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Easter 2019

The Empty Tomb

About 2000 years ago, a wonderful event occurred. A baby was born in Bethlehem. 

The baby was foretold in the Old Testament as being special. The one who came from Heaven to be with people to offer joy. His birth was miraculous. His name was Jesus. How important that He was willing to leave Heaven to be born among us.

However, as important as Jesus’ birth was, if it had stopped there, it would be nothing more than a nice birthday celebration. 

But there was more. Jesus grew up and, at the age of 30, began a ministry.

His was a ministry of love that included two very important things. He healed people of all sorts of problems, including being blind or lame or mute or possessed by demons. And He taught wonderful lessons about how to live in ways that are pleasing to God, helpful to others, and of benefit personally.

However, as important as Jesus’ ministry was, if it had stopped there, it would be nothing more than an interesting history lesson and helpful instructions about how life should be lived.  

But there was more.

At the end of His earthly ministry, Jesus allowed Himself to be arrested, then put on trial, then sentenced to death, then nailed to a cross, upon which He died. 

A few hours later, Jesus’ body was taken from the cross and buried.

All of that had been foretold as things that would happen to the one who would come to be the Savior from sin. However, as important as Jesus’ death and burial were, if it had stopped there, it would be nothing more than a sad chapter of dashed hope. The promises spoken by Jesus during His ministry would be just words that never came to be fulfilled.

But there was more, which brings us to today’s Easter celebration. 

The celebration is of what happened on the third day after Jesus’ death and burial. However, early on the first Easter morning almost 2000 years ago, there was no celebration.

Those who had been followers of Jesus were still in shock from seeing Jesus mistreated to the point of being nailed to a cross, that happening the Friday morning before the first Easter Sunday, seeing Him die mid-afternoon of that same day, seeing Him be buried late Friday afternoon, sometime after that seeing His tomb sealed and guarded. And from the fear that if Jesus had been treated so horribly, might they who were known for following Him be next to suffer?

Early on the first Easter morning, there was shocked sadness and fear. It was with that mood that the day began, a report of which is recorded in each of the Gospels at the beginning of the New Testament.

Very early that first Easter Sunday morning, some women, who had bought the spices needed to anoint a body being buried, left their homes and began walking to where Jesus had been buried.

It is interesting what the women intended to do because Jesus had already been buried. As mentioned, that had happened late Friday afternoon. The anointing should already have been done.

Which it had been. Two men - Joseph, who had asked for and been granted Jesus’ body, and Nicodemus - had taken care of the burial, including anointing Jesus before wrapping His body and head with burial cloths. The two men must have reported what they had done, so the women had to have known that what needed to be done had happened.

And there was another issue. Remember that sometime after the burial, the tomb had been sealed and guards had been placed near the tomb, which means there were all sorts of problems. The women were not strong enough on their own to move the stone from the tomb’s entrance. Plus, everyone knew that no one in his or her right mind broke seals - Roman seals, which were kind of like tape around and across, in this case, the stone at the tomb’s entrance. The seal was an official Roman barrier. It was unlawful to break it. And what about the guards? How could they be persuaded to let anyone near the tomb?

The women had problems. As they walked to Jesus’ tomb, they discussed their problems. Who would be sly enough to get past the guards and brave enough to break the seal and strong enough to roll away the stone from the door of the tomb?

I find it interesting that despite their dilemma, the women continued to walk toward the tomb. They did so because they knew what they wanted to do. Again, Jesus’ body had already been anointed, but maybe they wanted to make sure the men had done it properly. Or maybe they wanted to add to what had been done as a way to show their respects.

As the women continued to walk toward the tomb, something happened. There was an earthquake. A seismic occurrence happened when an angel descended from Heaven to the tomb, suddenly appearing behind the guards who, when they saw the angel, fainted so deeply it looked like they had died.

The angel appeared at the entrance of Jesus’ tomb. The angel tore away the seal, then by himself moved the stone, thereby opening the tomb.

I imagine the women had a mix of emotions. Joy that the tomb was open. Being shaken by the earthquake. Wondering what was going on, including whether what they were experiencing was actually happening or if they were dreaming or hallucinating.

The women were further confused when they realized the angel was still at the tomb.

