Sermon: "Easter: No Room in the Tomb"

Delivered April 4, 1999, Easter Sunday by Dr. Ronald W. Scates

Theme: Easter reality, resurrection and setting your mind on eternal things, not earthly.

Sermon Text: Colossians 3:1-4
1 Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.
2 Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.
3 For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.
4 When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

Nick was a strong, healthy young man. He was a railroad worker. He worked well with the other guys on the job. He was reliable. But Nick was a pessimist. He always worried that the worst would happen.

One summer afternoon the railroad crew was allowed to quit an hour early because it was the foreman's birthday. In honor of that they were allowed to go home early, but accidentally after everyone left, Nick found himself locked in one of the refrigerated box cars that was in the railroad yard waiting to be repaired. Nick began to panic. He estimated that the temperature inside the car was zero degrees. He began to think to himself, "If I don't get out of here I am going to freeze to death." He found a piece of cardboard and, shivering uncontrollably, he began to scrawl a message to his wife and children. "So cold, body getting numb, if I could only sleep." "These may be the last words I ever write."

The next morning the railroad crew opened those heavy doors on that box car and they found Nick's body. The autopsy, from every indication, showed that he had died by freezing to death. Except that the refrigeration unit on that boxcar was broken. It didn't work! The temperature inside that car was 61 degrees and their was plenty of fresh air. Nick had not dealt with reality, and it had cost him his life.

In the scripture text we are about to read, the Apostle Paul presents you and me here today with a part of the Easter reality that can orient how you and I get out of bed in the morning. I would invite you to turn in your Bibles to Paul's letter to the Colossians, the third chapter, and I would invite you to keep your Bibles open during the sermon as I am going to refer back to the text. Paul's letter to the Colossians, the third chapter, and on this Easter morning, let's wrestle with verses 1 through 4. This is the word of God. Paul writes:

"Since then you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory."

Join me as we pray. And now Father, as my words are true to your word may they be taken to heart, but as my words should stray from your word may they be quickly forgotten, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

It will be 20 years this year since I have been ordained. I have been doing this ministry thing now for two decades, and finally just this week, working on this text, I have come to realize that we have yet to get this Easter thing right! I mean, usually every year we talk about Christ being bodily raised from the dead, coming out of the tomb. Well let me tell you this morning, folks, that's only partial reality. That's only a half truth.

Look at verse one of your text. The whole Easter truth is not just that Jesus was raised on that first Easter morning, but that YOU were raised. Paul says, "You were raised with Christ." That first Easter morning, that tomb did not just contain one person, it was packed out literally with billions of people, all coming forth on that first Easter morning according to Paul. Usually we think of no room at the inn at Christmas, but Easter dwarfs that. That tomb was pretty crowded. In fact, it makes a can of sardines look like the state of Montana. YOU were raised with Christ. That is, if you have died. I mean, you can't be raised from the dead, unless first of all, you've died.

Another part of Easter reality that Paul reveals to us in this text - look at verse 3 - is that Good Friday was not just about the crucifixion, the execution of Jesus on the cross. It is about YOUR death, YOU were nailed to the tree with Him. You have died with Christ. That is, if you are a Christian - if you have surrendered your life to Jesus Christ and have taken him up on his unconditionally loving, gracious offer to enter into a personal relationship with him.

Pastors don't like to pastor dead churches. Nobody wants to be a member of a dead church, right? Well I do! I am! I get the privilege of pastoring a dead church! This place is as dead as a doornail - it's a regular morgue here! Almost every day, people dying! Moving toward Christ, coming to Christ, dying with Christ. Mark Twain once remarked, "Rumors of my death have been highly exaggerated." But you know what, if you are a Christian, then there is no exaggeration about it. You're dead, you're dead as a doornail. You have been executed with Christ - dead with him.

Someday, a bunch of people are going to gather in a sanctuary like this, and they are going to celebrate my funeral. But you know what, they are only going to be marking the lesser of my two deaths. The major death occurred when I was 10 years old, when I received Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior and went to the cross with Him. And there are many of you here this morning that have died - have died with Christ - died to your pre-Christian life, died to the ways of the world, died to lifestyles that are self-destructive. And so on this Easter morning my friend, hear the whole good news of the Easter reality gospel. That on that first Easter morning, it was not just Jesus Christ that came out of that tomb, it was also Bob Smith, and Fred Rivenbark, and Allie Reitz, and Eileen Pohlhaus, and Sue Penno and Hank Miller, and Pat Merriman, and Jackie Marhefka, and Heather Logsdon, and Julie Hindmarsh and Jack Frost and Laura Espey and Adam Crowley and Robin Coffin and Fred Bryant and Pat Bradley and Sue Biddison and Dave Beauchamp and Pat Alexander...

