In His Steps: Powerful Steps from the Tomb – Rev. Alex Moir – Sermon – 4 April 2021

WELCOME

Good morning First Baptist. We welcome you to worship this morning. Be sure to remember your brothers and sisters in Christ throughout the week as you pray for them, and as the Holy Spirit brings their faces to your mind. Be sure to also connect with them in the ways that are possible. And if you have any questions or would like to talk to someone, please don’t hesitate to contact the church through the church telephone and leave a message. (519-733-4144)

Call to Worship

“The stone which the builders rejected has become the main corner-stone.  This is the Lord’s doing … and it is wonderful in our eyes.” 

— Mark 12:11

Prayer

Gracious Father as we celebrate this greatest of all things, we do so knowing full well the desperate situation that had developed just a few days before.  It has taught us to trust “the Lord’s doing” in all things and not ourselves.  How we praise You for this mighty act of grace … in the name of the One who gave His life and was risen.  Amen.  

Song

Today's Message: In His Steps: Powerful Steps from the Tomb

Scripture Reading: Matthew 28:1-10

1 After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb.

2 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. 3 His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. 4 The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men.

5 The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. 6 He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. 7 Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.”

8 So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. 9 Suddenly Jesus met them. “Greetings,” he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him. 10 Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”

Today we conclude the journey which we’ve taken over these past four weeks, tracing Jesus’ steps toward the conclusion of his ministry … from angry steps through the Temple to dangerous steps to Gethsemane, where there was no turning back; from the painful steps to the cross, where He endured physical and emotional pain to today, where we will see Him take such powerful steps from the tomb, steps that have changed human history and individual lives.  It is worth our time to explore the power that characterized those steps …

A Rolled Back Stone – We read early in the passage, “for an angel of the Lord … rolled back the stone (v. 2).”  We would draw the wrong conclusion if we assumed that the angel rolled back the stone for Jesus, for He is already gone.  It leads us to think that maybe the stone was removed for those early visitors on that first Easter morning … and for you and me as well.

Our Father knows only too well, how we have tried to do the “heavy lifting” in our attempt to find Him … and we aren’t the only ones!  Some pretty famous Christian leaders have been guilty of trying too hard when it comes to gaining access to the Father.  Martin Luther famously crawled up stone steps on bleeding knees in a penitential attempt to be worthy of God … only to discover from a simple reading of Paul’s letter to the Romans that “the just shall live by faith (1:17).”  John Wesley, having accepted a call to leave his home in England to become a missionary to North America, confessed to remarking these famous words to himself during the voyage to Georgia … “I have been sent to convert the heathen … but who will convert me?”  It was only months later, in a small meeting he didn’t really want to attend, that he felt his heart “strangely moved.”  And finally, Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s words remind us that conversion is God’s work, not ours;

“I had often preached, I had seen a lot of the church;
I had talked and written about it;
but I had not yet become a Christian.”

Surely the impediment that had to be removed for these women had more to do with the shock and grief they had experienced at Jesus’ passing than with the actual access to his tomb.  They had gone expecting a dead body, only to discover that He was alive, as He said he would be.  What “stone” stands in the way for you this morning, as you try to enter into a deeper walk with the Father?

“Do not be afraid,”(v. 5) – No doubt the presence of an angelic being at Jesus’ tomb must have given Mary Magdalene and Mary quite a fright, and it is quite possible that these words from the angel were meant to help with this.  But I wonder if some deeper meaning is possible here.  These women were quite aware of all that had happened during the past week.  Public crucifixions must have caused significant trauma in the communities where they were staged, and this one would have affected the followers of Jesus as well.  Yet, there they were … having witnessed Jesus’ terrible death, only to find out that his tomb was empty.  Hear the words of the angel again …

I know you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified.
He is not here; he has risen, just as he said.
(v. 5-6)

In spite of their shocked and frightened state, would there not be a ray of hope in the hearts of these two followers due to this astounding development?  If, after the last few days of chaos and violence, this is the result then what might happen next?  Perhaps this encounter raises a hope beyond hope, that maybe the Father was in this horrid event after all, a hope that the Psalmist wrote about many centuries before …

But you, O God, are my King from of old;
you bring salvation from the midst of the earth.

— Psalm 74:12

From this we may gather that the Father’s central role (i.e. from the midst of the earth) is to bring salvation.  The resurrection of Jesus’ proves that nothing can stand in the way of his wonderful, redemptive purpose … not even the tragedies or personal blunders in our own lives.  No matter what may be happening in our lives the Father’s core role is to bring salvation … and He will not be deterred from this!

