Jesus the Risen One

Scripture:  Matthew 28:1-10

Despite my best efforts, neither one of my children really like super heroes.  Which in the end is fine-they can like what they like, but there is one exception.   For whatever reason, for several months while in pre-school my youngest child loved Batman.  I am not sure why the caped crusader captured her imagination, but it is impressive considering that the super hero is 84 year old.  One of the unique things about Batman is that there are multiple ways the hero has been portrayed and been given different spins throughout the 84 years.  Often these portrayals of Batman are almost appear as different characters.  For instance Adam West’ 1960’s Batman who carries Bat-Shark repellent is worlds different from the gravely-voiced, intense Batman portrayed by Christian Bale in the Dark knight movies  One of the keys to Batman’s popularity is that he has been reinvented so many times.  Even though all of these different portrayals of Batman emphasize different aspects of the character, they all share similarities.   It does not matter if Batman is a grim and gritty detective or made of Legos, Batman’s origin story is always the same.   What led him to be Batman is the tragic murder of his parents, his desire for justice so it never happens again, the choosing of a bat has symbol to strike fear into criminals,  and the fact that his only superpower is an intense force of will to make himself the best in the world to accomplish his objective.    No matter how the hero is reimaged for a new generation, those elements of what makes Batman, Batman never change.   A deep and compelling origin story that resonates deeply with the fans has allowed Batman to span the generations and stay continually relevant.

Over the years different aspects of Batman have been emphasized.   In the same way, different theologians and biblical scholars have put a greater emphasis on different aspect of Jesus.   Throughout lent we have focused on some of these various aspects.   We have looked at how Jesus could be experienced as a healer, understood as a savior, related to as a rebel, and defined as the Suffering servant.  Over time, some Christian thinkers and writers have emphasized the humanity with Jesus.   They find a point of connection that on Good Friday Jesus suffered and felt pain the way any other person would.   There is relational power in the fact that Jesus knows our pain and died our kind of death.  One the other side there have been other Christian thinkers and writers who have emphasized the divinity of Jesus.  They find a messiah to worship in the King of kings and the lord of lords sitting at the right hand of the Father in all glory.   There are a lot of different ways to understand and relate to Jesus.  However, just like Batman’s origin is what defines every iteration of him there is an aspect of Jesus that defines every understanding of who he is.  There is one element that is necessary to make Jesus be Jesus.  It is what we are here to celebrate today, it is the fact that Jesus is risen.

If asked to define Christianity in just three words, I think most disciples today would say “Jesus loves you.”   However, if we were to ask the original twelve disciples or if we were to ask the first generation of Christians, their response would be “Jesus is risen.”   In the gospels, it is the resurrection, not the crucifixion that is the climax of the stories.    Since the beginning of Christianity, we have gathered to worship on Sunday because it was on the first day of the week that the resurrection occurred.   In the book of Acts and in Paul’s letters when the apostles seek to make a case that Jesus is the messiah, there first point of evidence is always the resurrection.   Paul even put forth that the resurrection is the basis and most core belief of the Christian faith.  In Romans 10:9 he wrote, “If you declare with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”

The early church saw the resurrection as vital and central to understanding Jesus.  The question is why?  In the gospels, Jesus raises both the daughter of Jarius and Lazarus from the dead.  In the book of Acts both Peter and Paul raise someone from the dead.   None of those people are elevated to the Messianic proportions.    It is not just the fact that Jesus rose from the dead that makes him special.  There is more to it, and that more is found in this morning’s scripture.  In verse 6 the angel tells the women, “He is not here, he is risen just as he said.”  It is not just that Jesus rose from the dead, it is that he said he was going to do this.   The fact that he did this amazing, unbelievable thing after he called it was proof to the early church.   Theologian Stanley Grenz wrote, “The New Testament indicates that the early believers viewed the resurrection as God’s confirmation of Jesus’ understanding of himself and his mission. . . as a consequence Jesus’ resurrection stands as the sign of his divine identity.”    In the gospels Jesus never shied away from his divine purposes and he did not hide who he is:  The messiah that was sent to reconcile the world back to God.    For the early church though, for those who lived when Jesus lived, the resurrection and the empty tomb confirmed that what Jesus said was absolute truth.

