Empty Easter Promises: Pastor Dan Haugen (March 31st)

Empty Easter Promises  

I have a routine every morning when I get to the church. I start with prayer, read the email and respond to what I need to and start what I have to do for the day.

 Every now and again I’ll receive a funny joke or story in my e-mail. Sometimes I receive things that really make me think. This morning I would like to share something I received that I think goes very well with what we are going to talk about this morning.

A young man from a wealthy family was about to graduate from high school. It was a custom in their family for the parents to give their graduates an automobile. “Bill” and his father had spent months looking at cars, and the week before his graduation, they found the perfect car.

On the eve of his graduation, his father handed Bill a gift wrapped Bible. Bill was so angry that he threw the Bible down and stormed out of the house. He and his father never saw each other again. It was the news of his father’s death that finally brought Bill home again.

As he sat one night going through his father’s possessions that he was to inherit, he came across the Bible his father had given him. He brushed away the dust and opened it to find a cashier’s check, dated the date of his graduation – in the exact amount of the car they had chosen together.

As I thought about this story it reminded me of this day, Resurrection Day, the day we were given the greatest of gifts but one that many don’t bother to open.

How many people in this world have done the same thing to God. Literally tossed aside a wonderful gift, a wonderful promise, because they don’t understand it, or they just don’t believe it could be possible. In our world we are taught that if it sounds too good to be true then it probably is. So many of us have been taken in by “empty promises” that we become leery of anything or anyone that tells us we can have something for nothing. What’s the catch? The world simply doesn’t work that way. But you know what? God does! God has never made a promise He didn’t keep and He doesn’t promise us anything that is too good to be true.

The truth of the matter is, the world is full of empty promises. Though we continue to rely on the world and what it has to offer, we are continually disappointed by the results of that faith. We watch T.V. and the advertisements tell us we need this or that to be truly happy, if only we would buy their miracle product. It doesn’t take long to realize, however, that the world is full of promises it doesn’t keep, promises full of emptiness. But we as Christians know that God is different. Instead of promises full of emptiness, on Easter, He gave us emptiness that is full of promise.

This morning, I would like us to think about the promises of Easter and, as I see it, there are three of them that are especially important. Each promise is shown through something empty that assures us that God’s promises are real, an empty cross, an empty tomb and empty burial clothes. It’s the very fact that these three things were left empty that shows us that God’s promises are real, because they couldn’t hold Jesus. He couldn’t be stopped by a cross, the tomb, or even the clothes He was buried in.

Let’s first look at the empty cross. Because the cross was empty, we have the fulfilled promise of the forgiveness of our sins. Let’s go back to that first Easter morning.  It is early morning, the sun has started to show its first light but it has not yet risen. A few of Jesus’ followers – women – are on their way to the tomb where Jesus has been buried. It’s been a long journey in their sorrow and they have been walking for about ½ hour. There is little conversation as they find themselves lost in their thoughts. They think about what they have lost and what they must now do. Their task is a sad one. They are going to anoint the body of the one they called Messiah. As they come to the top of a rise in the path, they all stop and stare of in the distance.

As you look with them, you see something to your right. Just outside the city stands a gruesome reminder of the events of just a few days ago. Do you see it? Over there, silhouetted by the glow of the morning sky, on the top of the hill the locals call, “the Skull.” Three crosses.  The one in the middle, that is the one that I want you to see. That’s the one Jesus hung on. Take a close look at it. Look up at the top – those bloodstains are from the crown of thorns that was crushed into Jesus’ skull. The stains in the end of the crossbar – they came from the nails that were driven into His hands. The main beam – it was soaked in blood – blood from His back – blood that was bled when the Roman soldiers beat Him with a cat-of-nine-tails. It also has stains from the blood that poured from His side when another Roman spear was run through His side to see if He was dead – HE WAS. They made sure there was no mistake.

The soldiers knew it, the Roman officials knew it, the Jews knew it – but together they made up a lie. “The disciples stole the body” they would say. Can you imagine 11 fishermen overpowering a company of Roman soldiers, moving a two ton rock and stealing the body of Jesus just so they could claim that He had been brought back to life and then willingly die to protect that lie?   That’s because Jesus really did die. He really did rise again. God really did fulfill the promise He had made to us and we really are saved because of it. That’s why I want you to see the cross this morning. It is the place where He died – but today, it is empty, empty of the body of Jesus, but full of God’s promises. Today that cross is full of hope, for you and for me. The promise of the empty cross is that you and I are forgiven, because it was on that cross that Jesus paid the penalty for our sins.

Today we avoid talking of sin, it’s not politically correct to acknowledge it sometimes. But the simple fact is; we are all sinners. Look to your left, look to your right, look in front of you and behind you and you will see other sinners just like you. Every one of us has failed.  So here is the problem… according to God’s law, the wages of sin is death. Because we have sinned, we deserve God’s harshest judgment, eternal death – hell. However we have only to look at the empty cross where Jesus suffered to save us from that sin, paying the penalty that we deserved. 1 Thessalonians 5: 10-11 says, “For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live in Him.”

