The Four Gifts of Easter

Dr. Gary Glanville Sermon #6 April 12, 2020 “The Four Gifts of Easter”

The Four Gifts of Easter

Well, do you believe it?  Today is April 12th, 2020, and Easter has officially arrived.  And with Easter’s arrival, I saw a comment on a church sign that caught my attention by saying “Our churches are empty and so is the tomb.”  And I thought, how true is both.  Because of this coronavirus, Christians have temporarily vacated their church buildings, and because of the resurrection, Jesus vacated the tomb that temporarily held Him.  And even though this is the first time in my life that the church doors are closed on Easter, the real Church, the body of Christ goes on, proclaiming the greatest message of hope the world desperately needs to hear – Jesus is risen and conquered the grave!  Death is a defeated foe and life has won!

For if you will remember, that was the first news the angels proclaimed on that resurrection morning – He is not here!  For He has been resurrected just as He said.  Come and see the place where He lay.  (Matthew 28:6)

And so, my goal today, especially with all that is happening in the world right now, is to share with you the reason why the triumphal news of the resurrection is the greatest hope for people everywhere, in all 195 countries around the globe.  A hope that is more than a hope, but in actuality, an assurance of certainty that we can count on in this life and, in the life to come. 

You know, I was thinking that in the United States, Easter has become this holiday that is often associated with all kinds of colorful gifts; gifts of flowers, gifts of baskets, gifts of chocolates and new spring clothing.  Well, it occurred to me, when it comes to gifts, there are at least four wonderful gifts that God wants to share with all of us that ties in with the resurrection.  And so, I have entitled this year’s message of hope – The Four Gifts of Easter!

And speaking of Easter, I read a quick story about a pastor who was discussing holiday traditions which a classroom of young Sunday schoolers.  He explained how the poinsettia was a plant we traditionally see displayed symbolizing Christmas.  So, he asked his young group what plant do we use to symbolize Easter?  And one young boy shouted back an eggplant. 

And though I can understand in part why that young boy would associate Easter with an egg, a symbol of new life, I don’t think that was exactly what the pastor had in mind. 

Sort of like the person who made a New Year’s resolution to lose 10 pounds by Easter and only had 15 pounds to go.  I don’t think that is exactly what a resolution is all about – do you? 

But hear this good news dear ones.  God’s resolutions always come to pass.  There is no confusion when it comes to the resolve of God to keep His mighty promises.  God’s Word shall always stand tall and binding, because God’s character never changes and therefore, God must always be true to Himself and true to His Word.

And because of that faithful word that shall always stand true, we have been blessed with special promises, special gifts associated with Easter.  And dear friends, it is good news!

The first gift of Easter is forgiveness.

Travel back with me to the days of Joseph and Mary before Jesus was born.  Do you remember what was told to them, the reason for Jesus’ birth?  Matthew 1:21 tells us Jesus came to save us from our sins.  Sin was a barrier between us and a holy God and there was a penalty for that sin that had to be paid to meet the requirements of justice.  But as all of us are smart enough to know, we, on our own, would never be able to meet those requirements, so love had to step in and do it for us.  And that’s why we needed a savior. 

Do remember in the gospels how Jesus went about healing people but always spoke to them about the forgiveness of their sins?  Whether it was a man who was paralyzed lying on a mat or a woman caught in the act of adultery about to be stoned, Jesus offered the gift of forgiveness

Look at the twelve apostles for a moment.  Do you remember after Judas betrayed Jesus and soldiers came to arrest Him at Gethsemane how all of His men ran off to save themselves?  Think about that.  Jesus’ closest companions, His friends who said they would die for Him, left Him alone to deal with an angry mob during His greatest hour of need.  Only later do we find out that John shows up to stand by Mary while Jesus hangs on the cross.

Think about the cross at the crucifixion site, do you remember how Jesus forgives those carrying out the death sentence against Him.   One of the seven statements we have recorded by our Lord while He hangs on the cross dying, says this:  “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:24)

          Do you remember after the resurrection how Jesus forgave Peter after he denied knowing Jesus three times?  If you recall they had a conversation on a beach where Jesus asks Peter three times do you love me?  And Jesus seemed pretty forgiving of Thomas for doubting his colleagues when they told him Jesus was alive. 

