By Jared Warner
Willow Creek Friends Church
April 17, 2022
Luke 24:1–12 (ESV)
1 But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared. 2 And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3 but when they went in they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. 4 While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men stood by them in dazzling apparel. 5 And as they were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? 6 He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, 7 that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.” 8 And they remembered his words, 9 and returning from the tomb they told all these things to the eleven and to all the rest. 10 Now it was Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James and the other women with them who told these things to the apostles, 11 but these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. 12 But Peter rose and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; and he went home marveling at what had happened.
I have been a pastor for nineteen years, and twelve of those years I have been here at Willow Creek. I struggle with Easter messages because what more is there to say that has not already been said. I began sensing a call to ministry while I was in Odesa, Ukraine teaching American English Classes to college students with Campus Crusade for Christ. But a few months prior to that trip, my pastor’s wife and my Sunday school teacher looked at me one Sunday morning and said you are going to be a missionary. I of course laughed at her, and if you knew me back then you probably would have laughed as well.
The reason I laughed is simple really. I grew up in the Friends Church. We attended Mt Ayr nearly every Sunday my entire life. Even when we lived in Hays my parents would make the one-hour drive back home so we could attend Meetings for Worship at Mt. Ayr. The Friends Church is what I have known, it is what I love, and it is through the Friends Church that I found who I was meant to be.
This has not been a simple road to travel. I did not grow up thinking I was going to be a pastor. I did not really like being in front of people which is bad when I come from a family that loves to sing. My mom and my dad would regularly volunteer our family to sing a special for our Meeting for worship. We would stand in front of the entire church, many of which were friends from school and we would sing. And at times I would be asked to sing alone. I did this, but it was tough. I like singing do not get me wrong. I will sing all day long. I will sing with the family at home. I would start whistling a song and then start humming and eventually I would start singing, and then my mom would join in, and then the entire family would join together. Singing in harmony for no other reason than someone in the house had a song in their heart. I like to sing, but I do not like to sing in front of others. I know that might shock many of you since you see me doing it every week. There is a legitimate reason for my hesitancy, I was born half deaf and to be totally honest I do not know if I am singing the right notes or not. This also affects my ability to remember names, because I just cannot hear them.
That is some of the back story. I love singing with my family and I love singing the hymns of Easter. Even through I had this rich heritage of faith, I was not that faithful. I had read the Bible completely at a very young age. I listened to the sermons and I asked questions, but that really did not matter to me, because when it came right down to it, I wanted to be a scientist.
I loved NASA, I wanted to be an astronaut, I built model rockets and shot them off. I read everything I could about every space mission. I was devastated when I watched the Challenger explode while I was watching it on TV with my classmates. And yet I loved science. Then I found out that it would be very unlikely that a half deaf boy would be able to become an astronaut. My dream was seeming shattered. But about that time something else amazing began to happen. We began to learn and understand DNA. All the energy that I extended toward space, quickly got diverted to genetics. I actually went to college with the intent of getting a degree in crop science with the hopes of eventually going into genetic engineering.
Then one fall morning while I was sitting in economics class someone from the school office came knocking on the door of the classroom in tears as they called me from class. My brother and sister had been in a car accident, and my sister was being flown to the hospital in Wichita. My little sister died the next day, and before they prepared her for organ donation my family once again began to sing, “It is Well with my Soul” over her.
I was just a kid myself; I was a freshman in college and did not know how to deal with any real loss like that. I could recite scripture, not chapter and verse because I am terrible at that, but I could relate pretty much any story at will, and yet it did not matter to me. I had a little faith but to me in that moment God was nowhere. And the world began calling. In my grief and mourning I began making decisions that were not in keeping with the faith I said I possessed. And at the age of nineteen I had a son out of wedlock.
This great family that sang for church nearly every month, that had just lost a sister, had a son that fathered a child without being married. For the nine months I questioned everything about my life, but then on January 15th, 1999. I held my son for the first time. I looked into his eyes and suddenly I knew what love was.
I did not have the answers to all of life’s problems at that time. In fact, I had a great deal of searching that I had to do because I realized that if I wanted my son to grow into a strong young man, I would have to figure out how to do that in the situation that he had been born into. That is why I laughed at my pastor’s wife when she said I was going to be a missionary. What mission organization would accept a single dad? And that very summer I boarded a plane for Ukraine. And it was in Ukraine that God started to give me a greater understanding of who I was. It was in Ukraine that I realized that this quiet kid that never really talked to people, actually loved having conversations and talking about the things that excited me. It was in Ukraine that I began really studying scripture and talking about it. It was in that place on the other side of the world I heard God.
