by Pastor Dave Strem
Used by permission
A couple years ago, Johnny Hart, who writes the comic strip BC, wrote a little strip with three guys standing around talking. The first guy asked the question, “Would you be willing to lay down your life for somebody else?” The second guy says, “Boy, that would be stupid.” Third guy: “Yeah, why would I want to do that?” The first guy asked another question. “Well, what if you loved somebody so much that you’d want to give your life for them?” Second guy responds, “You mean, I’d die in their place.” Third guy: “So, I would die, so they wouldn’t have to?” First guy: “Bingo.” Second guy again says, “I don’t think anybody could love that much. If he did, I wouldn’t want to lose him.” The first guy smiles and says, “Well, guys, I’ve got good news and good news.”
Easter is about good news and good news. Something that looks bad, God using for great good. A mock trial, injustice, a cruel beating, a brutal cross, a stone tomb are not things that are normal for celebration. It seems like a contradiction. And because it’s such a contradiction, oftentimes Easter is misunderstood. I want to focus on Easter again to clarify what the message is. More specifically I want us to understand what Easter is all about at its core. And what kind of difference should it, can it, will it make in our lives.
Easter is about emptiness and fullness. Emptiness and fullness. It’s kind of like a drinking glass that is full. This is good news. A full glass. But when you pour that water out over a plant then you may say, “Oh, this is bad news. This is not what the glass was made for. It is now empty where before it was full.” Or is it? The fullness that was in the glass is now gone so that the fullness could be in the soil surrounding the plant. Death, in a sense, came to the glass so that life could come to the plant. God left heaven’s glory so that we could know Him on Earth. Easter is about His emptying for our fullness.
Let’s look at Luke 23. In this passage, we are going to look at four different images of emptiness. Four images that all work for our fullness. Luke chapter 23:50-52 speak of Joseph of Arimathea. Joseph is known only for one thing. After the crucifixion, he went to the authorities and asked for the body of Jesus so that he could put Him in his personal tomb. The first image of emptiness we see is the empty cross. I want you to visualize the cross of Jesus this morning. It’s the place where He died. But on Easter morning that cross was empty because the promise of the cross was fulfilled. Jesus said, “I have come to give you life and to give my life as a ransom for many.” The promise of the empty cross is that you and I can stand before God forgiven because it was on that cross that Jesus paid the penalty for our sins. The empty cross is the first step of what Easter is all about and that empty cross is all about His grace. When Jesus cried out on the cross, “It is finished!” He wasn’t simply talking about His life. He was talking about His work and His purpose. At the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry, He said, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish His work.” God started the work of redemption in the Garden of Eden. He continued developing His redemptive history throughout the Old Testament. Jesus’ work was to finish this divine plan.
The night before He was crucified, Jesus said to His disciples, “This is my blood which is poured out for you for the forgiveness of sins.” That happened on the cross. The penalty was paid on the cross but it’s the empty cross that we celebrate. Before that fateful Friday, God could open the books of life and He could look and see our names written in black ink—“Guilty of sin.” But when they took Christ down from that cross, God literally started writing in red—forgiven, forgiven, forgiven across every name that will say “Yes!” to His sacrifice. You have to say “Yes!” to the offer that is made, not make a counter offer stating what you are willing to do and not do. If you want the forgiveness that the empty cross promises, tell God. In your heart, in your mind say, “Yes, Lord, I want the gift that you’ve offered. I want your forgiveness for my sin. I want your forgiveness for the rebellion I’ve done against you. Come into my life and teach me how to live a better way, a fearless and fulfilling way as you’ve outlined in your Word.” The empty cross is the first step of God’s plan of reconciling sinners to Himself.
The second step is introduced in the next few verses. Look at chapter 24 verse 1. It says, “On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb. But when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus.” The second step is the empty tomb. But what difference does the empty tomb make? How does it relate to our everyday lives? The tomb was empty that day because death could not hold Him. Death is inevitable. The world knows that death always comes even though something inside us tells us we are created for something more. There’s a hunger for immortality. “Death isn’t right. There should be more.” Yet one-by-one death takes friends, family, hundreds of thousands around this globe every day. There is no escape, no exception. No permanent extension. Death, the great unknown, the feared grim reaper, claims each and every life. But then One came that it could not hold. The empty tomb is about the power of God to overcome death. Scripture declares since we are made of flesh and blood, He became flesh and blood to break the power of death and deliver us from the enslaving fear of death. Paul describes it with the simple words, “Where O death is your victory. Where, O death is your sting? Death has been swallowed up in victory.” The empty tomb is God’s promise that physical death is not the end. It displays His power over death and satisfies our hope for eternal life.
One afternoon a father and his son were riding in the cab of a pickup truck. It was a spring afternoon. The windows were open and as they were driving along a bee flew in the window and started buzzing around the cab. This event would cause most people concern. After all, who wants to get stung by a bee. But this boy was allergic to bees. A sting could kill him! As the boy sat there, frozen in fear, the father reached out and grabbed the bee. The son breathed a sigh of relief until the father opened his hand and released the bee. The startled boy started to panic, “Daddy, daddy,” until the father reached over and touched his shoulder and said, “Look at my hand, son” and there in his swollen palm was the stinger of the bee. “Son, the bee cannot hurt you anymore. I took the sting.” God is telling us, “Children, death cannot hurt you anymore. I took the sting!”
