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Resurrection Sunday: Living Hope and Present Joy

Pastor John Ortberg tells the story of a pastor friend of his whose job it was to occasionally travel to small rural communities where they didn't have churches to do funerals. After most services, he would go out with the funeral director to the gravesite, driving together in the funeral director's hearse. Apparently, one time, they were on their way back from a graveside service, and the pastor was feeling quite tired and wanted to take a nap. Since they were in a hearse, he thought, Well, I'll just lie down in the back of the hearse. Plenty spacious back there, plenty of room to stretch out, right? And so he did.

A while later the funeral director pulled into a gas station so he could fill up the tank. The service station attendant came over, began filling up the tank and started to freak out, because there was a body stretched out in the back, like, where’s the casket, what kind of operation is this? How irresponsible? Then to make things worse, the pastor woke up, opened his eyes, knocked on the window and waved at the attendant, to which the pastor remarked, he’s never seen anyone run so fast in his whole life than he did on that day.

And can you blame the poor guy? You don’t expect to see life where there is typically death. Whether that be in the back of a hearse at a gas station or at the tomb on an early Sunday morning long ago.

And as crazy as that hearse story may be, the Easter story, the true story from ago is in some ways even crazier. Where today, on this Easter morning, we remember and celebrate someone who truly did the unthinkable – Jesus Christ, God himself, defeating death and rising from the grave. It’s not only the most important day in the Christian calendar, but in all of human history.

This morning we’re going to take what might be slightly different approach to the Easter story, where rather than immersing ourselves in one of the signature resurrection stories, a story about the resurrection in real time, we’re going to reflect on a passage that highlights not so much the story of the resurrection, but rather its implications.

And to do so, we’re going to rely on a very familiar source, one of Jesus’s disciples himself, Peter, who, to quote the movie Hamilton, was in the room where it all happened on that climatic weekend long ago. He was with Jesus in all the events leading up to his crucifixion and death, then was a witness to his resurrection when he saw Jesus alive again and saw firsthand the scars in his hands and his feet. And here he is now, a leader in the early church, writing to his fellow Christians, encouraging and strengthening them in their faith, in large part, by pointing them to this resurrection moment years before.

He begins his letter by saying this …

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead

Peter is reminding his audience then and now and you and I, that as followers of Jesus, we should have what he describes as a living hope. Not simply a future hope, or an abstract hope, or a sentimental, feel-good hope, but a living, active, present, right here, right now kind of hope.

And in Peter’s mind, what’s the basis or reason for this hope? Well, he points back to that earth shattering moment on that Sunday morning long ago, when Jesus rose from the dead.

And that’s because Jesus’s resurrection is a guarantee that the best is yet to come. That our future is unbelievably bright. Where, consider, for example, what you and I have if we worship only a crucified, but not risen Christ. A Jesus who died, but yet never rose from the grave.

You see, if Jesus had died on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins, only to never rise again, then that would mean that death would have won, that sin had defeated him. But yet, by rising from the grave it means that sin, death and Satan himself were decisively defeated once and for all and that we can rest in Christ that our sins are truly forgiven, our salvation is secure, and that just like it was with Jesus, death won’t be our end, but rather a new beginning.

All those who are in Christ, all those who are followers of Jesus, will one day, someday rise from the grave too. One day, when Jesus returns to fully make all things new, we’ll live in a renewed world, renewed relationships, renewed bodies, no more sickness, no more death. It’ll be everything we know as it was always meant to be.

The resurrection ought to give us a deep sense of confidence that God is actually able to offer what he says he can offer us, forgiveness of our sins and eternal life with him.

Or as Peter says, “an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade … kept in heaven for you.”

Now, to all of this, chances are you might be thinking, that’s nice and all, but what difference does any of this make to my present circumstances and my life right here, right now? If we’re not careful, this can all sound like some sort of divine instance of delayed gratification, a just hang in there and be miserable now and wait for a better future yet to come. As if the Christian life is some sort of run out the clock situation.

But yet, no! Peter describes the resurrection as both the source and reason for both a living hope and a present joy.

Though you have not seen him (that is, Jesus), you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy

So friends, in our time remaining, let’s drill down on a few specific things, and reasons why you and I can have living hope and present joy, all because of the resurrection, right here, right now.

The first, and maybe primary reason Peter gives is that Jesus’s resurrection brings us incredible hope and tremendous comfort in the face of suffering and even more, transforms how we understand the purpose and role of suffering in our lives today.

Consider how we might or in fact do process suffering apart from Jesus, apart from this heavenly, resurrection hope we have. If this world is all there is, if life ends once we die, if heaven doesn’t exist, then the suffering we face and endure can all seem like some kind of cosmic joke. Like sitting in rush hour traffic or waiting on hold endlessly with customer service, it can seem like a cruel interruption, that’s getting in the way of you living your best life now, a life that ends on your deathbed.

But yet, if the resurrection happened, if there is life after death, if heaven is real, if we know that the best is yet to come, then our earthly suffering can take on a whole new meaning and purpose.

In fact, we can even begin to ask, “God, what are you trying to teach me in all of this? What are you trying to show me or reveal to me about who you are and who I am? And how might you use this present suffering to grow me closer to you?

That seems to be Peter’s thinking here, when he says,

In all this (this resurrection hope and promise of heaven) you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. 7 These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith … may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.

Our suffering can be a redemptive, galvanizing, faith strengthening moment that leads us towards greater praise, glory and honor of Jesus himself.

And by the way, did you notice that Peter describes our suffering as lasting for just “a little while.” It doesn’t always feel that way, does it? But yet in light of eternity, our suffering can be seen rightly for what it is, temporary.

