April 21, 2019 by jmar198013
Live audio and manuscript of my Easter message at Central Church of Christ in Stockton, CA. April 21st, 2019. This is the final message in a series in Matthew’s Gospel, God’s Neighborhood.
If you’d like to listen, a link to the live audio is embedded below.
Four “signposts” to guide our Easter mission
Happy Easter. He is risen!
He is risen. What a beautiful way to conclude our visit with Matthew’s Gospel.
He is risen. That’s the living, beating heart of the gospel. We have a living hope, because Jesus Christ is alive.
He is risen. It’s the pulse that animates and drives God’s Neighborhood. It’s why we worship and serve and do beautiful things for God’s glory and our neighbors’ good. We know that Jesus is alive, and he stands over all things. And because our risen Jesus waits for us at the end of history, we live with the blessed assurance that our work and worship and the beautiful things we do will not be wasted.
Because we know that no good thing will ever be lost in his hands.
He is risen. That’s what gets me out of bed a lot of mornings. And it’s what’s brought us all here today.
He is risen. That’s the good news that inspires us to rise up and go about the holy work Jesus has given us to do until he returns. I like to call it Easter work.
It’s the work the church does because Christ is risen.
Right before he went back to heaven, the risen Jesus told us what this Easter work would look like.
You’ll find it just a few verses after our readings this morning left off. Matthew 28.18-20. The very last verses of Matthew’s Gospel.
These words are usually called the Great Commission. They lay out the mission of the church. What we’re supposed to be doing, and why. Jesus said:
I’ve received all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything that I’ve commanded you. Look, I myself will be with you every day until the end of this present age.
We don’t usually think of this as an Easter passage, do we? We usually think of this as an evangelism text. Go and make disciples and baptize them.
But those words are what the risen Jesus says to his church. It’s the holy work our risen Lord has given us to do until he returns.
The Great Commission has everything to do with Easter. And Easter has everything to do with the mission of the church.
Think of it this way: Because Christ is risen, he has all authority over heaven and earth.
Because he is risen, we must go share this good news with others, and make disciples, teaching them to live by his words.
Because he is risen and alive, he is with us every day. He stands over all of history, with our glorious future in his hands.
Now, today we heard Matthew’s story of the resurrection, from Matthew 28.1-10. And that story gives us four signposts that will guide us as we go about the Easter work of God’s Neighborhood. Easter work is the restoring, renewing, and reconciling work our resurrected Lord has given us. These four signposts point us to that work.
Those four signposts say:
- He isn’t here. That is, Jesus is no longer in the grave.
- He’s been raised from the dead. Jesus is not just a ghost or a spirit in the sky. This is the doctrine of resurrection.
- Now go and tell. Go spread the good news.
- Don’t be afraid. Because the risen Jesus is always with us.
The first signpost of Easter says: He isn’t here.
That’s what the angel of the Lord told those two women named Mary on Easter morning, when they came to Jesus’ tomb.
You can find this signpost in Matt. 25.5-6. The angel told the women: I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He isn’t here.
On that first Easter morning, when the angel said, He isn’t here, he meant, He’s no longer here in this tomb. He’s alive again.
In fact, the angel even gave the Marys directions to where they could find Jesus: He’s already headed toward Galilee to find the rest of his disciples. If you run, you might catch up with him.
The angel told those ladies where Jesus was. But now, He isn’t here, is a signpost in God’s Neighborhood that reminds us where Jesus is now.
Where is he?
Time and time again, the New Testament tells us that Jesus is now sitting at God the Father’s right hand. So that’s where he is.
And the Great Commission tells us what he’s doing there. Matthew 28.18, Jesus says: I’ve received all authority in heaven and on earth.
He is now exalted back to his rightful throne, as the eternal Son of God.
And from his throne at the Father’s right hand, he stands over history. He rules over the entire cosmos.
Right now, Christ exercises power and dominion over the universe. And from his eternal throne, he is making God’s Neighborhood break through and build up and grow throughout the world. Until the day he returns and transforms every neighborhood into God’s Neighborhood.
And one of the main ways Christ expresses his power and authority over the world is through the worship and work of his church. Through all the good and holy and generous and creative things we do to build up and beautify God’s Neighborhood.
In our story today, Matthew told us that when Jesus met the two Marys on the way to Galilee, They came and grabbed his feet and worshipped him, Matthew 28.9.
They fell at his feet and worshiped him because they knew that this risen Jesus is also their living God.
[Slide 8] And so, for us, He isn’t here, means he’s not in the grave. He’s alive. But it also means so much more.
It means he’s not confined by time or space. He has all authority on earth and in heaven. His glory fills all creation, and he stands over all history.