One of the greatest apostles who ever lived, who wrote half of the New Testament and planted churches wherever he traveled was the Apostle Paul.  But you will recall before his conversion to Christ and receiving the gift of God’s great forgiveness, he did his best to stamp out Christianity by throwing Christians into prison and torturing them to blaspheme the name of Jesus.

          If our Lord and Savior could forgive all of those people, then wouldn’t it make sense that Jesus is willing to offer us that same forgiveness today?  And the answer is absolutely and it all ties in with Easter.

The second gift of Easter is Jesus giving His life for us.  Though men had done their worst to the Son of God, the Son of God would offer His best.  As Edgar Carlson explains, God in Christ was meeting the world’s evil, sin and guilt, and bearing it in forgiving love.  For it was out of love that Jesus was sent on a mission to save us.  He became the remedy for our sin that was keeping us away from a holy heaven.  He redeemed us, bought us back.  Jesus willingly gave His life in our stead as an acceptable offering to God the Father once for all time.  Jesus was Aslan in the Chronicles of Narnia offering Himself instead of Edmund to the white witch.  And He did all of it out of sacrificial love.

          The date was May 26, 1946, and a young scientist, by the name of Louis Slotin, was repeating an experiment he had performed several times before.  Slotin was trying to determine just how much U-235 was needed to achieve a critical mass for a chain reaction to occur.  In this particular experiment, he would push two hemispheres of uranium together.  Just before the mass would become critical, he would separate the hemispheres with a screwdriver, stopping the reaction.

          However, on that day, just as the material became critical, his screwdriver slipped.  The reaction continued to build.  Suddenly the room was filled with a bluish light.  But instead of running, Slotin quickly separated the two hemispheres with his bare hands which stopped the reaction.  Because of Slotin’s courageous action, the lives of seven other people in the lab were saved.

          His friends in the lab rushed him to the hospital.  Louis told his colleagues on the way to the hospital – “You’ll come through all right, but I, myself, haven’t a chance.”  Nine days later, he died an agonizing death. 

          Louis Slotin could have thought only of himself, but he chose to think of others.  He gave his life so others might live.  And that’s what Jesus did out of love, when He chose to give His life sacrificially for you and me.

          A third gift of Easter tells us that death is not sovereign.  In other words, death does not have the final say.  Where death was once feared and dreaded, Christ now proved that life wins and we never need to fear the curse of death ever again.  For Christ promised those of us who follow Him, His resurrection was a foretaste of our own. We too would rise one day with a resurrected immortal body like that of Jesus.  He was the first, but not the last.  For Jesus promised the believer in Christ we would follow after Him. 

Jesus also promised each disciple committed to Him, a special home that He had prepared in His kingdom, a dwelling place where the disciple’s true citizenship shall remain for all eternity.

Yes, where once there was fear and despair because of death, now we had hope.  As the Apostle Paul reminds us, the sting of death has been neutralized for all time and replaced with a greater hope in our resurrected Lord.  Paul said it this way in 1 Corinthians 15 – But when this perishable (physical body)  will have put on the imperishable (immortal resurrected body), and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, “Death is swallowed up in victory. 55 O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” (vv.54-55)

          And isn’t that what people could use right now all over the world dealing with Covid-19, a greater hope; to know this dreaded disease that has taken so many lives and brought such great grief and uncertainty and economic stress and shattered dreams to so many families – does not have the final say?  For those who trust in Christ, death is but a moment, an incident as we move from life to life.

A little girl whose father had recently died, asked her mother where her father had gone.

          “To be with Jesus,” replied her mother.

          A few days later, the same mother was talking to a friend, “I am so grieved to have lost my husband.”

          The little girl overheard what her mother said, and remembering what she told her a few days prior asked:  “Mother, is a thing lost when you know where it is?”

          “No, of course not dear.”

          “Well, then, how can daddy be lost when he has gone to be with Jesus?”
          Perhaps, this is something we all need to remember when our days seem overburdened, or life has lost its zest, or the grays clouds of depression blow in to cast a fog over our stress-filled minds.  When you miss someone greatly, when you’re feeling all alone and have more questions than answers, perhaps we need to hear–I cannot be lost if I am with Jesus.  For with Jesus there is hope and life. Death does not have the final say.

