The Ultimate Answer

Delivered April 15, 2001 by Rev. George Antonakos.
Theme: Jesus’ resurrection is the answer to lifes most difficult questions.

Sermon Text:
Mark 16:1-8

Now let us attend to the word of God by turning to Mark Chapter 16 verses 1 through 8. This is one of the shortest versions of the resurrection story in the gospels. Listen to the Word of God, as communicated through Mark’s gospel.

When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome brought spices so but might go to anoint Jesus’ body. Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb and they asked each other, ‘Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?’ But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed. “Don’t be alarmed,” he said. ‘You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid hem. But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’ Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.

Let us pray: Gracious Lord we thank you that you can meet us here in the midst of all our fears and our concerns. We ask that you open our minds so that we might understand the Scriptures, for we ask it in Your name. Amen.

The title of my sermon today is The Ultimate Answer. When you heard that statement, or maybe read it in the bulletin, you might have asked, “Well, what exactly is the question?” And that’s just it, there isn’t just one question, there are a multitude of questions, and they are Doozies. Is there life after death? Is there a God? What’s the meaning of life? Why was I born? Who am I, really? Where am I going? What we celebrate today provides the Ultimate Answer to all of these kinds of questions and then some. But still other questions come to mind. Especially questions that are suggested by Mark’s account of the resurrection. There is the question of the women in this text and that brings up other types of questions, like-“When you hope for something really hard and it doesn’t happen, what do you do then?” Or perhaps Peter had a question like-“When you fail the person that you love the most, can you ever be forgiven?” And maybe the women and Peter had a common question–“When you lose someone that you love, can you ever really get over it?” These are all hard questions. But today we have an answer. Actually, there is a question in Mark’s version of the Easter story that does not appear in any of the other gospels. On the way to the tomb to anoint Jesus with perfumed ointment the women ask, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?” This question symbolizes every impossible or difficult situation that anyone can ever face or encounter. And that leads us to a whole other list of questions-“How will I ever get this work done? How will I ever pay these bills? How will I ever raise these kids? Will this marriage ever work? Will I ever stop feeling guilty? Does anyone care about my problem?” You see the Easter story begins with people who are on their way to doing something but had no idea how it was going to get done. But Verse 4 of Mark 16 gives us a hint. “But when they looked up they saw.” Now maybe that’s a little bit trite and pretty basic, but the passage says that when the women looked up they saw that their question had been answered. When we look up, when we begin to look up to God, that’s when our tough questions get answered. But in order for them to be answered, we have to look up at the right thing.

A few years ago, thirty-nine people were looking up as they stood on the soil of San Diego, California watching a meteor trace across the sky. Their leader was telling them that it really wasn’t a meteor they were watching, but that it was a spaceship coming to take them all out of this “veil of tears.” Then the thirty-nine members of the Heaven’s Gate cult committed mass suicide. You see, it’s not enough to look up, you’ve got to look up at the right thing. Even more importantly, it’s not enough to look up, but you’ve got to listen up, too. The scriptures always place more emphasis on listening than on seeing. In fact, today our whole faith is based not on something we see, but on something that we hear. A pastor’s small son was coming in from play and his mother told him, “Go wash your hands, there are a lot of germs in that dirt!” He flolded his hands and refused to wash them. Then he said, “Germs and Jesus, germs and Jesus, that’s all I ever hear around this house, and I have never seen either one.” There are some things that we don’t see, but we know. And if these women had gone to the tomb and found it empty and there was no message to explain the phenomenon, they would have had many possible questions, but no answers. I mean the obvious questions are: “Where’s the body? Who moved the stone? Where have they taken Jesus?” People don’t always believe what they see. They have to hear. And the people in the first century, who did not believe in Jesus’ resurrection, never disputed the empty tomb. In fact, they argued the theft of the body. Which in itself proved that the tomb was indeed empty. They just had a different explanation for it.

