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Order Of Worship (Liturgy)Reading: John 20:1-18
Text: John 20:6-9
Singing: Hymn 26; Ps. 43:3; Hy. 30; Hy. 1B:2; Hy. 35
Beloved congregation of the Lord Jesus Christ:
I proclaim to you the Easter gospel. The glad tidings of Christ's resurrection. We believe in Christ risen from the dead. The confession of our Lord's resurrection is the very heart of our faith. It is the central element of our confession of faith:
The church confesses: I believe in Jesus Christ ... he was crucified, dead, and buried ... On the third day He arose from the dead...
On this happy Easter morning I proclaim to you that Easter gospel in which we believe.
THE LORD BRINGS HIS FOLLOWERS TO AN UNDERSTANDING FAITH
1. Vacant tomb; 2. Empty cloths; 3. Open Bible.
1. A vacant tomb.
Mary Magdalene had come to John and Peter with shocking news: the tomb was vacant, empty! Early Sunday morning she had gone to the tomb where the Lord had been buried, and she saw that the stone covering the mouth of the tomb had been removed. She had run to Peter and John and had said: "They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don't know where they have put him!"
Peter and John had run to the tomb and sure enough: it was vacant, empty! Peter went right into the tomb. John followed him. The Lord was gone!
How could it be? On Friday evening, before sunset and the start of the Sabbath, Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus had placed the Lord's dead body in a tomb. Joseph was a member of the Jewish Sanhedrin that had condemned the Lord although he had not agreed with the decision and action. He was a follower of Jesus. He had gone to Pontius Pilate the Roman governor and had asked if could take possession of the Lord's body to bury it. Pilate had given his permission.
This was a little surprising since Roman judges were in the habit of refusing burial to executed criminals. Especially criminals who were executed by crucifixion were typically not buried. The standard practice was to leave them hanging on the cross as food for carrion birds. This would serve as a vivid deterrent against crimes against the state. For a Roman governor to grant Joseph's request was unusual.
However, Pilate really had no choice. It had been prophesied long before that the Messiah would not only suffer and die, but also be buried. Isaiah 53:9 said about the Messiah, the Lord Jesus, "He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death...." And Psalm 16:10 prophesied that God would not abandon Christ to the grave, nor let his body see decay. The implication is, of course, that Christ would be buried. Not for long, but he would be buried. And so it was inevitable that Pilate would release the body of Christ for burial.
According to the OT law, an executed criminal could not be left hanging on a tree but had to be buried. Deu 21:22,23 said it: "If a man guilty of a capital offense is put to death and his body is hung on a tree, you must not leave his body on the tree overnight. Be sure to bury him that same day, because anyone who is hung on a tree is under God's curse. You must not desecrate the land...."
Christ had endured the curse of God during the three hours of darkness. God lifted the curse and the Lord said: It is finished, and committed his spirit into the Father's hands. He was no longer under God's curse, and so he had to be buried.
Joseph and Nicodemus had placed the Lord's body in a tomb in a garden near Golgotha where Christ had been crucified. Matthew tells us that Joseph himself owned the tomb. Such a tomb would be carved out of rock. You would be able to enter right into the tomb. It would contain some ledges upon which the bodies would be laid. Usually, the entrance would be sealed with a large, heavy circular rock that would be rolled in a groove.
Mary and some other women had seen Joseph and Nicodemus place the Lord's body in the tomb. But now that heavy rock had been rolled back. Peter and John had entered the tomb. It was vacant. The Lord's body was gone.
At this point of the story Mary, Peter and John are all quite puzzled. They did not know what had happened.
From our vantage point, having the complete scripture, we do know. Christ had risen! He plundered the grave-the graves of his followers, his disciples.
He was buried in the tomb of a disciple, Joseph. He did not need his own tomb. During his earthly ministry, he did not make arrangements to be buried in the family tomb, if they even had one. Because he was going to rise from the dead, he did not need his own tomb. He had said a number of times that he was going to die but then rise again. He knew that.
Buried in the tomb of a follower, he had laid waste the graves of all his followers. Also your graves. You will die some day, but you need not fear the grave. By being raised from Joseph's tomb, he had led the way out of the grave for all his followers. If you follow Christ then you were buried with him in Joseph's tomb, and raised with him. Raised with him out of a follower's tomb. And you too, as a follower of Christ, will follow Christ out of your tomb, your grave, on the great day of the resurrection.
