Scripture: Luke 24:1-12
I like to win. I think we all do. Even when we do nothing to earn it, we like to win. The game bingo proves that. Bingo is a luck heavy game, someone just calls numbers and you hope you are luckier than everyone else. However, winning Bingo even though we did nothing but pick the right card is still am immensely satisfying experience. Winning is fun, and I think that is one of the many reasons why I like to play game so much: I like to win. I do not win all the time, but the possibility of being able to pull it out and put a mark in the “W” column brings me back to the table time and time again. However, there are some games I do not really like to play. There is a fairly new genre of games called Cooperative games, where all of the players are on a team against the game. I generally do not like these games for a few reasons, but the biggest one is that losing is not fun. In order for these games to be a challenge they are notoriously hard. These games tend to have mechanisms that make it so that for every two steps forward the players take, the game knocks them back one (or three!). The designers of these games tend to make the game with the intentions that the average group of players will only win the game 10 to 30% of the time. This means that the majority of the times that people play a cooperative game everyone loses! I have some friends who love the teamwork and the challenge of a cooperative game, but I prefer to play a game that is guaranteed to have a winner even if it is not me. Maybe this is one of the reasons why I like Captain Kirk from Star Trek. He did not believe in an unwinnable scenario. One of the famous tidbits from Star Trek lore is that Captain Kirk is the only person whoever beat the Kobyashi Maru. This was a test that featured an “unwinnable scenario”. It was meant to teach captains to face defeat. However, Kirk believed that everything was winnable and he found a way to win. He cheated and reprogrammed the scenario to make it easier. Facing certain defeat and finding a way out of an unwinnable scenario became a prominent theme in many iterations of Star Trek after the Kobyashi Maru was first introduced in the Wrath of Kahn movie. This past week, starting with Palm Sunday, progressing to Maundy Thursday, and leading to Good Friday, we have remembered when Jesus faced his own version of Kobyashi Maru. Starting with his arrest in the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus faced his own unwinnable scenario, and by all accounts after six hours of hanging on a cross on Friday it looked like he lost. Despite the events of Good Friday, Jesus was fully confident that this was going down as a “W”, and as the scripture reminds he even told his disciples this when they were still in Galilee. Jesus must not have believed in no-win scenarios either, because like Captain Kirk he cheated. Jesus broke the rules. He destroyed the system of sin and death. He made all things new, and found a way around the unwinnable scenario. On Easter we celebrate that not only Jesus come back for the win but he made it possible for us to find victory in our own unwinnable scenario.
From our future perspective looking back it can be easy to see the big picture. When Jesus talks about the temple being destroyed and rebuilt in three days, we are able to know that Jesus is talking about himself, because we have the luxury of skipping to the last few chapters of the story to see how it ends. It cannot be stressed enough though, that for the original disciples they had felt they had lost. In one week they had went from feeling like they were on the verge of winning when Jesus made the triumphal entry to now being fully defeated. When Jesus was arrested they had fought but Jesus said to put away the swords. Perhaps, when Pilate offered to release Jesus or Barabbas they thought that surely this would be the turning point that freed Jesus. Perhaps, John, who followed Jesus to Golgotha, thought that maybe Jesus truly would pull a buzzer beater miracle out of his pocket and save himself from the cross. None of that happened though. From the disciples prospective Jesus had lost. They had lost. They were in an unwinnable scenario, and there was no way out. If you happen to have the pew bibles out skim back over this morning’s scripture. There are some words and phrases that just pop out, “wondering”, there was confusion. “Fear” they were afraid, and “did not believe.” Even when the disciples were confronted with the reality that Jesus had risen, they could not let go of the reality of losing. I really like how honestly the gospel of Luke puts it, “They did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense.”
If we read on in the gospel of Luke, we see that it took the disciples awhile to realize what had happened. Peter went to the tomb to see with his own eyes, and he was also baffled. Jesus appeared to two men walking to Emmaus, and they came running back to the disciples to tell them everything that had happened. The disciples were still not fully convinced. The gospel of Luke records, that in that evening Jesus appeared to the disciples. Their first reaction? They thought it was a ghost. After Jesus assures them he is real and shows him the marks in his hands and feet, Luke 24:41 records, “they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement. “ It is only after they watch Jesus eat something do they begin to believe it was true. Jesus did it. He was risen for the win.
