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TAKEN FROM THE TOMB

Who He Really Is

John 20:1-10
14th November 2004

Reverend Rinaldy Damanik, the newly elected leader of the Indonesian Sulawesi Protestant Church, has just been released from prison. His denomination elected him President while he was still in prison. He had been arrested in 2002 for allegedly possessing illegal weapons. He had been responsible for informing the international community of the attacks and human rights violations against Christians in the region. He was falsely charged to silence him. He didn’t possess illegal weapons at any time. Fundamentalist Islam, just wanted him silenced. Jemaah Islamiyah, is responsible for thousands of Christian deaths and false imprisonments.

Since the large scale attacks on Christian villages in 2003, militants have changed their tactics. They now target prominent Christian leaders and pastors in a terror campaign that has claimed, one per week. On November 8 Imbo, a 41-year old Christian, was shot and killed while driving. Militants stopped his car and shot him in the neck. He died instantly. On November 5 Sarminalis Ndele, 48, the Christian chief of his village, was beheaded. A car drove past a petrol station and they threw something out of the window. When bystanders went to investigate they discovered Mr Ndele’s severed head in a black plastic bag. Reverend Damanik’s coming out of the darkness of the prison cell must have been for him and his family, like being taken from a tomb. Lazarus was not the only one who was taken from a tomb. At the moment Jesus cried upon the Cross, “It is finished” and died, an earth tremour hit Jerusalem, like those which have severely damaged a number of old mosques in Jerusalem.

Matthew 27:51-52 At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook and the rocks split. The tombs broke open and the bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs, and after Jesus’ resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many people.” What are we to make of this? Some people would say that this is an addition to the Gospel, to illustrate divine response and to anticipate that God would take Jesus from the tomb. In a deep sense, it is a description of what Jesus does for all believers. His death on the Cross, would be the means of defeating death, and bringing to life all those holy people who had trusted God, who had died prior to the time of Jesus. His resurrection on the third day would be the first of all believers thereafter who would be taken from the tombs into the heart of God.

The torn veil in the Temple meant holy people now had direct access to God, and the broken tombs meant they were liberated from death. Following His resurrection, all those who believed as the Centurion at the foot of the cross that Jesus was the Son of God, would be raised with Christ to witness to the people in Jerusalem and to the ends of the earth. John’s Gospel records how Jesus came to a number of people on the day of the resurrection: first to Mary as she stood sadly in tears in the garden, then to ten of the disciples who met in fear behind locked doors, then to the same ten again but this time when doubting Thomas was present. The risen Jesus had come to them in despair, in fear and in doubt. It appeared that nothing could keep Him down.

He came to them where they were, when they needed Him and despite their own attitudes of despair, fear and doubt. So many people in Australia today live in despair, amid tears and depression. They need to know the Risen Christ. So many people today live in fear, behind locked doors with their minds secured against every opportunity that might leave them vulnerable. They need to know the Risen Christ. So many people today live in doubt, refusing to have any invisible means of support and trying to live on their own understanding. They need to know the Risen Christ. Despair, fear and doubt sap the life forces from people. They need to know the Risen Christ! He alone is the answer to despair, fear and doubt.

What a change came over those first Christians when they realised the fact of the resurrection. Instead of a despairing, fearful, doubting remnant of a scattered band, there was a united group of people with hope, courage and faith. Nothing could quieten them. Nothing could quell them. They were a marching, militant band that were out to change the world by turning it upside down! They were holy revolutionaries, and the world has never been the same since they marched into the streets with the message that Jesus had risen from the dead. In a service that celebrates the contribution of our lay-preachers, we remind each other that the heart of the message we preach is the Gospel of Jesus taken from the tomb. That is the message that is central to all we say. The death and resurrection of Jesus is the power within our preaching. What changed those who first heard of the resurrection of Jesus was:

1. THE RESURRECTION FACT.

“On the third day, he rose again from the dead.” That fact changed them and believers ever since. With His new life came new life into the church. A new power was released into the world. This force for good would triumph over evil and nothing could stop it. Even those holy ones who had died before Him were changed! Despair changed into hope; fear turned into courage; and doubt was converted into faith. The timid became confident. The persecutor became a preacher. The insipid became inspired! Mary Magdalene saw him, then the women who were going to the tomb, then Peter, then the two on the Emmaus Road, then the ten disciples, then the ten plus Thomas, then ten by the lakeside, then over 500 people, then James, then the eleven disciples again, then the group on the Mount of the Ascension, then Stephen as he lay broken at the foot of the walls of Jerusalem, then Paul as he led a band of persecuting soldiers up the Damascus Road, then John as he was imprisoned on the island of Patmos. Christ was risen!

