First United Methodist Church
Plymouth, Indiana

God's Big Surprise: The Resurrection

Sunday, October 22nd's uplifting message “God’s Big Surprise: The Resurrection” by Rev. Toni Carmer continuing week 27 of a 31 week study of “The Story – The Bible as One Continuous Story of God and His People.”


God's Big Surprise: The Resurrection
Matthew 28:1-10
First United Methodist Church, October 22, 2017
Pastor Toni L. Carmer

Last week we walked through the last week of Jesus' life and witnessed his death on the cross.  It is our temptation to jump straight into Easter, and that's where our reading takes us this week (Chapter 27 of the Story, and each of the 4 Gospels in scripture)…but first I'd like for us to linger just a bit longer together at the foot of the cross.  His loved ones on that day were surely more than ready for that time to end…for his suffering to end.  The soldiers who were there were more than ready for it be done as well: they broke the legs of the two thieves on each side of Jesus to speed their deaths, but Jesus was already gone.  Most likely the beating that Jesus suffered at Pilate's order hastened his death…there were some who would die from that punishment, never making it to the cross of their execution. 

But in spite of the beating, the taunts and whatever else happened along the way between Pilate's palace and Golgotha—Jesus was raised on the cross, and in the hours that he hung there, he cried out to God.  Some of his words sound as though he is desperately crying out to his father who has perhaps forgotten him…and we reassure ourselves that Jesus was fully human and so of course experienced our physical pain and our emotional distress when faced with such anguish.    But maybe his words triggered a completely different response to the original hearers.

I learned this week that there is a Jewish educational technique that rabbis used to help people memorize scripture. Jewish people, particularly in the Old Testament, would memorize volumes of scripture, because there were no written copies of the Bible like we have today. So, the rabbi would offer hints to help them recite a passage using a tradition called remez, where he would start off the text with a phrase, and the students would finish it.  We'll do a little remez together, where I'll start out with something that you have memorized, and you'll finish it:

"Mary had a little lamb,"

"His fleece was white as snow."

"And everywhere that Mary went,"

"The lamb was sure to go."

 That's called remez. There were other times when Jesus used this practice to teach his disciples and other followers, and scholars believe that what he is doing on the cross is remezing; he is giving the people the first line to a song they had memorized, and they would be encouraged and complete it. Where is the song?  It was written by King David, 1000 years before the cross of Jesus.  It is Psalm 22.

As you might suspect, the very first line of the Psalm reads: 

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? (Psalm 22:1).

To which the people would respond with the second line of the Psalm (please join me):

Why are you so far from saving me,
So far from my cries of anguish?
My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer,
By night, but I find no rest (Psalm 22:1-2).

This would cause the Jewish people, who memorized this Psalm as a child, to go deeper into the Psalmist's lament, and they would find themselves in the petitions made to God. The first petition they would run into is found in verse 7, where David sang:

Psalmist:  "All who see me mock me: they hurl insults, shaking their heads" (Psalm 22:7)

At this, the people in the crowd would be saying, "Wait a minute? Didn't we just do this to Jesus?"  Here is what the Gospel says:

GOSPEL: "Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads" (Matthew 27:39).

They would then come to the next petition of David in Psalm 22, where David sings:

Psalmist: "He trusts in the Lord," they say, "let the Lord rescue him" (Psalm 22:8)

Wait a minute, the people would say, "didn't the thief on the cross just say that every same thing to Jesus just a few hours ago?"  Well, yes, he did:

GOSPEL: "He trusts in God. Let God rescue him now…" (Matthew 27:43)

That would lead them to the next petition of David that they memorized, in Psalm 22:15:

PSALMIST: "My mouth is dried up like a potsherd…" (Psalm 22:15) [a pottery fragment]

Wait a minute…didn't Jesus just say something like that?

JESUS:  "I'm thirsty" (John 19:28).

It's all becoming clearer to the people…  The next petition comes,

PSALMIST: "…they pierce my hands and feet" (Psalm 22:16).

