"The MIGHTY Lord is with us; the God of Jacob is our FORTRESS." Psalm 46:7
 
 

Easter Sunday
Rev. D. K. Schroeder
John 19:30 Sermon 
April 16, 2006

Hymns (from The Service Book and Hymnal):
105 "The Day Of Resurrection" 
387 "I Know That My Redeemer Lives"
99 "Christ The Lord Is Risen Today"
92 "Jesus Christ Is Risen Today"
LBW 131 "Christ Is Risen! Alleluia!"

“New Meaning To An Empty Grave”

TEXT: “When he had received the drink, Jesus said: ‘It is finished.’ With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.”

I recall hearing a story some time ago. I’m not exactly sure where I heard it, but I do remember that it was a true story.

A pastor had accepted a call to a small rural parish in South Dakota. It was a rather new experience for him, because he had grown up and attended church in Detroit. After his graduation from seminary, he served congregations in Chicago and in Arizona.

Things were going fairly smoothly for him in his new surroundings, even though he was working through several areas of culture shock.

He had been at his South Dakota congregation less than a year when it came time for his first funeral. Spring had just begun and things were beginning to sprout and bloom; and the brown of winter was being replaced by the new green growth of spring.

The funeral service went without a hitch. This pastor had conducted numerous funeral services in his previous congregations, so he was fairly well experienced.

When it came time for the committal service at the cemetery, something happened that the pastor had never experienced before. One by one, the men went up to the grave site—to pay their “last respects,” the pastor thought.

But what the pastor observed startled him. Each man knelt down at the grave and looked under the casket into the open grave below. They would pause a little bit, then get up and walk away, and the next person in line would do the same thing. He had never experienced this before.

Perplexed by this seemingly “new funeral custom” by the South Dakotans, the pastor approached the funeral director after the service. What was the meaning of this strange practice of looking under the casket into the open grave?

The mortician smiled, and gave this explanation to the pastor: “Pastor, you have to realize that most of the people around here are farmers. What they were doing was checking for sub-soil moisture.” These men were looking at a grave in an entirely different way.

Today is Easter Sunday, and the one picture that we have presented to us is the empty tomb. The tomb belonging to Joseph of Arimathea where Jesus was buried, located in the garden just down the hill from Golgotha where Jesus died, did not present the sight the women expected to see on that first Easter Sunday morning. The tomb was open, the body was gone, and the burial linens were neatly folded and sitting there. What had happened?

Let’s dial the clock back a bit, and recall what happened on Good Friday. Just before Jesus died, he said, “It is finished.” By that, Jesus meant he had finished his work as Saviour of the world. He had “paid in full” for your sins and mine.

The scene was a dismal one. Jesus was hanging on the cross. Darkness covered the earth for three hours, almost like a death shroud. Any happiness or excitement or enthusiasm connected with the speaking of these words would have seemed out of place. When a person, especially somebody like Jesus is dying, the scene is tragic. It’s as if there is no hope at all.

But with the words, “It is finished,” they come with a punctuation at the end; namely, an exclamation point. In our English language, we use exclamation points all the time to indicate a level of enthusiasm connected with words or statements. When parents have a child, the birth announcements often include an exclamation point after “It’s a Boy” or “It’s a Girl.” Statements like “I just won the lotto” or “I just got a raise” would also deserve an exclamation point.

Even though it might seem out of place to put an exclamation point after the words “It is finished,” yet the exclamation point did come—three days later. It came with an empty tomb and a rolled away stone! It came with the announcement from angelic messengers! It came from the very place where Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus had laid the lifeless body of Jesus. The exclamation point for our Christian faith came on Easter morning. Can you hear it? Jesus’ empty tomb shouts, “It is finished!”

I. Our sins have been paid for in full.
II. Our eternity in heaven is guaranteed.

I.
One of the comments I heard about the Mel Gibson movie, “The Passion of Christ,” is the fact that it doesn’t focus enough on the resurrection of Jesus. It ends too soon. In some ways, people felt cheated, because they knew there was more to Christ’s story. There was Easter. There was the empty tomb.

But what if Jesus’ story had ended on Good Friday? What if there was no empty tomb? Wouldn’t you and I be plagued by a lot of nagging questions? Questions like “Did the Father really accept Jesus’ payment for my sins?” “Do I really have a living Saviour who will come back one day to take me home to heaven?”

It’s actually much worse than that. If there were no empty tomb, then you and I would have a God who doesn’t keep his promises, like the promise in Isaiah 53, 10-11: “Though the LORD makes his life a guilt offering, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the LORD will prosper in his hand. After the suffering of his soul, he will see the light of life and be satisfied.” We know that this verse speaks about Christ. But, if Christ has not been raised, was the prophecy just wishful thinking?

Or what about Psalm 16, 8-10? “I have set the LORD always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will rest secure, because you will not abandon me to the grave, nor will you let your Holy One see decay.” That’s another prophecy. This one contains the confident prayer of our Saviour Jesus. But, if Christ has not been raised, was this nothing more than a bit of prophetic whistling in the dark?

Jesus himself said in John 2, 19: “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.” If Jesus has not been raised, was this nothing but a boast?

More than once, Jesus told his disciples as recorded in Mark 9, 31: “The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men. They will kill him, and after three days he will rise.” What’s up with that? If Christ has not been raised, was the master just trying to shield his disciples from the truth?

