Victory in Jesus!

Easter Sunday

Keith McFarren

April 4, 2021

Matthew 28:1-20

 


 


 


 


     I never cared much for Greek Mythology…stories about the gods and goddesses that the ancient Greeks worshiped…gods like Zeus, Poseidon, Apollo, or goddesses like Aphrodite or strong titans like Atlas.  But I read a story the other day about a guy named Sisyphus that I found interesting and wanted to share with you.  Sisyphus was his own man; he did things his way and didn’t like to follow the rules and regulations the Greek gods mad and because of this he fell out of favor with Zeus, the king of all


gods.  As punishment, Zeus condemned Sisyphus to eternity in the Underworld (kind of like our hell) with one and only one task to accomplish, push a gigantic rock up and over a hill.


     The first time Sisyphus tried to push the rock up the hill, he started at the bottom and with all his might pushed and pushed and got the rock right up to the top of the hill and was ready to push it over, but he found that he didn’t have the strength to do it, and the rock rolled back down the hill to where he started.


     Over and over, time after time, Sisyphus would push the rock to the top of the hill but every time he would get within a foot or two of pushing the rock over the hilltop something would happen, he would get tired or he would slip and the rock would roll back down the hill.  Try as he might it just didn’t work.  And they say, according to Greek mythology, that to this very day, Sisyphus is still trying to push the rock over the hill, always getting close but always failing.


     Now remember, this is not a true story but it is a story that gives us some insight on what it’s like to try to live a Godly life.  It’s a story that shows us that every day, we are faced with physical, mental and emotional exhaustion as we try to overcome and defeat the shame and the guilt and the temptations of the sinful lives that weigh us down.  As Christians, we try and we try to defeat sin…we try and we try to stay clear of the sinful world that surrounds us and walk the straight and narrow path and “we get that close” to doing it, but we always seem to fail.


     That’s what we’ve been talking about these last few weeks – no matter how hard we try we can’t overcome sin.  We try and we try and we come “that close” but we cannot save ourselves.  Regardless of how we define sin we can’t overcome it.  We can’t hide from it, we can’t buy our way out of it, no matter how hard we try we cannot fully cleanse ourselves of it.   


     And like Sisyphus, we get so close to defeating the things that temp us or cause us to feel guilty or cause us to be ashamed, and just as we get ready to do it, just as we get ready to push that big rock over the hill and change our lives…things always fall apart.  We slip us; we lose our strength…we lose our will and our rock tumbles right back down to the bottom of the hill again.  Time and time again it happens and time and time again we say to ourselves, “If only there was a way to overcome that giant bolder.  If only there was a way I could get that rock up over the hill so that I could change my life.” 


 


     The women in Mark’s gospel showed up early on the first day of the week…just as the sun was coming up.  They hadn’t slept all night because they were at the lowest point in their lives; they were filled with grief, yet they had come to the tomb that Jesus was in so that they could anoint his body with spices.  Their friend, the one who had touched all their lives and changed all their lives was dead…crucified, dead, and placed in a tomb.  They weren’t there when it all happened but they had heard the eyewitness accounts of those that were.  They heard about his trial and of his being beaten to a pulp…and they heard the detail of his crucifixion and they hadn’t stopped crying since.  And now, as they approach the tomb, looming before them was a huge stone that had been placed in front of the tomb so that no one could get in and no one could get out…a stone that symbolized their grief and their anguish.  How would they get past the stone?  “Who, they asked, will roll away the stone for us?”


 


     In order to get inside the tomb, to pay their respects to Jesus, to touch him for the last time, they had to find a way to roll the giant boulder that was standing in their way.  A boulder that not only kept them from getting to Jesus, but a boulder that represented the agony, the grief and despair that had taken over their hearts.  A boulder much larger and much heavier than they could even think of moving, a boulder that represented a sense of defeat in their lives.


     So I have to wonder…no, let’s wonder together.  Are there boulders in your life that represent your agony and despair?  Are there boulders in your life that cause you to feel defeated?  Are there stones and boulders in your life that are blocking your pathway to a life filled with peace and joy and happiness?  What giant boulder is waiting for you every morning when you get out of bed?  What is it that’s causing you to feel defeated and unfulfilled even before you start the day? 


 


     Matthew tells us that an angel from the Lord moved the stone that day.  Luke’s story differs in that he tells us that when the women got to the tomb the stone had already been moved.  Either way, we know that it was the power of God that rolled the stone away for the women.  Which leads me to believe and hopefully lead you to believe that God can and God will roll away that gigantic stone in your life as well.  Not just the stone that blocked the entrance to the cave, but the stone that blocks the fulfillment of life.  God has the power to move the stones that humans can’t budge…he did it for the women long ago and he can do it for us today.


