Let There Be Easter: Why the Empty Tomb is the Center of the Universe
A while back an at&t commercial ran on television about life-changing moments. The ad opened some time in the future at the inauguration of the 57th POTUS. His parents were sitting in the front row behind him gleaming with pride. Then the commercial rewinds to his childhood: piano lessons, baseball games, family dinners. As we journey back even further in time we see when his mother was pregnant, before then the couple bought their house, and before that we relive their wedding day. But even before the wedding day, the commercial takes us to a day on the subway where an unassuming woman is sitting in the train and a man is waiting on the platform to catch another train. Suddenly he catches the eye of this beautiful woman and uses his phone to change his ticket then he jumps in the car seconds before the door closes and sits down next to her. The two of them catch eyes and smile. The slogan reminds us, “Any second could be the second.” The occasion of the commercial being that there are certain moments that define our lives. There are moments that change everything. Because this guy caught the train and caught her eye, they ended up building a life together and their son would become POTUS. There are moments in time that change everything.
You’ve experienced this in your own life. We have a piece of wall art in our living room that Stephanie Vadnais made for us. It’s got our two birthdays, our wedding anniversary, and the kids’ birthdays on it. Everyone except Anastasia, poor number 5. You know, when it’s your first kid, the whole world revolves around them. If you have a 4 or 5, they just need to be fed and changed and it’s a win. Anyway, May 16, 2009, our wedding day, a day that changed everything for me. But it can be traced back further, We were engaged in June 2008, We started dating in March of 2007, but the day that changed it all was Valentine’s Day 2007. That’s the day that I randomly sent Bethany a text message that simply said, “Happy Valentine’s Day.” That’s the day we became more than friends. There are moments in time that change everything.
In order for us to properly understand the magnitude of Easter, we have to go back to the first moment. Moses says in Genesis 1.1, in the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. In the opening moments of our story, there was God. Before the universe as we know it existed, God is. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have existed since eternity past and in our beginning, they created the heavens and the earth. As you read through the beautiful poetry of Genesis 1, you can see the intention of our master creator. He loves beauty, he loves order, and most of all he loves his people who bear his image. But before he does all that the text says, the earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. There is a dark, quiet calmness to the creation in these early moments. It was without form and void. There was no life. The Spirit of God was still sovereign over this darkness, but it was indeed darkness.
And then God seizes the moment and speaks. And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. Out of the formless, void, darkness, through the power of the word of God, there’s light. The first thing that God does in ordering the chaos of creation is to turn the light on. He illuminates the darkness. This is consistent with his character for John tells us that the gospel message can be summed up thus, that God is light and in him is no darkness, none (1 John 1.5)! Our story begins with God bringing light into the darkness through his word.
But the Bible sadly goes on to tell us that darkness returned. In the third chapter of Genesis darkness enters the garden in the form of a serpent. He leads God’s people away from him and they fall in sin. For they were told if you eat of the fruit of the tree you will surely die, and we did. Darkness entered (1) God’s good creation and (2) the heart of every human being on that fateful day. Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned (Rom 5.12). There are moments in time that change everything.
But thanks be to God that he does not leave us in the dark! As Adam and Eve hid, God came running like the father of the prodigal and brought them the good news. “You may have fallen in sin, but I’m going to fix it. I’m going to send a redeemer. He’s going to crush the serpent’s head, but it will cost him. It won’t be an ultimate defeat, his head won’t be crushed, but the serpent will strike his heel.” There are moments in time that change everything.
From that point on, the story of God’s kingdom – God’s people, in God’s place, under God’s blessing and rule – is a story of tragedy and triumph, victory and defeat, faithfulness and rebellion. Men like Abraham, Moses, and David are heroes in the faith to be commended, but they are also broken men who did desperately wicked things. And all throughout the OT the cry of God’s people is echoed, “Deliver us, deliver us, O YHWH, hear our cry, and gather us beneath your wings tonight.” As the book of Malachi comes to a close, there’s a sense of longing and expectation. When will the redeemer come? The Hebrew OT actually ends with the book of Chronicles, which begs the question, when will the righteous king rule?
And then John’s Gospel opens with a big bang:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
It’s almost as if God’s doing a second work of creation, like a new creation. That light that first shone in the inaugural moments of creation is now here, he shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot overcome him. He became flesh and dwelt among us. That first Christmas was like the first day of creation all over again. There are moments in time that change everything.
The life and ministry of Jesus of Nazareth announced the kingdom of God, but it didn’t end in victory, or so it seemed. On Maundy Thursday he was betrayed, on Good Friday he was crucified and buried, and on Holy Saturday he lay dead in the tomb. Can you imagine the hopelessness that the disciples experienced that day? Can you imagine the hopelessness that the creation experienced that day? Can you imagine the glee of Satan on that day? The Son of God lying lifeless in the tomb – You will strike his heel. The king was dead – without form, void, darkness. Like the creation in the beginning, there was no life in that tomb. But like the formless, void, and dark creation in the beginning, God wasn’t finished.
But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared. And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men stood by them in dazzling apparel. And as they were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise” (Luke 24.1-7).
In the formless, void, dark empty tomb God said, “Let there be light,” and Jesus walked out a new creation. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness does not overcome it. When Jesus Christ walked out of the grave that morning, everything changed. Because Jesus resurrected he new creation started, for he himself is new creation. Because Jesus defeated death Satan’s head was crushed, for death, sin, and hell could not overcome God’s king (Christus Victor). When the Spirit of God breathed the breath of life into our 2nd Adam he created a new humanity, the church. God’s wrath was appeased by the substitutionary death of his son on the cross. When Jesus hung on the cross, he bore all of the sins of his people. God poured his wrath out on his Son, every last drop. Jesus’ resurrection is God’s stamp of approval that he accepted the sacrifice of Christ in our place. It is finished. The new creation started for those who trust in Christ by faith because our hearts are new creation. If anyone is in Christ he is a new creation, behold the old has gone and the new has come (2 Cor 5.17)!
This is the message of Easter that Jesus is the only man who’s never sinned. He could do so because he is truly God and truly human. Jesus died in the place of sinners on the cross thus exhausting the wrath of God. Jesus resurrected from the dead on the third day guaranteeing the hope of resurrection for all of his people. This is the message that we call the gospel, the good news. I don’t believe in coincidences. I believe in the total sovereignty of God, which means that no one in the room this morning is here by accident. God has brought you here so that I could stand here and give you this message. Repent of your sin and trust Christ by faith. Jesus died in your place. Jesus took God’s wrath so that you don’t have to. Jesus resurrected so that you can live in his kingdom now. Take Christ by faith this morning; this could be the moment for you that changes everything.
The couple in the at&t commercial would never have given birth to a POTUS if the man hadn’t changed his ticket to chase that pretty girl. I wouldn’t have landed my pretty girl if I hadn’t texted her on that Valentine’s Day. There are moments in time that change everything. The resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth is the moment in time on which history is hinged. Everything before it was leading to it, and everything since it looks back at it. The resurrection of Christ is the meaning of history. It was God’s plan in eternity past and it will be the cause of our celebration for all of eternity future. Every human being, from every culture, for all of history can have forgiveness, meaning, and hope because of this moment. My prayer for you this morning is that you are trusting in the resurrection of Jesus. His death for your sin and his resurrection for your life is our only hope in life and death. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the moment in time that changes everything.