MATTHEW 28:1-10 [Read passage]
All around the world this morning, Christians are proclaiming one message, and that message is; “HE HAS RISEN!”
We have been raised in our world to believe that if something sounds too good to be true, then it probably is. Most of us have been taken in by “empty promises” and we ended up being suspicious of anyone who tells us we can get something for nothing. After all, we know that there is nothing free in this world, right?
The truth of the matter is the world is full of empty promises. We watch TV, and all the commercials tell us we can be happy, or rich, or famous, or good looking if we will only purchase whatever it is they are trying to sell. It never ceases to amaze me at how many people actually send in good money to people they have never met, just because they promised you something in return.
God is the complete opposite of this world, isn’t He? The world says we can pretty much do whatever we want to do, but God says we should only do that which He wants us to. The world gives us promises that are full of emptiness, but on Easter, God gave us emptiness that is full of promise.
This morning is Easter Sunday. I would like to take this opportunity to talk about the three promises of Easter. Each promise is marked by emptiness: An empty cross; empty burial clothes; and an empty tomb.
It is the very fact of these being empty that gives us the absolute assurance that God’s promises are very real indeed. Our whole belief system is based upon the fact that Jesus arose from the tomb to defeat death and sin. If Jesus had not come out of that tomb, we would be like every other religion in the world – we would be following a dead leader.
There is the story of a Muslim who came to receive Christ, and when he went back to his friends and family, he found them very upset at him. They demanded to know why he did such a terrible thing.
He asked them, “If you needed to get to a town, but did not know the way, and you were walking down a road that split into two roads, and you found a man standing at the beginning of each road, one dead and the other alive, which one would ask directions from?”
Buddhism was founded by Buddha, but Buddha has died. Judaism was founded by Abraham, but Abraham has died, too. Islam was founded by Muhammad and he also died. But Christianity, the only religion to worship the one true God, was founded by Jesus, and He came back from the grave. And in so doing, He set us free from sin and eternal death, giving us the hope of glory in Heaven for eternity!
1. THE PROMISE OF THE EMPTY CROSS
In your mind’s eye, I want you to look at those three crosses on that hill. Focus in on the one in the middle. That is the one Jesus gave up His life on, for you and for me. Think about what Don told us about a few minutes ago of what they did to Jesus that Friday.
I am not trying to be morbid on this beautiful morning, but I think it is necessary for all of us to be intimately aware of just what Jesus went through for us. We will never appreciate exactly what He did unless we know exactly what He did.
It never ceases to amaze me how we can go to so much trouble thinking up things that could have happened instead of just being honest and accepting what actually did happen. There have been all kinds of stories made up over the centuries so somebody could keep from having to acknowledge the truth of Jesus.
Now, the Roman soldiers were very good at their jobs. They were masters of torture and death. It was their job to break the legs of those hung on the cross so they could not support themselves and they would hurry and suffocate.
Do not think for a moment that they did not have absolute knowledge that Jesus was very dead when they took Him from the cross. The soldiers knew it, the Romans knew it and so did the Jews.
These men were glad Jesus was dead, but when they found out He arose, they needed to keep it quiet from the rest of the people so they wouldn’t realize that Jesus was Christ. So, in MATTHEW 28, we see where they came up with a lie. A lie that covered up the truth about Jesus, and we have been listening to that lie in one form or another ever since.
They said that while the soldiers slept, the disciples came and stole the body. You know as well as I do that if the soldiers had been sleeping on watch, they would have been in big trouble. So, that tells us this story is a lie.
Also, common sense states that, with all the authorities wanting Jesus dead, they would have arrested everyone in the city who even had anything to do with stealing Jesus’ body.
What am I getting at? I want you to see that no matter what you may have heard in your life, there is proof that Jesus was dead on that cross. And, it was on that cross that Jesus actually defeated sin. The cross remains empty because that is where our sin disappeared, through Jesus Christ as our Savior.
Now, that is a word that isn’t too popular anymore - even in churches. It has since been replaced with kinder and gentler words. For instance, lying is no longer considered a sin; it is referred to as “spinning” a story. Ooh, nice one. Cheating on your income tax returns is no longer considered a sin. It is now referred to as finding previously unknown tax breaks. It may not be honest, but it is politically correct.
