Easter Sunday April 4, 1999
203, 206, 200, 189
And when the sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, had bought sweet spices, that they might come and anoint him. And very early in the morning the first day of the week, they came unto the sepulchre at the rising of the sun. And they said among themselves, Who shall roll us away the stone from the door of the sepulchre? And when they looked, they saw that the stone was rolled away: for it was very great. And entering into the sepulchre, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, clothed in a long white garment; and they were affrighted. And he saith unto them, Be not affrighted: Ye seek Jesus of Nazareth, which was crucified: he is risen; he is not here: behold the place where they laid him. But go your way, tell his disciples and Peter that he goeth before you into Galilee: there shall ye see him, as he said unto you. Here ends our text.
In Christ Jesus, the Alpha and Omega, who was dead and is alive, Dear Fellow Redeemed,
In Arthur Conan Doyle’s story, “Silver Blaze,” the famous detective Sherlock Holmes is hired to find out who stole a valuable race horse. The horse had vanished from his barn in the middle of the night, and the stable boy—who was sleeping in the loft—hadn’t heard a thing. The only other creature in the building was his dog. Inspector Gregory of Scotland Yard is baffled. “Is there any point to which you would wish to draw my attention?” he asks Holmes. “To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time.” “But the dog did nothing in the night-time.” “Yes,” said Holmes, “that was the curious incident!” Later, Holmes proved that the reason the dog never barked was because the thief was someone quite familiar to him; it turned out to be the horse’s own trainer.
So you see—it sometimes happens that the absence of evidence is more convincing than the presence of evidence. The fact that something one would expect to find is missing—often serves as the strongest proof possible that certain events took place.
Easter is the day we celebrate the amazing event of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. How do we know it really happened? In part, because of the absence from the tomb of one very important piece of evidence: the body of Jesus! Let’s follow the women, as they journey to the garden tomb this Easter morning. Our theme today:
A person named Jesus once walked this earth. That He lived and died is a historical fact; not even the most hardened atheist will deny that. The world will admit that He was a great teacher, that He lived an exemplary life, and that He died unjustly, by crucifixion, at the hands of the Romans. But His resurrection—that’s another story! That Jesus came back from the dead on the third day is something the unbelieving world simply can’t admit. In our day, there are even many so-called “Christians” who consider the resurrection account a myth! But the whole Christian faith stands or falls on the resurrection. Paul told some doubters in Corinth, “If Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins! Then also those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable.” I Cor 15:17-19. If the resurrection is a myth, then the Christian faith is foolishness, and you and I are wasting our time here in this church today.—But it’s not a myth—it’s the truth! Jesus’ rising from the dead is historical fact, and our text for this morning provides part of the proof. For you see, the empty tomb proves Jesus’ resurrection.
A faint ribbon of light was just appearing on the eastern horizon as the women made their way to Jesus’ tomb. In Palestine, the bodies of the dead were interred, not in the ground, but in caves hewn out of rocky hillsides. These ladies were headed for the newly-carved tomb where Joseph of Arimethea had laid the body of Jesus. They were carrying a bulky supply of spices, with which they intended to embalm the body of Jesus, according to custom of the Jews. No doubt they were saddened and upset by the events of Good Friday. To top it off, they had something else to worry about: the huge stone that blocked the door of the tomb. And they said among themselves, Who shall roll us away the stone from the door of the sepulchre? Think how worried they’d have been if they’d known that Pilate had ordered the stone sealed shut, and Roman guards placed on the doorway!
But they were in for a big surprise. When they arrived at the tomb, they didn’t see the seal, and they didn’t see the soldiers. The stone was already rolled to one side, and the door of the tomb stood open. They didn’t know what to make of it. All the evidence that should have been there if Jesus was dead—was gone. Above all, there was one very important piece of missing evidence: the body of Jesus! When they looked, they saw that the stone was rolled away: for it was very great. And entering into the sepulchre, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, clothed in a long white garment; and they were affrighted. And he saith unto them, Be not affrighted: Ye seek Jesus of Nazareth, which was crucified: he is risen; he is not here: behold the place where they laid him.
The impossible had happened. The resurrection that Jesus Himself had so often predicted had taken place. And the angel added the proof of his testimony: “Jesus is risen!” The miracle was true!