     Sisyphus worked and worked and worked trying to get that huge rock up the hill all by himself and he failed and he failed time after time.  But God…God has the power to push the rock up to the top of the hill, and then pick it up and drop-kick it into eternity.  God has the power to move the stones that are keeping us from enjoying life.


 


     We all have stones that stand in our way, some are bigger than others, but there is no greater stone that we face, no greater force that defeats us as human beings, than the cold, harsh reality of death.  Death tops the list of our worries.  When it comes right down to it, everything else in life pales in comparison to the reality and the finality of death.


     But the story we have heard this morning, the story of the stone being moved, the story of the empty tomb, the story of the Resurrection, is a story of victory.  It’s a story of how we are victorious, not through our own actions or because of what we have done, but because of what God has done.  It’s a story of what God has done that we cannot even come close to doing for ourselves. 


     It was the power and the authority of God that prompted Paul to write to the Church in Corinth, “Where, O death, is your victory?  Where, O death, is your sting?  The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.  But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:55-57 NRSV).  Paul tells us in no uncertain terms that God, through Jesus Christ, has defeated death.  Jesus was dead but through the power of God, he rose again…which means that death is not the end.  Death has no sting because death is powerless against humans.


     God has rolled away the stone.  Not for Jesus to get out…but for us to get in and see for ourselves.  The tomb was empty because God has raised Jesus from the dead.  He is alive…and we can live as well because God has removed the sting of death and allowed those who believe in him to triumph over the power of death.  And if God can ultimately defeat death for us, God can defeat anything else that weighs us down as well.


 


     Alister McGrath tells the story of a group of American soldiers being held as prisoners of war by the Japanese in WWII.  Day by day they waited in isolation, often being tortured and abused, often wondering about how the war was going but more so, always worrying about whether or not they would live to see the next day.


     One day, they overheard the Japanese talking about the news they had just received over a short wave radio – the war was over.  The United States and its allies had won.  The war was over but as the captives looked around everything still remained the same.  They were still in captivity and the Japanese were still in charge.  They knew that it would be weeks if not longer before the Allied forces would come to free them.  In all reality, they were still captives and would be until they were set free.


     Nothing had really changed except they knew deep down in their hearts that victory had already been secured…and to the captives, that made all the difference in the world.  Even though they were still prisoners, their outlook on life changed completely.  They began to think of themselves as being free because victory had been declared.  They knew that their freedom had not only been won for them but that their freedom had also been guaranteed to each of them.  It was just a matter of time (Magrey R. deVega, Savior, Nashville, Tennessee; Abindgon Press, 2020, 115).


     The victory had been won and they were guaranteed freedom.  This is the victory we have in Jesus.  This is the power of the Resurrection.  “…you were dead,” Paul writes, “because of the things you had done wrong…[but] God made you alive with Christ and he has forgiven all the [bad[ things that you have ever done.  He destroyed the record of the debt we owed.  He cancelled it by nailing it to the cross” (Colossians 2:13-14, CEB).  Not only did Jesus achieve victory over sin and death, but he also guarantees that like the about to be freed captives of WWII we too, will no longer be held captives.  He guarantees us victory; he guarantees us freedom over all the things, sin and death and all the things that have ever defeated us and held us down in the past.


 


     Matthew takes the Easter story one step further than any of the other Gospel writers.  After seeing that the stone that had been moved and the tomb was empty and trying to figure out if all this was good news or not, the women were in for another surprise…Jesus appeared to them out of nowhere.  To greet them.  To encourage them.  To remind them that he would always be with them. 


     Matthew has Jesus show up because he wants to remind us that no matter where life takes us, to an all time high or to an all time low, Jesus remains a constant in our lives…he is alive through the Holy Spirit and he is always with us.  That’s why Matthew ends his Gospel completely different than the other writers, “I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20b, NLT).


     No matter what you are facing, no matter how sinful your life has become, no matter how close to death you are, Jesus is with you.  The sooner we realize this, the sooner our lives will change for the better.  It will not only affect the way we live, but it will affect the way we die.  Because of what Jesus did for us on the cross and because of what God did for us through the Resurrection, we have been set free. 


 


     They thought they got rid of Jesus.  They crucified him and buried him.  But the God who remained silent through all of this on Good Friday ended up having the last word…or perhaps we should say “having the last laugh.”  Jesus was not dead…he was alive and he is alive today.  And it is through the power of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ that we have been guaranteed victory…victory over the sin that has been holding us down and making our lives miserable…and victory over death itself.  It was through the power of the Resurrection on that Easter morning that we have been guaranteed a new found freedom, a newfound life…life for today and eternal life for tomorrow.


