The Empty Grave

Easter Service MessageSundayApril 1, 2018

Scripture: John 20:1-10

411 Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”

So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first.He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. Then Simon Peter came along behind him and went straight into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, as well as the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head. The cloth was still lying in its place, separate from the linen. Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.) 10 Then the disciples went back to where they were staying.

In Psalm 23, David describes death as casting a shadow – “even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.” I bet, like me, you’ve been out on a sunny day when a large cloud moved between you and the sun. In fact, not that long ago, we had an eclipse in the middle of the day and the effect is even more complete. Whatever comes between you and the sun casts a great shadow on you. It steals the light. However brief a moment that shadow, cast over you, causes you to stop and take notice. It interferes with your day.

For David, death is like a shadow cast over your life. It’s always there, lingering like a thick cloud in the sky, ready to cast its shadow and steal your light. I bet you’ve had that shadow cast over you before. Maybe it was at a funeral or at the bedside of a dying loved one. The shadow was cast when you brushed up against death in some way – perhaps it was a time when your own life was in danger.

Death is our mortal enemy. When we are young, we think we are bullet-proof but it doesn’t take long before we realize our own life will end someday. No one gets out of this world alive – that’s how it works – and your eternal destination awaits you when you pass from this life to the next. The power of the grave is tremendous in our lives. It affects everything. It’s why we fear pain and punishment. It’s what causes us to pause and proceed with caution. It’s why we eat and drink. It’s why we fight to survive. It’s why we take life seriously and hold on to every precious moment. Yes, death casts it’s shadow over our lives and it’s hard to ignore. Eventually the darkness will fall and we know it.

This is why the Empty Grave of Jesus is so significant. Jesus defeated death and took away the fear of the shadow. It was in 1 John 5:1-5 where John said, 1 Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the father loves his child as well. This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. In fact, this is love for God: to keep his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.” It’s in John 16:33 where Jesus says, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” Jesus overcame the world and here, at the Resurrection, Jesus overcame death.

In 1 Corinthians 15:54-57, Paul says, ’Death has been swallowed up in victory.’ 55 ‘Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?’ 56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

I want to share something vitally important with you this morning so lean in and listen carefully: you are the reason that tomb was empty that morning. Jesus died for you. Jesus defeated death for you. His victory is your victory; His resurrection is your resurrection. The empty grave of Jesus is your empty grave. Jesus overcame death for you. On the cross, he paid for your sin; in the tomb he defeated your death. This is what the empty grave of Jesus means for you today!

You don’t need to fear death anymore. It may cast its dark shadow over you, from time to time, but you need not fear it because Jesus has defeated it on your behalf. Do you believe in Jesus? Have you accepted his sacrifice on the cross for you? If so, He has overcome death on your behalf. And for those who have yet to accept the death and resurrection of Christ, this victory can be yours as well. The shadow of death is defeated by the empty grave of Jesus.

I want to leave you with one final thought on this Resurrection morning: Shadows are cast upon you because there is light on the other side of them. God is light. In him there is no darkness at all. When you see the shadow of death, and you will, have no fear – Jesus is on the other side of that shadow and he’s already defeated it on your behalf.


Stone Cold Tomb

April 15, 2017 – Holy Saturday
Sealed Tomb
Read:  Mark 15:42 – 47, NIV
Focus: v. 46, NIV

So Joseph bought some linen cloth, took down the body, wrapped it in the linen, and placed it in a tomb cut out of rock. Then he rolled a stone against the entrance of the tomb.

There was no fanfare at the death of Jesus. It was just – over. He was just – dead. What more could be said or done – now.  The Master was gone. But wait . . . there was still something to be done. The body needed to be properly buried. Left to the Romans it would likely have been thrown onto the garbage heap and left there for the carrion eaters. Joseph of Arimathea, a secret disciple, boldly goes to Pilate and asks for the body. Pilate is surprised that Jesus is already dead. Most lingered on much longer but the work of Jesus was finished – almost. Pilate gets confirmation from the Centurion in charge of the crucifixion and releases Jesus’ body to Joseph. Remember that the Sabbath is about to begin and Joseph has little time so he quickly wraps the body in cloth and places it in a stone tomb, one cut out of rock, and then rolls a large stone in front of the entrance. We are also told that Mary Magdalene and Mary, the mother of Joseph saw where they laid Jesus’ body. All have gone now. The only ones to remain would be the soldiers ordered to make the tomb site secure that no one could steal the body away and make spurious claims about it. All who cared are gone. Gone because of the Sabbath but they planned to return when the Sabbath was over.

