I have been reading a powerful book by Laura Hillenbrand, titled Unbroken. It is the true story of Louis Zamperini. Louis was an Olympic runner who was caught up in WWII. He joined the Air Force and found himself as the part of a B-24 crew flying over the Pacific. On a search and rescue mission, his plane went down in the ocean. Although an extensive search was made for his downed plane, it was never located. The search was called off, and Louis was listed as missing in action. After a year had gone by, the military officially declared Louis dead. The standard notice was sent to his family, but they refused to believe it. They held out hope that somehow he was still alive. Shortly after the official death notice, a broadcast, from Japan, was picked up that announced that Louis was not dead, but a POW in Japan. At first, the authenticity of the message was questioned. But, then a second broadcast was received. This time the voice that was heard was that of Louis. His family was elated to know that he was still alive. Nothing more was heard from him after that point. His family waited with hope and anticipation. The war finally ended and the POW camps were liberated. After an extended delay, Louis walked into the front door of his family’s home. At that moment all doubt was erased. Louis was alive! It was really true!
This week we celebrate Easter. The story of Easter is even more fantastic than the story of Louis Zamperini. On Palm Sunday, Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey to the cheers of the crowds. He was hailed as the Messiah, the deliverer. By Thursday night, all of that had changed.
Jesus met with his disciples to celebrate the Passover. At that meal, Jesus announced to his closest friends that he would be betrayed that very night. He would be taken captive by the Jewish authorities and put on trial. After that he would be put to death. His disciples could not believe their ears. They refused to mildly accept what Jesus was saying. Jesus never wavered. He assured them that events would unfold just as he had predicted.
Later that evening, Jesus and his disciples went to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray. While his disciples struggled to fight off sleep, Jesus agonized in prayer. Before dawn, his sleepy disciples were aroused by a crowd of people, led by Judas. Judas identified Jesus and he was arrested. His disciples scattered in fear. Jesus was left to face his ordeal alone.
After a mock trial, Jesus was taken to Pontus Pilate, the Roman Governor. Although Pilate knew that Jesus was innocent, he gave in to the will of the crowd. Jesus was condemned to die on a cross; the most cruel form of execution. Jesus was mocked, spit upon, beaten and finally nailed to a cross. Before sunset on Friday, Jesus was dead. His body was laid in a borrowed tomb, and the tomb was sealed. Pilate himself confirmed the official death notice. The story was over, or so it seemed.
On Sunday morning, after the Sabbath, some women went to the tomb to finish preparing Jesus’ body for burial. When they arrived at the tomb, to their horror, they discovered that the tomb was open and the body of Jesus was gone. Their emotional panic was interrupted by a clear message. A message specifically sent to them by a messenger from God. Jesus isn’t here because he has risen from the dead. He is alive! The women could not believe their ears. They were filled with mixed emotions. As they hurried from the tomb, they encountered Jesus, alive! They fell at his feet. Jesus assured them and then sent them to tell his disciples.
When the women recounted their story to the disciples, they refused to believe it. It sounded like nonsense. It was not possible. They had seen him die and be placed in the tomb. Then, suddenly, there he was, standing in their midst. They were shocked. Their first thought was that he was a ghost. Jesus proved that he was very much alive and real. It was really true!
Two thousand years later, the message of Easter still echoes throughout the world. Many scoff at it as impossible and nonsense. Many more embrace it as true. It is true! He is alive!
When the first message from Japan was aired, it was specifically addressed to Louis’ parents. The message of Easter is specifically addressed to each one of us. Jesus invites us to examine the empty tomb and encounter the risen Lord.
The angel said to the women, "Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay.