"But go to my brothers and say to them, "I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God."'
Today our church gathering looks different. More folks are in the pews; and we know why! New faces are here, and we are glad to see them; and we know why; some folks are dressed up a bit more than on a regular Sunday; and we know why! It's Easter Sunday! Christ is risen; He is risen indeed!
Pastors are happy today and we know why. Choirs are singing old and familiar hymns and spiritual songs that celebrate the resurrection; and we know why! Some parents are pleased today to have some, if not most, of their children and grandchildren in worship with them today. It's Easter Sunday! Christ is risen; He is risen indeed!
We are happy to hear what Almighty God has done for us. Through his son, he has conquered death. Through his son God has answered the saying: "Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?" (1 Corinthians 15:55) The answer is "Death has been swallowed up in victory."[h]
On this Easter Sunday let us continue our celebration of life over death. Jesus spoke about life over death at the tomb when he said to Mary Magdalene:
"Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, 'I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.' (John. 20:17)
So, in saying these words to Mary, Jesus explains that he has conquered death. He now wants her to tell his brothers the news: "I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my Lord and your Lord." He is alive and is traveling from earth to heaven. In instructing her to tell his brothers this news, I believe he is authorizing and empowering her right there at the tomb, and on the spot, to share this wonderful news! Without her having any credentials in Bible study; without a "professional religious call", maybe she lacked what we at times refer to as the "A preacher's voice," and without religious references from priests, scribes, and others in the clerical field of that day, he instructs her to go and tell his brothers the news about his conquering death and about his ascension!
The church has fully accepted the same wonderful news Jesus gave Mary that Easter morning. The church believes Jesus' message is meant for them too. The church believes Jesus has authorized and empowered it to go and tell all people that he has conquered death, and that he is alive for evermore. From that time to the present hour the church has been working to go and tell all people about Jesus overcoming death. How has the church set out to go and tell others about what Jesus has done?
First, early on Christians churches agreed to put into writing what they believed about Jesus Christ and his resurrection. They composed the Apostle's Creed:
"I believe in the Lord Jesus Christ the only son of God. He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary and became man. He suffered, died and was buried. On the third day he rose again in fulfillment of the scriptures. He is seated at the right hand of Father. He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead and his kingdom will have no end." (source: Wikipedia)
You will not find this creed in the Bible. This creed contains what Christian churches believed about Jesus and his resurrection. Churches desired to communicate a clear picture of Jesus Christ and their agreement about him to all God's people. So, that was one way the churches did what Jesus instructed Mary Magdalene to do in telling his brothers about his conquering of the enemy of death.
Second, Christian churches have been blessed with outstanding preachers to do the work Jesus instructed Mary to do. For example, the late Billy Graham was an outstanding preacher that did the work God instructed Mary to do:
"Billy Graham has preached the gospel of Christ in person to more than 80 million people and to countless millions more over the airwaves and in films. Nearly 3 million have responded to the invitation he offers at the end of his sermons. When America needs a chaplain or pastor to help inaugurate or bury a president or to bring comfort in times of terrible tragedy, it turns, more often than not, to him. (source: Christianity Today)
Almighty God has blessed the church in each generation to have outstanding preachers to do the work he instructed Mary to do. And they keep on going to tell all people that Jesus has conquered death and is alive.
Third, Christian churches have been blessed with talented musicians that have communicated the message God instructed Mary to tell his brothers. For example, the song we sang earlier in today's service is "Because He Lives":
"God sent His son, they called Him, Jesus
He came to love, heal and forgive
He lived and died to buy my pardon
An empty grave is there to prove my Savior lives.
Because He lives, I can face tomorrow
Because He lives, all fear is gone
Because I know He holds the future
And life is worth the living
Just because He lives.
Choirs sang; they don't preach! But they share the same message that God instructed Mary to tell his brothers. They put the message into beautiful and heart-warming music that get into our heads and many times linger there. And we find ourselves in times of great need humming the melodies of these songs.
Fourth, and finally, some families have done a magnificent job of communicating the same message God instructed Mary to tell his brothers. Let me be autobiographical. In my family, there were at least 10 of us. I know for a fact that there was at least one or two still born children. So, the total number may have been a dozen. But of the 10 in my family, I now have a brother and a sister in San Francisco, two sisters in Birmingham, and three brothers and a sister here in Cleveland. Two brothers that have passed on. One was a preacher and the other was a Christian. My mother, Florence McCreary, communicated this message with us. To the best of my knowledge, she did the work God gave Mary to do. It's just that she did it within the confines of our home.
And what momma did for us I have followed suit. I have two daughters and three grandchildren, and I have communicated this same message that Jesus instructed Mary do by telling my grandchildren and by baptizing each of them during my past 40-plus years as a pastor.
Today I challenge you as parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles to discharge the same duty Jesus gave Mary to your children, grandchildren, and others. Put this message of Easter on your list and go and tell your children and grandchildren. Go and tell this same great message that Jesus is alive. Go and tell the message that Jesus has conquered death; go and tell the message Jesus lives and we too shall live beyond the grave. Go and tell the message that was spoken at the tomb but is as fresh as today as any other news! Don't forget his words: "Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, 'I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'" Amen.