Easter Sermon – 2011

empty tomb Have you ever made plans to go someplace, and do something wonderful… and then life happens along the way? Perhaps you are driving in another state, and your van’s engine decides to seize up… or you’re planning on visiting someone when you discover that your event will be cut short because someone got sick?

Perhaps you were moving a load of furniture to your new home in your utility trailer when you turn the corner to get on the freeway at the Othello on-ramp, and one of the trailer wheels passes you…

What’s the old saying? The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft agley… Well, with all due respect to Robert Burns and his mouse, I’m not really sure how often my plans “gang aft agley”, but I do know that they certainly don’t turn out the way that I always want them to. However, this doesn’t seem to deter God from running the universe. Imagine that: God doesn’t need my permission to do His job! Hmph. You see, we have to remind ourselves of this simple fact:

God is not limited to our plans.

In the gospel of Mark, chapter, 16, we see that some people make the same discovery. They think they know what they’re going to be doing, but they discover that they simply thought too small. They thought they’d made plans, but God has a way of superseding expectations. Let’s look at the first three verses of Mark 16:

1When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. 2Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb 3and they asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?” (Mark 16:1-3, NIV)

These women are going to the tomb; they’d run out of time to care for Jesus’ body, because Jesus was killed on a Friday evening, just as the Jewish Sabbath was beginning. They were prevented from doing any work to prepare his body for long-term burial, so they quickly wrapped his body and temporarily placed it in a tomb, just until the Sabbath was over, and they could complete the job. Their goal was to anoint their beloved Rabbi, and make sure he was prepared for permanent burial.

However, they were only partially prepared. They were probably carrying the spices to embalm Jesus, but they’d left out a rather large detail in the form of a burial stone. The burial stone found at the Garden Tomb in Jerusalem is over 13 feet in diameter, and 2 feet thick. It would weigh far more than these women could ever move on their own. In short, they had no stone moving plans. That would be an obstacle that they didn’t know how to overcome, but I find it interesting that they weren’t put off by not knowing how that stone was going to be moved. Their determination that they were going to care for Jesus gives me insight as to how we live our lives of faith.

We depend upon God to fill in the blanks in our plans.

We make our plans, and gather our spices, and head off to accomplish the tasks that we think we need to do… and God intervenes. I love how Proverbs puts it: “The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps.” (Prov. 16:9, ESV) As these women approach the tomb, they make a startling discovery. Let’s take a look at verses 4 and 5:

4But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. 5As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed. (Mark 16:4-5, NIV)

I love that their initial problem has been solved; they no longer have to concern themselves about how they’re going to move that stone… it’s as if God has answered their prayers before they’d even had a chance to pray them. I don’t know for sure if they did spend time praying as they walked; the text doesn’t mention it; but what I do know is that their initial problem had been solved; the stone had been rolled away. This would seem to be a cause for rejoicing, because now they could care for the body of their Lord.

However, now they have a bigger problem – they find a different body than they’d planned for… and this one is alive!

Remember, these women are still mourning. They’re probably in shock, because they’d all missed the reminders that Jesus had this all in mind from the beginning. They’re probably still reeling from His sudden betrayal, midnight trial, and unexpected (to them) crucifixion… they’re on their way to care for His body; I’m quite sure they didn’t expect to meet anyone else just after sunrise.

They thought they were somewhat prepared (they had the anointing spices, after all), and just when God seems to have taken care of the last detail and they find the stone moved away, they are alarmed by the unexpected… they discover a young man in white sitting in the tomb.

When God fills in the blanks in our plans, the unexpected can happen.

6″Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. 7But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.'” (Mark 16:6-7, NIV)

This is wonderful, amazing, incomprehensible news! The spices they’ve been carrying have just been rendered irrelevant – they’re no longer needed, because embalming is only needed for the dead. I can just see them trying to process this new situation…

Did they think back to Jesus at the tomb of Lazarus? Did they overhear the phrase, “I am the resurrection and the life”? Because if they did, it certainly had a new meaning now! Jesus, their beloved Rabbi, is alive again, and has gone on to Galilee. Now these women have been given a new task: go and tell the other disciples and Peter!

And this phrase reminds me of God’s restorative work – Did you notice that the instruction isn’t just to go tell the world in general? Go tell Peter. If there’s anyone who needs a second chance from Jesus, it’s Peter, who just spent the last night of Jesus’ life denying he ever knew Him. God will restore Peter through this news of resurrection… and God restores us as well.

When God works unexpectedly, It can be better than we can imagine.

But what do these poor women do? They started off the day mourning the loss of their Lord, then they were concerned over the movement of the stone; they see an unexpected blessing in the stone having been moved before they get there, and then they’re startled when they encounter an angel in the tomb, who delivers the news that Jesus is Risen. Is it any wonder that they react as they do in verse 8?

8Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid. (Mark 16:8, NIV)

Trembling, bewildered from the emotional roller-coaster they’ve just been on, they fled – they ran back as fast as they could! (And I, for one, don’t blame them one little bit… I’m sure any of us would have reacted in the same way.)

As I was reading this, I noticed something unusual in the Greek source; the structure of the language used is just different enough to give a clue. I’ve translated the last bit of verse 8 to draw out what I’ve picked up.

“…and nothing to anyone did they say; they were afraid for.”

I don’t want to get into a grammar lesson here about the differences between Greek and English. Let’s just say this: the ending was unusual enough, and it made me think: Now what?

When we’re faced with God doing something unimaginable, how do we respond?

The issue that faced the women – Jesus is risen; now what? – is the same issue that faces us today. On Easter, we celebrate the Risen Savior… but what do we DO with that in our own lives? We’ve been given a task, just like these women were given: to tell others what we’ve experienced in our own encounters with the Lord of Life, so that they, too, might believe.

How will you respond to the Risen Savior?

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