150405 John 20:1-8

Last Updated on Sunday, 05 April 2015 Written by Pastor Pagels

Text: John 20:1-8
Theme: The Life Changing Power Of The Empty Tomb

In my hands I am holding a box. Nothing too fancy, just a good, sturdy little box. Because there is a lid on the box it is impossible to see what's inside. So what if I told you. What if I told you that this box contains something that every person needs. What if I told you this box contains the answer to all of life's questions, the solution to all of life's problems. Even if you are skeptical, wouldn't you still want me to open it? Even if it sounds too good to be true, wouldn't you at least want to take a peek at what's inside?

For those of you who are curious (and even if you aren't) I won't keep you in suspense. I will open the box so that you can see what it contains (take off the lid and show the people). As you can see it's empty, completely empty.

Are you disappointed? Do you feel betrayed? Does the fact that the box is empty make me a liar? Not necessarily. This day is really about an empty box, but not a cardboard box like this one. Today we focus our attention on an ancient box that was cut out of limestone, a great big box with a boulder for a lid.

Several people looked inside this box on Easter morning, and when they did they found it empty. But they weren't disappointed. They were transformed. The empty tomb of Jesus transformed their lives, and it has the same effect on disciples of Jesus today. On this glorious Easter morning we celebrate the fact that Jesus Christ has risen from the dead, and as we do we also give thanks to God for...


I. See how people came to the tomb
II. See how people left the tomb

When Mary Magdalene went to the tomb on Easter morning she fully expected to see Jesus, but the thought that she would see him alive didn't even enter her mind. The last time she saw Jesus his lifeless body was being taken down from the cross. She watched as Joseph and Nicodemus hastily wrapped the body and placed it in the tomb. When the stone was rolled over the entrance she could no longer deny what she couldn't believe. Jesus was dead.

And the thought filled her heart with grief. Jesus was the one who had driven seven demons out of her (Luke 8:2), and when he did he gave her her life back. But that was not all he gave this woman. By what he did and what he said Jesus gave her hope, hope for the future, hope for a future beyond this life.

The time she spent with Jesus was a wonderful time in her life, but now it was over. Mary had dedicated her life to serving him, and she went to the tomb with the intention of serving him one last time. That's what the spices were for her. She wanted to honor her dead friend by giving him a proper burial.

Mary's heart was heavy when she went to pay her final respects on Easter morning, but her heart began to pound as soon as she saw the tomb. Something wasn't right. Something was missing. The stone had been rolled away from the entrance. And Mary assumed the worst. She assumed that Jesus' body had been stolen.

In her panic Mary ran. She had to do something. She had to tell someone. So she ran to the disciples and reported: "They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don't know where they have put him" (2)! And then she went back to the scene of the crime and cried.

Are there any Mary Magdalenes here today? I'm not talking about people who answer to that name, but people who have come to church this morning with a heavy heart. You know that this is supposed to be a joyful day, but for some reason you feel sad. Maybe you remember loved ones who aren't with you anymore. Maybe you can't forget about your personal problems. Maybe you can relate to Mary because you know what it feels like to cry.

Mary Magdalene dealt with her sorrow by telling Peter and John what she had seen, and when they heard the news they decided that they needed to check it out for themselves. John reports that they ran to the tomb, but I wonder how eager Peter was to get there.

Seeing the tomb would only remind him of what he had done. Seeing Jesus' dead body (if Mary was wrong) would only intensify his feelings of guilt and shame. Things had been so different only a few days before. In the upper room he pledged his undying allegiance to Jesus. In front of all the disciples he vowed that he would rather die than deny Jesus.

But those were just words, empty words. That same night he told people that he wasn't a follower of Jesus. Only a few hours later he swore up and down that he didn't even know Jesus. And then he heard the rooster crow. And then he saw his Savior's stare. And then he went outside and wept bitterly.

I think we can understand how Peter felt because we have felt the same way. We claim to be faithful followers of Jesus. On our confirmation day we vowed to be faithful even to the point of death. But sometimes it's hard to find the evidence of that faith. Sometimes what we do contradicts what we say. Sometimes what we say on Monday through Saturday contradicts what we say on Sunday. We can't help but feel guilty because we are guilty.

John was the first disciple to reach the tomb, and that shouldn't surprise us. John was the first disciple to follow Jesus after his arrest. John was the only disciple who stood by Jesus when he was crucified.

