The Forgotton Promises of Easter

INTRODUCTION

Read text:

1 When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. 2 Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb 3 and they asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?” 4 But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away.
Mark 16:1-4 (NIV)

Well today is Easter Sunday. This is the day that has been set aside annually to acknowledge and celebrate the death and resurrection of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

But as we celebrate on THIS Easter Sunday, I want you to know and understand that Easter is not all about the Easter bunny, hippity hopping along and brining chocolate eggs for you to forget about your New Year’s resolution diet. Easter is not about hiding Spring colored eggs over every inch of a yard, field or carpet for little children to lose their minds trying to find them. Easter is not about buying a brand new Easter suit, a new Easter dress, a new Easter hat or some Easter shoes. Easter is not about the “madness” sales at the local department stores. Let the truth be told, Easter is not even about a certain day and a certain time of the year.

On the contrary, Easter, or should I say, Resurrection Day, should be celebrated every day, not just on Easter Sunday morning as designated on our man-made calendar. Easter should be celebrated every morning we open up our eyes and can still see the beauty and glory of the day. Easter should be celebrated every time we see our children running and playing in the house or in the yard. Easter should be celebrated every time you look at your pay check and realize that you’ve been blessed with a job. Easter should be celebrated every time one of our loved ones in the Lord has transitioned from this life to eternal rest.

For Christ died that we might have grace and mercy everlasting. Not a once a year grace. Not a some time grace. But a grace that’s 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 52 weeks a year, every single year for the rest of eternity kind of grace.

Yes, friends, we are to celebrate Jesus, because what he did for us, is unlike anything that anyone else will do for us in our lives. Yes, there may come a time when someone may give up their life to save yours. I know that there are some parents who would give up their own lives to save the life of one of their children, but that saving power is just a physical thing. All you can do is save the physical body. And even in that instance of physical saving, there” no guarantee that your child will live beyond the next moment. They are still, at some point, subject to a physical death.

But thank God for His son Jesus, who gave up His life that we might be able to live life and live it more abundantly. He gave up His life – He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquity, the chastisement of peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed. Yes, we are healed from the sickness of sin. Healed from eternal damnation. Healed from a carnal existence. He gave up His life that we are no longer condemned to die, but grace and mercy has been extended by the Almighty God! What He did for us, no one else will ever be able to do! So there is a greater significance and greater benefits involved when we look at Him giving up His life for ours.

Yet, how much of this is forgotten in this world? How much of the grace and mercy extended by our Father in heaven is being slowly left aside in our society, in our lives?

I recently came across this story, it was told by “Dear Abby” in a response to someone’s question.

A young man from a wealthy family was about to graduate from high school. It was the custom in that affluent neighborhood for the parents to give the graduate an automobile. “Bill” and his father had spent months looking at cars, and the week before graduation, they found the perfect car. On the eve of his graduation, his father handed him 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 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 day of his graduation – in the exact amount of the car they had chosen together.

As I thought about this story, I couldn’t help but wonder how many people in this world have done the same thing to God. Literally tossed aside a wonderful promise, because they didn’t understand it, or they didn’t believe that it was possible – and so it becomes forgotten.

In our world, we are taught that; “if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.” So many of us have been taken in by “empty promises,” that we are leery of anything or anyone that tells us we can have something for nothing. THE WORLD SIMPLY DOESN’T WORK THAT WAY!

But you know what – God does – God never made a promise that was too good to be true. The truth of the matter is, the world is full of empty promises. We watch TV, and the advertisements tell us that we can be happy, sexy, rich, or famous, if we only purchase a certain product. It doesn’t take long before we have been fooled enough to know that the world’s promises are full of emptiness. But, 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 to remind us about the promises of Easter. There are three of them. Each promise is marked by something empty. An empty cross, an empty tomb and empty burial clothes. It is the very fact that each of these is empty that assures us God’s promises are real. Since they couldn’t hold Jesus, since the cross, the tomb, or even His burial clothes couldn’t contain him, we can be sure of the fullness of God’s promises in our lives.

