When You Need A Happy Ending
Ever wish you could just start all over? There have definitely been times when I wished I could start over. Get a redo, hit the delete button, but some things can’t be undone. Like when I say something and even as the words are flying out of my mouth, I wanna grab them and shove them back down my own throat. I’m in the most danger when I’m having fun and say something that I think is funny—or when I’m really mad, or any time I open my mouth, really. Things can’t be unsaid, so many times I wish they could. Sometimes we see things and wish we hadn’t—things can’t be unseen. Sometimes we’re playing a game and it’s not going so well, and there comes that point when we know we can’t win—so we’re tempted to give up, walk away, quit in disgust. We want to start over.
But sometimes the stakes are higher. Sometimes the regrets are deeper. Sometimes it all seems so dark that we can’t imagine things ever getting good again. Sometimes hope is lost.
That’s exactly where our story begins today. It’s Friday night, Jesus is dead. Everyone has given up.
[Matthew 27:57–61] As evening approached, Joseph, a rich man from Arimathea who had become a follower of Jesus, went to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body. And Pilate issued an order to release it to him. Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a long sheet of clean linen cloth. He placed it in his own new tomb, which had been carved out of the rock. Then he rolled a great stone across the entrance and left. Both Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were sitting across from the tomb and watching.
Jesus was dead. Nobody was expecting that to change. Pilate let them take the body, he didn’t care what they did with it. They rolled the stone to seal the tomb, Joseph left—nobody expected anything to happen inside the grave.
[Matthew 27:62–66] The next day, on the Sabbath, the leading priests and Pharisees went to see Pilate. They told him, “Sir, we remember what that deceiver once said while he was still alive: ‘After three days I will rise from the dead.’ So we request that you seal the tomb until the third day. This will prevent his disciples from coming and stealing his body and then telling everyone he was raised from the dead! If that happens, we’ll be worse off than we were at first.”
Pilate replied, “Take guards and secure it the best you can.” So they sealed the tomb and posted guards to protect it.
It seems like the only people who remembered what Jesus had said about rising from the dead were the people who killed Him. They went to Pilate, on the Sabbath—which was probably a no-no in their way of thinking—and asked for the tomb to be sealed and guarded. They were afraid the disciples were gonna steal the body and claim that Jesus rose from the grave like He said He was gonna do. I think they WAY overestimated the courage and commitment of the disciples—because they were all in hiding, denying that they ever knew Jesus at all.
[Matthew 28:1–15] Early on Sunday morning, as the new day was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went out to visit the tomb.
As the new day was dawning—that’s a great line. A new day, indeed! Mary Magdalene was one of Jesus’ close followers, the “other Mary” was probably His mother—they were coming to visit the grave, according to another Gospel account, they were gonna do the traditional burial anointing of perfume because they weren’t able to do it on the Sabbath. They were not expecting anything to have changed inside the tomb.
Suddenly there was a great earthquake! For an angel of the Lord came down from heaven, rolled aside the stone, and sat on it. His face shone like lightning, and his clothing was as white as snow. The guards shook with fear when they saw him, and they fell into a dead faint.
This isn’t exactly what they were expecting to find that morning. An earthquake and an Angel sitting there on the massive stone that should have been blocking the entrance—shining like lightning and dazzling with brilliant light. Maybe the soldiers were still laying on the ground—maybe they had ran away. What do you think the two Marys were thinking?
Then the angel spoke to the women. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I know you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead, just as he said would happen. (Which was probably a little dig at their lack of faith) Come, see where his body was lying. (Like, if you don’t believe me, look for yourself.) And now, go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and he is going ahead of you to Galilee. You will see him there. Remember what I have told you.”
This had to feel like one of those “this is too good to be true” moments. Earthquakes, Angels, and Jesus has risen from the dead.
The women ran quickly from the tomb. They were very frightened but also filled with great joy, and they rushed to give the disciples the angel’s message. (This next part is so good.) And as they went, Jesus met them and greeted them. And they ran to him, grasped his feet, and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Don’t be afraid! Go tell my brothers to leave for Galilee, and they will see me there.”
Okay, first of all, if one of these women is Jesus’ mother, and I think it probably is, then how cool is it that the first person Jesus appears to and lets them know that He’s alright is His mom! That’s a Hallmark moment for sure. Second, it says they grabbed His feet and worshiped Him—meaning He’s not a ghost, and He’s not a mere man. These ladies knew what the Bible says, “You shall worship God alone, you shall not bow down to any other.” They’re worshiping Jesus because He is God. Third, and this is so awesome, Jesus repeats the message of the Angel but He changes one word—did you catch that? The Angel said to go tell His disciples, but Jesus says to go tell His brothers! Brothers. They had ran away. They had denied Him. But they were forgiven and He calls them His brothers. Does any of that give you chills?
This is Easter. Easter is the day when the happy ending was invented. The Cinderella story. The happily ever after. Jesus was dead and buried. Everyone had lost hope. It seemed like all was lost. But the difference between a happy ending and a tragedy is where you stop telling the story. Stop on Good Friday? Tragedy. Stop telling the story sometime on Saturday? Depressing post modern emo nihilism—like a sad French film version of The Titanic. Like Romeo and Juliet by the creators of the Walking Dead.
