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The Empty Tomb

The Empty Tomb

Lent 2018



One day, according to a story, an atheist created a court case. He hired an attorney to bring a discrimination suit against Christians and their observances of holy days. The argument was that it was unfair that atheists had no such recognized days.


The case was brought before a judge. After listening to the passionate presentation by the atheist’s lawyer, the judge banged his gavel, declaring, “Case dismissed.”


The lawyer immediately stood to his feet, objecting the ruling. “Your honor,” he shouted, “how can you possibly dismiss this case. The Christians have Christmas and Easter, yet my client and all other atheists have no such holidays.”

 

The judge leaned forward in his chair and said, “But you do have a holiday.”


The lawyer answered, “Your honor, we are unaware of any special observance or holiday for atheists.”


The judge explained. “The calendar says April 1 is April Fools’ Day. Psalm 14:1 states, ‘The fool says in his heart, there is no God.’ Thus, it is the opinion of this court, that, if your client says there is no God, then he is a fool. Therefore, April 1 is his day. Court is adjourned.”


Happy Easter. What an interesting coincidence that Easter and April Fools’ Day are the same date this year. How important it is to make sure our celebration centers, not on the Fools’ Day, but on Easter. How good it is to celebrate in such a way we will not be seen as fools as we spend our time proclaiming Jesus, the Son of God. As we proclaim His resurrection.


Toward that end, let’s think of some of the specifics of what happened on the first Easter. For this, please turn to chapter 20 of the Gospel of John. The other Gospels also tell of the first Easter. They will be referred to, but John 20 is the basis of most of our Easter thoughts today.


John 20, beginning with verse 1. On the first day of the week [on Sunday, the third day following Jesus’ death by crucifixion, on the third day following His burial] Mary Magdalene went to the tomb where Jesus had been buried.


According to the other Gospels, there were some other women with her - the mother of the apostle James, a woman named Salome, another woman named Joanna.


It is also told in other Gospels why Mary Magdalene went to the tomb. She went to anoint Jesus’ body with burial spices.


Interestingly, Jesus’ body had already been anointed. That had happened when Jesus had been placed in the tomb on Friday. Also interestingly, the tomb had been closed and sealed. Mary had seen that happen. And it was guarded by soldiers. Mary knew that. So there was no way Mary could have got to Jesus to do the anointing.


Nevertheless, on the first Easter Sunday morning, while it was still dark, Mary went to the tomb of Jesus. Imagine her surprise - her shock - when she got to the garden where the tomb was and discovered Jesus’ tomb was no longer closed and sealed, but open. The seal had been broken. The stone had been moved. All Mary saw was the opening to the tomb standing wide open.


At that sight, Mary turned and ran away.


Other of the Gospels report she first looked into the tomb and saw it was empty - that Jesus’ body was gone. That further shocked her. 


Mary turned and ran away. She ran to two of Jesus’ disciples - Peter and John. She ran to them and told them about the empty tomb. That Jesus was gone. She added, “They [who they were, she did not know] have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid Him.”


When Peter and John heard Mary, they left where they were. Where they were hiding. They went to the tomb, probably to confirm what Mary had said. 


It is amazing that Peter and John - it is amazing that Mary - went to the tomb. It is amazing because this was shortly after Jesus had been killed - executed - murdered. Jesus’ followers had to have been afraid they might be next in line to be arrested and killed. In fact, that is why Peter and John and the rest of the disciples were hiding.


Somehow, Mary and Peter and John were able to overcome their fear. When Mary reported to the two disciples, Peter and John left where they were and went to Jesus’ tomb.


In fact, they did not just go. They ran. That is how excited they were.


John arrived first. He stopped at the entrance of the tomb and stooped to look in. Imagine his surprise when he saw where Jesus had been placed and noticed nothing except the cloths in which Jesus had been wrapped before His burial. Just the cloths. No body in them. Just as Mary had reported, Jesus was gone.


Then Peter arrived. He did not stop at the entrance, but ran into the tomb, where he, too, saw no body, but only the burial cloths.


Peter noticed something special about the cloths. The cloth that had covered Jesus’ body was laying, not wadded up, but in an orderly fashion. The cloth that had covered Jesus’ head was apart from the body cloths. That cloth was rolled up.


That is a very important part of the report. You see, some people were going to say Jesus’ body was gone because it had been stolen, but that could not have happened. 


First, the tomb had been sealed and it was under guard by soldiers. That in itself would have kept thieves away. 


But even if thieves had entered the tomb, they would not have unwrapped the body because of the anointing that had been done right after Jesus’ death. The spices would still be on the cloths. The spices were expensive. The thieves would not have left the spice-saturated cloths behind.


And even if they had, they would not have taken the time to neatly lay the body cloth and roll up the head cloth.


The scene in the empty tomb argues against any explanation other than Jesus had come back to life through the miracle of resurrection.


Then John entered the tomb. He, too, saw how the cloths were arranged. It is reported that at that moment, he believed, which means he recalled what Jesus had said during His ministry. That He would die, which had happened. That on the third day after that, He would rise from the dead. This was on the third day. Had Jesus risen from the dead? It appeared that had happened. John believed.


