It was 3 pm on Friday, and Jesus was dead. This is most certainly true. He had undergone the agony of Roman scourging, mockery, torture, and execution. He did not deserve this death; this cross was placed upon Him. We did it to Him. Our sins did. For us He died. The Romans were especially efficient at these things. Had the scourging not done it, the crucifixion would have. And had the crucifixion not done it, the spear thrust into His side would have. Instead, it merely showed that Jesus was already dead.
It is now the morning of the third day—Sunday—and we find Mary Magdalene coming to the tomb. She was not alone; the other Gospels tell us that the other women accompanied her. They were going to the tomb to care for Jesus’ body, which had been hastily done by Joseph and Nicodemus on Friday before the Sabbath began.
And the women were concerned as they approached the tomb because of the stone rolled over its opening. That could be a problem. How could they move it? The guards might be a problem, too. They were there to ensure that Jesus’ body remained in the tomb. How will they react to an early morning visit from His mourning followers? But all of those worries flew away quickly because the Lord took care of them by way of the earthquake and angels clad in dazzling white clothe..
John tells us that when Mary saw the stone rolled back, she ran right away to tell the other disciples. The other women, as the other Evangelists tell us, looked into the tomb. They saw that the place where Jesus had been laid was now empty; the shroud and napkin resting, but not over the body of their Lord. And then they heard the angels’ proclamation: “He is not here. He has risen!” And they, too, ran to tell the disciples. And then Peter and John run to see it for themselves. They look in the tomb and find out that the women were right! It was empty! This is most certainly true.
No one disputed that the tomb was empty. The Jews didn’t dispute it, nor did the Romans. The tomb was empty, but what does this mean?
There is only one explanation. We already heard it from the angels’ mouths: He is risen! Jesus rose from the dead, just as He said He would. That is what Easter is all about. Jesus, who was shown to be the Christ, the Savior, God’s own Son, is our Redeemer, who lives. And this resurrection and His redemption given to us by it has eternal consequences for us. Jesus fulfilled the Law, so the power of sin has been taken away. And since sin has lost its power, death has lost its sting, for, as St. Paul proclaims, “death has been swallowed up in victory.” Jesus rose from the dead, and so death, which has reigned since Adam’s sin in Eden, no longer has dominion over us. Jesus has won the victory!
And Jesus’ victory is your victory over death and the grave. That doesn’t mean we won’t die. Unless Christ returns first, we will likely experience the first death. But the second death—the eternal one, the one that matters—has no power over you. Jesus’ death has been death’s undoing. And because of that, on the Last Day, whether you are alive to see His return or whether Jesus wakes your body from the sleep of death, you will put on immortality; your perishable body will put on the imperishable. You, like Jesus, will rise from the dead. Even if you have turned to dust, turned to ash, become food for worms or fish, you will rise restored to meet Him face-to-face, to see Him with your own eyes.
Of course, that’s only if Christ rose from the dead. If not, we Christians are the most to be pitied, especially all of us who woke up especially early and ventured out before sunrise. If Christ is not risen, then we all lost valuable sleep! But more importantly, if Christ is not raised, then our faith is in vain, our preaching, our liturgy, our hymns a waste of breath. And don’t be mistaken. Many have tried to dispute it. They say Jesus didn’t really die because the Romans were incompetent at killing. They say Jesus regained His strength and pushed the stone away. They say that the women visited the wrong tomb, somehow thinking it was quite the coincidence that the Romans had put guards at a different tomb in the same cemetery. They say someone stole the body. That’s what the Jews feared, but the Romans were there to prevent it. None of these are believable. Even secular historians certify that a man named Jesus said He rose from the dead and appeared to many.
There is only one plausible reason for the empty tomb, and that’s the one given by the angels and confirmed by Mary’s encounter with Jesus, the first of many appearances between His resurrection and ascension. Jesus is risen! He is alive, the conqueror of death! And this resurrection gives confirmation to all He said and did. He is our Savior, our Lord. Believing in Him whom God raised from the dead, you are saved, and He will give you everlasting life.
Jesus died, this is true. The cross is the symbol of that death. But He rose from the grave. His tomb was empty. He lives, and He promises life to you and all who look to Him. And now, you are an inheritor of that resurrection. One day your grave will be empty as well, Death will be conquered, your body free from sin, your eyes beholding the risen Jesus face-to-face forever. This is most certainly true.
Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!
Why does the Pastor preach? Scripture explains that the role of preaching the Word of God is how saving faith is created: “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in Him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’ … So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ” (Romans 10:14-17). The Augsburg Confession, seeing this connection between the Preaching Office and saving faith, summarizes Scripture on the Office of the Holy Ministry in this way: “To obtain [saving, justifying] faith, God instituted the Office of Preaching, giving the Gospel and the Sacraments. Through these, as through means, He gives the Holy Spirit who produces faith, where and when He wills, in those who hear the Gospel. It teaches that we have a gracious God, not through our merit but through Christ’s merit, when we so believe” (AC V 1-3). The whole reason the Pastor preaches is so saving faith can be created, so we know that “we have a gracious God” who loves us and has saved us from our sin by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.