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Preaching the Great Hymns of Easter: In the Garden

Preaching the Great Hymns of Easter  •  Sermon  •  Submitted
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This hymn is the story of incredible heartbreak that turns into incredible joy. The hymn was written by C. Austin Miles, a well-known hymn writer of his day. In 1912, music publisher Dr. Adam Geibel—himself a successful organist, conductor, and composer of Gospel songs—asked his friend Miles to write a new song for Easter. Dr. Geibel insisted that it be a hymn, “sympathetic in tune, breathing tenderness in every line; one that would bring hope to the hopeless, rest for the weary, and downy pillows to dying beds.”

C. Austin Miles (1868-1946) began considering various biblical texts. A pharmacist turned hymn writer and church music director, he was also an amateur photographer. One day while in his dark room waiting for film to develop, Miles was reading from John’s Gospel, the 20th chapter, when he had a profound spiritual experience in which he saw an incredible vision of Mary Magdalene visiting the empty tomb. He saw her leave the tomb and walk into a garden where she met the Master and heard Him speak her name. Miles later wrote of the experience, “As I read it that day, I seemed to be part of the scene. I became a silent witness to that dramatic moment in Mary's life, when she knelt before her Lord, and cried, "Rabboni!" Under the inspiration of this vision I wrote as quickly as the words could be formed the poem exactly as it has since appeared.” Later that evening he composed the musical score. The song was published that same year and became a theme song of the Billy Sunday evangelistic crusades. Next to The Old Rugged Cross this hymn has been one of the most popular gospel hymns ever written.

They hymn tells the story of Mary Magdalene. Just two days earlier, she had watched as Roman soldiers nailed Jesus to a cross where he died. Now, on a Sunday morning she has come to finish the embalming procedure so hastily started the day he died. But she discovers the stone rolled away and an empty tomb and assumes that the authorities have moved the body. Not only had she watched him die, but now there is the added grief compounded upon grief associated with a body snatching.

Anxiety and heartbreak hardly describes her feelings.

She goes to tell the disciples. Peter and John go running to the tomb with Mary in close pursuit. The two apostles are not there very long and leave. Mary leans her head upon her arm at the tomb and weeps. She is left there by herself to nurse her despair and disillusionment.

Suddenly, she hears a voice. She turns and discovers that Jesus is alive. In a flash her heartbreak bursts into effervescent joy. In her exuberance she falls at our Lord’s feet, clasping them and crying out, “Rabbi!” After a brief conversation she hurries to find the disciples, and with animated ardor tells the disciples, that she had seen the Lord, and that he had spoken these things unto her.

What are some of the practical truths this great hymn of the faith teaches us? I want to concentrate primarily on the chorus.


            1. there is great consolation in knowing that Jesus walks with us in our everyday lives
                1. His presence is real because we are indwelt by the Holy Spirit
            2. Mary discovered this for herself on that first Easter morning
                1. she went to the garden where Jesus was buried
                2. she went early in the morning, while the dew was still on the roses
                3. and she hears a voice falling on her ear and it’s the voice of Jesus
            3. in their conversation The Son of God discloses that she needs to go tell the disciples that He is risen and will soon be returning to the Father
            4. this knowledge gave her great joy
                1. the prophet Malachi wrote:
                  • “But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings. And you will go out and leap like calves released from the stall.” (Malachi 4:2) NIV
                2. I have no doubt that on that first Easter Sunday, as Mary goes racing to find Peter and John that she was just like a calf released from a stall