Yes, it was true; the resurrection of Jesus actually happened in historical time, that first Easter Sunday almost 2,000 years ago. The empty tomb proves it. The words of the angel prove it. The testimony of Holy Scripture proves it. And if there’s anybody that’s still not convinced, the Apostle Paul runs down the list of people who actually saw Jesus with their own eyes after His resurrection: “Peter saw Him, then the twelve, then more than five hundred Christians at one time; most of these are still living.” I Cor 15:5-6 AAT. What—did more than five hundred people have an optical illusion at one time? Did the disciples all just imagine they saw Jesus in the flesh? I don’t think so! No, the resurrection of Jesus happened. The empty tomb proves it!
Like those women, I’m afraid we might come to the tomb today feeling somewhat saddened and disheartened. After all, it was just this Friday that we saw Jesus on the cross—and it was a pretty gruesome sight. We witnessed the terrible results of sin, as the Lord laid the punishment for all our sins on the crucified Savior. But if Good Friday saddened you, then Easter Sunday should give you nothing but joy! Because the missing evidence of Easter—the empty tomb—not only proves Jesus resurrection, it also proves our salvation!
In the first place, the fact of Jesus’ resurrection proves that He was exactly who He said He was: not just “a good man,” not just “a fine moral teacher,” but the Son of God and the Savior of the world. Paul says, “Jesus Christ our Lord—was declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection of the dead.” Rom 1:3-4. And because that is true, the empty tomb of Easter opens up whole new horizons for you and me!
You know, I’ve always wondered what happened to all that stuff—the spices that the women were bringing to embalm the Jesus’ body. Experts figure there must have been 70-80 pounds of it. I think they probably just dropped it all outside the tomb somewhere, in their rush to get back and tell the disciples. It was a heavy burden, and one that they obviously didn’t need anymore. Let me ask you a question. How much stuff are you carrying with you today? How many sins? How much nagging guilt over the mistakes you’ve made in life? Well I’m happy to be able to tell you that you can drop that heavy burden! The empty tomb means you don’t have to carry it anymore. Your sins are completely forgiven, and the empty tomb proves it!
When I was a student at the University of Wisconsin, I had to pay a very high rate of tuition because I was a non-resident. There was no way I could pay it myself, so every semester I had to count on various kinds of student aid; and the money was always late. I can’t tell you how relieved I was, every semester, when I finally got that blue stamp on my account sheet—the stamp that said “PAID”. That first Easter Sunday God raised Jesus from the dead, and by doing so He was stamping your account “PAID”! All your sins are paid for in full. For Jesus’ sake you are justified: declared righteous and innocent in the eyes of God, as we read in Romans, “Jesus our Lord…was delivered for our offenses, and was raised again for our justification.” Rom 4:24-25. The missing evidence of the empty tomb proves our justification once and for all!
And it proves something else, too. It proves that, like Jesus, we will one day rise to eternal life. The only two absolute certainties in life, they say, are death and taxes. Well, with April 15th approaching, we’re reminded that we still have to pay our taxes—but we no longer have to be afraid of death! In one of the sweetest verses of the Bible, Jesus said, “Because I live, you will live also.” Jn 14:19. His resurrection is our guarantee that we will live with Him in total happiness; not for ten years, and not for a thousand years, but forever! With the threat of eternal death wiped out, with eternal life guaranteed to us in Christ, I ask you—what’s left for us to be afraid of? Nothing! With Paul, we may confidently say, “O Death, where is your sting? O Grave, where is your victory? The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” I Cor 15:55-57.
One morning, a tourist was looking at the Golden Gate Bridge. The usual San Francisco fog had settled in, and from where he was standing all he could see was the span of the bridge itself; the places where it was connected to the land were hidden in fog. As the sun got higher, though, the fog burned off and the land came into view. Easter is that way for us; it burns off the fog. The empty tomb shows us that our life-spans are not just meaningless fragments of time suspended in an empty universe. We’re Christians: created by God, redeemed by our Savior, and headed for eternal life. How can we know that for sure? Because the empty tomb proves it! In Jesus’ name, AMEN.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the King James Version.
Scripture quotations marked (AAT) are from An American Translation, William Beck, © 1976 Mrs. William Beck. Used by permission.