For the past 6 weeks we have been looking at the final words that Jesus spoke from the cross. It would not have been easy for Jesus to speak while hanging from the cross. The physical exertion needed to say anything would have been great, so that Jesus spoke not once or twice, but 7 times tells us that these words, or statements really, were both important for him to share and for us to hear. Now some of these final words were prayer:
Father forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.
My God, my God why have you forsaken me?
Into your hands I commit my spirit.
Some statements were words of forgiveness offered to sinners:
Today you will be with me in paradise.
Some words were definitive statements that revealed not only the purpose and the passion of Jesus but God’s direction for our lives.
Behold your son, behold your mother – told us that God wants us to take care of each other as if we are family.
I thirst – tells us that we need to use our hands to help provide water to those who are thirsty.
The final word, it is finished, told us that the work of Jesus on the cross, which was to forgive us of sin and bring us back into a relationship with God, was completed.
Now if those were truly the final words of Jesus then we wouldn’t be here today. If the words Jesus spoke from the cross were the final words we ever heard from him, then his death would have been like any other death, but what we heard from the gospel of John this morning was that the final words from the cross were not Jesus’ final words. Three days after Jesus died and was laid in a tomb, three days after they sealed the tomb with a stone they found the stone rolled away and not only did Jesus appear to his disciples but he once again spoke to them. What we celebrate today is that after the final words from the cross there were some first words that Jesus shared with us after he rose from the dead and left behind an empty tomb. So today, and for the next couple weeks, we are going to explore some of these first words and what they teach us.
If we put all of the resurrection stories found in the gospels together side by side, we would find that the very first words of Jesus after he rose from the grave are found in the gospel of John. After Jesus died on the cross his body was taken down and laid into a tomb. Because it was close to the Jewish Sabbath, they were not able to properly prepare Jesus body for its final burial, so on the first day of the week, after the Sabbath was over, women went to prepare Jesus body for its final burial. One of those women was Mary Magdalene and when she found the stone rolled away she ran to get the rest of Jesus’ disciples.
At this point, Mary didn’t know what was going on, she just knew that someone had disturbed the tomb. All the disciples ran to the tomb certain that Mary had gotten it wrong, but when they arrive they find the tomb empty. At this point all they know for sure is that Jesus was not there. While all the disciples returned home, Mary stayed in the garden. She was distraught. She loved Jesus and while it had been painful for her to watch him suffer and die it was more than she could bear to think that his body had been taken and she would never know where.
Because of her grief and pain Mary stands there weeping and her heart and mind are so confused that she didn’t recognize Jesus when he first appeared. Jesus approaches her and asks, Why are you weeping? And there it is… the first words of Jesus. After rising from the dead and defeating death itself, after rolling away a stone and leaving behind an empty tomb the first word of Jesus is – why are you weeping? Think about it… Jesus has just defeated sin and death. He has just rolled back a stone and emerged victorious from the grave and while I would have shouted and screamed in victory to the entire world, look what I just did, Jesus doesn’t do that. His first word was a simple question asked of a woman he cared for and knew was in pain.
In this first word, Jesus does two things; first he shows us that he is here for us. Jesus doesn’t rise from the dead and then disappear, he comes to us and when he does come he shows us that he not only sees what’s going on in our lives but he cares about it. Jesus looks at Mary and sees that she is weeping, he sees that she is upset and confused and broken hearted. Jesus notices what is going in her life and he reaches out to ask her what’s wrong.
So the first word of Jesus from an empty tomb doesn’t just tell us that God is with us, it tells us that God sees what is going on in our lives. Jesus stands with us today and sees what we are going through. Just as Jesus saw the pain and heartache of Mary’s life, God sees the pain, heartache and brokenness of our lives. Whatever it is we might be going through today, whatever pain we may be experiencing, whatever shattered dream, failure, and unexpected setback we may be struggling with – Jesus sees it and he stands beside us and asks, why are you weeping? Even though he already knows the answer he asks us anyway which not only shows us that he cares, it gives us the opportunity to share with him the fullness of our lives.