            1. here is one of the great truths of the Bible — the pre-existent Son of God became man in Jesus that He might redeem men from the curse of the law
              • “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14, NIV84)
              • ILLUS. J. B. Phillips said, The Christian faith is founded upon ... a well attested sober fact of history; that quietly, but with deliberate purpose, God himself has visited this little planet.
            2. God, in His infinite grace and mercy, chooses to have fellowship with us
                1. but the only way He could have fellowship with us was to provide atonement for our sin that we might be justified in His sight
            3. it was always the Father’s plan that the Son would come in the flesh to provide the atonement we needed
                1. that atonement was provided by the precious blood of Jesus Christ, shed on the cross of Calvary for the sins of mankind
                  • “But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:5, NIV84)
            4. the Bible clearly teaches that the Jesus who walks with us and talks with us is the Son of God
                1. John the Baptist believed this
                  • “Then John gave this testimony: “I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. I would not have known him, except that the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is he who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’ I have seen and I testify that this is the Son of God.” The next day John was there again with two of his disciples. When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, “Look, the Lamb of God!” (John 1:32–36, NIV84)
                2. the people Jesus healed believed this
                  • “Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” “Who is he, sir?” the man asked. “Tell me so that I may believe in him.” Jesus said, “You have now seen him; in fact, he is the one speaking with you.” Then the man said, “Lord, I believe,” and he worshiped him.” (John 9:35–38, NIV84)
                3. the Disciples believed this
                  • “Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?” And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.” (Matthew 14:31–33, NIV84)
                4. the demons believed this
                  • “Whenever the evil spirits saw him, they fell down before him and cried out, “You are the Son of God.” (Mark 3:11, NIV84)
                5. most important, Jesus believed it about himself
                    1. there are numerous Scriptures where Jesus reveals Himself to be the Son of God
                    2. let me share a couple significant passages
                      • ILLUS. #1 In John’s gospel we have the account where four men cut a hole in the roof of a home where Jesus was staying in order to lower a friend who was a quadriplegic into the presence of Jesus. Jesus heals the man by forgiving him of his sins which highly upset the Jewish religious leaders who are present. They seek to stone him because he has claimed to be God who is the only one who can forgive sin. Speaking of himself, Jesus tells them . . .
                      • “I tell you the truth, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live. For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son to have life in himself.” (John 5:25–26, NIV84)
                      • ILLUS. #2 In His conversation with Nicodemus, Jesus clearly refers to Himself as the God’s only Son.
                      • “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.” (John 3:18, NIV84)
            5. why in the world would God lay aside His eternal power and divine glory and lower Himself to become a servant?
                1. a clue is found in the Book of Hebrews
                  • “Since we have a great high priest, Jesus the Son of God, who has gone into heaven, let us hold on to the faith we have. For our high priest is able to understand our weaknesses. He was tempted in every way that we are, but he did not sin. Let us, then, feel very sure that we can come before God’s throne where there is grace. There we can receive mercy and grace to help us when we need it.” (Hebrews 4:14–16, NCV)
            6. why did God walk as we walk?
                1. He took upon Himself the frail garment of our fading and shameful flesh
                2. He came to be so one with us that He was touched with the feeling of our infirmities, tempted in all points like as we are


            1. God the Son clothed himself with our lowliness in order to invest us with his grandeur
            2. I believe God entered time and space to make a statement about His concern for men lost in sin
                1. He didn't come to keep us from suffering; He came to suffer as we must suffer
                2. He didn't come just to keep us from being afraid; He came to be afraid as we are afraid
                3. He didn't come just to keep us from dying; He came to die as we must die
                4. He didn't come to keep us from being tempted; He came to be tempted as we are tempted
            3. all because God wants to know our weaknesses
                1. why does the God of creation, the God of glory, the God who is all-in-all who needs nothing to be complete desire to know our experience with life first-hand?
            4. so that as a loving father, He can share in our joys, and our heartaches in true knowledge
              • ILLUS. When I made Eagle Scout, I don’t know who was more proud. Me or dad. I suspect dad. When I blew my knee out playing football, my junior year I don’t know who was more disappointed, me or dad. I suspect it was dad. That’s the way loving fathers are.
                1. I suspect this is one of the reasons God came in the flesh
            5. Jesus walks with me


            1. the first two words of the second stanza are simply, He speaks ...
            2. God chose to walk as we walk so that He might speak with us
                1. right after Adam and Eve’s sin, the bible says, And they heard the voice of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day:
                2. the implication is that this is nothing unusual
                3. God regularly approached Adam and Eve to catch up, so-to-speak, on the events of the day and do some chit-chat
            3. for the believer, the voice of God Is so sweet the birds hush their singing