So we join the Marys in falling down at his feet and worshiping him. And we go out, in his power, by his authority, and we proclaim that this risen Jesus is not only our Lord and Savior, but the Lord and Savior of the world.
And we don’t just do it with the words we say. But we proclaim that he is Lord and Savior with all of our lives. In our relationships, in our work, in our neighborhoods. Through all the beautiful and generous and creative and redemptive work we do. For his glory and our neighbors’ good. He’s here, alive and active and reigning, in us and through us.
The second signpost of Matthew’s Easter story says: He’s been raised from the dead.
That’s what the angel told the women that first Easter morning: He isn’t here, because he’s been raised from the dead.
This is the doctrine of resurrection. Bodily resurrection. Jesus was not raised as a ghost. He is not a spirit in the sky.
Let’s listen one more time to the words of Matt. 28.9. It says the women grabbed his feet and worshipped him.
The risen Jesus had feet—real feet—that you could grab.
In Luke’s story of the resurrection, Jesus made it a point to tell his disciples: Look at my hands and my feet. It’s really me! Touch me and see, for a ghost doesn’t have flesh and bones like you see I have.
And then, to prove it to them, he asks for a plate of fish and eats it for breakfast!
In John’s Gospel, Mary Magdalene hugs the risen Jesus tightly. She’s holding onto his body.
The Bible always teaches that resurrection—bodily resurrection—is what God will do for his people at the end of history. We won’t just live on as purely spiritual beings. We will have bodies, just like the resurrected Jesus has a body.
Resurrection is the heart of Easter. And it should also be at the heart of the gospel we proclaim. For a long time we’ve put the cross at the center of our gospel, and we also need to put the resurrection right there with it. Good Friday isn’t all the good news. The gospel is Good Friday and Easter.
And if we don’t have both at the heart of the gospel we proclaim, we’re not preaching the whole gospel. We’re preaching a lopsided gospel.
I’m going to go as far as to say this: The worship and the work of the church is greatly hindered when we don’t have a hearty, robust, full-bodied doctrine of resurrection at the center of everything we do.
Because without that, we don’t have a firm hope. We don’t have a solid hope. We don’t have a living hope.
Here’s what we need to learn from Easter, the hope we need to take from Easter: When we see the resurrected Jesus, we see our future.
We know that because the Bible tells us so. Col. 1.18 says Jesus is firstborn from among the dead. 1 Cor. 15.20 says he’s the first crop of the harvest of those who have died. Phil. 3.20-21 says that when Christ returns, he will transform our humble bodies to be like his glorified, resurrected body. And 1 John 3.2 says that while this is all a bit of a mystery, we can trust that we will be like him.
So when we want to know what our hope looks like, God already showed us. Jesus stayed around for forty days after his resurrection. And we see him walking around and talking to people. We see people hugging him. People touching his hands and feet. We see him eating breakfast, and even cooking breakfast for others.
God does not just plant Easter eggs like that in the Bible for no reason. Jesus hung around for forty days walking and talking and hugging people and sharing meals so that we will know this is what we have to look forward to. An eternal Easter is coming for God’s people when Christ returns.
Timothy Keller spells this all out so clearly and so beautifully in his book Jesus the King. I really what us to hear this, and let this sink in deep. Keller says:
If you can’t dance and you long to dance, in the resurrection you’ll dance perfectly. If you’re lonely, in the resurrection you will have perfect love. If you’re empty, in the resurrection you will be fully satisfied. Ordinary life is what’s going to be redeemed. There is nothing better than ordinary life, except that it’s always going away and falling apart. Ordinary life is food and work and chairs by the fire and hugs and dancing and mountains – this world. God loves it so much that he gave his only Son so we – and the rest of this ordinary world – could be redeemed and made perfect. And that’s what is in store for us.
The second signpost of Easter says Jesus has been raised from the dead.
And what that points us to is our hope and our future. The resurrection of Christ reminds us that God created not only souls, but bodies. And that through Christ, God will redeem both our souls and our bodies, and will renew all creation.
Easter hope is what God proclaims in Rev. 21.5 when he says, Look, I am making all things new.
This is the gospel we must preach and we must live by.
Which brings us to the third signpost of Easter. This signpost points the church to our mission. And it says: Now go and tell.
That’s what the angel told them women that first Easter morning. He’s not here. He’s been raised from the dead. Now go and tell.
That day, those women were supposed to go and tell the other disciples that Jesus was alive again, and they would see him soon.
The Great Commission also tells us to go and tell. Matthew 28.19, Jesus says:
Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Jesus calls us to bring God’s Neighborhood to every neighborhood on earth. And with our words and with our lives, through our worship and through our work, we proclaim the good news that Jesus Christ has been raised from the dead, and has all authority in heaven and on earth.
