38 And he said unto them, Why are ye troubled? and why do thoughts arise in your hearts?
39 Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself: handle me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have.
40 And when he had thus spoken, he shewed them his hands and his feet.
In the 1982 NBA Finals between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Philadelphia 76ers, the Lakers jumped out to a commanding 3-0 lead. They needed to win only one more game to clinch the crown. But the 76ers refused to give up. In an interview with a sports reporter, Dr. J (Julius Erving) was asked if his team was willing to concede. He expressed the optimism of his whole ball club when he said, “It’s not over until it’s over.”
He meant by that, “There’s still at least one more game to play so we’ve still got a chance. We’re not throwing in the towel. We will play it out until the end—until we lose the final game.”
The saying of Dr. J caught on and now people everywhere say concerning events where defeat looks imminent but there’s still a glimmer of hope, “It’s not over until it’s over.”
It seems to me that that is the message of Easter: “It’s not over until it is over.” We need that message of faith, hope, and optimism in all of life. You can close the books on life too soon. You can throw in the towel in a struggle prematurely. You can walk away from a problem before you ought to. You can give up on a person too soon. If God is in it, then it is not over until it is over. Don’t despair too soon. Don’t give up too soon. Don’t stop short. It is not over until it is over.
From his birth Jesus was on a collision course with death. When the announcement of his birth came to Herod, the king ordered all babies two years of age and under slaughtered to make sure he killed the newborn king. When Jesus began his earthly ministry, he was immediately confronted with opposition, rejection, and scorn. The leaders of Israel determined early that he must die. There was no other way to silence him.
From early in his life he knew who he was and why he had come. He said to his disciples, “The son of man came not to be ministered unto but to minister and to give his life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28). He said on another occasion, “And I, if I be lifted up will draw all men unto me” (John 12:32). As the end drew near, Jesus spoke more explicitly about his approaching death (Matthew 16). The cross never took him by surprise. He knew it was coming.
The day that it happened shall stand in infamy. It was the darkest hour in human history. Jesus, the Son of God, was betrayed by Judas, one of his dearest friends. He went through the mockery of a trial under the guidance of the most powerful, respected, and influential religious leaders in Israel. He was sentenced to death by the puppet procurator Pilate. He was nailed to the old rugged cross by hardened and calloused soldiers. And finally he was laid to rest in the tomb of a friend named Joseph.
If you had interviewed the men on the streets in Jerusalem at sunset on Good Friday and asked if it was over, they would all have said, “Yes, it is over. It is all over.”
If you had asked Judas, who betrayed Jesus with a kiss, “Judas, is it over?” “Yes, it is over. I wish it weren’t but it is. I have betrayed innocent blood. Oh, how I wish I had a chance to rectify my mistake. But it is over, it is all over.”
If you had asked Caiaphas, the high priest of Israel, “Caiaphas, is it over?” “Yes, thank God, it is finally over. At last we are through with the troublemaking rabble rouser. It had to come to this and I’m glad we are rid of him.”
If you had asked Pilate, the weak vacillating puppet procurator of Rome who put politics above principle and sentenced Jesus to death, “Pilate, is it over?” “Yes, it is all over. While he has done nothing worthy of death, at least this will satisfy the leaders of Israel. We can have peace and get on with business as usual. Yes, it is all over. Finally, all over.”
If you had asked the Roman soldiers who presided over the execution, “Captain, is it all over?” “No doubt about it,” says one. “I have carried out many such executions. This is a nasty business and its always messy work, but it has been done. I’m just glad for the weekend. It’s a chance to get away. But yes, it is all over. I can guarantee that.”
Had you asked the apostles, “It is over?” Their feelings were summed up in the words of the man on the road to Emmaus, “We trusted that he was the one to save Israel.” Notice that statement is in past tense. They no longer are looking to Jesus as the Savior, the Messiah. They once did but no longer are. The reason? They felt it was all over. All over.
But I remind you that it is not over until it is over. It’s not over until God gets through with it. That’s the message of Easter. So don’t close the books on Jesus too soon. Don’t walk away from the cross without further investigation. Don’t throw in the towel yet.
It is the way of God to bring victory out of defeat, life out of death, triumph out of tragedy, and turn Calvary into Easter morning. When the execution was complete the disciples took the body of Jesus from Calvary’s cross, buried it in the tomb provided by Joseph of Arimathea, rolled the stone over the door, and walked away disillusioned and heartbroken. They had bet their lives on the belief that Jesus was the Messiah, the Savior of the world. Now their dreams were shattered. Now the light of hope had gone out of their life.
