Scripture text: Luke 24:34–48
After Jesus rose from the dead, His disciples went everywhere proclaiming, “The Lord is risen!” Whenever they ran into each other, they would proclaim, “The Lord is risen! Christ is risen!” And the other party would naturally respond with, “Christ is risen indeed! Hallelujah, praise the Lord!”
This Sunday is Easter! This year, the world will awake to an Easter like no other. Practically all churches will not be holding their Easter worship service on-site! All because of the extraordinary times we are in.
As of 6 April, there are already 203 countries affected, with more than 1.1 million cases of COVID-19 and about 60,000 deaths. In Singapore, we have more than 1,100 cases and six have died.
The prime minister announced on Friday 3 April that, to stem the spread of the virus, the government is laying down stricter measures. He appealed to all in Singapore to work together and exercise self-discipline. It is a tough and long battle, but if all Singaporeans unite and pull together, we will be able to beat the situation and emerge safe and stronger.
In his closing words, PM Lee reminded us that many have been working day and night at the frontline of the fight against the disease. These are our nurses and doctors, those involved in contract tracing and healthcare staff. He said, “We thank them all for their efforts and sacrifices. Now we are all enlisted to join them on the frontline.”
As members of the big family that is The Methodist Church in Singapore, we are strong believers in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Jesus triumphed over humanity’s final enemy—death.
To every doctor, nurse, medical specialist, healthcare worker, counsellor and other brothers and sisters who are there at the frontline—we salute you and pray for you. All of us will strictly follow the precautionary measures, so as not to add to your burden by becoming ill.
So, my beloved Methodists, let us respond to the prime minister’s call and comply with the temporary ban on church gatherings. Unite with the whole nation. Each of us, in our own respective roles and positions, must dedicate ourselves to the all-out efforts to control the viral outbreak.
Today’s scripture passage records Christ’s appearance to the disciples after His resurrection. These disciples are the blessed ones of their times, for they each personally witnessed Jesus’ resurrection. Every year we hear the story of Jesus’ resurrection, yet there are always some lessons for us.
1. The disciples went from shock to fear to joy (v37, 43)
The disciples watched as Jesus was arrested, crucified and buried. When rumours surfaced about His resurrection, they were thrown into even greater perplexity, as the situation had got more complicated. The campaign to get rid of Jesus the Nazarene, and those with Him, was not yet over.
The disciples received different versions of the reports. In such a situation marked by a lack of clarity and certainty, the disciples shared one another’s fear and confusion. They feared that they would be caught by the Roman governors and the Jewish leaders, and be crucified and tortured too. Should they continue to believe in Jesus? Should they continue to follow Jesus?
We read in the Bible that the disciples were so frightened that they locked themselves in their homes. When they heard that Jesus had resurrected, they were uncertain whether to believe or to doubt. Fake news was already common in their time. Matthew 28:11–15 says that the chief priests paid a large sum of money to the Roman guards on duty at the grave to spread the story that Jesus did not rise from the dead, but instead, that “His disciples came during the night and stole his body away”.
So, it was no surprise that when the resurrected Christ appeared among the disciples, they thought at first that He was a spirit! They were shocked. It was only when Jesus let them touch Him and see His wounds that they believed they were looking at the resurrected Jesus. At a loss for words, they were speechless with joy—that is what we call unspeakable joy!
Today, do you have that unspeakable joy that Jesus is the Lord who triumphed over death and is the resurrected Lord? Such unspeakable joy must be broadcast and highlighted, as here is the core of the Christian faith!
For our sins, Jesus was tortured, died and was buried. But, He rose from the dead on the third day—this is what the Christian faith is all about. Easter—not Christmas—is the heart of our faith! Without Christ’s resurrection, we would be the most pathetic of people! Instead, we now live filled with hope and confidence, rather than with exasperation and futility.
2. A reminder to the disciples about the Messiah in the Scriptures (v44–46)
Luke made it a point to remind the disciples that Jesus was the one foretold in the Old Testament—the Saviour who was coming, the one described in Moses’ Pentateuch; the suffering servant that the prophets had written about, the one the writers of the Psalms referred to. Jesus wanted the disciples to remember that the scriptures pointed to Him, that He was the servant whom God had sent; the servant who, for the purpose of the Good News, suffered and was driven out and rejected.
