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4 DAYS THAT CHANGED THE WORLD: Dawning of a New Day     1 Thess. 4:13-18  

Sometimes when we gather for Easter, we sing songs about life and resurrection, and it can feel a little bit like we’re telling an incomplete story.  We all know that, in the end, it’s coming, SOMEDAY, but TODAY there’s some stings, aren’t there?  Life is awe inspiring, and it can be awful.  Life is painful, and it’s powerful.  Life can be holy in one moment and harrowing in the next.   That’s the life that we live, isn’t it?  We have these moments of bliss and then we have the reality of brokenness.

If you’ve ever been on a vacation and if you’re anything like me, I’m a time guy.  I always want to know how many days until the vacation, how many days are we going to be on vacation, and then once we hit halfway point on the vacation. . . . .anybody with me?  I start doing a time clock in my mind of ‘this is great but it’s going to end.’  Halfway point, the day is great.  Next day, it clicks over and ‘oh no, it’s ending!’  The beauty of being there is sort of overshadowed by the reality that life’s coming again.  It’s temporary.  I think so much of our lives carry with it that in the shadows we hear this voice saying, “It’s good, but it’s temporary.”  It’s good, but eventually you’ll have to say good-bye.  It’s beautiful, but eventually you’ll breathe your last breath.

The Hebrew poets of old had this way of talking about death.  They sort of had this word picture.  The cords of death entangled me…  {They wrapped around me.  They were all encompassing and, at times, it was all I could think about.}  the anguish of the grave came over me;  {It’s like this voice lurking in the shadows that says it’s coming for us all.}  I was overcome by distress and sorrow.  (Psalm 116:3)    That these cords of death that entangle all of us, eventually, they overcome us with sorrow.  If you’ve ever buried a loved one, if you’ve packed up their room, you know those cords, don’t you?  The Scriptures had this way of talking about them that help us relate to. . . . .okay, so the Bible’s invitation isn’t to just fast forward through the pain of life.  It’s not to just fast forward through things like a miscarriage, through things like a death, through things like a loss of a job or livelihood that we thought was our plan, or a loss of a dream.  The Bible doesn’t call us to just ignore these things, and here’s the great news of Easter—Easter doesn’t ask you to ignore those things either.  There’s a reason that these cords don’t feel natural.  It’s because you were never intended to experience them.  The reason we never get use to death is because we have this residual, eternal residue within all of us, where we go, this isn’t right.  Something’s messed up about that.  {Will you look up a me a moment?  Lean in.  Here’s the reason why.}  This was not a part of God’s original design.

As we read in the Scriptures, in the very first part of the Bible, in Genesis 1, you have this creation narrative where God creates and he goes, it’s good.  He does that six days and on the sixth day, he steps back and goes, “Oh, it’s VERY good.”  If you’re God, you can high five yourself and that’s what he does.  He goes, I’ve done something pretty amazing here.  I’m awesome.  I’m God.  Do you know what was NOT a part of his original design?  Death.  Sorrow.  Pain.  We have inside of us this longing to shed these cords, but we all know that it’s not easy and it’s not even possible.  We try different things, don’t we?  We try rationalization, where we go, “Well, everything happens for a reason.”  In the back of our mind we can’t think of a reason it would happen.  Then we start to rationalize with ourselves like, if we believe that about everything in our life, then we have to believe that about everything in the world, then we have things like the Holocaust, and things like tsunamis, and God’s got to be more creative than that, right?  Everything happens for a reason.  God can make reason out of terrible things, he can bring good out of bad situations, but not everything happens for a reason.  Sometimes the reason is the world is broken.  Sometimes, especially in Christian circles, it’s like hey, just turn that frown upside down.  God is good, all the time; all the time, God is good.  Sometimes you just feel like well, the cords of death are entangling me.  Some of us try to out run the cords.  We plan the next adventure.  We live for the next momentary bliss, the next encounter, the next great meal, that makes us pause for a few moments and go, man, life is beautiful, life is great.  Don’t hear me wrong, it is, but that’s momentary, isn’t it?

If you’re here this morning and you’re going, Paulson, thanks for the uplifting Easter message.  You’re welcome, let’s close in prayer.  No, I think we sing about the end of the story, but we live in the middle.  So let’s talk about that.  Let’s enter in.  Let’s ask the question, for those who first followed the way of Jesus, what was their hope?  Was it that death wasn’t a reality?  Was it that grief wasn’t an actual thing?  Actually, it’s just the opposite.  See, Easter invites us to look honestly at the grief of life and hold onto the hope that God is not done.

