TEXT: "Glad songs of salvation are in the tents of the righteous: 'The right hand of the Lord does valiantly, the right hand of the Lord exalts, the right hand of the Lord does valiantly!' I shall not die, but I shall live, and recount the deeds of the Lord."
It's time for the sermon. It's time for the Easter message. You have come here to celebrate something, and to hear something. You didn't come to church this morning to hear me talk about chocolate bunnies, or jelly beans, or Cadbury creme eggs. You didn't come here to get a recipe for a sweet potato soufflé, or the best way to glaze your Easter ham. And you certainly didn't come here to join in a rousing chorus of "Here Comes Peter Cotton Tail."
It sounds ridiculous to sit here and think about such things, even though that's what Easter means to a lot of people. The commercial trappings, even though they aren't as predominant as they are at Christmas, are still there, and they threaten to divert our attention elsewhere.
And that's what Satan wants us to do. He doesn't want us to focus ourselves upon Christ and his resurrection. He doesn't want us to think about how sin, and death, and hell, and even Satan himself has been defeated.
It was just last week in Bible class that we talked about what Satan likes to do, especially at this time of year. As Holy Week and Easter approach, you will hear various cockamamie stories and theories arise. One year, it was thought that a "Gospel according to James" had been discovered. That quickly died out. One year, someone came out with the theory that Jesus' body had been discovered buried in a lost tomb, and that the women went to the wrong tomb on Easter. And of course there is the on-going heresy that Jesus never physically rose from the dead, but that his spirit was somehow "resurrected" in the hearts of his disciples, which empowered them to carry on whatever they reckoned Jesus ministry was.
There is a load of garbage out there; and if we were to dine on this garbage, then our very souls would be in danger of starvation. This is not the way that our Lord feeds the souls of his children.
We often lament the condition of the world, and I'm right along there in agreement. But just when things seem almost hopeless, something happens that renews hope. And this happened not too long ago for me. I happened to catch a rather lengthy interview with actress Roma Downey and her husband, Mark Burnett. This husband and wife team have basically turned the Hollywood ethic completely upside-down as they have very successfully witnessed their faith on both the silver screen and the small screen. I think their story deserves some pulpit time.
On May 24, 2011 they announced that they were going to produce a ten hour documentary for the History Channel, simply called "The Bible." This had been in the works for a couple years before. Roma and her husband had to line up all of their own financing, which totaled over 22 million dollars. Of course the Hollywood big-wigs never even considered doing something like this.
So what has the outcome been with this? As of March 25, 2013, "The Bible" series has been watched by over 80 million viewers during its first three installments. The show has been the number one downloaded TV show in iTunes, and ranked number two on Amazon dot com's best sellers in movies and TV. "The Bible" was nominated for the 2013 Primetime Emmy Award, Outstanding Miniseries or Movie.
During the interview I watched, Roma talked about a 2 1/2 hour re-cut of the series specifically for theatrical release, which was released on February 28, 2014. Roma said that the focus of this was the life of Christ, given in exacting detail from his incarnation and birth, all the way through his resurrection and ascension. The title of this movie is "Son of God," so given because Roma wanted to be sure there was no mistake that Jesus is the Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity. She wanted people to know that this was no ordinary human being.
The message that Roma Downey wants to convey is the same message we are here to proclaim. The Bible is indeed God's inspired and inerrant Word. Jesus Christ is God's own Son, sent to this earth to be the Saviour of the world. Jesus was born of the Virgin Mary, he was crucified, died, and he was buried.
But the greatest news of all is that he lives! He lives right now, today! He lives amongst us! Death could not claim him. Hell could not hold him. Satan could not defeat him. And because he lives, we know that we too shall live.
The text for my sermon today is the appointed Psalm for this Sunday. We read it responsively at the beginning of our service. And what a message that Psalm brings to us, who are celebrating our Lord's resurrection.
One Bible translation I examined captures the intense emotion of the moment. In verse 15 it says, "Shouts of joy and victory resound in the tents of the righteous." When I read these words, I think of the whooping and celebrating going on in various places after the Huskers have won a football game.
And why all of this hoopla and celebrating? It's because the Lord's right hand has done mighty things! With all his power, the Lord has been victorious!
Verse 17 states, "I will not die but live, and will proclaim what the Lord has done." Now that's something worth celebrating! That's what we, as Christians can proclaim each and every day. The hands of Christ are living hands, extending the grace of God to his people.
