A Sermon on John 20:1-18 for Easter Festival Services, April 1, 2018.
Happiness. Everyone wants it. Everyone looks for it. We do not wake up in the morning hoping that happiness will elude us. We do not want to live a life void of all joy. Even as we go through rough patches in our life, people will tell us to hold our heads up. Life will get better. The joy and happiness will return. Although a nice piece of advice, it doesn’t break up the dark clouds hanging over us. When tough times come, it is hard to find the joy in life, as I learned in a very personal way.
How many of you came here with joy this morning? Let me tell you about a day that joy came back into my life. On this particular day, none of my friends, myself included, had joy. Our joy fizzled out a few days ago. Faint memories remained of the joy that took place only a short week ago. Shouts of great joy arose for Jesus. The citizens of Jerusalem sang songs of praise to my Master. I, along with the other disciples, walked by the side of the donkey in bewilderment.
I knew Jesus was a great King, but this welcome took me by surprise. After a few minutes, I too joined in the festive attitude. Even Jesus soaked up all this praise. After that day, things went downhill in a hurry.
The following days we followed Jesus around as he preached in the city. The Pharisees, as they often did, tried to trap Jesus in his teachings. They questioned him about the last days, marriage in heaven, and paying taxes. Jesus taught in parables about many things during this time.
Then the day of the Passover came. We celebrated this sacred day just as our ancestors did for thousands of years. It should have been a joyous night, but it took on a much more somber tone this time. Jesus washed all of our feet. He taught us a very important lesson about humility and service to others. He gave us a new meal to celebrate instead of this ancient feast.
After we left the upper room things started to really spiral out of control. Jesus was arrested, handed over by one of my fellow disciples no less. I followed him to the court of the High Priest. The trial went quickly. The next thing Jesus was sentenced to death.
I stood at the foot of the cross. Jesus told me to take care of his mother, Mary. I did this for him. I watched as he took his final breath. The soldier thrust his spear into Jesus’ side, and water and blood gushed out. I had to hold onto Mary for she fell to the ground in complete anguish.
I learned how fast joy can dissipate. We thought Jesus would usher in this new kingdom. We thought of him to be the Messiah. Now, he lay in a tomb. The stone rolled over the entrance. Joy was lost. All our hopes buried there with Jesus.
Those were dark days. Imagine the thought! Not only did we lose a good friend, but he was supposed to be the Savior we longed for. How could the Savior die? How could he ever bring joy being locked up in a tomb?
For three days my friends and I locked ourselves in a room. Fear overtook us. Worry that we would be killed consumed our mind. Then early on Sunday, just as the sun rose over the horizon, Mary Magdalene came knocking on the door. Out of breath she started to speak, but we could not understand here. Finally, she told us with tears in her eyes. She brought more sad news. The tomb, where Jesus was buried, the stone had been rolled away. What could this mean? Did someone steal his body? Nobody had any idea what took place.
Peter ran out the door. I quickly followed. I got to the tomb first. I could not bear to go in. I looked. The burial linens lying in the tomb. The covering which went over his face folded next to it. It looked so strange. My heart pounded. My fear and wonder continued to grow.
Peter finally came to the tomb, and he rushed past me entering the tomb. He stared around with a puzzled look. I went in. I saw all of this. The tomb was empty. Jesus was not here. I believed. It took a little bit, but the joy returned. It all started with seeing the empty tomb.
That is the joy of this day called Easter. Jesus is not dead. The grave could not hold him. He rose from the dead. He had said he would do this multiple times before, but I never believed it. He raised Lazarus and others from the dead, but I still failed to comprehend how he had to rise from the dead.
My heart remained at the foot of the cross filled with grief. I focused on his death as robbing the world of the Savior, rather than seeing it as God’s plan to save the world from their sins. I came to the tomb early on that first day of the week fully expecting to see the body of Jesus. My mind wanted to continue to remain in the darkness of sin and uncertainty, but my heart told me to rejoice for Christ had risen.
Through the power of the Holy Spirit, I wrote these things down for you to understand. Jesus rose! He lives! The tomb is empty! Yes, we need to see the agony of the cross. There our sins were paid for. Our Savior suffered in our place. God placed the punishment for all our sins upon him. If we remained only there, there would be no joy.
Our hearts need to move to the empty tomb. There we see God’s wonderful pronouncement that the sacrifice is accepted. We come to the tomb which erases all the sorrow and worry from our hearts only to fill that void with joy. Jesus rose from the dead. He lives!
I asked at the beginning how many of you came with joy today. So, how many of you did? The better question might be, “How often does the view of the empty tomb bring joy in your life?” As someone endures persecution for their faith, the empty tomb brings joy. We fight for the one that lives! As someone battles the addictions of pornography, gambling, alcohol or anything else, the empty tomb brings the joy of Christ who overcame all for us. As someone feels overwhelmed by sorrow, the empty tomb brings joy for Christ will wipe those tears away from our eyes.
When we doubt if God really does care for us, we look to the empty tomb. God raised his Son from the dead to rule over all things for us. When we are about to close our eyes in death, we look to the empty tomb. We know that Jesus lives! He will take us to be with him for all time.
This joy of Easter fills our lives in every aspect. Satan does not have a claim on me. Christ holds me in his hands. The world will not have the last say. Christ has overcome the world on our behalf. Our sinful nature will not hold onto us forever. Christ will free us from all sin to take us to his side in heaven.
I saw the empty tomb. I saw the resurrected Lord. I know that you do not have the same opportunity to do this. Don’t let the unbelief rule in your hearts. Don’t think that this is what you might call an April Fool’s Day joke. Christ truly is risen.
The news rings out for all to hear. The joy of Easter brings fresh confidence into our lives. Our Lord lives! Our Lord has swallowed up death in victory. In life and in death this is the good news we hold on to. I saw it with my own eyes. Through the eyes of faith all of you can see it. The Empty Tomb Brings Joy. Amen.