What a beautiful day this is.
That is not the case physically with thunderstorms, strong wind, and the forecast for snow today. However, it is the beautiful spiritually because on this day, we pay particular attention to the fact that on the third day after Jesus died a very horrible death on a cross, He rose from the dead, leaving behind an empty tomb. It was His resurrection the first Easter morning that proved we, through Him, can have victory over sin and death.
Today, in this message, let’s celebrate what happened on the first Easter, putting together what is reported in all four of the Gospels, realizing that at first, that day was anything but beautiful, that caused by a couple things.
First and foremost, as the first Easter began, there was a feeling among the followers of Jesus - His disciples and others who still loved Him - of great sorrow.
Such a feeling was natural. On Friday morning they had seen Jesus, badly beaten, being led to Golgotha, where He was nailed to a cross and crucified.
Mid-morning through mid-Friday afternoon they had seen Jesus suffer on the cross as His wounds ached with pain and He had extreme difficulty breathing.
They had then watched Jesus die, and just before Friday evening, they had seen Jesus being placed in a tomb. They had seen the entrance to the tomb being closed. A short time after that they had seen the tomb sealed by Roman authorities.
Jesus was dead. The one His disciples and others had followed for three years - the one they loved - was gone. The hope they had felt when they were with Jesus was also gone. Add to that the danger those people felt as they wondered if they might be next. Horrible things had happened to Jesus. Would horrible things happen to those who were known as having been His followers?
Jesus was dead. All hope seemed to be gone. His followers were in danger. When the first Easter day began, there was no beauty felt at all.
However, despite the danger Jesus’ followers felt, right before dawn that day, there were some who left where it was safe and walked to the tomb in which Jesus had been laid.
The Gospel accounts of this vary on how many went to the tomb. The number ranges from one to a few, but suffice it to say there was a feeling among some of Jesus’ followers of wanting to be near Him, despite the danger and even though He was dead and buried. In addition, all the reports indicate that whoever went to the tomb, she or they were women.
From the reports in the Bible, the women had with them some spices, which were to be used to anoint Jesus.
That seems to have made no sense. The tomb was closed. The stone used to close the tomb was too heavy for the women to move. And the tomb had been sealed. It had been sealed by the Roman government. No one in his or her right mind would even think of breaking an official government seal. Plus, Jesus had already been anointed. That had happened right before His burial. Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus had done that late Friday afternoon. He had already been anointed. Jesus did not need to be anointed again.
What the women hoped to do made no sense. In fact, assuming there was more than one, they themselves asked each other who would move the stone for them so they could get to Jesus.
The women had no answer, but they so much wanted to honor Jesus that right before dawn on the first Easter day, one, two, or a few women went to the tomb.
According to Matthew, when the women arrived, there was suddenly an earthquake. Wow. Talk about something else to add to the stress of the day. There was suddenly an earthquake.
However, it was not a normal earthquake. It did not originate deep underground. Instead, it was caused by an angel. An angel who came from Heaven, took hold of the stone that closed the tomb, and moved it away from the entrance, thereby opening the tomb.
The angel then sat on the stone. Other reports indicate there were two more angels inside the tomb whom the women saw when the angel on the stone invited to women to look inside.
By the way, according to Matthew, there were soldiers who had been assigned to guard the tomb. When the soldiers saw the angel and the official seal broken and the stone moved, they became so afraid they fainted, appearing as dead men. What a sight that was for the women.
Then, when the women answered the angel’s invitation and did look inside the tomb, they saw only the two other angels inside, meaning they did not see Jesus. The only things they saw, other than the angels, were the burial cloths. The one that had been wrapped around Jesus’ body and the one around His head. Just the two cloths. Not a body in them.
The angel attempted to explain what had happened. That Jesus, just as He had predicted would happen, had risen from the dead. The angel tried. However, especially with the emotions swirling around the women, what the angel said was difficult to comprehend, let alone believe.
Despite that, the women were given a task to do. The angel sitting on the stone told the women to go to where the disciples - the closest followers of Jesus who remained, who numbered 11 since Judas Iscariot had killed himself after betraying the Lord - where the disciples were hiding and tell them the tomb was empty because Jesus had risen from the dead.
The women did not understand, but they did as instructed. They headed off to where the disciples were. They gave the disciples the message told them by the angel. A message the disciples received with disbelief. What did they mean the tomb was open? What did they mean it was empty? The disciples had seen Jesus buried in the tomb. It could not be empty. Jesus had risen from the dead? What was that supposed to mean? Were the women crazy? Were they hallucinating?
The disciples reacted to the women with disbelief. However, two of the disciples - Peter and John - deemed the report interesting enough to at least go check it out, which they did, running to the tomb. Running perhaps with excitement, but maybe because it was considered unsafe for the followers of Jesus to be seen in public. If they hurried to the tomb and hurried back, it was less likely they would be seen.
John was a faster runner than Peter. John arrived at the tomb first. He saw that yes, the entrance to the tomb was open, but he stopped at the entrance, maybe 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, the wrap that had been around his head in one place, the wrap around His body in another spot in the tomb.