Jesus is the risen one.   It is one of the most central tenants of the Christian faith.  For us, John Wesley enshrined it as such in the articles of religion that define the core beliefs of the Methodist movement.  In article three he wrote, “Christ did truly rise again from the dead.”   Even though it is such a core belief, or perhaps it is such a core belief, it is one that skeptics have sought to discount.  In fact this goes all the way back to the beginning.  We stopped reading in Matthew at verse 10.  If we had continued through verse 15, then we would have read about how the Jewish leaders paid the guards to spread the rumor that the disciples stole the body.   Even today, it is not uncommon to find cynics and skeptics who claim that since there is no forensic or non-biased proof of the resurrection, it is likely something that the disciples made up.   Another common claim is referred to as the “swoon theory”, which holds that Jesus was not truly dead on the cross but that he simply appeared dead.

Both of these skeptical viewpoints are flawed.  For instance, the historical tradition is quite strong that every one of Jesus’ original disciples died for their faith in Jesus as messiah.  If Christianity was a lie they made up when they stole the body, why would they die for a lie.  Surely if facing certain death or telling the truth and being spared one of them would have caved.   The swoon theory also is problematic, because it assumes a very biased view that the ancient people were not sophisticated enough to know the difference between alive and dead.  The biblical account, the long standing tradition of the church, a reasoned inquiry, and the collective experiences of the saints throughout the centuries confirm that the resurrection is the truth.  Jesus is the risen one.

Jesus is the risen one.   This is an eternal truth that is held at the heart of the church.   Many of the different ways Jesus has been emphasized by various writers and thinkers were done so in an attempt to keep Jesus relevant.   This is the same reason Batman has had so many iterations.  Batman is continually reinvented to be relevant to each new generation.  However, it is flawed to attempt to do this with Jesus, because Jesus never stopped being relevant. Jesus does not need to be reinvented, because Jesus was resurrected. The reason why the resurrection of Jesus was miraculous and needed when it happened is the same reason why it is so miraculous and why we need it today.  Jesus is just as relevant to our everyday life as he was eighty four years ago or two thousand years ago.   Across the span of time and culture our need for a savior, our need for forgiveness, and our need to know the grave no long has a sting does not change.

Jesus was just as relevant in 1971.  This is the year that Bill and Gloria Gaither wrote a song that expresses why the resurrection of Jesus maintains relevance year to eyar.  They wrote Because He Lives, I can face tomorrow.”  We can face tomorrow, because just as the early church believed, the resurrection of Jesus proves that all he said is true.  We can claim the promise that God knows our needs, that God hears our prayers, and best of all God is with us.  We can face tomorrow because we know that come what may, we know the way, the truth, and the life.  We know that because he lives, we can take Jesus at his word:  truly he is with us “until the very end of the age.”

The Gaithers conclude the chorus with “because I know he holds the future, and life is worth the living just because he lives.”  The resurrection is more than just a historical event and a fixed point in time.  Jesus rose form the dead, and life won over death forever.  In our traditional communion liturgy we proclaim the mystery of faith:  Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.  We have a hope that cannot be quelled by the forces of this world because Jesus is risen.  We have a joy that cannot be diminished by the grimness of reality because we know that Jesus holds the future, and one day he will return in final victory.  We believe this is true, because Jesus is not in the tomb.  The grave is empty and Jesus sits at the right hand of God the Father.  I cannot speak for you, but for me knowing that I serve the risen Savior, who has conquered death, who has reunited me with my creator, who suffered on my behalf, and who entrust us to work on his behalf to make the world a more kind and loving place are truths that absolutely make life worth the living.  No matter what is happening in my life, I know that he lives, that Jesus Christ is the risen one, and that makes life worth the living.

There are a lot of ways to define Jesus.   There are a lot of different facets of Jesus that we can relate to.  Over the years various writers and thinkers have often emphasized one of these facets more than the others in an attempt to keep Jesus relevant to a modern generations. One of the reasons why Jesus is superior to Batman is because Jesus does not need to be reinvented.   As Hebrews 13:8 states Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever.  Jesus still meets the greatest needs in the hearts and souls of all people.  He does this because he is the risen savior.     It is because he is risen that he is the messiah, that he is the savior of the world, and that he has enough authority to be the Lord of our lives.  As the women did at the end of this morning’s scripture, may we fall at his feet and worship him.  May we worship him because his risen. Up from the grave he arose.  He arose! He arose! Hallelujah! Christ arose!


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