A sermon delivered by Howard Batson, Pastor, First Baptist Church, Amarillo, Tx., on April 8, 2012.
Some things are so important, so foundational to our very being that they should always be remembered.
A soldier prepares for deployment to the dangerous environs of war. He kisses his young bride, pulls his two young sons close to his chest. The last words he utters to his boys are, “Always remember, Daddy loves you.” Always remember.
A girl unpacks her college linens and makes her bed, as her father hangs her family photos on the athletic dormitory wall. Dad’s always hang pictures too high. She probably wouldn’t have gone seven states away, so far from home, but the volleyball scholarship seemed too good to turn down. Finally, it’s time for the parents to depart, to make that long drive home – that long drive back to the empty nest. As they give their parting hug, her mom whispers in her ear, “Always remember we’re just a phone call away.” Wet eyes. Always remember.
There are some truths upon which we build our lives – some beliefs that, when we remember them, they change our very perspective. They shape our soul – how we think, how we spend our time, our attitude, our emotions, and almost every daily decision.
There are some things that should always be remembered.
In Luke 24, the women go to the tomb on the first day of the week. Earlier, in Luke 23:52, Joseph of Arimathea has asked for the body of Jesus for burial. Normal Roman protocol forbade the burying of people who had been sentenced to death. This denial of burial was universally regarded as a most humiliating indignity done to the deceased. Inevitably, the corpse would eventually be devoured by animals and birds of prey. Quite candidly, most men on the cross just rotted.
That was the rule of Rome. But Jews, on the other hand, considered the burying of bodies to be a pious duty. In Deuteronomy 21, the Hebrew scriptures declare that even leaving a criminal’s body to hang on a tree overnight defiles the land.
Joseph of Arimathea must have carried quite a reputation. He’s bold enough to go to the governor and ask to be granted the right to bury someone accused of sedition, of rebellion.
Imagine if you dare, but you’ll never catch the reality of how unpleasant it was to remove the brutalized body of Jesus from the cross and carry it to the tomb.
Joseph certainly hadn’t been in the inner circle of disciples – not among the three, not even among the twelve. But, for some reason, he felt compelled to kindness in regard to the treatment of our Lord’s body. He placed Jesus, we learn in verse 53, in a tomb where no one had ever lain. The unused tomb is like the colt that had never been ridden at the triumphal entry. Commonly, tombs were used over and over again. When the flesh had decomposed, the bones were carefully gathered and placed in an ossuary box – larger bones placed on the bottom and the smaller ones on top. This way, tombs could be utilized for a whole family.
Since Jesus was naked on the cross, Joseph restores His dignity, wrapping his bare body in a linen cloth.
And the Sabbath was beginning (verse 54). The actual translation is “the Sabbath was lighting up.” It’s sundown, so the reference is either to the appearance of the evening star or the lighting of the Sabbath candles which would take place on Friday evening.
With the Sabbath approaching, Joseph was in a hurry to do all that was necessary to bury the body.
In verse 55, we learn that the women who had followed Jesus out of Galilee were watching Joseph. They had seen the tomb – even how His body was placed. And they went back to prepare spices for a proper burial once the Sabbath rest had passed.
The word for tomb (v. 55) literally means “the place of remembrance.” That which is to be remembered is not so much the burial site, but the words and deeds of Jesus. A place of remembrance. Always remember.
When the Sabbath passed, the women – who had been the last to leave the cross – are the first at the tomb to attend to the body of Jesus. They come, in chapter 24, bringing their spices to finish that job that Joseph had started, however hurriedly, because of the approaching Sabbath rest. When they arrive (verse 2), the stone has been rolled aside. They enter, but they do not see the body of the Lord Jesus – the “to soma tou kurio Iasou” (verse 3).
I like it that Luke calls him the “Lord” here, foreshadowing for the reader what he is about to discover. You would never call a corpse “Lord.”
In verse 4, the women are completely perplexed. Confused. They are agitated because they’ve come to do a task, grim as it is, for their teacher, but His body is gone. How bothered would you be if you discovered, arriving at the funeral home, that the body of your father, your mother, your husband, your wife, your son, your daughter, your grandfather, or your grandmother was gone? Not only do you experience the grief over the death of someone who is part and parcel of your life, you’re also robbed of the dignity of placing the body for proper burial.