Here’s the way Paul will say it to the church at Thessalonica.  It was a church he had relationship with, it was a church he wrote to, and it seems like they asked him this question, hey, Paul, what do we do with death?  What do we do with people that have passed away?  Here’s what he says:  Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed {We want you to have all the information, we want you to know what’s true.}  …about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope.  (1 Thess. 4:13)  Sometimes it’s helpful to point out what he DOESN’T say before we talk about what he does say.  He DOESN’T say, “Because we believe in Jesus, we don’t grieve anymore.”  Turn that frown upside down.  Bury your head in the sand, pretend like it doesn’t sting.  Could we take a moment and celebrate the fact that that’s not what we’re told?  That there’s a recognition of our humanity here.

So we grieve.  Literally in the Greek, it’s this picture of. . . .we feel it in the depths and bowels of our soul.  We feel it deeply.  But what Paul says is we grieve, but we don’t grieve as people who have no hope.  He says there’s another power at work.  We have the cords of death, certainly, but wrapped around those cords is hope.  This hope that we have that God’s not done with his world.  If you were to ask a Hebrew believer in God about the word ‘hope,’ they would have said there’s two words for hope in our Old Testament Scriptures.  There’s this first word ‘yahkal.’  It means simply to wait.  Often translated hope.  Some of you may have ‘yahkaled’ for your kids to get ready this morning.  They had this other word:  qavah.  It’s a different sort of word picture than just to wait, because the first root word ‘qav’ means ‘cord.’  Literally, to wait, for the Hebrew people, meant to put tension on a cord.  (Ryan invites congregation to get cord from bulletin and hold onto it.)  Some of you had to qavah for your kids to get ready this morning.  There was some tension there.  Maybe it involved some yelling in the car, who knows?  It’s this picture that hope is hard work.  You do not hope passively.  You don’t hope by accident.  It doesn’t happen accidentally.  Hope is hard work.  It’s tension.  It’s also the reason, for some of us in this room, our hands slipped off that cord of hope and we feel hopeless.  Some of you walked in this door and the thing that you related to most was that song about saying good-bye to somebody you loved, and the darkness that often encompasses the life that we live.  You’ve lost hold of hope.

This morning, I want to invite you into the resurrection story.  Followers of Jesus, for centuries and centuries, have been finding their hope in one place and one place alone.  They’ve been holding this tension in between this world that we live in that is stained with the death that God never intended us to live in, and the hope that He is reversing the curse that we introduced into His good world.  Paul will not stop with ‘we grieve but not without hope.’  Here’s what he says:  For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.  (1 Thess. 4:14)  For early followers of Christ, their hope was not in a circumstance, their hope was in an EVENT that they looked back on and said, “This thing that happened in Jerusalem has changed everything!”  It was NOT wishful thinking.  Please hear me.  If you’re a follower of Jesus this morning, you have something way better than coping, way better than rationalize, way better than just being optimistic, way better than wishful thinking.  Wishful thinking is:  I really hope the Rockies win the World Series, even though they still have no pitching.  Or, I hope the Broncos win the Super Bowl with no quarterback.  WISHFUL thinking.  That’s not what followers of Jesus have.  Wishful thinking is gone when Jesus walks out of the grave.  No, no, no, no, no.  Jesus’s followers aren’t called to wishful thinking, we are called to resurrection informed hope.  Don’t be ignorant about what happened.  Sure it happened 2000 years ago, but the effects of that event shape the world that we live in today.  When Mary and Martha walk up to the open tomb, and they see that the stone has been rolled away, what is emanating forth from that vacuous space is hope.  God. Is. Not. Done. With. His. World.

