Easter 2018: The Grave that Gives Life

Partial sermon audio.  Begins at 20:15

Other recording, lesser quality, full sermon:

While Jesus’s Japanese grave makes for great tourism, it doesn’t make anything for salvation. 

Have you heard about the Japanese Jesus?  In northern Japan a decorated grave is maintained by the local yogurt factory.  Each year for 100 Yen, about $1.00 USD, tourists can go see the grave of Jesus, and, if you come in the spring during the “Christ Festival” you can watch as Japanese women dressed in kimono’s dance around the grave chanting musically in an unknown language.  

As the local museum tells the story, Jesus came there during His twenties and studied theology under a great Eastern Spiritual Master at Mount Fuji.  At 33 years old He traveled back to Jerusalem, preached about the “sacred land” of Japan He came from. His efforts were foiled though when He got in trouble with the Roman authorities.  It wasn’t Jesus that was crucified, but, His younger brother. So, himself narrowly escaping death, Jesus hiked for 4 years across 6,000 miles through treacherous places like the frozen wastelands of Siberia, through Alaska, finally sailing and returning to the holy land of Japan.  Upon arriving he married a farmers daughter, had 3 kids, ran a farm that produced garlic and lived to 106 years of age. Then He died. And was buried. And for a buck you can go see.


While Jesus’ Japanese grave makes for great tourism, it doesn’t make anything for salvation.  A dead Jesus does nothing for anyone. But a living Jesus – a resurrected Jesus – has power to make anyone who comes to Him live.


All of history and all we observe today irrefutably establishes one fact:  every life ends in death. Yet, the real story is that Jesus Christ comes along and dies, and out of this one single death God has made life available to all.  In remembrance and celebration of our Savior’s resurrection I title my sermon: The Grave that Gives Life. Go to the grave of anyone and there you will find a place where life has ended.  But go to the empty grave of Jesus Christ and you will find the place where life began. “Unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies,” Jesus said, “it remains only a single seed.  But if it dies, it produces many seeds.”  


Luke 24 is our focus this morning.  The heaviness of that crucifixion weekend is felt.  Think of how the disciples and those who followed Him felt:

  • Sadness must have been oppressive.  They lost the greatest person they’d ever known – they loved Him and admired Him more than anyone had ever been loved and admired.  He was their Rock, their Teacher, their best friend.
  • They felt confusion too though:  wasn’t he supposed to restore Israel to glory?  We thought He had big plans? Weren’t we going to all be on thrones?  Weren’t we going to get 100 times what we sacrificed to follow Him? How do we make sense of everything He said now that he’s dead?
  • They felt despair:  they lost their hero and with Him they lost their purpose.  Are we supposed to go back to our old lives now? How do we face our family, our friends, our neighbors after everything we told them about Jesus?  Was following Him for 3 years worth it? Would we do it again?
  • They felt fear:  fear that they would be hunted down so any remaining embers of this Jesus group can be extinguished.
  • They felt guilt:  they all ran away when he was arrested.  They ran away when only hours before they all vowed to follow Him even to death.


But they reminisced, between the the sniffles, the breakdowns, they talked about the amazing things they all saw Him do and heard Him say.  “Remember the face on that headwaiter when he realized Jesus turned the water into wine?!” Or, “I’ll never forget how angry the Pharisees were when He told them they weren’t children of Abraham.”  Or, “Hey Peter, remember when you walked on water with Him?” Or, “Hey Lazarus, remember when you were dead and He brought you back?” Or, “Hey Mary, tell us again what went through your mind when you found out you were pregnant with Him.”


The mood was very somber – each of them oppressed by grief.


#1:  To the Grave (v1-2)

Read verses 1-2


These women were not on a journey to Japan, but, just outside of Jerusalem.  Who are these women? Combining all four Gospels we discover the group included at least 3 women, very possibly more.  Mary Magdelene, Mary the mother of James and Joses (also the wife of Clopas), Joanna, and Salome.


Why are these women going to the grave with spices?  Well for one thing Jewish burial customs involved preparing the body with spices.  Jews did not practice embalming, and to eliminate or minimize the odor of a decomposing body they applied spices and aloes.  


Now, why did they wait until Sunday morning?  Because Saturday was the Sabbath and there wasn’t enough time on Friday between Jesus’ death at 3pm and the start of the Sabbath at 6pm three hours later.  A lot of things had to happen in those 3 hours: Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus had to hear the news that Jesus was dead so that they could go to Pilate to get permission to take possession of Jesus’ body for burial.  Pilate was surprised to hear Jesus died already and dispatched his centurion to find out for sure Jesus was dead (Mk 15:44). This took time to run or ride a horse back and forth – this is not the age of Facebook, Twitter and Texting.  Finally Joseph and Nicodemus get permission (Mk. 15:45), they go to take possession of Jesus’ body, transport Him to the tomb Joseph bought for himself (Mt. 27:59-60), and lay Jesus there.


There is a poetry in Joseph of Arimathea’s behavior.  He bought a new tomb for himself but he put Jesus there instead.  The place Joseph expected himself to lie in death was occupied instead by the Author of Life.  Was this more than a charitable offering to Jesus by Joseph? Was it more than an act of honor to the Nazarene he believed to be the Christ?  Or, by placing Jesus in his own grave did Joseph believe Jesus to have truly died in his place?


Regardless, the preparations of Jesus’ body performed by Joseph and Nicodemus could very well have been incomplete due to the shortness of time on Friday.  One commentator suggested that the Galilean women didn’t think two Judean men were fit to fully prepare the body of the Savior from Galilee. Another commentator joked that perhaps the women thought the men didn’t do it right and the preparations needed a woman’s touch.  