Peter and John then went back to where they had been, leaving Mary, who had followed the two disciples back to the tomb.


Mary was not yet ready to leave the tomb. She stood there, right outside the open tomb. She stood there weeping.  


Weeping indicates a very emotional, strong grief. Mary stood weeping. As she did so, she looked into the tomb, where she saw two angels who had appeared. The angels asked her a question. “Woman, why are you weeping?” 


Being angels, I think the question was asked with a kind tone of voice. This was not ridicule, but a compassionate question. “Why are you weeping? Why are you so sorrowful.”


Mary explained, “They have taken away my Lord and I do not know where they have laid Him.”


With that answer, Mary noticed someone behind her. She turned around to see that someone, who asked her the same question. “Woman, why are you weeping?” He added, “Whom do you seek?”


Mary answered, “Sir, if You have carried Him away, tell me where You have laid Him, and I will take Him away.”


If you are following along in John 20, you know the one Mary Magdalene saw was Jesus. But she did not recognize Him, perhaps because she could not see clearly through her tears. Her grief might have kept her from recognizing Jesus’ voice.


Mary supposed the one with her outside the tomb was the gardener. She asked Him to tell her where Jesus was so she could retrieve Him, which made no sense because she would not have had the strength to handle Jesus’ body.


Mary talked to the man outside the tomb. She talked to Him, unaware of who He was, until He said  one more word. “Mary.”


Mary heard her name. At that instant, she recognized the voice that had spoken it. A voice of love, compassion, caring, and comfort. That is how Jesus said, “Mary.”


At once, Mary recognized it was Jesus with her. Jesus, no longer dead, but alive, and talking. 


I imagine Mary continued to shed tears, but no longer were they tears of sorrow. Now they were tears of tremendous joy.


“Rabboni. Teacher,” she exclaimed.


Jesus then instructed Mary to return to the disciples, sharing with all of them that He was once again alive and that He would soon ascend to return to God, but that He was still here and alive. 


Mary obeyed. She went back to where the disciples were and told them, “I have seen the Lord and talked to Him! He is alive!”


What a great morning it was on the first Easter Sunday. 


On Friday, all the people of Jerusalem, including Jesus’ disciples and other followers, had seen Him crucified and buried. What tremendous sadness that had caused. 


On Saturday, the sadness must have deepened as the followers of Jesus most certainly could not get out of their minds the images of their Teacher suffering so intensely on the cross. 


Then on Sunday morning, at first seeing or hearing that Jesus was gone from His tomb.


But then, angels and Jesus Himself appeared, all with the message that the tomb was empty, not because Jesus had been stolen away, but because He had risen from the dead and was once again alive. Alive and talking. 


What a great morning was the first Easter Sunday. A and it continued into the afternoon and evening.


On Easter afternoon - for this, we switch to Luke 24 - two men were walking from Jerusalem to the village of Emmaus, about seven miles away. As they walked, they talked about Jesus - all the things that had recently happened to Jesus in Jerusalem, about the strange news about Jesus’ tomb being empty, the report that He was once again alive.


As they walked and talked, someone joined them. That someone was Jesus, but they did not recognize Him. Jesus asked, “What are you talking about?” 


The two men answered, “Are You the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?”


“What things?” Jesus asked. The men responded, “Things about Jesus. We had hoped He was the one to redeem Israel, but apparently not. He died three days ago. And yes, there is some report about Jesus being alive again, but we find that difficult to believe.”


After that, Jesus took over the conversation. He asked, “Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into His glory?” Then, beginning with Moses and all the prophets, Jesus interpreted to the men in all the Scriptures the things concerning the Christ.


What a deep, theological conversation it was. A talk that lasted until they drew close to Emmaus. 


It appeared Jesus was going to continue on, but the two men stopped Him, encouraging Him to stay with them. It was close to night, so the men assumed their companion was tired, and traveling at night was dangerous. The men invited Jesus to stay with them.


Jesus agreed. Soon, a meal was prepared. The men invited Jesus to join them.


During the meal, Jesus took the bread and blessed it. He then broke it and passed it around, which was exactly what had happened during the last meal Jesus had had with His disciples, which must have been reported to those two men from Emmaus. Suddenly, the eyes of the men were opened. Suddenly, they recognized the one with them was Jesus.


At that very moment, Jesus vanished from their sight, which gave the men a chance to talk about what Jesus had said to them on the road. 


They said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while He talked to us on the road? While He opened to us the Scriptures?”


That very hour, the two men left the house and returned to Jerusalem. Remember? It was at least close to night, so they were tired. Remember? It was dangerous to travel at night. It would soon be dark.


The two overcame both fatigue and danger. They returned to Jerusalem, where they went to where the disciples were. 


When they arrived, the disciples had news for them. They joyously announced that Jesus was alive. They knew that fact because He had appeared to Peter.


