Easter Sunday 1st April – 9am Worship
Easter Sunday Sermon
Bible Readings: Matthew 20:1-20
Preacher: Rev Phil Swain
While the kids are off making their bags for the Easter Egg Hunt, I just wanted to zoom in on one part of the bible reading that Bruce read for us from the gospel of Matthew. It really is an incredible event. The women come to the tomb early in the morning and were greeted with an earthquake, and angel rolling back the stone and saying, “Don’t be afraid. Jesus who was crucified I no longer dead; he has risen!”
This is Good News but the bit I want to zoom is from verse 11.
11 As the women were on their way, some of the guards went into the city and told the leading priests what had happened. 12 A meeting with the elders was called, and they decided to give the soldiers a large bribe. 13 They told the soldiers, “You must say, ‘Jesus’ disciples came during the night while we were sleeping, and they stole his body.’ 14 If the governor hears about it, we’ll stand up for you so you won’t get in trouble.” 15 So the guards accepted the bribe and said what they were told to say. Their story spread widely among the Jews, and they still tell it today.
What is happening here? Could this be an Easter example of … Fake News? The chief priests and the guards colluded and came up with an ‘alternative set of facts’ … and spread them widely. This is fake news in action! Imagine being a local in Jerusalem in the days after Easter Sunday trying to get your head around what has happened. There is no doubt that the tomb of Jesus was empty … but how? What happened to the body of Jesus?
You would have some people running around saying that Jesus is alive, risen from the dead … and others saying that the disciples came in the middle of the night and stole the body. How are you supposed to work out what it true and what is not?
We know about this dilemma, don’t we? It seems that the TV, politicians, our social media feeds, even companies are willing to say anything to grab our attention and it doesn’t really matter if it is true or not. As long as we click on this link, or vote for this person, or buy this product … whether they told the truth or not doesn’t matter. And we are the poor suckers who have to wade through this mess of tricks and exaggerations and empty promises to work out what is true and not true.
I read a story about a man who was trying to work out if a piece of advertising was true or fake. Nordstrom’s is a US clothing story and they apparently have this unconditional return policy. If for any reason you decide that the clothing you bought is not what you were looking for, you can return it … no questions asked.
Well, this man had bought a jacket from Nordstrom’s 18 months earlier. It was one of those cases where the more he wore it, the more he realized that he didn’t like it. He wore it for about six months then threw it in the back of the cupboard.
And now … 18 months down the track, he saw an ad reminding him of Nordstrom’s famous unconditional returns policy. He thought, why not. Let’s see if this is just a gimmick to trick us or whether this is actually true.
So he walked into the store and up to the first salesman he saw and said his pre-prepared speech. He said, “I am about to put your famous unconditional-return policy to its ultimate test. I have here a jacket. I’ve worn it lots. I’ve had it for a year and a half. But I don’t like it. It’s the wrong colour, and it attracts fluff so I want to return this jacket for another jacket that I like.”
And we all go … he’s dreaming. The world doesn’t work like that. People promise stuff to get us sucked in but when it comes to fulfilling the promise … well that’s another thing. It is just not true.
We have become cynical like that. We are so surrounded by fake news and cons and tricks and false advertising and … well, we have trouble believing anything now.
And so today we come to today’s Good News about the resurrection of Jesus and the cynical part of us goes … really? How do we know that this is actually true? The bible tells us that the guards and chief priests made up the story … how do we know that it wasn’t Jesus followers who have made up the story. Is Easter Good News or Fake News?
This is a really important question. The Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 15, wrote that if Jesus did not rise from the dead, then there would be no hope for anyone who had already died, our faith would be useless and we might as well all go home.
BUT, Paul writes … If Jesus did rise from the dead, then that makes a massive difference. If Jesus rose from the dead then that means Jesus is alive and with us now and it means that when we die, we too will be raised to an everlasting life!
So, the stakes are high. Is Easter Good News or Fake News? Did Jesus rise from the dead? And how do we work this out?
I guess we need to do some fact-checking.
In our bible reading we have two different stories floating around Jerusalem from two different sources. The chief priests and soldiers saying that the body was stolen and the disciples saying that Jesus was risen.
