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Who Will Roll Away The Stone?

Mark 16:1-7

Three men were applying for the same job. The first man went in for the interview and the interviewer said: “In order to get this job you must have great powers of observation and perception. As a test, I want you to look at me and tell me what you perceive.” The candidate looked at him and said: “Well, the first thing I perceive is that you have no ears.” Whereupon the man behind the desk became very angry and said: “The very idea that you should call such attention to my infirmity renders you ineligible for the position. Leave, please.” A second candidate was brought in. The interviewer said: “In order to hold down this job you must be a careful observer. To test your skills in that regard, I want you to look at me and tell me what you observe.” The man said: “The first thing I observe is that you have no ears.” Once again the fellow behind the desk became indignant, saying: “That is something of which I am very embarrassed. You had no right to call attention to it. Leave my office at once.” These two men were standing out in the reception area talking about what had happened when the third candidate was called in. They said to him: “Whatever you do, don’t say anything about his ears.” So he went in and the man behind the desk said: “In order to get this job you must be able to observe what the average person would not see. As a test, I want you to look at me and tell me what you see.” The man said: “Well, the first thing I noticed is that you wear contact lenses.” The fellow behind the desk smiled and said: “That’s a remarkable perception. How in the world did you know that I wear contact lenses?” The man replied: “Well, you can’t wear glasses because you don’t have any ears!”

One way or another, as Shakespeare put it, “the truth will out.” Today is Easter. And today some preachers will proclaim the truth of Easter flat out, other preachers will proclaim it indirectly—but one way or another, the Easter truth will out! Now as for me, I want to lay it out for you as simply, as directly, and as plainly as I know how.

Let me then reconstruct for you the events of that 72-hour drama which forever changed the course of human history. Jesus was dead. His friends saw Him die. They saw His mangled corpse taken down from the cross, mournfully carried away on a stretcher, and tenderly laid in the solitary sepulcher in the private gardens of a man named Joseph of Arimathea. They saw the enormous cart-wheel stone rolled into the groove against the mouth of the sepulcher, shutting out air and light and loving hands. The stone was so final. It symbolized the end of everything. Numb with grief, the friends of Jesus took one last look at the impenetrable barrier, then they turned around and trudged sorrowfully home. The next day, being the Sabbath, they rested. At that point, there was only one thing more that those devoted disciples could do for the Master whom they had followed with such hopes and dreams. After the Sabbath, they could anoint His body with precious spices and perfumes. It would not bring Him back, but at least it would express their undying love for Him.

Early on Sunday morning, three women, Mary Magdalene, Salome, and Mary the mother of James, silently walked along the streets of Jerusalem, through the city gates, and on to the garden beyond the walls. They paused as they suddenly remembered the great stone which stood between them and the body of Jesus, a stone far too heavy for the three women to manage. Looking at one another, they all asked the same question: “Who will roll away the stone for us from the door of the tomb?” Imagine their amazement, then, when they entered the garden and found the stone not standing against the rock face of the tomb, but having been rolled some distance away. Amazement turned to shock when they looked into the tomb and discovered that the body of Jesus was gone. Suddenly a voice arrested them. A young man dressed in white—was it an angel or was it Mark, the Gospel writer?—spoke from the side of the empty tomb: “Do not be amazed. You seek Jesus who was crucified, but He has risen. He is not here. Look for yourself at the place where they laid Him.”

One thing’s for sure, those women didn’t need to worry about who was going to roll away the stone for them. God eliminated the problem. And, in a sense, that’s what Easter is all about. God eliminates the problems we feel powerless to solve. That’s what happened on Easter. The cross, the symbol of human brutality, hypocrisy, and apathy, put an end to the earthly life of Jesus, sealed Him into oblivion, and snatched Him away from His devoted followers. That was a stone too massive for human hands to move. But then suddenly, God performed a mighty act which put His beloved son beyond the power of any cross and gave Him back to His disciples forever. And in that Easter truth there is a word for the world, and a word for your life and mine. Let me show you what I mean…

First, in what happened in that little incident outside the tomb on Easter morning is a word for the world.

In its journey toward the New Jerusalem, the human race has felt frustrated by many mountainous stones blocking the way. These stones have appeared in the form of political tyranny, social injustice, violent revolution, devastating wars, and systems of thought which resisted God and defied His laws. And so many people, feeling the futility of human strength in the face of these problems, have cried: “Who will roll away the stone?”, forgetting that the reason instant answers do not come is because God is busy on a bigger scale creating a situation where the problems will be eliminated altogether.

That’s the way it works in the world. Remember the Hebrew slaves in Egypt crying: “Who will roll away this stone for us?”— the stone being the edict of Pharaoh that they must make bricks without straw. How could they know that at that very moment God was planning to change their total situation and lead them out of slavery into a free life where the problem of bricks ceased to exist? And who among us will ever forget the picture taken during the Tiananmen Square uprising in China a couple of years ago—the picture of that lone young Chinese man standing in the face of the oncoming tanks? The futility of that gesture makes us think of those three women pitting their puny power against the huge stone that blocked the entrance to the tomb in Joseph’s garden. But Easter speaks to that young man, and all like him in China, and it tells them that the God who raised Jesus Christ from the dead is not insensitive to their suffering, nor deaf to their prayers, nor blind to the political systems that enslave them and their children. Easter declares that God is working through history to create a situation in which those systems shall cease to exist. If you doubt that, then let me suggest that the demise of the Soviet Union is a powerful statement about what happens to a nation that thinks it can live without God. A few years ago, we looked at the spread of Soviet communism and asked: “Who will roll away the stone?” Little did we know that God was already at work eliminating the problem once and for all and forever.

