To The Empty Tomb
October 29, 2023
Most, if not all of us have someone we visit at the cemetery don’t we?
We go and pay our respects standing over a grave that contains the earthly tent that once lived among us.
We remember good times, like fishing and boat rides, or cookouts, or intimate talks into the wee hours of the morning.
We remember the laughter and tears we shared with that person.
If you are like me, sometimes I get lost in the past, just remembering as many things as I can about the loved one I am there to pay my respects to.
When I go to visit my dad’s grave, I always remember our times fishing, because he’s buried beside a pond in the cemetery back home.
Sometimes, not very often, I will drive around the cemetery back home when I visit my dad’s, and grandparent’s gravesites and just take a few minutes and notice all the different tombstones.
The last time I was there I took a picture of this unique tombstone.
I have never seen one like it before.
That is real stone and it is in this awesome shape of a tree trunk with a Bible opened up.
Now it is really old and didn’t photograph well, but on each of the pages are the names and dates of birth and dates of death of the people buried there.
It’s just a really cool tombstone.
I think I’d like something like that, just unique.
Something I noticed is that all these gravesites have something in common.
There was a body buried there and the remains, the earthly tent, is still there.
But this morning we are going to talk about a tomb that has no remains, yes a body was laid there, but the remains are gone.
No, Jesus wasn’t resuscitated and walked out under his own power.
He was resurrected.
He is not dead and decaying, He is alive and ruling.
After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb.
2 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. 3 His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. 4 The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men.
5 The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. 6 He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. 7 Then 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.’ Now I have told you.”
8 So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. 9 Suddenly Jesus met them. “Greetings,” he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him. 10 Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”
THE RESURRECTION OF JESUS CHRIST IS A MESSAGE FOR THE WHOLE WORLD.
THE RESURRECTION IS A MESSAGE OF HOPE
The message that comes from the empty tomb is that there is hope.
There is an everlasting hope.
There is a certain hope of life eternal in Jesus Christ.
For many centuries the men and women in Europe looked out upon the western sea, what we call the Atlantic Ocean, and they saw the sun dancing upon the glittering surface of the waters, and they wondered.
They wondered if there was anything beyond.
Scholars said that you could sail off the edge of the world—there was nothing out there at all.
In fact, inscribed on the escutcheons of the coat of arms of the nation of Spain was its national motto, Ne Plus Ultra, meaning, “There is nothing beyond.”
One day Columbus went west.
He sailed off into the sunset as people waited expectantly, and finally after a long time the sails reappeared and the crowds were exultant.
They shouted with joy, and Columbus announced that there was a land beyond the sea that was rich beyond their dreams.
It was a glorious paradise.
The king of Spain changed the motto of that land until it reads as it does today, Plus Ultra, meaning, “There is more beyond.”
For many centuries innumerable people have stood beside the dark hole that we call a grave and watched the remains of their loved ones lowered into the earth, and they wondered: What if anything is beyond?
Then one day, a young explorer went west into the setting sun and descended into the blackness of the pit.
He walked off the edge and crashed into hell.
People waited expectantly.
Finally on this Resurrection morning, as the sun arose in the east, the Son of God stepped forth from a grave and declared, “There is something beyond.
There is a paradise beyond your greatest expectations.
And there awaits a heavenly Father, waiting with outstretched arms to wipe away every tear from your cheek.”
Folks, there is something beyond the black hole in the earth.
Jesus promised his disciples that he would rise on the third day.
Listen to Mark 9:31, He said to them, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men. They will kill him, and after three days he will rise.”
He promised them, he gave them hope.
And that hope is for all of us, if we surrender to HIM, that’s the key.
In one of the clearest statement in all of the Bible Jesus told His disciples that it was through Him that they could have that hope that lies beyond.
“I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.“
No one has the hope of eternal life with the Father unless they surrender their entire life to Jesus Christ.
No bones have been or ever will be discovered, for Jesus Christ on the first day of the week arose from the dead.
He defeated that last great enemy – death!
He is alive forevermore!
The greatest historical evidence for any historical fact is that an institution be built upon that fact.
Any secular historian will tell you that the church of Jesus Christ began in the year 30 A.D. in Jerusalem, when the followers of Jesus of Nazareth began to proclaim … what?
THAT HE IS RISEN, HE IS RISEN INDEED!
He conquered death, destroyed it and now reigns supreme in the heavenly realms.
The church was built on an empty tomb.
You may go to the tomb of Mohammed, and they will tell you, “Here lay the bones of the great prophet.”
You may go the tomb of Napoleon, and they will say, “Here lay the bones of the emperor of France.”
