Easter Sermon 2017
Changing of the Guard
Easter 4/16/17 8:30 & 10:30 Mt. 27:62-66, 28:1-4, 11-15 “The Changing of the Guard”
The changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace or at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington Cemetery are quite a sight to see. The discipline, the seriousness, the respect is amazing. The changing of the guard is going from the tired and old to the new and refreshed. At Easter there was a changing of the guard from Roman soldiers to angels.
Matthew, of all the gospels, mentions the Roman guard at both the cross and the tomb. It mentions that Pilate told them to make the tomb secure. He actually said, “Make it as safe as you can.” Or another way to put it was- “Keep Jesus in the tomb if you can.” They could not. Matthew also tells of their making up excuses and stories to explain why they ran away.
An angel came- all the Gospels speak of angels being at the tomb. A different guard came to the tomb.
Who do you want to make your tomb secure? Would you rather have the soldiers keeping your tomb secure or an angel? The Roman guard here were trying to keep Jesus in- they didn’t want anything unpredictable. Is that what you want in your life? Do you want your life to be so predictable that there is no room for an empty tomb? Most would say when I am dead I will not care who hangs around the tomb.
You probably heard the story of the guy who was walking home from the bar late at night and he decided to take a shortcut. It was raining and slippery and he slipped into an empty grave. He tried to get out but he was too inebriated and he decided just to wait there until he sobered up and it stopped raining. Not too long afterwards another guy from the same bar took the same shortcut and fell into the same grave. He tried to get out, and he tried to get out but couldn’t. Then he heard the voice of the other drunk who said, “It’s no use to try to get out now. You might as well rest.” But that second drunk did get out! And fast!
The angels had a message- It was not life as usual. They didn’t say, Jesus is dead but his teachings can help you to cope with death. No. They said He is alive and He helps us overcome death. He’s not here. He got out. He’s not dead. He has risen just as he Said. Look at the empty tomb. Today you can still look at the empty tomb in Jerusalem- they actually just renovated it.
It is a little bit silly of us to think we can guard anything against God. God is the seer of our hearts, and the changer of our hearts. If we think we can harden our hearts to God- all we have to do is look at Pharaoh who tried to harden his heart but he eventually had to soften His heart and give into God’s will. You cannot fight against God. The mightiest armies in history cannot, and you cannot.
We tend to think that human power, human force, human guards have the last word. They do not. We think that death is the end, and that is all there is. We are blind to life, to hope, and to the resurrection power of Christ. The resurrection changes everything. We have this illusion that we can keep Jesus in the tomb and keep God really from messing with our lives.
Not too long ago my granddaughters made a fort out of the materials they had- pillows. They finished making the fort and then they made the bold claim- “Dotchy (they call me “Dotchy”), you can’t get in here. I took that as a challenge- and within seconds my granddaughters were captured in the midst of their strong pillow fortress. When I was a kid I used to make what I thought were really big sand castles. I would leave when it got dark and say, “Okay ocean, you can’t get in here.” But when I would come back the next day they were gone. After the resurrection, the disciples were in a locked room for fear of the Romans- and Jesus came right through the door.
Many people are guarding themselves against Jesus. They refuse to believe. Why do people refuse to want to believe that there is someone who will offer them eternal life and encourage them to love one another? They are more afraid of being disappointed or hurt than anything else! Maybe they don’t want to change the way they are living.” Or maybe somebody in the church made you mad- some minister, some church person sinned and therefore you are guarding your mind and heart against Christ. The myth of the church person who never sins is an urban legend. The Bible says all have sinned- expect it. Jesus expected them to all run away and Peter to deny Him- but He didn’t lose faith. He expected to be mocked and scorned- but He kept faith. But also don’t just expect sinners- expect the living God to come through the door. Do you really want to guard your heart from the Maker of your heart? He loves you more than you love yourself. He is the maker of your soul and he would like to be the keeper – the guardian of your soul. Do you want to try to put walls up around your very soul to the Only One who loves your soul even more than you do?
Maybe it is time that you changed or exchanged the guard. Change your guard against Jesus to guarding your soul for Jesus. Instead of trying to please the secular, temporary, unpleasable world, give yourself for the One who loves you want wants to welcome you into His presence.
Instead of guarding a tomb- the angel spread good news. The first words of Easter that the angels said was, “Fear not!” Many people are trying to hold down bad news and the things they are afraid of. We like to hide our fears. My brother who is a psychologist told me many people like to appear normal when they are not. They are like someone holding beach balls underwater. They look ok from the surface. But it takes up so much energy, and it is not worth doing. I invite you to let your fears out. Trust in Jesus- and fear death no longer! If you are not afraid of death- you don’t have to be afraid of life.
Last week there was a bombing in two Christian churches in Egypt. But they will be back at worship today. Last Easter churches in Nigeria and South Sudan were bombed- but the Christians there will be back at worship. They do not fear death because they know the One who will give them life after this one. Trust in Jesus and believe the good. Believe God will win in the end. Let down your guard so that the loverzzp of your soul may guard and keep it forever.