Sermon – Remembering the Resurrection

This Easter morning is quite unlike any other that I can remember in my lifetime—but perhaps it’s a bit more like that very first Easter morning. Perhaps that’s part of what God intends for us this year—that we experience something beyond just a day of baskets and family dinners.

I came to church this morning while it was still dark. It was, in the words of Matthew, “toward dawn on the first day of the week” (Matthew 28:1). And I thought about those women, “Mary Magdalene and the other Mary” (28:1) on their way to the tomb. I checked the weather in Jerusalem on this Easter morning and it was quite similar to our weather—temperatures in the lower 40’s. Not quite so foggy. It’s also the time of Passover.

I’m not sure just how far they had to walk through the dark streets of Jerusalem, but I’m pretty sure it was as least as far as the short distance I drove from the parsonage to the church. They were mourning, filled with sorrow. They were probably also afraid—afraid that someone might see them, afraid that they’d be arrested. But they couldn’t stay away. Just as many people today find comfort from being in the cemetery at the grave of a loved one, so too were these women surely hoping to find comfort.

There’s no indication at all in any of the gospels that they were hoping to find that their beloved Jesus was no longer dead.

MATTHEW 28:1-10

Mat 28:1 Now after the Sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. Mat 28:2 And behold, there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it.
Mat 28:3 His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow.
Mat 28:4 And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men.
Mat 28:5 But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified.
Mat 28:6 He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay.
Mat 28:7 Then go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and behold, he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him. See, I have told you.”
Mat 28:8 So they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples.
Mat 28:9 And behold, Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came up and took hold of his feet and worshiped him.
Mat 28:10 Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.

And suddenly, for them, everything had changed. Sorrow had turned to joy. Despair had turned to hope. They took hold of Jesus’ feet as if to be certain He was real and not something they were imagining—and perhaps to try to prevent Him from somehow disappearing again.

For Peter, too, that Easter morning changed everything. On Good Friday afternoon when Jesus died on that wooden cross, all Peter’s hopes died with Him. Unable to forget his denials of Jesus on Thursday night in the courtyard of the high priest, Peter’s mind was surely echoing over and over again his curses.

We’ve probably all experienced this—perhaps not to the same degree as Peter, but probably we’ve all said or done something that we deeply regret and then something happens that prevents us from making it right. A relationship is permanently broken; someone we love dies before we can make amends or beg forgiveness. And like Peter, we wonder whether we might have somehow been able to change the outcome if we’d responded differently.

Weighed down by guilt and regret, that Sabbath Saturday must surely have been one of the longest days in Peter’s life. We don’t often talk about—or even think much about—Saturday. Just imagine for a moment: we know the disciples and other followers of Jesus were gathered together behind locked doors. They’re afraid—afraid that the authorities will come for them next.

They’re broken hearted—Jesus is gone. Jesus, who could calm the waters of the Sea of Galilee with a word, who could turn water in wine and a few small loaves into enough bread to feed thousands. Jesus who restored sight to the blind and made the lame walk. Jesus—they had come to a place where they had really started to believe that nothing was impossible for Him. Right up to the last moment, they’d been thinking that maybe now He would break loose and come down from that cross.

They must have gone over and over events, trying to make sense of it. Jesus was dead—no one expected that. They kept hearing the sound of the hammer pounding the nails into His hands and His feet. They couldn’t forget the way He looked, beaten and bloody. Yes, they’d heard Him say—more than once—that on the third day He would rise. But they weren’t thinking about that. They’d either forgotten or they’d never really understood what He meant. Or their hopelessness was so great that they were struggling to believe any of the things Jesus said.

They were unable to imagine any good outcome. We’re living in a time when many people are struggling to imagine a good outcome to our situation. People are hoarding food and toilet paper and other supplies, afraid that the day will come when we won’t be able to find them. People are calling suicide hotlines in record numbers. Police are responding to a record number of calls of domestic violence. We see mass burials in China and Italy and even right here in our country. The stock market and the economy seem on the brink of collapse. People are afraid to leave their houses.

In the midst of all this, however, there’s good news. The best news ever, in fact. Jesus is alive! He didn’t stay dead. He’s alive—just as alive today as He was 2000 years ago.

And on Sunday morning when the women came with the news that the tomb was empty and an angel had promised that Jesus would meet them in Galilee, Peter ran to the tomb to see the evidence for himself.

