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Lincoln: A "None" Before His Time by Monte Wolverton: Lincoln never joined any church or denomination. Why? Perhaps his Universalist leanings clashed with the hell-fire condemnation and exclusivism ...the my-way-or-the-highway dogmatism that characterizes so many churches and denominations.

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God Lets His Children Tell the Story by Peter Enns: ...God allows his children to tell his story—which means the biblical writers told the story from their point of view, with their limitations, within the cultural context in which they wrote.

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Why I'm an Atheist Who Believes in God by Frank Schaeffer: I do not always know if God exists. I do not always know he does not exist. What I know is that I see the Creator in Jesus or nowhere. What I know is that I see Jesus in my children and grandchildren's love.

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You Ain't Got No Easter Clothes

When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, "Lazarus, come out!" The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face. Jesus said to them, "Take off the grave clothes and let him go."—John 11:43-44

Welcome to the party! Easter is the annual celebration Christians around the world anticipate and long for. Once again we savor victory in Christ. As Christians we are celebrating the most triumphant and victorious day in all history.

Let's begin with the words of Peter, who tells us, in 1 Peter 1:3-4:

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade—kept in heaven for you.…

In the 24th chapter of Luke we read that women went to Jesus' tomb, early on Sunday morning and found the stone that had sealed the tomb had rolled away. They ventured inside, found the tomb empty, and while they were wondering why, two angels, in clothes that gleamed like lightening stood beside them, and asked them a provocative question:

"Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen!"—Luke 24:5-6

These women were totally unprepared for an empty tomb. They weren't expecting the resurrection. They weren't expecting a living Lord, they were expecting a dead body. In their experience, and in ours, dead bodies don't rise to life. But because of Easter, because of Jesus Christ's incredible victory, we worship a living Lord, a dynamic Savior. Jesus is risen!

Easter is all about the victory we have in Christ, by God's grace. He is risen, he is risen, indeed! Jesus has overcome death and opened the gates of everlasting life to us. As we live in him and he in us, all of our battles truly belong to the Lord. The resurrection testifies that our Lord and Savior is the victor of all the battles that loom before us, now and forever.

By God's grace we are raised with Christ (Colossians 3:1) from any dead places that may enslave us. Easter is an annual reminder that we come to Christ, to life incarnate, leaving behind the death and destruction of our mortal lives.

In the midst of this victorious celebration, let's pause. I know that Christ has set me free, but sometimes I just have to do something religious! Somehow it makes me feel better! Indulge me, I need to make a confession.

All jesting aside, here's my confession—I love music. I was browsing the Internet for music and came upon a fascinating title of a song, which gives my sermon today its title: You Ain't Got No Easter Clothes.

New clothing at Easter is a long tradition within Christendom. The new Easter outfit, the traditional Easter bonnet or hat are traditional outward expressions of a spiritual reality. Of course, new physical clothing doesn't guarantee new spiritual life. It's possible to wear new clothes and be spiritually naked internally.

A new Easter outfit is not proof that Jesus has spiritually transformed us. Easter is about the new spiritual clothing that God gives us by his grace, new clothing without price, new clothing we cannot afford, new spiritual clothing given to us by God's lavish generosity.

When I came across this song, by a folksinger named Laura Love, I didn't even have to listen to it. The title alone, You Ain't Got No Easter Clothes, conveyed a powerful message to me.

Easter can become just one more grand religious ritual, one more social occasion at a local religious club. Everybody shows up and shows off. Somewhere between the fashion parade, the egg rolling, the Easter egg hunt and chocolate bunny rabbits, Jesus gets lost in the religious shuffle. When that happens, then the song title rings true, You Ain't Got No Easter Clothes.

The context of John 11:43-44 is the death of Lazarus, a good friend of Jesus. Jesus had just arrived in Bethany, Lazarus' hometown. People were gathering to mourn.

Jesus stood outside of Lazarus' tomb, and after he asked some of those present to roll away the stone from the tomb, Jesus ordered the dead body of Lazarus to come to life. He commanded Lazarus to come out of that tomb.

