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Duty, Mission, Reward
April 17, 2022*
By Pastor John Partridge
Luke 24:1-12 Acts 10:34-43 1 Corinthians 15:19-26
There are things that we do that are unpleasant, but we do them anyway. Some things we can delegate to others, but some things, regardless of how much we might dislike the task, simply must be done, and so we do them. Sometimes these things are commanded by others, like cleaning latrines, or emptying “honey pots” in the military (if you know, you know), but sometimes these are things that we “command” ourselves to do, like changing stinky diapers, cleaning the bathroom after being sick, changing the cat litter, or cleaning up the dog poo in the back yard. Sometimes, regardless of the unpleasantness, we just do those things that must be done. Sometimes it is necessity that pushes us, sometimes survival, and often, duty.
And regardless of what you might want to call it, it is that sense of duty in the face of unpleasantness, that begins the Easter story. John 20 says, “Early on the first day, while it was still dark,” Mary Magdalene and some of the other women went to the tomb to embalm the body of Jesus with spices that would mask the stench of decay. But Jesus had already been dead for at least 36 hours, and although the smell of decomposition may not yet have been overpowering, they were not expecting it to be a pleasant task. But, pleasant or not, these women had either violated the Sabbath to prepare the things that they needed, or they had been awake since the earliest hours of the morning so that they could do what needed to be done. In Luke 24:1-12, Luke says,
24:1 On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. 2 They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. 4 While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. 5 In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? 6 He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: 7‘The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’” 8 Then they remembered his words.
9 When they came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others. 10 It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the apostles. 11 But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense. 12 Peter, however, got up and ran to the tomb. Bending over, he saw the strips of linen lying by themselves, and he went away, wondering to himself what had happened.
As the women planned and prepared to do what had to be done, one of the first items of business always had to be asking someone, anyone, to help them move the stone. I’ve seen them. Even the small ones are not small, and the big ones are enormous. The stones are almost invariably round, and usually rest in a smooth stone trench so that they roll… easier. But six hundred pounds, or one thousand pounds, or more isn’t going to be easy and, I suspect, that the women did not plan to do all that work alone. My guess is that they hoped that the soldiers, who had been commanded to guard the tomb, could be persuaded to help them move the stone as long as their assistance wasn’t required to do the unpleasant work inside. But, as they drew closer, there were no guards, and when they arrived, they found that the stone had already been rolled away. Amid their confusion and curiosity, they entered the tomb, and discovered that Jesus’ body was missing as well. And, as they wondered, and discussed, what might have happened, angels appear and ask why they are looking in a grave for a man who was alive.
But when they ran to tell the disciples what had happened to them, they didn’t make any sense. Their words, however true, sounded like gibberish. No guards, open tomb, missing body, blinding lights, angels, resurrection. None of it made any rational sense. Surely the women must’ve accidently eaten poison, or in their grief, had too much to drink overnight. But Peter wants to know what really happened, and so he runs to the tomb… and finds it empty just as the women had described.
That’s the story that most of us have heard a few dozen times.
But what does it mean?
Peter was the one who wanted to see the tomb, with his own eyes, after hearing the story told by Mary Magdalene and the other women. It was Peter, we are told, who wondered, and thought about what had happened. And, after meeting the risen Jesus, we listen as Peter explains to others what it all means in Acts 10:34-43.
34 Then Peter began to speak: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism 35but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right. 36 You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, announcing the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all. 37 You know what has happened throughout the province of Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached— 38 how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him.
39 “We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a cross, 40but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen. 41 He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen—by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 42 He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead. 43 All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”
Peter summarizes three years of ministry with Jesus, the trial, the cross, and the resurrection, by saying God accepts anyone and everyone who fears him and who does what is right. Peter reminds his audience that they know the message, and that they had all heard the stories about Jesus and his ministry. And it is the mission of the disciples, and all who knew Jesus, and everyone who follows them, to stand up as witnesses of what he did, and what he taught. The message of Jesus is a message for everyone, that forgiveness is available to anyone who believes in him, and it is our mission to tell them.
But now that we know what the story means, and what we are supposed to do about it, the next question we need to answer is… why.
Why is it important to be a witness to the world? Why is it important that every follower of Jesus be a participant in sharing his message of forgiveness with the world? Why can’t we be satisfied that the minister can do it, or the missionaries can do it, or that a few people from our congregation might be excited, or even just willing, to learn about evangelism?
And Paul answers the “why” question in 1 Corinthians 15:19-26 when he says…
9 If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.
20 But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. 22 For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. 23 But each in turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. 24 Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority, and power. 25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death.
Paul says that the good news of Jesus Christ is important to everyone because Jesus rose from the dead. Yeah, yeah, we get that, I mean, it’s Easter. That’s the message we expected to hear this morning. But Paul’s point is that all of us are going to die. Every person that you have ever known, every person that you know, every person that you will ever know, is going to die. Every person that has ever lived, even Lazarus who Jesus raised from the dead, has died, or will die.
But because Jesus rose from the dead, and because Jesus was the first human being to defeat death and rise from the dead, everyone who chooses to follow Jesus can be, and will be, made alive again after our death. It isn’t going to happen today, but it will happen. There is a day coming when there will be no presidents, no governments, no armies, no irritating or difficult persons of power or authority, no bureaucracies, just the freedom of eternal life. On the day that Jesus returns, everyone who belongs to Jesus will be made alive again. Paul is clear in saying that resurrection isn’t going to happen to everyone, but it will happen to everyone who chooses to follow Jesus while they are alive. But it’s a limited time offer. Because human beings have a limited life span, we don’t have forever to tell them the good news of Jesus Christ.
How would you feel on judgement day if your neighbors, your friends, your coworkers, and the people you love, look at you and ask why you never told them that they could live forever with Jesus?
It’s not just the job of the preachers, or the missionaries, or even a handful of people who want to learn about evangelism. Our mission is to share the good news with everybody.
And the only way possible for us to do that, is for all of us to work together.
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*You have been reading a message presented at Christ United Methodist Church on the date noted at the top of the first page. Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Christ UMC in Alliance, Ohio. Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you. Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry or any of our other projects may be sent to Christ United Methodist Church, 470 East Broadway Street, Alliance, Ohio 44601. These messages are available to any interested persons regardless of membership. You may subscribe to these messages, in print or electronic formats, by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at secretary@CUMCAlliance.org. These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.com . All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.