We say ‘Christ is risen!’ today, but what difference does it make? Friends, it makes all the difference in the world if Jesus is risen! It means that no matter what happens, there is still hope and new life. It means that even a horrific death on the cross cannot defeat God. It means God is for us, no matter what. It means whatever setbacks or defeats we encounter in life, we can remember this: The last word is not death—the last word is Life!
Let’s look at the women who returned to the tomb early on Sunday morning. They must have loved Jesus, but they were looking for a corpse. They thought that death had had the last word. Their hopes for a new world in which God’s kingdom would finally come had died with Jesus on the Friday. They were heartbroken—but still, they were coming to the tomb to care for his dead body. They were going to anoint it with spices according to their customs. They’d been unable to do it properly before as Jesus’ body was taken from the cross under armed guard and then it was the Sabbath day, when they couldn’t do any work.
They were expecting to be confronted with a tomb cut out of a rock face, with a huge stone across; and they had no idea how they were going to move it.
What they found was something different. The stone was rolled away. Who else would be there? Who else was there who’d come to care for the body? They wouldn’t be grave-robbers, would they? After all, it was Joseph of Arimathea’s family tomb; he was a rich man, but there was nothing of value in with the broken body of Jesus.
Bravely, they entered the tomb. There was a mysterious young man there, who told them something they never expected to hear:
Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.
(Sorry, mysterious young man; they were alarmed…)
So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.
And who can blame them? It was all too much to take in.
Yet they must have told someone, right? Or else the disciples wouldn’t have regained their courage, courage enough to proclaim to all and sundry that Jesus was raised from the dead. Oh, and we couldn’t be here at an Easter service today, would we?
They must have come good in the end, and found that Life is the last word.
But it didn’t end there. The first witnesses of the Resurrection had more to learn. Fast forward a few years, and the Apostle Peter is in a town called Joppa, at the house of Simon the tanner. If you’ve ever smelt a tannery, you’d know why Simon’s house was by the sea and away from most people. Simon was a Jew, but his trade meant constant contact with animal carcasses, so he would be religiously unclean.
Peter didn’t mind that—he’d seen Jesus welcome tax collectors and even touch lepers and dead bodies. So Peter knew that even though Simon was unclean in the Jewish tradition they shared, God still accepted him because of his faith in Jesus. Simon the tanner had found that God’s last word for him was Life.
Still, Peter was being very ‘out there’ staying at Simon’s place. Some people would have opposed his doing this. But he knew that this was how to live the Life that the Lord Jesus, crucified yet risen from the dead, has brought to light.
But Peter drew the line at Gentiles—people like most of us. Lodging with a Jewish tanner was ok, but he wouldn’t stay at a Gentile’s place— unless that Gentile had first become a Jew. That last word for an unclean Jewish believer may be Life, but Peter knew where to draw the line.
However, God had other ideas. What Peter didn’t realise is that Christ had won the victory over death for everyone. Not just ‘his’ people, but all people. The last word for everyone is Life.
I said before that it makes all the difference in the world if Jesus is risen. All the difference to all people, no matter who they are. There is hope and new life for all. God is for all people, no matter who. Whatever setbacks or defeats anyone may encounter in life, they are invited to remember this: No matter who you are, the last word is Life.
So God has these wonderful Gentile friends, but Peter won’t even give them the time of day. How can God introduce them?
Peter was up on the flat roof of Simon’s house, and it was time to eat. Lunch was being prepared. But Peter had a vision he wasn’t prepared for. He saw a sheet coming down from heaven—so it’s coming directly from God. On the sheet are all sorts of unclean animals, things Peter just wouldn’t eat. And a voice told him to ‘kill and eat’.
Peter did what any self-respecting person would do when told he should do something he’d always known was just plain wrong—he refused. He said,
By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is profane or unclean.
This conversation between the Lord and Peter happened three times. And Peter still hadn’t got it. Perhaps he thought God was testing him.
But no, this was God’s way of softening him up for what was to come. The Gentile Cornelius had a vision from God also, which told him to send for Peter. So he sent three men to Joppa, who arrived just after Peter’s vision.
Peter realised that God was showing him not to call anyone unclean. Didn’t matter who. So he went to Cornelius’s house over in Caesarea.
And as Peter shared the Good News of Jesus with Cornelius, the Holy Spirit came upon everyone there. Jew and Gentile alike, it didn’t matter.
The living Lord Jesus is out and about setting people free to be alive. Doesn’t matter who they are. No one is left out. Jesus has risen for us all!
The struggle to accept this goes on today. There are those who seem to think the last word for at least some others should not be Life. As we live in this world in which Christ is risen, are there people we exclude from the fellowship of Jesus? Asylum seekers, people of a different sexual orientation, the mentally ill, who we exclude through prejudice or fear or even laziness? Friends, Christ is risen indeed! The last word for everyone is Life!