We don’t believe what we see many times, so we have to hear an interpretation. There are shows that have illusions and magic in them, and you look at those illusions and think, “I can’t believe what I am seeing.” And there are even other shows that reveal the magic tricks and you find out how they did all those things and you say, “Oh, now I understand.” You have an explanation; you have an understanding of the secret. So here’s the secret of the phenomenon that is seen by the women. The women look at the stone rolled away and they enter the tomb and they move from amazement, and then as the scripture says, to alarm.. The scripture text says that a young man dressed in a white robe is sitting on the right side of the tomb. Apparently to the right side of where Jesus had lain. Not only is there no dead body, but also there is this mysterious messenger. It’s the message that is heard that becomes all-important. I shared this thought a few weeks ago at Marge Himmer’s funeral. We have to interpret, like Jesus did, what is going on, because un-interpreted phenomenon helps no one. We do this all the time with our children. Our kids are going to bed and they see a basket of clothes in the hall and they say, “Mom there’s a lion out there.” And we flip on the light and we say, “There’s no lion, it’s just a basket of clothes.” Or they are lying down and it’s a windy night and they hear something outside the window and they say, “Mom, there’s a burglar out there.” And we say, “No honey, it’s windy and there’s just a bush rubbing against the screen. That’s all it is. Go back to sleep.” You see how un-interpreted phenomena cause fear, but interpreted phenomena take away fear. And that’s exactly what the messenger is doing. He’s explaining what’s happened, what these women are seeing, what other people had another explanation for. And I will tell you that there’s nothing quite so fearful as facing death and having questions but no answers. And here’s the Ultimate Answer to the fear of death and the pain of failure–Do not be alarmed. This statement is in Verse 6-“Don’t be alarmed. You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene who was crucified. He has risen. He is not here. See the place where they laid him.” That’s the Ultimate Answer. That’s the Ultimate Answer today as much as it was 2000 years ago. The real heart of Easter is a personal invitation to meet the once crucified, now risen Lord. For you and I to be able to encounter Him personally no matter how disillusioned, no matter how fearful, no matter how confused we are. Jesus will encounter each and every one of us, as we go to meet Him. But the women, after hearing the message to go on ahead and meet Jesus in Galilee, (even when they were told that they would see Him there,) the last verse says, “trembling and bewildered the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone because they were afraid.” Again, this word has an extra emphasis on fear. Have you ever been so afraid in your life when you just didn’t know where you were or what you were doing? Or you didn’t know what was happening? I am a little embarrassed to tell you this, but it illustrates what fear can do.

It was an August night about five years ago and it was a very hot. All the windows in the house were open and whole house fan was on trying to draw some cool air in from the outside. And I was lying on my bed, in my shorts, watching a television show. And as I was watching the television, there is a movement I caught out of the corner of my eye, that I am unfamiliar with. It didn’t look like a person, and all of a sudden I looked up a little bit and saw this huge, it seemed really huge at the time, huge bat swoop down an inch from my face and fly right over my head and start circling around the room. Now, I don’t know about you, some of you might be naturalists and like to study these things, but I hate bats. And I was conditioned in my childhood to hate bats very much. I didn’t know what I was doing. I just jumped out of bed and ran out the door. I shut the bedroom door and kept yelling, “Aah, Aah, Aah!” Ellen, who was at the other end of the house, thought that I was probably dying, maybe having a heart attack. She said, “What’s the matter?” I said, “There’s a BBBBB, there’s a BBBB!” So, I ran down to the other end of the house and put a jacket on, I don’t know what that was supposed to do. I put a jacket on and zipped it up to the top of my neck. And I found a tennis racket of course. I got the tennis racket, and I’m in my shorts and jacket and I have my hand on the door knob and I’m like, “Okay, what are you going to do, what are you going to do?” You know I couldn’t tell Ellen to go in and do it, so I opened the door and looked in and there it was. I shut the door again. I waited for about five more minutes. I went in but I couldn’t see it. We had a bathroom off the master bedroom, so I went in to the bathroom and I peeked in and flipped on the light, and saw that the bat had wedged itself between the two glass shower doors and with the light in the background I could see everything, its skeleton, its wing span, everything. And I got chilled. I’m getting chills just thinking about it right now. And I looked at that bat and I’m saying, “What do I do now? It’s kind of trapped in there!” So I was taught that if you just open a window, turn out the lights, and just wait, then the bat will just fly out of your house. So I said, “Okay, this is it.” So I opened the bathroom window, shut the door, and turned out the light and waited about five or ten minutes. That’s got to be enough time. I opened the bathroom door, whew – right over my head! Now I’m in the other side of the bedroom, I’m not near the exit door, and now I’m getting mad. Now it’s just the bat and me. Again, you naturalists forgive me, but the bat took one swoop back around and I missed it. Second time around, I aced it right into the corner and said, “Ellen! Come and get the dustpan and pick that up! I am not going near it anymore!” Here’s the answer to fear. Today, this day, the emptiness of the tomb, is an ace on death. It takes death and knocks it out, so that anybody who believes will have ever-lasting life. The word today is– Don’t leave this place in silent fear. Don’t leave with burdens of unanswered questions when the answer is right in front of you. Jesus the Christ, the Risen One, wants to meet you. You might have come here today like you might have come to a symphony or play. And the last thing that you ever expected to hear was that Jesus wants to meet you personally. Why do you think that the messenger said, “Go and tell the disciples and Peter.” Because Peter had failed his Lord so badly. In the darkest hour, Peter was not there for Jesus. But the word is, “Go and tell the disciples, and especially tell Peter that he wants to meet you. He wants to take away your fear of failure. He wants to take away any fear you have.” Peter was being reclaimed, he was being recycled, and he was given a holy purpose by Jesus, whom he thought he failed.

