Easter sermon delivered by Rev. Dr. Larry Maley at Dardenne Presbyterian Church on April 5, 2015
“Three Empty Promises of Easter”
Scriptures: Luke 24:1-12 and 1 Corinthians 15:1-8, 20-26
I recently came across a story told by “Dear Abby” about a broken promise between a father and son. The son was about to graduate from high school and the parents had a tradition of awarding their children an automobile as a gift. Bill, the son, and his father had spent several months looking for the perfect car.
On the eve of graduation, Bill’s father handed him a gift-wrapped Bible. Bill was so angry about receiving a Bible that he threw it down and stormed out of the house. He and his father never spoke to one another. The news of the father’s death eventually brought Bill home again. As he was going through his father’s possessions, he came across the Bible his father had given him at graduation. He opened it to find a cashier’s check, dated the day of his graduation, in the exact amount of the car they had chosen together.
As I thought about this tragic story, I couldn’t help but wonder about how many people have done the same thing to God. Literally tossed aside God’s wonderful promise because they didn’t understand it or did not believe it was possible. In our world, we are taught that, “If it sounds too good to be true – it is.” So many of us have been taken in by empty promises thatwe are leery of anything or anyone who tells us we can have something for nothing. The world simply does not work that way.
The world may offer empty promises but God doesn’t! Think of all those television advertisements which promise the magic elixir, technique, or insight for becoming happy, sexy, rich, or famous, if only you spend a few dollars on their product. You don’t have to be fooled too many times before you realize that the world’s promises are full of emptiness. But God is different. God never made a promise that was too good to be true. Instead of making promise full of emptiness, on Easter, God gave us emptiness and filled it with eternal promises.
This morning, I invite you to think about the three promises of Easter. Each promise is marked by something“empty”: (1) an empty Cross; (2) an empty tomb; and (3) empty burial clothes. Each of these empty items assures us that God’s promises are real. Because Jesus could not be contained by the Cross, the tomb, or even His burial clothes, we are confident of God’s promises in our lives.
Let’s begin with the empty Cross. Because the Cross was empty, we have the promise of forgiven sins. Consider how that first Easter morning began for the women who were making their way to Jesus’ tomb (Luke 24:1-12). It was “very early in the morning” as the women walked solemnly to where Jesus was buried. Their conversation was subdued… mournful… heartbroken. They were going to perform the ritual anointing of Jesus’ body with spices and oils. As they came to a rise in the path, they all stopped and stared into the distance. There they saw the gruesome sight of the hill called “Golgatha,” where Jesus had been crucified with two other men. Their bodies had been removed, but the crosses still stood there as a vivid reminder. The cross in the middle was covered in bloodstains: blood from the crown of thorns crushed into Jesus’ skull (Mark 15:17); blood from the nails driven into His hands and feet; blood from the wounds on Jesus’ body where the Roman soldiers had scourged him (John 19:1-3); blood from the spear which pierced Jesus’ side to see if He was actually dead (John 19:34). Don’t believe anyone who tells you Jesus was faking his death. No reputable scholar questions Jesus’ death on the Cross.
Then, the Bible reveals that even though the soldiers knew it, the Roman authorities knew it, and the Jewish leaders knew it, they all fabricated a lie about the disciples stealing Jesus’ body (Matthew 28:11-15) in order to claim that Jesus had come back to life. However, the truth was Jesus really had died – and that explains why the empty Cross is so important.
Even though the Cross was empty – it affirmed one of God’s promises. The promise of the empty Cross is that we are now forgiven, because on that Cross Jesus paid the penalty for our sins. No one else could have paid that penalty: not Moses or Abraham, not David or Isaiah, not Mohammed or Buddha. It had to be someone who was sinless and offered His perfect life for our salvation. So when Jesus went to that Cross, God transferred our debtor’s account to His name. On that day, because of Jesus’ sacrifice, God wrote across every person’s name – “Forgiven – Forgiven – Forgiven.” The first “empty promise” of Easter is the empty Cross – filled with the promise of forgiven sins.
To discover the second empty promise of Easter, let us return to the women who walked to Jesus’ tomb that first Easter morning. After briefly pausing to view the empty Cross, they continued down the path to the tomb. “Who will move the stone for us?” one of them inquired (Mark 16:3). They had good reason to be concerned, as the stone in front of the tomb would have weighed upwards of two tons. Furthermore, the Romans had sealed it so no one was allowed to move it without their permission. Suddenly, the women felt the earth move (Matt. 28:2-3). Frightened, they looked at each other. Slowly, they approached the burial site to discover something even more remarkable; the soldiers were unconscious; the stone had been moved; and an angel in glowing white clothes sat on the stone. Listen to the angel’s amazing words. “Why do you look for the living among the dead? Jesus is not here; he has risen!”(Luke 24:5-6). Jesus was alive! The tomb was empty! What a tremendous promise that holds for us.
The empty tomb confirms the truth of Christ’s resurrection and the promise to every one of us that we will be raised to eternal life (1 Corinthians 15:20-22, 52-57). To those who know Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior, death has lost its sting. Life’s ultimate fear of death is banished when we have Jesus’ promise that one day we will live forever with Him in Heaven.
A father and son were traveling down a country road when a bee suddenly flew into their car. Being extremely allergic to bee stings, the boy began to panic. Seeing the horror on his son’s face, the father reached out and caught the bee in his hand. Then the father opened up his hand and the bee began to buzz again. The boy resumed panicking all over again. The father opened his hand and showed his son the stinger still in his palm. “Relax, son,” the father said, “I took the sting. Death cannot hurt you anymore.”
The empty tomb is God’s way of saying to you,“Relax, my child, I took the sting. Death can’t hurt you anymore.” Why was the tomb empty? Because Jesus was alive and God has now promised that we too will live even when we die. That is the second promise of Easter.
There is a third promise about Easter that you should know about. It is the promise of the empty burial clothes. After the angel had spoken to the women, they went back to the Apostles and reported what had happened. With this incredible news, Peter and John ran back to the tomb to see for themselves (Luke 24:11-12). It didn’t take long for them to discover that Jesus wasn’t in the tomb. But that wasn’t all. Inside, Peter found the clothes that Jesus had been buried in (v.12).They too were empty. That could only mean one thing – Jesus was alive! If someone had stolen His body, they would not have removed his burial clothes, folded them up neatly, and left them inside the tomb. Truly, Jesus was resurrected!
It wasn’t long before Jesus would appear to all of the Apostles, and eventually to over 500 people (1 Corinthians 15:6). He would eat with them, walk with them, and talk with them. He wasn’t some nebulous “force” out in the universe influencing people. He is a living Savior, and He desires to have a personal relationship with each of us, just as He did with His followers 2000 years ago.
That first Easter morning, as the women went to Jesus’ tomb, they had no idea what was about to happen to them. They were not yet aware of God’s promises for that wonderful day. Off in the distance stood an empty Cross – the promise that their sins were forgiven. At the end of their journey was an empty tomb – the promise of their eternal life. Inside the tomb were empty burial clothes – the promise that they would again have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
The three promises which they realized that Easter day can be yours as well. You too can know the freedom of forgiven sins. You too can know the promise of eternal life in Heaven. You too can know Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior. This morning, if you have never accepted God’s promises for your life, hear the voice of Jesus calling to you. Don’t wait another day. Do it today and know the joy of life in Jesus Christ.