The mission of the church is to go and call new disciples into God’s Neighborhood. And the message Jesus has given us to preach to these new disciples, and to live out and live by; is essentially what those women told the first disciples on Easter morning: Jesus is alive, and we will see him soon.
And when we see him again, we will join him in the resurrection, and all things will be made new.
And that takes us to the fourth signpost of Easter from Matthew’s story of the resurrection. That signpost says, simply: Don’t be afraid.
The two Marys were actually told twice on Easter morning not to be afraid. First, the angel told them, when they saw the empty tomb. But Jesus also told them that when he sent them to tell the other disciples the good news: Don’t be afraid.
And as we go out into the world and call new disciples and do our Easter work in the world, Jesus’ word to us is the same: Don’t be afraid.
What did those women have to be afraid of on Easter morning? When Jesus sent them to tell the other disciples that Jesus had indeed been raised, and they’d see him soon?
Maybe they were afraid that they’d gone crazy with grief. That seeing Jesus alive was just a hallucination. That they could no longer trust themselves to know what was really real. They could no longer believe their own eyes, or listen to their own hearts.
Or—more likely—they might have been afraid that the other disciples would think they were just crazy, hysterical women. That they wouldn’t believe them. They wouldn’t listen. That their words and their witness wouldn’t have the power to change anything.
I don’t believe our fears are much different from theirs, to tell you the truth. Jesus has called us to be peacemakers in an angry, violent world. He has called us to reconcilers in a broken, divided world. He has called us to serve the poor and needy in a world where everyone is needy somehow. Even us!
It’s so overwhelming, isn’t it—this Easter work?
There will be days we will question if we really do believe it—that a resurrected Jesus is the heart of history, the meaning of history. That he is alive, and we will see him soon. That we will be raised has he has been raised.
There will be days when we will question if our worship, our work, and our words really do matter. In such a violent, broken, needy world, will anyone listen to our Easter good news? Does our Easter work really make a difference?
But Jesus knew all this before he sent us out in the world on his Easter mission. The one who died nailed to the cross knows how scary this world can be. So he tells us: Don’t be afraid.
Here’s why we don’t have to be afraid. It’s in the Great Commission. We already know that all authority has been given to Jesus. In heaven and on earth. We know he’s ruling over all things at the Father’s right hand.
But Jesus isn’t just in heaven, looking down on us from a distance. He’s also with us. Listen to the last words he said to us in Matthew 28.20.
Jesus tells us: Look, I myself will be with you every day until the end of this present age.
That means that Jesus isn’t just over history. He’s also with us in history. As we live and worship and work and witness and pray, in this violent, broken, needy world. He is with us every day.
And he also waits for us at the end of the age—at the end of history. He’s there already, with his arms wide open to welcome us home at last. We’ll see him soon.
And from his throne over our history; as he walks with us in history; and from his welcome table at the end of history, his words reassure us: Look, I am making all things new. I am personally with you every day. Don’t be afraid.
And whenever our hearts despair, and tell us that our worship, our work, and our words don’t matter and don’t change anything, Jesus tells us: Do not be afraid, because your work in the Lord is not in vain.
When we don’t have a robust, full-bodied, Easter hope for resurrection and the renewal of all things, people tell us that all the good, beautiful, generous work we do will all be burned up and destroyed one day. And we believe that nonsense! So we’re afraid to do those good and beautiful things, because they won’t matter in the end.
Any parent who still keeps the clay ducks and ashtrays and macaroni art their kids made in kindergarten knows better, deep in their hearts. You wouldn’t dream of crumpling it all up and tossing it in the fire, would you? Of course not. You treasure those things. I guarantee you that you are not a better parent than God. God’s not going to do that to us, either.
Jesus has all our Easter work—even when it’s a little clumsy—treasured up with him. Nothing good is ever lost in Jesus’ hands. Don’t be afraid.
The risen Jesus stands at the end of history as God’s promise to his people, and to all creation. He will redeem us, body and soul. He will bring about a new heaven and new earth. Where nothing good will ever be lost—only perfected. Made more beautiful and more good.
So we don’t have to be afraid. We don’t ever have to be afraid.
Because he is always with us, and we will always be with him.
Our Easter hope and mission
Jesus is risen! That’s our Easter hope, and that’s our Easter mission. We must remind ourselves, and proclaim to the world, that because Jesus is risen, what has grown old will be renewed. Because Jesus is risen, what is broken will be healed. And because Jesus is risen, dead people don’t stay dead.
God promised us all this—and more than we can ever imagine besides—when Jesus walked out of his tomb on Easter morning. Jesus is risen. He is with us, and goes ahead of us. So don’t be afraid. Let’s go and tell and live out the Easter good news in every neighborhood!