Jesus beat the unwinnable scenario by changing the rules. He died, but he did not stay that way. As we sung this morning “Up From the Grave he Arose.” However, Jesus was not risen as some sort of undead. He was not reincarnated; he was resurrected. He was fully alive, as he was before he died. He had a staring contest with death, and death blinked first. The rule of reality is that dead is dead, but Jesus changed the rules. He created a new option. In the letter to the Corinthians Paul put it this way, “Death has been swallowed up in victory. Where o death is your victory? Where O death, is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin in the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Jesus won the victory. He beat the unwinnable scenario by refusing to stay dead. Why we gather today though, the reason why we celebrate Easter is because Jesus did this for us. Jesus did not go for the win, for his own benefit but he did it for us. Jesus took on the impossible. He face an unwinnable scenario and so that we too might experience victory.
We all face our own Kobyashi Maru, our own unwinnable scenario. We were each created by a loving God. We were intentionally in the image of God to be in relationship with God, but we both collectively and individually have rebelled against God. We have sought to put ourselves first in everything, we have allowed pride, selfishness, and greed to be controlling influences in our lives. We have, for lack of a better word, sinned. We have done wrong. We have transgressed, we are all guilty of many inequities. The bible summarizes our state in Romans, “All have fallen short of the glory of God.” Our sins fractured and broke our relationship with God, and like all wrongdoings our sins justly deserved consequences. Romans also summarizes this by stating “the wages of sin is death.”
God tried to fix this relationship. He chose a people, and gave them the law, a list of rules to follow to keep people from sinning and doing wrong. He also instituted a system of sacrifice, so that the sacrifices would be a substitute and they would take the punishment that was deserved for sin. However, this system did not work. The chosen people ignored the law and they neglected the sacrifices. Even when they did not do this, the system still did not work. The chosen people might have followed the letter of the law but they missed the heart of the law. They technically followed rules but they still followed their own selfish desires instead of following God. They took the sacrifice system and turned it into a way for the rich to make money at the expense of the poor.
We, humanity, were in an unwinnable situation. We were created to be in relationship with God, but we were cut off from God because of our own sinful decisions. Worse we seemed to be incapable of overcoming our pride, our selfishness, and our greed. On our own, our best intentions fell short. We could not overcome our sin and we could not reconcile ourselves to God. God fixed this relationship once and for all. He sent his son, part of his very self, to be our Savior. Jesus showed us a better way to live. Jesus fulfilled the old law by following its heart of loving God and loving other. Then, even though Jesus was the only person who had not sinned, even though he was the only person innocent, and the only person who did deserve to suffer consequences for misdeeds he was punished. Jesus died for the sins of the world. He was our sacrifice, he took the punishment we deserve and in doing so he gave us a way to win the unwinnable scenario. When we confess our sins and believe that our sins were crucified with Christ, then they are gone. Wiped clean. Forever forgiven. We are reconciled with our Creator once more, in relationship with the God who created us and never stopped loving us. This is grace. This is the gospel. This is why we celebrate Easter.
Like the disciples when we are confronted with this new reality, we can be quick not believe because it sounds like nonsense. We can be skeptical, because quite honestly grace sounds too good to be true. Kind of like how a man being resurrected from the dead sounds too good to be to true. John Wesley, the spiritual forefather of the Methodist church, was the kind of person who thought this was too good to be true. He believed in God, but he sought reconciliation with God through following the law. Wesley was methodical in his practices and rituals to live correctly, but he knew he was not forgiven. He knew he did not truly believe or follow Jesus, until one fateful day the message of grace stopped being nonsense to him. He felt as if his heart was strangely warmed because he fully accepted that due to Jesus’ act on the cross his sins, even his, were fully forgiven and they no longer separated him from God.
Today as we celebrate the glorious resurrection, is your heart strangely warmed? Has it ever been? If you have believed and known that for a while, then today may you recommit yourself to following Christ and may you celebrate the victory he has won for you. If you do not yet believe this, then it is my prayer that today is the day that your heart is strangely warmed; that you believe Jesus died so that you may have eternal life and be reunited with God the Father. We all face the unwinnable scenario, because like sheep we have gone astray each of us has turned our own way, but Jesus won us the victory because the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. Sin has lost its power, death has lost its sting. Christ the Lord is risen today for the win! Alleluia, Alleluia!