Maybe this first word reveals to us the real power of Easter. While we shout Christ is risen and sing about the victory of Jesus over the grave and proclaim the power of God over all the forces of the world, maybe the real power of this day and the real power of the resurrection is that God comes to us right where we are and asks us, “Why are weeping?” “What’s going on?” “What are we looking for?” Can we quiet our own hearts and lives today to share these things with God? Why are we weeping? What is it that is breaking our hearts? And what are we looking for in life? What are the hopes and dreams we have for our lives and our children and our community and world? Are we willing to share all this with Jesus today – he is alive and with us and he still wants to know what is going on.
So the first word of Jesus from the empty tomb tells us that God cares about what is going on in our lives. God meets us where we are and asks us what is going on in our hearts and lives, but then there is a second word, a powerful word that literally opens Mary’s eyes and heart. Jesus says to her, Mary! Jesus calls her by name and when that personal connection is made, Mary’s eyes and heart are opened. The good news of Easter is that God still knows our name. While the resurrection of Jesus opened the door for the world to enter into the presence of God, we can never forget that God calls each of us personally into that relationship.
Our faith has to be a personal commitment to God. We aren’t followers of Jesus because our parents or grandparents went to church and we aren’t Christians because we live in what some call a Christian nation; we have to be willing to make a personal commitment to turn and follow Jesus. When one of the first words of Jesus from the empty tomb is to call Mary by name it reminds us that God calls each of us by name because he wants each of us to enter into a relationship of faith and trust and love with Him.
I remember when I did this. While I grew up going to church every Sunday and even led my church youth group for 2 years, sang in the choir and taught children’s Sunday School all while I was still in High School, it wasn’t until I went to college that I realized that I needed to make this faith my own. I had learned a lot about Jesus growing up, like all of us today, I sat and heard the stories about how Jesus died and rose again and I believed them to be true, but I didn’t really know what it meant for me and I didn’t accept the love and grace of Jesus for myself.
When I went to college I heard God in a different way calling my name. I don’t know that I ever heard an audible, Andy, but God opened my eyes and my heart to the power of his love. God showed me that, yes, I was a sinner and that on my own I was never going to be good enough, but then he showed me how through the cross there was forgiveness for my sin. And how through the power of God I could become more than I ever thought or imagined. Through times of prayer and worship and study and fellowship I knew I needed to make this story of Jesus resurrection my own story. I realized that Jesus didn’t just call Mary by name, He was calling me by name and I needed to respond.
Today God continues to call us all by name. None of us are here by accident; we are here because for whatever reason we have chosen to be here. Now it may have been a choice you made to make your spouse happy or to get your parents off your back, but that’s ok, you are still here and the Easter story tells us that God is here and that Jesus is alive and that one of his first words from the empty tomb is to call each of us by name.
You may also be here today because you are here each and every week. You may have attended worship your entire life but today might still be the day you will hear Jesus call you by name. Sometimes it takes a while for us to hear God’s voice. Mary didn’t recognize Jesus at first, it took her some time. I was active in church for 20 years before I really heard God’s voice and so today might be our day. The good news is that God is persistent and keeps after us. So today may be the day we hear Jesus call us by name and today may be the day we respond and enter into a deeper relationship with God.
If that is your desire today, I would invite you to follow through on the next steps we provide in the bulletin. Take some time this week to reflect on what is going on in your life and pray the prayer we have provided for you. Make this faith your own and then prepare yourself for what God has in store for you – because God has a purpose and plan for your life. You see that is what we also find in these first words.
After Jesus calls Mary by name, look at what he says to here, this is from John 20:17. While this might seem like a simple request, go and give a message to the disciples, it is so much more than that. When Jesus asks Mary to go and tell his disciples that he is alive, he is sending her off as the very first evangelist. Mary is the very first person to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ. Jesus entrusted the message of his resurrection to a person who at that time was considered to be second class. Women were not leaders then. Women were not teachers and preachers and yet by choosing a woman to be the first to proclaim the good news of his resurrection Jesus is saying that not only does every life have value and worth but every person has a purpose. Can I say that again? The first words of Jesus from the empty tomb tell us that every life has value and worth and every person has a purpose.
