MARTIN CHEMNITZ PRESS
A MIGHTY FORTRESS LUTHERAN CHURCH
Pastor Gregory L. Jackson, Ph.D.
6421 W. Poinsettia Drive
KJV Mark 16:1 And when the sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, had bought sweet spices, that they might come and anoint him. 2 And very early in the morning the first day of the week, they came unto the sepulchre at the rising of the sun. 3 And they said among themselves, Who shall roll us away the stone from the door of the sepulchre? 4 And when they looked, they saw that the stone was rolled away: for it was very great. 5 And entering into the sepulchre, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, clothed in a long white garment; and they were affrighted. 6 And he saith unto them, Be not affrighted: Ye seek Jesus of Nazareth, which was crucified: he is risen; he is not here: behold the place where they laid him. 7 But go your way, tell his disciples and Peter that he goeth before you into Galilee: there shall ye see him, as he said unto you. 8 And they went out quickly, and fled from the sepulchre; for they trembled and were amazed: neither said they any thing to any man; for they were afraid.
AN EMPTY TOMB FULL OF LIFE
For some people, Easter can be a sad reminder that they have lost someone very dear to them. Doubtless the two Marys went toward the tomb with that kind of sadness, a profound grief, made worse by their knowledge that Jesus did not deserve an ounce of punishment. Nevertheless He was beaten, mocked, forced to carry His cross, nailed on the cross in the most painful way, and hoisted in the air, where He could hang and slowly suffocate or hold Himself up and linger in greater pain for a longer time.
Grief does not go away easily, but the two women found something that comforts every believer who has lost someone: an empty tomb and a message. The women came looking for a corpse, worried about who would open the tomb for them. The door was not a giant boulder, as some artists portray it, because it would take too much force to move one. It was more of a flat rock that rolled in a groove, but it was heavier than two women could budge. The Marys were carrying sweet spices to anoint the corpse of Jesus. Their walk was probably slow and painful. We do not easily approach a gravesite. Mark tells us that it was at sunrise, and we can imagine how beautiful it was. In a desert area the mornings are especially beautiful. Clouds are seldom in the sky. The sun begins to rise, but the oppressive heat of the day has not begun yet. The birds are up and singing, gathering their food, feeding their young.
The sunrise of Easter did not seem so beautiful to the women at first. We can imagine their heads bent downward with sadness, their slow pace toward a painful reminder of the recent events. But when they looked at the tomb, they saw an unusual site. It was open!
They went inside the tomb, carved out of stone. This is where the corpse of Jesus was placed. Instead of a corpse, they saw an angel, clothed in white. He said:
Be not affrighted: Ye seek Jesus of Nazareth, which was crucified: he is risen; he is not here: behold the place where they laid him. 7 But go your way, tell his disciples and Peter that he goeth before you into Galilee: there shall ye see him, as he said unto you.
At Yale I was assigned a paper in which I had to list every description of Jesus in the Gospel of Mark, if the expression used a form of “is.” One example would be:
KJV Mark 1:24b I know thee who thou art, the Holy One of God.
However, I missed this equation because it was too obvious: “He is…risen. He is…not here.” He = risen. He = not in the tomb. For believers, this is the most important description of all the definitions of Jesus. God justified Jesus, declared Him innocent and raised Him from the dead, making Him the first of all those who would enjoy the resurrection of the body.
The thought of the tomb as death, but the angel told them that it was full of life, not just ordinary life, but the eternal-life-giving power of Jesus, the Son of God. To this day the empty tomb is a major symbol of the victory won for us by Christ, the triumph of life over death, forgiveness over sin, God over Satan.
Why was the lid of the tomb open? It was not, as a few imagine, to let Jesus out. The angels did not roll the stone away and flatten it to release the Son of God. Paul Gerhardt wrote so eloquently in “A Lamb Goes Uncomplaining Forth:”
O Love, how strong Thou art to save!
Thou beddest Him within the grave
Whose Word the mountains rendeth.
When Jesus rose from death, His glorified body was that body that had suffered on the cross. His human nature, united with His divine nature at His conception through the Holy Spirit, remains to this day and for eternity. However, His human body did not limit His divine nature in any way.
(This is called the non reciprocity of the second genus, against the Calvinists, who cannot conceive of Jesus coming into a locked room, since they think His human body would prevent this from happening. This is their argument against the Real Presence in Holy Communion. The non reciprocal term sounds impressive, but it is easy to understand. The human nature used the divine nature but the divine nature was not limited by the human nature. Jesus could use His divine power at any time, such as when He turned water into wine through His Word. He seemed to be an ordinary man, but He had the power of the Son of God. As the Son of God He often accepted the limits of His human nature, but He did not have to. Therefore, He walked on water. It is important to remember that both natures are united in one Person, Christ. We use these exotic terms at times because of previous doctrinal debates with the Reformed.)
