March 23, 2008: Crossroad # 9: To and From the Tomb, or: The Life-Changing Power of the Empty Tomb

Let us pray: Dear Savior, today our happiness and our relief knows no bounds! For today You have given us proof of our salvation. Today Your tomb stands empty. You are risen from the dead! As we all struggle with our own inner demons and doubts about Your guiding hand in our lives, remind us of the truth of Easter. Remind us that not only are You at peace with us because of the cross, but You’re alive and actively working at applying the comfort of that peace upon each of us, every single day. Amen


TEXT: John 20: 1-8

Fellow Redeemed Sinners Whose Tears The Lord Has Dried:

He’s Risen! He’s risen, indeed! Oh, what joy that victory chant brings to Christians around the world today! Think of it, people of every race, color, and circumstance from around the globe are employing those very words on this very day, as they journey to the empty tomb where Jesus was laid. But, why go to this unknown gravesite? Aren’t there more interesting places to visit than a borrowed tomb in Palestine? How about going to King Tut’s tomb? After all, its golden splendor has enraptured millions? And unlike the tomb of Pres. Kennedy, or Washington, or Winston Churchill we don’t even know for certain the exact location of Jesus’ tomb. Because of that fact, Muslims like to heckle Christian missionaries throughout the world by saying: “We have the tomb of our great prophet Mohammed, and you Christians have nothing.”

Ah, but that’s the point! That’s exactly why we’re here celebrating today. We have “nothing,” and that “nothing” means everything to us. That “nothing” changed our lives. And so, after our long journey down Christ’s crossroads, we’ve finally arrived at the trip’s finality. This morning we’re arrived at:



This morning we walk with three people to that tomb: Mary Magdalene and two disciples, Peter and John. Mary was the first to arrive. Now there are many outlandish rumors surrounding Mary, but the simple fact is: she was a pious believer. She was a charter member of that first Women’s Missionary Society that followed and provided for Jesus and supported His ministry. She had experienced His miraculous power in her life. For Christ had cast 7 demons from her body and given her a new lease on life. In devotion and gratitude she had been there at Golgotha and witnessed His death. She couldn’t have Him die alone without any friends around. She and some other women had also watched Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus removed Jesus’ body from the cross and prepare it for burial. Now she returns to complete that last, loving task. There was no joy, but just plain grief as she entered the cemetery. Her step had no skip, only slow sorrow. It reflected her heart. Her friend, her pastor, her healer was dead. And her journey to the tomb was also weighed down by the worry over the stone.—How could they ever remove it to get at the body? It was huge and weighty. And just when it seemed things couldn’t get worse, they did. Mary arrived, the stone was already rolled back, and Jesus’ body was gone! For Mary this added insult to injury. It was salt poured unto an emotional wound. Listen to her grieving report to Peter and John: “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him.” Overcome by impotence, Mary retreats further into the cemetery and floods the earth with her tears.

What about us? Do we have a little grief, shame, and tears in our hearts today? Be honest. You have a little of Mary in you. Haven’t you thought this morning about how you miss Mom or Dad and wish they could be here on Easter Sunday with you? Don’t you grieve more for them on holidays and special events? And like Mary, haven’t we all had our dreams dashed and our hopes destroyed and joy sucked out of our lives by events that we could not control?

Mary wasn’t the only one who traveled to the tomb that Sunday morning. After hearing her report, Peter and John headed there too. Grief, sorrow and even shame filled their hearts. First, there’s Peter. Personally, I agree with those who think Peter took Christ’s death harder than anyone else. Not only had he lost a dear friend, but he had the millstone around his neck of betrayal. Peter had promised Christ “I will never leave you.” But then the questions of the servant girl got too close for comfort and Peter denied Christ. Not once, but three times. He cursed Christ. The rooster crowed and that knife of betrayal twisted in his heart. Peter had walked on water with Christ, but in the wee hours of Friday morning, Peter walked away, ran away from Christ. He abandoned Jesus on Calvary’s dark mountain even though Christ had given him a shining moment on the Mt. of Transfiguration. He wasn’t even there at Calvary to comfort Christ’s mother, even though Jesus had healed his own mother-in-law! Guilt, shame, tears hallmarked Peter’s walk to the tomb.

