March 27, 2016 “Vindication” – Luke 24:1-12
March 27, 2016 – Easter
Faithful Duck basketball fans hoped to be vindicated this year. It’s been a long time coming. Their last and only national championship was in 1939. They’ve only played into the NCAA tournament 14 times in the last 77 years. Out of those fourteen, they only got to the Elite Eight six times and the Final Four once. Five times they washed out in the first round. Fans have shown up at Mac Court and shouted and quacked and cheered them on through the years, and this year… well they thought this year was it.
Vindication is the sweet feeling that what you’ve said or done has been proven justified, even though others criticized or humiliated or even abused you for it. Oregon basketball fans have certainly suffered plenty of humiliation and defeat through the years, including a coaching scandal. And they weren’t vindicated this year either.
Early on the first Easter, the fans, the followers, of Jesus were feeling the humiliation and defeat of His death, without hope. They had come through a long week of what you might call the original March Madness, if the ancient tradition that Jesus died on March 25 is factual, which would mean Good Friday and Easter are on their original dates this year. Whether or not that’s true, it was a crazy week, swinging from the triumph and joy of Palm Sunday through disputes with the skeptical Jewish authorities to the deep intimacy of the Upper Room on Thursday and then up Calvary to the final and utter defeat of the Cross, all of it ending in a borrowed grave.
No Duck fan ever felt worse than those female followers of Jesus who had journeyed all the way from Galilee with Him, only to stand watching Him die and be buried, as we read Friday night from the end of chapter 23. As they came back Sunday morning to the place they had seen His body laid to rest, they weren’t seeking vindication, only what you and I might call “closure.” After obeying the law which forbids any work on the Sabbath, they were coming to complete the care of Jesus’ body and say goodbye a last time.
Finding the tomb empty, the body missing as it says in verse 1, was the ultimate loss. Not only was their Master dead, they could not even prepare His body properly for burial. It was one more painful defeat for the home team of Jesus and those who loved Him.
Today as we assemble in the blazing white and gold of Easter, singing “Thine is the glory, risen conquering Son,” to Handel’s triumphant music, breathing in the sweet scent of the lilies, we know the end of the story was vindication. But Mary Magdalene, Joanna, the other Mary and the other women who went to the tomb did not know it yet. They were fans who had seen the star of the team knocked out of the game. They had absolutely no hope for victory, no confidence in any vindication.
Yesterday morning as I finished this sermon I didn’t know where the Ducks would stand this morning, whether it would be yet one more tournament where they looked great at the beginning, but then got knocked out of it before a final victory, or if you all would be celebrating not just Easter resurrection power but Duck power, looking forward to victories ahead. Either way, it’s a good picture of our relation to the vindication of Jesus on Easter.
Duck fans, you feel much like those women 2,000 years ago. There’s absolutely no prospect of victory this year. All your hopes dribbled away on the hardwood last night. Hopelessness in defeat is exactly where many in our world sit this morning. For them it’s not a basketball tournament that’s been lost. They’ve lost someone they love or they’ve lost their health or they’ve lost their marriage or they’ve lost their job or they’ve lost their home. The damage and defeat is humiliating and a great number of them have no hope of any vindication, no real possibility of those losses being reversed. You may feel that way.
So as we rejoice this morning in the vindication of Christ our Lord; as we remember what those two dazzling figures told the women in verse 6, “He is not here. He has risen;” as we celebrate what I told the children, that death was swallowed up in victory, we have a mission. It’s the very same mission those women carried out in verse 9, to run and tell everyone they could what they had seen and heard.
You and I are bumping shoulders every day with people who need to hear that news, who need to know that there is a victory waiting for them which reaches beyond all the hopes and possibilities of the present, which reaches even beyond their own deaths. It’s a message of vindication for all they suffered.
Last month on February 11 astronomers in Washington and Louisiana announced they had observed gravitational waves. The news washed like waves across the scientific community. It was the culmination of a thirty-year-old research project. Even more, it was the vindication of Albert Einstein. Rainer Weiss who started the project said, this “observation is beautifully described in the Einstein theory of general relativity formulated 100 years ago.” His century-old equations were vindicated sixty years after his death. Weiss went on, “It would have been wonderful to watch Einstein’s face had we been able to tell him.”
We as Christians have the privilege of being able to tell everyone that their life’s work, whether it’s science or slavery, artistry or agony, has been vindicated by Christ risen from the dead. Just like Jesus came to His disciples and watched their faces as He revealed His risen body to them, you and I can bring this good news to family and friends and see their faces light up with new hope.
Some of those we tell the good news are going to be like the disciples were in verse 11. They heard the women’s story with disbelief. They had suffered too much, lost too much to let themselves feel any hope now, just the way even a loyal Duck fan might not buy season tickets again next year. What are we going to say to such people about our faith in Jesus, our belief in His rising? How might we convince them? We begin by living out the good news we are telling, and that’s not always easy.
