Resurrection Sunday Message
The Empty Tomb and Forgiveness of Sins
Today is resurrection Sunday. It’s the day set apart by God throughout the universe to declare His righteousness and His grace and His love. It’s on that first resurrection Sunday that God brought to fulfillment His promise for complete forgiveness to all who want forgiveness; Forgiveness to all who are willing do the hard thing – obey Jesus Christ. Forgiveness regardless of the depth and the depravity of their sin, or how often they committed those sins.
Complete forgiveness. Total forgiveness.
The birth of Jesus changed the calendar from BC to AD – from history before Christ to history Anno Domini – in the year of our Lord. When we pay our bills tomorrow the payment will be recorded in the year 2023 – meaning we are 2,023 years into history since the birth of the Messiah. It doesn’t matter what is your religion or even if you are an atheist – your paid bills will be recorded according to the change in the calendar 2,000 years ago.
But while the birth of Jesus changed the calendar, the crucifixion and subsequent resurrection of the Messiah change our eternal destiny – changed it for all who want it changed. Instead of being doomed to an eternal torment for our sins, God made a way for anyone to spend an eternity with Him around His throne. He made that way through our Messiah who said of Himself, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” John 14:6
You might remember these words of this old hymn: “He was nailed to the cross for me. He was nailed to the cross for me. On the cross crucified, for me He died, He was nailed to the cross for me.”
Nailed for me. And nailed for you. Why? Scripture tells us the wages of sin is death – not just physical death, but eternal death in the place called the Lake of Fire. St. Paul tells us “The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Jesus the sinless, spotless, pure, holy Son of God was nailed to that cross and became as the New Testament writers called it “our propitiatory sacrifice.” He was our substitutionary sacrifice on that Cross. And when He cried out, “It is Finished” – God accepted that sacrifice in your place and in mine.
How do we know that is true? It’s all because of the empty tomb on that first Resurrection Sunday. It’s a part of history. Undeniable history – undeniable for those who are willing to honestly investigate the matter.
I don’t like to refer to this day as Easter Sunday. In earlier generations people understood Easter referred to the literal, physical resurrection of Jesus the Messiah, which settled forever God’s promise to those who receive Christ by faith and obey Him. That resurrection sealed the promise to every penitent that his or her sins were forgiven.
But anymore for so many people, the culture has changed so dramatically that the reason behind this season has long ago gotten lost in totally irrelevant things like pretty dresses, white lilies, and chocolate bunnies. Lost is the majesty of that momentous miracle – the miracle that saved our eternal souls. The miracle that crushed death. Listen to God’s promise to those – and only to those – who have fallen to their knees in faith and repentance and obedience to the Lordship of Jesus the Messiah:
“Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law; but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 15:54-57)
The Lord Jesus said some remarkable things during His three years of earthly ministry – things like He said to Martha and Mary as they stood outside the tomb of their beloved brother, Lazarus. You’ll find this vignette in the eleventh chapter of John’s gospel. Jesus said to them: “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die.” And then He asked, “Do you believe this?”
Listen! The Lord asks the SAME question of you and me. Do we believe it?
Do you believe He alone is the resurrection and the life? That everyone who believes in Him will live, even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Him will never die?
Oh, I hope so!
Jesus said other extraordinary things during His ministry. Here are some other examples: Mark 8 – “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul? For what will a man give in exchange for his soul? For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will also be ashamed of him when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.”
He warned the crowd in Matthew 5:20 “For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.”
The resurrection of Jesus Christ proves every word of what He said is true, and all humanity will be held accountable to what He said. ALL of humanity. It doesn’t matter what religious affiliation you might have – Jewish, Catholic, Protestant, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, atheist or agnostic – unless you give your life to Messiah Jesus you will not be in heaven when you die.
As I mentioned a few minutes ago, Jesus warned: I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” (John 14:6)
That’s why so many people scoff at the resurrection. If they can delude themselves into believing Jesus did not physically rise from the dead, then they can tell themselves Jesus is not the only way to receive eternal life. If they can convince themselves there are other ‘truths’ about God and the final judgement, then they can live as they choose. They can do as John Lennon seduced so many to do: “Imagine there's no heaven; It's easy if you try. No hell below us, above us only sky. Imagine all the people living for today.”
But God warns us, and the resurrection of Jesus Christ affirms it: There WILL be a forever after this life is over. That’s why Scripture says it again and again: “Today if you hear His voice, Do not harden your hearts . . . .” Hebrews 3:7
Listen! God’s faithfulness to His promises and His warnings – confirmed on that first Resurrection Sunday – is not an inconsequential subject of discussion over coffee.
Who among us has not stood at the gravesite of someone we love? I had that most unhappy experience a year and a half ago as I stood by the casket of my mother.
For nearly 40 years Mom lived the life of Christ before her family, friends, and neighbors. She loved prayer. She loved her Bible. She never hesitated to tell others of His saving grace and forgiveness.