And the list goes on and on and on... for in Christ you have died with Christ and you have been raised with him. And so on this Easter Sunday folks, let's get real, let's deal with reality, let's do an Easter post-mortem on ourselves. That's what Paul does here. What he does is in verse one Paul gives you and me a reality check word, and that word is since. Since you have died with Christ, since you have been raised with Christ, then act like it!

Well how do we do that? Paul goes on to say, "Set your minds and hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Don't set your minds and hearts on earthly things, set them on the things above." What does that mean? Does that mean that you and I as Christians are to withdraw from the world and walk around with our head in the clouds? There are many Christians out there, you and I have met them, that are so heavenly minded that they are no earthly good.

That's not what Paul is getting at here. The key phrase that you and I need to hang on to, that helps us to understand what Paul is saying is the phrase "seated at the right hand of God." What Paul is saying here is a symbolic phrase that gets across two post-Easter truths that you and I need to hang on to with all of our lives. The first is this: that Jesus is alive. And the second is that He is seated at the right hand of God. That means that He is sovereign. That He reigns supreme over heaven and earth, over everything in human history. And your life and mine must fit his ultimate purpose for salvation.

He is alive. He is not some storybook character from 2000 years ago that we gather sentimentally to stir up memories of. He is alive and he reigns supreme.

But it doesn't always look like that, does it? You look at the world, at Kosovo, you look at what's going on in your own city, and if you're honest you look down in your own heart and you wonder, "Is Christ really on the throne?"

Look at verse 3 of your text. Paul says, who you really are since you have been raised in Christ, and what is really going on in the world and what you are becoming (your life in Christ - that eternal life which begins not just when you die but when you receive Jesus Christ), all of that right now is hidden. It's hidden. But, "It's not up for grabs. It is very safe and secure because it is hidden with Christ in God."

And so we don't always see things the way things are really happening. We are not always in touch with reality because a lot of that is veiled right now. In fact, we tend to think that this earth is all there is, and this is our home. Jonathan Edwards said that our situations: here as Christians is really analogous to travelers on a journey that have stopped at an inn. They know the inn is not their home, and they are ready to leave the inn when the right time comes. But while they are at the inn, they want to keep it in as good a repair as they can.

You have been raised with Christ. Since you have died with Christ. Since you have been raised with Christ. Since Jesus reigns supreme and since he is coming again, Paul says, your life and my life has yet to see what it is really going to become. And one day, Paul says, Christ is going to return. And then who you really are - what's real and what you are becoming - will be revealed in the glory of Jesus Christ.

Set your minds on what's above, not on earthly things. Since Christ has died and been raised, since you have died and been raised in Christ, then you know what? That means you and I have the privilege of going through life and looking at our life with the choice of two lenses. You see, what Paul is saying is that Christ is seated at the right hand of God, what he is saying is that Christ reigns supreme and that is the lens. The sovereignty of Christ is the lens through which you and I need to look. But we're tempted to look at the other lens, the earthly lens, which falls far short of reality.

Let's get to where the rubber meets the road. What difference does it make which lens you look through? Well let's take Easter for instance. Look at it through the earthly lens, and what's Easter? Well, it's another day, a holiday, you go to church, get dragged to church. But when you see Easter through the lens of the sovereignty of Jesus Christ, then it's not going to church, it is coming to Christ, into the arms of the living Christ.

You are dying of cancer. And you are told it's terminal. And the temptation is to look at that only through the earthly lens, and it scares you literally to death. And you say to yourself, "this is going to be the death of me." Or you can look at it through the lens of the sovereignty of the risen Jesus Christ, and then you say, "Hey, I'm already dead! The big death already happened! What can you do to a dead person?" J. I. Packer said you and I ought to budget our life on the basis of living about 70 years. And then if we come up short of that, we haven't been robbed, we've only been more rapidly promoted.

Or you look at your career through the earthly lens and it's just another job, punching a clock, T.G.I.F. But when you look at your career through the lens of the sovereignty of Jesus Christ, then you realize that this is my mission field, where God has strategically placed me as an ambassador for Him. Or how about your kids? Maybe they are not turning out just like you want them to. You are liable to look at it through the lens of the earthly things and you are in despair, or you can look at them through the lens of the sovereignty of Jesus Christ, and you say, "Hey, God is sovereign, and I'm going to prayerfully place them in His hands."

Or stuff - you know, we're told we need all this stuff, we need to accumulate it, and we look through the earthly lens and we think, "I've got to get it all now!" Or we look at materialism through the lens of the sovereignty of Jesus Christ and we say "Hey, wait a minute, I've got everything in Christ for all eternity." That allows you and me to hold a little more loosely to all of this earthly stuff, in fact, to let some of it go.

