Easter Message 2015-sermon text version

Easter Message 2015: The Emptiness That Does Not Disappoint

Something empty often brings a sense of disappointment.

  • chocolate bunnyBite off the head of the chocolate bunny and find it’s hollow, not solid. Bummer.
  • Play Monopoly at the Jewel Food Stores and get a game code to check online. Log in. Enter your password. Carefully enter the code number. Sorry this is not a winning code. Bummer.
  • Get a package in the mail with no return address of note. Get excited! Open it up. Nothing but a fake key and a piece of paper telling you that some company will give you top dollar for your car. You like your car. You’re not going to sell your car.
  • Publisher’s Clearinghouse. You could be a winner! Or not.
  • Go to the garden center and buy a flat of impatiens only to find out that 1 out of every 4 pods is just dirt. Bummer!

The empty tomb that Easter morning didn’t bring a sense of disappointment. It was far too confusing and alarming to be disappointing. That sense of alarm and confusion would persist as each disciple dealt with his or her feelings about what was going on.

If you were to read the parallel account to our Scripture reading this morning, the one found in John 20:1-18, you’d find Mary Magdalene, Peter and John. They’d all have different reactions to the empty tomb.

John 20:1 Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. 2 So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!” 3 So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. 4 Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5 He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. 6 Then Simon Peter, who was behind him, arrived and went into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, 7 as well as the burial cloth that had been around Jesus’ head. The cloth was folded up by itself, separate from the linen. garden tomb8 Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. 9 (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.) 10 Then the disciples went back to their homes,11 but Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb 12 and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot. 13 They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?” “They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” 14 At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus. 15 “Woman,” he said, “why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?” Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher). 17 Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet returned to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'” 18 Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her.


  • Mary Magdalene wept and told “the gardener” that she’ll go and carry Jesus’ body back herself and put it back in the empty tomb if he’d only tell her where he’d put Jesus. But Jesus shows her that He’s very much alive. No need to put Him back in the place of the dead.
  • Peter looks in, goes in, and concludes the tomb was empty. No body. Grave clothes folded up. No need to investigate further. He didn’t understand.
  • John, the beloved disciple, looks in. Then after Peter goes in, John enters in and believes that it’s empty. He still didn’t understand what Jesus had been talking about. Rise from the dead? What’s that?
  • The guards knew that it was empty and they were afraid for their lives.
  • The Jewish leaders heard that it was empty…and they were angry…

…which brings us to our preaching passage this morning from Acts 7:54-56 which for those of us who make Plymouth our home church, we know that we’ve been slogging our way through the Acts of the Holy Spirit and the Apostles for quite a while. Some of you may be thinking,

Aren’t you going to give it a rest, even on Easter? Come’on!

To those of you wondering that, I would assert No, I’m not going to give it a rest because it tells the rest of the Easter story. I’m kind of like Paul Harvey today. Telling you the rest of the story.

Because the Easter story doesn’t end with simple emptiness and a total mystery.

Stephen croppedWhen we last left off with Stephen, the first martyr of the Church, he was defending himself against false accusations by religious leaders who hated Jesus and hate those who follow Jesus. One of those hated people who took Jesus at His Word was Stephen and Stephen’s outcome parallels in human ways that of Jesus who was the Son of God in addition to the Son of Man.

For those of you who know that the Easter story began with Jesus’ birth, His 3 year ministry, continued with the persecution and Crucifixion of Jesus Christ, He was buried in a tomb which was sealed with a great big stone, and then suddenly he’s vanished. (Just as He said, if only they’d understood back then).

According to KosherTorah.com the writer Rabbi Ariel Bar Tzadok describes the power of the spoken word,

Do not underestimate your own power of speech. I do not have to challenge you to remember the last time you said something to someone that either elevated him or her or put them down. Indeed, our speech creates many things. It can create joy or it can create anger. What we say can start a war or avoid one. Speech and words, whether in spoken or written form are the most powerful weapons in the world. Indeed, even the magical word “Abracadabra” reveals this lesson. Unknown to most the word “Abracadabra” is actually a Hebrew phrase, which means “I create (A’bra) what (ca) I speak (dab’ra).” In light of all this mysticism, we understand now very well why the words we speak have tremendous power. Therefore, when we say that we will do something, our words are creating that reality. When, we therefore, do not keep our word; we are in essence destroying a part of creation. This is a horrible spiritual crime.

Reasons enough to be careful with our speech. But when you think of the power of the spoken word as a created reality and moreover, the spoken Word of God as a CREATING reality, there is the power of God that was well beyond anything magical or mystical. Jesus said He’d rise and He did. Of course, Jesus said a lot of other great things too, and we’d be wise to listen to and follow them all! Stephen did.

So when Stephen crowns his defense with the truth from Scripture: Acts 7:52 Was there ever a prophet your fathers did not persecute? They even killed those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One. And now you have betrayed and murdered him– 53 you who have received the law that was put into effect through angels but have not obeyed it.” 54 When [the religious leaders- they] heard this, they were furious and gnashed their teeth at him. 55 But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 56 “Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” 57 At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, 58 dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul. 59 While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 60 Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he fell asleep.

That is, Stephen died.