Then Peter arrived. He did not stop, but 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, he suddenly remembered what Jesus had taught about all the things that were going to happen to Him at the end of His three-year ministry. That He would be delivered to bad people. That had happened. That He would be tried, convicted, crucified, then buried. All that had happened. And that on the third day after that, He would rise from death.
Hey, John realized, this is the third day. The day He had predicted He would rise. Could it that is what has happened. Could it be Jesus really has risen from the dead? That He really is alive again. That must be what happened. In fact, it is recorded, that is what John believed.
With that belief, John and Peter returned to where they had been with the other disciples. As they had left, they probably returned, running all the way, either because they were excited about the tomb being empty, which they were eager to report, or the faster they went, the quicker they would be out of public view.
John and Peter left the tomb, but Mary, who had returned to the area, remained. She had not yet given much thought to comparing what had happened to what Jesus had predicted, so she cried as she stayed near to the tomb.
Then two things happened.
First, when angels again appeared and asked her why she was crying, Mary said she was sad because Jesus’ body had been taken and she did not know where. That was sad for her because if she did not know where the body was, she could not pay her respects by adding to His anointing, which had been her purpose right before dawn.
Second, Mary then noticed someone standing near her. The someone was Jesus, but Mary did not know it was Him.
When that someone also asked her why she was crying, Mary, thinking the someone was the gardener, asked to be told where Jesus had been taken. She said she herself would retrieve His body and take it to a safer place.
That did not make sense since Jesus’ body would have weighed more than she could have lifted. But then the someone said something more. Just one word. The word was, “Mary.”
Suddenly, Mary recognized the voice of the one standing near her. It was the voice of Jesus, Jesus, not dead, certainly not in the tomb, but outside the tomb and alive. So alive He was talking.
And what a wonderful word for Mary to hear. Her own name, spoken by the one she had loved. The one she could continue to love.
Think of it. Maybe other women and definitely Peter and John had, that morning, seen the empty tomb. Angels had been seen. This was different. Jesus Himself was seen, which means His prediction about rising from the dead was not just a nice theory. It was fact. It had happened.
Mary was of course very excited. She went directly back to where Jesus’ disciples were, saying to them she had seen the Lord.
How they reacted that time is not clear. Of course, Peter and John had seen the empty tomb, which they had reported to the rest of His followers. But having seen Jesus? That was additional news. New news.
It is not reported how the disciples reacted to Mary’s report, but that evening they received a similar report. A report from two men who had also seen and talked to Jesus.
Here is their story. Easter afternoon the men were on their way from Jerusalem to the town of Emmaus. On their way, they were joined by another traveler. At first they did not recognize their companion was Jesus, but when, that evening, they did recognize Him, they hurried back to Jerusalem and reported to the disciples that they had seen Jesus.
Shortly after that, which was evening of Easter, Jesus Himself appeared where most of His disciples were.
How amazing that was since He just appeared. Jesus had not knocked on the door or a window. No one had opened the door or a window. Jesus just suddenly appeared, proving it was Him by showing them His hands and side where nails and a sword had been, and proving He was alive, that being done by Him talking to them and eating.
* * * * *
As mentioned at the outset of this message, the first Easter was, for the followers of Jesus, anything but beautiful. Jesus had been mistreated and killed. He had been buried. It seemed all hope was gone. The followers themselves might be next to suffer.
However, by the end of the first Easter, things were different. It was a beautiful day. Not in a physical way. The disciples were still at risk, or at least seemed to be. But spiritually there was beauty. The beauty that Jesus’ tomb was empty, not because Jesus’ body had been stolen, but because, just as He had predicted, He had come back to life. The beauty that His victory over death was actual fact.
The beauty was just starting. The beauty still exists today because even now, anyone and everyone who accepts Jesus as the Savior He became because of His crucifixion and resurrection, will be saved from their sins, for which Jesus died.
Which brings up some critical questions for today. Have you accepted Jesus’ death and resurrection? Have you accepted Him as your Savior? Have you accepted His forgiveness and His offer to help you live better from now on.
If not, will you? Please do that so this day will be more than a nice spring day. It will be a day of celebrating hope and life, now and always. Spiritual hope and spiritual life, no matter what goes on around us.
Please accept Jesus, who was alive again the first Easter. Jesus, who is still alive now and forever. Accept Jesus and celebrate.
For today’s closing, a benediction, beginning with this, based on the hymn Alleluia! Alleluia!
Hearts to Heaven and voices raise;
Sing to Jesus a hymn of gladness,
Sing to the Lord a hymn of praise.
He who on the cross as Savior
For the world’s salvation bled,
Jesus Christ, the King of Glory,
Now is risen from the dead.
Now the iron bars are broken,
Christ from death to life is born,
Glorious life, and life immortal,
On this holy Easter morn.
Glory be to God on high;
Alleluia to the Savior,
He has won the victory.
Thank You, Lord, for Your offer of salvation. A gift that is a reality for all who accept You for who You are - the Savior.
Help us, this day and always, to worship You, serve You, learn from You, and obey You, all of which will make our lives spiritually rich, now and in Heaven, in spite of whatever comes our way in the world.
Happy Easter, Lord. Thank You for being our Risen Savior. Amen.