Jesus left the tomb while it was still sealed, just as He entered the locked room where the disciples had sealed themselves “for fear of the Jews.” The angel opened the tomb to show the entire world that Jesus rose from the dead. Imagine how the soldiers reacted when they guarded a sealed tomb, knowing a corpse was inside. They would make sure no one got into the tomb to take the body away! Then the angels blasted the tomb open, and the powerful soldiers saw the tomb was already vacant. So God reveals His power and glory from time to time, giving the unbelieving world no excuse.
The empty tomb is full of life because our Savior has won an everlasting victory over sin, death, and Satan. From time to time I have to say this to someone who has doubts about being forgiven, “There is no sin that cannot be forgiven, except rejecting the Gospel. That is the sin against the Holy Spirit.” Sometimes I have to point out as well that forgiveness does not depend upon the amount of remorse, regret, or bad feelings we may have. God does desire a broken and contrite heart, but the basis of forgiveness is the atoning death of Christ and not anything we offer. It is a gift received in faith, not a transaction. (Pastor Dale Redlin, on the soi-disant Church of the Lutheran Confession board of doctrine, passed out a booklet at a CLC meeting where a Reformed author said, in effect, This is what God has done for you. Now complete the transaction. Ask Jesus to come into your heart. Give your life to Him.)
It is essential to reject this notion of a transaction, because it takes away from what God does. If we do not glorify God in some respect, we are glorifying ourselves. If we glorify ourselves, we are defaming God. The Holy Spirit works through the Word to convict us of sin, especially the sin of unbelief. Therefore, a broken and contrite heart is created by the Word of God alone. God works this way so that we hunger and thirst for the Gospel. If the Holy Spirit did not, we would take the Gospel for granted and lose the benefits of forgiveness by turning into unbelievers.
We are like the squirrels I used to feed in Minnesota. When we had a mild winter, they went to the corn feeder, where they had a little bench and an ear of corn on a spike, sit down in a careless and casual manner, and eat the best kernels. If some fell on the ground, they didn’t care. They were not that hungry. This was just a snack before bedtime, since squirrels sleep but do not hibernate during the winter. Therefore, when people have the Gospel in abundance and do not see or experience any dangers, they take forgiveness through Christ and all of its blessings for granted. Do a few faithful ministers drop away? Not to worry. There are plenty. Did the district president smash a congregation into rubble to get even with someone? That’s ok. He will build us another one. Does the minister deny a few key doctrines? He’s a nice guy; 14 out of 20 ain’t bad, as they say in testing, as long as the curve is charitable.
But then we had a true Minnesota winter, when even the natives whimpered that it was too much for them to bear. Two periods of extended cold where the wind chill was minus 50 degrees. Then the squirrels had a different attitude altogether. They emptied the ear of corn several times a day. They came shivering and skinny, with broken and contrite hearts. Water dripped from the gutters and froze some kernels in ice on the feeder. No problem. The squirrels gnawed the corn out of the ice. They fell on the ground and searched for anything that might have landed there. Their little paws were folded in prayerful gratitude as they ate, because the snow and ice covered their food supplies. Every calorie of food meant life itself.
So it is when we realize from hardships that the Gospel is life itself and not a distraction from life. Whenever we pass through a time of difficulty, God is allowing us to develop a hunger and thirst for the comfort we receive only from our Savior. Now many Lutherans are scrambling for good books because the best books are now so rare. In the recent past many of the best Lutheran books were being printed and sold. I could order the 8 volume Sermons of Luther, Kretzmann, and many other classics. No one is printing The Lutheran Hymnal and the supplies will be gone in a few years.
We also take relationships for granted. This mortal life is rather short in duration, full problems caused by Original Sin. We are united in our universal state of sinfulness, but we can also be united through fellowship in Christ. As Luther said, we cannot overlook doctrinal error, because every error is an attack against God. Then we should be unbending, since small errors lead to complete abandonment of the Word. Discussing God’s Word has the effect of uniting people. True, sometimes it requires peaceful separation, which is better than a dishonest union. Throughout history God has brought people together by debating the meaning of the Word. The death of Luther brought doctrinal chaos, but out of that chaos came the Book of Concord, which all of us took for granted until the pure Word of God was being attacked.
The life of the believer is one in which the resurrection of Christ dominates. Eternal life triumphs over mortality, which is the one great fear of all mankind. Many a hardened criminal has asked for a stay of execution and has been willing to live for years behind bars in uncertainty rather than enjoy the certainty of the sentence. God does not take away the fear of death, but He shows us that He has overcome death through Christ. God does not take away grief, but He comforts us in our grief by showing us the promise of eternal life.
When we are younger, we are surprised that anyone dies. When we get older, we see that eternal life is the greatest part of all time and that our hours on earth are short. Then we appreciate that time here more and are thankful for the blessings God gives us in this life. We also have a greater sense of being united with believers in eternal life.