************ Sermon on Luke 23:50-24:12 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on April 20, 2014
"He Has Risen"
"Resurrection" is the name of a new show on TV. The show follows the residents of Arcadia, Missouri, whose lives are upended when loved ones return from the dead. Among the returned is Jacob Langston, an eight-year-old boy who drowned 32 years earlier. Trying to find answers, authorities open Jacob's casket only to discover there are two bodies – the dead Jacob and the returned from the dead Jacob.
How disappointing! It isn't a resurrection at all. Instead, it is some new-age mumbo-jumbo reincarnation hogwash. I was hoping for something showing the Christian's ultimate hope for the body because of Easter's resurrection. Instead, Hollywood does its own thing, again!
Resurrection – not reincarnation – lies at the heart of the Christian faith. We are the only faith that in essence is a resurrection religion. Remove the resurrection and Christianity is destroyed.
Consider how important the resurrection really is. The resurrection of Jesus affirms Him to be the Son of God (Rom 1:4). It proves that His sacrifice for sin has been accepted and that salvation is completed (Rom 4:24-25). By His resurrection power He imparts new life to those who trust in Him (Rom 6:4) – as we see this morning with Profession of Faith. His resurrection is a guarantee of our glorious resurrection (1 Cor 15:12-23). And, His resurrection declares that someday He is coming as Judge (Acts 17:30-31). I repeat, remove the resurrection and Christianity is destroyed.
It is no surprise, then, that Satan has attacked the truth of the resurrection. His first lie: the disciples came and stole Jesus' body (Mt 28:11-15). His second lie: Jesus did not really die on the cross but only fainted and was revived by the cool tomb.
I want to look at three points on this Easter Sunday: first, the empty cross; second, the empty tomb; third, the empty cloths.
I The Empty Cross
A Go back to the first Easter. It is early morning, just before sunrise. A few women – followers of Jesus – are on their way to the tomb where Jesus was buried by Joseph of Arimathea.
If you were with them, what would you see and hear?
You are mostly quiet and solemn because yours is a sad task – to anoint the body of Jesus. Your arms are weighed down with the spices you have prepared (Lk 24:1). As the group comes close to the tomb you see a gruesome reminder of Good Friday. You see three crosses (Jn 19:42). Yesterday was the Sabbath, so no one has removed them yet. So, there they stand.
The cross in the middle, take a close look. That's the cross Jesus hung on. What do you see? At the top, those bloodstains are the result of the crown of thorns crushed into Jesus' skull. The stains on the ends of the crossbar – they came because of the nails driven into His hands. The main beam – it is soaked in blood from His beaten and bleeding back. Towards the bottom you see more blood – where the nails were hammered into His feet.
One last thing you notice – the cross is empty. It is empty. Usually criminals would hang there for two or three or four days before they died. But not this time. Jesus called out with a loud voice, "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit." When He had said this, He breathed His last and died. Satan spreads other lies today. But the soldiers know better. So do the Roman authorities and the Jews and the women. They all know Jesus died on the cross.
B The cross is empty. Joseph received permission to take down Jesus' dead body from the cross (Lk 23:52). The women who had come with Jesus from Galilee watched as Joseph did this (Lk 23:55). They followed Joseph and watched as he placed Jesus in a tomb near the cross (Jn 19:42). They watched as Joseph rolled a stone against the entrance of the tomb (Mk 15:46,47).
I want you, my brothers and sisters, to see the empty cross. I want you to remember and believe that He died, that He really died. That He went all the way to death and was buried.
The Bible tells us the wages of sin is death. But Jesus lived a sinless life. He lived a perfect life. His was a fully obedient life. So He did not deserve to die. Yet He died anyway. Why? Because He died for your sin and my sin. He took on our sin and our punishment.
Thank God for the empty cross. Thank God, I say, because it means we have been forgiven. Because it means Jesus paid the penalty for our sins. Because it means His sacrifice and suffering are over and completed and finished.
It was on the cross that Jesus offered His perfect, sinless life on behalf of each one of us. No one else – not Abraham, not Moses, not David, not Isaiah, not Mohammed, not Buddha, not Obama – no one else has ever lived a perfect life and then offered himself for our salvation. That is why the Bible can say, "Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved" (Acts 4:12).
I am sure you realize there are those in the Christian community who keep Jesus on the cross. They believe He is still being offered up every single day. But, I want to tell you, the cross is empty. The suffering is finished. Our sins have been paid for.
If you were there that Easter morning you would see that the cross is empty.
II The Empty Tomb
A Let's go back to your journey with the women. The silence is broken as you ask one another, "Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?" (Mk 16:3). The stone is big. The stone is heavy – probably weighing upwards of two tons. This way the tomb cannot be easily or accidentally opened. Not only that, but the Romans have sealed the tomb so no one was allowed to open it without their permission (Mt 27:66). And, the Romans have posted soldiers to guard the tomb (Mt 27:66).
Suddenly you feel the earth move (Mt 28:2). Frightened, you all look at each other, not certain what to do. After a few minutes everything seems normal so you continue on your way.
You approach the tomb. You can hardly believe your eyes. The soldiers are all unconscious (Mt 28:4) and the stone has been moved (Lk 24:2).
B You do not enter the tomb right away (Mt 28:6). You are scared and perplexed and hesitant – the empty cross, the earthquake, the unconscious soldiers, the open tomb. It is almost too much to take in.
Finally, you enter the tomb. You look. You search. You seek. You peer into the corners. You check out every crook and cranny. You check a second time and maybe a third time. No matter where you look or how hard you look, you do not find the body of the Lord Jesus (Lk 24:3).
Wow. The cross is empty. And now the grave is empty too.