When Jesus breathed His last, he cried out, “It is finished.” The Greek means also, “It is completed.” The penalty was paid on the empty cross.  Because of what happened on that cross you and I now stand forgiven. The first empty promise of Easter is the empty cross filled with the promise of forgiven sins.

Let’s now go back to the women on the path. After pausing briefly to look at the empty cross, they continue on their way to anoint their Messiah laying in the tomb. As they go one of them wonders aloud, “who will move the stone for us?” They have good reason to be concerned because the stone is a very large one. Not only that but the Romans had sealed it, so no one was allowed to move it without permission. Even with this on their mind, the ladies continue down the path.

Suddenly they feel the earth move! Frightened they look at each other, not certain what to do. After a few minutes, things settle down so they continue on their way. As they approach the burial site, they are still wondering about what had just happened when they come upon something even more remarkable. The soldiers lie unconscious, the stone has been moved and an angel, glowing like lightening, is sitting on it.

Listen to the angel’s words, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who has been crucified. He is not here; He has risen!” Jesus had risen! He was alive! The tomb was empty!  And what an amazing promise that holds. For in that empty tomb is the truth of the resurrection of Jesus Christ and the promise to every one of us that we too will be raised to eternal life.  To those who know Jesus Christ as their Savior, death no longer holds its sting and it’s no longer something to be feared. We no longer need to fear death because our eternal life has already begun.

A father and a son were traveling down a country road one afternoon in the spring when suddenly a bee flew in the window. Being deathly allergic to bee stings, the boy began to panic as the bee buzzed around inside the car. Seeing the horror on his son’s face, the father reached out and caught the bee in his hand. Soon, he opened his hand and the bee begun to buzz around the car once again. Again, the boy began to panic. The father reached over to his son, and opened his hand showing him the stinger still in his palm. “Relax, son,” the father said, “I took the sting, the bee can’t hurt you anymore.”  The empty tomb is God’s way of saying, “Relax child, I have taken the sting, death can’t hurt you anymore. Why was the tomb empty? Because Jesus is alive! He has risen!

Now back to our story. After the angel spoke to the women, they immediately went back to the apostles and reported all that had happened.  Upon hearing this almost unbelievable news, Peter and John immediately raced back to the tomb to see for themselves. When they got there, John stopped just outside the tomb but impulsive Peter rushed right in. The tomb was indeed empty, but that’s not all, Peter found the clothes Christ had been buried in. This could only mean one thing – Jesus was alive! If someone had stolen His body, they wouldn’t have first removed His burial clothes. Truly Jesus was resurrected! It wouldn’t be long before Jesus himself would appear to Mary Magdalene, and to all the Apostles and eventually over 500 people.

Jesus would once again sit with them, walk with them, talk with them, eat with them and once again have fellowship with them. The promise of the empty burial clothes was that Jesus was alive.  Jesus isn’t some “force” in the universe which influences people. He is a living Savior, and he desires to have a personal relationship with us, just as he did over 2000 years ago with His disciples. Think about that – the cross couldn’t hold Him, the tomb couldn’t contain Him and the burial clothes were not necessary, because Jesus is alive! Like us He can touch and talk and love. He did it the day of His resurrection and He still does it today. And, most importantly, He waits for that loving relationship with you with open arms. His invitation goes out to all who would believe.

Your invitation is to come to know Jesus. I’m not saying to know “about” Him but to really know him in a very personal way. You see, you can know about people but not truly know them. We all know about President Obama or Tiger Woods or Jay Leno but do any of us really know them? You can know Jesus Christ. You can know His love, His care, His healing and His forgiveness. He says in Rev. 3:20, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.”

It’s been nearly 2,000 years since our Lord was crucified, buried and resurrected. That first Easter Sunday, as the women went to the grave, they had no idea what was about to happen to them, they were not yet aware of the wonderful promises fulfilled that day.  Off in the distance stood the empty cross – the promise of the forgiveness of our sins. At the end of the path was an empty tomb – the promise of eternal life and inside the tomb lay the empty burial clothes – the promise that their relationship with Christ would continue.  You too can have all of these promises. You too can know the freedom of forgiven sins. You too can know the promises of eternal life and you too can know Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior.

I think at Easter, more than any other time of the year, we realize that God has made all sorts of promises, some even a little hard to believe. This morning we have heard three promises that God has made to us; the promise of forgiven sins, the promise of eternal life and the promise of a personal and meaningful relationship with Jesus Christ. My question to you is, will you take Him at His word? If so, then listen to this final promise, it’s found in Romans 10:13, “For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

This morning, if you have never accepted God’s promises in your life or if you find yourself wavering, He is waiting and probably wondering, “What’s taking so long?” Don’t wait until tomorrow, do it today, and know the joy of eternal life in Jesus Christ. May this Easter morning be the one that finally reminds you what the 1st Easter morning meant to us as the children of God. May God richly bless and keep you. Amen

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