There’s probably close to 200 of us here today. And you might think you can get lost in the crowd, but Jesus knows your name. And He wants to have a personal relationship with you and He wants to encounter you. And He knows your fears, He knows everything that’s in your mind and heart and what concerns you. And He is saying to you, “Just meet me and I will take care of it.”

He might not give you a specific and concrete answer, but He is the Ultimate Answer. He is the Ultimate Answer to fear and death today. Now why would He want to call you by name? Let me tell you why. Actually, I got the answer myself when we were at dinner with some friends just a few weeks ago. We were in Pennsylvania visiting people that we lived next to for five years. They had a little boy named Danny. We had known Danny from birth and it was like grandchild practice for us. We just loved being around Danny. And now Danny is four and we were all out to dinner together. And Ellen, my wife, said to Danny, “Danny you are just the best little boy. You are such a sweet little boy, you are so good.” Then he looked right at her and said, “Sometimes I do bad things.” And she said, “Really.” And then Danny said, “But Jesus died for my sins.” He said it right there. Out of the mouths of babes comes something that people who are 40 and 80 don’t even realize. That’s why Jesus wants to meet you. To let you know you’re forgiven. To let you know that his death can take away your sins. To give you a whole new frame of reference about life and death.

Let me tell you about another little boy, a 5-year old, who was attending the funeral of a 5-year old friend who died in a freak accident. There is nothing more perplexing than the death of a child. The hardest funeral I have ever done was for a 19-month-old who died of heart problems. There is no more perplexing question than that. But this little boy, Colin, was at his friend’s funeral. His mother picks up the story. She says “Colin acted like any 5-year old would during a worship service, fidgeting, wandering, and whispering. But during the whole thing he seemed to be absolutely transfixed by the little casket that was perched on top of a cart in the main aisle white cloth was draped over it and a candle on the casket. After the service, Colin watched as the ushers removed the white cloth and the candle, and carried the casket down the steps.” Colin’s mother explained to him how Cory was not really in that box, which would be buried in the ground, but that Cory and his spirit were in heaven with Jesus. She said, “that as we walked down the steps toward the car, Colin paused to lean on the railing and he looked at me and said, ‘Mom that wasn’t a box that Cory was in.” Then the mother said, “I know, I was just trying to explain it to you the best that I could.” Colin said, “I think it looks like a treasure chest.” That’s what the Ultimate Answer of this Easter day does. It turns caskets into treasure chest. It turns despair into hope. It turns fear into faith. It turns darkness into light, and death into life.

And our Lord Jesus Christ wants to do all those things for you. And all you need to do is open your heart and say, “Lord, thank you for dying for my sins, for being raised on the third day.” That’s the word of Paul, “If we confess with our mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in our heart that God raised him from the dead, we shall be saved.” Believe it and live in it’s peace. Amen.

Gracious Lord we thank You for this word. This word above all words that You are resurrected from the dead, that You have defeated death. That You have aced death completely and the last enemy is defeated. Lord we thank You that we have eternal life right now on the basis of faith, that You gracious God are life itself and You will live in the body, the mind and the heart of anyone who will trust You. So we pray Lord Jesus for those who are fearful today, for those who are struggling, for those who have never put their faith and trust in you that they will understand and believe today. For we ask it in Christ’s name, Amen.