In 2009 I was leading an outdoor Easter sunrise service in Iraq.
It was, so far, the most miserable Easter morning in my life.
The concrete stands of the small soccer stadium where the service was to be held would soon be filled with service members.
But underneath the stands in the dark before sunrise, with my head against the cool concrete pillar I was in near despair.
I felt empty. I felt anxious. I felt trapped.
I needed ministry, I needed to be spoken to…but I was supposed to go and minister and speak.
All I could do was to cry out to God for help…I felt dead…but yet I knew something to be true that morning.
I didn’t just think something was true I knew it.
I knew that Jesus was the risen Lord.
It wasn’t what I felt versus what I thought.
It was what I felt (miserable) versus what I knew (Jesus is alive) he has me here, now.
It was my most miserable Easter ever, and it was by far my most powerful Easter ever…I experienced God in a profound way spite of my miserable state…probably because of it.
Maybe you are disoriented…confused…maybe this is your most miserable Easter morning.
It supposed to be joyful, happy…holiday…and for some it is…but many it is not.
The first Easter for those who loved Jesus…was complete confusion…it was tears.
It became joy, but it began in the tears of confusion.
They didn’t know that Jesus had risen, so they had no anchor for their souls, their confusion.
What is the anchor for your thoughts, feelings, for your soul?
Do you have one?
Last Sunday a good friend who is a Catholic priest in Virginia sent me a text and he ended it with.
Surrexit sicut dixit!…Yeah, I had to look it up too
Latin “He is risen, as he said.”
Matt. 28:5 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.
That is the anchor for my life…it what I KNOW…when my thoughts and feelings and circumstances are confusing…this is what I know.
1Cor. 15:17 “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.”
Paul was not unsure about the resurrection…but he was sure about what would be true if Christ had not risen…we would have no anchor for our lives.
At the tomb that first Easter…Peter and John were confused about what had happened.
When they saw the tomb was empty they didn’t know what to make of it.
They were yet to understand what the Scriptures said about Jesus and what Jesus himself had tried to help them understand.
Even when the women told them what they had seen…Luke says they didn’t believe them, that there words seemed like nonsense. (Luke 24:11)
And what a confusing scene it must have been…at the end of a very confusing week.
The Lord was celebrated on a Sunday and executed on Friday…now dead and his body missing on the next Sunday.
Three amazing years were abruptly over…all their various ideas about the Kingdom of God, Jesus as the promised Messiah, their place in the Kingdom…crashed to the ground.
They were stunned…probably numb.
Let’s back up and walk through the events of that morning as read by Aaron from John 20
Mary, went to Jesus’ tomb early on that Sunday, while it was still dark…probably because she had not been able to sleep.
Confusion and depression can steal your sleep.
How do you sleep when life circumstances are dire…when thoughts and emotions are swirling like a storm?
So she went to the tomb to add some more spices to the Lord’s burial cloth…but probably also to see his body again, to try and make it all feel real…to get closure.
Then when she arrived at the tomb, hoping to bring some order to her confused mind and heart, what she saw made things worse.
Not only had they killed Jesus, now they had stolen his body.
So she ran.
She fled to her friends and cried, “They have taken the Lord and I don’t know where they have put him!”
Stop, Mary. Breathe.
They didn’t take his life; he gave it away.
They did not take his body; he is not dead.
But she didn’t know that yet…she had no anchor for her thoughts and emotions…all she had was adrenalin and cortisol…stress chemicals telling her to run.
So she ran.
Why was Peter up at that hour…probably for the same reason…he couldn’t sleep.
He was thinking of his dead friend…he was thinking of his own shame…that he had betrayed Jesus.
Maybe as he lay there, unable to sleep…he was thinking about a time when he was in another storm…this was a physical one.
Jesus and his friends were in a boat in the middle of a terrible storm…Peter was afraid for his life…and what was Jesus doing? He was sleeping in the bottom of the boat.
Jesus wasn’t unconcerned for his friends…he was showing them the kind of life available to them if they would trust him.
Not a life of passivity in storms but a life of peace in storms.
So with all kinds of thoughts and emotions and memories swirling about…Peter and John ran to the tomb and saw the evidence that indeed the Lord’s body had been taken.
