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Edward F. Markquart

Incredible or Impossible 

EASTER          Acts 26:6-8, 25-29

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

In Acts, chapter 26, we find the Apostle Paul in prison.  He is in Caesarea by the Sea and is addressing King Agrippa and Governor Festus.  He is presenting his case for Christianity.  As an apologist, he is giving his arguments for being a believer in Jesus Christ.  As Paul argues, he senses an inner resistance in King Agrippa and Governor Festus, and so Paul finally asks the key question:  “Why do you think it is so incredible that the Lord God raises people from the dead?  Why is it so incredible to you, Festus? And why is it so incredible that the Lord raised one man, Jesus of Nazareth, from the dead?  Why?  Tell me why, Festus?  Why is that too incredible for you?”  Festus replied, “You are going mad.  In spite of all your sophisticated learning, in spite of all your college degrees, you are going crazy.”

Incredible!  Absolutely incredible!  Not impossible, but absolutely incredible!

When people come to visit us in Seattle, Washington, we usually take them downtown to see the Space Needle, the Waterfront, Pike’s Street Market, and then to Ivar’s for clam chowder.  The last place we go to visit is Ye Olde Curiosity Shop.  It is located right on the waterfront.  If you have ever been to Seattle, chances are that you have been to Ye Olde Curiosity Shop.  They have many oddities there.  Would you believe that they actually have a pin with the Lord’s Prayer carved on the head of that pin?  I mean, that is incredible, not impossible, just incredible.  Also, would you believe that Ye Old Curiosity Shop has a piece of hair with the name “Ripley” written on it?  I asked the clerk, “How did he write the name, ‘Ripley?’”  He said, “He took another piece of hair, dipped it in ink and wrote the name ‘Ripley’ across the second piece of hair.”  That’s incredible. Not impossible, but simply incredible.  I was reading the Guiness Book of Records one day.  I discovered that there was a little four-year old boy in Korea who spoke four languages:  Korean, Japanese, Chinese, and English.  I mean, that is incredible.  Now, some of you would say that is impossible, but you are wrong.  There are many things that seem to be impossible but they are only incredible.  Did you know that Mrs. Vasalay in Russia gave birth to 69 children?  That’s incredible!  Did you know that there was a healthy baby born in Turkey that weighed 24 pounds?  That is painfully incredible! Did you know that there was man who grew a mustache that was a 102 inches long?  That is incredible!  I watched the gymnasts from the Cirque De Sole and my mouth dropped with amazement.  A man climbed up a rope sideways with his arms and his body perfectly perpendicular 90 degrees to that rope.  “Impossible,” my mind said, but I was seeing it.  A woman juggler with hands so fast you couldn’t even see the speed of the nine balls or knives.  My mouth gapped, “Impossible” but I was seeing it.  There are many things in life that are absolutely and wonderfully incredible, but they are not impossible.  For that’s just the way life is.  It was Jesus who said:  with God, all things are possible!

The women came to the tomb and noticed that the big stone had been rolled away.  The tomb was open and naturally they were very upset.  They wondered what had happened.  They looked inside, and incredibly, a young man was sitting there and he was dressed in white.  He said to them, “Jesus is not here.  He has been raised from the dead by the Power of God.”  “Incredible, absolutely incredible!” they thought.  This was a new situation; they didn’t know how to react, and at first they didn’t tell anybody, but ultimately, they ran to tell the disciples.  “We were in the tomb and the body was not there and a young man said, ‘Jesus was raised from the dead!”  And what was the disciples’ response?  “Incredible. Absolutely incredible.  Unbelievable.  It couldn’t have happened!”  And so they ran to the tomb to see for themselves and it was empty!  That same night, Jesus appeared to his disciples, and the disciples believed for joy…it was so incredible.  But Thomas was not there, and so the disciples told Thomas, “Thomas, Jesus was raised from the dead and you should have been there.”  And Thomas said, “Impossible!  I can’t believe it.”  Well, the next night, Jesus appeared to the disciples and Thomas and Thomas no longer said “Impossible” but he said, “Incredible!  Absolutely incredible!”

And then, the Apostle Paul stood before King Agrippa and Governor Festus and was arguing his case for Christianity and he finally asked a key question, “Why is it so incredible that God raised one man, Jesus of Nazareth, from the dead?  Why is that so incredible for you, Festus?  That there is life after death?  That God put life in Jesus?  Why is it so incredible that the Lord God of the universe, who created the abundant and bountiful ocean that teems with life, that God who created the endless number of stars and moons in the sky, that this God who created life itself; why is it so incredible for you, Festus, that this God who created life could have raised one man, Jesus of Nazareth from the dead?  Why is that so impossible for you, Festus? If  God created life, why is it so difficult for God to raise Jesus from the dead?  If God created life, why is it so difficult or impossible for God to create eternal life? Why Festus?  Why?”  And so Festus was rocked back on his defensive heals.