After that, the two from Emmaus were able to report what had happened to them. Then, Jesus appeared. As quickly as He had vanished from the house in Emmaus, He appeared where the disciples were. He appeared, standing among them, proving by the nail holes in His hands and feet that it was Him, proving by talking and by eating that He was indeed alive, then continuing to teach them that all that had happened to Him was fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy about the Savior.


*       *       *       *       *


Jesus was of course the main character on the first Easter, but as we have discussed, others were involved as well. With that in mind, what can we learn from those others? Things that can deepen our relationship with Jesus now?


How about Mary Magdalene? What can we learn from her? 


Well, she loved Jesus. She loved Him so much she wanted to be with Him, despite the risk and the difficulty associated with that. Will we love Jesus enough to also want to be with Him? That should be easier for us because He is as close as asking for His presence and because we know He is alive. But there can still be dangers in wanting to be near Jesus. In being known as one of His followers. Some places around the world there is persecution against Christians. For us, there might be social consequences of people turning away from us when they know our faith. Will we, like Mary, want to be with Him? Let’s love Him that much.


And remember how good Mary felt when Jesus called her name? Will we listen for Jesus to call our names? We may not hear Him in a physical sense, but we can hear Him spiritually. Let’s rejoice that He knows us by name.


How about Peter and John? They, too, were in danger, yet they, too, went out in public to visit the tomb of Jesus. 


And remember how John responded to the tomb being empty. He recalled what Jesus had taught. He took what he knew, joined it with what he saw, and came to the conclusion Jesus had risen from the dead, proving He was and is the Savior. Will we take what we know, combine it with what happened on Easter, and join John in believing Jesus is the risen Savior?


And how about the two men who were on the road to Emmaus? Remember? At first, they were sad. They had trusted that Jesus was the Savior, but He had died. But when they recognized Him, their sadness turned to great joy. Joy that caused them to overcome fatigue and danger. Joy that caused them to want to share what they knew with others.

For those of us who have accepted Jesus, will we share with others about Him? Even when we are tired? Even if sharing Jesus might cause danger? Will we share Jesus?


If you have not accepted Jesus as your Savior, will you allow your spiritual sadness to be turned to joy? All you have to do is recognize Jesus, accept Him as your Savior, and trust in Him. Then pray to be forgiven for your sins and pray that He will lead you to live righteously.


That is all that is required. Pray that way even now. It is the only way for you to truly know - to truly take advantage of - the meaning of Easter. Please accept Jesus if you have not already done so. Pray about that now.


Which leads to this story.


Suppose you are rushed to a hospital, where a doctor examines you and tells you that you are critically ill. He says you will die unless you take the medicine he prescribes. The doctor promises that if you will take the medicine, you will get well.


What would you do? You could just lie on your sickbed and know the doctor has diagnosed your illness correctly and that the medicine will make you well. But that is not enough. To live, you must take the medicine.


It is the same with salvation. I hope you know what we celebrate today in this message is true. But just knowing it is not enough. You have to take Jesus, including His death on a cross and His resurrection. You have to accept Jesus as the only way to have spiritual health - spiritual life - both now and for all eternity.


Without Jesus, you are sick. With Him, you are spiritually well. Have you taken your spiritual medicine? Have you accepted Jesus, the one who, on the first Easter, became the risen Savior? 


Do not let this day end without taking Him. Today, accept Jesus. And if you have already done that, promise, with the Lord’s strength, to keep listening for His voice and keep telling others about Him.


Do not be a fool. Today, may we all be, and live like, Christians. Happy Easter.


The closing hymn is He Lives - it is #210 if you prefer the hymnal - stand as we sing


I serve a risen Savior, He’s in the world today;

I know that He is living, whatever foes may say;

I see His hand of mercy, I hear His voice of cheer,

And just the time I need Him He’s always near.

He lives, He lives, Christ Jesus lives today!

He walks with me and talks with me 

Along life’s narrow way.

He lives, He lives, salvation to impart!

You ask me how I know He lives?

He lives within my heart.


In all the world around me I see His loving care,

And though my heart grows weary I never will despair;

I know that He is leading through all the stormy blast,

The day of His appearing will come at last.

He lives, He lives, Christ Jesus lives today!

He walks with me and talks with me 

Along life’s narrow way.

He lives, He lives, salvation to impart!

You ask me how I know He lives?

He lives within my heart.


Rejoice, rejoice, O Christian, lift up your voice and sing

Eternal hallelujahs to Jesus Christ the King!

The Hope of all who seek Him, the Help of all who find,

None other is so loving, so good and kind.

He lives, He lives, Christ Jesus lives today!

He walks with me and talks with me 

Along life’s narrow way.

He lives, He lives, salvation to impart!

You ask me how I know He lives?

He lives within my heart.


God, we are not fools. We believe in You. We believe You revealed Yourself expertly in Jesus.


Jesus, we believe in You. That You not only suffered and died, but on the third day came back to life, rising from the tomb.


Holy Spirit, we believe in You. Thank for teaching us spiritual truths.


We are not fools, so we wish You and we wish each other, Happy Easter! Amen.


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