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Christian Character and the Word of a Witness
Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church
The cell phone buzzes as the night turns into morning, and a voice speaks words that change everything.
The newscaster begins the broadcast with a litany of another shooting, another attack and more senseless violence.
The doctor calls after agonizing days of waiting with the devastating test results.
The doorbell rings….
The friend confides….
The child falls ill….
The lawyer calls and says that there will be no appeals hearing, the judge has already made a decision – and we are forced to wait 7 more days to hear what that decision was!
And we find ourselves in a liminal space — a space of transition, a space of not knowing, a space of waiting, a space between the comfortable confidence of what was and the frightening proposition of what is to be. In this space in between, our minds and our lives are often filled with sadness, confusion, doubt and disbelief.
And in these spaces, we wait. What else can we do?
In today’s reading from the Gospel According to Matthew, that’s where we find two different groups: the women who went to the empty tomb on that Sunday when Jesus was resurrected, and the Roman Guards who were stationed at that tomb to make sure nothing happened there!
Let’s listen to these people as they stand in the threshold between showing Christian Character and accepting payment to tell the story the officials want told. I am reading from Matthew 28:11-15, from the NIV. This takes place on Easter Sunday as “the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell Jesus’ disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them. ‘Greetings,’ he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.’”
Listen to the Word of God …. —-
“11 While the women were on their way, some of the guards went into the city and reported to the chief priests everything that had happened. 12 When the chief priests had met with the elders and devised a plan, they gave the soldiers a large sum of money, 13 telling them, “You are to say, ‘His disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ 14 If this report gets to the governor, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” 15 So the soldiers took the money and did as they were instructed. And this story has been widely circulated among the Jews to this very day.”
Luke’s Gospel gives a few more details than Matthew’s does, but the experience is the same: the women go to the tomb, discover it empty and then experience the risen Lord. They go back to the Apostles to tell them this Good News (Euangelion, Gospel), and the Apostles don’t believe them.
In John’s Gospel we get the Doubting Thomas story and Luke tells the Road to Emmaus story. Matthew simply tells us, “while the women were on their way….”
Have you ever had incredibly good news to tell? I mean, truly so good it was literally “unbelievable”? Maybe Denise felt that way last week when she went to tell Jack the good news of his impending release!
You plan to surprise your parents with the news of their up-coming grandchild; you giggle as you tell your spouse of your promotion; you practice your speech with giddy excitement.
Maybe you’ve been the bearer of unbelievably bad news! How do I tell someone this? I remember the first time I was given the responsibility of telling a wife and her two young children that their 40-year old husband/father had died of a heart attack that morning.
You know what that threshold leading from “normal” to “nothing will be the same again” might feel like. You pray for the right words (and there are none); you hope for the right opportunity (and there is none); and you rehearse your announcement with solemnity (and all you feel is a gut-wrenching knot, sprinkled with tears of remorse and sadness).
And here’s the thing – you never know for sure how someone will take the news. Will they believe you? What if they don’t? How do you convince someone who hasn’t seen what you’ve seen that what you’ve seen is really true?
That’s the space these women were in – and these Roman Guards!
The Apostles did not believe the women – they were just women, after all….
But, by all apparent circumstances, the Chief Priests and the Elders did believe the Guards!
The Apostles did two things: Peter (and John) ran to the tomb to see for themselves! When we hear “unbelievable” news, often our first reaction is to CONFIRM its truth!
Until that was done to everyone’s satisfaction, the Apostles locked themselves up in their “safe-room”.
The Chief Priests and Elders devised a “more believable” story. So they paid the Guards to tell something that the Guards knew was a lie (and these religious officials knew that this lie could get these Guards in big trouble – sleeping on the job was a criminal offense worthy of the death penalty!).
Easter has come and gone! Let me stop, for just a minute, and ask if you truly believe this Good News! If your answer is YES, then the follow-up question is, “Do you really?” How has this “fact” changed your life? What do you do differently as a result of this Good News? How do you experience God’s presence and power differently because of this Good News? Is this news SO good that you’ve been afraid to tell others? (What if they don’t believe me? How could I possibly convince them it is true?)
It’s OK to be like Thomas, wanting a little irrefutable proof (John 20:27) needing to CONFIRM its truth. And it’s OK to cling to Jesus’ promise that “blessed are we who have not seen, and believe any way” (John 20:29).
The women in Matthew’s Gospel demonstrate true Christian Character, Christ-like qualities: they know the truth and they are not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes (Romans 1:16). Paul says to Timothy, “So do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner. Rather, join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God. (II Timothy 1:8)” Peter wrote, “However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name. (I Peter 4:16)” These women carried with them these Christian Character traits. When we actually live like we believe what we say we believe, we become more trustworthy to the world around us. And, always, when the source of the news is considered TRUSTWORTHY, people are more likely to believe it without confirmation.
And so, I am forced to ask whether I carry Christian Character traits as well as these women did…. Do you think you do?
Because we all live in that liminal space, don’t we? All of us live in the threshold of the assurance of God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ, and yet not fully being able to experience the fullness of that glory. Jesus is, indeed, risen; and yet no one in this room has fully lived into the gift of His perfect presence and power, at least not for an extended period of time.
How do we know His resurrection is true? What evidence suggests that it is real?
Let’s listen to the Word of His Witnesses:
The Guards were paid to lie, and Matthew tells us that, to this day, those lies are still circulating.
And then there’s the Witness of people who might be thrown to the lions for telling this truth.
- Mary Magdalene in the Garden of the Tomb (John 20, Mark 16)
- The other women who went to anoint Jesus’ body (Matthew 28, Mark 16, Luke 24, John 20)
- Two disciples on the Road to Emmaus (Mark 16, Luke 24)
- 10 of the Apostles in the locked Upper Room (Luke 24, John 20)
- All 11 remaining Apostles in that same locked Upper Room (John 20)
- More than 500 people at one time (I Corinthians 15)
- All 11 Apostles again at His Great Commission (Matthew 28, Luke 24)
- All 11 Apostles at Jesus’ ascension (Luke 24, Acts 1)
- Saul on the Road to Damascus (Acts 9, 22, 26; I Corinthians 15)
That is a ton of eye-witness accounts, all of them believable for the simple fact that their testimony put their lives a risk – but they were not ashamed of the Gospel!
The historical evidence is compelling. Jesus Christ arose from the dead just as He had promised He would. For His Apostles, hope came back to life. For you and me, hope lives forevermore!
“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful!” (Hebrews 10:23, NASB)
This Easter Season, this Resurrection Season, let’s live in this luminal space filled with conviction and Christ-like Character. May the Word of our Witness ring believable as we live like we believe Jesus is victorious over death – His death and ours; that Jesus offers us all the truth the Gospel tells and all the hope to overcome any desperation and all the calm over every fear.
Happy Easter Season! Christ is risen. He is risen, indeed!
Fowler, R.D.; Jesus’ Resurrection Appearances; Biblical Illustrator; Volume 29, No. 2 (2002-03); center-section.
Shivers, Brian; The Liminal Moments; The Presbyterian Outlook; March 15, 2016.