The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face. Jesus said to them, "Take off the grave clothes and let him go."—John 11:44

Just as physical grave clothing isn't appropriate for those who are physically alive, neither is spiritual clothing that religiously binds and restricts appropriate for those who are alive in Christ.

This is a great word picture of being clothed in Christ that the Apostle Paul uses to illustrate the life we have after the risen Lord takes up residence in our lives

Since then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God…
Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.—Colossians 3:1,12

Paul tells us to set aside the grave clothing of death, and put on Christ. Paul encourages us to clothe ourselves with a spiritual wardrobe that we are given by God's grace —which includes, as he says in verses 12-14, attributes like compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, forgiveness and love. Love, Paul says, is the article of clothing that holds all the other parts of our Christ-centered wardrobe together.

At the same time, as we put on Christ, there are rags of clothing that God will empower us to get rid of, and Paul speaks of these in verses 5, 8 and 9. We will put off sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires, greed, anger, rage, malice, slander, filthy language and lying.

If all we experience at Easter is a fashion show, a social occasion, Easter eggs, Easter hats and the traditional Easter ham for lunch, then we truly Ain't Got No Easter Clothes.

Paul tells us in Colossians that because we are raised with Christ God outfits us with a brand new spiritual wardrobe. The good news of Easter is that we have no need of our old grave clothing. Our keynote passage in John speaks of Lazarus coming out of his tomb still wrapped with strips of linen, and cloth around his face (John 11:44).

Before we were risen in Christ we were bound with spiritual grave clothing. Before we were risen in Christ we were tied down, wrapped up and enveloped by guilt, shame and fear, by addictions and superstitions. When we are risen in Christ, Jesus says to those around us, "Take off the grave clothes and let him go" (John 11:45).

God has prepared a new resurrection line of clothing, spiritual clothing that the risen Christ will clothe us with, once we trust in him and surrender to him, without condition.

You see, Easter is not simply a story of one human being's escape from the grave. Easter is all about a cosmic victory, a victory for the ages, a victory of love over hate, a victory of grace over law, a victory of Jesus over religion.

It was the Light of God that blazed in the darkness and death of the tomb of Jesus. Divine light came with the dawn of that first Easter, the sun of righteousness, with healing in his wings, as the Old Testament prophet Malachi foretold, in chapter 4:2.

It was the glory and brilliance of the Light of the world that came out of that tomb. The radiant light that erupted out of the tomb of darkness and death didn't just illuminate one little tomb on the side of a hill in Judea, but the Light of the world brought healing, transformation, and a revolutionary new life to the thick darkness that covered the whole earth.

Genesis 1:2 tells us that darkness reigned supreme in the beginning. Genesis 1:3 says, And God said, "let there be light." So too, at Easter, at a new spiritual beginning, the Light of the world bursts into the darkness of the sin and death and lust and hatred that holds the world captive.

As it was in the beginning, so too shall it ever be in Christ, because of him, by God's grace.

Like a volcano, God's grace erupted out of that tomb. God's grace for all mankind exploded out of that tomb. Easter proves that love is stronger than death, that grace is more powerful than law, and that mercy triumphs over human justice and judgment.

Easter reminds us, every year, that all the hatred and ugliness, all the pain and suffering, all the evil and sin of Good Friday gives way and is overcome and conquered by goodness and truth. God's grace prevails. God's grace wins!!

Paul tells us, in 1 Corinthians 15:14: …if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.

If this world is only a Good Friday world, then God's grace will forever hang, powerless and defeated, on the crosses erected by the human establishments of this world, be they political, military or religious.

If it's only a Good Friday world, then empty, Christ-less religion wins. Religion wins with its interpretation of what actually happened at the Cross of Christ. Without the resurrection, religion might succeed in convincing us that the Cross was all about God taking vengeance, a time when he got so upset with human sin that he lost his patience. Apart from the resurrection, religion might succeed in telling us that Christ did not die as a supreme expression of the love of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, but Christ had to die to vindicate the honor of the Father, because the Father's law had been violated, and he demanded vengeance—he demanded retribution.