Did you know that you are a sinner? And so is the person sitting next to you. We are all sinners. And, that would seem to pose a problem to us, wouldn’t it? We have all sinned and we have all come short of the glory of God. According to God’s law, the wages of sin is death, and the soul that sins will surely die.
Because we are all sinners, we all deserve to die and be condemned to hell, don’t we? But we must remember that God does not want us to go there. So, because of the death of Jesus, He allowed His grace and forgiveness to let us be cleansed from sin so that we do not have to go there.
The Bible tells us there is no other name given under Heaven by which we can be saved. That name is Jesus, the Messiah. In short, because the cross is empty, we have the full promise of eternal glory with God.
Before that day, God could have opened up His books and seen every one of our names there, with the notation, “Guilty of Sin” next to it. But, since Jesus died for our sins, God looks at the notations beside our names and all He can see is His Son’s blood with the notation “Forgiven”.
2. THE PROMISE OF THE EMPTY TOMB
Let’s get back to the Ladies on Easter morning. On that first Easter morning, just before dawn, we find Mary Magdalene, Mary, the mother of James, and Salome, going to the tomb so they could anoint Jesus’ body with spices and oils. This was a solemn task and I can just imagine how the conversation must have been subdued and sullen.
On the way there, they were wondering who was going to roll the big heavy stone away from the tomb so they could get in. When they got to the turn in the path that opened up to the tomb entrance, they felt the earth shake.
Frightened, they continued toward the tomb. When they got to the front of it, they were shocked to see the Roman soldiers unconscious and the rock was already rolled away. As they cautiously entered the tomb, they saw a man dressed in white sitting there and, just like we would be in that situation, they became frightened. The young man told them that they were there to see Jesus, the One who was crucified. He said that Jesus was not there – that He had risen and the tomb was empty! Do we realize just how much promise that empty tomb gives us?
Many people think a woman’s place in the kingdom of God is a place of silence and passiveness. Is that what God wants or is that what man wants? Let me remind you that it was the women who God chose to be the first He told about the Resurrection. And after He told them, He told them to "Go and tell." I believe that God wants all of His children actively involved in His kingdom, and that includes His church, too.
Let me tell you about Phillip. Phillip was a young boy of 8 whose parents had just moved to town from a neighboring state. Phillip did not know anyone, and at that age, that can be devastating in itself. But Phillip had other problems, too. He was a special needs child who had many physical and mental handicaps.
His parents started going to the local church and enrolled Phillip in the Sunday school classes. Like most people that age, the other children in that class did not know how to react to Phillip, so they pretty much stayed to themselves and ignored him.
One Sunday, the teacher asked all the kids to bring something in the next week that would help explain something about how Jesus arose from the tomb. The next week came and one boy brought in some towels and said that shows how they wrapped Jesus when they buried Him.
One of the girls brought in a poem about how Jesus was hanged on the cross and died there. The teacher reminded the children that the show-and-tell was to focus on how Jesus arose from the tomb, not how He was buried, or how He died on the cross.
Phillip came up next and handed the teacher a L’eggs panty hose egg he got from his mother. The teacher opened it and there was nothing inside. At this, all the other kids started laughing at Phillip and a few even called him stupid. Phillip turned to the class and said he wasn’t stupid. That the empty egg showed perfectly well how Jesus arose and left the tomb empty – just as empty as the egg.
At that, the entire class fell silent. They realized that Phillip was the only one who seemed to have gotten it right. And, within a few weeks, most of them had befriended Phillip and he became happier than he had ever been in his short life.
But, several months later, his physical problems caught up with him and Phillip got very sick and died. At his funeral nine eight year-olds with their teacher brought their symbol of remembrance and placed it near his coffin. Their unusual gift of love to Phillip wasn’t flowers. It was an empty egg - now a symbol to them of new life and hope.
It was Phillip, the "different" child, who had helped his friends see the wonderful hope in the true message of the empty tomb.
For, in the knowledge of the empty tomb we find the truth of the resurrection of Jesus Christ and the promise to every one of us that we too will be raised to eternal life.
To those who know Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior, death has lost its sting – it is no longer something to be feared. What fear is there when we have the promise that, because of the empty tomb, we will live forever with out Lord in Heaven?
A boy and his father were riding in their car one summer day with the windows rolled down. A bee flew in and the boy, who was very allergic to the bee’s sting, panicked. The father reached out as the bee flew around the boy and caught the bee in his hand.