Surely the disciples would also remember living with Him for three and a half years—the Jesus they had got to know as they traversed the length and breadth of Israel to bring the good news of heaven, heal the sick, deliver people from evil spirits, and help sinners and tax collectors. He was the Lord and Saviour, the friend of those in the lowest rungs in society. He had no place to rest His head; He was despised by the religious leaders; He was driven out and, finally, He was hunted down to be humiliated and whipped. They made him carry a huge cross on His back, and paraded Him through the town—a horrific spectacle for those who lined the streets that day, and then He was crucified as the Messiah. But He triumphed over death, and was resurrected.
This is the earliest original gospel about Jesus: Jesus is the saviour of sinners, a friend of sinners. He sought the lost, the least, and the last, and even the weak and vulnerable. Jesus is easily recognised by people from these groups. The Church today must similarly represent Christ on earth, to continue to be friends of all.
3. Disciples are witnesses for Jesus Christ (vv 47–48)
The situation described here is different from when Jesus gave the Great Commission in Chapter 28 of the Gospel according to Matthew. There Jesus spoke to the 11 disciples about the Great Commission. Here, Luke was saying that believers must spread the gospel of repentance and forgiveness of sins, from Jerusalem to the Gentiles.
The disciples were witnesses to these incidents. Note this: an evangelist is not someone who explains the intricacies of theology, or someone who digs deep into the articles of faith. Instead, the evangelist is someone who preaches repentance and the forgiveness of sin. This is what you do when you speak of your own repentance, belief and receiving God’s grace in forgiveness. That is our personal testimony.
Even the Samaritan woman at the well knew to go into the city to tell everyone her testimony of how her sins had been forgiven.
We are all witnesses to Christ’s resurrection. It does not matter who you are, as long as you live with hope and joy, and are always ready for an opportunity to witness for Him, when you share your testimony of how you believed Jesus and were saved by grace.
The story of Jesus is familiar to us and we can easily recall and recount the details. After Jesus rose from the dead and ascended into heaven, whenever his disciples gathered, witnesses would come forward to recount the stories of Jesus, and to cover His teachings repeatedly. At least once a year, during the Easter season, the Church would also recount the story of Jesus’ crucifixion and how He was resurrected on the third day.
Each time when we celebrate the Holy Communion, we also refer to how Jesus’ life was sacrificed for us, and how His blood was shed to wash away our sins. So, we all know the gospel and know to declare that Christ has died, that Christ has risen and that Christ will come again!
Dearly beloved brothers and sisters, on the day that Jesus was resurrected, He appeared to the disciples who were both fearful and joyful. As He appeared among them, He said, “Peace to you!”
By His presence and His words, the disciples’ fears were swept away. From then on, they no longer feared persecution, nor did they fear death. In fact for them, to die was gain, for they believed without a doubt that their Saviour Lord is alive! From that day, they preached the good news from Jerusalem to all the world.
The Methodist Church in Singapore exists so that together with other Christians, we can become witnesses of the risen Christ.
I chose the Garden of Remembrance as the background for recording this Easter message. This is to affirm Apostle Paul’s declaration in 1 Corinthians 15:20 that “in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep”. When Christ comes again, all those who have fallen asleep in Christ will be resurrected just as Christ was.
Each urn placed here is a witness to the life of a saint and the promise that Jesus Christ has given them, the promise of resurrection. By holding strong to that promise, they lived life confidently, secure in their hope, as witnesses for Christ. Even when life’s journey sometimes got bumpy and challenging, even when going through the valley of the shadow of death, nevertheless they were blessings to many.
Today, you and I are experiencing an atypical Easter Sunday. In normal times, we would go to church for worship service. Today, we are not worshipping in church, we worship at home.
This makes us even more aware that wherever we are, we can continue to bless our family, community, schools, and neighbours as we share our testimony of faith and grace, of the hope and joy that we hold in our hearts. Hallelujah, because our Lord Christ is risen! He lives in my heart. He lives in my life. He walks with me daily, even in these days of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Christ is risen. Hallelujah!
This is an abridged version of Bishop Dr Chong Chin Chung’s Easter sermon, which was recorded at the Garden of Remembrance on 6 April 2020. It was available online for churches to live stream on Easter Sunday, 12 April 2020, at https://youtu.be/hU5Db9zX7_E.
Photos courtesy of the MCS Communications Team