MESSAGE DELIVERED: SEPTEMBER 25, 2016
On November 9th, 1964, at 15 minutes after 5pm, local time, the ENTIRE Northeast Seaboard was plunged into darkness. There had been a sudden and unexpected HEAVY LOAD on the electrical grid, and ONE transformer was tripped, and somehow THAT caused ANOTHER transformer to trip, and then, like dominos falling, the entire grid failed.
And 30 MILLION people were affected that night. Some for only a few minutes, but others for as long as 13 hours. And you may say that doesn’t sound like a very long time, but you have to think of all the people that were in ELEVATORS, in hi-rise apartment buildings, and those trying to leave their JOBS and go HOME, when all the power failed.
Thousands of others were trapped in massive TRAFFIC jams, as all the traffic LIGHTS quit working at the same time. Thousands MORE were trapped hundreds of feet underground, in dark subway tunnels, when all the trains stopped working.
It was a TERRIBLE night for people who had become so accustomed to electricity always BEING there, that they gave it no thought, until all of a sudden it wasn’t THERE anymore.
So for years after that, people in New York would greet each other by asking “Where were you, when the lights went out?”
We in the church spend the entire year looking at one of two events: we are either looking toward the BIRTH of Christ, or the RESURRECTION of Him. Since we are right now 90 days away from CHRISTMAS, I want to take this time to look BACKWARDS, to the RESURRECTION story, before we become wrapped up in the BIRTH story.
And what we see in the passage we just read, is ANOTHER “black-out” like the one I reminded you of back East. And since I’m the kind of guy who asks QUESTIONS of the text…I have an UNanswered question, from this passage of Scripture.
Jesus IS “The Light of the World”, He told us that, many times. And He also said that, after He left the world, then WE are to BECOME that “Light of the World”, we who REMAIN, and claim His NAME!
But, while He was still IN the world, and while He was PAYING for the sins OF the world, that Light was being forcefully taken OUT OF the world…as Jesus hung helplessly NAILED to a rough wooden Cross….at least those who were KILLING Him THOUGHT He was helpless…as Jesus was paying for MY sins!…and for YOUR sins….the SKY began to turn BLACK, like night, at midday.
And then we are told that as Mary Magdalene was approaching the Tomb as the Sabbath was ending, very early in the morning on that 3rd day…it was STILL dark. And that’s the question I have. I wonder, did the sky that had turned black as Jesus was dying, did it STAY black, while He was in the Tomb?
Or, did the sun rise like usual, that Sabbath morning? I don’t suppose it MATTERS, I’d just like to know. But anyway, there are 3 different people in this passage…this first trip to the Empty Tomb, and there are 3 different reactions as well, to what they found that morning. One got it completely WRONG, one got it completely RIGHT, and one didn’t know WHAT to think.
*Mary saw the Empty Tomb, and thought the Body had been stolen, and then when she SAW the Risen Jesus, she thought He was the gardener. SHE got it completely wrong.
*John saw the Empty Tomb, and came away believing that Jesus had Risen as He said He would, as he had TAUGHT them. John got it completely right!
*And then Peter came huffing and puffing to the Tomb, and came away scratching his head, not knowing WHAT to think.
And all 3 of those responses can be blamed on either LIGHT, or DARKNESS. Mary came to the Tomb early the morning after the Sabbath, while it was STILL dark, John tells us in his Gospel, but we don’t know if the darkness had RELENTED on Saturday, or if it had CONTINUED until now. Someday I’ll have the answer to that question.
As Jesus hung from the Cross, paying for our sins, the sky had turned dark, as the Light of the World was being taken OUT of the world, and the EARTH shook, and the ROCKS had CRACKED!
And He had died. And His Body was taken down from the Cross, and placed in a BORROWED tomb. THAT might be an important clue in just a few minutes…but two men, who had been ‘secret’ disciples, but were secret no more, gently took the body down, and hastily buried Him away, trying to get it done before the Sabbath began, when they would not be ALLOWED to do that work.
But, the preparing of a body for burial was “WOMEN’S” work. And it had to be done PROPERLY. Every TRACE of BLOOD had to be removed, and He was COVERED with blood. So the women had stood nearby and watched, determining to return after the Sabbath, and doing the job RIGHT.
So Mary Magdalene was the FIRST to arrive. She came as it was still dark, and she was no stranger to darkness. She was from the village of Magdala, a place the Rabbis said was SO evil that it would end up destroying itself. And when Mary first met Jesus she was possessed by SEVEN demonic spirits. And those spirits caused her to do TERRIBLE things. She was no stranger to darkness.
And then Jesus had freed her from that horrible existence, and had allowed her to finally walk in the Light of His Love, and His Truth. You can read that part of the story in the 8th chapter of Luke’s Gospel.
