Preach and Testify
Resurrection of the Lord/Easter Sunday
April 9, 2023
Matthew 28:1-10 / Acts 10:34-43
Jane Shelton, CRE
Alleluia! Christ is risen! Christ is risen, indeed! What a glorious and joyous Easter morning to be celebrating the resurrection of our Lord, Jesus Christ! Amen!
It is so great to be on this side of the story of Jesus’ journey. Past the horror of the most unimaginable torture and darkness one could possibly endure.
I think about how difficult it is to lose someone you love, and when that has occurred in my family, we always go back and visit the grave after the funeral. We gather in our grief to console one another so that we are not alone in such a difficult time.
It’s with these thoughts that I consider Mary Magdalene and the other Mary going to the tomb on that morning. Perhaps they had gone there every day since the crucifixion, to remember the time they had been with Jesus. To remember the times he had healed and cared for others. Perhaps they were going there because Jesus had said he would return, and maybe, they were looking for him in that regard. And on this particular morning, on the third morning after the crucifixion, they are greeted by the angel glowing white who said to them, “Do not be afraid. I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here – for he has been raised — as he said.”
Everything that Jesus said in his life was true. Everything that he said would come to pass, did come to pass, and here on this miraculous third day after hanging on the cross, he was raised from the tomb, just as he said.
After the angel invites them to come see the place where Jesus lay, he then instructs them to go quickly, go quickly…and tell the disciples that Jesus has been raised from the dead. Jesus has overcome the darkness of the world, the most evil of the world, and is going to Galilee.
The angel tells them to tell the disciples Jesus is going ahead of them to Galilee, and there you will see him. Jesus is going ahead, Jesus is always going ahead, leading and directing us where to go.
We are told that the Marys leave with fear and great joy. Why fear, and not just joy? What would you think if you went to visit someone recently buried, and the grave was empty when you arrived, and an angel gave you a message. I’m sure it would be startling to say the least. To see a glowing bright light speaking to you, to see that your best friend is missing, not knowing when the guards would re-awaken, and not knowing what would come next having just lived through watching your best friend endure the worst pain and suffering. Yes, there was plenty of reason to be fearful, yet they left with great joy.
They must have had a hundred questions going through their minds, talking rapidly to one another, and running back down the path to tell the disciples when Jesus greets them. They are so overcome with joy, they fall at his feet and worship him. Then Jesus gives them the same instruction as the angel, “Do not be afraid, go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee. There they will see me.”
Mary Magdalene and the other Mary are the first to preach and testify about the resurrection of Jesus Christ. They become the first messengers, the first witnesses to spread the gospel.
Now let’s fast forward to the future when two unlikely people will meet by the power of God, the same power that raised Jesus from the tomb. These two people are given instruction from God, one visited by an angel, and one receiving a vision. A Gentile and a Jew. An outsider and a disciple.
Cornelius is a successful and popular Centurion due to his successful leading of at least 100 men or more, a ruler of his home, a well-respected Roman. The extraordinary fact about Cornelius is that he prays, and he prays often and is seeking wisdom from God, and God sends an angel to instruct him to find Simon Peter.
At this same time, Peter is having a vision that he is not sure exactly what it means, but realizes when Cornelius’ men show up for him that he is to go with them to Cornelius home.
Both these men are given instruction at the same time, and they both obey. It is amazing how God’s work gets done when people listen and obey, and most importantly, they take action.
When Peter arrives, Cornelius informs him that “all of us are here in the presence of God to listen to all that the Lord has commanded you to say.” Cornelius had no idea what was going to happen, but he trusted the presence of God. He lets Peter know that even though they are different, they are the same in the presence of God.
Peter responds by acknowledging that God shows no partiality. Anyone in any nation who fears God and does what is right is acceptable to God.
Peter goes on to tell them the story of the gospel. The story of how Jesus came with a message of peace, and how Jesus Christ is Lord of all. He tells them of Jesus baptism by John, how God anoints Jesus with the Holy Spirit and with power. He tells them how he lived his life, how he walked a journey healing all who were oppressed, and he was able to do that because God was with him.
Peter continues to tell them how he and the other disciples were witnesses to all that Jesus did in his life, and then he speaks of the crucifixion and the resurrection, giving God the credit for raising Jesus and allowing him to appear to the disciples.
Peter says not everyone, but those who were chosen by God as witnesses were able to see Jesus after the resurrection. To drive home his point, Peter goes further to discuss the meal they shared with Jesus when they meet with him after the resurrection, and how Jesus commanded them to preach and testify that Jesus is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and dead.
Peter is fulfilling his commandment, his instruction given to him by Jesus through the power of God. Preach and testify that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through Jesus Christ.
This is the Easter sermon that we are to preach and testify also. Everyone who believes in Jesus receives forgiveness of sins through Jesus Christ. That is the gospel. Everyone who believes receives the light of the world, everyone can rise above the darkness through the power of Holy Spirit.
After Peter completed his sermon to the Centurion and his household, they are given the gift of the Holy Spirit. Peter, having already acknowledged that God shows no partiality, is compelled to baptize the Gentiles. After their baptism, they invite Peter to stay with them for several days. We see again relationship in this invitation that we have been discussing throughout Lent. God builds relationships in the most unlikely scenarios so that he can be glorified and builds community so that his work can continue. The more love we share, the more understanding and compassion we can give in the most unlikely events, the greatest work can be done through Jesus Christ.
The Easter story shows us that God continues to be concerned with the people in the world, the people in darkness waiting to have the light of Jesus shine upon them. How will they know unless they are told? Easter is for everyone because Jesus is Lord of all. God is Lord of all. Go tell the Easter story. Listen and look to where God is leading you to preach and testify.
Sometimes I think we are afraid of those words preach and testify. I know I was, maybe I still am. However, God gives us what we need, and witnessing to someone is having a conversation with them. It’s building a relationship of friendship and trust. Preaching and testifying doesn’t mean yelling and shaking a Bible at someone. It doesn’t mean judging someone different from us, and telling them how wrong they are in the life they are living. Rather being a disciple of Jesus is living a life where others can see in you the light of Christ shining through, and letting them know they are loved. That’s the Easter story.
I’ll leave you with one last thought. The relationship between Cornelius and Peter is very much the way I imagine our church, our congregation. God has chosen and prepared the members of the PNC, and somewhere God has also prepared a Peter for us. If we all continue to pray often, like Cornelius, the PNC, like the Gentiles, are going to find a Peter. The one who will come because he has been sent by God to preach and testify to us and to our community so that we can continue to be transformed and renewed in another joyous Easter morning filled with God’s love for us and the hope he sends for all of us.
Just as a Centurion and his people were prepared with a new foundation for new and exciting realities that God revealed, so also will they be gifted and revealed to us as long as we seek and remain in the presence of God.
Alleluia! Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed!
*Photo by Unsplash, free.