“The Gist and the Essence” the Easter Story Sermon

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Mon, 04/22/2019 - 9:45am

The Resurrection of Jesus

JOHN 20 Now on the first day of the week Mary Mag′dalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. So she ran, and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” Peter then came out with the other disciple, and they went toward the tomb. They both ran, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first; and stooping to look in, he saw the linen cloths lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb; he saw the linen cloths lying, and the napkin, which had been on his head, not lying with the linen cloths but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not know the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. 10 Then the disciples went back to their homes.

Jesus Appears to Mary Magdalene

11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb; 12 and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. 13 They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “Because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” 14 Saying this, she turned round and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom do you seek?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rab-bo′ni!” (which means Teacher). 17 Jesus said to her, “Do not hold me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brethren and say to them, I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” 18 Mary Mag′dalene went and said to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.

Jesus Appears to the Disciples

19 On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being shut where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 20 When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I send you.” 22 And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

 “The Gist and the Essence” Sermon for Easter 2019 at Harbor Church

Guinness Book of World Records

During a hunting party in County Wexford, Ireland, in 1951, Sir Hugh Beaver – then Managing Director of the Guinness Brewery – asked a simple question: what was Europe’s fastest game bird? Despite a heated argument and an exhaustive search within the host’s reference library he could not find the answer. Sir Hugh realized that similar questions were going unanswered all around the world, and that a definitive book containing superlative facts and answers would be of great use to the general public. He soon set about bringing this definitive collection of superlative facts to reality. On 27 August 1955, the first edition of “The Guinness Book of World Records” was bound and, by Christmas that year, became Britain’s number one bestseller.

There is a record that I would like to see added to the Book of World Records: The longest period of time that someone has been clinically dead, and then been restored to life. There are many books which have been written about these type of near-death experiences, where people have been found dead, and then resuscitated after a period of time.

In the Los Angeles Telegraph May 2008  Catherine Elsworth reported the following story:

A Woman comes back to life after being dead for 17 hours

In the article we read that A 59-year-old American woman who was presumed dead after her heart stopped and she was taken off life support came back to life, stunning her doctors and family.

After Velma Thomas, from Nitro, West Virginia, went into cardiac arrest at home, medics managed to establish a faint pulse after eight minutes of CPR. But at hospital, her heart stopped twice more and she was placed on life support.

For more than 17 hours doctors failed to detect any brain activity, despite extensive attempts to revive her, including pioneering treatment to lower her body's temperature in a bid to stimulate the brain.

Family members braced themselves for the worst. Tim Thomas, Velma's son, said he and two dozen relatives and friends gathered at the hospital and “prayed and prayed and prayed” before starting to accept Mrs Thomas would not survive.

“I came to the conclusion she wasn't going to make it,” Mr Thomas, 36, told the Charleston Daily Mail. “Her skin had already started hardening, her hands and toes were curling up, they were already drawn. There was no life there.”

Doctors told him there was no pulse, blood pressure or measurable brain activity. “There were really no signs she had neurological functions,” Kevin Eggleston, a internal medicine specialist, told ABC News. The family decided to turn off life support and say their goodbyes.

But as they began making funeral arrangements, Mr Thomas was contacted by the hospital and told that soon after being taken off life support, his mother had come back to life. Mrs Thomas had begun moving her limbs when suddenly her heart re-started, a nurse said.

A shocked Dr. Eggleston told the paper the chances of surviving three such long periods without a heart rate were less than 10 percent. “It's a miracle. He said.

But was she really dead, or just ‘mostly dead’ like the cynical Miracle Max suggested when he revived the hero in the 1987 hit movie The Princess Bride?

If the reports of his resurrection are reliable, then Jesus of Nazareth easily holds the unofficial record for life after death, having spent three days in the tomb and then coming forth once more, fully alive.

