What Wondrous Love – When Taking Back His Life

Matthew 28:1-10 (4/5/15)

In the name of the Father and of the † Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

He is risen!  Alleluia!

It happens more often than you care to admit.  There’s something you need – gas or medicine or groceries or a part for your car.  Sometimes it is an emergency of sorts, and you hope and pray that you will be able to find a place where you could get it.  It may have been late at night or early in the morning or a holiday.  Or perhaps it may have been a time when you were out in the middle of nowhere and weren’t sure whether you would make it to a place where you could find help.

If you have ever had such an experience, you know how much it can mean to you to see a business with a welcoming sign in the window that says, OPEN.  What relief that sign can bring to a needy individual or a desperate traveler.  If you know what it is like to find a gas station along a desolate highway on a dark night when the gauge is on “E,” then you know what a comfort it is see that OPEN sign in the window.

I know that these examples hardly compare, but perhaps such an experience in your life might give you some idea of what it might have been like for those first disciples, the men and women who came to the tomb on that first Easter Sunday and found that it was not only open but that it had just what they needed.  The tomb was empty.  Even though that is not what they expected to find or even what they were looking for, it was the solution to their greatest problems and the answer to their most important questions.  It was the ultimate evidence of God’s wondrous love to all sinners.  Jesus not only showed His love by giving up His life in our place on the cross, but He also demonstrated His wondrous love when taking back His life.

In the early hours of the morning, the women came to Jesus’ tomb.  Like weary travelers looking for a place to refuel on a desolate stretch of highway where no such place seems to be available, they were, in a sense, running on empty.  The one thing they needed more than anything else – the hope of salvation in the promised Messiah – must have seemed to them simply unobtainable.  They had witnessed Jesus’ enemies crushing the life out of Him.  Their hopes had been crushed with His death.

Much like trying to find most businesses open right now on a holiday, in the early hours of that first Easter morning, they were not expecting to find what they needed.  The Bible tells us that they began to discuss how they would gain access into the tomb.  Who would roll away the large stone that had been placed at the mouth of the grave?  How would they be able to anoint Jesus’ body and complete the burial process?  Surely they were not expecting to find the tomb open.

But God’s Word informs us, “After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb.  There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it.  His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow.  The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men.  The angel said to the women, ‘Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified.  He is not here; He has risen, just as He said.  Come and see the place where He lay’” (Matthew 28:1-6).

Yes, it was open.  The angel had come to roll back the stone.  It was not to let Jesus out but to show that Jesus was not there.  He was gone.  He had risen from death.

An open, empty tomb is not what the women expected to see.  However, that is what the women and all the rest of the disciples needed.  They got more than a neon sign that said, OPEN.  They were met by angels from heaven itself who brought them the news, “He is not here; He has risen, just as He said” (v. 6).  Many times throughout the Bible when God had a special revelation for His people, He sent these holy messengers to proclaim the news to them.  This time the angels had come with the most important message ever to be proclaimed on the face of the earth at any time in the history of the world.  They displayed the empty tomb and proclaimed that Jesus Christ had risen indeed.

Suddenly, those weary and astonished women who had come to the tomb expecting to find it sealed with the dead body of Jesus inside, instead found that it was open and that Jesus was no longer there.  The word from heaven was that He had risen, just as He said.

Dear Christian friends, today we have returned to the empty tomb.  We have returned not to find what the women originally looked for, but what the women ultimately found and embraced with joy.  We have come to the empty tomb where God beckons to us – the weary, the lost, the frustrated, the discouraged, all who wander as pilgrims on this earth searching for the meaning to life and for shelter from the storms and trials of this earth.  God beckons to us to enter in and receive all that we need without cost.

At Christ’s open tomb God declared to all sinners that He had indeed accepted the sacrifice Jesus offered on the cross to pay for the sins of the world.  Every person who ever lived, or ever will live, is invited to the open tomb to be given the certainty that Jesus Christ, who died for our sins, has now risen from death to prove that God has accepted the death of his Son as sufficient payment for all sins and that He has forgiven the sins of the world.  Christ’s resurrection is the evidence of God’s wondrous love for all sinners.  He not only lived for us and died to take the punishment for our sins, but He proved that it was not for nothing. He proved that all He promised is and continues to be true.

