Rev. Jacob Sutton, Pastor
+ In the Name of Jesus +
Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!
Christ Jesus did indeed lay in death’s strong bands. He was the paschal lamb sacrificed for our offenses on the cross. Many witnessed His innocent suffering and death. Mary, His mother, the Apostle John, Mary Magdalene, and others watched Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus take His body off the tree, removing the spikes that held His hands and feet onto the bare wood. They removed the crown of thorns, and lovingly wrapped Jesus’ body in a linen shroud.
Then the men took His body no more than a hundred yards or so to a new rock hewn tomb. These men had faith in who Jesus was – He was no common criminal. His body would not go into the city dump, into the field of blood, where the two thieves and where Judas’ body and so much other blood which was shed in the battle with sin had been dumped anonymously. By the act of love and courage of these men, God buried His holy seed in the ground, hallowing the graves of all who believe in Him and die in that faith. This is why Christians typically over the last two millennia have buried their dead, because the Lord was buried.
They laid Him in the rock tomb, and since the Sabbath was coming they delayed all the usual anointing with spices. Jesus was left cold and wrapped on the rock slab, and the heavy stone was rolled over the entrance. Later that evening the Chief Priests would even put a seal on the stone and set a guard to prevent anyone from stealing the body.
Now, if Jesus remained dead on the place where they laid Him on Good Friday, if Christ had not been raised, we could not claim at all that Jesus’ sacrificial death had been accepted by the Heavenly Father, we could not claim that the Father accounts us not guilty for Jesus’ sake, we could not claim that Jesus’ death truly atoned for our sin and our guilt. Every Christian preacher would have preached a sham for two thousand years, and worse, we would still be dead in our sins –
No son of man could conquer death, such ruin sin had wrought us.
No innocence was found on earth, and therefore death had brought us
Into bondage from of old and ever grew more strong and bold
And held us as its captive. (LSB 458; stanza 2, public domain)
Many of you who have faced crosses and trials, up to and including the death of loved ones. Time and again Christians say to me how they do not understand how anyone can possibly handle the difficult events in life and in death and dying without faith in Christ. So many tell me and show me just how comforted they are by the Gospel in the midst of their suffering, how by God’s grace they can handle adversity with hope and confidence even amidst their sadness and grief, even amidst their ongoing pain, hardship, adversity, and anxiety of every kind. For Christians do not grieve or suffer as people who have no hope. We have a divine, heavenly guide and friend, one with us in our sufferings, one with us in our human experience, who died our death, and rose up from it, conquering the grave and all that leads to it.
The two Mary’s and Salome, heading to the tomb as the sun is rising, seem to have not yet had this hope we speak of. They were going to at least anoint the body of Jesus, there had not been time before the Sabbath began the evening of Good Friday. Amidst their grief and sadness they would do their duty out of love for God and neighbor, and they wonder among themselves who will roll that heavy stone away for them. They anticipate entering a tomb, a world where death reigns, where the body of Jesus lies cold and dark and still.
Think of the people today who have no faith in Christ, who approach every tomb with no comfort and no hope in anything beyond themselves and what they see, feel, and experience in this life. Think of the people we see who grieve and mourn so uncontrollably over death as if this life is all there is. Maybe you’ve been there once, or been tempted to be there.
Think of how many people today live life and fear death as if there is no hope of an eternal tomorrow for them! Think of all who live for themselves, who never for a moment think that God would serve them in humility and even in death, and so would never think of sacrificing their own desires and wants for the sake of others. Think of all of those who live and die and have pushed away the Gospel. Maybe you’ve been there once, or have been tempted to be there.
Those who live without faith in Christ crucified and risen would be right, there is no hope for paradise, no comfort that death is not an end, no true friend in life or in death, no one to shepherd us through the valley of the shadow of death, if Jesus remained dead on the place where they laid Him on Good Friday, if that tomb remained only a realm ruled by death.
Now, I invite you to think of all the people in history who have lived and died in the Christian faith. Think of all the prophets and evangelists and apostles, so many of whom died a martyr’s death for this Christian faith. Think of the confession of Job in the midst of his great suffering – “I know that my redeemer lives, and at the last He will stand upon the earth.” Think of all the Christians who have died knowing that Christ has risen, and will bring them through the valley of the shadow of death to be with Him in newness of life.
But think of the lie they all would be living and confessing and dying for if Jesus remained dead on the place where they laid Him on Good Friday! Would any person die for something they knew was a lie, a fabrication? Would thousands, even millions, of martyrs die, even many who to this day are giving their lives all over this world as a witness to the Gospel, rather than deny and fall away from Christ? Would countless Christians have confessed Jesus as Lord, would they have confessed their Baptismal faith in Christ with such devotion, intensity, confidence - if Jesus remained dead on the place where they laid Him on Good Friday? No! Of course not. We would not sit here today if it were all for a lie.
…Christ is Himself the joy of all, the sun that warms and lights us.
Now His grace to us imparts eternal sunshine in our hearts;
The night of sin is ended. Alleluia! (LSB #458; stanza 6, public domain)
When the women arrived at the tomb, they found heaven at work. The stone has been rolled away by God. There was a young man in the tomb, a heavenly messenger, come from God’s right hand to the right side of that empty tomb, dressed in the white robe of the Baptized saints, who preached an amazing and comforting word to the astonished women. “Do not be alarmed – Jesus you are seeking, the Nazarene, the one who has been crucified – He has been raised, He is not here. Behold the place where they laid Him!” (St. Mark 16.6, my translation)
The one who has been and remains evermore the Crucified One because He died for the sins of all people, a ransom for the many, for every nation: Yet He has been raised. He is not there. The place where they laid Him is empty. Death could have no hold upon the innocent God-Man who paid the debt owed for sin. His tomb was not ruled by death, but instead had been broken into by heaven itself, where the new creation in Christ burst forth, where the new day of light and life dawned, and the portal to the kingdom of heaven stood open to all believers.
That same place where the angel spoke, the Lord’s empty grace, you can go and behold it for yourselves! Travel to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem – and if not a trip, I think you can go there online. People have been looking there for two millennia. There is no body, no dead, dry bones, there or anywhere else. Our Redeemer lives, and is ascended up into heaven body and soul, and at the last, He will stand again upon the earth.
This crucified and risen Jesus does not now hide Himself in heaven, but He comes and brings us His resurrection life from heaven. This place where we lay in this life, and in our temporal death, is also not ruled by the forces of Satan and death. It is ruled by the living Word of the living Jesus Christ, who sends His ministers to speak His absolution over you, to Baptize you and join you to His death and resurrection, to teach you all things from His Word for your comfort and joy, to feed You His resurrected body and blood for the forgiveness of sins.
Here, heaven breaks in on earth does its work, and the message is clearly proclaimed: Jesus Christ is the Resurrection and the Life. In Him, we shall never die. He is the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep, and with Him, we shall awaken to eternal life. In our own flesh we shall see God, who we shall see for ourselves. Our own eyes shall behold Him at the Last Day, and not another. Until then, we live in repentance and faith, and die with confidence and trust in His Word, for it cannot be broken.
Jesus, the Crucified one, has been raised. He is not there in the tomb! Behold the place where they laid Him! It is empty! And at the Last Day, joined to Him and forgiven on His account by grace, through faith, so will the place where they lay you be empty, for you will ascend with Him, body and soul, into eternal life. Thanks be to God!
Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit +