Matthew 27:62-66 v. 64 “Therefore command the tomb to be made secure until the third day…”
One thing I’m seeing this year as I look at the resurrection story of our savior is that no matter how hard people tried, they just couldn’t hold Jesus down. When he was born in Bethlehem of Judea, and Herod tried to have the baby Jesus executed, Mary and Joseph were warned by an angel to flee to Egypt, because you can’t hold a good God down. The devil came to him in the wilderness, tempting him three different times, all of it to no avail because you can’t hold a good God down. The crowds got angry with his preaching one day and threatened to throw him off a cliff, but Jesus walked calmly through the midst of the crowd and went on about his business because you can’t hold a good God down. The Pharisees tried to trip him up with his words, asking difficult questions, trick questions to try to get him to mis-speak and put him at odds with either his religious community or his country, “Is it lawful for us to pay taxes to Caesar?” Oh, I know folks like this, religious folk who are looking to trip you up. But Jesus adeptly answered the question with a question, put them on the spot, “whose image and circumscription is on this coin?” And when they answered, “Caesar’s,” Jesus said, “Then render unto Caesar those things that are Caesar’s and to God those things that are God’s.” Because you can’t hold a good God down.
Then Judas, one of Jesus’ own disciples, turned on him, set him up entrapped him in the Garden of Gethsemane and the Temple Police arrested him there on charges of blasphemy. They took him to the civil authority, to Pontius Pilate and yelled, “Crucify him! Give us Barabbas!” They whipped him and beat him and bloodied him and mocked him. They led the weary savior through the streets of Jerusalem outside the city gates to the hill called Calvary and they nailed him to a tree, gambled over his garments, taunted him to come down from the cross, publicly humiliated him before his mother who was forced to watch her own son die an ignominious death lifted up on a tree. They buried him in a borrowed tomb, sealed it up with a heavy stone, and all thought that he was down and out, never more to rise. And just to make sure, the text we read says that they wanted to make sure that they would never have to hear about Jesus ever again. So they set guards outside the tomb of Jesus to try their level best to keep him from rising again, tried their best to silence the savior, tried their best to stomp out his message, tried their best to hold him down. But even nails in his hands, even a crown of thorns in his head, even piercing him with a spear in his side, even giving him sour wine with vinegar to drink, even sealing him up in a tomb with a stone to block the entrance and securing it with guards couldn’t stop Jesus. No matter how much they heaped on Jesus, you can’t hold a good God down. He got up! He arose! Just like he said he would! You can’t keep a good God down! The hymn writer put it this way: “Death cannot keep its prey!” “Vainly they sealed the grave.” “Death in vain forbids him rise.” But I kinda like the hip hop way Mary J. Blige said it, “you can’t hold a good God down.” They tried to hold him down when he was a baby, tried to hold him down as an adult during his intellectual pursuits, tried to hold him down by having him arrested and put to death. But they never realized that you can’t hold a good God down! The poet, William Cullen Bryant, was right when he penned his poem, “The Battlefield,” and said, “Truth crushed to the earth shall rise again.” You can’t hold a good God down!
And let me just drop a word to you this Easter Sunday in case I don’t see you again for a while, for when you need it most, and that word is that if they couldn’t hold Jesus down, and if the same Jesus lives in you, the same power of God lives in you, the same life-force, same Holy Spirit lives in you, than my sister and my brother, they can’t hold you down neither. No matter what you been through, how bad it’s gotten, how messed up it is, how low you might go, I come to tell you that because Jesus got up, you can get up, too. You don’t have to stay down. You don’t have to stay the way you are. You may have been knocked around, knocked down, maybe even knocked out. But get back up! Get it together, my sister and my brother, because if there’s one thing this story tells us is that you can’t hold a good God down.
In Mary J. Blige’s uplifting appeal to those whom she called, “my sisters, my troubled sisters,” a song she called, “Good woman down,” the lyric expresses the sentiment of encouragement to those who have been in trouble like she was, those who been knocked down like she was, those who have been abused but who refuse to lose like she did. But Mary J. recalls how that used to be her, how it’s hard to sit back and see the same thing that happened to her happen to you. But she got out, she got up, she made it, and so she encourages others who are similarly troubled when she writes,
“It doesn’t matter what they say or do,
don’t let it get to you,
don’t be afraid,
you can, you can, you can break through,
take what I’ve been through
to see that you can’t hold a good woman down.
Went to the same point of giving up, I thought I had enough,
went to the edge of the ledge but I didn’t jump,
my life sums it up, that you can’t hold a good woman down.”