THE EMPTY CROSS

Let’s begin with the empty cross. Because the cross was empty, we have the promise of forgiven sins. Let’s go back, if we can, to that 1st Easter morning. It is early morning – dawn – but the sun has not risen. A few of Jesus’ followers – women – are on their way to a tomb. It is the tomb where Jesus was buried. They have been walking now for about ½ hour. The conversation is subdued. The task before them is a sad one. They are going to anoint the body of Jesus. As they come to the top of a rise in the path, they all stop. Motionless and quiet, they stare off in the distance. As you look with them, look off to the 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 pink sky, on top of the Hill the locals call, “The Skull.” 3 Crosses.

Yesterday was the Sabbath, so nobody had yet removed them. So, there they stand, an empty reminder of the horror of Friday.

The one in the middle, that is the one that I want you to see. That’s the one that 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 on the ends 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 whip. It also has stains from the blood that poured from Him when another roman soldier ran a spear through His side to see if He was dead – HE WAS.

Don’t ever believe anyone who tells you He was just faking it. There was no question – Jesus was dead.

– The soldiers knew it
– The Romans knew it
– The Jews knew it

Together, they made up a lie? – the disciples stole the body. Can you imagine 11 fishermen overpowering a company of Roman soldiers, moving a 2 ton stone and stealing the body of Jesus – just so they could claim he had come back to life – and then willingly dying to protect that lie? You see, Jesus really did die – that is why I want you to see the cross this morning. It is the place where He died – but today, it is empty. Empty of Jesus’ body, but full – full of God’s promise. Full of hope – for you and me.

The promise of the empty cross is that anyone who believes in Jesus stands forgiven. Because it was on that cross that Jesus paid the penalty for our sins.

“SIN” – now there is a word that is just not popular anymore. It is a word that isn’t ‘politically correct’. But, the simple fact of the matter is – we have all sinned. Every one of us – you, me, the person sitting next to you, behind you and in front of you. We have “all sinned, and fallen short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) The only person who has ever lived a sinless life is the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. Everyone else has failed.

So, here is the problem – according to God’s law – ‘the wages of sin is death’. (Romans 6:23) Jesus also taught,

I told you that you would die in your sins; if you do not believe that I am [the one I claim to be], you will indeed die in your sins.”
John 8:24 (NIV)

Because, we have sinned, we deserve God’s just punishment. We deserve “eternal death” – hell. However, when you look at the empty cross – it is a reminder of God’s promise of forgiveness. On that cross – Jesus paid the penalty for our sins.

God’s word tells us again – “God demonstrated His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, CHRIST DIED FOR US!” (Romans 5:8)

It was on that cross that Jesus Christ offered His perfect, sinless life on behalf of each one of us. No one else – not Moses or Abraham, not David or Isaiah, not Muhammad or Buddha – no one else has ever lived perfectly and then offered His perfect life for our salvation. That is why the Bible tells us that “there is no other name given under heaven by which we can be saved.” (Acts 4:12)

When Jesus Christ breathed His last, He cried out; “It is finished.” The penalty was paid. On that cross – that empty cross – It was there, that His blood was spilt for our salvation. Before that fateful Friday, God could open the books and look up each name, and written in black were the words – “guilty of sin” But when Jesus went to the cross, God literally transferred every believer’s accounts to His name. On that day, across every name of every believer – he wrote – in Jesus’ blood – “Forgiven – Forgiven – Forgiven”.

Because of the work that Jesus did on that cross – you and I now stand Forgiven! The first promise of Easter that many have forgotten is demonstrated by the empty cross – full with the promise of forgiven sins.

THE EMPTY TOMB

Let’s get back to our ladies. These ladies began to walk to the tomb, unbeknownst to them how they would be able to remove the stone and anoint the body of Jesus. Remember that this was a large stone. The three of them together would not be able to remove it. It was a burdensome stone. If they were to give it their all, they would still be unable to roll the stone away. It was a difficult stone and yet despite the difficulty that faced them, they began their journey toward the stone.