Jesus had told His followers that He was gonna die and rise from the grave but no one really believed Him. Admit it, you think you would done better than those thick headed disciples, don’t you?. We think we would have believed what Jesus said. Like we would have shown up at the cemetery early on the third day with picnic baskets and champagne, waiting for the earthquake and the angel and Jesus to come busting out of the tomb.
We wouldn’t have. We would have either been like Peter, denying we ever knew Him, hiding in a dark corner somewhere, feeling sorry for ourselves listening to Depeche Mode. Or we would have completely given in to despair like Judas. Judas tried to return the silver and undo his betrayal—but it couldn’t be undone, so he was undone instead. There’s no real difference between Judas and Peter or the other disciples—and there’s no real difference between them and us either.
Even if we were brave enough to show up on that first Easter morning, we wouldn’t have been expecting anything to happen. We wouldn’t have expected anything to have changed. Kinda like today.
We’re here today. It’s Easter. But do we really believe in the resurrection? Or have we just shown up to visit a grave? Do we really expect anything to happen? [That’s it, make them feel bad for coming church today, great idea!] 1st Corinthians 15 says if the resurrection didn’t really happen then Christians are the most pitiful people in the world—if Jesus wasn’t raised from the dead then we have no hope and we’re still dead in our sins. [Internal voice of doubt says, “Yeah, but do you really believe He actually came back from the dead?”] God’s Word tells us that Jesus is the divine Son of God, that He died, was buried and on the third day He rose from the grave. [Internal voice of doubt says, “Yeah, but do you really believe the Bible?”] Do you know the difference between a question and a doubt? [Internal voice of doubt says, “Who you talking to? You talking to me?”] I’m talking to you, do you know the difference between a question and a doubt? [Internal voice of doubt says, “Um…”] A question is looking for an answer, but a doubt’s just looking for a fight. It’s great to ask questions, that’s how we learn and grow, but when doubt rears its ugly face [Internal voice of doubt says, “hey!”] it’s just trying to hurt you. The only way to answer a doubt is to punch them in the face. [Internal voice of doubt says, “What if the Bible’s not true?”] What if it is! [Internal voice of doubt says, “What if Jesus didn’t really rise from the dead?”] What if He did!
That’s the only way to deal with doubt. It’s looking for a fight, so give it a fight. Fight doubt with doubt—which is really another way of saying fight doubt with faith. What if it isn’t true? What if it is?
If the resurrection of Jesus Christ didn’t really happen two thousand years ago, then this is all just a big bunch of nothing signifying nothing meaning nothing to no one going nowhere.
But if it did happen, for real—well that changes everything. That means everything. It also explains a lot. It explains why a handful of ragtag misfits came out of hiding after the execution of their leader and turned the Roman Empire and the whole world upside down, changing the course of history forever. The single most influential event that has ever happened. Sparking a revolution of new life and new hope—changing the entire perspective of human reality. It means it’s possible that this is all going somewhere good.
Easter is the day the happy ending was invented. There was no such thing before. People were born, life was hard, their whole life they knew death was coming and then they died. Everyone dies. The end. That was every story. Every religion. Everyone’s nightmare and everyone’s greatest fear. But with the Gospel came the concept of “happily ever after.” It wasn’t Walt Disney that came up with that. With the Gospel came the hope of life after death, of being reconciled to to God because He loves us. People say all religions are the same but Jesus is the only religion that says God loves you. That it’s His idea to save you. Ephesians 2:4-5 says, “But God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so much, that even though we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead.” That’s Easter. That’s the start of something brand new. Jesus is the only hope you have of a happy ending. Of a new life—of meaning.
The Gospel is the promise of a new beginning—that your life can be going somewhere good. Do you feel like you need to start over? Like the world goes a little more crazy every day? Like it’s out of control? There is no sanity in this life outside the Gospel of Jesus Christ—outside of Easter. God has a word for you, He says,
“those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength, soar like eagles, run and not grow weary, walk and not faint.” [ISAIAH 4:31]
He says, “if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come, the old has gone, the new is here.” [2 CORINTHIANS 5:17]
These things are easy to forget—easy to lose sight of this in the daily grind. That’s why every week we show up here to to be reminded of this promise—a promise given to us in God’s Word, in the resurrection of Jesus—a promise that’s echoed in every sunrise, everytime we wake up from deep sleep, something we long for in our deepest desires. Even people who don’t believe the promise is true, they still want it to be. Steven Wright said, “I plan on living forever… so far so good.” Sarah Silverman said, “Every day thousands of people die and it’s never me.” Easter is our first glimpse of the hope these wishes are based on—God said that He put eternity in the heart of every person—we all want to live forever. Easter is the proof that He wasn’t kidding. You ever feel like you’d like a redo? Wish life had a backspace button? Believe in Jesus, put your hope in His resurrection and it will be like starting over, like getting a redo, a new birth, a living hope—you might not have shown up today expecting much, kinda like the two Marys, but you can leave with a new life—you can start living a new story, one with a truly happy ending, one that’s going somewhere good. That’s God’s promise to you because of Easter. [Isaiah 60:1] “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.“ This really happened Easter really happened: Jesus is risen! [He is risen indeed!] It changes everything. And they lived happily ever after. AMEN