April 24th, 2011
“Here's What Victory Looks Like”
October 23rd, 2001. Monday Night Football. The New York Jets hosted their divisional rivals, the Miami Dolphins. The nation was watching, and your football obsessed pastor was watching. But it was looking bad for the Jets, as the Dolphins had taken an early lead. Still, some had hope. At Halftime, Arnold Schwarzenegger made an appearance in the announcers' booth and predicted a Jets victory. “The I think as usual the Jets are going to come from behind, you will see... I think the Dolphins have to be terminated.”
Going into the 4th Quarter, the Jets were behind by 30-7, and it seemed so hopeless that fans started to leave the stadium in droves, and even your football obsessed pastor turned off the TV and went to bed. The game finally ended at 1:30 in the morning, in overtime, when the Jets made an amazing comeback. They won with a final score of 40-37. It would go down in history as the “Monday Night Miracle”. And yet so many of us missed it, because we had given up hope.
Today is Easter. Today we celebrate a far greater victory. Today we mark the Sunday Morning Miracle that is the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ! He has conquered the enemy. He has terminated death itself. And now that he is risen, our victory is assured! Christ is risen! (He is risen indeed, Alelluia!)
It looked bad. It looked like game over. The Enemy had won. Jesus was defeated. They finally arrested him. But he didn't run away. The questioned him, but he didn't answer their charges. They crucified him, but he didn't deserve it. They mocked him, “Come down from the cross!” but he stayed up there. Why? Because he was doing battle. He was fighting – for you. Yes, by suffering and dying he was conquering death by death. He was destroying sin by becoming sin. He was taking away punishment by taking the punishment we deserved.
And then he died. This wasn't how they thought it would end. They were looking forward to glory, thrones, trumpets, revelry – victory! But in the darkness of a Friday afternoon they took his body down, wrapped it up, hastily buried him in a tomb, sealed it up and went away in despair. What a letdown! What a defeat.
Still under that cloud of sorrow, some women came to finish their job – to give him a proper burial, spices and all. But despair deepened when they saw his body had been stolen - or so they thought. Does it get any worse, any lower, any more insult to injury?
But it's always darkest before the dawn. These women, and those disciples, and now we too – are about to see what victory looks like!
An angel appears – and then another. “Don't be afraid. Jesus isn't here. Yes, I know he was crucified – but he is risen from the dead, just like he said! He's not here because he is alive. He's back. See the place where he lay.”
Yes, look and see – what does victory look like? It looks like an empty tomb. Grave clothes neatly folded up. No stench of death. No sound of mourning. No corpse to see. Jesus leaves death behind, and in that empty tomb we see our victory.
“Go to Galilee, and you will see him” the angel told them. And would they ever! Jesus would spend 40 more days alive on this earth, appearing to his disciples here and there, and in Galilee. He would show them, prove to them, that he was and is alive! This was no delusion of a few crazy women. This was proof positive of his triumph and our life.
And as they went, joyfully, they even met Jesus. They saw him. They worshiped him. And he greeted them with kindness, and told them not to be afraid. And he told them to go and tell others, so that they too would see. And so the women did. Many others saw, and believed.
And while we haven't seen, we still know the victory. We see it with the eyes of faith. Jesus Christ is alive.
Sometimes we may give up hope. Sometimes it seems all is lost. Daily life can be discouraging. Fears and pains are common. Grief is no stranger to us. We know the darkness. And we know our sins. Struggle as we might, we can't escape them. They keep haunting us and plaguing us. We can't get it right, no matter how hard we try. And death is always before us. The clock is ticking. Time is running out. The fans are starting to leave the stadium.
But don't give up hope. For Jesus pulled it off! He has won the victory. Not just for himself, but for you! This is what YOUR victory looks like – an empty tomb. A risen Savior!
When life's troubles threaten us, Jesus lives to protect us! When Satan's lies tempt us, Jesus lives to strengthen us! When death's shadow hovers over us, Jesus lives to shine a light of hope! When our own sins defeat us, Jesus lives and says, “Father forgive them!” When it seems we are finished, Jesus lives and says, “IT IS FINISHED!” Death is finished. Pain, suffering, despair, all the darkness and misery that sin brings.... all of it is finished in Christ our living Lord!
He greets you with kindness in his forgiving Word, today. He feeds you with his risen body and blood, making you a partaker of his life, even today. He takes all your loss and drowns it in baptismal water, raising the new victorious man to live for him each day. And he promises you a resurrection like his – a final victory celebration that will never end.
When defeat stares you in the face, remember the victory we celebrate this day. Jesus lives! This is what victory looks like. The Sunday Morning Miracle. Christ is risen! (He is risen indeed, Alelluia!) Amen.