Peter had already tried to “fight”, he used his sword the night of the Lord’s betrayal…he also tried “flight” as he ran from acknowledging that he even knew Jesus.
Now he had no fight or flight left in him…sometimes the stress chemicals drain from your body and leave you feeling empty.
So he saw the empty tomb…and he no doubt felt empty in his heart…So he walked home.
What a desolate scene…a man walking home from a friend’s grave, guilty, disappointed and now even his body had been taken…no telling what was being done to it.
If Christ has not risen then our faith is futile.
Several years ago I officiated the funeral of a man who died by suicide and left a young family behind.
It was the middle of winter…snowy, windy, chill factor below zero.
The gravesite was a small country cemetery in the middle of dead cornstalks.
After the service, I stood at a distance from the tent where his family huddled together in the cold…the bugler played taps…it was a melancholy scene.
Then above the howl of the wind and the sound of the bugle…I heard the cries of his daughter.
I thought to myself…this is what desolation looks and feels like…it was oppressive.
But when desolation was pressing on all my physical senses…I recalled Paul’s taunting of death.
1Cor. 15:55 “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?”
Death and desolation do not taunt us…resurrection taunts them.
I felt the cold of desolation, and heard the cries of desolation…but I knew the reality of resurrection.
Christ has risen from the dead…my faith is not futile.
But Peter didn’t yet have the confidence of the resurrection as a reference point for his feelings of desolation…not yet
Neither did John…but he would.
John referred to himself in this passage as the “other disciple…the one Jesus loved”
This was not his arrogance, or him saying Jesus didn’t love Peter. (I’m the other guy, the good disciple)
This was John being amazed and grateful that Jesus loved him so deeply.
In fact if you read John’s letters you see why he is called the “apostle of love”…because he talks so much of the Love of God for us and the love we are to have for one another.
The resurrection would be the reference point for his confidence in God’s love, and his motivation for loving others.
But let’s go back to the confusion.
Think of a time when you have been confused…when things are crashing in around you.
Maybe it’s right now.
What is true? What is real? What is right? What is wrong? What do I believe? What do I doubt?
The word “confusion” comes from two words that mean to “mingle together.”
Confusion is where competing ideas, beliefs, and feelings are jumbled up inside of you.
Confusion unnerves us; it causes us to doubt what we thought to be true.
When deeply held beliefs are under attack, the confusion can shake a person to their very core.
When the pegs on which life was hung all fall to the ground, then life’s meaning itself can fall to the floor in a jumbled mess.
People can lose all hope and become disoriented when their points of reference are blown away.
Tornado in Greensburg: Long-time resident couldn’t find the lot where his home sat for decades because all points of reference were blown away…it was a jumbled mess.
How do you find your way…when there aren’t even any points of reference?
We navigate life by reference points…but what happens when the storm blows even the reference points away?
Peter had to be thinking…Jesus was not supposed to die. Certainly not like this. Not this soon…not this way.
The reality and finality of his death had to be surreal to those who loved him.
Many have set out to prove that the resurrection is a hoax.
This will continue to be true
There will always be people who believe that they will be the first to do what has not and cannot be done –prove that the resurrection of Jesus did not happen.
A number of those who set out to prove the resurrection of Jesus did not happen eventually became followers of Christ in the process.
I’ve read the biographies of three people this was true for.
These men didn’t begin their quest with neutrality about the ressurrection.
They had already decided the resurrection was a hoax and they went looking for evidence to confirm what they believed.
This fact makes their conversion even more compelling.
God did not just have to take them from being neutral to being positive about Jesus; he had to take them from negative to positive.
Their quest to prove the resurrection didn’t happen lead to them becoming followers of Christ.
People have said to me…”How do I know if you had grown up in another country or family that you wouldn’t have another religion?”
Some have asked me…”So do I believe in Jesus only because I grew up believing in him?”
The question is not what did I grow up believing, but what is true?
What if I grew up believing the earth is round and someone else grew up believing it is flat?
Am I not to believe what is actually true just because I grew up believing it?
We can’t put faith in a different category than the shape of the earth…both have to do with real things.
