Come See the Place Where He Lay
Come See the Place Where He Lay Spring Valley Mennonite; April 12, 2020; Matthew 27:57-28:7; John 19:38-42 Greetings to you on this glorious Easter Sunday morning! We gather today in spirit in the name of our Risen Lord! We can confidently proclaim, “He is risen! He is risen indeed!” Because of personal safety and stay-at-home guidelines regarding the Covid-19 virus, we are prevented from gathering together. Like many of you, I cannot remember ever missing an Easter Sunday at church! This Resurrection Sunday is truly unique. May it never be repeated! But regardless of this year’s unique circumstances, we do remember and celebrate our living Savior. The sacrifice of Jesus on that fateful Friday has been accepted by God the Father, proven by the Sunday morning Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. The cross of Jesus Christ reveals so much about God. Jesus said that He had come to reveal the Father; the most profound message ever delivered was carved into the wood of that old rugged cross: it was the message of God’s profound love for us. Someone has aptly said that it was not nails that held Jesus to the cross; it was His love that held Him there. Our Lord had many opportunities to avoid the crucifixion. His murderers mocked Him on the cross with the words, “He saved others; himself He cannot save.” But He rejected the opportunities to save Himself: *He could have taken the advice of His disciples and avoided Jerusalem at Passover time. *He might have left the garden that night instead of deliberately walking into the hands of the mob. *As He reminded Peter, He could have called twelve legions of angels for rescue. *He might have compromised with the Caiaphas and denied that He was the Messiah. *When Pilate almost begged Him for some excuse to release Him, He remained silent. *He could have made His kingdom political rather than spiritual. *He had all power to save Himself—BUT any such actions would not have paid for our sins. *His love for us kept Jesus—the Lamb of God-- moving steadfastly toward the Cross. Who can fathom the magnitude of that love? One of Jesus’ disciples named John said, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, so that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” John also said, “In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the satisfaction for our sins. The greatest news ever given is that God is satisfied with Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. As our Savior died, He spoke the words of triumph: it is finished. What was it that Jesus finished? Jesus finished the work that He was sent to do, to offer Himself as a sacrifice and completely satisfy the debt we owed the justice and holiness of God. He paid a debt He didn’t owe because we owed a debt we couldn’t pay. This morning I invite you to “Come, See the Place Where the Lord Lay” Matthew 27:57-61 Every year thousands of Christians visit the Holy Land. If I were making such a trip, the one place that I would be sure to visit would be the garden tomb. This morning I invite all of you to take a journey with me to that garden tomb, as we meditate on the events of that quiet but world-changing morning. There is the danger of familiarity for many of us, as we may have visited this garden tomb many times in the past. Let us approach this tomb reverently, expectantly and worshipfully. This is the holiest of grounds, for here the dead body of our blessed Lord was placed. The body was laid here by those two unlikely Sanhedrin Saints, Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus. These two men had boldly taken a stand against their peers and had lovingly honored Jesus in His death. They had been watched closely by the women who had courageously stayed near the cross as Jesus suffered and died. The body was lovingly prepared for burial and gently laid in the newly hewn rock tomb, and a large stone disc was rolled in front to seal the entrance. Their task was finished. The Gospel writer Mark mentions Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses as two who watched the burial of Jesus. As these two made their way home from watching the body of Jesus being sealed away in that garden tomb, their hearts were heavy with grief and confusion: They sincerely believed Jesus was the Son of God, the Messiah; how could He be dead? How could God die? Their hope was sealed inside a rock tomb. The Sabbath, beginning at sundown on Friday evening, was spent in deep grief. It’s Friday, but Sunday’s coming! As we make this Easter morning journey, we join with the women who came early that Sunday morning, having been prevented by the Sabbath from performing what they anticipated to be their last act of honoring Jesus. They had prepared spices and perfumes to place on the body. Their devotion was not mediated by the fact that Joseph and Nicodemus had already prepared the body in a lavish manner, the Apostle John telling us that Nicodemus brought 75 pounds of spices according to our modern measurements. The women had observed this extravagant gift being used to prepare the body on Friday evening. They could have rationalized that their gift was unnecessary, but they felt a personal desire to express love. Like our modern- day custom of sending flowers at a death, the presence of other arrangements does not negate our desire to provide our flowers. These most faithful followers of Jesus had proven their devotion