Easter April 4, 2010


The Humble Service and Patient Endurance of Easter

Mark 16:1-8

Scripture Readings

Isaiah 65:17-25
1 Corinthians 15:12-23


192, 199, 200, 189, (WS 2000 alternates: 728, 730)

Now when the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, that they might come and anoint Him. Very early in the morning, on the first day of the week, they came to the tomb when the sun had risen. And they said among themselves, “Who will roll away the stone from the door of the tomb for us?” But when they looked up, they saw that the stone had been rolled away—for it was very large. And entering the tomb, they saw a young man clothed in a long white robe sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He is risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid Him. “But go, tell His disciples—and Peter—that He is going before you into Galilee; there you will see Him, as He said to you.” So they went out quickly and fled from the tomb, for they trembled and were amazed. And they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.

He is arisen! Glorious Word!
Now reconciled is God, my Lord;
The gates of heaven are open.
My Jesus did triumphant die,
and Satan’s arrows broken lie,
destroyed Hell’s direst weapon.
Oh, hear what cheer!
Christ victorious riseth glorious, life He giveth—
He was dead, but see, He liveth!

[TLH 189]

Dear Christians, this is the day that the Lord has made! Let us rejoice and be glad in it!

In the name of Jesus Christ, our risen and victorious Lord, dear fellow-redeemed:

After so many days with our eyes fixed on the images of suffering and our ears tuned to the tortured words of our Lord from the cross, on this day we come finally to a vision of purest joy and to words of eternal comfort and victory. Darkness and sorrow have given way to light and celebration. Today, at long last, we come to the empty tomb. Jesus Christ is risen today. Hallelujah!

If there is a festival of the Church year that can surpass even the rugged comfort of Good Friday, it is this day. Easter is the time of closure and success. That is how we should view this great day. God the Father had arranged a grand and pivotal sign that would stand for all ages. That sign was the tomb. If Christ Jesus remained in that tomb through the third day following His death, then His mission to save mankind was a failure. If the tomb was occupied on the fourth day, then we were to understand that God had rejected the sacrifice of Jesus. Then, also, the last best plan for securing our salvation had failed. If, however, that tomb no longer played host to the Lord on the third day, then the celebration could truly begin for therein would be the proof that God had accepted the perfect life and innocent death of his Son as the full, holy, perfect payment for the sins of all mankind.

Dear Christians, the tomb was empty! The unalterable verdict has thereby been rendered and is this day declared by our Creator-God: Not guilty!

Hear again the words of the angel in our text: “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He is risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid Him.” [v.6]

All things pertaining to the Christian faith point to this great day, this magnificent event. Christmas was but the start of the long and difficult journey that leads here. The visit of the Magi, the Lord’s presentation in the temple, His baptism in the Jordan River, the temptation in the wilderness, the miracles, the anguish in the Garden, the crucifixion—all pointed to and found their culmination in the empty tomb and resurrection of our Lord Jesus.

Surely this is enough to carry in our hearts on this great day. This single fact of the empty tomb is enough to preserve us through the worst that Satan can do to us as we live out our time of grace upon this earth. Yet, on the basis of our text, we hope to gain still further spoils this day as a result of the great victory. So also we learn and grow by examining The Humble Service and Patient Endurance of Easter.

We recognize, first and foremost, that it was the patient endurance of our Lord Jesus that made this celebration what it is. We marvel at the loving, patient service of our Savior which we’ve been considering all through Lent. When we see what our Lord has done we sing His praise and His alone.

Jesus is the one who championed the cause of sinners past, present, and future. Jesus is the one who succeeded when all others failed. He alone refused to submit to even one temptation of Satan, and He alone offered his life of perfection to cover our sin debt. It is therefore to Jesus alone that we sing our songs of thanksgiving on this day. Our victory was won through our Lord’s patient endurance.

We would also do well, however, to acknowledge on this day the gifts given to mankind through those who came before. The victory of Easter is not only the possession of the disciples of Jesus’ day and those who would follow. This victory also belongs to those who came before. Think for a moment of what was required of those who lived and died long before Jesus was ever born. They were called upon not only to believe in a promise whose fulfillment they would never witness, they were called upon to preserve and to pass along to future generations the Promise itself. This very day—Easter—was the ultimate focus of their lives.

