Isaiah 6:8

8 Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?”And I said, “Here am I. Send me!”

Sunday, April 20, 2014

The "Empty" Promises

I am an Easter person.  I love this day with all my heart.  It is more than the new clothes, the baskets, the eggs, the is all about the cross, the tomb, and the cloths....that were all empty.   It is all about what the day stands for....HE IS RISEN!
Tomb, You shall not hold Him longer,
Death is strong, but life is stronger
Stronger than the dark, the light;
Stronger than the wrong, the right;
Faith and hope triumphant say; Christ will rise on Easter Day.
While the patient earth lies waiting
Till the morning shall be breaking
Shuddering beneath the burden dread
Of her Master, cold and dead,
Hark! she hears the angels say; Christ will rise on Easter Day.
And when sunrise smites the mountains
Pouring light from heavenly fountains
Then the earth blooms out to greet
Once again the blessed feet;
And her countless voices say; Christ has risen on Easter Day.
(Author: Phillips Brooks)
Read Scripture Luke 24:1-12
I recently came across this story, it was told by “Dear Abby” in a response to someone’s question.  A young man from a wealthy family was about to graduate from high school. It was the custom in that affluent neighborhood for the parents to give the graduate an automobile. "Bill’ and his father had spent months looking at cars, and the week before graduation, they found the perfect car. On the eve of his graduation, his father handed him a gift wrapped Bible. Bill was so angry that he threw the Bible down and stormed out of the house.  He and his father never saw each other again. It was the news of his father’s death that brought Bill home again.  As he sat one night going through his father’s possessions that he was to inherit, he come across the Bible his father had given him. He brushed away the dust and opened it to find a cashier’s check, dated the day of his graduation - in the exact amount of the car they had chosen together.   As I thought about this story, I couldn’t help but wonder how many people in this world have done the same thing to God. Literally tossed aside a wonderful promise, because they didn’t understand it, or they didn’t believe that it was possible.  In our world, we are taught that; “if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.” So many of us have been taken in by “empty promises,” that we are leery of anything or anyone that tells us we can have something for nothing.

But, you know what – God does – God never made a promise that was too good to be true.   The world is full of empty promises. We watch TV, and the advertisements tell us that we can be happy, beautiful, rich, or famous, if we only purchase a certain product. It doesn’t take long before we have been fooled enough to know that the world’s promises are full of emptiness. But, God is different. Instead of promises full of emptiness, on Easter, he gave us emptiness that is full of promise.
This morning, I would like us to think about the promises of Easter. There are three of them. Each promise is marked by something empty. An empty cross, and empty tomb and empty burial clothes. It is the very fact that each of these is empty that assures us that God’s promises are real. Because they couldn’t hold Jesus, because he couldn’t be contained by the cross, the tomb, or even his burial clothes, we can be sure of the fullness of God’s promises in our lives.

1. The Empty Cross.  Let’s begin with the empty cross. Because the cross was empty, we have the promise of forgiven sins.  Let’s go back, if we can, to that 1st Easter Morning. It is early morning – dawn – but the sun has not risen. A few of Jesus followers – women – are on their way to a tomb. It is the tomb where Jesus was buried. They have been walking now for about ½ hour. The conversation is subdued. The task before them is a sad one. They are going to anoint the body of Jesus. As they come to the top of a rise in the path, they all stop. Motionless and quiet, they stare off in the distance.  As you look with them, look off to the right, just outside the city stands a gruesome reminder of the events of just a few days ago. Do you see it? Over there, silhouetted by the glow of the pink sky, on top of the Hill the locals call, “The Skull.”  There are three crosses….right there…..don’t you see them?Yesterday was the Sabbath, so nobody has yet to remove them. So, there they stand, an empty reminder of the horror of Friday. The one in the middle, that is the one that I want you to see. That’s the one that Jesus hung on.  Take a close look at it. Look up at the top – those bloodstains are from the crown of thorns that was crushed into Jesus’ skull. The stains on the ends of the crossbar – they came from the nails that were driven into his hands. The main beam – it was soaked in blood – blood from his back – blood that was bled when the Roman soldiers beat him with a cat-of-nine-tails. It also has stains from the blood that poured from his side when another Roman soldier ran a spear through his side to see if he was dead – HE WAS.  Don’t ever believe anyone who tells you he was just faking it. There was no question – Jesus was dead.
The soldiers knew it
The Romans knew it
The Jews knew it
Together, they made up a lie – the disciples stole the body. Can you imagine 11 fishermen overpowering a company of Roman soldiers, moving a 2 ton stone and stealing the body of Jesus – just so they could claim he had come back to life – and then willingly die to protect that lie.  You see, Jesus really did die – that is why I want you to see the cross this morning. It is the place where he died – but today, it is empty. Empty of Jesus’ body, but full – full of God’s promises. Full of hope – for you and me.  The promise of the empty cross is that you and I stand forgiven. Because it was on that cross that Jesus paid the penalty for our sins.  God’s word tells us again – “God demonstrated His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, CHRIST DIED FOR US!”  It was on that cross that Jesus Christ offered his perfect, sinless life on behalf of each one of us. No one else – not Moses or Abraham, not David or Isaiah, not Muhammad or Buddha – no one else has ever lived perfectly and then offered his perfect life for our salvation. That is why the Bible tells us that “there is no other name given under heaven by which we can be saved.”  When Jesus Christ breathed his last, he cried out; “It is finished.” The penalty was paid. On that cross – that empty cross – It was there, that his blood was spilt for our salvation. Before that fateful Friday, God could open the books and look up each name, and written in black were the words – “guilt of sin.” But when Jesus went to the cross, God literally transferred our accounts to His name. On that day, across every name – he wrote – in Jesus blood – “Forgiven – Forgiven – Forgiven.”  Because of the work that Jesus did on that cross – you and I now stand Forgiven.” The first “empty promise” of Easter is the empty cross – filled with the promise of forgiven sins.