You may go to Moscow and see the tomb of Lenin, and they will say, “Here lay the bones of the great founder of Soviet Communism.”
But if you go to the tomb of Jesus, they will tell you, and you may walk in and see for yourself, “Here lie the bones of no one. He is not here. He is risen, as he said he would.”
The message from the empty tomb is a message of hope.
THE RESURRECTION IS A MESSAGE OF LOVE
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
In the beginning of John’s Gospel, he lays out for us the immeasurable love of God for each of us.
God wrapped His One and Only Son in a garment of skin, complete with bone and muscle, tissue and fiber, nerves and tendons, finger nails and hair.
He went from His glorious splendor in Heaven to what Paul describes in
Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; 7 rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!
A love so great that it would cause Him to send His One and Only Son from heaven to earth, from the earth to the cross, from the cross to the grave…
But fortunately for all of us Christ rose from the grave!
The love of Christ was so strong that the grave could not hold him!
Jesus told his disciples in John 15:13, Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.
That’s exactly what Jesus did, no one took his life, he laid it down.
I want to share a story with you this morning, a true story.
Hank Hanegraaff shared this story over a decade ago.
It was first published in the Michigan Baptist Bulletin in 1967.
John Griffith was in his early twenties.
He was newly married and full of optimism.
Along with his lovely wife, he had been blessed with a beautiful baby.
He was living the American dream.
But then came 1929—the Great Stock Market Crash—the shattering of the American economy that devastated John’s dreams.
And so, brokenhearted, John packed up his few possessions, and with his wife and his little son, headed East in an old Ford Model A.
They made their way to the edge of the mighty Mississippi River and found a job tending one of the great railroad bridges there.
Day after day, John would sit in the control room and direct the enormous gears of the immense bridge over the mighty river. He would look out wistfully as bulky barges and splendid ships glided gracefully under his elevated bridge.
Each day, he looked on sadly as those ships carried with them his shattered dreams and his visions of far-off places and exotic destinations.
It wasn’t until 1937 that a new dream began to be birthed in John’s heart.
His young son was now eight years old and John had begun to catch a vision for a new life, a life in which Greg, his little son, would work shoulder to shoulder with him.
The first day of this new life dawned and brought with it new hope and fresh purpose.
Excitedly, they packed their lunches and headed off towards the immense bridge.
Greg looked on in wide-eyed amazement as his Dad pressed down the huge lever that raised and lowered the vast bridge.
As he watched, he thought that his father must surely be the greatest man alive.
He marveled that his Dad could singlehandedly control the movements of such a stupendous structure.
Before they knew it, Noon time had arrived.
John had just elevated the bridge and allowed some scheduled ships to pass through.
And then taking his son by the hand, they headed off towards lunch.
Then, suddenly, in the midst of telling a tale about the time that the river had overflowed its banks, he and his son were startled back to reality by the shrieking whistle of a distant train.
Looking at his watch in disbelief, John saw that it was already 1:07.
Immediately he remembered that the bridge was still raised and that the Memphis Express would be by in just minutes.
In the calmest tone he could muster he instructed his son “Stay put.”
Quickly, he leaped to his feet, he jumped onto the catwalk.
As the precious seconds flew by, he ran at full-tilt to the steer ladder leading into the control house.
Once in, he searched the river to make sure that no ships were in sight.
And then, as he had been trained to do, he looked straight down beneath the bridge to make certain nothing was below.
As his eyes moved downward, he saw something so horrifying that his heart froze in his chest.
For there, below him in the massive gearbox that housed the colossal gears that moved the gigantic bridge, was his beloved son.
Apparently Greg had tried to follow his dad but had fallen off the catwalk.
Even now he was wedged between the teeth of two main cogs in the gear box.
Although he appeared to be conscious, John could see that his son’s leg had already begun to bleed.
Then an even more horrifying thought flashed through his mind.
Lowering the bridge would mean killing the apple of his eye.
Panicked, his mind probed in every direction, frantically searching for solutions.
In his mind’s eye, he saw himself grabbing a coiled rope, climbing down the ladder, running down the catwalk, securing the rope, sliding down towards his son, pulling him back to safety.
Then in an instant, he would move back down towards the control lever and thrust it down just in time for the oncoming train.
As soon as these thoughts appeared, he realized the futility of his plan.
Instantly he knew there just wouldn’t be enough time.
His agonized mind considered the four hundred people that were moving closer and closer to the bridge.
Soon the train would come roaring out of the trees with tremendous speed, but this was his son…his only son…his pride…his joy.
He knew in a moment there was only one thing he could do.
He knew he would have to do it.
And so, burying his face under his left arm, he plunged down the lever.