It doesn’t matter where you grew up…it matters whether this is true or not…did Jesus rise from the dead?
-John grew up in a family and a country that is not Christian…yet he is a Christian now.
–Because he concluded the gospel is true…the resurrection happened.
And he personally experienced the Lord himself…as did his amazing wife.
The resurrection of Jesus is not just the story of a man who came back from the dead.
That would be strange but it would not meet our real need.
His resurrection confirmed his message…he is the sacrifice of God for the sins of men and women.
Through his resurrection life, we can have a different kind of life…the life we were made to experience.
The resurrection is a reality that changes lives…because if Jesus did raise from the dead, then he is who he says is…and this impacts every aspect of our lives.
The disciples themselves went from cowardly, hiding, and self-protective men to bold, public, and life-sacrificing men.
How can you explain this change?
Peter was a coward before the resurrection…but after seeing the risen Lord…he died for his faith.
If the resurrection had not happened and these friends knew it, then they would surely not have given their lives for a lie.
But the fact that all of them would die because of what happened on that Sunday is further evidence that Jesus has risen from the dead.
The tomb was empty and not because someone stole Jesus’ body but because Jesus rose from the dead.
Hebrews 6:19 “We have this hope as an anchor for our souls.”
The resurrection is an anchor, a reference point, a foundation, for your life.
I know I have told some gloomy stories for an Easter morning.
But the first Easter began very darkly for those who loved Jesus.
It is important to see what life without the reality of the resurrection is and would be.
It is as Paul wrote, a life where are “faith is futile and we are still in our sins.”
But since Christ has risen from the dead…a historical fact with more than merely historical impact…then our life has an anchor and our sins are removed from us.
Do you have Resurrection Reference Point for your life?
What is the bad news of the day…everyday has it.
What natural disaster has devastated lives somewhere near you or far from here?
What manmade horrors are unfolding today? Wars, refugee crises, murders…the list is long and it is ever-present.
Perhaps the bad news is very close to you.
Maybe disaster has struck in your own life or in the life of someone you love.
Maybe you were dreading an Easter service because you felt like you had to try and feel and fake happy…and you are not happy, life is very hard.
You don’t have to fake happy…most people in this room…have trouble of some kind in their lives.
Some have terrible storms…but there is peace available…not peace as passivity, not peace as unreality…peace as confidence in God’s purposes.
Does the fact that a man lived in the Middle East in the first century and was executed at around age thirty-three have any bearing at all on this day?
If he did not raise from the dead, then no, there is nothing in the life of Jesus to mediate today’s bad news.
But if he did, then yes, the resurrection is the good news that impacts all bad news.
It is the good news that tells bad news that its days are numbered.
When difficult things happen, one of the first places people go in their minds is to the question, “Is there meaning in this suffering?”
When they find no meaning, their suffering is multiplied; when they find purpose in it, their suffering takes on a very different tone.
It remains suffering, but when there is a purpose in it, it’s just not the same.
Another question that comes with suffering is, “How long?”
When will I be free from this?
Will I ever be free?
That question is “When?”
When the answer is unknown or “No, you will not be free,” then suffering can become unbearable.
When the answer is, “Yes, you can be free of this, but it will take some time”, life remains hard, but it becomes hopeful.
How does the gospel good news impact your life?
If you are in Christ, then to the “why” question, “Is there meaning in this?”
The answer is “Yes!”
To the “when” question, “When will this end?”
The answer is “Soon!”
Though the soon may be years away, it will someday be experienced as having been “soon.”
The reality of the resurrection has real bearing on all your life…or at least it could.
When all the things that pull on our minds, hearts and lives have been stripped away…it will come down to just this…
Has he risen as he said or not?
For many reasons…external to me and internal in me…I know that he has.
I am a witness to the fact of the resurrection…I was not there, but I have encountered the risen lord personally.
You really don’t have to figure it all out…truth be told, you will never figure out anything in full…but you can have knowledge that is enough…transformational knowledge…the knowing of faith.
Not yet a follower of Christ…you can have this confidence if you will…a resurrection reference point.
Follower of Christ…you can live more fully in the confidence that is yours…if you will.
God is willing that you would have this confidence…it remains for you to be willing as well.