Friends, it would have been easy for these women to not even begin their journey, knowing that this huge stone was standing in their way, and yet they went on anyhow. Oh can’t you hear them talking as they walked along the way, “Who is going to move the stone out of our way?”

They have good reason to be concerned – the stone that was placed in front of the tomb was a large boulder – probably weighing upwards of two tonnes. Not only that, the Romans had sealed it, so no one was allowed to move it without their permission. However, the ladies continue. Suddenly they feel the earth move! Frightened, they look at each other, not certain what to do. After a few minutes, things seem normal so they continue on their way. As they approach the burial site, they are still wondering about what had happened when they come upon something even more remarkable.

• the soldiers are all unconscious
• the stone has been moved
• An angel – glowing like lightening – is sitting on it. Listen to his 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 a tremendous promise that holds.

I’d like to tell you a story of a boy named Philip;

Philip never felt like he belonged. He was pleasant enough but he looked a bit different and sometimes seemed unusual to his eight-year-old classmates.In his Sunday school class several weeks before Easter, Philip’s teacher introduced a special project. He gave every member a plastic “egg” – the kind pantyhose used to come in. He explained that each child was to go outside, find a symbol for new life and put it into the egg. Enthusiastically, the class responded.

Back in the classroom the eggs were opened one at a time with each child explaining the meaning of his symbol.

In the first egg was a pretty flower; in the next a beautiful butterfly, while green grass was in a third. The children “oohed” and “aahed”. In another was a rock, which prompted loud laughter. Finally, the last egg was opened – there was nothing.

“That’s stupid,” said one child. Another grumbled, “Someone didn’t do it right!”

The teacher felt a tug on his shirt. It was Philip, who said, “That’s mine, and I did do right! It’s empty, ‘cause the tomb was empty.”

There was an unusual, thoughtful silence. And strangely, from that time on, Philip was accepted as part of the group.

Philip continued to struggle with many physical problems. That summer he picked up an infection which most children would have easily shaken off. But Philip’s weak body couldn’t and a few weeks later, he died.

At his funeral nine eight year-olds with their teacher brought their symbol of remembrance and placed it near his coffin. Their unusual gift of love to Phillip wasn’t flower. It was an empty egg – now a symbol to them of new life and hope.

It was Phillip, the “different” child, who had helped his friends see the wonderful hope in the message of Easter (Preaching Today)

For, in the fact of the empty tomb is the truth of the resurrection of Jesus Christ and the promise to every one of us who believe in Jesus that we too will be raised to everlasting life.

To those who know Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior, death has lost its sting – it is no longer something to be feared. What fear is there when we have the promise that one day we will live forever with Him in heaven?

A father and son were traveling down a country road one afternoon in the springtime when suddenly a bee flew in the window. Begin deadly allergic to bee stings, the boy began to panic as the bee buzzed all around inside the car. Seeing the horror on his child’s face, the father reached out and caught the bee in his hand. Soon, he opened his hand and the bee began to buzz around 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 to us; “Relax, my child, I took the sting, death can’t hurt you anymore.”

Why was the tomb empty? Because Jesus was alive. The Angel said; “He is risen.” And the promise to us is that we too can live even if we die. That is the second promise of Easter.

But it doesn’t end there. There is one more promise that I want to remind you about Easter. It is the promise of…

EMPTY BURIAL CLOTHES

Back to our story. After the Angel had spoken to the women, they immediately went back to the Apostles and reported what had happened. With this incredible 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 Peter ran right in. It didn’t take them long to discover that the tomb was just the women had said it was – empty. But, that’s not all. Inside, Peter found the clothes that Jesus had been buried in. They too were empty. This could only mean one thing – Jesus was alive! If someone had stolen His body, they wouldn’t have removed the burial clothes and folded them up neatly and left them where they lay. Truly, Jesus was resurrected!