The third image of emptiness is found in verses 9-12. In verses 9 and 10, the women come back from the tomb and told the disciples what they saw. The disciples did not believe them. Look at verse 11. The disciples were skeptical of what the women said because their words seemed like nonsense. But Peter ran to the tomb, anyway. Bending over to peer into the tomb, he saw strips of linen folded neatly near where the body had been. Jesus was not there. The tomb was empty! The third image of emptiness is the burial linens that Jesus’ body was wrapped in. This could only mean one thing. Jesus was alive. No one is going to steal a dead, broken, battered, bruised, bloody body by taking off the coverings first. But the coverings were there, folded neatly, for all to see. The promise of the empty linens is His presence with us. He said, “I go to prepare a place for you and if I go, I will return to you.” Easter is about the presence of God in our lives. He said, “I have come to give you life and give it to you in abundance.” Without the resurrection, the heart of the Christian message is missing. Paul said it clearly in 1 Corinthians 15:12-18: “But tell me this—since we preach that Christ rose from the dead, why are some of you saying there will be no resurrection of the dead? For if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ was not raised either. And if Christ was not raised, then all our preaching is useless, and your trust in God is useless. And we apostles would all be lying about God, for we have said that God raised Christ from the grave, but that can’t be true if there is no resurrection of the dead. If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then your faith is useless, and you are still under condemnation for your sins. In that case, all who have died believing in Christ have perished!” The empty burial clothes mean that God’s life-giving presence can be poured out unto our redemption and reconciliation.
The fourth image is in verse 12. “Peter ran to the tomb to look. Stooping, he peered in and saw the empty linen wrappings; then he went home again, wondering what had happened.” He trudged back home dazed and confused, wondering, “What is this all about? What happened?” The last example of emptiness is the empty human heart. Off in the distance, even that morning, Peter could look up and see the empty cross. He is coming from the empty tomb and he saw the empty linens, but his heart was still empty. Peter had just denied Jesus three times. He was ridden with guilt. He needed a new perspective on life to know that God was with him. And he saw the burial clothes lying there, knowing that Jesus was alive somewhere, but he couldn’t see him. He couldn’t sense him. He wanted to be with him. It was took much to believe. It was too much to believe for Peter, it was too much to believe for all the disciples.
Jesus went to them to make it clear. Luke 24:13-32 and 24:33-49 speak about two different situations where Jesus Christ taught disciples about Old Testament prophecies concerning Himself. To some disciples on the Emmaus road he said: “You are such foolish people! You find it so hard to believe all that the prophets wrote in the Scriptures. Wasn’t it clearly predicted by the prophets that the Messiah would have to suffer all these things before entering his time of glory?” And to the disciples gathered in the upper room He said: “Why are you frightened? Why do you doubt who I am? Look at my hands. Look at my feet. You can see that it’s really me. Touch me and make sure that I am not a ghost, because ghosts don’t have bodies, as you see that I do!… Yes, it was written long ago that the Messiah must suffer and die and rise again from the dead on the third day. With my authority, take this message of repentance to all nations, beginning in Jerusalem: ‘There is forgiveness of sins for all who turn to me.’” The emptiness of the human heart finds fullness in Christ Jesus–the risen Lord!
The world is full of empty promises, but God is different. Instead of promises full of emptiness, God gives us emptiness that is full of promise. Emptiness because He poured Himself out for us. Remember my illustration at the beginning? Emptiness came to the glass so that life could come to the plant. If Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, hadn’t died on the cross or if He would have stayed in the tomb, bound up by those burial garments, He would not be our Saviour! His entire ministry would have been a lie. Jesus claimed to be much more than just a good teacher and man. He claimed to be the Messiah. He claimed that God was His father. It would have been just empty words but those words were backed up by His action. Jesus showed Himself to be truthful. The world of fallen human beings will disappoint us but Jesus Christ proved by His resurrection that He is reliable and trustworthy.
Michelangelo, the great Renaissance artist, one day exploded in anger at his fellow artists. He said, “Guys, why do you fill up gallery after gallery, room after room, cathedral after cathedral with pictures of Jesus in weakness. Of Jesus on the cross? Of Jesus hanging dead as if that is the end. As if the curtain had come down leaving us with desperation and despair. That event only lasted a few short hours, but for all eternity, Jesus is alive. He reigns and He triumphs.” Michelangelo was correct. But our concern is not just correctly portraying Jesus in picture but in our lives. Do you live like Jesus is still hanging on that cross or are you living as if Jesus is alive! Have you said “Yes!” to the offer of forgiveness He offers? Have you said “Yes!” to His presence? Have you said “Yes!” to His perspective? If not, the final image of emptiness is your heart, walking away from Him. Don’t leave this life without Him!