    


    


Victory in Jesus!

Easter Sunday

Keith McFarren

April 4, 2021

Matthew 28:1-20

 


 


 


 


     I never cared much for Greek Mythology…stories about the gods and goddesses that the ancient Greeks worshiped…gods like Zeus, Poseidon, Apollo, or goddesses like Aphrodite or strong titans like Atlas.  But I read a story the other day about a guy named Sisyphus that I found interesting and wanted to share with you.  Sisyphus was his own man; he did things his way and didn’t like to follow the rules and regulations the Greek gods mad and because of this he fell out of favor with Zeus, the king of all


gods.  As punishment, Zeus condemned Sisyphus to eternity in the Underworld (kind of like our hell) with one and only one task to accomplish, push a gigantic rock up and over a hill.


     The first time Sisyphus tried to push the rock up the hill, he started at the bottom and with all his might pushed and pushed and got the rock right up to the top of the hill and was ready to push it over, but he found that he didn’t have the strength to do it, and the rock rolled back down the hill to where he started.


     Over and over, time after time, Sisyphus would push the rock to the top of the hill but every time he would get within a foot or two of pushing the rock over the hilltop something would happen, he would get tired or he would slip and the rock would roll back down the hill.  Try as he might it just didn’t work.  And they say, according to Greek mythology, that to this very day, Sisyphus is still trying to push the rock over the hill, always getting close but always failing.


     Now remember, this is not a true story but it is a story that gives us some insight on what it’s like to try to live a Godly life.  It’s a story that shows us that every day, we are faced with physical, mental and emotional exhaustion as we try to overcome and defeat the shame and the guilt and the temptations of the sinful lives that weigh us down.  As Christians, we try and we try to defeat sin…we try and we try to stay clear of the sinful world that surrounds us and walk the straight and narrow path and “we get that close” to doing it, but we always seem to fail.


     That’s what we’ve been talking about these last few weeks – no matter how hard we try we can’t overcome sin.  We try and we try and we come “that close” but we cannot save ourselves.  Regardless of how we define sin we can’t overcome it.  We can’t hide from it, we can’t buy our way out of it, no matter how hard we try we cannot fully cleanse ourselves of it.   


     And like Sisyphus, we get so close to defeating the things that temp us or cause us to feel guilty or cause us to be ashamed, and just as we get ready to do it, just as we get ready to push that big rock over the hill and change our lives…things always fall apart.  We slip us; we lose our strength…we lose our will and our rock tumbles right back down to the bottom of the hill again.  Time and time again it happens and time and time again we say to ourselves, “If only there was a way to overcome that giant bolder.  If only there was a way I could get that rock up over the hill so that I could change my life.” 


 


     The women in Mark’s gospel showed up early on the first day of the week…just as the sun was coming up.  They hadn’t slept all night because they were at the lowest point in their lives; they were filled with grief, yet they had come to the tomb that Jesus was in so that they could anoint his body with spices.  Their friend, the one who had touched all their lives and changed all their lives was dead…crucified, dead, and placed in a tomb.  They weren’t there when it all happened but they had heard the eyewitness accounts of those that were.  They heard about his trial and of his being beaten to a pulp…and they heard the detail of his crucifixion and they hadn’t stopped crying since.  And now, as they approach the tomb, looming before them was a huge stone that had been placed in front of the tomb so that no one could get in and no one could get out…a stone that symbolized their grief and their anguish.  How would they get past the stone?  “Who, they asked, will roll away the stone for us?”


 


     In order to get inside the tomb, to pay their respects to Jesus, to touch him for the last time, they had to find a way to roll the giant boulder that was standing in their way.  A boulder that not only kept them from getting to Jesus, but a boulder that represented the agony, the grief and despair that had taken over their hearts.  A boulder much larger and much heavier than they could even think of moving, a boulder that represented a sense of defeat in their lives.


     So I have to wonder…no, let’s wonder together.  Are there boulders in your life that represent your agony and despair?  Are there boulders in your life that cause you to feel defeated?  Are there stones and boulders in your life that are blocking your pathway to a life filled with peace and joy and happiness?  What giant boulder is waiting for you every morning when you get out of bed?  What is it that’s causing you to feel defeated and unfulfilled even before you start the day? 


 


     Matthew tells us that an angel from the Lord moved the stone that day.  Luke’s story differs in that he tells us that when the women got to the tomb the stone had already been moved.  Either way, we know that it was the power of God that rolled the stone away for the women.  Which leads me to believe and hopefully lead you to believe that God can and God will roll away that gigantic stone in your life as well.  Not just the stone that blocked the entrance to the cave, but the stone that blocks the fulfillment of life.  God has the power to move the stones that humans can’t budge…he did it for the women long ago and he can do it for us today.