But God was working all along. He was working all throughout my life in little ways. He used my strengths and my weaknesses. He used my failures and my success. And ultimately it was the love I felt when I held my son the first time that brought me to Christ because I began to understand true love.
I tell my story because each of us have a story. Each person in this room is significant and important. From the oldest person sitting in the pews to the child yet to be born, each of us bears the image of God. I sometimes think we do not realize how important that truly is. If we were to think of it as a story, the image bearer would be the messenger sent from the king. The king would give something to that messenger to authenticate that individual as a representative commissioned and sent bearing the authority of the king in that moment. The thing that the king would give would usually be some paper that was sealed with an impression that was unique to that ruler, his image. We bear that image. We have been called and commissioned. We, each one of us, have been given a mission that began from the beginning of time, we are make and bring all the earth under submission and make it into the Garden of Eden.
We have this mission we bear the image but so often we fail. We have gotten distracted by power, by entertainment, by manipulating the hearts of the people around us to do what we want instead of staying on track to complete the mission that God created us to fulfill. We are the image bearers and yet we have been deceived. God placed our first parents into the Garden, and the serpent convinced us that the best way to fulfill our mission was not to listen to God but that we should have the knowledge of good and evil, so we ate of that fruit. Ever since that moment death and deception entered our existence and has held us captive.
Last week we reflected on the passion of Christ. Jesus faced every injustice that mankind had to offer. Rulers killed him because he threatened their rule of law. Kings mocked and beat him because he would not entertain their selfish desires. Religious leaders falsely accused him because they feared that if they let him continue, they would lose the influence they had over the people. Each of these aspects of life, have power, influence, and selfish desires attached to them. And when we allow these things to control our lives, we will always be participants of injustice. Just open a history book and begin to read, within the pages are stories of valiant nations and people that have changed the world as we know it, but often there is another story, a story of oppression, neglect, and injustice. That does not mean that good things have not come from history. We live in a time and place that is amazing. At our fingertips we have access to things that only decades ago were the things of science fiction. Many here have watch technology move from a transiter radio to the iPhone streaming pandora. We can listen to music from any nation in any language at any time. We have that ability because of the lives that we read in history, but there is a cost to it all.
Jesus was tried and hung on a cross. He bore the greatest shame that a Jewish man could have faced, and as the people mocked him, he cried out, “Forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.” That phrase often haunts me at night. It haunts me because I know who placed him on that tree. It haunts me because it so easily could have been me. I am what many would regard as a religious leader, and I speak every week hoping that the words I believe God is inspiring me to say will encourage you to become a friend of God. That is my hope but what does it mean to follow God? We like to point to scripture and say this is what it says, but so did the people that took Jesus to Pilate. Forgive us because we do not know what we are doing. I know just how true this is. I could have great intentions and be completely wrong.
The religious leaders were not the only ones with fault. The governor was also involved. The one who was entrusted with the task of justice also failed. He looked at the crowd and instead of doing the right thing he authorized the execution of an innocent man so that he could maintain his power.
Forgive us. We so often fail. Then Jesus looked up to the heavens and said it is finished.
What was finished? Death had overcome life. We often look at the world in this dualistic manner. We think light and dark, life and death. We seem to think that they are two powers that are struggling against each other, but the reality is that there is light and there is life. When light is present darkness is vanquished. When life is present there is no death. There is not a struggle if the source of light and life are present.
When Jesus said it is finished the source of life stepped away. The deception had overcome life, death had triumphed over life. But there was something interesting about that phrase as well, Jesus said it is finished.
The disciples believed that it was finished. There was no hope. The women that followed Jesus and wept as he was led to the hill believed that it was finished. They had placed their hope in Jesus and the injustice of this world had killed him on a cruel cross. It is finished hope is gone. And on the first day of the week, they went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared. They were laying their hope to rest and were resigning. They were done. They once believed the words that Jesus spoke. They once believed that there was going to be a kingdom where the meek would inherit the earth. Where those that were thirsty and hungry would be filled. They once thought that there would be peace, but their hope is buried.
I have felt that hopelessness. I would be lying if I said that even today, I do not have touches of that despair shadowing aspects of my life. They walked to the tomb; the women walked to the tomb. It is very important to remember and to honor this aspect of the story. The women walked to the tomb because the men scattered. Once hope had died it is often the women remained to honor the memory.
They did not find what they expected there. The stone was rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. It is interesting to note that this is the first time Luke uses the term, Lord. The story is about to change, and yet the women are perplexed.
