We live in a discouraging world. The nightly networks spew a steady stream of scary news. People insult and curse each other on social media. Blatant racism is on the rise.
Thankfully, the Bible has an antidote for discouragement. Hebrews 3:13 tells us to encourage each other daily so that we might not be hardened. In this verse, the word “encourage” means to come to someone’s aid. Jesus left us with His Church so that when the demons of denunciation and disappointment rise up, we can come alongside each other in love, faith and prayer.
I can’t think of anything more encouraging than Easter. On Good Friday, as Jesus writhed in agony on the Cross, the Gospels tell us that the sun stopped shining and darkness brooded over the land for three hours. But on Easter morning, an angel rolled away the tombstone and the Son came out—the radiant Son of God, the stinger of death in His crucified hand and His pierced feet on the devil’s neck.
A few years ago, I woke up at 5:30 a.m. with the sound of rain on the roof. I got in my car at 6:30 to to perform a worship drama at a church about 40 miles away. It was still raining. It was raining when I got to the church. It was raining after church. It was raining at dinner. It was raining when I got ready for bed. I was beginning to wonder if God had forgotten his promise never to flood the earth again. But the sun came out the next day. The sun always comes out, doesn’t it?
When it does, we breathe a sigh of relief. . .we smile. . .we go outdoors and bask in the golden warmth and light. In the Pacific Northwest, where it’s overcast most days, lots of people suffer from light deprivation, which results in mood swings and depression. There’s even a scientific name for this problem: “Seasonal Affective Disorder,“ or S.A.D. People suffering from S.A.D. have to set up special light panels in their homes and get heavy doses of illumination in order to be happy campers. We need light. We can’t survive without it.
We can’t survive without the Son of God, either. Our shadowy hearts, tinted by confusion and weariness, need His light. In the final section of Luke 24, we read what happened when the Son came out. Since Scripture tells us that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever, we can be encouraged that the Son still shines today.
A HEART THAT SITS DOWN
FIRST, Jesus says, “Peace be with you” (Luke 24:36). That greeting must have been like a sunbeam slicing through clouds of anxiety and despair. The disciples needed peace. They were holed up in a locked room, fearful of the authorities, weeping over their crucified leader—then they thought they had seen a ghost! What’s happening today is even more frightening than ghostly sightings— domestic insurrections, a deadly pandemic, racist attacks in broad daylight. Add to that the daily stress of taxes, bills, kids, job, hot water heaters that decide to burst on a Friday night when plumbers charge time-and-a-half. (Not that that’s ever happened to me or anything). You know, all of this is enough to drive a person to Blue Bell Ice Cream.
In the midst of all this mess, Jesus says, “Peace.” That’s not a throwaway platitude or sweet sentiment. In the New Testament, the word for peace means to reconcile or join. Some missionary Bible translators were working very hard to find a word for peace in a particular tribal language. At last, a native who was working with them found a combination of words that captured the concept—“a heart that sits down.” When we disengage from worldly fears and engage with God – when the heart sits down with Jesus – there is peace.
I HAVE THE POWERRRRRR! (with a nod to He-Man)
SECONDLY, when the Son comes out, He proves his resurrected reality.
The disciples were incredulous, of course. Wouldn’t you be? Your beloved friend has died, then he or she reappears in your midst. You would think, Am I having a vision? a hallucination? was it the enchiladas last night? Luke reports, with the ring of authenticity, that the disciples were filled with joy, amazement and doubt. Christ reassured them that He was real. “Touch me,” He said. “Go ahead and handle me, for a ghost does not have flesh and bone as you see that I have.” He further proved His reality by snacking on a piece of fish.
I don’t pretend to know the science or metaphysics of what happened in the Resurrection, but I do affirm this: the tomb was empty on that long-ago Easter morning. The disciples saw Jesus with their own eyes. It really happened.
Throughout the centuries, brilliant secular minds have tried to discredit the Resurrection of Christ, but they failed. Some even converted in the process, including Lew Wallace, the author of Ben Hur: A Tale of the Christ and Frank Morison, a British investigative reporter. He even changed a cynical agnostic until Jesus anchored him in His resurrected reality. Thank God He did that for me—and He can do that for you, too.
What does the Resurrection mean for us today? It means life. Jesus used his carpentry skills on Easter morning to cut a door in the tomb—a door to eternal, abundant life for anyone who would receive Him. The Resurrection means hope. No matter how dark it gets on earth, the Risen Son reminds us of our glorious future. The Resurrection means power, power to live God-focused lives in the here-and-now, power to leave darkness and cross over into the light of life. Ephesians 1:19-21 states that the power inside the Christ-believer is the very power that raised Jesus from the dead and set Him at the right hand of God.
Chew on that for a moment.
LASTLY, when the Son comes out, we get out—out of our comfortable church walls to be the church in the world. Using the Scriptures as a blueprint for their mission, Jesus told the disciples to preach repentance and forgiveness to all nations (Luke 24:46-48). That must have sounded like an intimidating order—11 workaday disciples charged with spreading the Gospel around the globe, all before social media and e-mail. It sounds intimidating today. We might think, “I can’t preach, much less in Africa or Thailand! I have children, a mortgage – who has time to be a missionary?” Most of us will ever missionize in a far-flung land, but Jesus still charges us with reaching those who haven’t been reached. We can carry out this mission to the new neighbors next door….at our workplace…with the server who knows us by name at the local café. All it takes is opening our eyes to the human need for God.
Stroll into a fast-food joint or visit the website of a retail business, and you’re likely to see a mission statement. What’s the mission of the church? I asked that once to the board members of a church I was serving. I got as many answers as the people around the table. Some had the idea that the mission was to be a community center. Others believed that our mission was to feed the hungry and alleviate human suffering. Still others thought that the church existed to solely serve its members, as if it were a country club with a steeple. But none of these are the true mission of the church. Oh, yes, it’s a good thing when we host open-invitation dinners and hold clothing drives for underprivileged families, but the Bible defines our utmost mission. Our mission is a message: Jesus Christ, crucified and risen, the One who calls us out of darkness into His marvelous light (I Peter 2:9). But this light isn’t meant for us alone. Look around. Where are the dark places, the discouraging places, the places around you that desperately need the Light of Christ? Pick up His torch and march!
Be encouraged today. The Son has come out. The Light shines in the darkness and the Bright Morning Star has risen. There is nothing more exciting than living in the glow of the Son and pointing others to His radiant light. This is the Easter news: not just a spring Sunday on the calendar, but an ongoing reality of those who place their trust in the Living Jesus Christ.
Sunlight through cloud photo courtesy of Adam Kontor via pexels.com