“Suddenly Jesus met them.” (v. 9) – As the two women prepared to run from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, Jesus intercepts their route.  His greeting, which we may translate Hail, is directed to Mary Magdalene and Mary and to them alone.  No other human beings, specifically no men, are present.  We must not miss the significance of this.  We can certainly trust the history presented here, because the episode would not have been reported if it wasn’t true.  In Matthew’s gospel these two women are the first witnesses to Jesus’ resurrection … yet, their testimony would not have been trusted, due to the legal customs of the day.  It reminds us that our founder welcomed men and women into his presence, thereby encouraging His church to do the same.  Paul reinforces this principle in his letter to the Galatians …

You are all sons and daughters of God
through faith in Christ Jesus,
for all of you who were baptized into Christ
have been justified by faith.
There is neither Jew nor Greek,
slave nor free, male nor female,
for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

— Galatians 3:26-28

True, the church has not always been faithful to our Lord’s teaching and example in this area, as in many others.  But it is instructive, and inspirational, to know that our founder was ahead of his time in modeling a community of equality for his early followers.

“Go and tell my brothers …” (v, 10a) – After all that has happened through the arrest and crucifixion of Jesus, it is at least mildly surprising that He indicates a desire to connect with them and that He addresses them in this affectionate way.  Jesus’ comments may be a helpful reminder to us about the nature of discipleship … and that disciples don’t come ready made!  A popular training program of another era in the Christian church used to issue buttons at the end of their seminars with the letters PBPGIFWMY … standing for the following statement;

“Please be patient … God isn’t finished with me yet!”

The hard work was just beginning for the disciples of Jesus.  Perhaps they had made it through the apprenticeship stage … but it was now “application” time, where they would apply what they had learned and the teaching of Jesus to the new reality of this movement called “The Way.”  He had no intention of replacing them, no matter how they may have failed Him during His trial and crucifixion.  So, it is with us … the Father’s wonderful grace is of such a nature that He invites us into a life of “follower-ship” that will always have its ups and downs.  Our greatest challenge may be to truly believe that the Father has forgiven us, assigning us a lifetime of service.

“Meet me in Galilee …” (v. 10b) – Now, admittedly, we all think that the first “post-resurrection” meeting with His disciples might have taken place in a more satisfying location.  How about with Pilate, the man who condemned Jesus, in his palace?  Or maybe in the Temple in Jerusalem with the religious leaders who initiated Jesus’ arrest?  Wouldn’t the disciples eagerly anticipate an opportunity to rub the collective noses of Jesus’ detractors in the resurrection triumph? 

But Jesus opts for a different locale.  Perhaps Galilee was the place where they felt more comfortable, where Jesus had His greatest triumphs.  But I wonder if there is another reason for choosing this meeting place.  No matter what you may think of the Galilean countryside it might just have been the place where there was real work to do.  Galilee represents the place of greatest need … of poor people, with many social and physical needs, largely ignored by the religious leadership in Jerusalem.  The story does not end with Jesus’ resurrection.  As He well knows, it is but the beginning of a ministry which He intends His disciples to facilitate … and what better place to begin than with people who know they need the help?

Reflect

Maybe this is the greatest lesson for us from this story.  Where do you think our Master wants to meet you and me?  It might be in a place where we least expect … but we can be assured it will the place of greatest need.  May we open our hearts to His call in a new way this Easter day!

Prayer

How thrilled we are, gracious Father, to read this story of Your resurrected Son who, only a few days earlier, seemed overcome by the forces of politics and dysfunctional religion.  Through this we are reminded that, when it comes to Your will, not even “the gates of hell” can prevent Your holy purpose.

As we hear again this story of the small gathering at his tomb, we would number ourselves amongst those who were absent … for we admit that, even knowing the truth of the resurrection, there are times of uncertainty and even despair.  We are encouraged at the scripture’s words … “Go and tell my brothers.”  Bless You, Father, for Your love “which will not let us go.”

Finally, our Redeemer God, we bring before You those who may find the story of Christ’s sacrifice too incredible to believe.  For the ones who may not be able to accept the forgiveness that You so freely offer in Your Son we pray a special prayer on this resurrection Sunday.  May they discover a love deeper than any human love … a love that is not dependent on merit of any kind.  Then shall they know true deliverance … in the strong name of the Redeemer Himself.  Amen.  

Song

Benediction

“Were you not raised to life with Christ?  Then aspire to the realm above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God, and let your thoughts dwell on that higher realm, not on this earthly life.”

— Colossians 3:1-2