If I were forced to choose between Christmas and Easter, as to which occasion brought me more enjoyment in preaching, I’d have to go with Easter. To be sure, I love the truth of the incarnation of Christ – the idea that God himself became a human being, even an infant, never ceases to amaze me when I consider it. But the resurrection of Jesus from the dead is so central to the gospel, and such a source of wonder, praise, and thanksgiving, that for me it takes the first place in the Christian calendar. The birth of Jesus is the beginning of the wonderful story of God’s redemptive work in Christ, but the resurrection of Christ is the glorious climax (though not quite the grand finale – that’ll come with his return). Jesus emerged from the womb as the humble God-man who came to save sinners; he emerged from the tomb as the conquering King whose victory over sin and death was complete.
So it was my privilege and joy to preach the resurrection of Jesus this past Sunday. I chose for my text John’s account of the empty tomb, from John 20:1-18. To feel the drama of what John reports, you must – as far as possible – “forget” what you already know about the resurrection. Instead we must follow Mary as she visits the tomb of Jesus, “while it was still dark” (v.1), fully expecting to find there the body of her beloved Lord. When she arrives, however, she sees the stone had been taken away from the tomb. This can only mean one thing – Jesus’ body has been stolen!
We see her run to Peter and John (“the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved” – v. 2). And we listen as she breathlessly blurts out the bad news – “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him” (v.2). Then we see the two disciples racing toward the tomb to see for themselves what’s gone amiss. Sure enough, Peter and John find the tomb empty. But oddly, the grave cloths are still there. And stranger still, the face cloth is neatly folded up by itself. What sort of grave robbers leave behind the valuable linen cloths? And even take the time to fold up the face cloth? What’s going on here?
After Peter and John return to their homes, we see Mary standing outside the tomb weeping. Who can know the depths of her grief and pain? The Lord whom she loved, who had delivered her from demonic oppression, had been unjustly and cruelly put to death. How could they treat a man so good and noble in such a disgraceful way? Could they not at least have left his body to rest? Did they have to add to his indignity by stealing his body to strip it of anything valuable and discard it like refuse?
Mary was so undone, so beside herself in her grief, that she didn’t even realize she had spoken to two angels. And then the gardener starts talking to her. In between her sobs, she begs him to show her where the body is so she can care for it.
Then she hears it. The “gardener” speaks her name: “Mary”! Knowing that voice, she instinctively turns to look again at the man. It’s him! It’s Jesus! He’s alive!
After Jesus speaks with Mary, she runs back to the disciples, this time with good news – unbelievable news, joyful news. “I have seen the Lord!” she cries. He is alive, he is risen from the dead!
The joy of Mary that first Easter morning is the joy of every believer in Christ. Jesus, who suffered and died for us, burst forth from the tomb as the living and conquering Lord of Glory. Because he is risen, we have in him victory over sin and death, and the promise of eternal, resurrection life.
Soli Deo Gloria!