Bethel Evangelical Lutheran worshiping Jesus at 8th and N. East Ave. in York, NE.402-363-0022

Easter Sermon

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John 20:1-9

Fellow Worshipers of our Risen Lord,

A lot can happen in a week, can’t it! On Palm Sunday the disciples and the women who followed Jesus from Galilee were filled with joy and excitement. Jesus had entered Jerusalem with crowds cheering and shouting “hosanna.” During the week, by his amazing answers to their trick questions, Jesus had shut down the attempts of his enemies to discredit him. Everyone had been busy with preparations for the Passover celebration. As they celebrated the Passover in the upper room with Jesus, he had given them a new covenant. Then, while Jesus was praying in Gethsemane, Judas betrayed him and he was arrested. In just a matter of hours he was tried and convicted by the Sanhedrin. Pilate gave in to the Jewish leaders and sentenced Jesus to death by crucifixion. On Friday, just five days after his triumphal entry into Jerusalem, they stood at a distance, watching and wondering as Jesus refused to use his miraculous power and allowed himself to be crucified between two criminals. The Sabbath started that Friday evening so they didn’t even have time to give Jesus a proper burial. Now it was Sunday again. The Sabbath was over, the disciples were gathering in an upper room, and the women were heading to the tomb to see if they could add to what Joseph and Nicodemus had done to Jesus’ body late Friday afternoon. When they arrived at the tomb and saw that the stone had been rolled away, Mary Magdalene immediately turned and ran to tell Peter and John. She assumed that someone had moved Jesus’ body and now they didn’t know where he was. As hectic as the previous week had been, this first Easter Sunday would be even more hectic.

Mary reported to Peter and John that someone had tampered with the tomb. The guards were gone, the stone was rolled away, and Jesus’ body was gone. They had no choice but to go and check it out. John, who seems to have been one of the younger of the disciples, won the race to the tomb, but he stopped at the entrance and didn’t go inside. Either respect for the dead or the desire to remain ceremonially clean kept him from going inside at first, but Peter didn’t hesitate. He was going to investigate first hand, up close. He wanted to know what happened to Jesus’ body. Once Peter went inside, John followed him.

What did they find? Mary was right. The Roman soldiers were gone. The stone was rolled away. Jesus’ body was gone. But, the evidence inside the tomb didn’t support Mary’s conclusion that someone must have taken Jesus’ body. If someone had come and taken Jesus’ body to move it to a new location, wouldn’t the tomb, which was a new tomb in which no one had been laid, be empty? If someone had come to steal the body would they have taken the time to unwrap it, or cut away the grave clothes? Unlikely. But even if they had, wouldn’t they have done it in a hurry and left the grave clothes scattered all over the tomb? That’s not what Peter and John found. They found the strips of linen cloth which Joseph and Nicodemus had used to wrap the body with the 75 pounds of spices still there. And the cloth that had been laid over his head they found neatly folded up and placed in a different part of the tomb. The strips of linen were lying there exactly where they had seen Joseph and Nicodemus lay Jesus’ body. They hadn’t been disturbed at all, except that now they were empty, perhaps caved in somewhat by their own weight because Jesus body was no longer inside to support them. If you have ever papier-mâchéd a balloon and had it pop before the paper was dry you can get a pretty good picture of what Peter and John might have seen. There was no doubt. Nothing else could explain the evidence. Jesus’ body came to life and passed through the strips of cloth without disturbing them. John saw and believed. Although they still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead. John was convinced by the evidence of the strips of cloth that Jesus did rise.

The disciples had difficulty believing the women when they told them that they had seen Jesus alive. Thomas even doubted the word of his fellow apostles. But Jesus says, blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed. Scripture had clearly foretold that the Messiah would die and rise again. Isaiah says, He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth. Yet it was the LORD’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and 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; by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities. Both Peter and Paul connect these words of Psalm 16 with the resurrection,

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. How blessed we are that the Holy Spirit has led us to believe what God’s word clearly says without having to see any physical evidence!

In the resurrection chapter, 1 Corinthians 15, Paul explains the importance of Jesus resurrection. He reminds us that if Jesus did not rise from the dead he is a liar, an imposter. He himself had said, destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up again. He gave the sign of the prophet Jonah, that just as Jonah was in the fish for three days and came out alive, so he would be in the earth for three days and come out alive. He told his disciples over and over again that they would go to Jerusalem, he would be handed over to the gentiles, he would die, and on the third day he would rise again. If Jesus did not rise from the dead he is not the promised messiah, the savior of the world. If Jesus did not rise from the dead he did not pay for our sins, we are still under the condemnation of the law. If Jesus did not rise from the dead we are among the greatest fools who have ever lived for wasting so much time, effort and money in the service of a dead man. But, he did rise from the dead just as he said he would. That’s why we are celebrating today, and really every Sunday, for every Sunday is a celebration of the resurrection. Because Jesus did rise from the dead we are assured that our sins are all forgiven. Jesus was raised to life for our justification; his resurrection proves that God has declared us not guilty of our sins. Because he rose there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. What a blessing to be able to fall asleep each night knowing that we are at peace with God through Jesus! What a blessing to be able to live each day without carrying around the guilt of our sins! As the song says, “Because he lives, I can face tomorrow. Because he lives, all fear is gone.”

Jesus said, because I live, you also will live. Paul says that Jesus is the first fruits of those who sleep, and that, on the last day, Jesus will bring with him all who have fallen asleep in him. Jesus’ resurrection from the dead allows us to view death as a sleep from which Jesus will wake us, just as he did Jairus’ daughter, the widows’ son from Nain, and Lazarus. But, unlike them, he will wake us not to a life in a world of sin where death still reigns, but to life in a world without sin where death has been vanquished, where we are able to say, where, O death is your victory, where, O death is your sting? What is mortal cannot inherit immortality but Jesus will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body. What wonderful hope and comfort this gives us as we sit at the death bed of a loved one, as we stand beside a casket, or as we face death ourselves.

For Peter and John, the strips of cloth in the tomb of Jesus were convincing evidence that Jesus rose from the dead. As the day went on, they saw even greater evidence. Jesus himself appeared to them. He invited them to touch his hands and feet, he ate in front of them so that there would be no doubt that he had risen from the dead. Later, as things began to return to normal, as the disciples who had met Jesus on the road to Emmaus related what Jesus had said to them, they began to remember all the Scriptures that had foretold Jesus’ life, death and resurrection.

We don’t have the strips of cloth that Peter and John saw. We don’t need to know if the shroud of Turin is authentic or not. We don’t need physical evidence of the resurrection. We have the words of Scripture inspired by the Holy Spirit. Through these words we are convinced that Jesus rose. Because he did, we have the wonderful peace of knowing that all our sins have been forgiven. We have the wonderful, certain hope that we too will rise to live with God forever.