Saturday, April 23, 2011

Easter Dawn

There is a night and day difference between the time the sun began to rise to the time it would set on that first Easter. As the sun began to rise, the disciples found themselves living in fear. What had just transpired the past twenty-four to thirty-six hours? Could they comprehend it all? Their friend, their hero, their Jesus had died such a tragic and senseless death. It was so pointless. Such ridiculous and absurd charges had been trumped up against Him. It was all so meaningless. He had been preaching openly day after day in the temple. The authorities had confronted Him time after time trying to silence Him. Every time they thought they had quieted Him, put Him in His place, His words; those wonderful, powerful, sweet words, those words of life and light - left them speechless. How foolish were they? Could the kingdom come in such a way as to change the world with such power? Could faith as small as mustard seed accomplish such that the mountains be tossed into the sea? How senseless had they been? The weekend had become such a blur. Now the women who had come with Him out of Galilee followed, and saw the tomb and how His body was laid. Then they returned and prepared spices and perfumes. And on the Sabbath, they rested according to the commandment.(Luke 23:54-55)

Mindless and numb to the events of the past few days all they could do was prepare a few spices, and finish the task, which they could not complete because of the holiday. That slow, lonesome trek; back to the garden, back to the tomb, back to where it had ended so badly. They were numb.

1. Approaching the tomb, while it was dark, the disciples were filled with doubt and fear. The Sabbath ended at sunset. Jesus had been dead and buried Friday night, Saturday, and Sunday morning. Beginning at the previous sunset, it had now been three days [according to Jewish reckoning.]

How early was it? John reminds us that the Mary goes to the tomb “while it was yet dark.” Had she come to finish embalming the body? She did not expect a resurrection. To her astonishment, she found the stone rolled away.

A. Fear had taken her. Not knowing what to make of it she returns to Peter and John with the alarming news, They have taken the Lord out of the tomb. Vs. 2, She assumed that someone, somehow, had stolen His body and hid it from her. First, He was disrespected in His death, and now she thought, He would be disrespected in His burial.

B. Mary did not stay at the tomb and cry. Mary did not go home and try to forget about what she had seen. She ran! She ran to Peter and John and said, We don’t know where they have laid Him. Vs. 2, Why does Mary say this, especially on that First Easter morning? Isn’t she supposed to be full of hope? She notices that the stone has been rolled away from the tomb, and yet she weeps?

Mary Magdalene was expecting Jesus’ body to be in that tomb. Mary thinks that something precious has been lost to her, namely her Lord’s life and presence. Notice, though, that she runs to the tomb before Easter Sunday actually begins. Since it was still dark when Mary rushed to the tomb, it was not yet morning, not yet Sunday, not yet the first day of the week, not yet the Day of Resurrection. Mary’s statement is for her one of horror, loss, confusion. But Count it all joy, brothers and sisters. For Mary, and for Peter and John, and for the rest of the disciples, and for later Christians including us, the Empty Tomb is the cause of our great rejoicing. Because the body of the Lord has not been stolen, (cf. Mt 27:64; 28:13-15). They have not taken away our Lord. He is present with us, Emmanuel, and behold, He is even present with us to the end of the ages. (Mt 1:23; 28:20).

C. They did not know the Scripture that He must rise from the dead. Vs. 9, It was not some particular passage of Scripture, but the writings of the Old Testament in general, and the various places, which spoke of the resurrection in particular. It was determined, it was predicted, it was promised that the Savior would rise. Jesus had to rise from the dead. Your justification and salvation elect required it.

D. Without Scripture, without the witness of the resurrection there can be no faith. The disciples didn't understand what Jesus was telling them until He opened their understanding. The disciples on the road to Emmaus, that first Easter only understood the significance of the resurrection after Jesus had opened the Scriptures to them. Only after they had recognized Him did He vanish from their sight.

Transition: As the day dawned, there was much doubt and fear. At the end of the day, it would be replaced with faith.

2. Seeing is believing
. A. John, the one who came to the tomb first went in also. He saw and believed. Vs. 8, He was the first person that the Bible says, “believed” following the resurrection of Jesus. Seeing is believing. He “believed” before the rest of the disciples. He was one of the first eyewitnesses of the empty tomb. And his testimony never wavered. “We are witnesses of these things!” was the testimony of those 1st Century believers.

B. Look deeper. The grave is not empty. He saw the linen clothes lying there. Vs. 6 The stone was removed not that Jesus could get out but that we could get in. The place where Jesus was laid gives significant proof that the body of Jesus had been there. The linen clothes are lying there. But the body of Jesus is not there. Why seek the living among the dead? He is not here He is risen indeed! So when John looked at the clothes and the Bible says he “saw and believed,” he knew that no one took the body of Jesus away. If an enemy of Jesus took His body, they wouldn’t have removed it from the clothes and then neatly arranged the clothes to make it look like He had risen. And if the friends of Jesus had taken His body, they would have kept His clothes on Him.

No one took the body of Jesus away. When John saw the arrangement of the grave clothes, he instantly believed that Jesus had risen from the dead. God had intervened! God had performed the greatest miracle of all time!

The burial cloth that had been around Jesus’ head was “by itself.” It was not with the body clothes, but on the very spot where His head had rested. His head cloth was “folded up.” In other words, it had not been manually unfolded. The head cloth was not removed from the head; rather, the head had been removed from the cloth.

The linen clothes were there. The head cloth was there. Nothing had been undone. None of the folds had been disturbed. There was no change in their position. Everything was there...except the body.

C. He saw the handkerchief that had been around His head not lying with the linen clothes but folded together in a place by itself. Vs. 7 In a few moments, we will celebrate Communion. Think of these words whenever the pastor sets the table. On the credence table are the individual cups, the flagon, the wafers, and the ciborium (container). On the alter, is the challis and the paten containing consecrated wafers from the previous service. The coverings are removed and then folded. First from the table - then from the altar. When you see the coverings folded remember the liner cloths. When the smaller linen is taken from the altar remember the handkerchief that had been around His head not lying with the linen cloths but folded together in a place by itself. Every time we celebrate communion we are reminded of that first Easter. Every time we celebrate communion we are reminded that we are Easter people.

D. These disciples went away back to their own homes. Vs. 10 The disciples didn't get together until the same day in the evening. They were locked up in a room, probably afraid that the Jewish authorities would go looking for them, demanding to know what happened to Jesus' body.

They were hiding out trying to decide what to do. The disciples were hiding because they were afraid. These very same men deserted Jesus when He was arrested because they feared for their lives. They all forsook Him and fled. He had said to them, "All of you will be made to stumble because of Me this night, for it is written: 'I will strike the Shepherd, And the sheep will be scattered'" Peter denied knowing Him three times because he was afraid. What changed all that? The appearance of Jesus Christ visibly from the dead. We do not have to be afraid as we now have the eyewitness testimony of those first disciples. Instead of going back to our homes we go back to the circumstances the Lord stations us as we gossip the gospel sharing with others the hope that we have in this new life.
You have seen and you too believe. As you go, back to your homes, shops and those places where you live and work share with them these things of faith.

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