The Evidence

According to the Holy Bible, over 500 people were eye witnesses to the resurrection. In extra-Biblical writing, there exists evidence for the resurrection as well: One noteworthy account exists in the writings of  the Jewish Historian Josephus. In Rome, in the year 93, Josephus published his lengthy history of the Jews. While discussing the period in which the Jews of Judaea were governed by the Roman procurator Pontius Pilate, Josephus included the following account: 

About this time there lived Jesus, a wise man, if indeed one ought to call him a man.  For he was one who performed surprising deeds and was a teacher of such people as accept the truth gladly. He won over many Jews and many of the Greeks. He was the Messiah. And when, upon the accusation of the principal men among us, Pilate had condemned him to a cross, those who had  first come to love him did not cease.  He appeared to them spending a third day restored to life, for the prophets of God had foretold these things and a thousand other marvels about him.  And the tribe of the Christians, so called after him, has still to this day not disappeared.”

                                That -From Josephus’ Jewish Antiquities, 18.3.3 §63

The Essence

American radio broadcaster and News Commentator Paul Harvey made himself famous with his by-line “…and now, the rest of the story.” He was successful because saw beyond the surface news, saw beyond the gist of the story to uncover its essential message.

The gist of the story of the life of Jesus the Christ is found in the Gospel narratives. But the essence of the story may be found in the lives of those around him… It is found in the influence that Jesus had on the lives of those he touched when he walked the earth, and in the generations that followed after them.

The Essence of the story is found in Mary Magdalene who came with a broken heart to the tomb just before dawn and saw the beginning of a transformed life.

The Essence of the story is found in God’s messengers who sat among discarded graveclothes and questioned Mary’s tears.

The Essence of the story is found in the risen Christ who hung around the garden, so Mary wouldn’t be alone in her confusion and fear.

The Essence of the story is found in Mary who all at once had her broken heart transformed into a burning heart.

The Essence of the story is found in the Upper Room, when 12 frightened, discouraged, and disillusioned disciples encounter the risen Christ and then went forth to change the world and to establish the church and a world religion that endures to this day.

The Essence of the story is found in the two disciples who ran for their lives, hearts pounding toward the empty tomb, and then went back to their homes “believing,” but not understanding”.

Did you catch that important distinction? Believing isn’t found in knowing: it discovered in trusting. It is the heart that cries, “I do believe, Lord; Oh, help my unbelief!” It is about relying upon the power of God to transform us as we move from life, into a greater, fuller life, whether that is in the present, or in the hope of life to come. So regardless of our understanding of the mystery of the resurrection of the dead after this earthly life is done, the power of God that underlies this hope has the potential to change us and make us more than we are now, if we only allow God’s influence to change us from day to day through faith and trust.

The Essence of the story is found in those that still live in the shadow of death, but dare to believe in the hope of new life, everlasting and eternal.

The Essence of the story is found not in a tale of the past, but in the rising that is happening right here, right now, in the present. It is found in individual lives that are influenced, changed, and transformed when we people trust in the reality of God’s presence in their lives.

The Essence of the story is found in the continued influence that Jesus is having over 2000 years later on the lives of everyone who trusts in his promises, who believe in spite of doubts, and who hope for something more.

The Conclusion

Guinness Book of World Records was written 60 years ago; its editors say that “During this time, it has become clear that, to our readers, a world record is more than a simple fact: it’s a means of understanding your position in the world… a yardstick for measuring how you and those around you fit in.”

What is your understanding of your position in the world in the light of eternity? If we are fortunate, we may live 80 or 90 years in this world which is an infinitesimal when compared with the nearly infinite span of ages that this world has existed. So how do you think about your own existence? What are your thoughts about the possibility of a continued existence after this brief period of life on earth is done? And how can we all learn to live a life of faith that trusts in the influence of God in this world, in this life?

Perhaps, if we can see beyond the gist of the story, and discover its essence, we can proclaim as Mary did on that first Easter morning, “I have encountered the risen Lord!”

Happy Easter!