If it's only a Good Friday world, then the fear and punishment scenarios of religion win. Without Easter, fear religion, eternal torture in hell and a monster god of vengeance win.

If it's only a Good Friday world, You Ain't Got No Easter Clothes!

But Easter is proof that there is no monster God out there waiting to beat us up and torture us for all eternity. Easter is our annual reminder that, once we surrender to Christ, once we accept God's grace in all of its implications, then there is only love waiting for us. God's love is waiting to set us free from the fear, frustration, ignorance, superstition, guilt and shame of religion. Easter is proof that we are free in Christ.

Christ has been raised from the dead. He is risen! While human beings and powerful human institutions can suppress the truth of God and his grace, while the darkness of religion can do its best to obliterate the Light of the world, humans and all their powers can never kill God's love. No human or combination of humans can kill God's love and keep it buried.

Jesus Christ is risen, he is alive yesterday, today and forever.

So you see, Easter is not just a nice day when we hunt for and roll eggs, when pastel colors delight our eyes, when we smell beautiful flowers and taste sweet chocolate Easter eggs.

Easter is a time when all things become new. Easter is a time of a brand new spiritual wardrobe. Easter is a demand for loyalty to the risen Lord. Easter is a time when Christ-followers unite, when we recommit our lives to our Lord and Savior, when we are filled with courage to face the temporary struggles of this life, as we look with hope to our eternal promises, including our own resurrection from the dead.

Easter is a time when we are called to commit to Christ, without reservation, without condition. Easter is a time to give thanks to God for the new spiritual Easter wardrobe he has given us, by his grace. Easter is a time to walk away from the religious legalisms that crucified Christ, for we cannot accept Christ and continue to pledge our allegiance to the very institutions and twisted teachings that crucified him.

Easter is a time to be filled with confidence and hope that the Light of the world is filling the darkness of this world with his light. Easter is a time to be filled with confidence and hope that one day the Light of the world will be known by all men, so that his Light will cover this world, illuminating it just as surely as the waters of the seas cover so much of planet earth today.

He is risen! He is the Light of the world!

Easter is about the resurrection of Jesus from his own tomb, but it is also about our own spiritual resurrection. At Easter Jesus stands outside my tomb, and yours, just as he stood outside of the tomb of Lazarus. Jesus is not standing outside of our tomb, admiring our righteousness. Jesus is not standing outside our tomb because we have so faithfully obeyed God's commandments. He's not standing outside our tomb because of our good works.

Jesus is standing outside of our tomb because we are, apart from him, dead. He stands there ready to unbind our lives from the grave clothing that restricts us. He stands outside of our tomb holding our new spiritual wardrobe, a new transformed life.

On Easter Jesus stands outside of the death, misery, suffering and low places of our lives, ready to take us from where we are, the pain of our fleshly lives, the addictions and sin that so easily overcome us, the religion that enslaves us, ready to take us from death to life, from law to grace and from hatred and misery to God's love.

On Easter Sunday we celebrate, we rejoice, we party, for God has done for each of us what we could never do for ourselves. Jesus has paid a debt he did not owe because we owed a debt we could not pay. He has paid that debt with his life, but he is not now dead, he is alive. He has conquered the final enemy, death and the grave. God's grace is victorious over all earthly powers and foes.

Jesus is not dead and gone. He is alive and well. Because he lives, we are saved from our own earthly tomb, here and now. Because he lives we also have the hope and assurance of our own resurrection from the dead.

This day is the heart and soul of our faith. This day is the bedrock of our belief. This day is the very center of all that we are and all that we will ever be because this day is not simply a day, it is more than that.

Easter is more than a day. It's about eternity—the eternity we are given because of Christ, by God's grace. This celebration is not anchored in religious festivities and traditions, this celebration is the very spiritual heartbeat of all that we hold near and dear, this celebration is what transforms us from what we once were into Christ-followers, saved by

God's grace.
Say it with me—He is risen!
Say it again—He is risen! He is risen indeed!


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