first by their presence at the cross; now they proved it again with the early morning errand to anoint the body. It was not a joyful task, but one done out of love and devotion. In sadness and grief, they approached the garden tomb. God rewarded their devotion with the honor of being the first to hear of Jesus’ resurrection. I invite you to make this journey this morning with that same devotion and love. Yes, the path to the tomb has been worn so smooth by millions of previous pilgrims; I am sure that in your mind, you have passed this way often; but this morning once more heed the angel’s invitation: “come, see the place where the Lord lay.” This morning, let our unhurried steps reverently take us to that tomb. As we draw near this sacred spot, the first thing we observe that the burial site I. IS A COSTLY TOMB John 19:38-42 (Turn and read) Jesus spent His life owning nothing but the clothes on His back, and even those were taken by the Roman soldiers in a game of chance played in the shadow of the cross. During our Lord’s final hours, beginning at Gethsemane and ending at Calvary, Jesus had been shamed, spat upon, beaten, scourged, cursed, ridiculed, mocked and finally the ultimate humiliation—He was nailed to a wooden cross and raised up for all to see. But after He had died, it is as if God said, “Enough! No more shall the body of My Son be disgraced. Let it now be honored and let it be treated with great respect.” So, a wealthy, yet secret follower of Jesus stepped forward and requested the body, donating His own new tomb to be, what he thought would be, Jesus’ final resting place. Understand that this was not the tomb of a pauper, but the sepulcher of the wealthy. The style of embalmment, the large quantity of spices applied, and the fine linen wrappings were extravagant and fit for royalty. Only the wealthiest could afford the sort of burial that Jesus received. But also consider the high cost to Joseph and Nicodemus as they stepped forward in opposition to their peers. Identifying with Jesus would have most certainly spelled the end of their positions on the Jewish Sanhedrin where they held the highest religious and political rank attainable among the Jews, other than that of the High Priest himself. All power and prestige were forfeited by these men by their open support of Jesus. This was a most costly decision for them. To follow Jesus is a costly decision, whenever it is made. To bend the knee to the Lordship of Jesus Christ, to commit to a life of sacrificial service is costly. In our own culture, taking a Biblical stand on issues is to risk being labeled intolerant and bigoted. Perhaps actual physical persecution is in the future, as it is in many places around the world. But whatever the cost of identifying with Jesus, the spiritual rewards are overwhelming and well worth it. Missionary martyr Jim Elliot wisely stated, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus gained infinitely more than they gave up. It was a costly tomb. We also remember that it had been: II. A SECURED TOMB Matthew 27:62-66 (Read) While the disciples had never grasped the often- repeated promise of Jesus that He would be raised from the dead in three days, His enemies remembered it well. Those who had condemned Jesus visited Pilate on the Sabbath morning and requested that a Roman guard be placed before the tomb to prevent any theft of the body and claims of resurrection made. The Jewish leaders fully realized the implications of a resurrection claim and were determined to prevent it. I can imagine it was with some irritation that Pilate authorized the guard. He thought he was done with this whole distasteful affair; hadn’t he publicly washed his hands yesterday, signifying that he was not to be held responsible? Now here were these troublesome Jews again, asking that a guard be placed over a dead body! Begrudgingly, Pilate authorized the Roman soldiers. He even approved another precautionary step; he ordered that the seal of the Roman Empire be placed upon the tomb, a guarantee against unauthorized tampering. The highest authority on earth at that time, the authority of Imperial Rome, sealed that garden tomb. If we could have given spiritual eyesight and seen what is hidden from our eyes, we would have witnessed another kind of security at the tomb. In addition to man’s efforts to make the tomb secure, do you not think that Satan and all his demonic hoards were surrounding that garden tomb? We can imagine their celebration of the victory of Satan, thinking he had won. We can imagine them congratulating themselves saying, “Jesus is dead. Even God’s Son could not avoid the cold clutches of death.” I can imagine layers upon layers of demonic spirits hovering over that tomb like an evil blanket. It was a secured tomb. But that costly, secure tomb was found on Easter Sunday to be: III. AN EMPTY TOMB! Matthew 28:1-7 (Read) As we reverently join these women who would seek to honor the dead body of their friend and Lord, we stop abruptly and stand observing their confusion: we had been listening to them speak of trying to find someone who would help to roll the stone away--for they knew nothing of the Roman guard and Roman seal. If they had known of the securing of the tomb, they would not have bothered to visit that morning. But as we enter the area of the tomb, we see the stone has already been moved up and away from the tomb! With hesitation, we join the women as they