He was stoned to death… the first martyr of the Church and a powerful apologist for the Christian faith. His words echoed the created reality of Jesus’ powerful final words. “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit” (Luke 23:46).  Father, forgive them for they don’t know what they’re doing (Luke 23:34).  Stephen’s last words  “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”  Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them” are a human echo of those divine last words from the lips of our Savior, our Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth, who is the Christ. And after speaking this reality of the Son of Man standing in heaven, Stephen died.

So here’s the rest of the story! How did Jesus get up there?

How could Stephen look up and see the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God?

Because Jesus wasn’t still in the tomb! The tomb was empty. He had to be somewhere. And far from being a disappointment, this was the glory of God on display. There was nothing to see in the tomb but some grave clothes. The physical reality was empty tomb. The spiritual reality was complete and full. Jesus is the Christ. He is Risen. He is Risen indeed!

  • In a day and age in which Christians shrink from speaking publicly about their faith in Jesus Christ out of very real fear…
  • In a day and age in which Christians are persecuted in ways from economic and legislative bullying to being executed by stoning, gunfire, being burned alive and physical beheadings, even as recently as at the university in Kenya where Christians were murdered because they are Christians…
  • In a day and age known for its empty lifestyle bereft, devoid, emptied of all morality…
  • In a day and age of hopeless co-pilots crashing planes into mountainsides taking innocent passengers to their deaths because misery loves company and a secular world is shocked at the emptiness of conscience…
  • In a day and age in which words have NO meaning, truth has NO home, we’re told everything is relative and what’s true for me and what’s true for you is a matter of personal choice…
  • In a day and age known for a rotting, cancerous, core of dishonesty, falsehood, tons of clutter to disguise the lies being told, and we have a bunch of willing accomplice media cheerleaders for the devil who says God doesn’t exist and no one should point a finger of judgment or some Bible at you and ruin your good time…

In a day and age of all that, what do Christians have?

We have an empty tomb and a spoken reality. He is Risen.

We have the emptiness that does not disappoint!

He is Risen! He is Risen Indeed!

We have the Word of God proven true. We have an empty tomb and a full heaven. Full because He is alive! We have the true Word of God spoken from the lips of Christ and all the prophets before Him to tell us that God Himself created a way for us to return to Him. So that we could be born again, not in the pattern of this world with its physical imperfections and lies of self-salvation, earning our way to heaven by being good people in our own eyes with our lie of relative truth and flimsy self-standards of morality. No!

We could be born again in the pattern of holiness, in the spiritual realm where truth lives on. Truth lives on! He rose from the dead! Truth. Lives. On. The tomb may be empty but heaven is full. Jesus is alive and Stephen saw it as sure as anything. The Son of Man was standing there at the right hand of the Father in heaven! We have the emptiness that does not disappoint and the fact we can count on is this: because God spoke the Resurrection and brought it about by His power, it gives us confidence to speak up about Jesus, to live by His pattern of love and grace, to live in light of the Last Day of Judgment, and to know eternal life in Him.

This emptiness does not disappoint because if Jesus rose from the dead (and He did) as believers upon His Name, we will someday rise too! His created reality works on our behalf. So, like Stephen, we can be bold witnesses, filled with the Holy Spirit whom Jesus promised and whom God faithfully sent to be His ongoing presence with all genuine and true believers in Christ’s redemptive work on the Cross and His powerful resurrection. And now I would like to close in prayer.

God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,

…First, that if anyone does not know Jesus as both Lord and Savior, today would be the day they see beyond the empty tomb to the fullness of heaven because Jesus rose from the dead and offers eternal life to all who believe in His death for their sakes as payment for their sins. Lord God, please hear our prayer.

…that You, O God, would make us bold to tell people we know about Jesus. The days are fewer in number and time is of the essence! Lord God, please hear our prayer.

…that You, O God, would remind us that Truth matters because Truth is a person: Jesus is the Way the Truh and the Life and no one comes to the Father apart from Him

…that You, O God, would convince us that words have power and words have meaning. That You created this world out of nothing by simply speaking everything into being. That You have power to create and kill and destroy and to throw in hell. That’s what Your Word says. And Your Word is true. But that You also made a way by Your grace because You love us and are patient with us, not wanting anyone to perish but for all people to come to repentance and a saving knowledge of the true words of Christ. Lord God, please hear our prayer.

…that You, O God, would help us to speak up and speak out to a culture that worships empty things…things of man, things of government, things of politics…and to show them by the graceful words we speak that we desire for them to know the fullness of joy in Christ in place of the empty things of this world. They would know the emptiness that does not disappoint—the empty tomb and a full heaven—in place of the empty things that cannot save! …that You, O God would give us words to speak, creating that reality of hope to a world desperately in need of it and trying to find it in empty places.

…that You, O God would continually show us the empty tomb and the Son of Man at the right hand of the Father in heaven and to know as Stephen did, Jesus Christ, the glory of His Resurrection, the meaning of salvation in Him, the power of the Holy Spirit, and the hope eternal—a hope that does not disappoint—because He is Risen. He is Risen indeed. Amen!

Categories Chapel Worship/News | Tags: | Posted on April 6, 2015

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