Are we any different? Is today the first time in months that you’ve graced the church’s door? Do you feel a twinge of guilt over such irregularity? Do we confess Christ with our lips, like Peter, and then live the opposite? Do we lie away at night because we know we’re lousy parents, lousy spouses, lousy workers, lousy church members, or a lousy pastor? Do we avoid regular Sunday worship because it’s painful to be reminded of our sins and failings?

And then there’s John. Did he come with grief and sorrow? Certainly! Guilt? Without a doubt. Think back on how John fell asleep when Jesus prayed in Gethsemane. Our agonized Lord needed him. And John deserted Him. Was he trying to assuage his conscience when he stood at the foot of the cross and Jesus gave him charge of His mother Mary? Probably. But, what sticks out most about John was his skepticism. Elsewhere we’re told that the disciples didn’t believe the women’s report. It was “nonsense” to them that Jesus was gone. John, the original skeptic!

Do you harbor guarded skepticism in your heart over Christ and all He’s done? Many do. Are you like so many who say: “I wish I could believe it, but I just don’t know?” There are many versions of such skepticism out there. Maybe Jesus simply passed out on the cross, later revived and escaped? Maybe His followers really did steal His body and lied about His resurrection? Maybe it’s all legend? After all, I’ve never seen such a thing and they cannot re-produce it in any laboratory. Yes, Satan works hard on us to plant his lies in our hearts. We call them guarded skepticism. We might well call them: Johnitis.

But, like John, it’s not important how we come to the tomb, but how we leave it. It’s empty! And that emptiness gives it life-changing power! Let’s look at what it did for John.


He finally went inside the tomb and saw the grave clothes lying there carefully folded. And in his own words he tells us: “He saw and believed.” The empty tomb converted his guarded skepticism into guaranteed certainty. It does the same for us. It proves that Jesus was correct when He claimed to be “the Son of God.” In the following days we’re told that Jesus appeared to hundreds of witnesses. Only the Son of God could rise to life and do so. A few verses later John writes this: “These are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.” The empty tomb changed his doubts to certain belief. It also allows us to walk through life today not with limping skepticism, but real certainty.

The empty tomb’s life-changing power doesn’t stop there, either. For it takes guilt and shame and erases them with comfort and grace. Go back to Peter. After realizing the depth of his sin we’re told: “He went outside and wept bitterly.” But God used the empty tomb to change that bitterness to joy. After the angel first appeared to the women and announced Christ’s resurrection, that heavenly messenger added this: “Go, tell his disciples and Peter.” God was concerned about Peter. He loved Peter. And Christ personally reinstates Peter as His spokesman later on, doesn’t He? Peter may have turned his back on Christ, but Christ doesn’t reciprocate. No, He says to him: “I forgive you. Your guilt is gone. I’ve forgotten it.” That’s why Peter could later write: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” That living hope and new birth are ours, too. As Scripture says: “He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.” The empty tomb proclaims: “I forgive you! You’re innocent of My blood. Your haphazard allegiance to Me is forgotten! Live in joy and not in shame any more.”

Those truths make us want to celebrate! And that leads us to the final, powerful truth of the empty tomb: it turns grief and sorrow into gladness and celebration! Look what it did for Mary. She came with grief. She lingered with sorrow flowing from her eyes. She thought someone had stolen Jesus’ body. But then our risen Lord appears to her and comforts her. She sees Him and exclaims: “Teacher!” She grabs His feet. Only after Christ instructs her does she finally let go. And then she runs to the others in joy exclaiming: “I have seen the Lord!” 40 hours of sorrow gave way to an eternity of gladness. What does the empty tomb prove? It validates Christ’s promise: “Because I live, you also will live.” It changes our perspective on life. It shows that grief is temporary, but joy in Christ is eternal.

There’s a famous Easter painting of the cross as viewed from the doorway of the empty tomb. Surely the cross is the pre-eminent symbol of Christianity. It’s in churches, homes, on jewelry; it’s all over. But, let’s view it from the proper perspective. Viewed alone, the cross reminds us of sin and death. But, if it is viewed from the empty tomb, we see it as it really was—just a necessary stop on our Savior’s road to get to the tomb so that He could finally walk away from it. And because He walked away from the tomb, we’ll also walk away from ours! That’s power! That’s life-changing power! Yes, He is Risen! He is risen, indeed! Alleluia. Amen