I would say certainly love and devotion to Jesus was a motivator.  These women displayed perhaps the greatest devotion to Jesus of anyone during His 3 year preaching career.  They followed Him everywhere and sacrificed anything to be where He was. Remember the woman who crashed the Pharisee party to worship Jesus and wash His feet?  Remember Mary, Lazarus’ sister, who without hesitation poured an expensive bottle of perfume on Jesus? Remember that it was women like Mary Magdelene, Joanna the wife of Cuza (who managed Herod’s household), Suzanna and many others who made up a large part of the funding of Jesus’ ministry (Luke 8:2-3).  Remember that the women were at the cross, but none of the men who followed Jesus – except John (Lk. 23:49; John 19:26-27). And here they are again, the women, devotedly going to the grave to honor Jesus in His death.


Of course, it is possible to be devoted and misguided at the same time.  The heart may pound with the best affections while the mind is foggy. What do I mean by this?  Well, certainly not to criticize the women, but, to point out that their devotion lacked belief.  They were going to the grave expecting a dead Jesus, and, a Jesus who was going to remain dead. Hence the spices.  If they believed His words spoken only days earlier that He was going to rise they would not be prepping His body for decay.  The Scriptures said, “You O God will not let your Holy One see decay”. If they were acting on Jesus’ words, rather than the deepest of sentimental affection, they would have at least waited until day 4 to see if He was really going to come to life on day 3.


So there they were on their way:  sandals crunching the pebbly gravel, dew glistening in the early light, heavy breathing from carrying all the spices.  Then arriving they see the stone rolled away. And confusion begins.


They don’t know it, but, an angel rolled it away earlier.  Matthew 28:2 says, “There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it.”  He didn’t do it to let Jesus out. The stone was rolled away to show He was already gone.


Now the story advances.


#2:  The Angels (v3-8)

They arrive at the tomb of Jesus, but, He is gone.  They are met by 2 angels instead (read verse 3-5).


Angels are God’s ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation (Hebrews 1:14).  God sent them that day to announce the Resurrection. Their message has 3 parts.


The first is the Rebuke.  Read verse 5, “Why do you look for the living among the dead?”  The angel isn’t curious, he doesn’t wait for an answer you notice.  His question, like the questions Jesus asked, is a type of rebuke. It was a statement pointing out the error of the women’s behavior.  The angel was making the women think about what they were doing because what they were doing didn’t make sense in light of what the Lord told them.  Jesus never intended to stay dead, and, certainly death “could not keep its hold on Him” (Acts 2:24). He told them in 3 days He would come out of the grave so on the 3rd day why were they there expecting a dead Jesus?  The Author of Life, the One who claimed to be “the way, the truth, and the Life”, the one who declared Himself to be “the Resurrection and the Life”, could not be found among the dead.


The second part of the angel’s message was the Resurrection.  Verse 6, “He is not here, He is risen!”  Those are the most epic words in all of history.  He is alive! He had authority to lay His life down and He had authority to take it up again.  Death could not keep its hold on Him. He was dead, but now He is alive forevermore. God accepted His payment for man’s sins and raised Him back to life to prove it.  God declares Jesus to be His Son by raising Him up from death. The power of death is broken. Purification for sins has been made.


The 3rd part of the angel’s message was the Remembrance.  Verses 6-8, “….”  The angels wanted them to make the connection between what Jesus said was going to happen and what did happen.  He told them ahead of time that he would be handed over to sinful men to be illegally and unjustly tried; that He would be crucified as a result; and that three days later, that very day they were standing there with the angels, He would rise from the dead.  


Can I point you to two very important words in verse 7:  “must be”.  The Son of Man – that is Jesus – MUST BE delivered to sinful men, must be crucified, must be buried, and must be raised to life.  Why must it be so? The best explanation came from the prophet Isaiah, 700 years before Jesus came. Turn to Isaiah 53:4-12 …


All of this was God’s design.  This is His plan of salvation: to provide His Son as a Substitute to save you!


Illustration:  Selling It All to Sink!  A couple months ago dreams turned into a nightmare for a Colorado couple.  Tanner and Nicki decided to give up on the rat race of life, sell everything they had, and buy a boat.  Only in their twenties they wanted to do now what most people dream about, or, wait until their retired:  float carefree around the Carribean. You can imagine the nervousness and the excitement as they hoisted anchor and set out, ready to literally go wherever the wind blew them.  But on day 2 they found their dream life quickly sinking. Tanner said they were on their way to Key West passing by a Florida beach, when they hit something under water and the 28 foot sailboat lurched to a stop.  Their new floating home started taking on water. By the time the rescue teams arrived all Tanner and Nicki could do was watch as everything they had hoped for sunk beneath the waters.


I imagine the disciples felt that way when Jesus was crucified.  They gave up everything to follow Him. They went all in with Jesus.  Then He was dead. Everything they loved and hoped for they watched as it sunk down beneath the surface of life to the depths of death.  But then they went to the grave to find that death


Conclusion:  Run to the Grave!

The last section describes how the women run to tell the disciples.  Peter and John run to the grave, see Jesus is gone, and leave bewildered and amazed.  You can read that today some more on your own. But let me leave you by encouraging you to do what they did:  run to the grave. You can’t go there like they did, but that’s not what I mean anyway. I mean go to the grave of Jesus by faith.  Listen to the message: the grave is empty. Look into it and see that death is dead and Jesus is alive. What’s more, He’s alive and can make you alive.  Go and see that His death was for you. And His life is for you. His grave is the grave that gives life.


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