Beloved, our misery began in a garden, and it comes to an end in a garden. Our misery began when, in the Garden of Eden, we fell into sin. We fell prey to the devil's temptations. Our misery came to an end when Christ was raised from the dead in the Garden Tomb. There he ransacked the devil's domain and set us free forever from the fear of death.
The gospel of the vacant tomb, beloved-what a gospel!
2. Empty cloths.
Although John had reached the tomb first, Peter was first to enter the tomb. He saw the linen burial strips lying there. He saw the burial cloth that had been upon the Lord's head folded up by itself, separate from the linen strips. What is the significance of all this?
The custom was to wrap the body of the deceased person in linen strips. Strips like long bandages. John 19:40 says that Joseph and Nicodemus did this in accordance with Jewish burial customs. As well, according to custom, they sprinkled in about 75 pounds of sweet smelling myrrh and aloes. This was to mask the stench of decaying flesh. As one person wrapped each limb with linen strips, and then the whole body, around and around, a second person would be all-the-while sprinkling the aromatic spices. A separate cloth was laid upon or around the head. Some times another large linen cloth was wrapped around the linen bound body.
The linen strips were lying there. Like an empty cocoon. They had not been unwound and scattered about. They had not been cut off or stripped in some other way. They just lay there as they had been wound around the Lord's limbs and body-only, the body was no longer in them. Likely the 75 pounds of spices strewn between the layers gave the linens strips some form, but, the Lord's body was gone.
It says in v. 7 that Peter saw this. Likely, that's why John had not entered the tomb first but only looked in from the entrance. He saw what he thought was the linen-wrapped body of the Lord lying there. That Mary Magdalene had been mistaken.
Peter rushed into the tomb and saw that though the linen strips were lying there, they were empty. He not only saw, but he looked intently at what he saw. (The Greek word for "to see" indicates that.) It was a puzzle. For no human being wrapped round and round with strips like this could possibly slip out of them without disturbing them. The only way would for the strips to be unwound or cut off. This would have left a huge mess. Quite a pile of linens strips, and 75 pounds of spices all mixed up in the messy pile. If someone had taken the body, he would have taken it strips and all.
What a puzzle. The linen strips lying there undisturbed, but empty. We know what John and Peter did not yet know: Christ had risen. Christ was resurrected from the dead. He had miraculously slipped out of the cloths, leaving them undisturbed, leaving them as they had been when he was still lying dead in them.
And then the head cloth lying elsewhere in the tomb, neatly folded up. Not snatched off and flung aside, but deliberately folded and placed apart from the strips.
The tomb had not been ransacked. A calm, orderly hand had been at work. If the head cloth had been lying where the Lord's head had lain-not folded up but just lying there-one could have concluded that the Lord's body had disappeared into air. But that the linen cloths lay empty as they were while the head cloth was neatly folded and placed elsewhere in the tomb could only mean one thing: Christ had risen from the dead, had spent a bit of time in the tomb-at least enough time to fold up the head cloth. A calm, orderly hand had been at work. The hand of our Lord Jesus Christ, risen from the dead. What eloquent signs. What powerful testimonies to the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ from the dead.
Today he is the risen and ascended king. No longer wearing strips of linen cloth but-as John saw in his vision recorded in Rev. 1-a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest. No longer does he have a burial cloth on his head. Instead, he wears a royal crown. No longer does he occupy a musty tomb. Rather, he dwells in Paradise and sits on a throne, seated at the right hand of God.
After Peter had entered the tomb and stared at the sight, John entered, saw, beheld, the same amazing things, and believed. He believed that his Lord Jesus had risen from the dead. He did not understand everything about it. Perhaps he actually understood very little or nothing of what he was seeing. But he believed that Jesus was alive. The evidence of the vacant tomb, the empty cloths including the folded head cloth, compelled him to believe.
John saw and began to believe. Later (20:29) the Lord would say: "Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed." Those who believe are blessed. Those who do not believe in the Risen Lord Jesus will be condemned. They will see Him whom they refused to believe in. As John wrote in Rev 1:7, "Look, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and all the peoples of the earth will mourn because of him."
Believe today, beloved, on the basis of the testimony of the disciples. As Deut. 19:15 says, a matter is established by the testimony of at least two witnesses. Believe that Christ has risen on the basis of Peter and John's testimony about the empty cloths in the vacant tomb. Better to believe today without having seen then to reject the faith today and see the Lord in all his vengeance on the last day.
The Lord brings His followers to an understanding faith through: 1. A vacant tomb; 2. Empty cloths...
