“Christ is risen!” “He is risen indeed!”
For generations, Christians around the world have echoed that faith-filled call and response each Easter Sunday. Today is no exception.
Although we are physically separated, Jesus Christ is still risen, He is still Lord, and He is still with us and for us, whatever comes.
My Dad is 95 ½ years of age—you get to count the halves again when the number gets that high! And he loves to tell the story of how he did his best to care for his Dad when he was elderly and declining in health.
The day eventually came when word came that his Dad was near death. He rushed there as fast as he could, entered the room, and leaned in to call loudly to his heard-of-hearing father, “Dad! Dad, it’s Al!”
To which, with eyes still closed, his father became alert enough to speak his last words: “My pal Al!”
My Dad still cries when he recounts that story, because it speaks so deeply to his love for his Dad, and his Dad’s love for him.
This Easter, as we face the greatest test of faith in our lifetime, I want to remind you from God’s Word that you have a Father in heaven who loves you deeply, and will be with you whatever comes.
Anchoring your soul to that truth in the midst of this storm isn’t wishful thinking. It is firmly grounded in the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.
Jesus was no stranger to disease and death.
Ken Shigematsu points out that Jesus was born at a time when infant mortality was very high. If a child made it past infancy, about half of children didn’t live to see their 20th birthday. That’s the world Jesus where chose to enter into the fullness of what it means to be human. He was no stranger to death.
John chapter 11 recounts events just a few months before Jesus personally experienced death.
Word reaches Jesus that his very close friend Lazarus, is very sick. Lazarus, along with his sisters Martha and Mary, are Jesus’ closest friends. They live in Bethany, a walking-distance suburb of Jerusalem, and so whenever Jesus has had enough of the tension in Jerusalem, theirs is the home he retreats to. They’re like family to him.
But after receiving news that Lazarus is seriously ill, Jesus stays where he is for a couple more days. You’d think that upon hearing the news, Jesus, known for his compassion, would drop everything and rush to Lazarus’ bedside. Wouldn’t you, if there was any way you could?
Yet implied in the text is that Jesus purposefully delays coming, so that people will receive a far greater gift than Lazarus “merely” being healed.
By the time Jesus reaches the home (this is verse 17), Lazarus has died—in fact, his body has been in the tomb for four days already. One of Lazarus’s sisters comes out to meet Jesus, and laments, “If you had been here, my brother would not have died” (11:21). But Jesus hadn’t been there, and Lazarus had died. Jesus was, here too, no stranger to death.
Jesus replies, “Your brother will rise again,” to which Martha responds with faith, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” She’s referring to the day of judgment when every person who has ever lived will be raised from the grave to stand before the living God. She’s referring to a day in the unknown future. She believes that some day, her brother will live and breathe again. But not today.
This is the setting into which Jesus makes the single most compelling of all his claims. John chapter 11:25-26, Jesus says to Martha…
“I am the resurrection and the life.
The one who believes in me will live, even though they die;
and whoever lives by believing in me will never die.”
He asks this grieving sister, “Do you believe this?”
Jesus then advances toward the cave where Lazarus’ body has been washed, rubbed with spices and fine oil, and then wrapped and bound in layer upon layer of linen strips.
Standing before the tomb, verse 33 tells us, “When Jesus saw [Mary, Lazarus’ sister] weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled.” You see, Jesus was no stranger to death: he hated what it does to us.
When we consider the possibility of dying before we’ve lived a long, full life, we’re troubled. So was Jesus.
When we hear of others getting sick and dying, it provokes us. So it did with Jesus. He was no stranger to death—it moved him to do what only he could do.
The people in Martha and Mary’s day thought that during the first three days after death, the soul would kind of hover around the body, but that on the fourth day, even the soul was saying, “I’m gone.” Jesus speaks and acts into that misguided worldview. He steps forward toward the dead man’s tomb, prays briefly, and then calls out in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” And John says, verse 44, “The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face.”
No dramatic screaming or hysteria by Jesus. No secret formula that you have to pay for. He simply speaks, and where there was death, comes life. Jesus was no stranger to death: he’s stronger than it.