Their state of confusion is suddenly interrupted by the presence of two men dressed in dazzling apparel. There are no wings on these angels. Our artists have failed us when they paint fowl-like feathers on angels. In fact, only the seraphim had wings – and they numbered six (Isaiah 6:2). And cherubim had animal and human features. The reality is that the description of angels in the Bible is most human-like (Genesis 18:2 and 19:1-3). The gleaming clothing suggests something out of the ordinary, reminding us of the appearance of Jesus – His radiant garment after He had seen the glory of God in the Transfiguration. And in Luke’s second volume (Acts 1:10), the angels are also wearing glorious garments. The phrase “they stood before them” or “stood near them” is the language used for the interruption of the ordinary by the divine (Luke 2:29; Acts 12:7).
At the beginning of the Jesus story, the angel Gabriel appeared to interpret signs and events to chosen humans to explain what God was about to do. And now angels appear at its close to explain what God has already done.
The ladies received privileged information, as the angels speak in unison, meeting the Jewish criteria of two witnesses.
The dazzling angels, who make the sudden appearance with their glorious garments, pose the question, “Why are you looking for the living among the dead?”
And then they say it. “He is not here, but He is risen. Remember how He spoke to you while He was still in Galilee, saying that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again.” And they remembered His words.
“Ladies, you forgot the most important thing. Do you not remember what Jesus said?”
He had told the ladies. He had told the inner circle of disciples. He had predicted that He would suffer, that He would die, that sinful men would kill Him – even that He would be crucified. And He’d even predicted that on this very day, the third day, that all of our existence would be radically transformed by His victory over death, His resurrection.
And they remembered His words (24:8).
And just like Mary responds to the angel at the beginning of the gospel, these women also respond in faith.
In verse 11, we see that the disciples, themselves, the eleven – the twelfth is gone, the betrayer – don’t even believe the story of the women who have witnessed the empty tomb and the angelic proclamation. They were refusing to believe, Luke tells us. They think the report is utter nonsense, the delirious talk of the very sick is the word that is used.
Congregation what I want to give you this Easter Sunday, this Day of Resurrection, is a perspective on death that changes everything. I want to do nothing less than totally re-orient our focus from the drudgery of life on earth to the glory of God’s kingdom.
The ancient Roman motto, carpe diem – seize the day – can carry the notion that this life is all that we have, thus we’d better make the very most of it. In fact, a bumper sticker reads, “This is not a dress rehearsal.” For some folks, the here and now, our earthly existence, is everything that is desired. Thus, our pagan philosophy persuades, “Work hard all week and party hard all weekend.” Live today. Go for the gusto. Grab all you can get, for tomorrow you die.
I certainly agree that life is no dress rehearsal. But there is another, most important perspective. For the people of God must always remember there is a life beyond this life.
Ralph C. Wood of Baylor University has reminded me just how much the first believers thought about life beyond this life. Rome tried to stamp out those who followed rabbi Jesus. The Christians, however, refused to bow, to worship Caesar, and paid for their devotion to Jesus with their very lives. They would not call Caesar “Lord,” because Jesus was Lord. In the Coliseum, some were ripped apart by animals. In the emperor’s garden, others were coated with oils and set afire as human torches to illuminate the garden of Nero.
But neither the power of hell nor Rome could stamp out the people of God, the followers of the Christ, because our early brothers were not afraid, not even of death. They followed a Savior who had risen again. They had witnessed the empty tomb. They had seen the one who was the embodiment of life and truth walking in their midst. They had seen His scars and touched His side, and they would not be denied the hope of life beyond.
They were called martyrs, those who died for their faith. Those who weren’t afraid of Caesar’s sword because they had witnessed the empty tomb of Jesus. Tertullian had it right when he said, “The blood of martyrs is the seed of the church.” The word “martyr,” those who die for their faith, is actually, at its root, the word “witness.” In dying for Jesus, they are witnesses of another world, another kingdom. And in trying to stamp out the movement of Christianity, Rome actually became a catalyst for the Christ, because the fear of death wasn’t in the thought patterns of these most faithful followers of Jesus.
Even today, many face death for our Lord. More Christians were killed for their faith during the 20th Century than all of the other previous centuries combined. By some estimations, nearly 40 million Christians were martyred during the past 100 years, compared to about 27 million in the prior 1,900 years.
Was it not Jesus Himself who said in Luke 12:4, “My friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that have no more that they can do.”