I get it.  If you’re a skeptic. . . .if somebody dragged you in. . . .somebody twisted your arm.  This is a tradition.  This is family.  If you’re not really into this, I can see where you’re coming from.  So could the early followers of Jesus, by the way.  A resurrection back then was just as hard to believe as a resurrection would be today.  They just had the experience of seeing it and they couldn’t get over it.  I get it.  We have gospel accounts that seemingly contradict themselves.  Listen, do you know that the authors of those gospel accounts knew those “contradictions” also?  They had each other’s writings.  The Roman soldiers didn’t make any account of the empty tomb.  I get it.  I get it.  A physician would say that when you’re dead, you stay dead.  I would say that’s absolutely true the majority of the time.  It’s just not true every time.  Because here’s what I also get.  Without a resurrection of Jesus, you have absolutely zero way of explaining the way that Christianity has taken root around the globe.  You have no way of explaining the way that a fearful, rag-tag band of followers some how get the courage to walk into cities, to stand up to leaders, to be killed and lose their life because of this message. See, while resurrection may be hard to believe, it’s easier to believe than believing all of those things happened without it!    I think Chuck Colson put it so well when he said this:  “I know the resurrection is a fact, and Watergate proved it to me.  How?  Because twelve men testified they had seen Jesus raised from the dead, then they proclaimed that truth for 40 years, never once denying it.  Everyone was beaten, tortured, stoned, and put it prison.  They would not have endured that if it weren’t true.  Watergate embroiled twelve of the most powerful men in the world, and they couldn’t keep a lie going for more than three weeks.  You’re telling me twelve apostles could keep a lie for forty years?  Absolutely impossible.”

They look back on this event and go, this is the reason that we can hope.  We can live in the cords of death, and that’s a reality, but we can look forward to a day when that will be no more, because of what Jesus has done.  There’s this foundation that we stand on.  Let me give you a few things that foundation meant for early followers of the way of Jesus.  Look at 1 Thessalonians 4:14 —  For we believe that Jesus died and rose again.  They couldn’t stop talking it.  They couldn’t get over it.  I’d encourage you to read through the evangelistic sermons in the Book of Acts, this account of the way this way of Jesus spread.   When people first started talking about Jesus, in their proclamation of the Good News, do you know how many times those early sermons referenced going to heaven when you die?  Zero.  Do you know how many of the early sermons of the way of Jesus talk about avoiding hell when you die?  Zero.  Do you know how many of them talk about resurrection?  Every. Single. One. Of. Them.  Because it changed the game, it changed the world that they lived in.  So, Paul, when he’s preaching at this place called the Areopagus, says — For he (God) has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man (Jesus) he has appointed.  He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead. (Acts 17:31)    Sermon after sermon after sermon.  Here’s their hope:  That Jesus’s resurrection validated his message and vindicated his Lordship.

Here’s a way of looking at it:  When Jesus walks out of the grave, it is God’s stamp of approval on everything that Jesus has said and taught and modeled and done with his life.  God’s looking back and going, “That’s what I’m talking about it!”  When the outcasts are welcomed in, that’s what God’s talking about.  When the people who are broken receive life, that’s what God’s talking about.  When the blind receive sight, when the lame walk, when the woman who’s caught in the act of adultery is forgiven, when anger is released, when our shame is shed and our guilt is taken away, THAT’S what God’s talking about.  When Jesus walks out of the grave, his message is vindicated, his life is glorified, and your mission is now set.  Live in his way.  Follow in his footsteps of doing the things that he did.  God is at work in the world THROUGH Jesus.  That’s what the early followers of Christ said.  They couldn’t get over it.  If you don’t write anything else down today, write this down:  If there is no resurrection, there is no Christianity.  And that’s not some pastoral hyperbole, that’s truth!  If there’s no resurrection, there is no Christianity.

Look at this another way.  When Jesus walks out of the grave, where does he put his feet?  He puts them on the ground.  He puts them on the dirt.  He puts them in a place where, if you were to go to Israel, you could find a similar spot with similar soil and you could put your feet in the exact same place.  When he walks out of the grave, he goes to his friend Thomas and goes, Thomas, I know you’re having a hard time with this.  I get it.  Why don’t you put your hands in my scars?  Touch it.  Touch it, Thomas.  Put your hands in my side and touch it, Thomas.  It’s physical.  It’s material.  It’s there.  It’s on this earth, in front of him.  Here’s what doesn’t happen.  This is a story we often tell, isn’t it?  It’s the story that we often imagine that God is telling.  That Jesus dies for our sins and then goes straight to heaven and we’re going to follow him.  You will follow him to heaven, but you will also be resurrected back on earth.  What Jesus does when he walks out of the tomb is he says, “This world matters to me.”  Matter matters to me.  You can say it like this:  Through the resurrection—this is the hope that early followers of Jesus had—creation is affirmed as goodmatter matters to God.  It’s as though God looks back at Genesis 1 and all of his poetics “It is good!” and when Jesus walks out of the grave he goes, “Did I stutter?  It’s GOOD!  Really good!  And I am for my creation.”  So much so that God was not content to discard us because of sin and brokenness of evil, but he was intent on restoring us and renewing us back to his original design.