Lazarus being raised from the dead was a prelude to Jesus being raised from the dead.
And Jesus being raised from the dead is the prelude to you and me being raised from the dead.
So here’s the key question: “Do you believe this?” The same question Jesus asked Martha, he asks you and me today.
People all around us are terrified of dying.
Fishers has one of the lowest crime rates in our state, with a total of three homicides from 2015-2019. But in the span of one week recently, March 18 and March 24, we’ve seen two murder-suicides. Our state’s mental health help line has gone from an average of one thousand calls a day, to a current average of more than 25,000 calls each day. As Fishers’ mayor said recently, “People are scared and afraid.”
So I’ve been researching examples of how Christians have navigated deep crises in their day, in previous generations. I found several.
There’s the poet John Donne, a devout Christian and a pastor in London in the early 1600s, through three waves of the Black Plague that killed thousands. For months, John Donne thought he, too, was dying of the plague. But the beginning and ending lines of one of his great sonnets reveals the anchor John Donne found in Jesus’ resurrection, and in the resurrection Jesus promises to all who believe him. In the face of death, John Donne wrote this:
Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for, thou art not so,
For, those, whom thou think’st, thou dost overthrow,
Die not, poor death, nor yet canst thou kill me …
One short sleep past, we wake eternally,
And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.
There’s a Christian from 400 years ago who, in the midst of a plague, found hope in Jesus’ resurrection and in Jesus’ promise to raise all who trust Him.
Thomas Brooks says the same, speaking to us from his sermons written in the 1600s. He writes, “Death is another Moses: it delivers believers out of bondage, and from making bricks in Egypt.” He continues…
“Remember this—death does that in a moment, which no graces, no duties, nor any ordinances could do for a man all his lifetime! Death frees a [person] from…diseases, corruptions, temptations … Every prayer then [when we die] shall have its answer; all hungering and thirsting shall be filled and satisfied; every sigh, groan, and tear that has fallen from the saints’ eyes shall then be recompensed. That is not death but life, which joins the dying man to Christ!”
There’s a total shift in how you and I as Christians can think about death. It does for us what we most deeply long for: it brings us to Christ Himself.
There’s also a sermon given the year of the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic which infected a quarter of the world’s population and took the lives of anywhere from 50 to 100 million people.
African-American pastor Fancis Grimke described it as “like an army going into battle, no one knew who would be hit.”
But then in a sermon he gave in November 1918, right after the deadliest month of the pandemic, he wrote:
“At last…the scourge has been stayed, and we are permitted again to resume the public worship of God, and to once again open the schools of our city…Now that the worst is over, I have been thinking…Is it (the pandemic) to come and go and we be no wiser, or better for it?”
“While [the pandemic] lasted, it kept the thought of death and of eternity constantly before the people. As the papers came out, day after day, among the first things that everyone looked for, or asked about, was as to the number of deaths.
And so the thought of death was never allowed to stay very long out of the consciousness of the living. And with the thought of death, the great thought also of eternity, for it is through death that the gates of eternity swing open.
The books are to be opened, and we are to be judged out of the books. During the weeks of this epidemic—in the long list of deaths, in the large number of new-made graves, in the unusual number of funeral processions along our streets, God has been reminding us of this account which we must soon render up.”
The good news is that what Jesus accomplished on Good Friday is what makes all the difference in why we celebrate Easter Sunday.
Because on that cross, God made Jesus, who knew no sin, to take on our sin, and exchange our sinfulness for His righteousness. For everyone who believes, God counts your sin to Jesus’ death, and counts Jesus’ holiness, perfection, and goodness to you.
Jesus died and rose to bring you to peace with God—to have your sins forgiven, and to give you life, spiritual eternal life.
So we hear wise voices speaking to us from their era—Jesus in the 1st century, confirmed by John Donne and Thomas Brooks as they faced plagues in the 17th century, and confirmed again by pastor Fancis Grimke a hundred years ago in the pandemic of his day. All say the same; all speak with one voice, telling us that Jesus was no stranger to death. No, he not only experienced it. He conquered it for all who will trust in Him.
