and nothing was made in the creation without him, without Jesus. Today, we go back to Genesis 1 again. Rather poetically, perhaps symbolically, God made the world and everything in it in the first six days. On the seventh day, God rested, the Sabbath day. It was so important that it was included in the Ten Commandments. “The Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.” (Exodus 20: 11)

 

As the sunlight was fading on Good Friday, they had to do something with Jesus crucified dead body. At sunset, the Sabbath would begin, and they couldn’t do anything on the seventh day. The next day, as we read in today’s scripture, was the first day of the week. “After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb.” (Matthew 28:1) It was the first day of the week. It was also the eighth day, the day when God’s work begins again. The day when the new creation begins. It is the first day of a new week, the beginning of the new creation when all things are made new.

 

This goes beyond ousting the Romans from the Palestine. This is the real return from Exile. This is good news for the whole world. All the promises of the Hebrew Bible are being fulfilled but in a totally unexpected way. The evil that has disfigured and blemished the universe has been defeated. The new creation has begun.

 

When the disciples, and we, are told to spread the good news, this is it. The new creation has begun! We are sent to put Jesus’ achievement into motion. God knows that we still need it because it isn’t complete yet, and it won’t be until Jesus returns and final victory.

 

But that’s why Jesus gives us hope. We don’t have to accept the brokenness of this world. We can live by the rules of the kingdom, God’s realm, where there is “neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus,” as the Apostle Paul says in Galatians 3:28.

 

Almost all the letters in the New Testament are about how to live in the new creation. The people in the early church often are living by the old rules of the old creation, and we often do the same. It doesn’t have to be that way. We no longer have to be slaves to sin and death. Through Jesus death and resurrection, we are God’s adopted children. What is true of his Son, Jesus, is true of us. We are given new life in the new creation. As we prepare for Lent, starting on Wednesday, how can we start living more fully in the new creation – or even try to do it for the first time? The insert in your bulletin has a few ideas.

 

Yesterday, I saw a post on Facebook that said, “Just because we’ve had a bad history does not mean we will have a bad destiny. Jesus makes all things new, so there is always hope!” (Daily Encouragement in Christ)  It was accompanied by a picture of a woman who has thrown open the window and is greeting the new day arms outstretched. Today, Sunday, is the first day of the new week, the first day of the new creation. Thanks be to God!

 

So we come to the close of our series about what it is the least we can believe and be a Christian. We started out with what we don’t need, like being judgmental. However, Christians do have to believe in Jesus.

 

We have to believe that Jesus is who he said he is, and did what they said he did, namely the resurrection. Otherwise the whole thing is pointless, as the Apostle Paul said in 1st Corinthians 15, “If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.” (vs.13-14) “But Christ has indeed been raised, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep,” Paul continues, “Death has been swallowed up in victory. ‘Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?’” (vs. 54-55) “But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”(vs. 57)

 

If we believe this and trust in Jesus, we find that he answers many of life’s most important questions.

 

That is why Christianity is more than a set of beliefs. It is a way of life, a life that has been redeemed, claimed, to live in the new creation that begins with the resurrection of Jesus Christ. We are called to spread the good news that the new creation has begun, our God has rescued us from this world of evil and decay, the world that we in our arrogance and fear have corrupted.

 

Everyone is invited to be a part of it. There is hope because the kingdom of God has come near! If we allow it, Jesus will show us a more excellent way, in this new creation. Together we are commissioned, sent on a mission, to make new creation happen in the world! With the resurrection of Jesus, heaven and earth are joined together. The first day of the new week!  The eighth day, the day of redemption. The first day of the new creation!

 

Amen!

(Martin Thielen, “What’s the Least I Can Believe and Still Be a Christian?”: A Guide to What Matters Most, Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2013.)

Post Author: Cherie Dearth