Easter Sunday 2017 Sermon- Not All Ran Away

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Luke 1:1-3 “Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you…”

 

On the night of the Passover, Jesus and his disciples, except for Judas, went together to the hillside garden outside Jerusalem.   Judas came shortly afterward with the Roman soldiers who arrested Jesus. Scriptures tell us all of his disciples fled away and were scared for their lives.

Mark 14:50 “Then everyone deserted him and fled.”

Matt 26:56 “Then all the disciples deserted him and fled.” Abandonment and betrayal are covered at length in the Scripture:

In Matt 26:69-75 we read how Peter denied Jesus three times during his trial and then deserted him.   He wasn’t very brave for a man who vowed never to abandon Jesus (see Matthew 26:35).

Let’s consider the scene and look at the record of the crucifixion.  When we do so, we get another picture…….

If we list all the specific individuals mentioned in the various accounts, reading the combined accounts of Matthew, Mark, and John a better picture emerges of those who were present when Jesus was crucified.  Three accounts say they were at a distance, John says they were close by, even close enough to talk to Jesus….Perhaps they moved closer as the hours passed and as it was clear that the soldiers had no interest in arresting others of Jesus’ family, friends, and followers.  The identified people present at the cross were these:

  1. Mary Magdalene (mentioned by Matthew, Mark, and John)
  2. Mary the mother of James and Joses (mentioned by Matthew and Mark)
  3. The mother of Zebedee’s sons (mentioned by Matthew)
  4. Salome (mentioned by Mark) — Many scholars think that this is likely the same person as the mother of Zebedee’s sons referenced by Matthew
  5. Mary the mother of Jesus (mentioned by John) who may also be Mary the mother of James and Joses, referenced by Matthew and Mark, as James and Joses may well have been two of the four brothers of Jesus mentioned in Mark 6:3.
  6. Mary the wife of Clophas (who was probably Joseph’s brother) (mentioned by John)
  7. An un-named sister of Jesus’ mother (mentioned by John) – who may also be the same person as the wife of Clophas or a sister or half-sister of Jesus’ mother.
  8. The un-named Beloved Disciple (mentioned in John)…..who is believed to be giving a first-hand account by John himself.

We know, too, that a friend, Joseph of Arimethea was present, at least at the end, as he helped remove Jesus’ body to the tomb which he himself offered as a resting place….hurrying to get that task done before sundown on Friday, when the Sabbath would begin.

While in general, it is true that Jesus’ disciples fell away and ran, there were some who didn’t. The women didn’t fall away.  And it is also noteworthy that John, the one believed to be the person described as “the one whom Jesus loved”, was also there.

John 19:26-27 reveals Jesus even speaking to both his mother and John from the cross.

Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26 When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, “Woman, here is your son,” 27 and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home. ” In this tender exchange between the Son, his mother, and his dear friend, just before his death, Jesus is showing great love and care for those around him.  They are present with him, and he is present to them, giving final words of direction for his mother’s care to one whom he trusts.

The day of Jesus’ resurrection, the disciples were still hiding for fear of the Jews, although the women went early on Sunday morning to the tomb to complete the ceremonial burial preparation of the body.  Early that morning Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene and reassured her.  When the women announce to Peter and the other disciples that Jesus had been risen from the dead, neither he nor the others believed them.  Women were not considered credible as witnesses, so some of the disciples ran to the tomb to see for themselves.

Luke 24:11 “But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense.”   When they had seen the empty tomb for themselves, even after so wonderful an event as that, and Mary Magdalene’s report of Jesus’ appearance to her,  John 20  tells us:    “On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.

21 Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” 22 And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”

Then a week later Jesus appeared again for the benefit of Thomas, it seems, who had been absent when he had appeared that Sunday evening.

After these days following the Passover……in which they experienced pain, fear, abandonment, falling away, confusion, then joyful revelations, look what happens a few weeks later:

In Acts 4:31, 33 “After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly…With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus.”

They all of a sudden were not scared for their lives any longer.  They boldly proclaimed the Gospel   They risked imprisonment.  They experienced persecution and ridicule.  They faced certain death for testifying about the risen Saviour.

One characteristic that seems evident after the Resurrection is “Boldness”

“Bold” and “Boldness” are referred to frequently in the Bible, most often in Acts and 2 Corinthians.  The words have 2 meanings and each time they are used the one that is intended can be discerned from the context.

Meaning 1:  Brave, daring, courageous in the face of grave danger.

Meaning 2:  Impudent, forward, arrogantly self confident, audacious, hardened,                   presumptuous, and brazen

In every New Testament use of the word “boldness” in Acts and Corinthians, it is clear that the young church and its apostles are in danger and that the Holy Spirit is empowering them to stand firm in the face of threat.

Some exxamples:

In Acts 4:13- Peter and John are being interrogated by the rulers, elders, Scribes, and all of the high-priestly family.  These inquisitors were well educated and were seeking to trip up the apostles to give reason to bring the governmental authorities against them.

