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Sermon for Easter, Mark 16:1-8

by chaz_lehmann ~ April 7th, 2009

In the Name of + Jesus. Amen.

Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed! Alleluia! This is the cry of Easter. It has been on the church’s lips for nearly two thousand years. And we will continue to cry it out until the day our Lord takes us into the New Jerusalem to live with him forever.

It is impossible to overstate how important our Lord’s resurrection is. It’s not just that God raised our Lord Jesus from the dead. By the time that first Easter morning came, the saying “Dead men tell no tales” had been shown to be nonsense more than once. Elijah raised the widow’s son at Zarephath. Jesus did the same thing at Nain. And just a few miles from our Lord’s empty tomb, Lazarus’ grave still stood open daring anyone to doubt Christ’s mastery over death.

But no one had ever risen from the dead as Jesus did. He was truly the firstfruits of those who had fallen asleep. The widow’s son that Elijah raised is dead. So is the boy at Nain. They became one with the dust of the earth thousands of years ago.

But Jesus is not dead. Jesus’ grave is still empty. His heart still beats real blood. His lungs still breathe real air. He is alive never to die again, and that, dear Christian friends, changes everything.

Until Jesus was raised from the dead, death was the final evil master that all people could rightly fear. The grave’s open maw was a certainty. Everyone knew that it would devour every man, woman, and child who was ever born. And so, even in Jesus’ day, people tried to make something less of death than it was. They waxed eloquent about it being a natural part of life. Men have always lied to themselves and said that death is a gentle friend that visits kindly in the night to take us into the great hereafter.

But this is not so, dear Christians. Not so. Death is the enemy. Death is the most final and devastating statement of God’s holy wrath against your sin. Death is the Lord’s judgment against you. Death is the wage paid by sin, and should the Lord tarry, none of us will escape our payday. All of us will find our way to the grave. Death has been the Lord’s answer to our sin ever since Adam and Eve took what was not given to them.

But thanks be to God. Because of Christ’s resurrection we can say that even though death is the answer to our sin, it is not the final answer. Even though the grave’s stomach hungers for us, it will not hold us forever. The Lord does not delight in wrath, but in mercy. He loves not death, but life. And so death must have an end. And so, Saint Paul tells us, “The last enemy to be destroyed is death.”

But before Jesus, death’s victory seemed complete. Before Jesus, no one had ever left the grave who wasn’t headed right back to it. But when death seized Jesus, it was like swallowing a grenade. Death could not keep Life Incarnate within its walls! Death had no mastery over the Lord who created the heavens and the earth. And so after three short days, Jesus burst forth from the grave. Death could not hold him. Death could not keep him. Death had been dealt its mortal blow on the cross.

The Lord has spoken through the prophet Hosea, “Oh death, I am your plagues. O grave, I am your destruction!” And indeed He is. Now that the Lord Jesus has risen from the grave, death is different than it ever was before. Death was once a lord, but now it is a slave. Death was once strong, but now it is weak. Death used to look like the most powerful force in the universe, but now Death’s power has been broken forever.

Our world has billions of graves, and right now only the Lord’s is truly empty. Every other person who has ever been buried is still dead. But the Lord is the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. He is the firstfruits, not the last. In our Lord’s resurrection we see what the Lord has in store for us. In our Lord’s resurrection, we see that death cannot kill the Lord’s precious ones.

Saint John’s will be a wonderful place to witness the Lord’s return. Many of your loved ones are buried just a few yards from here. Generations of the faithful who have heard and received the Lord’s Word sleep outside in the heart of the earth. Though they are in heavenly bliss, the Lord has still more to give them and you. When the Lord returns, they will sleep no more. Every grave in our cemetery will be empty. Every saint of God will live and reign with Jesus forever! And so, on this Easter day, we sing for joy that Christ has answered the problem of our sin once and for all. He has forgiven all sin in the cross, and He has destroyed the power of the grave by leaving His own tomb empty forever.

Easter has changed everything. No matter how hard we might try, it is impossible for us to look back at the empty tomb and experience it like the women did who went to the tomb early on that first Easter morning. They were not looking back at the event that has shaped the life of the church for two thousand years. They were not remembering with joy the day that their Lord had proclaimed his final victory over sin, death, and the power of the devil. They didn’t have the luxury of theological reflection. They were still in the midst of the most painful weekend of their lives.

These faithful women were going to give to their Lord the final kindnesses that they hadn’t had time for on Friday. The Lord’s entombment had been rushed and there had not been time to prepare His body properly for burial. They wanted to perform a few final kindnesses to the body of their beloved teacher and friend.

And so, when they came to the tomb, they were worried about how they’d open it. But when they arrived, the miracle of the resurrection had already taken place. The tomb was open and Jesus was not there. Their first thoughts were probably of fear. Who had stolen the Lord’s body? What were they doing with it? Would they ever be able to give Him a decent burial?

A young man in a white robe was in the tomb. This angel preached the first Easter sermon of all history. He said, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.”

This was too much for these faithful women. They were shaken with grief. Their Lord had died and now His tomb was empty. The only had the word of a stranger that He had risen. Mark tells us that “they went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”

The doubt that these women struggled with can also assail us. With as much suffering and death as there is in the world, it is tempting to do what people have done for thousands of years. It is tempting to say that death isn’t such a bad thing. It can also be tempting to say that if the Lord really cared, he’d get rid of all the suffering in the world.

The Lord’s resurrection can seem remote to us. The tomb where Jesus laid for three days is in a country on the other side of the world. A church was built over it almost 1700 years ago. We can’t walk into it and see the place where He lay. None of us have ever seen Jesus in a way that our eyes can recognize. None of us have ever put our hands into his wounds. None of us have ever spoken to Him face to face.

The Word of God which we believe, teach, and confess was not even written by the Lord’s own hand. All we have is the testimony of eyewitnesses. We have the word that Mary Magdalene spoke to Peter. We have the accounts of Matthew and John. We have what Mark heard when he listened to Peter preach. All that we know is second and third hand. We have nothing more than words.

But words are no small thing, dear Christian. Words are the means by which the Father created the heavens and the earth. Words are the means by which God has been creating faith in His people from the very beginning.

For this reason we may take comfort from today’s reading in the Gospel of Mark. We believe for the same reason the women believed. The Word spoken to the women by the angel had been given to the angel by God and was then carried on by the women to Peter, and then to Mark the Evangelist, and then to you.

You have the Lord’s Word carried to you by the apostles. You have the testimony of eyewitnesses. On Easter morning they saw an empty tomb that should have had the Lord’s body. Later they saw the Lord Himself.

Jesus Christ died for your sins. He bore all the punishment that they deserved. He suffered for you. He died for you. He rested for three days in the tomb for you. And He rose for you. Jesus is risen, never to die again! His grave is empty, and because of that all graves will be empty. You and all those whom you love that died in the faith will live with Christ forever.

Christ is risen! Let doubt be destroyed! Christ is risen! You are forgiven and free forever. Christ is risen! Rejoice, be glad, and sing!

Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed! Alleluia!

In the Name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

And the peace of God which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in faith in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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