This is post 2 of 2 in the series “THE STORY I NEVER..."
- The Story I Never Tire Of Hearing
- The Story I Never Tire Of Telling
The Story I Never Tire Of Telling
Easter is a lot like Christmas. It is not a time for learned discourses or complex theology. Rather it is time to tell a story—a story that is so simple, so beautiful, so simply beautiful that it as fresh and powerful today as it was when it was told by Jesus’ best friend, John, some 2,000 years ago. It is a story I never tire of telling . . .
It was the custom in 1st century Jerusalem for the wealthy citizens of the city to have private gardens outside the city walls—lovely quiet places to which they could retreat in order to escape the dust, the noise, the hustle and bustle of the city. It was also in those private gardens, adorned with brightly colored flowers, that the wealthy people would bury the members of their families. Joseph of Arimathea was wealthy, and he owned such a garden just beyond the walls of Jerusalem. Because of the kind generosity of Joseph of Arimathea, it was in his garden that Jesus was buried.
It was April, very early on a Sunday morning—in fact, John says, “While it was still dark”—that Mary Magdalene hurried out to Joseph’s garden. She wished to improve upon the rather hasty burial Jesus had been given late Friday afternoon after the crucifixion. Mary could not have gone to the garden any sooner because it would have been a violation of Jewish Law to do such a thing on the Sabbath which began on Friday at sundown and ended on Saturday at sundown. So at the first opportunity early on that Sunday morning, Mary headed out to the garden. When she got there, she made a startling discovery. The mammoth stone, used to seal the tomb, had been rolled away. She cried out in both alarm and despair, “They have taken away my Lord!” Without stopping for further investigation, she immediately turned and ran back into the city to tell the disciples what had happened. Peter and John, thunderstruck by this terrible news, dashed out to the garden. John, I suppose because he was younger, ran faster and got there first. John did not enter the tomb. Instead he hesitated for a moment, perhaps trying to absorb the details of what he was seeing. But not Peter—good old impulsive, impetuous Peter—he didn’t hesitate at all. He barged onto the scene and charged right into the tomb. John then followed.
There they made an astounding discovery. The grave clothes were still in the tomb. Now that little detail is quite astonishing because if the body of Jesus had been removed or even stolen (as they presumed it had been) then whoever carried away the body would have taken the grave clothes away with the body as well. You see, no one in those days, would ever dare touch a dead body without the body being covered completely by the grave clothes. Besides, such clothing was always made of the finest linen, very valuable. — so valuable, in fact, that grave robbers, for example, would never have left it behind. Yet John discloses this extremely important detail — the grave clothes were left behind. And there is yet another detail to notice, an even more crucial detail: the grave clothes were not thrown about the tomb. They were not even unwound and folded and placed in a corner. Instead, they had—and here the Greek word John uses is quite specific—they had “fallen in upon themselves.” It was as if the body of Jesus had suddenly evaporated from within them, and they had simply collapsed in upon themselves being left then virtually undisturbed. John, seeing that, immediately caught the significance of it—and the Bible says, “He saw, and he believed.” There, in the dawn’s early light, it dawned upon John that Jesus, in fact, had been raised from the dead. He hadn’t been carried away from the tomb at all. He had left the tomb under His own power—and the grave clothes, in the process of His rising, had been left undisturbed.
Well, I would never presume to stand here and try to explain to you how the resurrection happened. I cannot describe for you by what magnificently mysterious process Jesus was raised from the dead. All I can do is to tell you the story and point out to you the significant little details of the story all of which have about them the ring of truth. So I do not understand how it happened, but I believe it did happen! I believe it with my life, and everything else I believe in life is based upon that one, single, simple, shining belief. Everything! Everything I believe about God, about Christ, about the world, about life, about death, about what happens to us here, about where we wind up—everything is based upon that one unshakable belief that, on Easter, Jesus Christ was raised from the dead. I believe it. I believe it with my life, and I would willingly give up my life before ever I would renounce that belief. That is why the Easter story is the story I never tire of telling.
Paul Stuckey tells of an ad which appeared in the classified section of the newspaper in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Big bold letters headed the ad: “Used Tombstone.” The text of the ad read as follows, “Used Tombstone for sale; real bargain to someone named ‘Dingo.’ For more information, call 898-4424.” Now wouldn’t you love to know about Dingo? Who was he, and why did he no longer have need for a tombstone? Of course, at first glance the image of a used tombstone might seem maudlin or absurd, but think about it. A used tombstone means that its previous owner no longer has any use for it. That, dear friends, is what Easter is all about. The tomb is empty. The stone marker is no longer needed. “Jesus is not here. He is risen.” Those are the words that ricochet all over the world today. They are the most powerful and revolutionary words ever heard. Just recently archaeologists in the Holy Land excavated the tomb of Caiaphas, the high priest in Jerusalem, who cooked up the plot to have Jesus arrested, convicted, and crucified. But do you know what they discovered when they opened the tomb of Caiaphas? They found Caiaphas! They found the remains of the man who had instigated and orchestrated the death of Jesus. Of course, the same thing is true for the leaders of all the world’s great religions. You can go to the great temple of Ceylon and find the resting place of Buddha’s heart. You can travel up and down the Nile and pass the pyramids which house the mummified remains of the pharaohs. If you are in India, you may see the Taj Mahal, considered to be the most beautiful tomb in the world, and it contains the remains of a great emperor and his wife. You may journey to Medina in Saudi Arabia, and there you could join the world’s Muslims and behold the spot where Muhammad is buried. But you cannot visit the spot where the remains of Jesus are found! Of all the tombs of all the great world leaders His is the only one that is empty.
And what that means for you and for me is simply this: In life storms come, heartaches come, Good Fridays come, but they are always followed by Easter. The good news of Easter is that nothing can defeat God and nothing can separate us from Christ—not wars, not evil, not terrorists, not tornadoes, not illness, not death, not anything. Christ is alive! The tomb is empty! That’s the best news the world can ever hear. That’s the best news you and I can ever hear. And today we hear it again.
Jesus Christ is risen today! Hallelujah and amen!