 So back to our ladies. After pausing briefly to view the cross, they continue on their way down the path to the tomb. As they go, one of them wonders aloud – “who will move the stone for us?”  They have good reason to be concerned – the stone that was placed in front of the tomb was huge and weighed over a ton. Not only that, the Romans had sealed it, so no one was allowed to move it without their permission. However, the ladies continue.Suddenly, they feel the earth move under their feet! Frightened, they look at each other, not certain what to do. After a few minutes, things seem normal so they continue on their way. As they approach the burial site, they are still wondering about what had happened when they come upon something even more remarkable.
The soldiers are all unconscious
The stone has been moved
An angel – glowing like lightening – is sitting on it
And….he speaks to them….he say, “Do not be afraid; for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who has been crucified. He is not here; He has risen!”  Jesus had risen – He was alive – the tomb was empty. And what a tremendous promise that holds.  The fact of the empty tomb is the truth of the resurrection of Jesus Christ and the promise to every one of us that we too will be raised to eternal life. To those who know Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior, death has lost its sting – it is no longer something to be feared. What fear is there when we have the promise that one day we will live forever with Him in Heaven?   A father and son were traveling down a country road on afternoon in the spring time when suddenly a bee flew in the window. Being deathly allergic to bee stings, the boy began to panic as the bee buzzed all around inside the car. Seeing the horror on his child’s face, the father reached out and caught the bee in his hand. Soon, he opened his hand and the bee began to buzz around once again. Again, the boy began to panic. The father reached over to his son, and opened his hand showing him the stinger still in his palm. “Relax, son,” the father said, “I took the sting, the bee can’t hurt you anymore.”  The empty tomb is God’s way of saying to us; “Relax, my child, I took the sting, death can’t hurt you anymore.”  Why was the tomb empty? Because Jesus was alive – The Angel said; “He is risen.” And the promise to us is that we too can live even if we die. That is the second promise of Easter.

But, it doesn’t end there... There is one more promise that I want you to know about Easter. It is the promise of the empty burial clothes.  Back to our story…..After the Angel had spoken to the women, they immediately went back to the Apostles and reported what had happened. With this incredible news, Peter and John immediately raced back to the tomb to see for themselves. When they got there, John stopped just outside the tomb, but Peter ran right in. It didn’t take them long to discover that the tomb was just the way the women had said it was – empty. But, that’s not all. Inside, Peter found the clothes that Jesus had been buried in. They too were empty. This could only mean one thing – Jesus was alive! If someone had stolen his body, they wouldn’t have removed the burial clothes and folded them up neatly and left them where they lay. Truly, Jesus was resurrected!  It wouldn’t be long, before Jesus, himself would appear to Mary Magdalene, and to all of the Apostles, and eventually to over 500 people.
He would;
sit down with them
walk with them
talk with them
eat with them
Once again, they would be able to fellowship with their Lord. You see, that is the promise of the empty burial clothes – Jesus is alive, and wants to fellowship with you.  Think about that – the cross couldn’t hold him, the tomb couldn’t contain him, the burial clothes were unnecessary, because Jesus is alive! He has skin and bones and a face and was recognizable. And he talked, and touched and loved and healed. He did it the day of his resurrection, and he does it still today. And – most importantly – he wants to do it with you.

I want to ask you a very important question this morning. Do you know Jesus Christ? I don’t mean; “do you know about him?” Do you truly know Jesus Christ.  This morning let me tell you……You can know Jesus Christ. You can know his love, his care, his healing, and his forgiveness. He says; “Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me. Off in the distance stood an empty cross – the promise that their sins were forgiven.  At the end of their journey was an empty tomb – the promise of their eternal life.  Inside the tomb were empty burial clothes. The promise that they would once again have a close personal relationship with Jesus Christ – their living Savior.
The promises that they discovered that day, you too can have today;  This morning, we have heard about three promises that God has made to us; the promise of forgiven sins; the promise of eternal life; and the promise of a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. My question to you this morning is this; will you take him at his word? If so, listen to this final promise – it is found in Romans 10:13 – “for everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”  This morning I urge you….Don’t wait another day, do it today, and know the joy of eternal life in Jesus Christ. 


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