Or politics. Your candidate loses. And through the earthly lens everything is lost. Or you look through the lens of the sovereignty of Jesus Christ, and you realize it really in one sense doesn't matter, it really doesn't matter who wins or loses, God is still on the throne.

Or spirituality. It's the new rage, everybody is spiritual these days. But if you approach it through the earthly lens what do you wind up with? Religion. Yecch. But if you look through the lens of the sovereignty of Jesus Christ, you wind up with faith, which is nothing less than a personal relationship with that same Jesus who was bodily raised nearly 2000 years ago. So set your hearts and minds on the things above. Look at life through the lens of the sovereignty of Jesus Christ! Those things above! Christ's unconditional love for you. His grace, His mercy, His forgiveness, that eternal life that He so wonderfully heaps upon us if we have met him. And when we do that, then we can fully expect that no matter what happens to us in this life, good or bad, whatever slams into our lives, or whatever blesses our lives Christ promises that He will be with us in and through each of those things. He is working in and through them, redeeming them, transforming them, weaving them, orchestrating them into his ultimate plan of salvation for you and me. My friends, that is the gospel truth.

Disney has recently re-released one of their great animated classics, "Peter Pan". And there is this one scene where Peter comes into the children's bedroom and they ask him how to fly. And Peter says, "Think wonderful, lovely thoughts and they will lift you up into the air." How sweet. Sort of Robert Schuller in tights. On this Easter morning, ladies and gentlemen, I'm here to tell you that God is not in the business of granting lovely wonderful wishes. God is not in the business of fulfilling sentimental pipe dreams. God is in the business of raising people from the dead. And if you have met Jesus Christ at more than second hand, you have been raised with him. You and I as Christians can fly. Not by thinking lovely, wonderful thoughts, but by setting our hearts and minds on the things above, ultimately the sovereignty of the Lord Jesus Christ, who no tomb could hold and who will return one day to reign in power and majesty. And when he does, all of who you and I really are will be revealed with him in his glory.

That Easter reality gripped someone no less than Winston Churchill down to planning his own funeral. Churchill planned his funeral to take place in St. Paul's cathedral. In that service he included some of the great hymns of the faith. At the end of the service, per Sir Winston's instructions, after the benediction was pronounced, a lone bugler in the dome of St. Paul's cathedral began to play Taps, the universal signal that the day is over. And when that bugler stopped, the service took a dramatic turn, because as per Churchill's instructions, another lone bugler, this time on the other side of the dome of St. Paul.'s cathedral began to play Reveille. "It's time to get up, it's time to get up, it's time to get up in the morning..." That, my friends, was Winston Churchill's testimony to the Easter reality: that when all of human history comes to an end (and when your life and my life comes to an end as a believer) the last note that will be sounded will not be Taps, but will be Reveille. Since Christ has died, and since Christ has been raised, and since you have died, and since you have been raised and since the tomb one day was crowded, packed out, but now is empty, and Christ reigns supreme, the bad things will never, never, be the last things.

Do you believe that? Through the centuries, on Easter day, it was common in worship for Christians to reaffirm their baptismal vows. Maybe you were baptized as an adult and you remember those vows. Or maybe you were baptized as an infant. Now is the time to renew those vows and to say "I own them for myself." Maybe you were baptized as an infant but you've never met Jesus Christ. What better day than Easter day to claim vows made on your behalf 10 years ago, 20 years ago, 50 years ago, and come into eternal life. God made you for that!

You know, if you never meet Christ, you've missed the whole reason you were created. We are not into ritual here at Central church. And so I would invite you, and I would invite everyone to stand, but only join in on this if you have received Jesus Christ as your Lord and savior or if you are willing to do that right now. I would invite you to turn in your bulletin and let us renew together our baptismal vows this morning. Let us stand.

Do you renounce all evil and powers in the world which defy God's righteousness and love?

I renounce them.

Do you renounce the ways of sin which separate you from the love of God?

I renounce them.

Do you turn to Jesus Christ and accept Him as your Lord and Savior?

I do.

Will you be Christ's faithful disciple, obeying His word, and showing his love until your life's end?

I will with God's help.

Do you believe in God the Father?

I believe in God the Father almighty creator of heaven and earth.

Do you believe in Jesus Christ, the son of God?

I believe in Jesus Christ, God's only son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended to the dead. On the third day He rose again. He ascended into heaven. He is seated at the right hand of the Father and He will come to judge the living and the dead.

Do you believe in God the Holy Spirit?

I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.

Amen.

Remember your baptism and be thankful. In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.

And also with you.


© 1999, Dr. Ronald W. Scates
Central Presbyterian Church, Baltimore, MD 21204 410/823-6145
www.centralpc.org