What about Jesus now? Was everything he did and said for nothing? It sure seems to be the case. His body now lies in a stone tomb – stone cold tomb! It is the end of everything he stood for. It is the end of all His wonderful ministry of compassion. It was the end of three wonderful years of fellowship with the disciple band. It was the end of opportunities for the women who followed Him to minister to His needs. That will have to wait for Sunday when they can come to anoint His body with spices.

This stone-cold tomb holds now all that is left of a once vibrant, loving, compassionate person who spoke clearly against the “establishment” and its tightly held grip on the spiritual needs of the people. All is now quiet as the rest of the world solemnly goes to their homes and their beds and preparations for the Sabbath. The disciples are gone now, scattered in fear. Others speak quietly in the night about the events of that terrible day.

All Jesus has now is a borrowed STONE-COLD TOMB! It is Friday and Sunday is coming when . . .

Stormy Weather

In Church, we’ve recently begun a series of sermons talking about dealing with human suffering.  There have been several national tragedies in recent weeks and months so I wanted to post the sermons here for all to keep up with.  There are a few weeks left to the series and I will post the remaining sermons after they have been delivered on Sunday morning.

I hope these messages will offer some help in understanding the age old question of “Why does God allow suffering in the world.”  There are answers to questions like these but, as a pastor, I have often found that the worst time to offer these answers is in the midst of great suffering.  The best time to consider questions like these is when all is calm, not when the storms of life are causing wave after wave to crash over us.

I know that this issue is at the heart of many who have a difficult time believing in and accepting God.  If you are one of those persons, these messages are especially for you.  I’ve been through a few storms in my life and I can’t imagine going through them without God by my side and, sometimes, carrying me all the way through.

I believe there are seven sermons in this series in all so hang in there for more answers.

Stormy Weather - Scripture LogoI love weather.  I admit it.  My name is Dan, and I love weather.  And I’ve experienced my fair share of weather, growing up in Nebraska as I did.  I even lived in Oklahoma for four years.  Tornados galore.  Even in Mississippi I had the opportunity to experience part of a hurricane.  I’m just fascinated by the awesome displays of a nature that are so much more powerful than I am.  It reminds me of my God who is far more powerful than anything nature can offer.  I’m not a fan of destruction and pain, of course, but I don’t mind coming out of the other side of bad weather and being able to say I experienced something intense.  You may remember the storms that greeted Stacy and I as we arrived in Red Cloud last year.  That was just God’s way of welcoming me back home to Nebraska.    Anyone else enjoy the storms?

Speaking of storms, there’s a great story in Luke 8 about a storm. “22 One day Jesus said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side of the lake.” So they got into a boat and set out. 23 As they sailed, he fell asleep. A squall came down on the lake, so that the boat was being swamped, and they were in great danger.

24 The disciples went and woke him, saying, “Master, Master, we’re going to drown!”

He got up and rebuked the wind and the raging waters; the storm subsided, and all was calm. 25 “Where is your faith?” he asked his disciples.

In fear and amazement they asked one another, “Who is this? He commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him.”

What a story!  I can just imagine being on that boat with these guys.  In my mind, I’m with the disciples one hundred percent.  The wind is crazy, the waves swamping the boat – you ever been in a boat on a lake when a storm is coming up the waves start churning?  Depending on the size of your boat, you may have experienced some of what the disciples were experiencing.  And then the rain comes.  Lightening, thunder, buckets of water.  The disciples are going nuts with fear and Jesus is sleeping like a baby.

You know, the only time I don’t like storms is when they come in the middle of the night.  Not because they wake me up and scare me, but because they don’t wake me up.  I sleep right through them.  I have to hear about them after I wake up.

