This Easter Sunday sermon is from 1961. To learn more about the history behind it, click here.
Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. So she ran, and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” Peter then came out with the other disciple, and they went toward the tomb. They both ran, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first; and stooping to look in, he saw the linen cloths lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb; he saw the linen cloths lying, and the napkin, which had been on his head, not lying with the linen cloths but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not know the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples went back to their homes. John 20:1-10 (RSV)
Dear friends in Christ:
On the first Easter morning some men and women wanted to pay their final respects to a dead Christ. They were shocked and amazed when they suddenly found that He was alive. Notice the word “run” in our text. When Mary Magdalene saw that the stone was rolled away “she ran and went to Simon Peter.” She did not walk, she ran. When Peter and John heard the news — “they ran together.” John was quite a bit younger, so the text says he outran Peter. They were too excited to think of a heart attack or to be worried. Running was the only thing they could do.
We are often told that in our Lutheran church we need a little more enthusiasm. I would be the last one to deny this. I wish that we all would experience some of the excitement we find in the first Easter story and would start running again to do the work of the Lord. An excited person can do things he never thought possible, and a congregation which has some of the right kind of excitement can do wonders. Because the early church was excited and began to run, they turned the world upside down.
There are lots of so-called Christians who are not excited at all because they don’t want to come to see the place where Jesus was laid. They do not see the Easter signs. To them I say, Come and see the empty tomb.
Have you ever watched children at an Easter egg hunt? They run from one discovery to the next, getting more excited each time they find a colored egg. The story of the first Easter morning is almost like that. The disciples run from one piece of evidence that the Savior is resurrected to the next, getting more excited every minute.
First they found that the stone had been rolled away; then the burial linen and the napkin folded separately; finally, the very place where they had laid the body was empty. Those were some pretty good signs that Jesus had risen from the dead, as He had said he would. The excitement at the tomb came for those who took the trouble of going there. The rest missed out on the Easter morning excitement, probably because they were convinced that nothing would happen.
Without resurrection there is no Savior and no God. Jesus staked his life and work on the fact that He would rise from the dead. When asked to prove His divine authority, He said, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.” He spoke of the temple of His body. If Jesus did not rise from the dead, we cannot believe that “God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” If Jesus did not rise from the dead, He was bluffing when He said, “I go to prepare a place for you, and I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am ye may be also” (John 14:2-3). The empty place where Jesus was laid would speak of the complete emptiness of His life if that grave had been the end of the story. He had to be alive, or else His work would have been utterly ridiculous.
In 1 Corinthians 15, the great resurrection chapter, the Apostle Paul says, “if Christ be not raised, the dead will not be raised and your faith is in vain. Then those that have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. But now, Christ is risen from the dead and become the first fruit of them that slept. For since by one man death came, by one man came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. When this mortal flesh shall put on immortality then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: Death is swallowed up in victory. O death where is thy sting, O grave where is thy victory — Thanks be to God who giveth us the victory through Jesus Christ our Lord.”
We believe in a living God, an intelligent God. He will not produce souls and then throw them away. I have read of people in India that sit beside a pool and drop particles of colored dust into the water so skillfully that they form recognizable portraits. When a breeze comes and creates some waves the whole thing is washed away. Is that what God does? Producing living personalities for a short time to let the breeze of death blow them away? Does He blow soap bubbles just to see them burst? Of course not. The mortal must put on immortality. God is not a God of unfinished business.
Let the critics and the fools believe with the Sadducees of old that there is no resurrection, we prefer to stand on the foundation that can never be shaken. Throughout the Bible the resurrection of all is stated as a fact and we see no reason to doubt it. It gives us a glorious hope.
The last sentence of our text this morning is a very strange conclusion to the Easter story as concerns the disciples. We read, “the disciples went back to their homes.” It sounds almost like a present day Easter service. Everybody is out in a fine Easter outfit, listens to a choir and a sermon. What is often the end of it all? Everyone goes home just as they came. The women kick off their shoes and prepare a find Easter dinner, the men read the Easter funny papers, and the Easter excitement and enthusiasm is forgotten for another year.
We read why some of the disciples at that time were indifferent and why some are today. “For as yet they knew not the Scripture that He must rise again from the dead.” Their momentary excitement died away because they had no real foundation in God’s word. But soon the Lord appeared to them and opened the Scriptures. Any enthusiasm you may feel for Christ and His work must rest on God’s Word otherwise it will not last. Your faith in the resurrection must have this one foundation; it must rest entirely on the Word of God.
Arguments for the resurrection may be good as far as they go, but they will never bring lasting faith. One professor said concerning the resurrection, “I see too much to deny it, and too little to affirm it. One hundred times I have wished that nature would say all or nothing so that I might see which side I should take, but now my state is pitiful.” That is the condition of people who listen to a lot of arguments. It is in the Word of God that you and I discover that Christ has risen from the dead and become the first of them that slept. The only real evidence of Christ’s resurrection is to be found in His Word. “Faith cometh by the Word of God” (Romans 10:17). “Search the scriptures for in them ye have eternal life, and they are they which testify of me” (John 5:39). The power of the Holy Ghost working through Scripture can make the risen Lord as real to you and me as He was to the disciples on that first Easter day.
Some wise fellows seeing an elderly person coming out of church on Easter Day wanted to have some fun at the old man’s expense, and said, “How do you know that Christ is alive?” His answer was, “He just talked to me in His Word and I talked to Him in my prayer.” He had that inner assurance that rests on God’s Word, not arguments.
The assurance and conviction that He lives shall remain with you as the days come and go. When He lives in your heart life is exciting. A teenager once complained, “Everything that is exciting is bad, everything that is good is dull.” This is no longer the case once Christ takes over. If anyone is in Christ he is a new creature. He has a new desire, a new outlook; he is altogether different. He is good and excited.
In Sunday school the children had to recite the books of the New Testament from memory. One did it incorrectly. Another little girl broke in indignantly saying, “The New Testament doesn’t end with Timothy! It ends with Revelation.” Pray God that Easter may end with revelation also in your life and mine.