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Easter Sunday Message – 4 April 2021 – “And Peter”.

EASTER SUNDAY                                                                                 

1Co 15:1  Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. 1Co 15:2  By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. 1Co 15:3  For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 1Co 15:4  that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 1Co 15:5  and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. 1Co 15:6  After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. 1Co 15:7  Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, 1Co 15:8  and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born. 1Co 15:9  For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 1Co 15:10  But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me. 1Co 15:11  Whether, then, it was I or they, this is what we preach, and this is what you believed.

Mar 16:1  When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. Mar 16:2  Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb Mar 16:3  and they asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?” Mar 16:4  But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. Mar 16:5  As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed. Mar 16:6  “Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. Mar 16:7  But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.'” Mar 16:8  Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.

MESSAGE: “AND PETER

We mentioned on Thursday night how depressing it must have been for Jesus.

It’s hard to imagine what was going through Jesus’ mind that night. But consider this:

After the institution of the Lord’s supper, we read these words:

Luk 22:21  But the hand of him who is going to betray me is with mine on the table. Luk 22:22  The Son of Man will go as it has been decreed, but woe to that man who betrays him.

  • His disciples of course question among themselves who it could be. As if unmoved by this shock announcement, they then debate which of them was considered to be the greatest. So he has to teach them about serving again.
  • And then, just to add to the pretty daunting scene, he predicts that Peter would betray him. Peter  replies, “Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death.”
  • They go to the mount of Olives – to Gethsemane, where Jesus prays. And of course, they fall asleep.

It’s interesting that Jesus in Gethsemane was so troubled. Mark tells us: “he began to be deeply distressed and troubled. Mar 14:34  “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,”

Someone said that he was troubled because he knew what was coming. We on the other hand get anxious because we don’t know what’s coming.

What must have been really troubling was how these disciples would cope.

Especially Peter – who would still  have to lead the group.

Mar 14:27  “You will all fall away,” Jesus told them, “for it is written: “‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.’ Mar 14:28  But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee.” Mar 14:29  Peter declared, “Even if all fall away, I will not.” Mar 14:30  “I tell you the truth,” Jesus answered, “today—yes, tonight—before the rooster crows twice you yourself will disown me three times.” 31  But Peter insisted emphatically, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.” And all the others said the same.

There’s something quite nice about the message given to the women at the empty tomb:

“You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him.   Mar 16:7  But go, tell his disciples and Peter…

And Paul, in our reading from 1 Corinthians 15 says this: 1Co 15:3  For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 1Co 15:4  that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 1Co 15:5  and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve.

Peter, some suggest, might have been a Zealot. I’m not convinced about that. But he is the one who takes out his sword and cuts Malchus’ ear off in the garden.

I think what Peter didn’t understand was the idea that Jesus would suffer and die. He argued about it from the beginning – straight after his confession of faith ”you are the Christ” – rebuking Jesus.

Graham Greene in one of his later novels Monsignor Quixote, has this Spanish priest Father Quixote in debate with the communist ex-mayor of their town. I guess triggered by the mayor’s Marxist utopian ideals, the priest has a dream. In this dream, in short, Jesus doesn’t die on the cross but calls down legions of angels who get him off alive. Everyone is happy, and the whole world rejoices and bows down. There is no death, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, Easter Sunday and resurrection. When he wakes up, the priest is relieved that it didn’t happen like that. He would have been without a job.

The point is – easter would be meaningless for us if there had not been that awful day when our Lord Jesus suffered the agony of the cross.

Think of all the pagan easter symbols which are in Spring in the northern hemisphere.

  • If flowers didn’t die, seeds producing new plants wouldn’t matter.
  • If rabbits didn’t get old, you would need new baby bunnies.
  • New life only means something because the old life dies.
  • Spring following spring would not mean much either. Light is useful because of the dark.

Peter wanted it all to be successful. He had to fail to learn to grow stronger and face the greater challenges that would await him. He’s the New Testament Job in  a sense. Only Luke records these important words of Jesus to Peter: 31  “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat. 32  But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.

Peter was never able to read Martin Luther sadly. One writer puts it like his:

Luther suggests that if all were quiet and one had the promise of peace and prosperity, then one could be sure that the devil was very near.

If on the other hand it appeared as tough all hell were breaking loose and one were likely to suffer pain and hurt, one could be very sure that God was very near.

Luther’s view was that it is the cross of Jesus that enables us to be realistic about the way things really are.

Father Quixote’s dream is a nightmare for him because his ministry would have no meaning for anyone. In fact, no one would remember who Jesus was. Another messianic dot in history.

William Lane in his commentary writes:

Were it not for his resurrection, Jesus of Nazareth might have appeared as no more than a line in Josephus’ Antiquities of the Jews, if he were mentioned at all. The witness of the four Gospels is unequivocal that following the crucifixion Jesus’ disciples were scattered, their hopes shattered by the course of events. What halted the dissolution of the messianic movement centered in Jesus was the resurrection. It is the resurrection which creates “the good news concerning Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God” – which is what Mark’s gospel starts with.

Mark’s gospel ends with these words: Mar 16:8  Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.

  • That stone, the tomb, the young man in white – mix that with the grief and torment of those three days, and you would understand their response.
  • And in any case people didn’t believe women in those days. They were not accepted as witnesses in a law court.

Luke writing his historical account puts it like this:

Luk 24:9  When they came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others. Luk 24:10  It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the apostles. Luk 24:11  But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense. (I preached on this in Easter 2019 – how their words seemed like rubbish. Leyros is the word. Literally a load of …. I’m sure you remember!)

Mark’s account makes sense. He was a disciple of Peter – so would be thinking about his mentor. And he of course ran away naked from Gethsemane. He would have been sympathetic with the terrified women.

The resurrection is first importance stuff, says Paul in the reading from 1 Corinthians we heard.

  • The failure and restoration of Peter is a great help to us when we fail.
  • The hope of resurrection is hugely helpful in a pandemic where people are dying in their droves.
  • The promise of Easter – victory over death – is our only hope when we stare into the grave, or face our own mortality, or the challenge of aging or degenerative diseases..
  • The power of the resurrection now means we live life in the light when things are dark, in spring when it is winter, and in permanent daylight saving when the night is long. We can steal Ben King’s words then: “When the night has come; And the land is dark; And the moon is the only light we’ll see; No, I won’t be afraid; Oh, I won’t be afraid; Because we know you  will be there for us!” (The orignial song has: Just as long as you stand, stand by me).

He is risen indeed. Peter had to hear this. So do we.

Amen.