Mark’s gospel says that the angel told the women to “Go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him” (Mark 16:7). Peter is mentioned by name, making it clear that Jesus hasn’t disqualified him. Later, John’s gospel tells us of Jesus’ private conversation with Peter on the beach where Jesus commissions Peter to feed His sheep, to care for God’s people. Where Jesus makes it clear that Peter is forgiven.

Imagine what that Easter morning must have been like for Peter.  Hope was reborn—but it was a whole new hope. Because the resurrection did much more than restore Jesus to him. The resurrection changed everything—Jesus is no longer the Teacher or the Rabbi, or even Lord. Jesus is both Lord and Christ. He ascends into heaven where, seated at the right hand of the Father, Jesus rules until the day that He will come to restore and renew all things.

With the resurrection of Jesus and His entrance into glory, a new age has begun. And Peter has a living hope—his hope is Jesus.

I PETER 1:1-9

1Pe 1:1  Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who are elect exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, 

1Pe 1:2  according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood: May grace and peace be multiplied to you. 

1Pe 1:3  Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 

1Pe 1:4  to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, 

1Pe 1:5  who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. 

1Pe 1:6  In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, 

1Pe 1:7  so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. 

1Pe 1:8  Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, 

1Pe 1:9  obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls. 

Peter wrote this letter near the end of his life—years have passed. But clearly he continues to be filled with great joy. Joy that came not from his circumstances because the Christian church has entered a stormy season of persecution. Nero was emperor and he had mounted a campaign against the Christians that was worse than anything they’d previously experienced. First century Christians were anxious and afraid—afraid they’d be arrested and thrown into a cage full of lions to be torn apart. Afraid they’d be dipped in tar and nailed to a pole where they’d be set on fire to serve as Nero’s human lamp posts. Afraid that these things would happen to their spouse or their child or their parent.

It wasn’t long after writing this letter that Peter himself died by crucifixion—upside down.

So Peter writes this letter to remind a suffering people of the good news of God’s grace, to remind his readers of the overwhelming reality of what was done for them in Jesus Christ. And to remind all future generations.

As we read, we discover a Peter that is completely changed from the Peter we see in the gospels. So changed that we might wonder, “Who is this man?” Is this the same man who, when the crowd showed up in the garden of Gethsemane to arrest Jesus, pulled out his sword and cut off the ear of one of them?

In Gethsemane Peter wanted to fight because he was certain that if Jesus died, all hope would die with Him. What he discovered, beginning on Easter morning, was that Jesus’ crucifixion had done just the opposite. In the upside down world that began when Jesus emerged victorious from the grave, Peter discovered that hope and peace come not by the sword, but by the cross.

Even as Peter wrote this letter all those years ago, God knew that in 2020 we’d be in the midst of a global pandemic. He knew that people would be anxious and afraid—afraid that they’d get sick and die, afraid that people they loved would get sick and die; afraid that their savings would disappear as the stock market crashes; afraid that they’d have no job when this is all over—afraid that it might never be over. Afraid and anxious.

And so in the midst of it all, we have Easter; we’re reminded of this incredible Easter miracle. Peter begins his letter with the words, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (v 3). This is exactly the way the apostle Paul opened his letter to the Ephesians and his second letter to the Corinthians. It’s likely that these words had become traditional in the church, probably widely used in prayer and praise in church meetings.

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Blessed in the midst of Christian persecution; blessed in the midst of pandemic; blessed in every situation. Blessed because we can be certain that He’s with us. Certain that, no matter what’s happening in the world, Jesus Christ, the great Shepherd of the flock of God, watches over His people. In the fires of trial, we’re promised that our faith will not be destroyed but purified like gold in the furnace.

Peter writes to remind his fellow Christians of the living hope they have in the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. He was an eyewitness. He knows that Jesus rose from the dead; he saw Him ascend into heaven.  And he wants his readers to understand that when we suffer, we’re joined with Jesus who suffered for us—so we can rejoice.

His resurrection gives hope for us not just because He lives, but because, by God’s great mercy, we live. By the resurrection of Christ, God has given life not only to Him, but also to us—He fathers us by the resurrection of His Son. By the resurrection, God makes all things new, beginning with us.

Jesus was carried not only out of the grave, but to His Father’s throne—the great day of the renewal of all things had already begun. We must wait for Jesus’ return for the new birth of the entire universe—but for you and me, and everyone else united to Him in His death and resurrection, that new day has already dawned.