What courage, what endurance, what grace was given to our Old Testament forefathers. We tend to lose sight of the gifts that were given to us through the men and women of the Old Testament—generation after generation who were born, lived, and died with only a promise to sustain them. They not only clung patiently to that promise, they taught the promise to their sons and daughters. They were “the remnant,” preserved by God down through the ages. Those heroes of the faith dutifully carried the torch. Despite wholesale apostasy and facing unimaginable persecution and ridicule, they carried the promise and delivered it to the next generation.

This then is not just our victory, it is also theirs. Had Jesus not succeeded in His mission those who came before would have hoped in vain, trusted for naught, and died in utter, eternal failure. We, therefore, thank our God for preserving this remnant down through the ages. We thank Him for those who faithfully taught the truth of Easter to us.

That is not to say, of course, that these men and women are to be praised and honored alongside our Lord Jesus on this day. We have but one Lord and Savior. Yet we do well to acknowledge that this is also their day. Their patient endurance and faithful service was vindicated on this day. Thanks be to God.

Like the saints of old, it is vital that we recognize that the life of the Christian—today as on that first Easter morning—will ever be one of patience and endurance. The very events of that first Easter bear this out.

Note well the actions of the women on Easter morning. Take note both of what those who loved their Lord did not do, as well as what they did. What they did not do was visit the Lord’s tomb to embalm his body on the Saturday following his death. Why not? Obviously because such activity was forbidden to God’s Old Testament children on the Sabbath. We in our modern times could learn much from this simple act of patient obedience. We are quite good at justifying our own actions and desires on the basis of exceptional circumstances even when we know those actions to be sinful. For most of us anything that we want to do automatically qualifies as an exception to God’s rules.

Not so for those God-fearing women. Think how easy it would have been for those women to justify a breaking of the Sabbath because of special circumstances. Their Lord Jesus had, after all, just been put to death. That sort of thing does not happen every day. What is more, a great wrong had been perpetrated by the very same religious leaders who articulated and enforced the rules regarding the Sabbath. Yet, note the reaction of the women. They did not regard evil as a justification for further evil. They continued to submit themselves in fear and humility to the laws of their God, knowing full well that one perversion of justice never validates or justifies further evil.

Interesting also to ponder what would have happened had the women actually dismissed the Sabbath laws and visited the tomb on Saturday. Had they physically been able to do so, they were obviously prepared to break the seal that had been placed on the tomb and roll away the stone that had blocked the entrance. The guards would certainly have seen this. What would the guards have reported? Can you imagine the doubt that such an action would have raised in the hearts of men to this very day? “Jesus’ followers were seen tampering with the tomb and the body the day before they claimed He rose…”

And what would the women have found had they entered the tomb on Saturday? They would have found the lifeless body of their Lord. How different the Easter story would have been. The Easter that we know today required their patient obedience.

Those God-fearing women did not visit the tomb on Saturday in violation of the Sabbath. They waited until Sunday morning. It also bears noting that once they were permitted to do so they not only carried out their appointed tasks, they refused to be deterred by what they considered an insurmountable barrier—the huge stone that blocked the entrance of the tomb. Instead, they pressed on in humble, patient obedience. The result was that they were blessed with that glorious first sight of the tomb standing open and were privileged to hear the angel announcing the resurrection of their Lord.

What is the message for us today? The simple fact is Easter will cease to hold any meaning for us the moment we quit the race. As those who came before patiently waited for their Savior to arrive, so we now await our Lord’s second coming. Also like those who came before, we are not called to wait idly. We are called to be about our Father’s work as we wait. We are called to carry the torch for our God has given us the task of carrying the message of the empty tomb to this and all future generations. Easter will cease to be Easter if God’s children fail to pass this message of victory and life to their own children, their own extended families, their coworkers and friends. So also our Lord calls you and me to humble service as well as patient endurance. There will certainly be obstacles, yet as our God Himself removed the stone from the door of the tomb, so He can also be trusted to provide for all we need to carry out his work and will.

On this day the empty tomb inspires us to greater and more faithful service in the Lord’s Kingdom. Today we simply let the joy of this occasion fill our hearts to overflowing. Tomorrow, we go back to work—not just to the office, home, or school. Tomorrow we carry on our duties as representatives of our risen Lord, Jesus Christ. Know that the struggle will be long and difficult. Patience and endurance are surely required. To this end, let the magnificence of this great event—the resurrection of our Lord Jesus—and the promise of life eternal and all of these holy truths bring the New Man to full dominance in your life. May this perfect and invigorate your desire to share the meaning of this day, every day until our Lord’s last great promise is fulfilled when He returns on the clouds with power and glory. Amen.

—Pastor Michael Roehl

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