But on Easter morning when some of the ladies return to the site of his burial, as grieving people so often do, they had the best news the world has heard. The angel of the Lord delivered it when he said, “He is not here, he is risen.”
1. Because of the resurrection, we should never give up on anyone.
No one is beyond redemption. The resurrection tells us it’s not over till it’s over. As long as God lives, hope springs eternal. Circumstances sometimes suggest that there is no hope for the future, nothing left to live for, and no promise of tomorrow. But we ought never get to that point if we are Christians. Some of you are saying, “I am so broken that my life could never be mended.” That’s where some people come to in life. They think they are shattered by financial failure, or marital discord, or physical health. They see no way out. They are shackled by sins and circumstances and everything looks hopeless.
If you don’t feel that way about yourself, chances are you feel that way about a husband with a drinking problem, about parents who fuss and fight all the time, or about wayward children. But Christians should never come to such a point of despair. I remind you that it is not over until it is over. If God can resurrect the dead, then he can work in your life and in mine.
A teacher of preaching used to remind his students, “Young men, in your sermons, never leave Jesus on the cross and never leave the prodigal son in the far country.” He was talking about holding out hope to people. Show them that God resurrects the dead. Show them that God brings back his own—the wayward. Let them see God working his miracles in everyday life. No one is beyond redemption. The prodigal came home from the far country and Jesus came down from the cross. Therefore we should never give up on anyone.
In the New Testament world, who is the person least likely to be saved? Is it not the apostle Paul? Paul, who was a Jew by birth and by training. Paul, who had a mind like a steel trap. Paul, whose tongue was razor sharp. Paul, who hated Christians with a passion. He said concerning his life before conversion that he “made havoc” of the church. That describes a boar hog indiscriminately destroying everything in its path. Paul was like a wild hog on the rampage to destroy all Christians. Just when things looked hopeless, God confronted him while on the road to Damascus and redeemed the whole situation. Paul became the greatest missionary ever and passionately honeycombed the Roman Empire with churches through the preaching of the Gospel.
Again and again I have seen that happen in real life. Someone would come to me concerned about the spiritual well-being of another. Then almost before they could finish their sentence they would say, “Oh, but there is no use to visit him. We could never win him. He is too hard.” Then I have seen those same people become tender and pliable in the hands of the Master. Jesus can save from the uttermost to the guttermost. When Jesus died there were two thieves crucified next to him. Someone has said that one thief was lost so that none might presume, and one was saved so that none might despair.
It matters not how far into sin you may have gone or how dark the scars upon your soul; it’s not too late for you and it is not too late for your loved ones. Remember that it is not over until it is over.
2. Because of the resurrection, we should never count any experience a total waste.
We usually don’t expect much philosophy from Monday night football. But recently Don Meredith said, “If you sail the seas long enough, you are eventually going to run into rough waters.”
That goes for Christians as well as non-Christians. I know nothing about this new brand of religion that has no loss, struggle, disappointment, or heartache. I do not understand this “believe in Jesus and you will be healthy and happy the rest of your life” mentality. If the Christian life is a struggle-free life, then I don’t have it. All my born-again life and before has been one struggle after another.
Why struggle? Because we are part of the fall. Because we are born sinners. Because we live in a world cursed by sin. What God promises is not exemption, but redemption. Listen to Romans 8:28: “For we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.”
If you love God and have answered his call, that promise is for you. In fact all the promises of the epistles are for us. All the Bible is written to us but not all of it is written for us. Some of the promises in the commands of the Old Testament were for the Jews only. Some of the words of Jesus—both promises and responsibilities—are exclusively for the apostles and not for us. But the promises of the epistles are for all believers of all ages.
How does this promise speak to our heart? You may think, “Can it be true? I just wish it were so; my life is so messed up. I would hope it is so. Can I believe that God is in all the terrible things that have happened to me?” Paul says that you need not wish it or hope it were so. Paul says, “I know,” and we know. That word know suggests absolute and settled knowledge. We know that all things work together for good.
I want us to lay hold of this promise. It is yours and mine to possess. It is a promise that is real! God can take the fragmented pieces of life, regardless of how bad they might be, and fit them together into a plan and a purpose if we will understand and claim the promise of this verse.