Ever life today has value and worth. We need to hear this today because there are too many out there saying that we don’t. Whether it is bullying in school or the harsh and critical tone we find on facebook and twitter or the constant negative focus of politics and the media, we live in a world that consistently tries to put others down – but the first words of Jesus lifted Mary up. By asking her to share the message of his resurrection he made it clear that all life has value and that everyone has a purpose.
You have a purpose. God has a purpose for your life. That purpose might be to be the best father or mother you can be to your children. Your purpose right now might be serving the needs of your aging parents or friends who are going through difficult situations. It might be to work hard at your job and improve your business, school or work place. It might be use the creative and unique gifts and talents God has given to you for his pleasure and glory. You have a purpose. No matter what age you are, not matter what stage you are in life, no matter how much money you have or what your family status is, you have a purpose and God is calling you today to step up and fulfill that purpose.
In Jeremiah 29:11 God tells us clearly that he has a purpose for our lives. If we question whether or not we have a reason for being, we need to go back to this verse – God has a plan for us. God wants us to see this truth so he makes sure that one of the first words from Jesus after his resurrection is make that clear. “Mary, he says, “you have a purpose.” In fact, one of the things we will see from many of the first words of Jesus from an empty tomb is that God has a very real purpose and plan for all of our lives.
Now many of you may be asking yourself right now, what is my purpose? What is the purpose God has for my life? I can’t answer that for you, but I can tell you how to find it. It’s a secret, so don’t tell anyone else ok – if you want to find your God given purpose – ask God. Seriously, ask God. That is what God says; look at Jeremiah 29:12-14.
To find our purpose we need to search for God – isn’t that what Mary did. She didn’t return home when she found the tomb empty, she stayed in the garden hoping to find someone or something that would lead her to Jesus. She stayed, she searched, she asked questions and she found her answers. We have to be willing to ask God what our purpose is and then take some time to listen. We seem to have the asking part down well, but the listening part is hard. It’s hard to be patient and wait. It’s hard to quiet our lives and hearts enough to hear God’s voice. It takes time but Mary shows us – it’s worth it.
After I made this faith my own I started to pray and ask God to show me the purpose of my life. I was about 20 years old then and it wasn’t until I was 29 that I finally discovered that it was to work in the local church. It took me nine years of searching! I share that to let you know that for all of us, it takes time. The journey itself is important and worthwhile which is good because discovering our purpose doesn’t come in an instant. God doesn’t use text or twitter, it is not instant message or complete in 140 characters – it takes time and struggle and prayer and the help of others, but if we search for it – we will find it.
The first word of Jesus from the empty tomb finds us right where we are today. It shows us that God is with us and cares about us no matter what we are going through but it also shows us that God has more for us in life. God knows us by name and he has shaped us and gifted us for a purpose. May today be the day we hear these first words of Jesus. May today be the day we hear God call us by name and find in that the first word all the grace, peace and hope we need for life.
Easter 2013 First Words from an Empty Tomb
1. The first words of Jesus from an empty tomb were simple questions.
- Why are you weeping?
- What are you looking for?
Take time this week to share your answers with God.
2. Respond to God when He calls your name. Use this prayer to go deeper into your personal relationship with God.
“God, today I hear you calling my name and I desire to make your life my own. Thank you for the forgiveness and grace I find in your death and the power of new life I find in your resurrection. Help me to accept you as my Savior and to follow you as my Lord today and every day. Draw me deeper into a relationship with you so I may hear your voice and experience more of your mercy and love. AMEN”
3. Memorize Jeremiah 29:11 (with your name inserted).
- Ask God to show you His purpose for your life.
- Begin to act on it when you find it.
I know the plans I have for you ,
plans to prosper you and not to harm you,
plans to give you hope and a future.