But very early on Sunday morning the women went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared. They found that the stone had been rolled away from the entrance. So they went in, but they didn’t find the body of the Lord Jesus. As they stood there puzzled, two men suddenly appeared to them, clothed in dazzling robes. The women were terrified and bowed with their faces to the ground. Then the men asked, “Why are you looking among the dead for someone who is alive? He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead! Remember what he told you back in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be betrayed into the hands of sinful men and be crucified, and that he would rise again on the third day.” Then they remembered that he had said this. So they rushed back from the tomb to tell his eleven disciples—and everyone else—what had happened. Luke 24.1-9 (NLT)
Part of our Easter season observance is Jesus’ passion. We go to Gethsemane, and sense the greatest crisis of the ages as Jesus bows in prayer to His heavenly Father.
Intense agony fills his prayer, and the physical drain and stress is such that great drops of blood trickle out of the pores of Jesus’ body.
We watch the traitor kiss our Lord, betraying the one hope Judas has for his own redemption.
We follow with Peter as Jesus is led to Pilate, then Caiaphas and back again. We shake our heads in disbelief at the sham of a trial, the injustice of scourging; who would not wince as soldiers strike Jesus’ face, spit on him, impale on that sacred head a crown of 8” thorns, wrap his naked body in a regal robe, spin him around and then bow before him in mock worship?
The ignorance of all the world is nakedly displayed as the crowd screams, “Crucify, crucify!”
The crowd follows as the soldiers place the log of a crossbeam upon the back of Jesus, and they proceed through the streets of Jerusalem.
Jesus stumbles under the weight, and a bystander, Simon, is compelled to carry the cross; the women weep as He passes by.
A third of a mile, just 650 yards to Golgotha, a skull-shaped hill, and the walk towards Jesus’ final moments is almost complete.
The beam is laid down on the ground, forming a cross with another, longer beam. Jesus is stretched-out, and the large spikes are driven through flesh, muscle and tendon, piercing blood vessels, and the heart of Jesus’ Father in heaven.
The torture is nearly complete as it takes several Roman soldiers to pick up the heavy cross bearing the bruised and bleeding, barely breathing, nearly unrecognizable Jesus, Son of God, Lamb who was slain from before the foundation of the world, and slide it into a prepared hole.
The soldiers take little care for a dying Jew. They hoist up the cross as if it is a garbage can being picked up on a Thursday afternoon in the inner city, cursing its weight, eager to let it fly into the hole.
As the bottom of the cross hits the bottom of the hole, the weight of Jesus’ body is thrust downward against the immovable station of nails.
His flesh tears again, sending waves of excruciating pain through a body well beyond its physical limits.
The pain momentarily subsides as adrenaline courses through Jesus’ nerves, muscle and body tissue. He becomes aware of the fact that there is no air in His lungs.
In agonizing pain the LORD lifts himself up, pushing with nail-pierced feet, and pulling with hands that have gaping holes from the nails pinning him to this cursed tree. He struggles for a few breaths, and sags back down into position.
He uses what little air is left to tell John to take care of Mary.
The events of the cross leave little doubt as to the outcome. Jesus will be with His Father soon.
Mocking and cursing rise from the crowd as Jesus utters the unbelievable, “Father, forgive them, they don’t understand at all.”
He is thirsty; they want to salt his tongue with vinegar.
He cries out in horror of the darkness that covers humanity; the crowd taunts, If you’re the son of God come down from there.
One thief mocks and ridicules, the other pleads; Jesus extends mercy and a promise of eternity in joy as the blood fills his lungs.
Jesus cries out, Father, MY GOD, have YOU forsaken me too?
Physically exhausted and emotionally alone, there is one last desperate sound, IT IS FINISHED! Teletestai, paid in full.
After a moment of deadly still, the earth begins to tremble, the sky darkens and the scene is transformed as the earthquake intensifies.
A soldier stands with his mouth dropped-open like a cartoon character who was sitting in a tree sawing off the very branch upon which he is supported. He wears the unmistakable look of one who has just done something that will begin his own downfall.
The soldier stammers out what others are feeling in the pit of their stomachs, Surely this was the Son of God!
And then just as quickly as it started, everything is quiet; not even the sound of a bird or a cricket; Jesus is dead…stone, cold dead; he is a corpse.
The soldiers have seen enough crucifixions; they don’t have to break this one’s legs to see if he’s faking.
They are soldiers; killing is their business.
Joseph of Arimithea begs for the body. It is laid in a new tomb cut in the rock. For rich man or poor, it is still a tomb – spiders, dark, airless, just a one-way door.
That was Friday!
In the early hours the women come to enter the tomb and properly embalm the corpse.
As they walk along they wonder who is going to move the stone away from the entry so they can do what they’ve come for. Their question is answered in a way they never entertained.
The stone is already gone; have the grave robbers already come?
As they debate about the location of the corpse, two men suddenly are standing before them. Terrified, the women assume these strangers must have something to do with stealing their Master’s body.
Speech comes, but the women are staring at their feet.
Why do you seek the living here, a place for corpses? Don’t you remember what Jesus told you back in Galilee? He isn’t here, He is risen!
The women ran back and told the disciples.
Peter and John did what I would probably have done, what you probably would have done – they went back to the tomb to see for themselves.
Had I been Jesus, I think I’d have grabbed Peter by the scruff of the neck and said, Why, big fisherman; what part of seeking the living among the dead did you not understand?
Peter and John didn’t understand; we probably wouldn’t have either.
Most of us live there.
We seek for happiness in a job, new marriage, better house or new situation; nothing but empty tombs.
We think when we get the house paid off, the kids married off, and the day job finished off, life will be easier; empty tombs!
It is good to remember the cross; it’s important. However, sometimes I think we spend too much time there. The cross was where our pardon was purchased. In Monopoly terms, it is our Get Out of Jail Free card.
But if you just stand there once you’ve been set free, it won’t make much difference in the long run. There’s more than an empty tomb!
I’ve watched movies of people set free from prison – they take a long pause when they walk out the gate, wondering what in the world they’ll do now.
Some don’t make it. They return quickly and often.
In the movie Shawshank Redemption, James Whitmore plays an elderly convict who gets released after more than 50 years in prison. He paused much too long at the gate. He couldn’t make it on the outside; even tried to stick up a store to get sent back.
In the end he committed suicide because he couldn’t handle the freedom. Judas couldn’t handle the cross either, and he made the same choice.
The cross purchased our freedom, gave us a clean slate.
It is the empty tomb on Easter morning where we pick up our marching orders past the prison gate. The angel said, He IS risen; present tense!
I don’t wear much jewelry; I’ve never cared much for it. However, there is one piece I’ll wear if I can ever find one; I want to get a pin for my lapel that shows an empty tomb – one where the stone has been rolled away.
I want to be reminded by a tomb without a corpse and the empty crosses other people wear that my Jesus lives!
And He has said that because He lives, I can live too!
What we celebrate today is not just about the solemn moments of Holy Thursday, and the long faces of Good Friday; it’s about resurrection and life abundant!
Our faith in Jesus Christ is all about living life to its fullest, joy unspeakable and full of glory.
So, when you come to the cross now, let’s sing “I Serve a RISEN Savior!”
And when you bring your flower to put on this cross, you are helping to remind our community – everyone who drives past and sees a big old cross with blossoms all over it, that the cross can put a body to death.
But the cross which now blooms says for all the world to know that the tomb is empty.
Life has won, and we are not about seeking life among the dead…we serve a Savior who LIVES!
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen!