April 24, 2011 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA
“But the angel said to the women, ‘Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for He has risen, as He said. Come, see the place where He lay. Then go quickly and tell His disciples that He has risen from the dead, and behold, He is going before you to Galilee; there you will see Him. See, I have told you.’”
The women went to Jesus’ tomb early. Just as the rays of sunrise shone over the Palestinian landscape, these two women traveled the sorrowful road to where their loved one, Jesus, was laid: “Now after the Sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb.” They walked the same path that their ancestors had done before. Generation after generation had seen the tombs of their dead relatives: grandparents, parents, even children. These women knew what to expect, what they were going to behold. Visiting a tomb was a sorrowful, yet ordinary, part of their lives.
But this time, the tomb visit is quite different. Strange events had taken place at Jesus’ tomb: “And behold, there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow.” This is no ordinary grave visitor! The angel’s appearance caused great fright, even among hardened soldiers: “And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men.” And now the angel’s gaze was focused on the women who came to grieve and mourn Jesus’ death.
But what does the angel say? “The angel said to the women, ‘Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified.’” The angel knows why the women are there. Their motive is not kept secret. They are present to mourn the dead, “Jesus who was crucified.” The angel is not present to do them any harm. The women are not to fear because they are connected to Jesus. They are His followers. No, they are covered by the blood of the slain Paschal Lamb that makes them people of God: “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified.”
Yet, the angel has a message for the women: “He is not here, for He has risen, as He said.” They had come to visit the tomb of the crucified Jesus, but the tomb is empty: “Come, see the place where He lay.” Nothing is in the tomb. There is no body to see, no rotting corpse. Jesus is risen, just as He said and the Scriptures had prophesied: “You will not abandon My soul to Sheol, or let Your Holy One see corruption.” Only three stone walls and an empty slab can be seen by Mary Magdalene and the other Mary. And with that mourning is turned into gladness and joy: “So they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to tell His disciples.”
But the joy that these women had was not to be theirs alone. No, the angel had given instructions to them: “Come, see the place where He lay. Then go quickly and tell His disciples that He has risen from the dead, and behold, He is going before you to Galilee; there you will see Him.” Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were to repeat what they had heard and seen. They had a witness to bear, a witness that was enhanced by seeing the Risen Redeemer with their own eyes: “And behold, Jesus met them and said, ‘Greetings!’ And they came up and took hold of His feet and worshiped Him. Then Jesus said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; go and tell My brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see Me.’” Jesus’ disciples and Jesus’ brothers were to see Him alive again. They were not to go to visit the tomb of their loved one, for it was empty!
That testimony is what the nations have been given to receive. Jesus lives, and His disciples are to know that. Jesus lives, and others are to hear that, so they may believe and receive life for themselves. It is the testimony that the chief disciple Peter gives: “And we are witnesses of all that He did both in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They put Him to death by hanging Him on a tree, but God raised Him on the third day and made Him to appear, not to all the people but to us who had been chosen by God as witnesses, who ate and drank with Him after He rose from the dead.” Peter and the others would see the Risen Jesus, even up in Galilee as He said. And because of that, they learn His full identity and accomplishments: “And He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that He is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead. To Him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins through His name.”
The testimony of Peter and the disciples shows to you what Jesus truly means. It explains what took place in ancient Palestine: the Promised Savior appeared and fulfilled what was foretold about Him. With Jesus, the fate of mankind is changed. Sinful humanity is eternally cursed to die. But this time, a Man without sin dies and Himself comes out of the tomb. Death is not the end for Him. Because of His actions, death is not the end for all men. Instead, the forgiveness of sins that is received through Jesus’ name lifts the eternal nature of that curse. Those who are forgiven now have a new destiny: life beyond the grave. Their relatives will go to visit their tombs, but not only in mourning. Now there is hope, faith in what awaits: the time when there will be nothing to see in their loved ones’ tombs.
This is what Jesus has achieved for you. The witness of Peter and the disciples brings that to your knowledge. So you can say about the Lord: “You make known to me the path of life; in Your presence there is fullness of joy; at Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” The path of life has been shown to you. It is found in the way of discipleship that Jesus has established for you. That way includes dying with Him, which you already have. That way includes rising with Him, which you already have. That is what happens to you and all who are made Jesus’ disciples by being baptized into Him: your souls die and rise with Jesus, so that your bodies may die and rise with Jesus also. That is why another witness of Jesus, the apostle Paul writes: “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.”
Christ is arisen and you have been raised with Him! That is the great message of this day. Without an empty tomb, there is no such joy. No, then your fate would be like this: Since you have a dead Lord, you will end up in the same place where He is; you will die and lay in a tomb for all the time that this world has. Your relatives can visit your grave, as long as your name happens to remain in their memory. That’s it. That’s all there is. But this fate is changed with the resurrection of our Lord. The angel’s declaration makes that known: “He is not here, for He has risen, as He said. Come, see the place where He lay.” See the empty tomb. Believe the prophecies that were made about Him. Believe the words that He has spoken about Himself. But also believe the promises that He has spoken about you.
Your Lord is risen and goes before you. Jesus has gone to death before you. He has gone to the grave before you. He has gone to resurrection before you. He has ascended to heaven before you. But Jesus also promises that You will see Him with your own eyes. Like Mary Magdalene and the other Mary, you also will take hold of Jesus’ feet and worship Him. Like Peter and the other disciples, you will eat and drink with Jesus. It is given in part now: you have the opportunity to praise Jesus today; you will dine at His meal this morning. But the greater part awaits you: “When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory.” For you will travel the same path as Jesus—death, resurrection, and ascension to everlasting glory. And then you may see Him with your own eyes. You will become eyewitnesses of Jesus.
But until that time, you are called to receive, believe, and repeat the witness of those who did see: Jesus who was crucified is not in His grave, for He has risen, as He said. His disciples and brothers have seen Him. Risen from the grave, Jesus is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead. But there is the great promise: “To Him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins through His name.” That crucified and risen Jesus is the source of salvation for you and for all who hear the witness about Him. Receiving the testimony of Mary Magdalene, the other Mary, Peter, the Twelve, Jesus’ brothers, and those whom they sent, eternal life is yours. Repeating that witness, eternal life can be given to others.
So hear again the witness, so that you may believe and repeat it: “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for He has risen, as He said.” He is not in the tomb, for He has risen, just as He said. So you also will not remain in your tombs, for you will rise with Jesus and enter through the gates to everlasting life, just as He said. And so you believe, just as it is said: “For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory.”
T In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.