The fact of the resurrection is the heart of the Gospel. A simple fact of history had brought the church into being, and swept it across the world with driving power. No one could ever believe that the Christian church, so indestructible in its nature, so unlimited in its possibilities, so indispensable in its value to the souls of men could ever have sprung from anything that was not absolutely genuine and real. Jesus Christ was indestructible and His vitality, power and love flowed into the lives of those who believed in Him and followed His way of sacrifice and service. The resurrection fact made the difference.

2. THE RESURRECTION REUNION.

Over the next fifty days, following the first Easter Sunday, Jesus appeared to those who would become the basis of the Church. He came to them at different times, in different places, and while they were experiencing different emotions. He came to despairing love. Mary was in tears, her heart broken by the suffering on the Cross and her hopes shattered in despair. She had nothing in her life except a forgiven past and tender love. But to her despairing love the Master spoke only one word: “Mary”. That softly spoken name carried in it a message of assurance and hope that transformer her. He came to cringing fear. Peter, James and John knew how careful they had to be. They were marked men. They had been recognised. They would be next. So they locked the doors in fear and in a darkened room discussed what to do next. Cringing from the world that had been so brutally final with their Master, they feared for their lives when through the doors came the immediately recognisable figure of Jesus — the same Jesus, yet different! All they knew was that their cringing fear had gone forever!

He came to anxious doubt. Only ten disciples had actually seen Jesus that time. Thomas was away and when he returned they excitedly told of the appearance of Jesus. Thomas could not explain the difference in them, but one thing was for sure: he wouldn’t believe unless he saw it for himself. And in the middle of his expressing such anxious doubts Jesus came to him. Now Thomas sank to his knees in trusting faith. Never again would he doubt. Now he knew. He came to believing faith.

The group of believers by the lake, and the five hundred on the hillside were all believers, and Jesus came to them. So also the lone missionary stepping foot on a strange island for the first time knew that Christ had stepped there before him. So Jesus comes today regardless of how we feel.

3. THE RESURRECTION MEANING.

The impact of the resurrection has been so great on the history of the world that we must ask its meaning. What does the resurrection mean, both to early Christians and to us today? The resurrection is the response of God. So often in the accounts it says that Jesus was “raised from the dead’, or “he was taken from the tomb.”. The passive tense is used to indicate that the resurrection of Jesus was nothing less than the greatest act of God. Here was God’s irrefutable response to the wickedness of men. The resurrection was God’s response. The resurrection is the confirmation of goodness. Jesus had staked everything upon truth, right and love. His goodness had been nailed to the cross by the wickedness of men. But the resurrection was the confirmation that ultimately in this world, the nature of things lies with the good. So often we see the immediate triumph of evil, but the fact is that in the long run God confirms goodness.

The resurrection is the assurance of immortality. Jesus had promised: “ After I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to myself so you will be where I am.’ John 14:3 The disciples needed to know if that promise was true, because if it were, then it did not matter where they would go in Christ’s name, He was there.

They lived in the presence of God. If they knew that for sure, everything else would fall into place. They needed the assurance of immortality. The resurrection is the promise of Christ’s presence. Jesus again had promised to be with them: “I will be with you always, to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:20. That thought would sustain them through all the years that lay ahead, and no matter that they would each die a death similar to crucifixion, they would die serene because they knew the presence of Jesus with them. Martyrs and missionaries, imprisoned believers like Rev Rinaldy Damanik and extraordinary leaders have been sustained ever since with the promise of Christ’s presence. That is what the resurrection of Jesus meant to those who believed, and ever since where Christians have encountered Christ they have found that in the resurrection God has responded, goodness has been confirmed, immortality has been assured, and Christ’s presence has been promised.

That is the heart of the Gospel we preach. Jesus is alive and with us. God is in control. Evil has been conquered. The stranglehold of death has been broken. Life has triumphed! Far too many people have their lives ruined by despair, fear and doubt. But the resurrection of Jesus can so influence your life that despair will turn to hope, fear will turn to courage and doubt will turn to faith. This is not rumour, no vain hope, no flimsy theory. Here is fact. Irrefutable. Demonstrable. Experiential. You cannot argue against an encounter you can experience. Try it. Seek the risen Lord to enter your life. Invite Him into your life, and discover the difference it makes to you.

 

Wesley Mission, Sydney.