This sermon was written for the saints at Emmanuel Lutheran Church in Las Cruces, New Mexico, to be preached on Easter Sunday, 2012.
Mark 16:1-8 + Psalm 16 + Job 19:23-27 + 1 Corinthians 5:6-8
Brothers and sisters, fellow believers in Christ Jesus: Christ is risen! He is risen indeed. Alleluia! Jesus lives!
He really does, you know. He lives – not in our hearts, not in our dreams or in our imagination. The real Son of God, with his real flesh and blood, born of the virgin Mary, who truly suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried has really come back to life, stepped out of his tomb, and appeared to his disciples, who were all very surprised and overjoyed to see him alive again.
It really shouldn’t have surprised them quite as much as it did. He told his disciples how he would be killed and rise on the third day, which was the very same thing that was prophesied about the Christ in the words of King David in Psalm 16 a thousand years before, “I have set the LORD always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices; my flesh also dwells secure. For you will not abandon my soul to the grave, or let your holy one see corruption.”
As the apostles pointed out to the Jewish crowds later on, King David, who wrote those words of the Psalm, most certainly died and most certainly decayed in his grave. But the Holy One about whom he was writing, the Son, the offspring of David, the Christ – he was not abandoned to the grave or left in the tomb. He was raised from the dead.
That’s what the angel announced to the faithful women who went to the tomb that first Easter morning to finish taking care of Jesus’ body, which, they assumed, was already beginning to be corrupted by decay.
How wrong they were! Instead of the big stone blocking the entrance to the tomb, they saw it rolled away and an angel waiting there to give them the good news. Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him.
Wouldn’t you like to have seen it, too? The place where they laid him? The stone rolled away, the empty tomb, the folded linens, the angel sitting where Jesus had been? Or what if you had seen the empty tomb? Then what? Then you would have been just as alarmed, just as terrified as those women were. Because an empty tomb, all by itself, isn’t good news.
The fact that Jesus’ tomb was empty, the fact that the offspring of David, Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ, rose from the dead is neither good news nor bad news. It just is. It’s a fact. It happened. But what does it mean? Is it a fact that saves or is it a fact that damns? The only way to know what it means is to hear what God reveals about it in the preaching of the gospel.
And what does God reveal in the gospel about the offspring of David, Jesus Christ, risen from the dead?
In the words of Psalm 2, Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and you perish in the way, for his wrath is quickly kindled. Blessed are all who take refuge in him. So those who take refuge in the risen Son of God are blessed! But those who do not seek refuge in him will perish.
According to the gospel, then, the empty tomb of Jesus means that his enemies and all who hate him had better be very afraid. The resurrection of Jesus is terrible news for the devil and his demons. It’s terrible news for the one who wants to get to heaven by serving some other god, or by offering God his own merits. It’s also terrible news for all who refuse to repent of their sins. Because if Jesus is dead, then you get to decide what’s right and wrong for your life, and then when you’re dead, you’re dead. That’s it. But if Jesus is alive, then there will also be a resurrection of all the dead and a Judgment Day for all. So for the impenitent and unbelieving, the empty tomb of Jesus is cause for fear.
But for those who want a sure refuge from God’s wrath, for those who want to be reconciled to God, for those who want Jesus for a Savior, the gospel reveals this truth: that Jesus was delivered up for our sins and raised to life for our justification. His death was sufficient payment for all sin, for every sin, for the worst sinner, for his most bitter enemy; and his resurrection means that all who hope in him, all who trust in him, all who look to him for forgiveness of their sins are absolved before God’s courtroom in heaven. The empty tomb means the justification of all who believe in the risen One.
And with justification comes every gift and benefit of Christ: the adoption as God’s children, the full acceptance into eternal life, the daily forgiveness of sins in this Christian Church, and the promise of your own empty tomb when Jesus returns, for judgment against all who refused to repent, and with salvation for his believing people.
No, Jesus’ empty tomb all by itself is still a scary thing, and those faithful women who visited Jesus’ tomb on Easter Sunday remained afraid until, later that day, they saw Jesus for themselves and, more importantly, heard his gospel, his word of peace. Then they rejoiced with a joy that even the bitterest persecution couldn’t take away.
You have to see Jesus for yourself, too. But not with your eyes. Blessed are they who have not seen and yet have believed, Jesus said. Believed what? Believed in the empty tomb? No. Believed in God’s promise of forgiveness in Christ. Believed in his Gospel. Believed in the word of God the Father who emptied Jesus’ tomb by raising his Son from the dead. This word from God that he has commissioned me to preach to you today is better than seeing a thousand empty tombs. Because here in the Word you don’t see the place where Jesus isn’t. You actually get to see Jesus. Because here in the Word of God, here in Sacrament of Jesus, the risen Lord Jesus comes to you today with a message intended for you: “I was delivered up for your sins and raised to life for your justification. Repent and believe in the good news that He who believes in me will live, even though he dies. And whoever lives and believes in me will never die.”
All week long in our Holy Week services, I’ve been giving you certain things to remember above all else. Today it’s very simple. Today I tell you, as I told our confirmand last Sunday, in the words of the Apostle Paul to Timothy, Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel.
Let his enemies remember and repent! Let his people remember and rejoice! Amen.