Even more confused when they looked into the tomb and saw two more angels.

And even more confused when they realized that those two angels were the only two beings in the tomb. Jesus’ burial cloths were there, the wrap for His body laying one place, the one for His head elsewhere in the tomb, that one rolled up neatly. But where was Jesus? They had come to anoint His body, but He was gone.

The angels noticed the confusion of the women, which caused them to give the women a very important message. A multi-part message. 

“Do not be afraid.” That would be a lot easier to hear than to do. “Do not be afraid.” That was the first part of the message.

Then a question. “Why do you seek the living among the dead?” What? Jesus had died. Those women had seen Him die. They had at least heard He had been buried, which meant He was dead.

Then the explanation. “Remember,” the angels said, “what Jesus had predicted. “That He would be delivered into the hands of sinful men. That had happened when He had been arrested. That He would be crucified. Yes, they had witnessed that. and on the third day - this was the third day - He would rise.

The angels announced that everything Jesus had predicted had happened, including His rising, which was the reason the tomb was without His body.

It is so easy for us to understand the explanation of the angels. What a very clear announcement they made. But remember what those women had recently experienced - knowing the mistreatment of Jesus and seeing Him be crucified and die, hearing of His burial, a few minutes earlier that day living through an earthquake, and now finding the tomb shockingly missing the body of the one they loved and wanted to anoint. Jesus back to life? Right. How gullible did the angels think they were?

The angels were not able to cause the women to not fear. However, they had more to say. What they said were instructions for the women to go to where the disciples of Jesus were, to tell them that Jesus was once again alive, and invite them to be ready to travel from where they were in Jerusalem to the northern province of Galilee. It was there Jesus wanted to meet with the disciples.

By the way, there were 11 disciples at that time. Judas Iscariot, who had been the twelfth disciple, had betrayed Jesus and later hanged himself. It was the 11 remaining disciples who were to be told about Jesus being alive and His invitation to a meeting. The disciples might be reluctant to travel as they wondered if they might be targeted for mistreatment if they were found, but that is what the women were to tell the disciples.

The women left the tomb and started off for where the disciples were. They were still confused, including when they met someone along the way. Who they met was Jesus. It took a moment for the women to recognize Him, but they soon did.

The women went to the disciples. They explained the news about Jesus being alive and His invitation to the disciples, which is when it was the disciples’ turn to be confused. They, too, had had the traumatic experience of knowing about and seeing Jesus’ mistreatment, death, and burial. And nothing against women today, but I am not sure that back then the word of women was as accepted as it is now.

Two of the disciples - Peter and John - decided the best thing for them to do was visit the tomb, I guess to confirm what the women reported.

Peter and John left where they were. They went out into public view. They ran, partly from fear of being seen, but mostly because they really wanted to check things out.

John was the faster of the two. He reached the tomb first. He, too, saw the entrance to the tomb open, but he stopped at the entrance, as if afraid to go in. All he did was stoop to look in, where He saw what the women had seen, except that the angels were gone. What John saw were Jesus’ burial cloths laying empty in the tomb.

Then Peter arrived. He continued running until he was inside the tomb, where he, too, saw just the burial cloths, but not the body of Jesus.

Then John entered the tomb. Getting a clearer view of the empty tomb, it is worded that “he believed.” Believed what? That what Jesus had predicted had come true. He had been delivered to bad people. He had been tried, convicted, crucified, then buried. Wait. This was the third day after that. The day He had predicted He would rise from death. That must be what had happened.

*       *       *       *       *

The birth of Jesus was very important. The teachings and miracles of Jesus were very important. The death and burial of Jesus were very important. But none of those things in and of themselves or even combined together would have any lasting significance if it was not for Jesus’ resurrection, which happened on the first Easter Sunday morning.

But wait. Except for the women at the tomb that morning who actually saw Jesus, there was no overpowering proof Jesus had come back to life. Yes, the tomb was empty. Even Peter and John knew that. But it could have been that someone had stolen His body. Unless Jesus was seen alive by lots of people, there was no overwhelming proof of what it was hoped had happened.

Guess what. Jesus appeared.