When Peter says that “he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,” he’s stating fact. As believers in Jesus Christ, as those who love Him, our resurrection is assured—has been assured since Jesus rose from the grave on Easter morning. He secured our salvation—didn’t just make it a possibility, a “I really hope that this is what it means” kind of thing.

He made it a fact—an absolute assurance. He entered that new day of which the prophets spoke, and He brought us with Him—Peter is saying that when Christ rose, we rose. In giving life to Christ, God gave life to all those who are united to Christ. Our salvation is not just possible—Christ has made it certain.

We have a certain hope that is anchored in the past: Jesus rose from the dead! We have a hope that continues in the present: because Jesus lives! We have a hope that will be brought to completion in the future: because Jesus will come again.

This is why Peter calls us to rejoicing; he calls us to praise God because our salvation is entirely the work of God. It depends not at all on what’s happening in the world. It’s something we have received despite the fact that not a single one of us deserves it—not even a little bit. And it’s something not a single one of us could ever hope to accomplish.  

We are trophies of God’s grace—and, as such, we have the great privilege of worshiping and adoring the Father of our Lord Jesus as our Father.

We have received “an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for us.” God gave the land to Israel as an inheritance, and in the land He gave every tribe and family an inheritance, with the lasting right of ownership. They wandered in the wilderness for 40 years, but they were sustained during that time by the promise of the coming inheritance.

Like those ancient Israelites, the New Testament people of God are aliens in a world that is becoming ever more hostile. But we’re not wandering beggars; no matter what hardships we face here and now, we hold a certain title to the inheritance that God has promised.

An inheritance that is incredibly and amazingly superior to anything this world has to offer. Our inheritance is not land; it’s not a city or even a new earth. It is the greatest gift God could give: His salvation. An inheritance that is being guarded by God’s power. An inheritance that won’t be revealed until the last day—but God has it ready for us now.

Jesus’ last words on the cross were, “It is finished.” He was speaking not just of His suffering, but also of our inheritance. Nothing needs to be added. The salvation that God has ready for us doesn’t need any final touches from us—not even any suggestions. It is finished, perfect and unchangeable.

But there’s more—our inheritance isn’t simply being kept by God—it actually is the Lord Himself.

In Numbers 18:20, God said to Aaron, “You shall have no inheritance in their land, neither shall you have any portion among them. I am your portion and your inheritance among the people of Israel.” God claims His people as His inheritance and gives Himself as their inheritance. Deuteronomy 32 9 affirms this: “The Lord’s portion is his people.”

Salvation is God’s work. He delivered Israel from Egypt in the Old Testament foreshadowing of salvation. When the newly freed Israelites found themselves at the Red Sea with Pharaoh’s armies rapidly gaining on them, Moses told them to “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will work for you today. The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be silent” (Exodus 14:13-14).

Salvation for the Israelites was about far more than just removing the people from the trials they faced in Egypt. God brought them out to bring them to Himself—to make them His people. And He promised to do an even greater work of salvation in the future—He would deliver His people not only from their enemies, but from their sins.

Peter is preaching the fulfillment of that promise. The salvation that the prophets anticipated is the grace that Christians have now received. And as we wait for it to be fully revealed, we are kept through faith. God keeps us, but not by force—never against our will. He keeps us by our faith—it is His gift. Faith is not something we can manufacture or achieve—it is simply trust in what God has already achieved.

And so, Peter says, life in this world might be hard—but we have something to look forward to—eternity with Jesus. Jesus who, though we have not seen Him, we love Him. Peter had seen Jesus—he could remember. He could see Jesus at the cross, Jesus on the sea, lifting Peter from the water, saying, “You of little faith, why are you afraid?” Jesus on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, asking, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?”

Peter, who, although he had seen Jesus and loved Him, also understood that it wasn’t his physical association with Jesus that joined him to his Savior. He knows that it is by faith and the gift of the Holy Spirit that any one of us can also be joined to Him, not just now but for all eternity.

And through the witness of Peter and the other apostles we learn what Jesus did and said. They bear with through the Holy Spirit, and by that same witness of the Spirit, we too have been brought to know and love the living Lord.

Christ is risen—and the salvation He offers is available to anyone who will believe and love Him. When has this message ever been more desperately needed in our lifetimes?

Peter reminds us that we don’t have to worry.

Eternity is long and life is short.

Go and tell it—and rejoice. Thanks be to God.