One summer, I was in the city of Dayton making a visit and was about to get into my car when I noticed an interesting vanity license plate on the back of the car which was parked in front of me.
It said, “In 3 Days.” As I started to drive away, I noticed a man getting out of this car. I slowed down, put my window down, and said, “I read your license plate. Are you a Christian?” With a great big smile on his face, he nodded his head, and yelled back to me, “My life changed because of those 3 days!”
He’s right! Everything changed because of those three days. Those three days refer to Good Friday when Jesus who was God made flesh took upon himself all of the pain, and the brokenness, and the heartache, and the sins, and all of the evil in this world and broke its power through his death on the cross.
The second day was Holy Saturday when Jesus was placed in a tomb and rested reminding us of when God created the world and rested on the seventh day of creation. All was silent on that day of rest. The powers of this world thought they had claimed the victory when Jesus died on a cross and was then placed in a tomb with a large stone rolled in front of it.
Jesus’ disciple’s thought the game was over and so they fled out of fear because of those two days.
Have you ever gone to a sporting event when the home team is losing pretty badly going into the fourth quarter and everyone starts to leave to beat the traffic? I’ve done that!
You’re heading out of the stadium and you’re walking that long distance to your car when you hear the crowd give out a distant roar from the stadium. A meaningless score you think. And then you hear another roar from the remaining fans in the stands. And you begin to question if you should have left the game so early.
Which leads us to the third day or if you prefer the fourth and final quarter. Everyone turned out the lights and gone to bed, only to wake up the next morning and realize that they’re team came back and won.
By the way, this sporting analogy happened to me a couple of years ago. Ohio State playing at Penn State. Being from Pennsylvania, I was of course rooting for Penn State, but by the end of the 3rd quarter, Ohio State was winning 24 to 7 and the momentum was with the Buckeyes.
Pastors do not appreciate late Saturday college football games since they end around midnight, and like a good pastor, I decided to put up the white flag at the end of the 3rd quarter, and accept an early defeat in order to get my beauty sleep and be ready for church the next morning.
That next morning I woke up, staggered down the stairs toward the coffee pot, checked my phone to get the final score and surprisingly saw that Penn State had made an incredible comeback and ended up winning in dramatic fashion by blocking a field goal attempt and returning it for a touchdown and winning 24 to 21.
In that early morning hour, I let out a loud yell even though Penny was still sleeping and I ran up the stairs to tell her all about it! It felt like Christmas morning! How sad that a middle age pastor makes such a big deal out of a football game.
I remember proudly wearing my Penn State tie to church that morning because although a Penn State win over Ohio State is not necessarily a liturgical holy day on the church calendar, it’s always a religious holiday in the McDowell household.
Looking back on that surprising victory, I can’t help but to think of how surprised and ecstatic the women must have been when they discovered that Jesus’ tomb was empty on that early Sunday morning. In a matter of hours, they had gone from certain defeat to the greatest victory imaginable!
Now, I realize this is a very poor analogy but work with me here. The empty tomb was the biggest surprise in all of history. No one saw it coming, even the people who knew the scriptures backward and forward. They didn’t see it coming. They all went to bed at the end of the second day thinking, “Game over. We lost!”
This is what the third day or Easter represents. God surprised everyone when he brought Jesus back from the dead.
Actually, my sports analogy isn’t a terrible one.
St. John, the gospel writer, uses his own limited analogy by telling us the story of how Jesus brought his friend Lazarus back from the dead. Lazarus had been placed in a tomb. His sisters, Mary and Martha thought the game was over. Jesus was too late. But Jesus surprised everyone by bringing Lazarus back to life.
By sharing this story in the middle of his gospel, John is giving us a little sneak preview of the Easter story which will involve Jesus coming back from the dead. Far be it from me to criticize a gospel writer, but the analogy does break down because the two stories do have a major difference.
In the Lazarus story, Lazarus died, was brought back to life, and would eventually die again. In the Easter story, Jesus died, was brought back to life, and would never experience death again.
Jesus, unlike Lazarus was given a new body, a resurrected body, one that would not be subject to death. This is the incredibly surprising news of our faith. Just as the story of Lazarus being raised from the dead is an advanced sign of Jesus’ being raised from the dead, so Jesus’ resurrection is an advanced sign of the resurrection that is awaiting all of God’s saints when Jesus’ returns and all of creation will be made alive.
Easter, the third day is a hint of what awaits all of God’s people. And the saints point us to this future hope of our faith. As the Apostle Paul says, we will all be changed and we will exchange that which is perishable with that which is imperishable.
The early Christians used a couple of powerful images to convey the importance of those three days when Jesus died on the cross, was laid in a tomb, and then rose again.
One of those images was the process that a caterpillar goes through in becoming a beautiful butterfly. This process involves dying, resting in a Chrysalis tomb, until finally a new creation emerges.
Another image for these three days is related to baptism by immersion where the pastor has the person be submerged under the water to symbolize Jesus’ death on the cross and our dying to self. The person then re-emerges from the water, symbolizing Jesus coming out of the empty tomb and symbolizing our new life in Christ. And when we baptize by sprinkling which we often do here in our church, we are still reminded of this powerful, powerful image. Baptism is all about death and resurrection. Death and resurrection.
These ancient Christian symbols remind us of the good news of our faith which centers on the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, which the Apostles’ Creed remind us every time we recite it.
Sometimes even a vanity license plate can remind us of this good news. And today, the saints who have gone before us won’t let us forget this awesome, awesome surprising and life changing news!
On this All Saints’ Sunday, we join all of the saints in proclaiming with great joy, “Those three days changed my life! Alleluia!”
In 3 Days
Small Group Discussion Questions
Revelation 21:1-6a & John 11:32-44
November 4, 2018
Both Easter and All Saints’ Sunday remind us of the good news of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
What helps you to remember the good news of your faith in your day to day living?
The story of Jesus bringing Lazarus back to life is a little sneak preview of Jesus’ resurrection later in John’s gospel. The gospels want us to know that God specializes in bringing life out of what seems to be hopeless situations.
Share an example of where you have seen God bring new life and transformation out of what seemed like a hopeless situation.
All Saints’ Sunday is a day to remember the 3 most important days of our Christian faith; Good Friday when Jesus died on a cross for the sins of the world, Holy Saturday when Jesus rested in a sealed tomb, and Easter Sunday when Jesus rose again. It’s also a day to remember that a day is coming when all of God’s people, including those who have gone before us will be reunited in God’s eternal kingdom.
Share the name of a loved one who has gone to be with the Lord and who had an important influence on your life.