We don't have a record of King David's hands or feet being pierced. Could it be that none of this actually happened to David?  That this is all a prophesy of what is yet to come?  Listen now to Thomas's words in John 20:

GOSPEL: "Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were,
And put my hand into his side, I will not believe" (John 20:25).

They come then to the final petition we're going to talk about today, where David sings:

PSALMIST: "They divide my clothes among them and cast lots for my garment" (Psalm 22:18).

They saw it happen.  This is what the Roman soldiers did after nailing Jesus to the cross:

GOSPEL: "And they crucified him. Dividing up his clothes, they cast lots to see what each would get" (Mark 15:24).

Wait a minute, they may have said…Jesus the rabbi is remezing with us.  He's leading us through the fuller story of what is happening to him on cross.  He is pointing us to the Psalm that was written over a 1000 years ago, which describes everything that has just happened! This is fulfillment of prophesy. 

The Psalm makes a shift, declaring praise for deliverance.  This is what it says:

I will declare your name to my people;
in the assembly I will praise you.
You who fear the Lord, praise him!
All you descendents of Jacob, honor him!
Revere him, all you descendents of Israel!
For he has not despised or scorned
the suffering of the afflicted one;
he has not hidden his face from him
but he has listened to his cry for help (Psalm 22:22-24).

Jesus was not abandoned on the cross, he was not forsaken, and he knew that… Finally, his bodily strength spent, and the moment of his death quickly approaching, Jesus says…

"It is finished."  And with that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit (John 19:30)

Finished doesn't mean defeated. Finished means his work his done. This is how Psalm 22 ends:

They will proclaim his righteousness,
Declaring to a people yet unborn:
He has done it! (Psalm 22:31)

Who are the "people yet unborn?" That's you and me. All these years later, people like you and I stand up and proclaim his Word. He has done it!  It is finished!  Jesus died, but that wasn't the end…not for him, not for his followers then, not for us today. 

The disciples lived through/survived that Saturday.  On Thursday with his arrest, and Friday his crucifixion and death…it was a heavy load.  They had run away frightened, afraid that soldiers might come looking for them, that there may be a cross waiting for them.  Saturday had to be exhausting…trying to remember everything that Jesus had said...  What had he meant?  Had Jesus been wrong?  They’d given up everything to follow him.  What now?  How will they know what to do next since he was gone…dead…in a tomb.

Early Sunday morning, the women did what they always did when a loved one died, they go to the tomb to prepare his body.  But it’s gone.  The religious leaders had thought that the followers of Jesus would come steal his body—make it look like he resurrected by stealing it, so they had posted guards.  But they hadn’t expected an angel. There was a violent earthquake, an angel appeared and rolled away the stone and the soldiers became like dead men (modern term—scared to death).  When the women arrive, they listen to what the angel says, and run to tell the disciples what had happened. 

Peter and the other disciple, who we believe to be John, run to the tomb to see for themselves.  John arrives first, but it is Peter who first enters the tomb.  When John steps inside and sees the burial cloths, he believes.  He doesn’t understand, but he believes.  The men return to the place where they are staying, and Mary remains at the tomb, weeping.

She looks inside the tomb, and sees two angels sitting at the place where Jesus had lay.  They speak to her and ask, “Why are you weeping?”

“They’ve taken my Lord away, and I don’t know where they have put him.”

She turns around and Jesus is standing there, but she doesn’t realize it’s him.  He asks,  “Woman, why are you weeping?  Who are you looking for?”

“Tell me where he is, and I will get him.”

Then Jesus speaks her name and she realizes that it is him.  She reaches out to him, but he tells her not to hold on to him, because he hasn’t yet ascended to the Father…  He instructs her to go to the disciples and tell this to them, and she gladly does “I have seen the Lord!” she says to them…

In Luke 24 and in the Story p. 384, we read that on that same day, Jesus appears to others as they walk to a village called Emmaus, about 7 miles from Jerusalem.  They’re talking about what has happened when Jesus begins walking along with them, but they don’t recognize who it is.  He asks what they’re talking about, and they tell him the whole story: about Jesus of Nazareth who was a prophet, powerful in word and deed, who they had hoped would be the Messiah. But he had been arrested and crucified.  Then, that very morning, some women had gone to prepare his body, and had seen a vision of angels, who told that he was alive.  The men had gone to the tomb and it was as the women had said, but they didn’t see Jesus.