          The fourth gift of Easter tells us the victory belongs to God.  The resurrection shouts out God wins, not the enemy of our souls. God has the last word.  Good triumphs over evil.  Justice will prevail in the end.  Discrimination and unfairness shall cease.  Life’s inequalities and disappointments will be turned upside down and finally made right.  All the selfish power structures and those motivated by self-interest and greed will be toppled and replaced.

1 Corinthians 2:9 reminds us that all we have endured on this side of heaven shall be made up to us in glory.  Never again will we experience pain, suffering or sorrow.  Never again will we hear about viruses and ventilators.  Never again will we fear the “C” word cancer or dementia or MS.  Never again will heart problems or diabetes or dialysis enter our vocabulary.  Never again will we think about infections, IV lines or intensive care.  It will cease as all things are made new.  And nothing we have ever seen, heard, or imagined, will come close in comparison to what God has prepared for his children.  It will be glorious!

          But the victory is not just about eternity.  The victory from God is also about what God can offer us in the here and now.  As exciting as it will be to see Christ face-to-face and experience all that God has prepared for the Christian believer in the kingdom of heaven, we still have to function and serve and live in the world today. 

          For instance, what do you do when the circumstances of life take you by surprise or you are hit with news that brings you to tears?  How do you cope when a relationship ends, or you’re dismissed from your job, finances are tight, and school is just not clicking for you anymore?  What do you do when the stress of family seems more than you can handle, or the doctor tells you news that you did not want to hear, or a natural disaster destroys in seconds what you built over a lifetime?  How do you deal with the feelings you encounter when going through the motions of life without really living or having a purpose?  What is going to help get you through from point A to point B? 

Or let me ask you, has your faith been crushed lately?  Has something happened to you or to your family and you don’t understand why?  Have you ever been tempted to give up on God or get angry and tell God I’m not praying to You anymore, what good does it do anyways?  Maybe you are going through a period of doubt or questioning everything and you need some reassurance. 

Well dear ones, you are not alone.  All of Jesus’ disciples had doubts, not just Thomas.  You will recall the Gospels tell us when the women came back from the tomb telling everyone Jesus was alive, they couldn’t grasp that concept.  It couldn’t be true.  They wouldn’t believe it.  But then Jesus appeared in their midst and the struggle in their minds to believe was erased and replaced by a glad reassurance. 

          And because our Lord knew they were lost without a Good Shepherd to guide them, Jesus gave them one of the greatest promises they would ever hear to lead them to victory for the rest of their days.  It’s a promise that came after the resurrection.  It’s a promise that all of us can hold on to each and every day of our lives.  Listen to what our Lord told His closest friends and to every believer who would ever come to faith after the resurrection. “… be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”  (Mt.28:20)  In other words, no matter where you go, what you do, whatever happens that you have to face in life, Jesus says, I am with you every step of the way.  And Jesus can make that promise, because He sent the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Christ to be our Helper, our Comforter, our Teacher and Guide through all of life. 

          There is great story that takes place eight days after the resurrection when Jesus is having a frank conversation with Thomas.  (You can find it in John, chapter 20.)  Jesus invites Thomas to feel His nail scarred hands and place his finger in His side where the Roman soldier speared Him.  (I paraphrase.) Thomas, because you’ve physically seen Me and touched Me in the flesh, you now believe I’m alive, risen from the dead?  (Here’s the key.)  Well, blessed are those who believe without seeing.  And dear friends, that’s you and me.  We didn’t have the luxury to see the resurrection first hand, but we are blessed if we believe.  (vv.24-31)

          And so I ask you – do you believe?  Do you know Him?  I did not say do you know about Him?  Do you know Jesus as your personal Savior?  Do you believe you’ve committed your life to Him and asked God to forgive you?  Perhaps today, you would like that certainty on this Easter Sunday that Christ has forgiven you and become your Savior.  If you would, then try this suggested prayer.  I want you to know there are no magical words, because it deals with a matter of the heart and God will know if you are sincere.

          Lord Jesus, I ask You to be my Savior.  I thank You for giving Your life for me on the cross and for paying the penalty of my sin that I could never pay.  I am sorry for all that I have done wrong and I ask You to forgive me and come in to my life and begin a new work in me.  I make a commitment of my will to now follow You – knowing my life will never be the same as You direct my path.  Change me as You see fit.  For I ask this in Your Name.  Amen.