I guess we could say that they both had motives for spreading their story. The chief priests wanted to make sure that this movement, this way of Jesus that was threatening the status quo of their religious system was stopped. They didn’t want people thinking that Jesus was the Messiah and clearly didn’t want people thinking that God had raised Jesus from the dead.
But what about the disciples? What was their motivation? You could argue that they didn’t want to look like fools – that they followed a dud for 3 years and now he was dead and it was all over. Or maybe you could argue that they wanted to establish a world religion and this story about Jesus being alive would help that. But if you look at the biblical narrative, they don’t seem to be interested in that at all. But rather, inspired by Jesus resurrection they established communities of love and caring and justice. They sought out the poor, marginalised and offered help and compassion. Not only did they followed the example of Jesus – they believed that the risen Jesus was with them. It doesn’t sound like people who are trying to con society to establish power or influence.
But I guess the thing that helps me to discern which is good news and what is fake news is to look at the results – what is the outcome of a claim. A politician might claim that their policies will have a desired outcome, but we are all sceptical unless we see that it actually has made a difference.
So when the disciples claim that Jesus is risen from the dead … let’s look at the results. What difference did it make to the disciples? What difference does it still make to us?
Look at the women in our bible reading. They went from being distraught, broken, grieving to being joyous and passionate proclaimers of this good news. What caused that change?
Or look at Peter who on the night before the cross was scared, broken and even denied knowing Jesus … and yet went on to become one of the great leaders in the Early church. Peter somehow found forgiveness for his failures, hope for the future and a sense of meaning and purpose for his life.
Or the Apostle Paul in the bible. He was a Christian killer who became one of the greatest missionaries for Jesus ever. What happened to cause this change?
I remember reading an article written by a non-Christian psychologist writing about the change in these followers from Good Friday to Easter Sunday, from despair to hope, from timidness to boldness, from grief to joy. The writer implied that something significant must have happened to them. He said that most people cannot fake a significant change like this – something must have happened.
I want to suggest this morning that something did happen. Jesus rose from the dead. The women, Peter, Paul, the other followers … they met the risen Jesus and so, of course they would change.
We continue to see this over and over again … the good news of Easter is reflected in the lives of his followers – from the early church and over the past 2000 years. We can see the evidence of the risen Jesus in the lives of his followers.
Some of you are nodding because you know it’s true. You know that Easter is Good News, that Jesus is alive – why? Because you have met him.
I have too. I have met the risen Jesus. For me, it was through some spectacularly answered prayers. Once again, it is difficult to explain my experience intellectually or logically – but let me tell you that it is real. Jesus is risen. Jesus is alive. And just like all the other examples that I have used, I have also changed because I have met Jesus. So much so, that I have given my life to the purpose of walking the way of Jesus and teaching others about Jesus.
So how can you know that Easter is Good News or Fake News? How can we know that Jesus rose from the dead? That Jesus is Alive?
Don’t just take my word for it. I encourage you to check out the sources. Read the bible and other sources and see what jumps out to you. Think about people’s motivations and consider the outcome, or the way that this news of Easter is played out in their lives.
It is my hope that all of us here, and those watching on line, might be able to see that this news of Easter, the news that Jesus is alive, is Good News. That in Jesus we can find forgiveness, hope and life.
And I know that sometimes can seem to be too good to be true … a bit like the Nordstrom’s unconditional return promise. Just wait … I never did finish that story, did I?
Do you remember where I was up to? The man took the jacket down to Nordstrom’s men’s department and nervously said to the salesman, “I am about to put your famous unconditional-return policy to its ultimate test. I have here a jacket. I’ve worn it lots. I’ve had it for a year and a half. I don’t like it. I want to return this jacket for another jacket that I like.” The salesman looked stunned, shook his head, and said “For heaven’s sake, what took you so long? Let’s go find you a better jacket.”
That story just sounds like God. God, through what Jesus did at Easter, offers you this Good News of forgiveness, hope, life, and to be with you in all circumstances.
If you are like this, wondering what to do with the news of Easter, struggling to work out if it fake news or not … let me encourage you in your own mind and heart, go up to God and say, “I would like to take you up on your offer. I would see what it is like to know Jesus in my life.” … I can also imagine God looking loving back at you and saying, “For heaven’s sake, what took you so long?”
May we all experience the risen Jesus and the fullness of the Good News of Easter in our lives every day. Amen.