Two days earlier Jesus had been crucified. Here’s how it went. The Roman centurion, certified Jesus as dead. If anyone knew death when he saw it, this man did. This is good news to Pilate. He didn't need any trouble in his province and Jesus' death sentence was a troubling matter.
It was doubly good news to the religious leaders. This imposter Messiah was dead and they didn't need anybody creating trouble and unrest that would stir up the Roman occupiers. The beginning of the Sabbath and Passover at sunset was now only a couple hours away.
You see, the timing was all bad for the Jewish religious leaders. Yes, they wanted Jesus dead, but by Jewish practice, they couldn’t allow a body to be on the cross over Sabbath. If Jesus’ death was slow, and it he could have hung there for a couple days before dying, they would have to hasten the process and request that his legs be broken so Jesus would suffocate because he would be hanging just by his arms. Then the body had to be removed and quickly disposed of or entombed.
A new face emerges from the crowd. Joseph of Arimathea, a rich member of the Jewish Sanhedrin council, goes to Pilate and asks if he can take custody of Jesus’ body. Joseph’s credentials were good. Besides being rich and influential,
he had just built a new tomb, a room carved into the face of a limestone wall.
But Joseph had another motive…something he couldn’t tell Pilate: he was a quiet follower of Jesus.
They allow him to take the body. Now in possession of the body, and being a rich man, Joseph ordered the quick cleaning and preparation of the body of Jesus for burial. Their custom was to
wrap the body of the deceased in long strips of cloth. The head was wrapped in a special linen cloth and it was wrapped in such a way that the mouth was closed. It was then the custom that the body would be allowed to decay, leaving only the bones. The bones were then collected and put in a box called an ossuary.
To keep down the smell during the decaying process the bodies were sprinkled with a mixture of aloe and myrrh. The amount of aloe and myrrh used on the body was an indication of the position and the respect of the person would died. Normally about 1 to 2 pounds was used but Joseph used a 100.
The Jewish religious leaders were well aware that Jesus had claimed he would come back to life in three days. They figured that if Jesus could be a deceiver in his life, his disciples could be deceivers in his death. They were concerned that his disciples would come and take the body away and then
tell people that Jesus had risen from the dead.
If they had been smart, they would've taken the body themselves, then allow the disciples to find an empty tomb after which they would go out and proclaim that the master had risen from the dead. And once they had made these claims then they would produce Jesus' body. So they too went to Pilate and asked if he would order the posting a guard at the tomb. Pilate, who seems to be a man that was easily bullied, gave them their guard.
The Sabbath, the day after the crucifixion, has passed. It ended at sunset and it is now the second night after Jesus crucifixion… The third day by their accounting. It is cold out… Probably in the upper 40s or low 50s. The squad of 4 soldiers stood guard in front of the tomb. The tomb itself had been closed by large round flat rock. The rock sat in a shallow sloping channel along the front of the tomb. It was held at the top of the channel by a stone or stick.
When the block was removed the 3000-pound stone rolled and stopped in front of the door. To be opened, not only would they have to roll the rock away, they would have to roll it up the slope. Then it was sealed with a cord across the stone which is attached by clay. The strength of the seal was not in the strength of the cord. The strength of the seal was the power and authority of the Roman government behind it. Tampering with the seal brought execution.
Now the guards merely had to rotate their shifts for the next a few days and then go home. Some women who were followers of Jesus went to the tomb in the middle of the night to put more embalming spices on Jesus body. This would be similar to us taking flowers to the grave site a day after the funeral. This was likely the earliest they could come. Sabbath laws forbid them to do anything on the Sabbath. They couldn't prepare the spices or anything else until after sunset a few hours earlier. Of course, they had a problem…the guards, the size of the stone and the seal. Guess they hadn’t thought about that.
While they are on their way to the tomb a violent earthquake took place in an area immediately around the tomb. Then a shining angel, sent from heaven, came and single-handedly rolled back the stone and perched himself on top of it. The guards were in shock and froze in their tracks. Have you ever been so startled that you simply froze your tracks? I have. For a few moments you can't say anything or do anything. But you are keenly observant of everything that's going on. And what they saw was an empty tomb.
During their watches, the rock had never moved and the seal had never been broken during their watch. And they knew there were no back ways out…yet the body they saw put in there was gone.
They ran away just as the women are coming. Divine timing I guess. The women saw the angel as well. He told them that Jesus was not there and that they should come into the tomb and look for themselves. When they went in the face cloth was neatly folded. The strips of cloth that had been wound around and around and around the body of our Lord lay there just as if he had vaporized and come up through them.
Then the angel tells them, “Go and give this news to the other disciples and make plans to meet Jesus up in Galilee.” The women leave everything and go to tell the disciples, but first they meet Peter and John. Peter and John rushed to the tomb, followed by Mary Magdalene. The other women continue on to tell the rest of the disciples.
John, being the faster of the two disciples, gets to the tomb first but hesitates to go in. Peter doesn't care and runs right in. He too sees only the neatly folded had cloth and the swaddling clothes. Peter and John leave but Mary stays. This is all too overwhelming for her. She just needs some time at the gravesite.
Imagine a close friend that suddenly takes ill. In a few days they are in the hospital at death’s door. You are told that their passing is just hours away and you should begin to make plans for the funeral. You begin doing so, and then when you return to the hospital they say, “You friend has left. They simply got up and ran out of the hospital, right past security, and into the street and away. Look, all their stuff is still here…but they have disappeared.”
And so it was.
In the darkness, a man who she presumes to be the gardener gently walks over to her. She says to him, "Where they taken the master… Where is his body?” The gardener looks at her and says, "Mary." She would know that voice in a cheering crowd of thousands. She crumbles at his feet to worship him…Jesus: her rescuer, her protector and her master.