In Acts 4:29 and 31 the reference is to “look upon their threats, and grant to thy servants to speak with boldness”,  again, a clear reference to courage in the face of danger being sought in prayer.

In Ephesians 3:11- the reference is to boldness and confidence (so that the wisdom of God may be known to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places- a clear reference to satan and his followers.  Again, a clear and present danger requiring boldness in response.

In Phil 1:20 Paul is in prison awaiting trial.  He’s expressing desire that he shall have “boldness” – full courage- so that Christ will be honored whether he lives or dies.

1 Tim 3:13- Paul is describing the characteristics of what a deacon of the church is to be, in a place where the church was already being criticized by Hellenized Jews.  Boldness in the leaders is needed to withstand attacks from outside the church.

In Hebrews 10:19 the reference is to boldness to enter the holy of holies, a place that, prior to Christ’s death, was only to be entered by the high priest, a place considered to be so dangerous that a rope was tied around the priest’s ankle so that if God struck him dead while he was in there, his body could be dragged out.

In the 2 Corinthians references, it is important to note that Paul says this is the third time he has found it necessary to write to this congregation of believers.  They have had conflicts, serious difficulties with leadership and challenges to authority.  They had fallen back into pagan and profligate living, even tolerating sexual sin within their fellowship.  He is clearly warning them of danger and making a case for changing their behavior with boldness!

In 1 John 4:17 there is the classic contrast between perfect love and “fear”- again the call is for boldness (full courage) which is appropriate when overcoming fear.

There are several additional references that call us to be bold (courageous) in coming before God, either in intercession for others or for ourselves.

With regard to the second meaning :

Proverbs 21:29 warns us that “The wicked put on a bold face, but the upright give thought to their ways.  “   The context of boldness here is clearly to a hardened, presumptuous, and arrogant demeanor.

In 2 Peter 2: 9-10  we hear this:  “ the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trial, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgment —especially those who indulge their flesh in depraved lust, and who despise authority. Bold and willful, they are not afraid to slander the glorious ones.”  Again, the clear reference is to one who is presumptuous and self-willed, not fearing to speak against men of good character.

A friend who was very outspoken told me that her spiritual gift was “boldness”.   But in searching all scriptural references to “boldness” it is not a spiritual gift. There are a number of gifts of the Spirit enumerated in several scriptures.  “Boldness” is not listed in any lists of spiritual gifts.

Similarly, there are a number of lists in scripture of various evidences of the presence of the Holy Spirit called “fruit of the Spirit.”

In all that I can find about references to boldness in Scripture it is used in circumstances of threat or danger  to Christ’s witness or to His church or as a reflection of one’s confidence before the throne of grace based on faith in Jesus Christ.

Sometimes “boldness” is used to justify one’s behavior…..as we see Peter’s boldness in denying Jesus three times certainly was.    Or it may be to justify other ways one chooses to speak – direct, uncensored, plain spoken, even in calling “sin a sin”, as the word says.  And one may think that boldness is invariably and always a good and desirable thing.   If the use of “boldness” fails to edify others and results in conflict, misunderstandings, and hurt feelings, then it seems it is more likely related to the second meaning rather than the first and is an indictment of one for arrogance, presumptuousness, and defiance.

What was the result of the apostle’s boldness after Jesus’ resurrection?

Eleven of the twelve apostles died a martyr’s death!

Andrew was crucified.

Bartholomew was crucified.

James, brother of Jesus was stoned.

James, son of Alphaeus was crucified.

James, son of Zebedee was killed by the sword.

Matthew was crucified.

Peter was crucified upside down.

Philip was crucified.

Simon was crucified.

Thaddeus was killed by arrows.

Thomas died of a spear thrust.

John, the Beloved disciple who was given the responsibility of caring for Jesus’ mother, Mary, died naturally many years later in exile.

Who in their right mind would speak out boldly and even die for the sake of a story that they didn’t fully believe in?   How can one explain the fact that a group of people would be so willing to defy authorities and die for the sake of such a belief?  Is this insanity?  What compelled these disciples to preach the message of a risen Saviour is the fact that they had witnessed with their own eyes that Jesus had been risen indeed!  Their changed lives provide a solid testimony that Jesus is alive and give them the boldness to speak in Jesus’ name and on behalf of his church!

Peter affirms this in 2 Peter 1:16 “We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.”  Peter had seen the transfiguration on the mountain, where Moses and Elijah appeared with Jesus.  He had seen Jesus arrested, killed, and resurrected.  He was prepared to speak boldly to the truth of what he knew about Jesus.

The apostle John confirms this as well: 1 John 1:1-3 “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched-this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ.”

Luke, although not a direct eyewitness of the risen Saviour, investigated the claims of the Christians carefully. He ended up writing the gospel of Luke and the book of Acts.  He had no doubts either that Jesus was indeed risen!

In Acts 1:1-4  Luke writes, “In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen. After his suffering, he showed himself to these men and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God.”

These disciples were willing to be mocked, persecuted and put to death because they had witnessed firsthand that Jesus had been risen.  They were bold in their witness.