When I stood close to her lifeless body as it lay in her casket, grief-stricken as I was, nonetheless I knew where mom REALLY was at that moment. She was with her savior.
Oh, what comfort that brings to those who believe the promises of God for complete forgiveness of sins through Christ’s atonement, through His great and love-driven sacrifice. God tells us again and again, He is love. And because He is love, He longs for you and for me to be with Him for eternity.
Most every year, especially at our ages, we lose someone we care about. And there will come a time – for some of us soon, for some of us later – but there will come a time when those who love US will lose us to death.
On Friday and Saturday, Jesus lay in a dark tomb. His family and all those who loved Him thought it was all over. Darkness prevailed. But they did not know what was about to happen on the next page of the story.
Sunday was coming.
Please hear me. At this moment, your world might look very dark. It might be very cold and lonely. But because Sunday dawned for Jesus, YOUR Sunday will also dawn for you. Because of Christ’s resurrection, your light is coming. Warmth is coming. How do I know this with ABSLOUTE certainty? Because Jesus conquered death and darkness and the cold.
Because of His resurrection we have every reason now to place complete confidence in Him. To fully trust that the One who suffered death for you and me and then rose from that grave is also able to accomplish all that is good for you and me.
I want to close this message with a piece of fiction I wrote several years ago. It’s rooted in the last chapter of Luke’s gospel were we meet two of Jesus’ disciples who are on their way to Emmaus. I tried to imagine what it might have been like for them on Resurrection Day. They’d heard from some of the others that Jesus had risen from the grave, but they didn’t believe it. So, they were headed out of town. If you haven’t read the story in Luke’s gospel in a while, please do so today.
In my imagination, the person speaking stood at the Lord’s tomb. It’s Saturday, the day after Jesus was crucified. The disciple stares at the huge boulder covering the tomb’s entrance. Let’s listen in on him as he speaks to himself:
I don't know how to say it. Words choke in my throat. My stomach heaves. Grief grips my chest. We thought he would deliver us. That God would restore our kingdom, keep His promise to our Fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob.
But that won’t happen now. He died last evening. Mocked. Spat on. Bloodied. Cold. I watched him die.
His last words confused me. I’m still confused. Without warning, he stiffened his legs and pushed his feet against the nails. At the same time, he thrust out his chest, pulling mercilessly against his hands also nailed to the cross. He lifted his face toward heaven, as if seeing something unseen. But his expression. It seemed out of place. No hint of anger. No pain. Almost . . . almost . . . I think ‘satisfied’ best describes how he looked.
Then he cried out – so sudden, so loud even the soldiers stopped and looked at him.
"It is finished!”
His voice rang clear. Strong. Confident. Almost like a shout of triumph. And that’s what confuses me.
And then he went limp. Like an old cloth. His arms, still held by the nails in his hands, pulled against his shoulders. From where I stood, it looked as if his arms had been pulled out of joint.
One of the soldiers picked up a spear and thrust it deep into Jesus’ chest. Blood and water gushed from the wound, but Jesus didn’t so much as flinch.
When the soldiers let us, we took Jesus from the cross and gathered around him. We cradled him in our arms. His skin felt cold. His eyes were gray. Dull. Still.
Joseph wrapped him in a burial cloth, and we carried him to the tomb Joseph had given for Jesus’ burial. We rolled the stone over the entrance. And we walked away.
But what did he mean, “It is finished”?
Now the scene changes to the next day
He’s alive! I don’t know how . . . it's a miracle. A glorious wondrous miracle. He’s alive. I saw him die. I buried him. But he’s alive! Alive!
I just talked with him. Even ate with him. At first, we didn’t know it was him. But Oh! how our hearts burned when he spoke with us about the Scriptures.
He broke bread. And then . . . then, he was gone. Vanished. Suddenly. Before our eyes. But oh, I remember His words, and I now know what was finished when he shouted, “It is finished.”
Death, yes even death's power is finished. They killed the Prince of Life, but Jesus swallowed up death. And now, everyone – everyone who believes and obeys him will live, even if he dies. And everyone who believes and obeys him will never die.
Oh, death where now is your victory? Grave, where now is your sting? We know the sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law, but Almighty God has given us the victory over death through Jesus our Lord.
God’s wrath against us for our sins is finished. We went astray. We turned, every one of us, to our own way. But God laid all our iniquities on him.
God’s wrath toward us is finished because He reconciled us to himself through Jesus’ death by making him to be sin on our behalf so that we might become the righteousness of God in Christ. Now we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our sins according to the superabundant riches of God’s grace which he lavished on us.
He’s alive. He is the alpha and the omega. The beginning and the end. The first and the last. He holds the keys of death and of hell – and He’s alive. All authority in heaven and earth belongs to Him. It is finished. The battle is over between life and death, good and evil, hatred and love – it is finished. It’s the end of the conflict. It is finished.
And Jesus is Lord.