Pastor Kyle Bitter - Easter Festival - Sunday, April 21, 2019

Text: Exodus 15:1-11

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They laid the cornerstone 856 years ago. It took more than 200 years to complete construction, and it stood at the center of Paris for 9 centuries.  Millions of people have passed through the doors and sat in the pews to worship. The building has seen kings coronated and an emperor crowned. On Monday, the Cathedral of Notre Dame burned. You’ve probably seen the live footage of the 226-foot spire crashing down and smashing through the roof of the nave. The flames roared and fire fighters continued to labor as the sun set on Monday night. Parisians held their breath, wondering what would be left in the morning? Would anything be left in the morning? Given the lack of 800-year-old fire codes, it looked like all hope was lost. 

In the chapters before today’s first lesson, the Children of Israel were wondering if all hope was lost. For generations, they had lived as slaves in the foreign land of Egypt. God had raised up a man named Moses to be a leader for his people, promising to bring them out of slavery in Egypt and home to the Promised Land. Using a series of disastrous plagues, God compelled Pharaoh to let the Israelites go, so they gathered up their things and set out through the desert…but Pharaoh had a change of heart. He set out in pursuit with his whole army – one of the most powerful forces in the world at that time – and by as evening approached, he had caught up.  Night fell on the Israelite camp with the Red Sea in front of them, vast and uncrossable, dry and dusty desert for miles to the sides, and the mighty Egyptians encamped behind. What would the first rays of morning light bring? A devastating attack from their enemies? A slaughter? A return to slavery? It looked like all hope was lost.    

1500 years later, night was falling again, and the plight of God’s people appeared hopeless. The one who had been sent to repair the shattered relationship between sinful people and the holy God. They had thought that Jesus was the Messiah. The one who had been sent to take care of the problem of sin for once and for all. His words had been powerful, and they had been backed up by miracles! He seemed to fulfill all the prophecies! But then, they crucified him. Jesus died, and their hopes died with him. As night fell, Jesus had hung lifeless on the cross. His body was taken down and placed in a tomb, and a large stone rolled in front of the entrance. The tomb was sealed with the governor’s seal. Guards had been posted. His followers went home and observed their Sabbath rest, but it looked like all hope was lost. What would the new day bring when life resumed after the religious festival? Ridicule and mockery for his followers? A manhunt for his disciples? A return to a life of trying to please God but knowing deep down that it’s not good enough? Not the kind of morning you look forward to! 

But exactly the kind of morning that comes so naturally. We don’t like to say it.  We don’t even like to think about life in those terms, but hopelessness is the ultimate natural condition of all people, isn’t it? You start out young and growing and strong, but as soon as you reach your full physical potential, the process reverses until you get old and die. You might slow it down to a degree but trying to avoid it entirely is hopeless. Your life might be filled with good people – family members and friends, classmates and co-workers…but life has a way of changing. People move. People get sick. People die. And if you think you’re not going to experience that?  It’s hopeless. Think about all the ways you spend your time and energy. Trying to get good grades, make the sports team, have a solid career, do something useful with your life, make lots of money…but that doesn’t last either. Eventually you die and someone else takes it all over, and what really changed? It’s hopeless. And it’s even worse spiritually. The bible describes the life God expects from people – perfection.  You and I have fallen short of that a long-time age, and yet God is the one whom we have to answer to at the end of our lives. You can try as hard as you’d like, but thinking you can make up the gap? It’s hopeless. 

Friends, today we have gathered together today because that darkness and hopelessness, no matter what form it might take in your own life, is gone. When Jesus rose from the dead, A New Day Dawned for God’s people of every generation, and with that new day, everything changed! Hopelessness is gone, and Easter is a Day of Victory and a Day of Life. You can start thinking about that victory by returning once again to the current events of this past week. 

Day of Victory

Fire fighters in Paris battled the blaze through the long hours of the night, using every resource they had at their disposal to save the historic cathedral.  When the New Day Dawned, the success of their efforts became clear. Despite tremendous damage, there was hope! The stone vault ceiling had held, and although the towering spire had fallen, the walls and massive towers were still standing, much of the stained glass was intact, and the majority of the artwork had been preserved. It was a Day of Victory