So if the Easter story is true—and the evidence is compelling—if God raised Jesus from the dead that first Easter Sunday morning, then we can also believe Revelation chapter 21’s promise of a new heaven and a new earth which will never be marred by the likes of a pandemic. That’s not wishful thinking; it’s the believer’s sure hope. Always has been. Jesus who was raised, now reigns…and will soon enough return for all who long for his appearing.
In Revelation chapter 21, the apostle John, socially isolated in island exile, finds himself caught up in the Holy Spirit, where he is given a sneak preview of what is to come. John writes,
“I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.’
He who was seated on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new!’…these words are trustworthy and true.”
So for the believer, the resurrection of Jesus changes everything. If the resurrection actually happened, and if God will one day make this earth new, like he made Jesus’ resurrection body new, then that changes everything in the here and now.
If there is a resurrection—not only of our bodies, but of the world itself—then Easter makes a world of difference.
For the Christian, even as we face the same troubles as everyone else, we can walk through these times with hope. Because Jesus is no stranger to death: by His resurrection he has defeated it; He has overcome it, for us.
- No more disease.
- No more fear.
- No more mourning.
- No more death.
That’s what’s coming—because Jesus is coming again. Until then, anchor your soul in Jesus’ promise, the promise given as he stood before a loved one’s tomb. Hear it again, from John chapter 11:
Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die.” Then he asks, “Do you believe this?”
If so, if your answer is yes, then stand on Christ’s promise today, and in the days ahead.
We’re going to end where we began this message. Christians across the ages and around the world, on Easter Sunday declare their faith with the thrice-repeated call and response:
Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed!
I will call the first line, Christ is risen! You reply with the response: He is risen indeed!
I invite you to declare it with conviction. This is life-changing, and death-changing truth for your soul and mine.
Three times, let us declare the good news:
“Christ is risen!”
“He is risen indeed!”
“Christ is risen!”
“He is risen indeed!”
“Christ is risen!”
“He is risen indeed!”
Hallelujah! Pray with me.
Our Father in heaven…we praise you that because of Jesus you are our Father in heaven!
We thank you that you so love the world that you gave your One and Only Son, that whoever believes in Him will not perish, but will have eternal life.
Thank you for the great exchange that took place on the cross, our sins counted to Jesus, and His goodness and righteousness counted to us, to all who believe. We believe!
We believe the promise of Jesus that he is the resurrection and the life.
We believe that those who believe in Him will live, even though we die.
And we believe that whoever lives by believing in Him will never die. Death will be for us merely the entryway to heaven, that which opens the door for us to be ushered into your presence.
We believe that Jesus’ resurrection will for all who believe be like our resurrection.
Until that day, may we be found faith-filled, and may we be found faithful.
Lastly, still praying, if you really aren’t sure where you stand with God, you can make this Easter the day that you receive God’s gift of forgiveness of sin, God’s gift of eternal life. If that’s what you want today, right now pray this prayer with everything in you:
God, I admit my need for you.
There are good things I should have done that I have neglected,
And there are bad things I should have stayed away from that I instead ran after.
I’m sorry for both.
I turn to you now, and ask You to forgive me.
I believe Jesus died and rose for the forgiveness of my sins, too.
So I’m asking you to come into my life, Jesus.
Come in as Savior, and cleanse me of sin.
Come in as Lord, and lead me from this moment on.
And I will serve you, as you give me strength, all the days of my life. Amen.
If you have prayed that prayer, welcome to the family of God! Let us know so that we can encourage you in your new walk with Jesus. On the yChurch website page that you’re on right now, scroll down and you’ll see a section titled, “How can we help you today?” Fill out that form right now, and I will get in touch with you personally within the next 24 hours. You have my word on that.
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Before you go, be sure to play the final worship song below, King of Kings. It begins on a quiet note and then builds to these Easter victory lyrics:
The morning that You rose
All of Heaven held its breath
‘Til that stone was moved for good
For the Lamb had conquered death
And the dead rose from their tombs
And the angels stood in awe
For the souls of all who’d come
To the Father are restored!
Listen to the song King of Kings below. Sing along, and be blessed!