Jesus reaches down and says, "Not now, Mary. Don't hold on to me…don’t detain me. I have, as we say today, places to go, people to meet and things to do. Right now and you need to go and tell the disciples what you've seen and heard. No, Mary, go."
Meanwhile the guards are in a quandary. They know the consequence of failure in their duty is execution. They had been ordered there by the Romans the Romans were the last people that wanted to talk with right now. So they went to the Jewish leaders, who got together and decided that if money can make people talk, it can also keep them from talking. So the chief priests bribed them to tell people that while they were sleeping on duty the disciples came and stole the body of Jesus.
To remove their fears of execution, they told the guards that if the news got back to Pilate they have their ways of dealing with him.
Jesus then went West out of Jerusalem, west on the road to the town of Emmaus a couple miles away. Jesus sees two men walking down the road. It must still be fairly dark. He pulls a shawl up over his head and draws his sleeves beyond his wrists. As they walk he hears them talking about the happenings of the last few days and asked them what it's all about. They chide him and say, "What! Are you the only visitor Jerusalem who doesn't know what's going on?"
Jesus said, "What's going on?" So they tell him what's been happening and now they had just gotten news that the women had been to the tomb and the body of Jesus was gone.” Jesus, the stranger, then began to tell them how the Scriptures had predicted about the Messiah and what would happen to him. So when they got to Emmaus they decided to have something to eat. The men, possibly perceiving that if this stranger knew so much maybe was a teacher or Rabbi, passed the bread the him and asked him to bless it and break.
When he broke, and his hands opened up to give it to them they saw the nail prints and immediately knew it was the Lord. Jesus immediately disappeared. The men rushed back to find the disciples, who had locked themselves in a room, fearful, maybe, that already the religious leaders may be coming after them and accuse them of stealing the body. All the disciples except for Judas and Thomas were there and they told them what they had heard and seen.
While in there trying to figure out what is going on, Jesus appears in their midst. He says to them, "Peace be with you. You look worried but come. It is I. Here, look at my hands and my feet. Touch me and you will see.” They recognize those feet. How many times had they bowed and worshiped and honored him by caressing and rubbing his feet. In the Eastern culture the worshiper caresses, touches and kisses the feet of the master. And furthermore, the worshiper would never, ever allow the master to touch their feet. This is why Peter had so strongly refused to allow Jesus to wash his feet. Yet they saw and felt, and knew these were the hands of the master who had honored then by washing their feet.
Jesus said, "Look. I'm not a ghost, I'm not a spirit that has come back to haunt you. I am Jesus and I am alive, and I'm hungry. Do you have anything to eat?" The had some fish and they give it to them and he ate it.
Why is the bodily resurrection of our Lord is essential to our faith? The Apostle Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 15:3 that there are three essentials to the Gospel message, that Jesus died for our sins according to the Scriptures. His birth, his life, the reason for his death and the means of his death were predicted and came true to the very letter of Scripture.
The second essential to our faith is that he was buried. He was not unceremoniously burned in the dump like a common criminal. His burial certified that he was indeed dead. Likely the Jewish religious leaders followed to make sure this deceiver, as they called him, was securely in the tomb. Then too, they wanted him sealed away so that his body would not become a shrine, carried about on the platform like a martyr. And his followers also were there to observe his last moments before burial. This is who the Gospel message includes the phrase, “He was buried.”
After he was sealed away this God man had a days work to do in another realm, doing something we only vaguely think we know, and then he would return and fulfill the third essential of our faith, that he was raised back to life on the third day.
Paul says that this is the Gospel that saves us. Not by the keeping of law. Not by good works. Only by belief that he, Jesus, the one who was also God, who has existed since eternity past, who was never born, who was always God united in Trinity with the Father and the Holy Spirit, died for me, was buried for me, and rose again for me.
The bodily resurrection of our Lord is essential to our faith because he said it was going to happen. If there's no resurrection of our Lord then he is a liar. In John 2 He predicted that he would raise himself from the dead. Further proof that he is the everlasting and eternal God. If he himself could not be raised from the dead how can we be raised from the dead? If this is false then we have believed a lie. And if we preach that lie we are guilty of teaching error and have led people away from what other truth there might be. And not only have we taught a lie but we have become the most miserable people around because we teach and live righteous living. We live in life that goes against our natural instincts of selfish desire and hedonism, refusing ourselves the pleasures of sex, power, anger, revenge and so much more. And more than that, because of how we live and what we teach we face persecution and martyrdom for no reason, no reason at all. We are the cause of splits in families and friendships.
We believe the reason Jesus came to this world is to save sinners. And for the preacher to be true to his calling he must preach repentance for sin and the personal belief that Jesus died for them, that he paid the penalty which they rightly deserve. Everyone stands alone before God to answer the question do you believe? If we are only forgiven and there is no resurrection than the forgiveness is meaningless. Where is the reward?
When we were kids…if we did something wrong and confessed it, and were forgiven there was a reward…a hug, a welcoming back into the joy of fellowship and good relations. Forgiveness always involves reward. So too, there must be something after this life worthy of seeking forgiveness. And that is the resurrection to new life in heaven. Indeed forgiveness without the resurrection is a life of misery.
Think about this carefully: if there is no forgiveness that leads to our reward then there is no unforgiveness that leads to punishment. Life empties into nothingness upon death. Without the resurrection there is nothing after death.
The resurrection is the gospel message. The resurrection is the rejoining of the body with the soul for eternity. The body must join the soul in order to enjoy the pleasure ant presence of God and all he has prepared for us in heaven. But as well, the body must join the soul in order to feel the wrath and the absence of God and the agony of everything God has prepared for those who reject him.
And so today we rejoice in the resurrection of our Lord for it is through him that we not only receive the forgiveness of sin but life everlasting. Amen