“How foolish you are, and how slow to believe,” Jesus responded, and he began teaching them the things written about himself in the scriptures, starting with Moses and going through all the prophets.

When they reached their destination, they invited Jesus to remain with them and he did.  When they began to share a meal together, when Jesus took the bread, gave thanks, broke it and gave it to them, they recognized him…and then he disappeared from their sight.

They ran all the way back to Jerusalem, found the remaining disciples and told them what had happened.  While they were talking, Jesus again appeared to them.  They were frightened, filled with joy, not quite sure—they thought he was a ghost!  But he showed them his hands and feet, his flesh and bones, and then he asked for food—ate in their presence. 

He then opened their minds, scripture tells us, so that they could understand the scriptures.  Told them to remain in Jerusalem until power on high came to them.

Thomas wasn’t with the others when Jesus had come to them.  He tells them, I won’t believe until I see the nail marks in his hands and put my hand into his side.  A week later, Jesus returns to the disciples, and this time Thomas is there.  He sees and he believes.

Jesus comes to the disciples two more times…Peter decides to go out into the boat and fish and the others say they’ll come along.  But they don’t catch anything. Some guy starts shouting to them from the shore and tells them to throw their nets out on the other side of the boat. Can’t have any worse luck than what they’re already having.  They throw the nets over on that side, and catch so many fish they can’t haul in the net.

John looks back at the man on the shore again (to give him a thumbs up, I would guess), and this time recognizes him to be Jesus. He gasps, “It is the Lord!”  Peter immediately jumps into the water and begins swimming back to shore.  The rest of the disciples do their best to follow, towing the net filled with fish behind them.

When they get to shore, Jesus has a fire started and says, bring some of your fish and we’ll have breakfast together.  Jesus takes the bread and breaks it and gives it to them.  When the fish are done he passes them around.  They eat together…

When they finish eating, Jesus says to Simon Peter—the one who denied him:  “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” 

"Yes, Lord, I love you.”

'Then feed my sheep.’

Then Jesus asks again, “Simon, Son of John, do you love me?”

“Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”

“Take care of my sheep.”

Simon Peter is hurt when Jesus asks him the third time: “Do you love me?”

“Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”

“Then feed my sheep.  Follow me.”

Three times Simon Peter had denied Jesus, said he didn’t know him.  And now, three times over he has proclaimed, not only his belief, but his love.  His faith in himself is renewed and he’s again ready to follow Jesus. 

Jesus appears one last time to the disciples.  Before ascending into heaven, he says to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.  And surely, I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

So what does this mean for you and me? Two things, I think…

First, when our lives seem to go upside down, in those moments when we are broken and feeling forgotten, when life has put us on a cross, we can remember the truth of Easter: we can trust that God is with us, that we haven’t been forgotten, and that ultimately, God’s love wins. 

Trust that. Believe that. Live that. The cross and the nails aren’t the last word: the empty tomb is the last word!

Second, share this news with the world by your living, your loving, your words and your actions.  The women and the men ran to tell the world that hate, sin and death get overturned by the love of God. We are invited to do the same thing!

Those of us gathered in this room can probably think of at least one or two people we know who need to hear the Easter news. Stop for a moment and think: who in your life needs to hear the Easter news of love and hope? If you’ll get quiet with me for a minute, I’m confident you’re going to see a face or think of a name. It may be a child, parent or sibling; it may be someone who works in the next cubicle or teaches in an adjoining classroom; it may be the cashier at the store, or your favorite waitress at your favorite restaurant who you know is going through a tough time. 

The thing is:  the story isn’t over. It continues as the Spirit moves through us. So live the Easter truth and trust God in your Golgotha moments, and share with others -in a kind and genuine and loving way- the truth that they are never alone and that God’s love overcomes all.  That’s good news.  Amen.