What They Really Found in the Empty Tomb
John 20:1-18 April 4, 2010
In April 1986, Geraldo Rivera captivated the imagination of a generation when he discovered a hidden vault in an underground basement of a building in Chicago. He claimed it held a fortune that once belonged to the infamous Al Capone. The promo for his special two hour session went like this: It may be Chicago’s equivalent to King Tut’s tomb. It belongs to the king of a criminal empire. It’s a mystery. What secrets lie within Al Capone’s Vault? Find out when we open it on live television…
Now long before television, an even greater mystery was unveiled on a morning just like this one. Two women made their way to a tomb in the side of a mountain. It was dark as they arose that Sunday morning... The two got up and put on their garments grabbed their spices and headed out on the dirt road that lead out of the city. As they headed out on the road and as the sun began to rise the path was lined with many dark shadows... but no shadow or darkness could compare with the darkness that hovered over their soul.
As they walked up the path towards the tomb... thoughts and sights of the last week -- ripped through their minds like violent tornados.. They had been there when Jesus rode in on the colt before thousands shouting his praises, what an incredible moment that was. But unfortunately their minds and the events of last week didn’t stop there.
Try as they might they couldn’t stop those other thoughts, those terrible scenes from playing out again and again in their minds. They saw Jesus tied to a post a Roman scourge filled with broken pieces of pottery, glass and bones ripping across His back. As they recalled the purple robe -- the beatings, the cruel mocking and the crown of thorns, the tears began to flow again.
They had seen it all -- they had seen Jesus, their teacher, their friend, their Lord they had witnessed everything that Jesus went through... And these 2 women, these two Mary’s (Mary of Magdala and Mary the mother of James) were there at the cross... They saw Jesus hanging there on that rough cross of wood... they saw His body struggle and wince with pain with every breathe that he took... They were there when Jesus cried out, "ELOI, ELOI, LAMA SABACHTHANI -- MY GOD MY GOD WHY HAS THOUGH FORSAKEN ME" -- and they saw his head fall as he cried, "IT IS FINISHED."
They where there when Jesus died, and when he died they died too. O’ they were still alive physically but their hopes and joy died on that cross with Jesus, on that dark Friday nearly 2,000 years ago.. Their Lord was dead... And their hope was gone.
So what were they doing up so early on this Sunday morning? Why weren’t they lying in bed wallowing in their misery? What was it that drove them from their beds before dawn, and put them on this dark uphill climb?
The thing that drove them, was their love for and devotion to Jesus -- someone had to prepare the body for burial and no one else had volunteered; Peter didn’t, James didn’t, neither did John -- So it was up to these 2 faithful followers, 2 women who had never left the side of Jesus, who were with Him until the end -- it was up to them to do it, and they did..
The task they were going to perform was a somber task, a difficult task... They would be the ones, who would wipe the blood from the brow, from the legs, from the sides, They would be the ones, to clean the blood from the body of Jesus... they would be the ones, to remove the blood that had matted in his beard, They would be the last ones, to touch his face and close His eyes. I don’t know what they thought they would find that morning, but when they got there, they found something they never expected. So what did they find?
Geraldo was disappointed but the women and disciples weren’t. Inside that empty tomb they found forgiveness. The truth is that all who look into the tomb can find it. Isaiah says that “He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.”
Today, and for the next four weeks we are going to talk about this great discovery. We are going to talk about what this means in our own personal life as we deal with our own disappointments. We are going to talk about what it means in our relationships with our friends, our family and even those who have hurt us. We are going to talk about what it means as a people of God who are living in the world. So I hope you will join us as we look at this in more depth in the coming weeks.
But getting back to today, it’s Easter. In all the hype, in all the fun, in all the stories about Easter, the one thing that you and I need to know is that the empty tomb confirms everything that Jesus said. He was the Lamb of God who came to take away the sins of the world. He came to reconcile us to God. His resurrection meant that God had accepted his offering and that our sins were forgiven forever. The good news is that our past no longer controls our future.
A group of six-year-old kids were asked what each wanted to become when they grew up "President," "a fireman," "a teacher." One by one they answered until it became Billy’s time. The teacher asked, "Billy, what do you want to be when you grow up?" "Possible," Billy responded. "Possible?" asked the teacher. "Yes," Billy said, "my mom is always telling me I’m impossible. When I grow up I want to become POSSIBLE."
We are a possibility now. We are now free to start over. Nothing can stop us from becoming children of God. The apostle Paul writes “God made you alive with Christ. He forgave all our sins.” Col. 2:13 The best illustration of this can be found in a story Jesus told. Some call it “the Lost Son” but most of us know it as the story of “the Prodigal Son.” Basically it is about a man who has two sons and one of them decides to go his own way. He takes his inheritance and fritters it away on loose living and selfish pleasures. Before long he has nothing left and his life is in shambles. The text then says that “he came to himself” and he began to think about returning home. He was embarrassed and ashamed but he hoped that if he humbled himself and came back on his knees, that just maybe his father would have mercy on him and give him a servant’s job. Amazingly enough, the Father, when he heard that his son, who was lost, was coming home, he set out a feast to celebrate his return.
