Easter Sunrise Service
When the two women headed out, just after sunrise on that first Easter Sunday, we need to remember that they went without knowing “the rest of the story.” We have the advantage of knowing that Jesus died and rose again. But if we want to acquaint ourselves with their experience we must erase from our minds the resurrection--for them it hasn’t become their reality. They were returning to a scene of dashed hopes, a place of crushing grief. Things are not always what they appear to be. It is a sign of the authenticity of the scriptures that the first recorded witnesses were two sisters--women were not counted as reliable witnesses in the Jewish culture. If you wanted to convince a Jewish audience about anything, you wouldn’t start with the witness of two women--even the disciples did not believe their report. Luke 24:10 Now they were Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James; also the other women with them were telling these things to the apostles. Luke 24:11 And these words appeared to them as nonsense, and they would not believe them. So, Luke records, Peter arose and went to check things out. The women did not tell anybody but the apostles about what they had seen and experienced because they were afraid--afraid of the significance of Jesus’ resurrection in a hostile situation. The soldiers knew what had happened and they were bribed to lie about it. John tells us that Peter and John raced to the tomb, John arrived first, observed the linen clothes lying folded to the side but did not go in. Peter did enter the tomb and discovered that it was empty. Then John entered and believed. John 20:9 For as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that He must rise again from the dead.
John 20:10 So the disciples went away again to their own homes.
So, even in the face of clear evidence, the disciples were clueless. But it makes sense because their devastation was so extreme--they had seen all manner of evil unleashed against their Master. They saw that He had been cruelly abused, insulted and reviled. They had watched Him die so alone, so abandoned and so powerless. However, that is how it is when God is about to demonstrate His power! Even in our lives, our weakness is God’s opportunity. God’s vindication comes in the face of human condemnation and suffering. We think we’re losing when God is winning. I want to cite three biblical examples. First, there is Joseph. He was envied and despised by his brothers. They stripped him of his wonderful coat and cast him into a well to die. Of course, he didn’t die. He was fished out and sold into slavery at the instigation of Judah. He ended up at Potiphar’s house only to get into trouble for resisting the advances of Potiphar’s wife. He ends up in prison. And it is only at the end of a long period of travail that, as a result of correctly interpreting Pharaoh’s dreams (with God’s help) that he rises to power, and to the fulfillment of the dreams that God had shown him so many years before. The way up was ironically the way down. God apparently arranges for his servants to have a “time out,” a season, sometimes long and sometimes short. Well, the day arrives when Joseph’s brothers appear before him in search of food--and Joseph is able to forgive them because he is not in bondage to their envy, cruelty and spite. What a wonderful life was refined in the fires of monstrous unfairness.
The second example is that of Moses. His time out consisted of forty years in the Midian deserts tending sheep. He began life as such a child of promise. He had all the advantages of life: raised as a son by a princess, educated and trained in the martial arts. But, unfortunately, this cultivated in him a danger send of self-sufficiency. He murdered an Egyptian slave driver. And for this act of righteous indignation he went into the wilderness for a long, long time out. He no longer saw himself as self-sufficient. And most of those who had known him then were now deceased. Moses became the greatest leader the Israelites had ever known, right up until the time of King David.
My third example is that of Jeremiah, the prophet whose messages earned him the hostility of the religious leadership, including other prophets. For declaring the word of the Lord, he also was heaved into a well. He stood in the muck up to his waist--not for some evil he had done but because of the message he preached. Jer 38:6 Then they took Jeremiah and cast him into the cistern of Malchijah the king's son, which was in the court of the guardhouse; and they let Jeremiah down with ropes. Now in the cistern there was no water but only mud, and Jeremiah sank into the mud. But the king knew him to be a true prophet and sent to have him rescued and put in protective custody--even the enemies of Israel treated Jeremiah with respect. His time out was relatively short-- perhaps it was about the same time as Jesus’ time out in the tomb, a few short days.
So, here’s the point. Yes, Easter morning is about the reality of life after death. It is also about the promise of resurrection which comes to each and every believer--an experience of glorification when our souls which have been with the Lord in paradise from the time our decease, are given new bodies, bodies fit for the fullness of the times and for eternity. That’s the promise of scripture, bodies incorruptible. But, and this is the message I have for you, Easter is also about our present existence. Joseph, Moses and Jeremiah all testify to the reality of God in our present life:
God is always at work--whether we see it or not, whether we understand or appreciate it, He is in the land, on the move--everything is unfolding according to His perfect plan, the plan that includes everything.
God is always coming to our aid, working for us--no matter what our difficult circumstances say! We shall, in His time, see deliverance. No, that does not mean everything is happy, that we won’t suffer. It does mean that we won’t suffer pointlessly, that what we are going through is part of a redemptive story, the story of our pilgrimage, our progress, our gradual perfect. The proof of our promised perfection lies in the reality of our growth, in our experience of shortcomings. When we know ourselves to be imperfect now, we are ready to be rendered perfect in the Day of the Lord. God is not hampered by our circumstances, and we, if our eyes are on Him, will not be hampered either. God is good and His goodness is overcoming the world.