Competing Voices

One of the early lessons a pastor learns in his ministry is that his voice, the words he is called to proclaim on any given Sunday, is not the most dominate one in the ears of the people who hear him. The sermon message can be entertaining, well crafted, thought out, and beautifully delivered. It can even come at you on an Easter Sunday morning full of joy and high expectation, but that does not mean they will be remembered much after the service ends. For most people, by the time the car door closes, and they head home, this moment, the proclamation has faded from their mind. Now, I do not want to seem too bitter about this. I am not one who tends to whine and complain. It is just the way things are. I get it. I know there are many other voices in our lives which compete for our devotion, demanding our attention and will quite often win out over anything said within the walls of a church. 

The reality is the voices of our age come at us with insane precision and frequency. We have sort of just grown accustomed to it all. We do not even think that much about it. You have the social media feeds: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, and TikTok. You have your preferred news source, your favorite radio station, your favorite sports team, your cable news channels you like and a whole host of streaming services. If all that were not enough to fill your life, we have managed to package them into a small device that fits in our pockets that gives us constant updates and notifications, and demands of our attention. These voices know you better than your pastor. They know your shopping habits, your likes, and dislikes, what brings you joy and what you are afraid of. More than anything else they know how to say the right thing to keep you coming back. 

Any preacher of the Word knows all this. They know the voices of this world, the voices that influence and shape us are louder and more intrusive in the lives of God’s people than the Word of God. This past year, out of all the years I have been engaged in this work, those voices were the loudest. In fact, it seemed as if they almost won. They almost shut out the Word of truth and life that forms the foundation to the lives of God’s people. A global pandemic was just the thing they needed to make their bold push. And push they did. When we quarantined in our homes, when we separated from our brothers and sisters in Christ, when we stopped going out, these strong voices became the only voices we heard. They became the only voices worth listening to, the only arbiter of truth as safety became our greatest concern and fear the great motivator. It seemed as if the Word of God was finally silenced.

But then came Easter morning! That is the day when the faithful push back. When God’s Word comes front and center again. When we do not hide away but join together and boldly declare, “Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!” On Easter morning we are reminded that the Word of God does not come to us as an alert on our phones or just one of the many options on our regular news feed. No, the Word of God echoes from the empty tomb which once held our crucified Lord. The final enemy has been defeated; death has lost its finality. The tomb is empty. In the face of the fear and trembling of our day, in the face of pandemics and death and disease we hear the truth of the ancient saying, “O Death, where is your victory? O death where is your sting?” (1 Corinthians 15:55) This proclamation stands in stark contrast to the voices of our age. Hope is here. Confidence is here. The very promises of God are here, and they are here for you.

The Easter text from Mark’s gospel is a perfect one for us to hear again (Mark 16:1-8). It is not about seeing the risen Christ, and neither is it about Jesus appearing to Mary in the garden or in the upper room to His disciples. No, in Mark’s telling of Easter morning our focus is directed precisely where it needs to be, on the Word of God. The focus is on what Christ has said, what He has promised. It is a promise we will learn He carries froward through death itself, a promise He keeps by walking out of the tomb and declaring victory over death. 

So, what happens? Well, the women come to the tomb early in the morning to anoint the body of Jesus. He was taken down from the cross on Friday and laid in the tomb with such haste because it was the Passover, so they did not have the time to do what was their usual custom. On Sunday morning as the sun is rising, they make their way to care for the body of this man they loved. They wonder how they are going to roll back the stone but when they get there it is standing wide open. The tomb is empty, and a man dressed in a white robe greets them saying, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; He is not here. See the place where they laid Him. But go, tell His disciples and Peter that He is going before you to Galilee. There you will see Him, just as He told you” (Mark 16:6-7).

The focus of this whole experience is on Jesus doing precisely what He told them He was going to do. Jesus is the faithful keeper of His promises, and nothing, not even crucifixion will stop Him from keeping His Word. He said He would rise on the third day. He said He would meet His disciples in Galilee and that is precisely what He is doing. What this text does for us is drive us back to the Word of God. It calls for us to elevate His voice over all the other voices clamoring for your attention. For if He kept this promise, if He was true to His Word here, what else has He said? What other promises does your God make to you which perhaps have been drowned out by the distractions of our lives?

To begin with, our Lord has declared that you are sinners. Yes, this is right. The other voices do not want you to know it, but you have sinned in your thoughts, words, and deeds. You have all fallen short of the glory of God. But then He promises you it is precisely for sinners that He came. It is for sinners like you God became flesh and welt among us. It was to seek and save the lost and condemned sinners of this world that Jesus suffered and died. As Paul declares, “One will scarcely die for a righteous person – though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die – but God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:7-8).

The promise of salvation is not made for those who get their lives together, those who prove themselves to be worthy of His gifts. Jesus makes His promises to sinners. He makes His promises to you. And His promise is victory over sin and death. His promise is life everlasting. His promise is an age to come without tears or disease or heartache. His promise is you are not alone nor forsaken but are loved and forgiven and welcome. His love is not conditional on your work or effort or how much you give or volunteer or anything. His love is freely given so we might live bold new lives in His promises.

And that is precisely what we are doing. For today, the competing voices are silenced as the Word of Truth is proclaimed. Today, joy is renewed as we stand in defiance of death and fear. Today, we celebrate the promises of our Lord as we boldly proclaim, “Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!”