Carrying the grief of the crucifixion and the seeming loss of all hope, the women on the way to the tomb were weary and discouraged.  They were ready to settle for anointing the dead body of the man they had come to love.  But instead they were filled with unspeakable joy in the hope of their risen Savior.  All the blessings they thought were lost suddenly were theirs.

In their astonishment it did not immediately become clear.  But as they pondered the angels’ words and as they reflected on the promises Jesus made before His death, they found everlasting hope and comfort.  They were able to lay down the burden of their sin and embrace the eternal joys set before them.  For Jesus had not only left the tomb wide open for all the world to see, but He also opened the gates of heaven for all the world to enter.

That is what the resurrection means.  The open tomb teaches us that heaven is now open to us.  By rising from death, Jesus shows us that the grave cannot hold us any more than it was able to hold Him.  Jesus died to take the punishment for our sins and to pay the debt of our sin to our God.  And then Jesus rose from the dead to give us the certainty that His heavenly Father has accepted His death as full and final payment for all sins.  God has punished and fully forgiven the sins of the world in Christ.  And all who by faith put their trust in Christ have and enjoy God’s forgiveness as their very own.

By paying for our sins, Jesus has also freed us from the curse of sin, which is death.  He promises that just as He rose from the dead, so shall we.  On the Last Day when He returns, the Lord Jesus will call our bodies forth from the grave.  But before that happens, Jesus promises that even here and now, through faith in Him, we have been raised from spiritual death to spiritual life.

Jesus promised, “I tell you the truth, whoever hears My word and believes Him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life” (John 5:24).  Christ also says: “I am the resurrection and the life.  He who believes in Me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in Me will never die” (John 11:25,26).  We have eternal life, which began the moment we became children of God through Holy Baptism.  We have been reborn spiritually.  And this eternal life, which begins here and now in this life, will last into eternity, where someday it will be accompanied by a physical resurrection.  And we shall live with Christ, body and soul, in heaven forever.

The angel at the tomb told the fearful women: “Go quickly and tell His disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee.  There you will see Him.’ (verse 7).  Suddenly the plan was put into motion.  With the first proclamation of the news at the tomb, the women went on their way to begin the task that is before us today – to proclaim the message: Jesus Christ is risen!

Scripture tells us that the women had not even reached their destination when a wonder even greater than the empty tomb met their eyes.  St. Matthew writes: “The women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell His disciples.  Suddenly Jesus met them.  ‘Greetings,’ He said.  They came to Him, clasped His feet and worshiped Him.  Then Jesus said to them, ‘Do not be afraid.  Go and tell My brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see Me’” (verses 8-10).

There the risen Lord Jesus met with them.  There He showed himself alive to them with many infallible proofs, as Saint John tells us in his gospel account.  There He gave them the joy of Easter, which is still ours today.

The fragrance of the Easter lilies, the savory smell of the Easter breakfast wafting across the way, the hymns we have waited all year to sing once again, and most of all, the message that is at the heart and center of our Christian faith – these are the memories of Easter.

But let us remember that Easter is not just a day we celebrate once a year, and then it is gone.  Nor is Easter merely a festival marking the climax of the church year.  We live Easter as we remember that the empty tomb is our hope and comfort every day of our lives.  The resurrection of Jesus Christ proves His wondrous love to us.

Living Easter also includes participating in all the gifts God has given to us – all the ways He has provided through which He continues to deliver to us the benefits of Christ’s death and resurrection.  We have His Holy Word preached and proclaimed.  We have Holy Baptism which make us His own dear children through water and the Word.  We have the precious opportunity to engage in confession and absolution both privately and corporately, and we celebrate our Lord’s Holy Supper each and every Lord’s Day wherein He gives us His true body and blood for forgiveness, life, and salvation.

Through regular participation in these wondrous gifts of God, we are shown the wondrous love of our God who sent His Son to be our Savior.  “Jesus lives!  The victory’s won!  Death no longer can appall me.  Jesus lives!  Death’s reign is done!  From the grave Christ will recall me.  Brighter scenes will then commence: this shall be AND IS my confidence!

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Amen!