Jesus shared this story with people who were hungry for God’s acceptance. They were lost. They were cast offs of society. In it was a word of hope that they too might one day find forgiveness and acceptance by God.
Imagine what this story said to them. It said that even though they had lived a sinful life, one that offended God, one that was steeped in every kind of selfish pleasure, greed, sexual immorality, gluttony, hatred, resentment, pride, idolatry, and even unbelief… they could still come home. All they had to do was humble themselves and ask God for forgiveness. It seems easy but it still scary.
Here’s the truth. The journey back to God is not a long one. All we have to do is take the first steps. The empty tomb tells us that God is waiting to receive us with open arms. Sometimes we think we have to be perfect, but we don’t. We don’t have to get rid of all the sin in our life first. We don’t have to overcome all of our addictions. We don’t have to have some supernatural revelation from God. We don’t even have to have a warm fuzzy feeling inside to come back home. All We have to do is take the one step and ask Him for forgiveness, a gift he’s already given us in the risen Christ. One step. And if We take that one step toward God, the Bible says, that God will cover the rest of the distance.
You see, Easter is not about us overcoming our sin so that we can be with God. Easter is about God overcoming it so that He can be with us. At the time of Jesus’ death, the Jews worshiped in the Temple and at the very center of the Temple was a place called the Holy of Holies. This is where it was believed that God’s presence dwelt most intensely. And the Holy of Holies was separated by a thick, big curtain. And nobody could enter the Holy of Holies, except for one priest, one time a year. This priest had to be completely pure and had to go through all of these rituals before he was worthy to enter there. These curtains served as a separation between God and people. It separated us from God. And when Jesus died on the cross, that curtain was ripped in two. It symbolized that everyone now has access to God, because of Easter. It was God reaching out to us.
Here’s the point of Easter. God was reaching out for you and me. The empty tomb is like a big bill board that says, “Come home. I forgive you!” He was saying he loves us and wants to restore our relationship to what it was meant to be. If anyone ever needed a dose of hope, if anyone ever needed to know that what Jesus said was true, it was a distraught, guilt ridden, sun weary fisherman named Peter....
Peter was standing with John when the Marys came running into town... And when they came in screaming, crying and laughing, when Peter and John saw them in this frenzied state they ran to them... And they said “the tomb is empty! Jesus isn’t in the tomb!"
And at that moment Peter and John headed to the tomb at warp speed. Peter was running as fast as he could, his heart pounding and his powerful legs were pumping his feet up and down the winding paths of the dusty roads leading to the tomb.... Suddenly Peter began to think to himself --
"WHY AM I SO HAPPY, I DENIED HIM, I TALKED SO BIG AND TOUGH, BUT WHEN IT CAME TIME TO TAKE A STAND, I FELL... MAYBE JESUS DOESN’T WANT TO SEE ME, I HAVE NO RIGHT TO TAKE PART IN THIS CELEBRATION... PETER THE ROCK, YEAH FAT CHANCE.."
His thoughts had slowed him down but once he made it to the tomb, without hesitation went in, he had to go in, he had to see for himself. And when Peter walked inside, he saw the strips of linen and the burial clothes, that had been around Jesus’ head folded laying on the stone slab. And he found the forgiveness he so badly needed.
Peter’s heart was racing and tears of joy were flowing, "HE’S ALIVE! JESUS IS ALIVE!!!"
And somewhere, but we don’t know where, maybe on the shoreline overlooking the Jordan, Peter felt a hand on his shoulder-- and he looked at the hand and he saw that it had been pierced.... His heart stopped beating and as he turned to fall to his feet, He heard the voice of the one he loved more than life itself say , "PETER" Jesus his hand on Peter’s shoulder saying "IT’S ALL RIGHT PETER, IT’S ALRIGHT, I KNOW, I KNOW, IT’S ALRIGHT NOW, I FORGIVE YOU PETER, PETER I FORGIVE YOU.."
The empty tomb means there is forgiveness....
The empty tomb means that our sins can be washed away......
The empty tomb means that Jesus has won the battle over death, sin and the grave..... that is what the gospel is… the good news of the forgiveness of sin....
The lamb of God has come -
"He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities, the punishment that brought us peace was upon him and by his wounds we are healed.." Is 53:5
Glory be to God! God loves has claimed the victory. He arose!
As you leave this morning I want to give you two things. The first is a little booklet by the people who publish the daily bread. It is called “The Forgiveness of God.” If you want to read more about this wonderful gift of God and how it affects your life and mine, I hope you’ll take a copy as you leave. I’ll have some on the table by the door.
Second, I have some stones. I want you to take one with you as a reminder that the stone has been rolled away. Now there is nothing separating you from the love of God and his forgiveness. He arose, not to show his power… but that he might walk with you and me forever more.
Now let’s sing.