Even in the darkest and most confusing of times when some got tired of waiting for what they thought Jesus should or ought to do….when it looked like the end of all they’d hoped for…….when some feared for the consequences to themselves…..there were some who stayed.  Those are the followers of Christ among whom the future kingdom was being built.

These disciples were willing to be mocked, persecuted and put to death because they had witnessed firsthand that Jesus had been risen.  They were bold in their witness. 

Even in the darkest and most confusing of times when some got tired of waiting for what they thought Jesus should or ought to do….when it looked like the end of all they’d hoped for…….when some feared for the consequences to themselves…..there were some who stayed.  Those are the followers of Christ among whom the future kingdom was being built.    

In each generation, it seems, there are those who attempt to deny and disprove the resurrection of Christ.  In the 18th century, British philosopher Gilbert West set out to disprove the resurrection and in the course of his research and writing, he met Jesus and became a believer, writing from then on extensively as a devoted follower and persuasive evangelist.

In the 19th century, American atheist Robert Ingersoll enjoyed a wide following.  He traveled all over America challenging religious orthodoxy and championing separation of church and state.  He was also a Union veteran of the Civil War battle at Shiloh.  On one train trip he happened upon another Shiloh Union veteran, General Lew Wallace.  They talked all night, with Ingersoll pummeling Wallace for any faith in Christ he professed.  Wallace got off the train rattled and questioning.  He set out to get answers for himself.  He studied theology and while doing so, he was met by Christ and wrote a profoundly impactful post- Civil War novel about vengeance, forgiveness, and the impact of Christ on a man’s life…It was entitled Ben Hur: A Tale of the Christ.  It opened and closed with an interpretation of the life of Christ.  It was a huge financial success and was the best selling novel of its day in America.  It also countered much of the anti-Christian oratory of Robert Ingersoll.

            In the 20th century a journalist turned lawyer, Frank Morrison ,  set out to write a book to demonstrate that the stories of Jesus Christ in the Bible (and in fact the whole Bible) were unreliable and that Christ’s resurrection never happened. However, halfway through his effort, the agnostic author, discovered, after a lot of pain staking research, that his original premise simply wasn’t true.  He met Christ and wrote a book called “Who Moved the Stone” that became a world wide best seller after publication in 1987.

His research and methodology was very impressive.  He applied logic and background information to clearly paint the picture. The main point that Morison makes is the unprecedented rise of Christianity over the first fifty years of its life. He shows how a group of scared fisherman became powerful speakers of an unbelievable message, and people heard and flocked to the message. This, he suggests, could not have happened if Christ had not risen from the dead.   His main unresolved question at the end of the book that remained unanswered is who moved the stone.   His writing was instrumental in the life of another agnostic young man, Lee Stroebel, writing about his own attempt to disprove the resurrection of Christ but who also found the truth of Christ in his effort and who wrote The Case for Christ, published in 1998 and the movie about his journey that is currently in local theaters.

It seems clear to those who have taken the time to investigate the claims of the Bible that Jesus was who he said he was have discovered the truth…that he arose from the dead and empowered his disciples for a mission that has lasted and continues to be renewed in each generation for over 2000 years.  This week I heard someone say that the stone was not moved to let Jesus out…Surely someone who could walk on water or appear in a locked room to his disciples had no need for a stone to be moved.  Instead, the stone was moved so that those who came to see could enter in and witness the truth of Jesus’ resurrection…the burial clothes lying there undisturbed, the question put to them by an angel at the tomb “Why do you look for the living among the dead?  He is not here; he has risen!”  That day and in the next 40 days as they and others encountered the risen Christ many times and numbers of believers grew, their boldness grew.  They no longer ran.  They no longer fell away.

 In some places today the boldness to proclaim and live the truth of the Gospel is absent.  In such places, the Christian church may disappear.  But those who follow Christ out of a personal relationship, having encountered the truth of his resurrection for themselves, their love for Christ and for those whom Christ himself loves will continue to follow him and boldly proclaim the Gospel of his life, death, resurrection, and his presence with us even now.   

The church as we know it in this era may change, as it has changed throughout history.  In some places when the boldness to proclaim and live the truth of the Gospel is absent, the church may even disappear.  But those who follow Christ out of love for Christ and love for those whom Christ himself loved will continue to follow him and boldly proclaim the Gospel.

Jesus loves the faithful…..for sure, like the beloved apostle John and the women at the foot of the cross……but he also proved his love for the faithless, the fickle, the fallen-away, and the forgotten. And he transformed even such people as those into voices that would speak boldly with their voices and with their very lives about his love for all mankind.  Are we fallen away, ashamed and denying Jesus…..are we complacent, and comfortable believing we do not need his salvation and the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives…… are we fearful and quaking, hiding out for fear of Jesus’ judgement or the persecution of others…..or will we be bold and proclaim the truth of those who have witnessed Christ’s transforming work in their lives…..even testify to his great work in our own lives?   His resurrection is real….his continued life through the Holy Spirit in us is real…..is our faith and following of Christ real?

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