A few seconds later, the father released the bee and it again started flying around the panicked boy. The father told the boy there was no need to panic, as the father had taken the sting from the bee and he told his son the bee could no longer hurt him.
That story serves to remind me that God has taken the sting out of death for us, and He has given us something to replace it. He has given us the hope of eternal life in Heaven with Him.
Have you ever thought about just why the tomb was empty? It was empty because Jesus was alive. Remember what the angel told the women? He had risen! And the promise of that empty tomb is that we can also live after we die. We can live forever in Heaven, with God the Father, where we shall have the desire to worship Him with all of our love forever and ever.
But there is a third promise of emptiness on this Easter Day.
3. THE PROMISE OF THE EMPTY BURIAL CLOTHES
In LUKE 24, we see that when Peter was told about Jesus arising, He went to the tomb and there, he saw the strips of linen that Jesus had been buried in. This could have meant only one thing – Jesus was alive!
There are many theories about what really happened. One thing they all have in common is this: None of them explain why there are so many documented proofs of His being seen after the fact. They all seem to say He died, and they just kind of ignore the rest of the story.
But, it is in the rest of the story that we find our hope of glory. It is the rest of the story that wraps everything up and ties it all together the way it should be. It is the rest of the story that tells how Jesus was seen by over 500 people. How He walked with them; how He talked with them; and how He ate with them.
Can you imagine what the disciples felt when they saw Jesus again? Here was a man they worshipped. Here was a man they truly loved. And here was a man who was killed and buried, taking Him away from the disciples. How they must have hurt!
But, here He was again. Can you imagine the joy they felt? And the fact that He has risen should give all of us that same joy today. He has risen. He lives again. And it is the promise of the empty burial clothes that prove it.
It has been nearly 2000 years since Jesus was crucified, buried, and resurrected. That 1st Easter Sunday, as the women went to the grave, they had no idea what was about to happen to them. They were not yet aware of the wonderful promises of that day.
Off in the distance stood an empty cross. That emptiness was the promise of forgiveness that their sins would be forgiven. They turned from the cross and went towards the tomb, just to find it empty, too. And, in the emptiness of the tomb, they found the promise of eternal life. Inside the tomb were the empty burial clothes, and it was in the emptiness of the burial clothes that they found they could still have the promise of personal fellowship with the Lord Jesus.
And if you choose, you can know the hope found in the emptiness of so long ago. You can find the promises Jesus offers you through the empty cross, the empty tomb, and the empty burial clothes. It is your choice to make today.
A man once bought a sport coat at a large department store. Once he wore it a few times, he knew he didn’t like it, so he hung it in the back of his closet, and it stayed there for over two years.
Finally, his wife reminded him that the store had an unconditional return policy, so she talked him into taking it back. He felt very nervous as he went in to take them up on their promise. When he talked to the sales representative, the man quickly agreed and helped him find a coat that he really liked. All the man had to do was just go ask for it.
I think that shows what God does for us. We have these old lives that are no good to us because of sin. God offers us an unconditional promise that if we exchange the old one in, He will give us a new life. All we have to do is go ask Him for it.
This morning, we have heard about three promises that God has given to us. The first thing we must ask ourselves is if we think God is serous. I assure you that He is, indeed.
The second thing we must ask ourselves is if we do not do that today – just when do we think we will ask Him? Let me tell you that you have no idea what is going to happen to you on the way home from church today. You may not have any other chances, so why would you choose to put it off, knowing you would be the only loser?
The last thing we must ask is the most important question we will ever ask. We must ask God to please forgive us and let His beloved Son come into our hearts to change us. When He grants us that mercy and love, Jesus will begin a change in us that will absolute astound you and everyone else around you. Do you know Jesus Christ this morning? I didn’t ask you if you had heard about Him, I asked if you know Him. If you don’t, don’t you think you should?
He says; “Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me.”
I have talked about the emptiness found in Easter and the eternal promise that emptiness gives us. But there is something else that might be empty this morning, too. That is your heart. If you do not have Jesus as your Savior, your heart is as empty as His tomb was, but the difference is that the tomb held promise, and without Jesus, your heart has no promises.
This morning, I want you to stand, but not sing. I ask that you listen to the words that are going to be sung. I want you to listen to them and see if Jesus isn’t giving those words to you personally this morning. Do you feel Him knocking at your door this morning? If you do, just move out of your aisle and walk up here and I will go with you as you ask Jesus to come into your heart.