What if Oregon won yesterday? All you fans would be in a middle place. You’d be celebrating the rare victory and vindication of reaching the Final Four, but still not perfectly sure and confident that your beloved Ducks would go all the way. That is where most Christians, where you and I stand on Easter, where Peter was on the first Easter as we see him there in verse 12. What does it say? He looked in the empty tomb, saw the abandoned grave clothes, “then he went home, amazed at what had happened.”
You and I won’t be too convincing to those who need to hear and believe the Easter message if all we do is go home a little amazed at it all, but not sure enough about it to do anything different. But that’s where we often find ourselves, caught like sports fans between the past victory but without complete confidence in future victory. So we just go home and wait to see what happens next.
What Peter needed to realize, what you and I need to accept and demonstrate in our lives is that not only has Jesus been vindicated, we have been vindicated by the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. Easter is not just the good news that Christ is risen. It’s the basis for us to live in the hope that we too will rise from the dead.
In I Corinthians 15:19 we heard Paul talk about being like fans of a losing team, “If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.” But then in the next verse he tells us that’s not how it is. “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep, those who have died.” Jesus is the first of many. The victory, the vindication is not going to stop with yesterday’s win. It’s going to go on until everyone who trusts in Jesus is raised with Him. “For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.” So there is no need to be miserable.
Whether you came here today in complete disbelief, maybe because some family member wanted you show up, or whether you came with that kind of half-way in-the-middle faith that Peter and most of us have, Christ is risen from the dead to vindicate you, to vindicate and make right and good your whole life, whatever you’ve been through, whatever you have suffered.
“Vindicate” comes from root words which mean “to proclaim with force.” It’s to look back at someone’s words or actions and forcibly, powerfully show that it was all good. As the angels said to the women in verses 6 and 7, He told you so. He would be arrested and crucified and then rise again on the third day. Now it’s all proved true. Everything Jesus said is proved true. He is vindicated and so is everyone who believes and lives in Him.
Vindication is especially wonderful when you have been doubted and disbelieved. Einstein’s reputation was solid and his theory of general relativity well-accepted before gravity waves were observed. Other scientists haven’t fared as well. In 1981 every doctor knew that ulcers are caused by stress. But a physician named Barry Marshall and a partner had discovered that H. pylori bacteria were linked to both ulcers and stomach cancer. The cure was simple: antibiotics. But no one believed him.
Marshall could not make his case with lab mice because H. pylori only affects primates, and he was prohibited from experimenting on people. He was desperate to get the good news out, so finally he took bacteria from the gut of a sick patient, mixed it into broth, and drank it. He got gastritis, began to vomit, felt sick and exhausted. A biopsy of his own gut proved that the bacteria were the culprit behind ulcers. In 2005 he and partner Robin Warren were awarded the Nobel Prize. He was totally vindicated.
Jesus’ death and resurrection are that kind of vindication, a glorious victory at the cost of deep personal suffering. His life and His teaching were vindicated over all the humiliation, opposition and disbelief He and His followers encountered. Marshall’s sacrifice has almost eliminated stomach cancer from the Western world. Jesus’ death and resurrection has eliminated death from the future of anyone who believes in him.
It seems like nonsense to believe in Jesus and His resurrection and try to live that way. As we said in the past weeks about forgiveness, it feels crazy to try and show love to somebody who hurt you. It looks foolish to give away what you have and get nothing in return. It seems dumb to waste hours and days out of your life studying an ancient Book that isn’t going to teach you any marketable skills. It’s impractical and dangerous not to fight back when you’re attacked. It’s silly to spend your time at church when you could be earning money or sleeping in or enjoying recreation.
Yet as those women and Peter and all the disciples eventually discovered, the resurrection of Jesus from the dead changes our conceptions of what’s important and what’s not, about what’s practical and what isn’t, about what’s wise and what’s foolish. If Christ is risen, then prayer and Bible study and Christian service and sacrificial giving and time spent together in worship are all vindicated, are all more worthwhile than anything else we do. They are vindicated because we too one day will rise.
The angels asked the women why they were looking for Jesus. They said, “He is not here; he has risen!” In a sermon on the Resurrection, George MacDonald said that it will one day be possible to say of anyone, “He is not here; he has risen,” “She is not here; she has risen.” It will be said over the casket, over the urn, over the grave of every Christian. Believe in His vindication and it becomes your vindication. Die and you rise with Him. Lose a game and you still win the tournament.
I leave you with the word of the angels, our Easter cry of vindication: “He has risen.” He is risen! Raise that cry today. Raise it over Fred on Saturday. Raise it at every loss. Raise it in the shadows and in the utter darkness. Raise it up when it feels like you are losing. Christ has won. Jesus is vindicated. You will be too. Christ is risen!
Valley Covenant Church
Copyright © 2016 by Stephen S. Bilynskyj