step closer and peer in. At first, we can see nothing, as our eyes adjust from the brightness of the morning. Then we see the grave clothes lying empty. Suddenly we are startled by the appearance of Angels, Luke tells us there were two young men, and their robes are glowing brightly, illuminating the darkness inside the tomb. (Just a point here: God often gives us supernatural enlightenment during our darkest circumstances.) And, the Angel speaks: “Why do you seek the living among the dead? Come, see the place where the Lord lay.” Emotions of shock and surprise and the beginning of a tiny feeling of something we can’t quite identify begins to well up inside of us. Then you hear the words, “He is not here; HE IS RISEN!!!” Dare we believe their words that Jesus is alive??? The women run to tell the disciples of the empty tomb. Peter and John hurry to visit the empty tomb and they also observe the body wrappings still present. The moist spices placed between the windings of linen cloth had begun to form a hard encasement around the body; these wrappings were laying there retaining the shape of a body, but they were empty! Observe that if the body had been stolen, the wrappings would have been taken also. The head cloth was found apart from the body wrappings to remove all doubt. There was no body, only wrappings! Paul speaks in the first chapter of Ephesians of the power of God expressed that Resurrection morning, saying, when God raised Jesus from the dead, after His ascension, He seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, “far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named…” The powers of darkness swarming above the tomb could not prevent the resurrection any more than the Roman soldiers outside the tomb. The Lord of Darkness was defeated by the One who said, “I am the light of the world; he who follows Me shall not walk in the darkness but shall have the light of life.” The Apostle John told us that “…the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” That was proven by the empty tomb. Satan’s best efforts to keep the world in bondage to sin and death failed! He is Risen! The tiny feeling which began as we observed the place where He lay was the seed of hope! What had been despair, sorrow, grief and confusion was replaced by Hope and Joy. Can you feel it in your heart this morning? It is not only Joy that our friend and teacher whom we thought was dead is alive, but we begin to realize the overwhelming implications of the Resurrection. Because the tomb was empty, as Jesus had repeatedly claimed would happen, and because Jesus was raised from the dead, we realize that He truly was God,. We begin to understand that because Jesus is raised from the dead, His horrible death on the cross is given its true significance. Because if Jesus had stayed in the grave, all we would have is a dead martyr. He would have only been another good man who was a wise teacher. But wise teachings cannot pay for our sins. Think of it this way, when the angels asked the women, “Why are you seeking the living among the dead” those words touch on an interesting principle. There are many religions in the world today, most of which had a founder or main teacher. Mohammed founded the religion of Islam. Buddha began the system of belief know as Buddhism, and so forth. Those men are dead, and their teachings are the teaching of dead men. Dead teaching cannot give life. But Christianity is not based upon a body of teaching from a wise but dead prophet, but our faith is based upon the risen physical body of Jesus Christ! Jesus is alive, and He has proven by His resurrection that He truly is the “Way, the Truth, and the Life.” The living way is found only through the living Savior. Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me, though he may die, shall live.” There is an inseparable linkage between the Cross and the resurrection. The cross was necessary to provide the solution to the sin problem of mankind. Every person has sinned, and every person is condemned to eternal separation from God. We do not have the ability to atone for our own sins; we cannot bridge the chasm which separates us from God. Visualize a vast chasm with all sinners standing on the edge of one side. Our Holy God is on the other side of the chasm, and we desperately need rescue, for the edge is crumbling, and each one has only so much time before they fall to eternal death. You cannot jump the chasm, it is much too wide; it is bottomless, so you cannot climb down and back up, there is nothing with which to build a bridge and no air transportation is available. You are stuck on the wrong side of the chasm. But God loves us so much that He sent His son Jesus Christ to build a bridge across the chasm. By dying on the cross, that cross becomes a bridge. The resurrection secures the bridge and proves that God accepts the sacrifice as full payment for your sins and the sins of every man. We decide whether to walk across the bridge or not. That is the good news of what Jesus Christ has done. Do you believe this? Do you believe that Jesus died for your sins? Do you believe that the tomb was empty on Easter morning? To walk that bridge means to believe both: all Jesus said and did is dependent upon the resurrection. And the tomb was empty! This is the good news of the Gospel: Jesus died for our sins and was raised from the dead three days later. Hallelujah! He is Risen! We serve a risen Savior!