Why should this matter to us?  Two reasons.  One, if Jesus had a physical body and hope isn’t just that one day we’ll get out of here, people matter to God and people matter to us.  C.S. Lewis said it like this:  “There are no ordinary people.  You have never talked to a mere mortal.”  You haven’t, that’s true.  People matter to God, people matter to us.  As a community of faith, you guys, the fact that Jesus walked out of the grave is the reason that we throw something like a glow-in-the-dark egg hunt so we can invite our community to come and have fun.  Because people matter to God.  It’s the reason we run a Food Bank and try to care for 60-100 families every single week, because people matter to God.  It’s the reason we partner with organizations like Whiz Kids and North Littleton Promise, because people matter to God.  It’s the reason we give money to global work all around the world where people are digging wells and where people are sharing the gospel, and where people are telling others, listen, you matter to God.  Every time you walk through these doors, I hope you hear some version of that message.  You matter.  The resurrection tells us that matter matters.  And that God is unwilling to just discard his creation project, but that he is at work renewing and restoring.

People matter to God, but do you know what else matters to God?  When Jesus puts his feet down on soil, when he walks around in the Judean countryside after his resurrection, here’s what he’s saying:  I’m not done with people, and I’m not done with my creation.  I’m for my creation.  Right now, it feels like you have these pangs of death intertwined with this hope of life, don’t you?  You can go and you can observe an unbelievable sunset.  You can just sort of take it in and go, man, Lord, you’re amazing!  You’re good!  This world is unreal!  There’s some spots on this globe that take your breath away, aren’t there?  Then there’s also some things that take your breath away in a whole different way.  This (picture) is called the Pacific Trash Heap or island.  It’s an island of trash in the Pacific Ocean that, as of Wednesday of this week, is three times the size of France.

Oftentimes followers of Jesus don’t talk about these things, because we get the story wrong.  We think that Jesus dies and just goes to heaven.  No, no.  He puts his feet back on this earth.  He affirms this world matters.  Paul will write to the church at Rome, listen, creation is groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. (Rom. 8:22)  Asking for its redemption, which will happen when you and I are risen from the grave.  People matter to God.  This world matters to God.   It’s broken, but it’s beautiful.  It’s intertwined with hope and grief, and one day God will straighten it all out.

The Scriptures are really clear, but we read them wrong sometimes, but they’re really clear.  Jesus says, in the book of Revelation (21:5) — Behold!  I am making all things new!   Sometimes we read that. . . Behold, I am making all new things.  Which isn’t the story.  God’s for this creation, he’s for people, he’s at work renewing, redeeming and breathing into things that are dead.  Like a great physician or a great architect, he’s putting back together things that we have destroyed, and when Jesus walks out of the grave, he says, “I will not forget.  I am for my creation and I will one day restore it to be what I always intended it to be.”  So if the story you think about when you think about Christianity is an escape from this world or destruction of it, it’s the wrong story.  The story is one of restoration, the story is one of renewal, the story is one of God at work making all things new.

Paul says that’s why we can have hope and he adds this second thing:  For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. (1 Thess. 4:14)  That God will do for you what he’s done for Jesus.  So when we say “Christ is risen,” and we repeat back “He is risen indeed,” to that I say yes and amen and I want to add, “And so will you!”