So Jesus is sleeping through the storm.  He’s just not worried about it.  The disciples have to wake him up.   They were frightened and they thought He needed to . . . well, what did they think he needed to do?  Wake up and be as frightened as they were?  Or did they have some inkling that he could do something about it?  Remember, they’re still trying to figure this guy out.  And that day they figured something out.

Jesus wakes up and rebukes the storm.  Have you ever tried to do that?  How’d it work for you?  I can tell you how it worked for Jesus – the storm stopped.  The skies cleared, the waves calmed, the wind slowed.  Safety returned.  Yeah, it works for Jesus and, just like the disciples, I’d have needed a hydraulic jack and three medical specialists to get my gaping mouth to close back to normal.

You want to know another reason I love storms?  Because life is filled with all kinds of crazy storms and, every time a freak-of-nature storm passes through, it reminds me that all of life’s storms have an end.  They don’t last forever.  They pass and, usually, I’m still standing.

The storms in life happen all the time.  Some of you are going through some real storms right now.  Hard stuff.  The hail is coming down and it’s big.  The lightening is flashing and the thunder is immediate and loud.  It’s scary and you probably feel a little like those disciples in the boat with a sleeping Jesus.  And you probably have questions right now.

Why do these storms happen?  Why do they happen to me?  Did I do something to cause this?  Why does God allow these things to happen in the first place?  What can I do to weather this storm?   Will I make it through the storm?  Is this you right now?  If it isn’t, I bet it has been you at one time or another.

I’ve said it before, life is hard and, in the end, nobody gets out alive.  Storms happen.  They happen often and I’ve watched a lot of storms blow through not just my life but also the lives of those around me.  So let’s talk about the storms and the questions that come with them.

I want to spend a few weeks dealing with those times when our world seems to be raging all around us.  I want to offer some answers that are often hard to hear and accept in the midst of the pain so that we can consider them during a time of rest and understanding.  More than that, I want to offer the hope and promise that God provides in the Bible to help us through the stormy times in our lives.

I was talking to my brother in Omaha a couple of years ago about the stormy weather we had been experiencing lately.  I recalled to him how, earlier in the week, I saw the Weather Channel’s Jim Cantore giving an update from Council Bluffs (right across the river) with Omaha in the background.  There had been a lot of rain and some severe thunderstorms on that day and there was still lightening flashing in the background while he reported the day’s events.  I guess the mix of weather and the current College World Series going on there made it a good location to report from.  But Cantore had been doing those spots across the country where the storms have been.  My brother told me that folks had been getting worried whenever they saw Cantore show up in their home town because, where ever he goes, the storms seem to hit.  If only the storms in life were always so easy to predict.

Sometimes they are, most of the time they are not.  If only we had a storm-prediction center like that on the Weather Channel!  Maybe you’ve asked the question before, “Why do these storms have to happen in the first place?”  Wouldn’t life be so much easier without painful experiences and times where our worlds seem to fall apart?

Well, yeah, it would.  The core of this question is the fact that it’s hard to find someone who actually likes pain.  Nobody likes pain.  We’re all seeking some sort of Utopia in this life.  What do you suppose we would have to complain about if we didn’t have pain in our lives?  I suppose we would just redefine suffering to include all those times we don’t get our way on things.  Suffering will always be with us in this life.  It’s a result of Humanity’s sin begun by Adam and Eve.

Early on in Genesis we see the effect of sin on the earth itself.  No more Garden of Eden.  No more life going on forever here.  Death was set in motion and it is death, and the decay that leads to it, that causes the storms that occur in our weather as well as the natural disasters.  It is also the force at work that causes storms in life.  We are sinful and we live in a sinful and broken world.  Suffering, therefore, is now a natural part of living in this world.  No one avoids it.

Sin is also what separates us from God.  We have to understand that much of our suffering is caused by our lack of a perfect relationship with God.  I have to state it like that because anything less than perfection will never match up with God.  And sin has so messed that up that it is impossible for us to meet that perfection.  Our relationship with God suffers to the point that so many deny Him altogether and so many do not have the kind of relationship with their Maker that they should.  Sin separates us from God.  And being separated from God will cause suffering to occur.