Centuries pass and the modern Paul in modern dress and in modern language still persists with his questions to a modern world:  “Festus, is it so incredible that God, the author of life, who billions upon billions of years ago, took the hydrogen atom and the carbon atom and from the basic chemicals of life, the nucleic acids and proteins, God converted them into purines and pyrimidines …and gradually, over billions upon billions of years, our God created life.  Is that too incredible for you, Festus?  The world is here and it is wonderfully and miraculously made. And could not this same God, who wonderfully and incredibly designed the world, could not this same God raise one man, Jesus of Nazareth, from the dead, as a clear sign to us that there is eternal life and eternal love for you? Is that too incredible for you, Festus?”

Is it so incredible that God has fashioned life in such a way that there is eternity?  Is that too incredible for you, Festus?  That the God who created life in the first place created eternal life?  Is it too incredible for you, Festus, that God knows your name, that God knows the numbers of the hairs on your head?  Is this too incredible for you, Festus?  Is it too incredible for you, Festus, while you are sleeping at night, God watches over your every breath as your chest lifts up and down in the quiet of the night?  Is that too incredible for you, Festus?  And is it too incredible for you, Festus, that when your life is all messed up and your family is all messed up and you feel like everything is falling apart, is it too incredible for you, Festus, to know that God will come into your life and actually help you put your life back together again?  Is that too incredible for you, Festus?  Is God’s hand so short that God cannot reach down to your life and help you out of that hole you are in?  Is that true of you, Festus?  That it is too incredible for you, Festus, to know that God can actually help you?

I love that poem entitled, “The Midnight of March 31st.”  It’s a story about a drunken truck driver whom I imagine trucking across Eastern Washington.  He is driving across Eastern Washington and he finally his the end of the seems to stop at the top of a hill that he can’t see over…  it is impossible for him that the rode goes on.  And so he pulls off the highway and into a tavern and shouts to everyone:     “People, the road stops here.  The road stops here.  It doesn’t go any further. That’s impossible.”  And everybody in the tavern laughed. They tell him that road goes all across Washington and even across the United States.  But the drunken truck driver is convinced the road goes no further than the hill he can’t see over.   By analogy, many people drive out of the church and they drive up highway #99 after the funeral, and they drive into Washington Memorial Cemetery, and the road pulls right up to a grave which is carved out of the ground on the top of a hill.  And many people think:  the road stops here; the road stops here; there is no more; it is impossible for the road to go any further. ... Is it too incredible for you Festus, to believe that road of life does not end at the grave but extends for all eternity?  Is that too incredible for you, Festus?

I love that story that Peter Marshall tells; he was a famous preacher from the 1940s, the chaplain to the US Senate.  He tells about that Easter Sunday afternoon when he was listening to Berlioz’s Requiem Mass and the music was gorgeous. It filled his soul and he felt so good.  Then he turned off the radio and he thought to himself: “Even though the radio is off, the beautiful music is still here in the room.  Just because we turn the radio off, doesn’t mean the music has left the room.  The music is still all around the room even though I don’t have the radio on.”  Peter Marshall says that on Easter, some people have turned off the radio of eternal life; they have turned off the sounds of God’s eternal voice and they think that they have magically silenced God.  But there in that room that day, the sounds of the angels are still singing triumphantly, “Jesus Christ is Risen Today.”  Whether or not you have that radio on or off, the angel choirs are still singing of God’s triumph over death…in your room, whether you are tuned in or not. It is very possible that the sounds of the angels and Easter trumpets are resounding all in and around your life, whether you are tuned into that music or not. … Is that too incredible for you, Festus, to know that the Easter trumpets are still resounding all around your life?

I like the story by Eda LeShan, in her book, Learning to Say Goodbye.  The main character, Elizabeth, Liz, who is about 20 years old, is a great gymnast.  She can do all the acrobatics, flips and cartwheels, an incredibly gifted athlete.  Her father has recently died, two months ago, and she and her mother are going out to the cemetery that day, with a close friend of her mother.  They have been out at the cemetery now for about a half an hour; they have reminisced about their father; and now there is nothing to say anymore.  And the three of them stand there silently, looking at the grave, sadly.  And then???  Liz does something rather strange.  She does a cartwheel over her father’s grave, and then another cartwheel, and then another, knowing how much her father absolutely loved to see his daughter do cartwheels.  Then she did several flips.  …Is that too incredible for you, Festus, to know that some people are so convinced of God’s eternal love and power that they do cartwheels on a grave? Is that too incredible for you, Festus?

So much in life they say is impossible. The earth itself is a logical impossibility. The life on this planet Earth is a logical impossibility. The water, the air, the clouds, the sun, the moon, the rain, everything around us and in us is a logical impossibility. Your life itself is an impossibility, and so is mine.  But we are here. The impossible has happened, and we do our cartwheels on the grave and laugh at the so-called impossibilities that we see in the Ye Olde Curiosity Shop.

And we say with the Bible:  “With God, nothing is impossible.”g When you believe that Festus, you know that God can raise one Jesus of Nazareth from the dead.  Happy Easter, Festus.  It is a grand time of the year.  Amen.

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