Paul, in his letter to the church at Corinth, says:  But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. (1 Cor. 15:20)  This term ‘first fruits’ is sort of hard for us to understand.  If we lived in a farming community it wouldn’t be that hard to understand.  The first fruits was that first grape that popped off the vine, or that first piece of wheat that shot out of the ground and sprouted.  This is after a long winter and harvest is starting to come.  It’s this picture that what’s happened in one thing (first fruits) is going to happen for all things.  What happened in Jesus, will happen in you.  The Hebrews had this offering called ‘The Offering of First fruits,’ where they would take those first fruits and wave them up to God, as a way to say, “God, thank you for this thing that’s first and we believe that there’s many more to come.”  They had it on the same day and the same time every single year.  It was on the day that followed the Sabbath that followed Passover.  Jesus celebrates Passover with his disciples.  He goes to the cross and is killed on Friday.  On Saturday, the Jewish people had Sabbath.  The day that followed Saturday, back then, is the same day that follows Saturday now. . . .it’s Sunday.  The same day Jesus rose out of the grave, you have Hebrew people waving their sheaves of wheat before God, waving that little grape, saying, “Oh, there’s one here but there’s many more to come.”  Jesus looks at humanity and goes, “There’s one here, but there’s many more to come.”  Early followers of Jesus, all around the Mediterranean, would have their graves pointing towards Jerusalem, believing that one day they would walk out of them.  They had one thing written on their grave stones — Resurgam.  A Latin word that meant “I will rise.”  They believed For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. (1 Cor. 15:22) 

See, friends, the reason we can have hope intertwined with our grief is because death certainly is a reality—we’re not here to ignore that today—but it’s just not a finality.  One day you will be resurrected.  You will have a body that the Scriptures say is like Christ’s resurrected body. (Phil. 3:20-21)   You will be transformed.  There will be no more sorrow, no more crying, no more death, no more pain, for the old order of things, he says, is gone!  What Jesus did in resurrecting from the grave, God says, “I will be good on in restoring my creation.”  We can have confidence in that, friends.  That sorrow will be no more.  That the existential ache that we feel in our souls about ‘this isn’t the way it was suppose to be,’ God will lead us into the way that it was always suppose to be.  But today?  Today we live in hope.  Today we look squarely at the world we live in—as it is—and we feel deeply for loss, we feel deeply because of pain, we feel deeply because of sorrow, but we recognize that this is not the end of the story.  We grieve, but we do not grieve as people who have no hope.

Would you read this great passage of Scripture with me, as we begin to close our time.  Death has been swallowed up in victory.  “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?”  (1 Cor. 15:55)  I think a lot of us hear the story of the gospel and here’s what we imagine and here’s what we think of.  We think the story of the gospel is God sort of takes the rope and throws it down to us and he’s like, “Climb! Come on! Climb up to me.”  Work hard.  Be a good person.  Do all the right stuff.  Climb.  Can I just tell you that if you’re new to the Christian story that is not the story that God is telling through Jesus.  He’s not saying to humanity, climb.  We have other versions of it, too, though.  We sometimes say, “Okay, hold on,” and God is like the one who pulls us in.  It’s not the story either.  You know what the story is?  The story is that God loves this world so much that the rope that he throws down into it is his own person, Jesus the Christ.  He steps into our brokenness, he steps into our sorrow, he steps into our pain, he steps into our death, and he doesn’t say “Climb!” and he doesn’t say “Hold onto the rope,” he says, “Get on my back!”  Like you do with your kid when they run out of gas on a hike.  Get on my back.  Then HE climbs up the rope and he carries us home.  THAT’S the story we celebrate today.  THAT’S the story of resurrection.

Jesus has a real simple question he asks people when he tells them about his life, death, burial, and resurrection. . . .he says this to his friends in John 11:25-26 — Do you believe it?  Do you believe I am and resurrection and life?  Do you believe that even though you die you shall live?  It takes us letting go of some of our own coping, some of our own self-salvation projects, our self effort, and it takes us just climbing on his back and going, “Yeah, I believe it.  I believe it.”  The Bible calls that salvation.  I would encourage you. . . .if you’re here this morning and maybe you’re a skeptic, or maybe you got dragged here, if that’s you, can I just tell you, God’s trying to get your attention today.  His invitation isn’t climb up, his invitation is climb on.  Climb onto me, because I have conquered sin, and I have conquered death, and I have provided forgiveness.  Do you believe this?  I pray that you do.  I pray that you will, because life is being held out to you, the question is:  Are you going to hold onto your death, or are you going to reach out for his hope that he’s saying is available to all today.  Friends, the grave is empty!  Death has been defeated and Jesus is victorious.  Join your song in the one that never ends.

Lord, we thank you for this life that’s available, the hope that’s available in you.  We love you!  We worship you today.  We thank you that you care about people, that you care about your creation, that death is not a period but it’s a comma, and that you are the king of the world, the cosmos.  We love you.  It’s in your name we pray.  Amen.