The cries of his son were quickly drowned out by the relentless sound of the bridge as it ground slowly into position.
With only seconds to spare, the Memphis Express—with its 400 passengers—roared out of the trees and across the mighty bridge.
John Griffith lifted his tear-stained face and looked into the windows of the passing train.
A businessman was reading the morning newspaper.
A uniformed conductor was glancing nonchalantly as his large vest pocket watch.
Ladies were already sipping their afternoon tea in the dining cars.
A small boy, looking strangely like his own son, pushed a long thin spoon into a large dish of ice cream.
Many of the passengers seemed to be engaged in idle conversation or careless laughter.
No one even looked his way.
No one even cast a glance at the giant gear box that housed the mangled remains of his hopes and his dreams.
In anguish he pounded the glass in the control room.
He cried out “What’s the matter with you people?
Don’t you know?
Don’t you care?
Don’t you know I’ve sacrificed my son for you?
What’s wrong with you?”
No one answered.
No one heard.
No one even looked.
Not one of them seemed to care.
And then, as suddenly as it had happened, it was over.
The train disappeared moving rapidly across the bridge and out over the horizon.
Folks, this is but a faint glimpse of what the Father did in sacrificing his Son to atone for the sins of the world.
I’m curious, how many of us are more emotionally distraught by John Griffith’s story than we are at the story of Jesus?
Unlike the Memphis Express, however, an express that caught John Griffith by surprise, God in His great love and according to His sovereign will and purpose, determined to sacrifice his Son so that we might live.
Not only so, but the consummate love of Christ is demonstrated in that He was not accidentally caught as was John’s son.
Rather, He willingly sacrificed his life for the sins of mankind.
Well, the story of course doesn’t end there.
Three days later, Jesus arose from the grave.
The resurrection is a message of hope and love.
THE RESURRECTION IS A MESSAGE OF GRACE
The Apostle Paul writes in Romans 6:23, For the wages of sin is death…
At Calvary, those wages were paid in full.
Jesus paid it all.
All to him I owe.
But the second part of Romans 6:23, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Before salvation, we were slaves to sin and destined for death.
But through faith in Jesus Christ, we received the gift of God, which is the salvation of souls unto eternal life: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him” (John 3:16–17).
The word gift is the Greek word χάρισμα (charisma) and in Romans 6:23 it means “a present given as a sign of good favor.”
Ephesians 2:8–9 elaborates on this gift: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.”
The gift of God does not depend on our behavior.
It cannot be earned, like a wage.
It is a “free gift”.
We don’t work for the gift of eternal life; we receive it simply because God’s good favor is poured out on us, when we surrender to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.
The gift of God is His “abundant provision of grace.”
It is “not like the trespass,” which brings death through sin.
But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many! 16 Nor can the gift of God be compared with the result of one man’s sin: The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification. 17 For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ!
Sin pays its wages in death, and sinners get what they deserve.
But God bestows a free gift, and believers in Jesus Christ receive what they don’t deserve—eternal life.
The gift of God is Jesus Christ, His Son.
The apostle Paul thanks God for His “indescribable gift” in Jesus (2 Corinthians 9:15).
Jesus calls Himself “the gift of God” in the form of “living water” to the woman of Samaria (John 4:10).
Jesus provides this definition of eternal life: “Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent” (John 17:3).
The gift is knowing the One True God through a relationship with Jesus Christ, His Son, who is Himself eternal life.
Christians receive all of Christ’s benefits because of our union with Jesus Christ. Jesus died, and therefore we have died in Him (Romans 6:3; Galatians 2:20).
Christ was raised from the dead; thus, we were introduced to new life (Romans 6:4–5).
He lives to God, and now we live to God (Romans 6:10–11).
Jesus Christ will live forever, and we will live eternally with Him (John 17:3; 1 John 2:25).
The only grounds for receiving the gift of God is the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross and his resurrection from the grave.
The message of the resurrection is a message of Grace, God’s Grace.
I want everyone in here this morning to know that Jesus, the Son of God, took on flesh, was tempted as we are, yet did not sin, died on the cross (in our place) for our sins so that we could live in his place as his brothers and sisters.
He was raised up by the Father vindicating his life and death and showing the Father’s pleasure over his obedience.
What do I want you to do?
And my hope and prayer is that if you haven’t yet, you would this morning and that is surrender your whole life to Jesus Christ and let him forgive you, cleanse you, free you from sin and death, shame and guilt, and hell itself.
Do this by grace through faith. Walking in the Love of Christ. Knowing the Hope we have through the resurrection of Jesus.
The only question that really matters is this,