Jesus’s last words on the cross were “it is finished” according to John. Death had gotten a grip on Jesus, and yet the story has not ended. The women looked into an empty tomb perplexed because they had been there when they laid the body to rest. And two men stood by them in dazzling apparel. Shining ones. We recognize them as supernatural beings, those agents that serve God the Most-High are often described as shining. But I also want to remind you that the words translated as the serpent in the garden the one that deceived our first parents could also have been translated as a shining one. That was why our first parents were deceived one of God’s messengers, one that they regarded as trustworthy had failed to give good advice. And when we looked at Hebrews, we noticed that because of this deception by one of God’s angels caused us to unwittingly join their rebellion of death there was only one way to rectify the situation. God would have to restore life.
Jesus when he said “it is finished” he took death on himself, and yet now shining ones are appearing to these women and they say, “Why do you see the living among the dead? He is not here but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.”
Do you remember? Remember when Jesus took the disciples to a place far in the northern regions and asked them Who do they say that I am? And he again asked them Who do you say I am? And Peter said you are the Christ the chosen on of God. Jesus asked those questions at a place known as the Gates of Hell. It was on a mountain that many believed to be the source of evil, the den of Pan. And after Peter’s confession that Jesus was the Christ, Jesus said, “it is upon this rock that I will build my church and the gates of hell will not overcome it.” That rock some believe was Mount Hermon, the very place that the angels of the great rebellion took place that caused what we know as Noah’s flood. And at that place Jesus told them those very words that the angels spoke. But they did not accept the words of Jesus. Peter the great confessor said this will never happen. And Jesus looked at his friend and said get behind me Satan.
They, the women, remembered the words that Jesus spoke. They remembered that on multiple occasions Jesus plainly told them that these events were going to happen, yet they did not listen. And now the tomb is empty and they are perplexed, they are seeking the dead and the angels are asking why are they seeking the living among the dead.
They eventually realized what the angels were meaning by those words. They eventually realized that if Jesus had said that he would be crucified and would die. Jesus said this and he also said that he would rise again.
They go back to the place the disciples were staying. They tell them what they had seen and heard. They remind them of the words that Jesus said. The women are preaching to the disciples, and they were sent by God’s angels to do this very thing. But the disciples do not listen to the women. Luke tells us that the apostles thought the words were idle tales, something unbelievable. Luke does this on purpose. He is purposefully being sexist to prove a point. The very disciples of Jesus did not believe because women told them.
How often do we get distracted from the truth because the source is not from the place we expected? How many times do we overlook or neglect wise council because it just does not fit with our own thoughts? How many times do we think we are wiser than those around us? Forgive us because we do not know what we are doing. But Peter remembered that painful day. The day his best friend called him Satan. He remembered the words that Jesus spoke that day that were rejected and caused the rebuke. Peter remembered, and he did not want another one of those rebukes. He was just wise enough to recognize that these women were not the spinners of idle tales, and he gave them the benefit of the doubt. He rose and ran to the tomb. John tells us that the disciple Jesus loved also ran with him, and ran faster than Peter because Peter was old and slow. Peter ran to the tomb, and stopping he looked inside. He saw the linen cloths by themselves, and he went home marveling at what had happened.
What happened? The body was gone, and the grave clothes remained. Hope began to well up where despair once reigned. The darkness began to fade as a dim light started to burn brighter. Something happened in the place of death, the grave clothes were by themselves. This phrase might be overlooked but it basically means that they were folded and placed in separate stacks.
We know the rest of the story. The grave could not hold him. And death’s sting is overcome. Jesus is risen. He is Lord. He has risen from the Grave and He is Lord.
Every year we celebrate this great day. The day that Jesus restores our hope, and yet this Easter like so many the wars still rage. This year like so many we struggle between hope and despair. We confess with our mouths that He is risen but so often we live as if these are just idle tales. What can we say?
I will not argue, nor will I make any attempt to prove things right or wrong. I know my story; I know that when I look back on my life God has done little things that have brought me to this place at this moment. For me I believe. And I believed completely when I held my first son. Sure, I struggle with doubt and unbelief at times, but I know that without Christ I would not be that man I am today. He has restored my hope, he has given me new life, and I believe His is risen and is Lord of all. That is all I can say, but what can you say? Jesus said that he would be turned over by sinful men, that he would be tried and crucified and on the third day he would rise again. The women heard all that yet walked to the tomb to put spices on the dead body. Peter heard that as did all the disciples. When the angels spoke and they saw that the tomb was empty they believed. They believed even before they fully understood. What can we say?
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