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“Easter: Good News for You!”
Mark 16:1-8


Pastor Kevin Vogts
Holy Cross Lutheran Church
Dakota Dunes, South Dakota
Easter Sunday—April 12, 2009

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Which do you want first, the good news, or the bad news?  That’s the question we often ask.

This morning, WE celebrate the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth as the greatest GOOD News.  But, there were some on that first Easter morn who actually considered the resurrection of Jesus to be the worst bad news.

The resurrection of Jesus was bad news for the scared soldiers.  The enemies of this Rabbi Jesus had gone to the Roman governor: “‘Sir,’ they said, ‘we remember that while he was still alive that deceiver said, “After three days I will rise again.”  So give the order for the tomb to be made secure until the third day. Otherwise, his disciples may come and steal the body and tell the people that he has been raised from the dead. This last deception will be worse than the first.’  ‘Take a guard,’ Pilate answered. ‘Go, make the tomb as secure as you know how.’ So they went and made the tomb secure by putting a seal on the stone and posting the guard.”

It should have been routine, easy duty.  The “prisoner” they were guarding was already dead, after all.  Not too likely to escape!  But, then, on Easter morn, “There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it.  His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow.  The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men.”

What they experienced that morning was astonishing.  Would the governor believe such a story?  How would they explain that the body they were guarding was gone?

His enemies hatched a plan: “They gave the soldiers a large sum of money, telling them, ‘You are to say, “His disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep.” If this report gets to the governor, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.’” 

This was a big risk for the soldiers.  Discipline in the Roman army was strict and unforgiving, and the punishment for falling asleep on guard duty was death.  What would happen when this false story of them sleeping got to the governor?

The resurrection of Jesus was also bad news for the gutless governor, Pontius Pilate.  He knew Jesus was innocent, but he gave in to the angry mob stirred up by Jesus’ enemies, shouting, “Crucify, crucify!” 

He gave in because this rabbi’s enemies were inciting a riot among the huge Passover crowd.  There was a riot at last year’s Passover, which had got Pilate into big trouble with Rome, and he couldn’t have another riot at Passover again this year.  And, so, against his better judgment, against all the principles of Roman justice, to save himself and his position, the gutless governor gave in to their demand, and condemned an innocent man to death. 

That was a serious malfeasance of office for a Roman governor, and if this miscarriage of justice got back to Rome, he would be sacked.  On Good Friday afternoon when he ordered the tomb to be sealed, Pilate hoped this incident was all behind him, and would soon be forgotten.  But, now, this!  A fantastic claim by his followers that this rabbi has risen from the dead!

The resurrection of Jesus was especially bad news for the phony priests and Pharisees. To them, religion was mostly a business, which made them rich and powerful.  They pretended to be waiting for the great hope of their people, the promised Messiah sent from God.  But, really, a Messiah didn’t fit into their business plan right now.  For, a Messiah would mean an end to the temple worship from which they skimmed a lucrative income.  And a Messiah could inspire the people to rebellion against Rome, which would also bring down the phony priests and Pharisees from their positions of power.

The common people still thought this Rabbi Jesus was the promised Messiah.  But, one thing would prove beyond a doubt he was not.  The Old Testament Scriptures prophesied that the Messiah would rise from the dead on the third day.  If only this Jesus would just stay dead and buried, the incident would be over, and Jesus of Nazareth would be forgotten.

Which do you want first, the good news, or the bad news?  The scared soldiers, the gutless governor, and the phony priests and Pharisees actually considered the resurrection of Jesus bad news.  But, for others on that first Easter morn, and for you, also, on this Easter morn, his resurrection is the greatest Good News.

Three years before, the dejected disciples had left everything to follow Jesus.  For three years they listened to his marvelous teachings, witnessed his wonderful miracles. One of them, John, put it this way in his Gospel: “We beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.”

“Who do you say that I am?” Jesus had asked them recently.  Peter replied for all the disciples, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”  But, now, he was dead, and all the hopes and dreams of the dejected disciples had died with him—or so they thought! 

The Gospels tell us that the weeping women had followed Jesus from Galilee and cared for his needs.  When everyone else deserted him and fled, the Gospels report these faithful women were there, at the cross, watching from a distance as their beloved Jesus was crucified, dead, and buried.  “Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb . . .  so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body.”

His mournful mother Mary was also there at the cross.  Some 33 years ago, the angel had told her, “You will conceive and give birth to a Son, and you are to give him the name Jesus.  He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High.”  When he was taken as a baby to the temple, the prophet Simeon had ominously predicted, “This Child is destined to cause the fall and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against . . .  and a sword will pierce your own soul also.”  His mournful mother Mary felt that sword pierce her soul on Good Friday, as she watched her Son die in agony.

Which do you want first, the good news, or the bad news?  The resurrection of Jesus was the greatest Good News that first Easter morn, for the dejected disciples, the weeping women, and his mournful mother Mary.  “You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. . . .  He is not here!  He is risen!”  Their dearest friend, their beloved rabbi, their precious Jesus, the Lord they loved, lives again! 

And, nearly 2,000 years later, on this Easter morn, the resurrection of Jesus is still the greatest Good News, for YOU.  Paul puts it this way in 1st Corinthians: “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. . .  But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first to rise of those who have fallen asleep. . .  Thanks be to God!  He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Which do you want first, the good news, or the bad news?  The bad news is, we are sinners, deserving of punishment.  But, scripture tell us the glorious Good News we celebrate at Easter:

“Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God”;

“He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours, but also for the sins of the whole world”;

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.  For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him”;

“Everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”

The resurrection of Jesus is the greatest Good News for YOU.  Because, by his suffering and death on the cross, he endured the punishment and paid the penalty for your sins.  His resurrection means that you are completely forgiven by God.

“I am the resurrection and the life,” Jesus promises. “Whoever believes in me, even though he dies, yet shall he live.”  “For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.”

The resurrection of Jesus is the greatest Good News for YOU.  Because he lives you also will rise from the dead to eternal life.

Paul says in 1st Thessalonians, "We would not have you be ignorant, brothers, about those who fall asleep . . .  We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. . .  and so shall we be forever with the Lord.  Therefore comfort one another with these words."

The resurrection of Jesus is the greatest Good News for YOU. For, Easter means that your departed loved ones who trusted in Jesus are asleep in Jesus, and you will be reunited with them, “and so we shall be forever with the Lord.”

Easter is Good News for you, because Easter means that your sins are all forgiven, you are justified, reconciled to God, at peace with him through his Son.

Easter is Good News for you, because Easter means that even though you die you shall live forever.

Easter is Good News for you, because Easter means that you will have a wonderful reunion with your faithful loved ones in heaven.

“Easter: Good News for You!”

Amen.

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