            1. God wants us to know Who He is and what He is up to
            2. to that end He speaks to us
                1. why does God speak to us?
                    1. God speaks to us in order to reveal His character
                    2. God speaks to us in order to reveal His will and His ways
                2. how does God speak to us?
                    1. He speaks to us through His creation
                    2. He speaks to us through circumstances
                    3. He speaks to us through His church
                    4. He speaks to us through His Holy Spirit
                    5. He speaks to us through His revealed Word
            3. but He speaks to us most clearly through the Son, Jesus who is the Christ
              • “In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets many times and in many different ways. But now in these last days God has spoken to us through his Son. God has chosen his Son to own all things, and through him he made the world.” (Hebrews 1:1–2, NCV)
                1. God the Father communicates all that He is through God the Son
                2. Jesus told the disciples, “. . . whatever I say is what the Father told me to say.” (John 12:50) NCV
            4. the real question this evening is not, “Does God speak to us?” for He clearly does
            5. the real question this evening is, "What kind of hearer are you?”
              • ILLUS. President Franklin D. Roosevelt has famous for flashing his big toothy grin to everyone he met. But the story goes that he got tired of smiling that big smile and saying the usual things a president says at all those White House receptions and feeling like no one was really listening. So, one evening he decided to find out whether anybody was paying attention to what he was saying. As each person came up to him with extended hand, he flashed that big smile and said, "I murdered my grandmother this morning." People would automatically respond with comments such as "How lovely!" or "Just continue with your great work!" Nobody listened to what he was saying, except one foreign diplomat. When the president said, "I murdered my grandmother this morning," the diplomat responded softly, "I'm sure she had it coming to her."
                1. God regularly speaks to us, the question is,”Are we listening?”
            6. one of our Lord’s most well-known parables is a story about hearing
                1. it’s the story about sowing wheat
                2. in it, Jesus mentions several kinds of hearers
                    1. there is the Apathetic Hearer
                      • “What is the seed that fell by the road? That seed is like the person who hears the message about the kingdom but does not understand it. The Evil One comes and takes away what was planted in that person’s heart.” (Matthew 13:19, NCV)
                        1. this is the person who hears the word, but who is not prepared to receive it and understand it
                    2. there is the Superficial Hearer
                      • “And what is the seed that fell on rocky ground? That seed is like the person who hears the teaching and quickly accepts it with joy. But he does not let the teaching go deep into his life, so he keeps it only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the teaching he accepted, he quickly gives up.” (Matthew 13:20–21, NCV)
                        1. this is the person who receives the Word temporarily but does not let it take root in their heart
                    3. there is the Preoccupied Hearer
                      • “And what is the seed that fell among the thorny weeds? That seed is like the person who hears the teaching but lets worries about this life and the temptation of wealth stop that teaching from growing. So the teaching does not produce fruit in that person’s life.” (Matthew 13:22, NCV)
                        1. this is the person who receives the word but lets the worries of this world and desire for things choke it out
                    4. there is the Faithful Listener
                      • “But what is the seed that fell on the good ground? That seed is like the person who hears the teaching and understands it. That person grows and produces fruit, sometimes a hundred times more, sometimes sixty times more, and sometimes thirty times more.” (Matthew 13:23, NCV)
                        1. this is the person who receives the word, understands it, attempts to put it into practice and brings forth spiritual fruit
            7. some how, some where, God will choose to speak to you tomorrow
                1. will you be listening?


            1. if you want to hear the voice of Jesus you’ve got to read the Word of God
                    1. Jesus is the Living Word of God
                    2. the Bible is the Written Word of God
            2. the only way to listen to the Living Word is to listen to the Written Word
                1. if we do, God will put give us a melody that rings within our hearts


            1. what Mary need most in that garden that morning was affirmation
            2. she received it in through the presence and the soft word of our Lord
            3. how does God provide His Elect assurance today?


    • “You gave me life and showed me kindness, and in your providence watched over my spirit.” (Job 10:12, NIV84)
            1. the word providence in this verse refers to one who is officially in charge of an account and has the responsibility of managing that account wisely
            2. what does this mean?
                1. the responsibility for your eternal security falls on God’s shoulders, not yours!


    • “What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31, NIV84)
            1. God is our great protector and the shepherd of our hearts
              • /ILLUS. When evening came, shepherds would gather their flocks into pens for the night. To keep predators away from their sheep, they would pile thorn branches atop the low stone wall of the enclosure. This thorny hedge was the barbed wire of their day.
                1. the blood of Christ that covers our sin is God’s thorny hedge of protection around His sheep
            2. our heavenly assurance rests not only on what God has done for us in the past by saving us, but what He continues to do for us right now
                1. God has built a spiritual hedge of protection around the soul of each believer through which no one or no thing can pass in order to take away our life in Christ


    • “For the which cause I also suffer these things: nevertheless I am not ashamed: for I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day.” (2 Timothy 1:12, KJV 1900)
            1. Paul staked his assurance on the power of God to keep what Paul had entrusted to Him
            2. what does Paul believe God has to power to keep?
                1. his very soul!
                  • “For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38–39, KJV 1900)

All of these things are meant to give us joy as we tarry in the presence of Jesus.

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