What if there were no empty tomb? St. Paul covered that “what if” scenario almost 2,000 years ago. The apostle came to this conclusion in I Corinthians 15, 14 & 17: “If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.” In other words, without the exclamation point provided by Easter, our Christian faith falls like a row of dominoes. Without the empty tomb, Jesus’ words “It is finished” are virtually meaningless. If there is no empty tomb, maybe all Jesus meant was “My life is over. My hopes and dreams are finished. I have lost.” Then we would have to be, as Paul describes in I Corinthians 15, 19: “…pitied more than all men,” because then we’d be living a lie.

But we can be thankful that Jesus’ story didn’t end on Good Friday! All the eyewitnesses agree—even some secular sources. There was an earthquake, a rolled-away stone, and angels. There was an empty tomb that stamped an exclamation point on Jesus’ Good Friday words “It is finished!” On Easter morning, Jesus Christ, the carpenter’s son, was once and for all, as Paul writes in Romans 1, 4: “Declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead.”

On Good Friday, Jesus Christ said he had paid in full. On Easter morning, the Father issued us a receipt for the payment of his Son. That’s what Paul is getting at when he assures us in Romans 4, 25, “He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.” Jesus’ empty tomb shouts that our sins have been paid for in full! And it shouts, our eternity in heaven is guaranteed. Because of Jesus’ empty tomb, Easter has taught us to look at a grave in an entirely different way.

II.
There is an old adage: Two things in life are inevitable: death and taxes. Jesus’ empty tomb pretty much smashes that saying, doesn’t it? Pay your taxes, but know that death, our last great enemy, has been destroyed!

The empty tomb fairly shouts the words recorded by Paul in I Corinthians 15, 20-22: “Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.”

The empty tomb shouts to us the words of Jesus in John 14, 19: “Because I live, you also will live.” Jesus’ promise is guaranteed.

The empty tomb shouts to us the words of Job 19, 25-27: “I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes—I, and not another.” The victory chant of Job can be our own as well.

This is what the empty tomb shouts to us: “It is finished!” Hold that confidence in your head and heart the next time you sit in a funeral home, shoulders slumped, handkerchief in hand, staring at the open casket of your loved one. If Satan uses that casket to whisper his lies, “Your loved one is gone. You’ll never see them again,” send the devil packing with the confident confession of St. Paul as recorded in I Thessalonians 4, 14; 17-18: “We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. . . . We will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage each other with these words.”

If at the graveside doubt and fear well up when the pastor crumbles a handful of dirt on the casket and says, “Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust,” roll the doubt and fear away from your heart. Let them lie next to the stone rolled away from Jesus’ tomb. It’s time to look at the grave in an entirely new way.

“It is finished!” It wasn’t just the empty tomb that shouted this message that first Easter morning. Angels shouted it in Luke 24, 5-6 when they told the women who came to finish the embalming process, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen!” It was definitely time for them to look at the grave in a whole new way.

Jesus himself added an exclamation point to his work when he appeared to Mary, to the women, to Peter, to the Emmaus disciples, to the Twelve, to the five hundred, to James, and later to Paul. Every time our Lord shared the greeting “Peace be with you,” his words from the cross shouted once more.

Then came the disciples’ turn. Luke writes in Acts 4, 33: “With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them all.” Another exclamation point!

Then came Stephen. When on trial before the Sanhedrin, Stephen saw the Lord Jesus seated on his throne. Even as his enemies stoned him, Luke records Stephen’s prayer in Acts 7, 59, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Another exclamation point!

Then came Paul and the powerful resurrection chapter which is recorded 1 Corinthians 15. Then came John and the dazzling visions of heaven contained in Revelation. Then came countless other believers down through the centuries. By their simple faith, by their devotion to their Lord, each one in his or her own way used Jesus’ words from the cross as the victory shout of faith: “It is finished!”

Remember those farmers from South Dakota? They looked at a grave in an entirely different way than a lot of people would. Where some would see just a dark and foreboding six foot hole in the ground, they saw something else. Where some people would look and see death, they looked and saw life.

That’s the way a Christian looks at a grave as well. An unbelieving world sees death and the grave as an enemy, as a blind leap into the abyss of the unknown. But the Christian knows better. The Christian looks at the grave through the eyes of faith. The Christian sees their own grave in the same way as they see Christ’s grave—empty, with the certain hope of resurrection and eternal life.

Jesus’ words “It is finished” indeed are a victory shout for the Christian. Not only did Christ finish his work on earth, but most importantly, he defeated the final enemy, which is death. Through faith in our risen Saviour, our sins are forgiven, and we will experience eternal life in heaven. That’s a guarantee that shouts and echoes forth from Christ’s empty tomb.

Every Sunday when we confess the words of the creed, we are declaring our faith in Christ’s resurrection and ours too. “On the third day he rose again from the dead,” “On the third day he rose again according to the Scriptures,” “I believe in the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.” That’s the way we look at a grave differently than the unbelieving world. For us, that grave means new life.

The words of Christ, “It is finished” come complete with an exclamation point. It was placed there by God himself on that first Easter. And now, we are living exclamation points when it comes to God’s promises. We demonstrate this in everything we say and do. In every way, we give testimony to the sure and certain hope that we have.

Because Christ lives, we too shall live.

It is finished! He is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

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