“Now after the Sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And behold, there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay.” (Matthew 28:1-6 ESV)
A resurrection begs questions and answers. The most important question is, so what? Or what does this mean? It means many, many things, but this Easter I want us to see this through the prism of a time warp. So what is the future like?
We know what the present is like. And we know what the past is like. All the people of the past, their items are in the Smithsonian, their stories are in history books, and their bodies are in cemeteries. You likely drove by one recently. What did you think when you looked? We’ve trained ourselves to not think really anything, especially the reality every cemetery provides. Someday that’s me.
For all the importance we place on ourselves and our lives and pursuits and schedules, all our self-importance goes right into that grave with us. Even the greatest people who ever lived, we can only talk about them in the past tense. They were this. They were that. In the present they are the same as all other past people—dead.
The present is somewhat similar in that the present world we live in is marked by suffering and difficulty—not all the time—but even when we aren’t hurting or in a trial we know it’s coming. This is the cloud that hangs over even our best moments. We know they won’t last and that eventually we will be like the wrinkly, hunched over senior citizens around us. They were once like we are and they looked at old people and hoped it would never happen to them. And yet it has. All around us in the present tense is the reality that we are fading into the past tense. We are but we know we are sliding towards we were. We are all “ises” and “wases.”
In our best moments of clarity, we dare ask the future tense, what’s to come? What lies ahead? What will be my place and my experience then? How could we know?
What if someone from the future came into the present to fix our problem from the past? What if his coming signaled the beginning of the future in the present? What if the resurrection was actually the beginning of the future in the here and now? A sign of things to come? What if his coming means that rather than sliding toward the past, in him everything is sliding toward the future? God’s kingdom. His rule and reign forever and my part in it.
Jesus’ resurrection means all this and more.
There is another incident of resurrection in Jesus’ story that helps us understand. In John 11 Jesus’ good friend Lazarus died. Jesus comes to the grieving family. In their pain they say, “Lord, if you had been here, [our] brother would not have died.” (John 11:21) Jesus says, “Your brother will rise again.” (John 11:23) Martha says, Yes, someday. We see in Martha confusion about future tense and present tense. For her, resurrection was only possible in the distant future. She didn’t realize the power of future resurrection was standing right in front of her.
Jesus answers, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live.” (John 11:25) Notice the tense. I am the resurrection and the life. Present tense. Not someday. Now. Here. Let me show you. And he summons Lazarus out of the grave.
Martha is like so many of us even on Easter. We believe in a theoretical future of some vague kind of resurrection and we hope for the best. And we fail to realize that Jesus’ resurrection means new life is now. It’s here. Jesus doesn’t say, I will be the resurrection and the life, he says, “I am the resurrection and the life.” God’s kingdom is here and now because the King of the kingdom has come and from now on new life and eternal life are available today for any who believe in him.
You may go on living in your present tense world but eventually you will be forced to consider the future tense. Two families in our church this week are dwelling on the future. I spent time on the phone this week with one family. A child has been born. Essentially born with no brain function and serious medical issues. They asked, “What do we do when this child can only survive by being attached to machines?”
The other family is on the other end of the spectrum. Another family lost their patriarch. He walked with God for many years and by all testimonies was a faithful, Christian man. A few days ago he was teaching some folks how to play shuffleboard when he had a massive heart attack.
In both cases, Christianity’s answer is, “I am the resurrection and the life.” The glory of that first Easter morning is a present reality right now. We have the confidence that the baby and the elderly man, the 49 Christians bombed in Egypt, killed on Palm Sunday…who knows what’s awaiting you this week or this year—there is life eternal right here, right now for all who believe.
The first sermon I ever heard by our old youth pastor Don Helton, he told about a bar that he drove by when he went home from college. It had a huge billboard on it that said, Free Beer Tomorrow. It’s safe to advertise because it’s never tomorrow, it’s always today.
Easter isn’t great merely because there’s resurrection tomorrow. Easter is great because there’s eternal life today. Tomorrow has invaded today through the resurrection of Jesus. Eternal life is here now for all who believe in him. “He is not here, he is risen, as he said.”
Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
© 2017 by Steve DeWitt. You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that: (1) you credit the author, (2) any modifications are clearly marked, (3) you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, (4) you include Bethel’s website address (www.bethelweb.org) on the copied resource.
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