Can anything good come from suffering?  That’s a good question to ask.   Author Paul Patterson III writes, “Pain is not a problem in and of itself.  But rather, it is a symptom, a sign of something gone wrong.  When one places their hand on a stove, the problem is not the pain but it’s the fact they are doing something that shouldn’t be done.  The pain in this world is simply a sign that something is wrong; something is seriously messed-up.  Without pain, we may never realize that something is wrong.’”

C. S. Lewis wrote an entire book on the Problem of Pain.  He writes, “We can rest contentedly in our sins and in our stupidities, and everyone who has watched gluttons shoveling down the most exquisite foods as if they did not know what they were eating, will admit that we can ignore even pleasure. But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”

Is it just possible that God can use pain (as opposed to causing it) to draw us to Him?  Pain wakes us up to the reality that something is wrong with our world and it acts as a megaphone that speaks loud enough for us to actually hear God speak.  And when we hear God speak, we can begin a relationship with Him like no other.

American pastor and author James H. Brookes told of visiting a friend’s house and hearing the music of a bird singing. It was not the ordinary sound of chirping; instead it resembled the strains of a lovely melody. At first Brookes didn’t know where it was coming from; but when he glanced around the room, he saw a beautiful bullfinch in a birdcage. The lady of the house explained that it had been taught to sing that way at night. The teacher would repeat the notes time and again until the bird was able to mimic them. But this was possible only because it was dark and the bird’s attention would not be diverted.

How often we learn our sweetest songs when the blackness of trial closes in around us.

Pain and suffering can be used by God to bring us closer to Him.  It can be worth it in the end.  The experiences in our lives are what shape us.  They make us who we are.  What we become can be embittered by our sufferings, or we can draw closer to God and allow Him to use our suffering to transform us into the people He wants us to be.  People who please God and use our sufferings to reach out to others who are experiencing the same things.

We began the message today talking about Jesus calming the storm.  Not a single disciple in that boat was calm and sailing along without a care in the world.  So often storms bring out the fear in us.  We can look at the disciples and berate them for their lack of faith but that was a day where their fear caused them to reach out to God.  They may not have fully realized it at the time.  In fact, I’m sure they didn’t.  But they did provide for us an example in stormy times.  They cried out to Jesus.

Will Jesus always calm the storms in our lives?  No.  But He will always be a shelter, a calm place where we can go, while the storms rage on.

The True Light Has Come

Easter CrossJohn 1:9-12, 14, 16-17

                 9 The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. 11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12 Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.  14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. 16 Out of his fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given. 17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.

What a blessed morning to receive our Risen Savior!  The women who went to Jesus’ tomb that morning were surprised to find something special had happened.  Jesus said it would happen and yet He still took everyone by surprise.  And I’ll admit that you should seriously question what you hear if I told you I was going to die and then rise in three days.  You’d think I was crazy.  Yet this is Jesus we’re talking about.  Even those closest to him, those who had a pretty good idea of who He was, were caught off guard by this.

Those who loved Jesus were in mourning.  It was grief they were feeling that day and they were busy trying to figure out how to move on with their lives.  Everything they had expected fell apart and faded away.  Everything they thought would happen died with Jesus on that cross.

Maybe that’s where they needed to be.  Maybe this was the last step in Jesus’ plan to turn the disciples, and the world, on their ears and change the way they thought about everything.  Everything had to die on that cross with Jesus before it could rise with Him and once again come under the rule of God.  All their hopes and dreams.  All their thoughts and expectations.  All risen with our Savior that morning.

Where are your hopes and dreams this morning?  Where are your thoughts and expectations?  Have they died on that cross with Jesus?  That’s the only way they will be risen with Jesus.

Jesus is the True Light and the world still doesn’t recognize Him.  “Yet to all who receive Him, to those who believe in His name, He has given the right to become children of God.”  God’s action on our behalf wasn’t completed at the cross, it was completed at the resurrection.  Death isn’t defeated without the Resurrection.

I hope you can praise Jesus with me today.  He is our hope, He is our life.  He bore our sins upon that cross.  He was crucified on our behalf.  He has also risen on our behalf.  Our God is alive!

Happy Easter!