Stanley Hauerwas, of Duke University, rightly observes that our culture has only a single, fundamental belief, that is, we are to fear death above all else.
Somehow, we have failed to remember what we must always remember, and we have become terrified of death and dying. We are devastated by the death of those who are in our family. Have we forgotten what Paul has said? “If we die with Him, we will also rise with Him.” Have we forgotten what Jesus Himself said in John 11:25, “I am the resurrection and the life; He who believes in Me shall live, even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?”
Jesus asked the question, “Do you believe this?” Do you really believe that your mother and your father, your husband, your wife, your son, your daughter, your grandparents, your best friend who have placed their faith in Christ Jesus, though they are dead, they are completely and even more fully alive.
Do you believe it?
When we are plunged into the baptism waters – and it’s why baptism is so important to Baptists – we are testifying, “I have been buried with Him, and I will, likewise, rise with Him.”
On the morning of April 9, 1945, less than a month before World War II ended, the resident physician at Flossenburg Concentration Camp witnessed Dietrich Bonhoeffer kneeling in fervent prayer just before his execution. The Nazis had had enough of this German pastor. Earlier, Bonhoeffer had written that to whomever God is “real and ever close,” death is a “station on the road to freedom.” Bonhoeffer’s final words to his fellow prisoners were: “This is the end; for me, the beginning of life.”
And, I love the story that is told of English Puritan, Richard Baxter, a good and godly preacher, who spent his last years in physical agony. His pain was intensified all the more by the fact that he was imprisoned for preaching the gospel. Shortly before his death, a friend visited with him. The friend pulled a chair up close and said, “Richard, how are you doing?” To which Baxter replied, “Friend, I am almost well.” And then he died. Think of that, “I am almost well.” And then he died.
Death is the one gift no one can steal from us.
The tomb is empty. He has risen. And God’s word tells us that we, too, will rise.
In 1 Thessalonians 4, in the section that begins in verse 13, Paul says don’t worry about those who are already dead, for if we die with Him, we also rise with Him.
A couple of weeks ago, on Wednesday, March 21, 2012, David and Janie Wiseman traveled from Panhandle, where they live, to First Baptist Church of Amarillo, where they worship. Janie visited with her folks while David rehearsed Easter music with our choir.
David was incredibly gifted. His mother recognized it when he was just four or five – he could play the piano without music. He had served as the first minister of music at the Calvary Baptist Church in Panhandle. Through the years, the Wiseman children, Lee, Polly, and Amy, all – at some point – sang in a choir with their father and their mother. In fact, on the 110th anniversary of the First Baptist Church of Panhandle, David Wiseman had arranged I’ll Fly Away in five parts – one for each in the family.
This family is very, very close. Lee remembers the contest he and his father had in exchanging humorous and dry-witted birthday cards. Polly remembers that because of her banana allergy, her mother would prepare Polly her own special banana pudding without bananas. How do you make banana pudding without bananas? I don’t know – with the magic of a mother’s love, I guess. Amy remembers her father was always her rock of composure, and her mother was her emotional strength.
You can imagine how shocked Lee, Polly, and Amy were when they received a phone call on Wednesday, March 21, to be told they had suddenly, and tragically, lost both their mom and their dad in a head-on car collision following choir practice.
It was a two-casket funeral here just days ago – as if one casket isn’t bad enough.
It’s not supposed to end this way. One of your parents is supposed to get sick, and you lovingly care for them for months, maybe even years. And then they die and you focus on your remaining parent. But Lee, Polly, and Amy never had a chance to even say good-bye to either. In an instant, they were robbed of the presence of their parents.
On Wednesday evening at our choir practice, the last place that David was before the tragic car accident, David sang :
We are a moment; You are forever.
Lord of the ages; God before time.
We are a vapor; You are eternal.
Love everlasting reigning on high.
After singing this song, David got in his car to drive home to Panhandle, and those words become a reality with a head-on collision.
Also on the evening of the accident, the choir had practiced I Will Rise for this very Easter Day.
There is a peace I’ve come to know, though my heart and flesh may fail.
There is an anchor for my soul; I can say “It is well.”
Jesus has overcome, and the grave is overwhelmed.
The victory is won; He has risen from the dead.
And I will rise when He calls my name.
No more sorrow; no more pain.
I will rise on eagles’ wings,
Before my God fall on my knees.