Thing about it is that even in our text, folks were trying to hold women down then, too. It ain’t nothing new, women being held down by abusive husbands, by a compliant social systems, by toxic relationships, by oppression, by discrimination, by unjust laws, by unfair employment practices, by their own mistakes sometimes, but it ain’t nothing new. But the resurrection story itself provides evidence that Jesus called women who had been held down, who had been prostituted, who had been demon possessed, but Jesus set them free, and Jesus called them to preach, told them at the tomb to go tell my brothers, the essence of being ordained to proclaim the gospel of Jesus because Jesus himself ordained that they do so. And for centuries, folks have been trying to hold good women down, down from preaching the gospel, down from being pastors of churches, down from their rightful, Christ-ordained places in the church and in society. But the message to my sisters today, no matter what you been through, no matter where you find yourself in life, like Mary J. says, you can’t hold a good woman down. From Mary Magdalene and the other Mary to Mary Macleod Bethune and Marian Anderson, you can’t hold a good woman down. From Miriam, Ruth and Deborah to Harriet Tubman, Barbara Jordan and Michelle Obama, from preachers like Euodia, Syntyche and Priscilla in the New Testament, to preachers like Cheryl Wade, Eloise Scott, Robin Smith, Audrey Alston, Rebecca Irwin-Diehl, Linda Parker, Pam Smith, you can’t hold a good woman down. Folks may continue to try, may continue to discourage, may continue to hinder and discriminate, but Mary J. is right and so is Jesus Christ, you can’t hold a good woman down.
Don’t worry my brothers, my troubled brothers. The twelve men who followed Jesus, Luke’s gospel says that the religious authorities had so intimidated them, threatened them, trying to keep them down so that they stayed locked up in the upper room until they got the word that Jesus was alive. In the book of Acts, every time they preached Jesus, the authorities would arrest them, killed a few of them, trying to stomp them out so the gospel of Jesus Christ would die with them. And my brothers who made their own mistakes, who caused their own situation, like Peter, who denied the Lord, who messed up, who blew it, I want you to know there is still a word for you this morning. Because no matter how many arrests, no matter how many persecutions, how much suffering, how many trials, how many afflictions, or how many mistakes they made themselves, no matter how they tried to hold these brothers in Christ down, you can’t hold a good man down.
Oh, saints, I told you a little earlier that they tried to hold Jesus down when he was young, and they’ll try to keep our young people down, too. Substandard schools, inadequate health care, unkept neighborhoods, hungry children all over the country, broken families. But I want the young people to know this morning that they couldn’t hold a good God down, and they can’t hold you down neither. You can rise above your circumstance. You can overcome your surroundings. You don’t have to become just another statistic. You can be the exception. You can be the aberration. You can be the miracle of your neighborhood. Because if you have Christ in your life, you can’t hold a good God down.
They tried to challenge Jesus intellectually to keep him down, and I know I got some folks going through the academic process, struggling to make it, struggling to read all your assignments, write all your papers, pass all your tests. But the world of academia at times can make you feel like you’re down and out, can make you feel like there’s no way out sometimes. But I want you to know, even if you’ve made your mistakes, had a bad start, having trouble dealing with the pressure, made some bad choices, I want you to know that you can’t hold a good God down. You can still reach your goals, still get that degree, still be a blessing to others. Because greater is he that is in you than he that is in the world. You can’t hold a good God down.
Even if there’s some folks here this morning who made some huge mistakes, who got in trouble, got convicted, got locked up, like Jesus they stationed guards outside your cell to make sure you didn’t get out. You’re ashamed, you’re humiliated, you’re embarrassed. Your family is hurt by what you went through. Your loved ones wonder what happened to you. Society is laughing at you. I want you to know today that Jesus knows what you’re going through. Jesus has been there and done that. Jesus hit rock bottom just like you, found himself locked up, guarded all night in a borrowed tomb. And the story of Easter Sunday morning, the story of the resurrection conveys a clear message that even if we’ve been down, even if folks have given up on us, no matter what they say or do don’t let them get to you, don’t be afraid you can, you can, you can breakthrough. Because he lives, we can still rise again. Because he lives, we can still have a new life.
I was blessed the other night to preach one of the 7 last words of Jesus over at Grace Christian Fellowship, It is finished. And I post my sermon manuscripts online on Facebook right now, you know, for those of you who took advantage of the 75 degree weather and went to the shore instead, or those who went shopping Friday night for your Easter suit or dress, or perhaps for those who live on the other side of the country. Well, one of my former bible school students from California read that same sermon from yesterday and wrote to me that he had been discouraged, something went wrong, not everything worked out the way he wanted. I’m not sure what all he went through, but he read in the sermon that it is finished, that it’s over now, that you can’t start tomorrow until today is finished. And he thanked me for the encouragement. And then he wrote to me one word in Spanish that I used in a sermon twenty years ago and he was there for it. It’s a word not easily translated into English, but when you’ve been knocked down and you need to muster the courage, the strength, the faith to keep on going, we used to tell folks in Spanish, Adelante! You can do it! Adelante, get back up and get back in the race. Adelante.