There are three basic promises here:
One, that God works. God works in all things in his world. The cynic says, “Not so!” He believes that God wound the world up like a clock, walked off, and is allowing it to run down by itself. Many believe that God may have started the world but that he has no personal involvement in it now.
It is the whole message of the Bible that God works in the world today. One of the purposes for the Bible to be written was that we might know of God’s love, concern, and activity on our behalf.
Two, God works for the good. Whatever God touches, it is for our good. If he comes into your heart and life and home, you will be better for it.
Romans 8:28 does not say that all things that happen in the world are caused by God. They aren’t. It doesn’t say that everything that happens is good. It isn’t. There are heartbreaks, disappointments, shattered hopes, and pain. Sorrow comes. There is persecution and defeat, and hard work that produces nothing. There is failure on every hand. Not all things are good. But God can change all of that.
Three, God works for the good for us. You may say, “I can see how God may work in the life of Billy Graham or some great missionary. But me? I am just insignificant; I’m a nobody. I am not a missionary. I’m not a doctor. I am not a world-famous evangelist.” But the fact is that God still works for good in your life and in mine.
The message of Easter is that God brought his best out of man’s worst. He turned Calvary into Easter. And what he did then he can do again today.
3. Because of the resurrection, we should never despair in the face of death.
Death is a fact of life. As soon as we are born, we are old enough to die. Life’s ultimate statistic is the same for all: “One out of one dies.”
We ought to recognize that and prepare for it. The other day a friend from out of town came to visit with me. As I took him around Tyler we passed the Cathedral of the Pines cemetery. On the spur of the moment I swung into the driveway and pointed to that beautiful little pond in the midst of a clump of trees. I said, “That’s where they are going to bury me someday.”
He seemed a bit surprised that I would be talking about death that way. But death is coming and we need to prepare for it. I’m not anxious to die, but I am not afraid of it either. I’ve got a lot of things I still want to do on this earth, but I can face the fact calmly and with assurance because of Jesus Christ.
The scriptures say that Jesus abolished death and brought life and immortality to light. That means that he nullified death’s power. He brought life and death out into the open so that we could see them, examine them, and be unafraid of them. Because of who Jesus was and what Jesus did we can live until we die and then we can live forever. We can enjoy abundant life now and eternal life later. He transformed death from an ending to a beginning, from a period to a comma, and from a conclusion to an introduction.
In 1 Corinthians 15:55 the apostle Paul stands before the grave. Here is the old Paul, growing older all the time, looking into the raw red throat of death. Then in one of the most dramatic moments (not only in the New Testament but in all of literature) Paul looks at the grave and says, “Ha! Death, where is your sting?” He mocked death. We go there and cry. But we seldom go there to mock.
Then Paul says, “The only sting you have is the sting of sin, and that was dealt with on the cross of Christ.” Then he looks at the grave and says, “Ha! Grave where is your victory?” Before Jesus came, death reached up and wrapped her clammy arms around her victims and clutched them as if to never let them go. It looked like death was the victor; life was defeated. But I remind you that it is not over until it is over.
Years ago Dr. Ray Summers was on sabbatical to Basel, Switzerland, when one of the great old professors of the University of Boswell died. He was a colleague of Karl Barth. He said that the Swiss have a custom of all the friends walking one by one past the grave of the deceased and throwing edelweiss into it. (Edelweiss is that beautiful flower of Switzerland that grows high in the Alps.)
Summers says that when Karl Barth came to the grave of his friend, he stood and looked into it until his face turned red with anger. Then instead of tossing the edelweiss into the grave, he drew back his arm and with all his might hurled it into the mouth of the grave with a mighty thrust. In anger, he was defying death. You and I may do the same thing also.
Paul says that death is an enemy we can mock because in Jesus Christ we find the death of death. Since all of this is true, we—like Thomas, who first doubted the Lord—ought to fall to our knees and in faith cry out, “My Lord, and my God.” To believe all of this and to fail to acclaim Jesus as Lord is the height of foolishness. Believe it, claim it, live it.
The message of Easter is simply this: “It is not over until it is over.” God is still alive and well. Therefore we are not to give up on anybody. We ought not to count any experience as a total waste, and we ought not be afraid to face death.
It is the way of God to bring life out of death, victory out of defeat, success out of failure, and triumph out of tragedy. It is the way of God to bring resurrection out of crucifixion, and to turn Good Friday into Easter morning.