Because we know the ending, because we know that a final resurrection is coming, we can live with a deep sense of joy and hope, no matter what trials or tribulations or pain or suffering come our way.

It’s kind of like when you watch a movie and it has an unexpected ending that forces you to reinterpret the whole movie itself. Think of Bruce Willis in the Sixth Sense. Turns out in the end Bruce Willis was dead the whole time. And if I just spoiled the movie for you, that’s on you, because that movie is super old at this point and I’m really dating myself by even referencing it. In many ways, it’s like the exact opposite of the Easter story, someone alive who turns out to be dead, but yet, the point being that, if you know the ending, it gives you perspective for everything else. If you know the ending, if you know that resurrection is coming, and if you know that death has been defeated by Jesus himself, then because of Jesus we can withstand anything that comes our way.

There’s a story that I share just about every Easter about this living, resurrection hope and each year I try to find a story to replace it, but I never do. So here it is once again: If you remember it, then to me that’s an encouraging sign that it was meaningful enough to you that it was worth remembering in the first place, and if you don’t remember it, then here’s a great story that I’m sharing with you for the very first time. I consider it a win-win either way.

A woman by the name of Joni Eareckson Tada was in an accident when she was seventeen and ever since has been a quadriplegic, paralyzed from the neck down. Once she was at a convention in which the speaker asked everyone to get on their knees and pray. Except, of course, for Joni. She was stuck in her wheelchair. And Joni began to cry, but yet not for the reasons you’d think.

As she writes, she was crying because she was reminded that in heaven she will be able to jump, dance, kick and walk. And one of the first things she says she’ll do in heaven is with resurrected legs drop on grateful, glorified knees at the feet of Jesus.

She adds: I, with shriveled, bent fingers, atrophied muscles, gnarled knees, and no feeling from the shoulder down, will one day have a new body, light, bright and clothed in righteousness – powerful and dazzling, “Can you imagine the hope that the resurrection gives someone like me?”

Beautiful, right? That is what you call living hope. And because Jesus rose from the dead, all those who are in Christ can live with hope knowing one day we will rise too.

I shared that story earlier this week with a young man whose physical circumstances resemble Joni’s in some ways, and his response was that it was “simply beautiful.” And he’s right.

So friends, where are you or the loved ones around you facing suffering? Maybe you’re battling chronic pain, facing an addiction or making visit after visit after visit to the doctor’s office, with no hope in sight. Friends, the resurrection is hope for the future, providing incredible comfort in our suffering. Maybe you’re struggling in your marriage, or with your kids, or in your work, or in your finances, with no hope in sight. Friends, the resurrection is hope for the future, providing incredible comfort in our suffering.

And yet, Jesus’s resurrection not only gives us a living hope in the midst of suffering, it also has the ability to impact just about every aspect of our lives as we know it.

Consider, for example, how would it change the way you lived right here, right now, if you truly believed that the best is yet to come, that your best life is yet to come? How would it change the way you thought about things like retirement or parenting or finances?

The American concept of retirement is in many ways working off the assumption that this world is all there is and that the day you retire your life begins a race against the clock. How can I squeeze in as much as I can before it’s too late? Now, to be clear, a retirement that gives a person the freedom to rest and travel and spend more time with the grandkids, that is a glorious, wonderful thing that should be thoroughly enjoyed.

But yet in light of eternity, if we believe that our best life is yet to come, then we can spend our golden years even more freely, loving and serving others all the more, because you know it’s simply your next chapter in life, not your last.

If you’re a parent, there’s a relentless pressure and demand to give your kid every opportunity and access to everything, and there’s often a race against the clock to teach and equip your kids with everything they need by the time they turn 18 and graduate high school, to assess the skills and knowledge and foundation they need to be a flourishing adult. And much of that is good and right to pursue. But yet what would it look like to parent in light of eternity, rather than graduation day? To realize that their faith in Christ is one of the only things that will truly last? How would that impact what you prioritize with them, both in your family values, but also your schedule?

Or how about your finances, how might you steward your finances differently in light of eternity, knowing that the best is yet to come? Wouldn’t it free us to become more generous and loosen our grip on what we have? When Jesus calls us to sacrifice when it comes to our money because he wants to see our money go towards things of real and eternal value, and to things that will bring us lasting joy rather than temporary happiness, and to protect our hearts from giving towards those things that won’t.

Friends, how would it change the way you lived right here, right now, if you truly believed that your best life is yet to come?

And I’ll finish with this –

One of the best and most convincing reasons for you and I to believe in Jesus’s resurrection as a real and true and historical fact is by looking at the transformation that took place in the lives of Jesus’s disciples before and after. Before the resurrection many of the disciples were timid and afraid and often lacking courage, they even deserted Jesus and disowned him before his crucifixion. Peter especially is a hot mess throughout the gospels from beginning to end. But yet after the resurrection, the disciples became radical and fearless, confident and courageous, even willing to die, and many of them did, for the sake of Christ.

Which begs the question … What changed? What happened? The only reasonable explanation is that the resurrection is true and actually happened and that it gave them newfound confidence, living hope, and present joy.

So how about you? Has the truth of Jesus’s death and resurrection changed you from the inside out? Would you describe yourself as someone who is filled with living hope and present joy, even in the midst of suffering? Truth is, chances are the most convincing proof of the resurrection today isn't found in textbook-like arguments, but rather in transformed, changed lives in people like you.

You know, it’s sometimes been said of us Christians that we’re “so heavenly minded that we’re of no earthly good.” Truth is, you and I probably don’t think of heaven nearly enough. And chances are it would probably do both ourselves and the world around us a whole lot of earthly good if we thought about it more often. And friends, because of the resurrection, we can.

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