Oh, I know that at times it looks like we are losing the battle to evil in the world. But Jesus looked like a loser, too. Certainly on His knees sweating in agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, certainly on the cross at a place called Calvary, certainly when they laid Him away in the tomb. But God didn’t leave Him there. God raised Him up and now He is alive forevermore.

If you go to Jerusalem today, they will show you two tombs, both of which make claim to be the tomb from which Jesus was raised. You will be shown what is called the “Garden Tomb” located behind St. George’s Cathedral. It is a beautiful tomb in a shaded garden where flowers bloom in riotous profusion. It is a very lovely spot. Then you will be shown the tomb located inside the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. The site of that tomb is covered over with marble and silver and gold to the point of gaudy excess. The smell of burning candles and incense hangs heavy on the air. I have been to both places. I preached at the Garden Tomb and I taught a class in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. But I couldn’t pray in either place. And I couldn’t pray in either place for the simple reason that the only reason that the tomb is important in Christianity is that the tomb is not important! Jesus left the tomb. He erupted into the middle of life and life in this world has never been the same since. The same God who brought Christmas out of a manger and brought the Son of God out of a dusty Palestinian town and brought Christianity marching forth out of a tomb—that same God is in charge of this world. And that means that He, and His, in the end will win.

As we look at the problems that exist in the world and we cry: “Who will roll away the stone?” But Easter declares that this is still our “Father’s world and we can rest ourselves in the thought that though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the ruler yet”!

Then in what happened in that little incident outside the tomb on Easter morning is a word for us.

The word is that life is stronger than death, and God is stronger than both of them. So it was for Victor Frankl who survived the Concentration Camps. He and his fellow prisoners used to look at the electrified barbed-wire fence and say: “Who will roll it away?” Then one day near the end of the war, he and a companion were ordered to bury three corpses outside the fence. This was their chance to escape, though they ran the risk of being shot. But as they approached the gate carrying the third corpse, suddenly the gate was thrown open to admit a Red Cross car, the advance guard of the allied liberation. Frankl wrote: “Who worried about escape now? Everything had changed. The fence was no longer a problem.” And so it was for Jesus in Gethsemane. He saw the approaching cross as a mountainous obstacle to the fulfillment of His life and ministry. He asked God to remove it. Yet even as He prayed, He knew that God might have a larger purpose than the removal of the cross. That’s why he went on to pray: “Nevertheless not my will but Thine be done.” So mark it down, my friends, life is stronger than death and God is stronger than both of them.

I have always been much touched by the story of F. B. Meyer, the great English preacher, who wrote a note to a friend of his. The note read: “I have just learned that I have but a few days to live. Indeed, before you get this message, I already may have entered the palace. Do not bother to write me back. I shall see you in the morning.” Just the other day I read of an epitaph which may be the most beautiful epitaph ever written. It said: “When we saw the beauty of His sunset we said, ‘It will be a lovely day tomorrow'”. When Peter Marshall left his home for the last time stricken by the heart attack that was to kill him, he said to his wife: “Goodbye, my darling, I’ll see you in the morning.” Clement of Alexandria expressed it so simply and so beautifully: “Christ has turned all of our sunsets into dawns.” Those are all variations on a theme—for you see, the theme song of the Christian faith is not “Thanks for the memory,” but “Jesus Christ is risen today.”

On the southern rim of the Grand Canyon at Easter sunrise they have a great service of worship. When they come to the place in the service where the reader of Scripture quotes these words: “And an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and rolled back the stone…”, at just that moment they push over the edge of the canyon a huge boulder which goes rolling and crashing and echoing all the way down the side of the canyon to the Colorado River far below. And as that great stone rolls, a 2,000 voice choir thunders out the “Hallelujah Chorus.” It is simply spectacular! Now you may think that’s a bit too dramatic. But remember, please, that they are announcing the great truth of Easter: that winter is always followed by spring, that hatred is always overcome by love, that death is always triumphed over by life, and that God is in control of it all. God didn’t just solve the problem of who would roll away the stone—He eliminated the problem altogether. He raised Jesus Christ from the dead.

Well…

Some years ago in the midwest, an atheist was giving a speech attacking the Christian faith. When he finished his diatribe, he asked if there were volunteers from the audience who wished to refute his remarks. An older man volunteered. When he reached the stage, he took from his pocket a pocket knife and an orange. He then proceeded to peel the orange and he began to pop the wedges into his mouth. The atheist said: “I thought you were going to speak in opposition to my contentions.” The old man kept eating the orange. When he finished, he turned to the atheist and asked: “How did that orange taste?” The atheist replied: “How should I know? I didn’t eat it—you did.” The old man said: “That’s precisely my argument. I just shared with you why I’m a Christian. You see, I have tasted Jesus Christ and He is good. You have not tasted Him. Therefore, you know nothing about Him and you are not qualified to speak about Him.”

My friends, I have tasted Jesus Christ in my life and He is good. And today I have given you my Easter testimony that Jesus Christ is risen and that He can roll away the stones of every difficulty in your life, including death. You cannot deny the truth of what I have said until you have tasted Him yourself. There is not a single sentence I have spoken which you can brand as a lie or as a dream or as an error until you offer Him the chance to live in you. So take the risen Christ into your heart and into your life today.

I tell you all this because it is true. And I tell you all this not because you may die tonight, but because you will be living tomorrow. And I want all the joy of Easter to be yours, for all the rest of your days here, and for all eternity…

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