The children of Israel encamped by the Red Sea also awoke a surprising victory.  During the night, God sent a powerful wind, and when the New Day Dawned, God’s people looked out and saw the waters of the Red Sea piled up, leaving a path of dry ground for God’s people to escape their enemies. The children of Israel crossed, and when the Egyptians tried to follow God brought the waters crashing down on them. It was a Day of Victory!  Moses remembers,“The enemy boasted, “I will pursue, I will overtake them.  I will divide the spoils; I will gorge myself on them. I will draw my sword and my hand will destroy them.”  But you blew with your breath and the sea covered them. They sank like lead in the mighty waters.” Exodus 15:9-10 – NIV84).   God’s victory over the Egyptians preserved the ancestors of Jesus and paved the way for the much greater victory we have gathered to celebrate today. The gospel account of the events of Easter morning describes some women going to the tomb, hearts heavy with sadness and loss, remembering the dreadful spectacle they had witnessed on Friday afternoon. But when they arrived at the tomb, they couldn’t believe their eyes! The stone was rolled away! The tomb was empty! Then they started remembering how Jesus had talked about dying and rising from the dead, and the pieces started falling into place. Those brutal events they had seen on Friday hadn’t been defeat at all – that gore and bloodshed was what fighting the battle with sin looked like! That brutality was Jesus taking our sins onto his own shoulders and enduring the inferno of God’s righteous anger in our place. And when all that was over and the New Day Dawned on Easter? Jesus was alive!  His death had been exactly the price needed to satisfy God’s perfect justice, and with the price of sin paid, death had no power over him! The tomb was empty. A New Day and Dawned! God’s people of every age had been set free from sin forever. It was a Day of Victory, and that victory meant it was also a Day of New Life for each one of us, and that new life is filled with hope for the future. 

Day of New Life 

Already by Tuesday evening millions of dollars had been donated for repairs at Notre Dame Cathedral. Experts were already starting to speculate just how long it might be until things were back to the way they were supposed to be.  It’ll take time, probably years, and no doubt there will be challenges along the way, but out of the ashes and rubble a beautiful sanctuary will be restored once again. A New Day Dawned, and it’s Day of New Life

That’s a good picture of what God had done for Moses and the Children of Israel. The defeat of the Egyptian army had been far more than just a miraculous military victory orchestrated by God. This was the beginning of a new chapter in their history – the Dawn of a New Day – and that new day was a Day of New Life! Their former life of slavery and hopelessness in Egypt? That was over on the other side of the sea. Their former slave masters demanding labor and bricks? They were dead and gone. Like the repairs at Notre Dame, the trip to the promised land would take some time and there would be challenges along the way, but they knew exactly where their journey would end – in the promised land. Moses rejoiced at seeing God keep his promises: “The LORD is my strength and my song, he has become my salvation…your right hand, O Lord, was majestic in power.  Your right hand, O LORD, shattered the enemy…Who among the gods is like you, O LORD? Who is like you – majestic in holiness, awesome in glory, working wonders? (Exodus 15:2a,6,11 – NIV84). A New Day had Dawned for God’s people! It was a Day of New Life!    

That’s what Easter means for you and me too as baptized children of God.  When Jesus rose from the dead, A New Day Dawned for us – and it’s a day of New Life, free from hopelessness. Just as God separated the Israelites from their former life of slavery with a massive sea of water, so also God reassures you, “as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgression from us” (Psalm 103:12 – NIV84). That means that your old slave-master of a guilty conscience, demanding unattainable perfection and constantly reminding you of your past sins and mistakes, has been silenced because Jesus was perfect in your place and nothing more has to be done.  You’ve been set free for a new life of following you Savior. It’s a Day of New Life

That’s important to keep in mind, because there are going to be days when it’s hard to see that A New Day has Dawned, and that shouldn’t be surprising.  After all, like the children of Israel in the desert, we haven’t reached our destination yet. We still fight with our sinful natures, and the world we live in is still damaged by the effects of sin. But, in the light of the New Day of Easter, you can look at those times of hardship in a completely different way. It’s still going to be true that old age, sickness and death are unavoidable, and it’s still going to be true that losing family members and friends is hard, but in the light of Easter you can see a critical difference. Sickness and death aren’t the end anymore. You live as God’s child now and you will live forever in heaven, because Jesus lives and he promises: “because I live, you also will live!” It’s also true that you might spend your life laboring at a lot of things that might not seem as though they are going to have much lasting impact. But that too changes on Easter. In the good news about Jesus and the forgiveness of sins, you have a powerful message to share that will help the people you come into contact with in every walk of life, and this powerful message will help them not just for a few minutes or even a few years, but for eternity! What bigger purpose could you have in life?

A New Day has Dawned, and with that new day comes a new life – here on earth and forever in heaven. What more reason could we need to celebrate? Amen.