Let's look at the source of our shouts of joy and victory. The women go to the garden tomb on that first Easter. The stone has been removed, and the tomb is empty. It is a sorrowful and horrifying sight for these women. There would have been many thoughts going through their minds. Someone has stolen Jesus' body. Someone was in cahoots with the guards on duty, and who knows what was going to happen. Maybe more ridicule or taunting. Maybe they were going to parade it around and mock the crowd saying, "What do you think of your king now?" Jesus' resurrection would have been the last thing on their minds.
It took a while for everything to sink in. But it was all there. We hear the words, "He is risen, just as he said." Jesus is alive, very much alive. He rose from the dead, nail prints and the spear wound and all. He shows his hands and his side; yes, it is really Jesus!
The message is jubilant. We have the sure confidence of the fact that as believers in Christ, we shall not die. Jesus is alive! That's the Easter message! And now we too are alive in him.
Because we have been given new life in Christ, we can now live in the full confidence of God's grace. And in our world today, that is so important. There are many things out there that challenge our confidence as Christians. There are anti-Biblical theories, and worldly philosophies, and everybody seems to be worshiping at the altar of the god of wealth and power. That's one of the reasons I used the example of Roma Downey and her husband Mark Burnett as they stood up for their Christian faith in the face of Hollywood. They wouldn't have had to do what they did. They could have thrown up their hands in frustration, and earned their living just like everybody else in Hollywood.
So yes, many things do challenge our confidence as Christians. I think the words recorded by Peter in his second letter, chapter 1 verses 16-19: "For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, 'This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,' we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain. And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place..."
The hands of Jesus are living hands, and we have the sure testimony of Scripture telling us all about what Jesus has done. Because Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of God, and because he physically rose from the dead, we are guaranteed a life that will never end when we inhabit our heavenly mansion. When Jesus exercised his powerful hand against Satan, death, and all the forces of evil, we know that the victory he won is our victory as well.
This Easter Sunday, we have before us a living Word and grace from the living hands of our Saviour Jesus. This is the same Word we proclaim from this congregation every hour of every day of the year. The Word never changes. Jesus never changes. And God's grace never changes.
In churches all over the world, there will be people in the pews who we sometimes refer to as "C and E Christians." These are the people that you never see in church except on Christmas and Easter. A lot of pastors won't mention this from the pulpit for fear of offending them. I'm not one of those pastors.
There is a challenge here, because these folks don't hear about Jesus, and God's grace, and the gospel on a regular basis. We want to give food for reflection and thought. But most importantly, we want people to know Jesus and to never forget how much he loves us, and what kind of love he has for the C and E Christians.
But the power doesn't come from me. The power comes from the Holy Spirit. The faith a person has is the faith given to them by God. The Bible tells us, "Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God." God's Word proclaims his power over everything, even the sin in our own lives.
Amidst all of the shouts of joy and victory, we come to the realization are still sinful human beings. We have not loved God with our whole heart, and we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We are anything but perfect.
If a person feels that a church should be full of perfect people, then I would like to see where that church is. I have never known there to be a group of Christians like that anywhere.
Christians don't go to church because they're perfect, but because Jesus is perfect. He is the sinless Son of God. He came down from heaven to redeem sinners, and grant them forgiveness. He came to give new life to people who have become weary from Satan's attacks, almost to the point of death. He came to remove our sin.
And he does this through faith alone! He doesn't care who we are, or where we've been, or how we're dressed, or what our past looks like. The term "new life" means exactly that; and as forgiven and restored sinners, his living hands have provided the cure our souls need.
We all lament the way society is going. It seems sometimes that sin is allowed to run rampant with nothing to keep it in check. We see the world going to hell in a hand basket, as everything seems to spiral downward. Churches all over the place are bending over to accept what society thinks is right, replacing what God says is right.
I'm happy to see people like Roma Downey witness her faith as she has. Hollywood has taken notice. And there are other celebrities too; for example, Kirk Cameron has had quite a number of starring roles where he is able to witness his faith and promote Christian values.
As I conclude this Easter Sunday sermon, I can honestly say, apart from the people sitting in the pews in front of me, I don't know who is listening or reading this. Our TV broadcast has the potential to reach viewers in the tens of thousands twice a week. Our Internet broadcast reaches many more. And our Internet website is logging over 40,000 hits every month.
What kind of a message is needed with this diverse of an audience? I think the simplest is about the best. The Lord's right hand has done mighty things. Since death could not hold Jesus, it will not hold us either. We come to Jesus as the sinners we know that we are, and through faith in him we have the forgiveness he offers. Then each of us can exclaim: "I will not die! I will live because he is risen! He is risen indeed! Hallelujah!"