3. Open scriptures.
John 20:9 says: "They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead." John believed. He seemed to be a little quicker than Peter. Not only quicker to run but also quicker to believe. But neither he nor Peter understood yet. John's faith was not firmly and unassailably buttressed by the holy Scriptures. Later they came to understand from scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead. Then their faith became an understanding faith.
Earlier, the Lord had spoken about his death and resurrection. E.g., in Luke 18:31-34 we read: Jesus took the Twelve aside and told them, "We are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written by the prophets about the Son of Man will be fulfilled. He will be handed over to the Gentiles. They will mock him, insult him, spit on him, flog him and kill him. On the third day he will rise again." The disciples did not understand any of this. Its meaning was hidden from them, and they did not know what he was talking about.
The OT scriptures had spoken not only about the suffering of the Messiah, but also about his resurrection. Isaiah 53 says, After the suffering of his soul, he will see the light of life... Psalm 16 says that God will not abandon the Messiah to the grave, nor let the Holy One see decay. There are specific texts of the OT scripture that predict the resurrection of Christ. But beyond the specific texts, the whole teaching of the OT scripture demands it. Later on, as we read in Luke 24:44, the Lord would show his disciples from the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms (the three parts of OT scriptures) that he had to rise from the dead.
The Lord could not stay dead. As John wrote in v. 9, the Lord had to rise from the dead.
Why did he have to rise from the dead? Why did the OT scriptures insist on it? The OT teaches that sin brings death. Death is the wages of sin. Christ bore the punishment. He was paid out in full. Our sins were imputed to him, reckoned to him. He was paid the full and just payment for sin. And so he could not remain in the bonds of death. He had to be set free from death. It was inevitable, unavoidable, inescapable, divinely necessary that he should rise again. Because he was paid out for our sins, there was just no way that he should stay in the grave. The teaching of scripture demands it.
So we see the difference between signs and scripture. Between pictures and words. The sign of the empty cloths initiated faith in the resurrection in John, but the open Bible convinced him of it. Signs are steppingstones to faith. The real basis of faith is the Scriptures-the revealed, inspired, infallible holy Bible. That is the basis upon which our faith must rest. It is the scriptures, the Bible, that gives us an understanding faith.
And so, beloved, we are cast upon the holy scriptures. The full profession of faith in the Risen Christ is based on holy scriptures. You will not come to know Christ if you do not know the scriptures. And when you have questions about the Lord Jesus Christ and the way of salvation, then you must go to scripture. The gospel of Easter demands of you to be busy with the Bible. To dig deeply into scripture. To see the glory of Christ risen from the dead from the Word, and so experience the power of the Holy Spirit. The gospel of Easter calls you to open your heart, your life, to the ministry of the Word-the law of Moses, the Prophets, the Writings, the Gospels and the Epistles. To continue seeking the Word, searching the Word, and so to grow steadfastly in a deep, understanding faith.
When you who have children present them for baptism, then you promise to instruct your children in the Word of God, and to have them instructed therein. Parents, you must do this. It's an obligation. The Gospel of Easter demands it of you. For your children will not come to know the Lord Jesus Christ if they do not learn the scriptures.
And, parents, you must give an example of this to your children. Of opening your lives to the scripture. And not live a hypocritical life. A hypocrite will destroy his children because they will see his hypocrisy.
Let us live by the open Bible. The vacant tomb and the empty cloths stimulated faith, but the Bible confirmed it. Only the Bible gave the real answers. The vacant tomb is gone. Oh, if you go to Jerusalem tour guides will show you several places which could have been the Lord's tomb, but who knows for sure. The linen cloths are long gone. Oh yes, there is the Shroud of Turin that purports to be the burial cloth of Christ. Who knows. But the Bible remains. We have the holy Scriptures. God's revelation of the gospel of salvation. His Word to us.
We do not need anything more. Let us base our hope, our confidence, our faith-a knowledgeable and understanding faith-upon the Word. Knowing what the Scriptures teach, let us all make the good confession that Jesus Christ has risen from the dead-risen as our Saviour, our King, our Lord. This confession gives us hope, it gives us joy, it gives us direction, it gives us comfort.
Christ has Risen! Hallelujah! AMEN
* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. George van Popta, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service. Thank-you.
The source for this sermon was: http://www.ancasterchurch.on.ca/sermons/apr2003.html
(c) Copyright 2003, Rev. George van Popta
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