In his gospel John refers to himself as the disciple whom Jesus loved. John was loved, but he wasn't perfect and he didn't always show Jesus the same love in return. Along with the rest of the disciples he abandoned Jesus when he was arrested in the Garden. He was among the apostles who were skeptical of the women's report that Jesus had risen (Luke 24:11 says that the women's words "seemed to them like nonsense"). And even though John got to the tomb before Peter, he couldn't bring himself to take the next step and go in.

John wasn't the only disciple who had doubts about the resurrection. Many of us know the Easter story well, so well that we take it for granted, so well that we treat it like it's just a story. And then Satan puts those questions in our minds: "Does the Bible really say that Jesus rose from the dead? If you think about it, it sounds kind of silly. You and I both know that dead things don't come back to life. You don't have to take these words literally. It makes much more sense if you understand this account in a figurative sense."

The devil wants us to listen to his lies. He wants us to put our trust in human wisdom, not God's Word. He doesn't mind if we look at the tomb skeptically from the outside, as long as we don't take that leap of faith and go in.

Disciples of Jesus approach the tomb with grief, with guilt, with guarded skepticism, but our living Lord doesn't hold those things against us. How we come to the tomb today isn't as important as how we leave.

If you want to witness the life changing power of the empty tomb look at what it did for John when he went in and saw what was (or what wasn't) inside. When he saw the neatly folded burial cloths, he believed. He believed Mary. He believed the impossible. He believed that Jesus had risen from the dead. He believed that Jesus was the Son of God. He believed that Jesus' resurrection was God's personal guarantee that he would live forever.

And he wanted to share that good news. He wants us to believe the good news. He wants us to have the same confidence that we will live forever. That's why he wrote his gospel. That's why he wrote these words to put an exclamation point on his gospel: "These (words) are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name" (John 20:31).

The resurrection of Jesus also had a profound impact on Peter. Remember the guilt he carried to the tomb. When he left the tomb it was gone because Jesus had taken it away. The angel specifically told the women to tell Peter that Jesus was alive (Mark 16:7). In his list of Jesus' post-resurrection appearances Paul tells us that the Lord first appeared to Peter and then to the Twelve (1 Corinthians 15:5).

We don't know anything more about this private encounter. There is no written record of what Jesus said when he appeared to Peter, but we can be sure that he gave his disciple a heaping helping of the gospel. He told Peter that there was no reason to cry. He assured Peter that his sins were forgiven. He explained to Peter that as far as God was concerned his guilt was gone.

After following Jesus for three years Peter knew that Jesus loved him, but on Easter Sunday he fully understood the meaning of grace. In spite of what he had done, Jesus still loved him. Even though he did nothing, absolutely nothing, to deserve it, Jesus forgave him.

Understanding Peter, understanding what the Lord had done for Peter, helps us appreciate what the apostle meant when he wrote: "Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead" (I Peter 1:3). That is a life giving message. That is a life changing message. The empty tomb gives us hope. The empty tomb transforms our grief into gladness.

When Jesus died, Mary cried. When Mary thought that Jesus' body had been stolen, she cried even more. But then she saw Jesus. Then Jesus said, "Mary" (John 20:16), and he turned her tears of sorrow into tears of joy. She held on to Jesus because she wanted the moment to last forever, but the Lord gave her something better. He gave Mary the promise of a future that will last forever.

"Forever with the Lord" is not just the first line of a hymn (CW 213). It is the destiny of every disciple of Jesus. This life will always be a struggle (Jesus said so). This life will be filled with tears and sadness. But there is something else we need to remember about this life. It's temporary. It will eventually come to an end, but the glory that will follow will never end. Because Jesus lives, we will live. We will live tear free. We will live with the Lord. We will live forever.

It is a tradition for Christians to exchange gifts at Christmas as a way to remember the gift God has given us (the gift of a Savior). Gift giving isn't really an Easter thing, but maybe it should be. Maybe we should start a new tradition this year. Maybe we should give each other empty boxes on Easter morning to remind ourselves why we celebrate this day.

The empty tomb declares that Jesus is the Son of God. The empty tomb assures us that all our sins have been forgiven. The empty tomb is God's personal guarantee that we will spend eternity in heaven.

Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! Amen.

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Compelled by the love of Christ, St. Matthew’s Evangelical Lutheran Church and School seek to reach out to our families, community and world, using Law and Gospel to make disciples, growing and nurturing them in their Christian faith and life.


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