     Sisyphus worked and worked and worked trying to get that huge rock up the hill all by himself and he failed and he failed time after time.  But God…God has the power to push the rock up to the top of the hill, and then pick it up and drop-kick it into eternity.  God has the power to move the stones that are keeping us from enjoying life.


 


     We all have stones that stand in our way, some are bigger than others, but there is no greater stone that we face, no greater force that defeats us as human beings, than the cold, harsh reality of death.  Death tops the list of our worries.  When it comes right down to it, everything else in life pales in comparison to the reality and the finality of death.


     But the story we have heard this morning, the story of the stone being moved, the story of the empty tomb, the story of the Resurrection, is a story of victory.  It’s a story of how we are victorious, not through our own actions or because of what we have done, but because of what God has done.  It’s a story of what God has done that we cannot even come close to doing for ourselves. 


     It was the power and the authority of God that prompted Paul to write to the Church in Corinth, “Where, O death, is your victory?  Where, O death, is your sting?  The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.  But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:55-57 NRSV).  Paul tells us in no uncertain terms that God, through Jesus Christ, has defeated death.  Jesus was dead but through the power of God, he rose again…which means that death is not the end.  Death has no sting because death is powerless against humans.


     God has rolled away the stone.  Not for Jesus to get out…but for us to get in and see for ourselves.  The tomb was empty because God has raised Jesus from the dead.  He is alive…and we can live as well because God has removed the sting of death and allowed those who believe in him to triumph over the power of death.  And if God can ultimately defeat death for us, God can defeat anything else that weighs us down as well.


 


     Alister McGrath tells the story of a group of American soldiers being held as prisoners of war by the Japanese in WWII.  Day by day they waited in isolation, often being tortured and abused, often wondering about how the war was going but more so, always worrying about whether or not they would live to see the next day.


     One day, they overheard the Japanese talking about the news they had just received over a short wave radio – the war was over.  The United States and its allies had won.  The war was over but as the captives looked around everything still remained the same.  They were still in captivity and the Japanese were still in charge.  They knew that it would be weeks if not longer before the Allied forces would come to free them.  In all reality, they were still captives and would be until they were set free.


     Nothing had really changed except they knew deep down in their hearts that victory had already been secured…and to the captives, that made all the difference in the world.  Even though they were still prisoners, their outlook on life changed completely.  They began to think of themselves as being free because victory had been declared.  They knew that their freedom had not only been won for them but that their freedom had also been guaranteed to each of them.  It was just a matter of time (Magrey R. deVega, Savior, Nashville, Tennessee; Abindgon Press, 2020, 115).


     The victory had been won and they were guaranteed freedom.  This is the victory we have in Jesus.  This is the power of the Resurrection.  “…you were dead,” Paul writes, “because of the things you had done wrong…[but] God made you alive with Christ and he has forgiven all the [bad[ things that you have ever done.  He destroyed the record of the debt we owed.  He cancelled it by nailing it to the cross” (Colossians 2:13-14, CEB).  Not only did Jesus achieve victory over sin and death, but he also guarantees that like the about to be freed captives of WWII we too, will no longer be held captives.  He guarantees us victory; he guarantees us freedom over all the things, sin and death and all the things that have ever defeated us and held us down in the past.


 


     Matthew takes the Easter story one step further than any of the other Gospel writers.  After seeing that the stone that had been moved and the tomb was empty and trying to figure out if all this was good news or not, the women were in for another surprise…Jesus appeared to them out of nowhere.  To greet them.  To encourage them.  To remind them that he would always be with them. 


     Matthew has Jesus show up because he wants to remind us that no matter where life takes us, to an all time high or to an all time low, Jesus remains a constant in our lives…he is alive through the Holy Spirit and he is always with us.  That’s why Matthew ends his Gospel completely different than the other writers, “I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20b, NLT).


     No matter what you are facing, no matter how sinful your life has become, no matter how close to death you are, Jesus is with you.  The sooner we realize this, the sooner our lives will change for the better.  It will not only affect the way we live, but it will affect the way we die.  Because of what Jesus did for us on the cross and because of what God did for us through the Resurrection, we have been set free. 


 


     They thought they got rid of Jesus.  They crucified him and buried him.  But the God who remained silent through all of this on Good Friday ended up having the last word…or perhaps we should say “having the last laugh.”  Jesus was not dead…he was alive and he is alive today.  And it is through the power of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ that we have been guaranteed victory…victory over the sin that has been holding us down and making our lives miserable…and victory over death itself.  It was through the power of the Resurrection on that Easter morning that we have been guaranteed a new found freedom, a newfound life…life for today and eternal life for tomorrow.