The King’s Empty Tomb
Text (Mark 16:1–8)
When the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might come and anoint Him. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. And they were saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?” And looking up, they saw that the stone had been rolled back—it was very large. And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe, and they were alarmed. And he said to them, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; He is not here. See the place where they laid Him. But go, tell His disciples and Peter that He is going before you to Galilee. There you will see Him, just as He told you.” And they went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.
Sermon: The King’s Empty Tomb
Jacob was a quiet man who liked to dwell indoors. He knew how to cook and was known for his sharp mind. He was the opposite of his hairy twin brother, Esau, who was a hunter and a real man’s man.
But one day, when he set his eyes on beautiful Rachel, it was as though quiet, indoorsy Jacob had turned into the incredible hulk. He had been on a long journey and came to a well. And there came beautiful Rachel with her father’s thirsty sheep. She had come to give them water, but there was a very large stone on the well. So while Rachel waited for the usual bunch of shepherds to arrive and move the stone, Jacob summoned some hidden strength. He went and single-handedly rolled away the stone, so badly did he want her as his bride. Talk about impressing your lady! And you know the rest: after laboring for fourteen years, he had her as his own.
As love stories in the Bible go, that’s a great one. But it is not the greatest. In fact, it is only a foreshadowing of the greatest one, one that includes you. The one having to do with Christ and His Bride, God’s favorite woman, the Church. The one about God desiring you as His Bride. But there was a very large problem—the very large stone at the door of the tomb, and our Lord seemed even weaker than Jacob. Dead, in fact. Dead and buried because of your sins.
So you tell me. How can He get Himself a bride if He’s dead? How can the King get Himself a queen if He lies dead in a tomb? How can He love and nourish and cherish you, His Bride, if He’s dead? How can He speak to you and adorn you with good things if His mouth and arms don’t move? But this holy night you have gathered to hear proclaimed something wonderful. Jesus, the Greater Jacob, wanted us so badly, loved us so much, that He summoned His hidden strength and came forth from the dark tomb. He directs His angel to roll away the stone, so that His dear Church might gaze in, rejoice, and be refreshed.
But this love story is a bit different from Jacob meets Rachel. In this love story, Jesus didn’t move the stone from the door of the tomb to impress you. For when Jesus first set His eyes on you, you were anything but “beautiful in form and appearance” like Rachel. You were deformed in unbelief, ugly in appearance, and clothed in the filthy rags of sin and condemnation.
Yet, for you, your Jacob journeyed; for you, He suffered; for you, He labored and sweat and thirsted, as He hung on the cross in weakness, bearing the ugliness of your fallen soul. He worked His bones to death as He labored at the cross even to breathe. And then it happened. He commanded that the very large stone be rolled back, that He might rise and send forth the Living Water of His Spirit, to wash you, cleanse you, re-create you, adorn you with His holiness, giving you a divine makeover that has made you into the most beautiful creature God ever set His eyes on. And He, too, found you at a well, the well of salvation, the font of Baptism, where God does all His beautifying work.
Those three sad women who come to the tomb would also be remade. What a beautiful picture of the devoted Church they are. The Lord had put them in an impossible situation, as He often does with His fretting saints, so that they might learn faith, learn to stop trusting themselves, and learn to trust in the God who rescues. Here they come, His nervous and anxious Church, not confident, shaky, scared hands bearing spices, living as though God were dead. Not remembering His promises. A lot like you. But those spice-bearing women are the ones who flee with a sweet smell, the aroma and fragrance of the risen Christ. They came to the One they thought was dead and go away trembling and astonished, but more alive than ever.
They were coming to the tomb. You might call a tomb “Adam’s house.” It’s the sad dwelling place that Adam brought into the world by his deadly desire to be like God. The same deadly desire that you have by nature, and the same reason your body will one day have to enter one too. But because of this night, the tomb for you is no longer something to fear, for Christ has broken its power. The bed of the grave that Adam prepared for all mankind has been slept in for three days by the King of kings, Jesus Christ, so that death and hell would forever lose their grip on you.
Everything has changed because of this night. Listen to that preacher angel sitting on the right side, clothed in a long white robe. Usually you don’t picture angels seated. They stand, they hover, they worship, they fight, but here something truly great and decisive has happened. So the angel is seated. He is not only seated to instruct, he is seated on the right side, the position of judgment and authority. And all who believe in the One who has judged and defeated Satan are already judged righteous and seated with Christ the King in heavenly places, at the right hand of God the Father. If you are already seated with Christ in heavenly places, why all the fear? By faith, you have authority over Satan and his demons; death has no power over you and your reign with the Crucified King.
Hear again that sermon, the greatest sermon ever preached. “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; He is not here. See the place where they laid Him” (Mark 16:6).
His proclamation is about a real body that rose from the dead. This is not the kind of instruction you hear about Jesus on those cable specials or on PBS. This night we hear preaching that talks about a body that was dead and is now alive. The resurrection makes all the difference. Notice what the angel doesn’t say. He doesn’t say, “Jesus is not here, but it doesn’t really matter because He’ll always live on in our hearts.” He doesn’t say, “Jesus is not here, but doesn’t really matter, for I’m sure He’s looking down on us.” No, the angel rejoices in a bodily resurrection. Death is unnatural and man’s final enemy. If Christ is not risen, your faith would be in vain, and you wouldn’t have to work so hard to hide your sins because it wouldn’t matter. But your sin has found a permanent hiding place in the wounds of your Crucified King.
Hear more from the great angelic preacher. “But go, tell His disciples and Peter that He is going before you to Galilee. There you will see Him, just as He told you” (Mark 16:7). It is a good thing that he didn’t mind making his sermons personal, because Peter really needed to hear this. Peter, the denier, needed to hear a good Gospel sermon, because the last one he heard—preached by a rooster—was all Law.
And if there is forgiveness for Peter, there is forgiveness for deniers like you, who are also quite skilled at laying low when it comes to admitting you know Jesus. Forgiveness for you, too, who have denied Jesus when the heat was on.
Come, Rachel, receive the kisses of our Jacob’s grace this night at this altar. Come, Church, beautify yourself again this night in the full and free forgiveness bestowed on you this night. Come, precious Bride of the King, receive the blood from His royal goblet that saves you and perfects you. There He gives you strength for your crosses, hope in difficulties, help in distress, and joy in a sad world.
The very large stone is rolled away and the tomb of the Crucified King, who loves you, is empty indeed.