It wouldn’t be long, before Jesus, himself, would appear to Mary Magdalene, and to all of the Apostles, and eventually to over 500 people. He would:

• sit down with them
• walk with them
• talk with them
• eat with them

Once again, they would be able to fellowship with their Lord. You see, that is the promise of the empty burial clothes – Jesus is alive, and wants to fellowship with you.

Jesus isn’t some nebulous “force” out in the universe influencing people. He is a living Savior, and He desires to have a personal relationship with each one of us, just as He did with His disciples 2000 years ago.

Think about that – the cross couldn’t hold Him, the tomb couldn’t contain Him, the burial clothes were unnecessary, because Jesus is alive! He has skin and bones and a face and was recognizable. And He talked, and touched and loved and healed. He did it the day of His resurrection, and He does it still today. And – most importantly – He wants to do it with you.

I want to ask you a very important question this morning. Do you know Jesus Christ? I don’t mean; “Do you know about Him?” do you truly know Jesus Christ? You see, we can know about someone, and not truly know them.

• Billy Graham
• Stephen Harper
• Tiger Woods
• Wayne Gretzky

These are people we know something about, 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; “Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me.” (Revelation 3:20)

It has been over 2000 years since Jesus was crucified, buried and resurrected. That 1st Easter Sunday, as the women went to the grave, they had no idea what was about to happen to them. They were not aware of the wonderful promises of that day.

• Off in the distance stood an empty cross – the promise that their sins were forgiven.
• At the end of their journey was an empty tomb – the promise of their eternal life.
• Inside the tomb were empty burial clothes. The promise that they would once again have a close personal relationship with Jesus Christ – their living Saviour.

The promises that they discovered that day, you too can have today;

• You too can know the freedom of forgiven sins
• You too can know the promise of eternal life and heaven
• You too can know Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior

I believe it is John Maxwell who tells a story about a blazer he bought from Nordstrom’s (a department store chain in the US). This is how he relates it:

About a year and a half ago, I bought a new navy blazer at Nordstrom. It was one of those cases you may have gone through where you buy an item of clothing and the more you wear it, the more you realize you don’t like it. My blazer wasn’t the right color, and to make matters worse, it attracted lint like it was going out of style. After wearing it pretty regularly for six months or so, I stuck it in my closet and didn’t wear it for a long time.

Tucked away in the back of my mind all the while was that famous Nordstrom unconditional-return policy. I though, I’ve had this thing for a year and a half. I’ve worn it lots of times, and there’s just no way they’re going to take it back. About two weeks ago I decided I had nothing to lose. I pulled the blazer out, threw a lot of lint on it to make it look bad, and took it down to Nordstrom’s men’s department. I walked in, and immediately I felt nervous. I felt like I was about to pull a scam of some sot, but I played it straight. I walked right up to the first salesman I saw and gave this little prepared speech. I said, “I am about to put your famous unconditional-return policy to its ultimate test. I have here a blazer. I’ve worn it lots. I’ve had it for a year and a half. I don’t like it. It’s the wrong color, and it attracts lint like it’s going out of style. But I want to return this blazer for another blazer that I like.” Then I stood there.

I couldn’t believe it. This guy with a big handlebar mustache just looked at me and shook his head. He said, “For heaven’s sake, what took you so long? Let’s go find you a blazer.” Ten minutes later I walked out with another blazer that was marked seventy-five dollars more than I paid for the one that I brought in. It was perfect for me. Didn’t cost me a penny.

In a small way, the Nordstrom Department Store is a lot like God. They are willing to back up their promises. (Preaching Today)

I think at Easter, more than any other time of the year, we realize that God has made all sorts of outlandish promises. So outlandish, that some of us cannot bring ourselves to believe. Or, can we? This morning, we have heard about three promises that God has made to us; the promise of forgiven sins; the promise of eternal life; and the promise of a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. My question to you this morning is this; will you take him at his word? If so, listen to this final promise – it is found in Romans 10:13,

for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
Romans 10:13 (NIV)

Don’t wait another day, do it today, and know the joy of eternal life in Jesus Christ. Let’s remember, embrace, and proclaim these promises this Easter folks!

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