What is going on? What is happening? How are you to understand all this?
C Suddenly, two angels appear. You see them gleaming like lightning (Lk 24:4). The light is so bright it hurts your eyes. In fright you bow down with your face to the ground (Lk 24:5).
You listen as the angels ask a strange question: "Why do you look for the living among the dead?" (Lk 24:5).
What? What did the angel say? "Why do you look for the living among the dead?" (Lk 24:5). Let's think about this.
Recently I needed to use a certain screw driver. Where do I look for that screw driver? Do I look in the flower beds? That doesn't make sense. Do I look under my mattress? That doesn't make sense either. Do I look in the coffee pot? That makes even less sense. To find my screw driver I need to look in my tool box. Now, apply this to the message of Easter's angels. Where do I look to find Jesus? If Jesus is dead, then I look in a tomb. Or, if Jesus is dead, then I look where most criminals back then were buried – in Jerusalem's garbage dump. Or, if Jesus is dead, then I look in a mortuary or funeral home or grave yard.
"Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen!" (Lk 24:5-6). Jesus is alive, says the angels, so you don't search for Him in a place of the dead. Jesus is alive, says the angels, so you look for Him in a place of the living.
D And then you hear a gentle rebuke: "Remember ..." "Remember how he told you ..." More than once Jesus had told His followers that he would suffer and die and be raised from the dead (Lk 9:22,44; 18:31-34). But you forgot. You forgot so you were looking for the living among the dead. You forgot so you were not looking for the living among the living.
How sad it is when God's people forget His Word. How sad it is when God's people forget His Word and live defeated lives. How sad it is when God's people do not remember. Today we have less of an excuse than did the women because part of the ministry of the Spirit is to remind us of everything Jesus said (Jn 14:26).
III The Empty Cloths
A Our Bible reading ends with Peter. Peter hears the story of the women and he runs to the tomb. "Bending over, he saw the strips of linen lying by themselves, and he went away, wondering to himself what had happened" (Lk 24:12).
What strips of linen? The strips of linen Joseph used to wrap Jesus' body (Lk 23:53). Peter found the strips of linen but no body. Peter found the cloths Jesus had been buried in but they, too, were empty. An empty cross, an empty tomb, and now an empty cloth!
How did you and the women miss those strips of linen? Maybe you didn't see them? Or, maybe you saw them and you didn't think they were important?
B Why were those strips of linen lying there? Satan has an answer: that is where the grave robbers threw them when they stole Jesus' body. But let me ask: With soldiers standing guard outside would grave robbers have taken the time to strip away the linens and spices used by Joseph? Absolutely not!
If it wasn't grave robbers who left the burial cloths lying there, then who did? Or, let me ask it another way: when do you not need a burial cloth?
A couple of months ago a funeral home in Lexington, Mississippi, was preparing to embalm 78-year-old Walter Williams. And then the body inside the body bag began to move. Williams was not dead. Suddenly he had no need for a body bag or funeral preparations or embalming.
Isn't it obvious what happened to Jesus? Peter found strips of linen but no body. Meaning what? Meaning Jesus has no need for them. Meaning Jesus must not be dead. Meaning Jesus must be alive.
Do you hear the three-fold message of Easter? The cross is empty. The tomb is empty. The burial cloth is empty.
Why? Because we serve a risen Savior. He is alive. He has skin and bones, a body and a face, hands and feet. He walks and talks and touches and eats.
Do you believe this? Do you confess this as did those who professed their faith this morning?
In this light, think about Peter. Note what Peter did after seeing the empty cross, the empty grave, and the empty cloths: he went away "wondering" to himself what had happened. If anything, the word "wonder" is a poor translation of the Greek because it implies that Peter was perplexed and confused, that he did not believe and understand. The Greek word indicates that Peter marveled, that Peter was astonished, that Peter was amazed.
As Peter walked back home he was starting to put the pieces together. He was starting to believe. The Word and Spirit were at work in him so that he would come to believe Jesus has risen!
Let me end with Joseph of Arimathea. He was a prominent member of the Council, the court which condemned Jesus to death. But he did not agree with their decision and action (Lk 23:51). Joseph risked his reputation and his life by standing up for Jesus, but his faith far outweighed his fear.
To make sure Jesus received a proper burial, Joseph boldly asked Pilate for Jesus' body (Lk 23:52). This was no simple matter. According to Mosaic law, Joseph risked ritual uncleanness by entering the residence of a pagan. And then he further contaminated himself by touching a corpse. By doing this Joseph made himself unfit for temple worship. He made himself unfit to participate in the most important meal of the year – the Passover meal.
Why would Joseph do this? Because Joseph believed in Jesus, despite pressures from his colleagues and the Roman rulers. He boldly stood up for his faith, trusting the consequences to God – something we all should do!
Luke calls Joseph a "good and upright man" (Lk 23:50). Luke further tells us Joseph "was waiting for the kingdom of God" (Lk 23:51). Joseph reminds me of Simeon and Anna at the start of Luke's gospel – two other righteous people looking for the kingdom (Lk 2:25,38). Luke's message: Joseph, Anna, and Simeon recognize that the Kingdom and its Messiah has come in the person of Jesus.
Following Jesus has always been dangerous. But it was especially so for Joseph of Arimathea. Likewise, sometimes our faith in Christ carries a high price. No doubt Joseph was shunned and condemned by his peers for the stands and actions he took, but he followed his beliefs anyway. Joseph reminds us that believing in Christ may bring suffering in this life.
Believe, congregation. Believe that you serve a risen Savior Who is in the world today. Know that He is living, whatever men may say. Believe the cross is empty, the grave is empty, and the burial cloths are empty too.
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