Jesus appeared many times. Easter afternoon, He appeared to two men walking away from Jerusalem to the town of Emmaus. That evening, Jesus appeared to many of the disciples. All of them but Thomas. That happened in Jerusalem. Eight days later, Jesus appeared again to the disciples, that time with Thomas in attendance. Sometime after that, Jesus had a fish fry with His disciples. For 40 days following His resurrection, Jesus appeared to His disciples, teaching them and proving He was again alive. And yes, there was that meeting in Galilee to which Jesus had invited His disciples. That happening right before He ascended into Heaven.

And even with that, there is more because He is coming back.

All through the last week of Jesus’ earthly ministry, He taught His followers - His disciples then and those of us who follow Him now - to be ready when He would return after ascending into Heaven. When that event will occur, we do not know. It has not happened the past 2000 years. Who knows how much longer it will be? And we know from Jesus that the time between now and then will feature some very difficult days. But we are to be ready. Jesus taught that over and over again.

What does it mean to be ready?

First and foremost, it means to accept Jesus as Savior. In fact, without acceptance, Easter itself is little more than a nice spring day. Accept Jesus as Savior. If you have not yet done that, do it, even now.

Being ready also means to take advantage of spiritual opportunities such as reading the Bible and praying to and with Jesus and fellowshiping with fellow Christians and worshiping our Risen Savior.

It also means to use whatever spiritual gifts have been entrusted to us to use for His glory. Gifts like teaching or preaching, serving or encouraging, showing mercy or giving.

All of which can be summarized in what Jesus said during the meeting in Galilee He had with His disciples. “Go therefore and make disciples, which begins with helping others accept Jesus. “Make new disciples of all nations.” That refers to foreign nations and people in our own country - and state, city, neighborhood, and family. “Baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit and teaching them to observe all I have commanded you.”

That is what we are to do, even now, to prove we know that Easter was and is more than just a nice day at the beginning of spring.

*       *       *       *       *

One more Easter comment.

I know it is possible for someone to think he or she is too far gone - that too many sins have been committed - to ever have Jesus willing to accept that person into His spiritual family.

Very bluntly, such thinking is wrong. The example is Peter.

Shortly before Jesus’ arrest, Peter promised Jesus that he - Peter - would stay true to Jesus no matter what happened. He promised he would die with Jesus if it came to that.

A short time later, Peter failed. When Jesus was arrested, Peter ran away, which was anything but loyal.

And even though Peter came back to the area when Jesus was being tried - he was in the courtyard of that area - Peter, when confronted as being a follower of Jesus, denied any association, claiming he did not understand the charge.

A short time after that, when Peter was again identified as being a follower of Jesus, he again failed, again denying an association, this time more strongly, claiming he did not even know who Jesus was.

A short time after that, when Peter was again identified, he yet again failed as he even more strongly denied he was a follower of Jesus, that time calling down curses on himself if he was lying, which he was.

Talk about failure. Talk about sinning. What hope would and could Peter have of ever having Jesus want anything to do with him?

Listen. Remember when the women were instructed by angels to tell the disciples that Jesus was alive and wanted to meet with them? In the Gospel of Mark, there is a very significant addition to those instructions. It is worded, “Tell the disciples and Peter.” Peter was named specifically.

Could it be - this is how I see it - that Jesus, for whom the angels were speaking, wanted to make sure Peter knew Jesus was still willing to have him in the spiritual family?

The same is true today for any and all who sin, which at least has included all of us in the past. It is not nearly as important what has happened in the past as what will happen beginning now. Be like Peter. Accept the second chance Jesus offers. From now on let’s all accept or continue to accept and then serve and worship the one who was not just born and did not just teach and did not just die, but rose again. Let’s love our Risen Savior who will one day return.

The closing song for this Easter service is the chorus Lord, I Lift Your Name on High.

Lord, I lift Your name on high.

Lord, I love to sing Your praises.

I’m so glad You’re in my life.

I’m so glad You came to save us.

You came from Heaven to earth

To show the way,

From the earth to the cross,

My debt to pay.

From the cross to the grave,

From the grave to the sky,

Lord, I lift Your name on high.

Lord, thank You for coming, for teaching, for dieing, for Your resurrection, and for Your promise to come again. Until You return, help us to be ready and stay ready, thereby showing our excitement to serve You, our Risen Savior. Thank You, Lord. Amen.

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