So, Jesus had gone to Mary in HER darkness, and now SHE comes to HIM, in HIS darkness. She comes intent on performing this one last kindness on the One who had showed so MUCH kindness to HER. So she arrives at the burial place, in the dark, but there is just ENOUGH light for her to see that the tomb is OPEN. That massive SEALING STONE that she had worried about how to MOVE it herself…now finds it is already moved…and in the gloom, peers inside the tomb, and can just make out that the WINDING sheet is still there, but the BODY it once HELD, is GONE!
And she comes to a conclusion…a WRONG conclusion…that someone has STOLEN His Body. For what REASON she doesn’t even WONDER about; just that they STOLE it. And she RUSHES back to where the others are still hiding, and tells them what she found. And two men, two that were especially close to Jesus, they hurry, running through the gloom, to see if what she said was true.
By now the sun has risen slightly and John, the younger of the two, arrives first, and HE peers inside, and sees the same thing Mary saw…there is NO body in there! There’s enough light now for hm to be CERTAIN of that.
And then Peter arrives, huffing and puffing, and He doesn’t even slow down, but climbs right inside. And there he sees the burial shroud the Body HAD been wrapped in, but it’s empty, slightly DEFLATED, like a COCOON that had given up its occupant. Only the small napkin, that was used to cover the face as the body is being wrapped, is not in its proper place. Instead it is folded neatly and set aside. It looks as if the Body that had been wrapped and placed in here, had been INSTANTLY, and SUPER-NATURALLY “removed” FROM those wrappings.
And I LOVE this image…The Lord had been resurrected, INSTANTLY, completely HEALED of His horrible WOUNDS, but the NAIL holes, and the spear wound, still with Him, but no longer INJURIES, now just REMINDERS…and he had SAT UP, carefully REMOVED that napkin from His face, and laid it aside before rising to His feet and leaving the tomb.
This was NOTHING like the raising of LAZARUS, just a few weeks before. THERE, an EXTERNAL call was needed, a SPECIFIC call, for Lazarus ONLY, or else EVERY body IN that burial place would have risen…and there, HUMAN hands had been needed to remove the stone that sealed the tomb, and to loose Lazarus FROM ‘his’ grave clothes, so HE could walk away.
With Jesus, NONE of that was needed. God called His Son back to life, INTERNALLY! And God caused the STONE to be rolled away. And then JESUS, in His new GLORIFIED Body, had passed THROUGH those grave clothes, as easily as WE can pass through a FOG. I also think that INSTANTANEOUS RE-BIRTH has printed that IMAGE on the Shroud of Turin…but that makes no difference one way or another.
NOW, following Peter, John climbs inside the Tomb, and examines the evidence there…the empty grave clothes, still holding a HINT of the Body that HAD been in there, but now DEFINITELY empty. The NAPKIN that had once covered the Lord’s Face, sitting in a place of its own…even that huge stone that had once sealed the entrance being rolled away.
He looks at all that, and comes to a conclusion…a logical and correct conclusion. Jesus had told them many times that after He was killed, on the 3rd day, He WOULD rise again! And now, looking around, John is SURE that He has DONE, as He said He WOULD do!
But Peter, the impulsive one, now doesn’t know WHAT to think. And the two men leave the garden. But Mary remains. And the sun continues to rise in the sky. Probably by this time it is more than a little way up from the horizon.
And now Mary again peers into the empty Tomb, but it isn’t empty NOW. There are two MEN inside, sitting on the slab where Jesus once lay. They are angels, but Mary doesn’t know that, even though the WORD that is used to describe them, in the OTHER Gospels, indicates that these so-called ‘men’ are brightly GLOWING with BRILLIANCE, in the gloomy darkness of the inside of the Tomb.
And they ask her “why are you weeping?” That had to be a TREMENDOUS UNDERstatement. Mary has been CRYING, for THREE days straight. She has shed so many tears her eyes are SWOLLEN from the effort. Her VISION is distorted by her tears and the gloom, and the brilliance of the two ‘men’.
But she answered according to what she believes at the time…that someone has stolen the Body of her Lord, and she is unable to perform her one last labor of love, by adequately preparing that Body for burial.
IF her thinking had not been clouded by her grief, she might have realized what she was seeing. But she didn’t…so she turns from the Tomb, and from the angels inside, and there is JESUS, standing right behind her!
Now, obviously I have no way of KNOWING this, but I like to think that when she turned, the sun was just clearing the horizon, and Jesus was standing directly between her and the sun, so all she SAW was His SHADOW! You all know what it’s like trying to look at something when the sun is right in your eyes.
And HER eyes were already cloudy with tears, so when she saw the One she loved so deeply, she didn’t RECOGNIZE Him. MAYBE, as NOT being one of the 12, she hadn’t been TOLD about His promise to rise again, or she may have HEARD it, and dismissed it as just another of His difficult OBJECT lessons.
But for whatever reason, the One she saw DIE, 3 days ago, was the LAST One she expected to see standing there. So she assumed He must be the gardener or something, the caretaker of the graveyard…and she may have remembered that this WAS a BORROWED TOMB, so she asks where His Body was taken, so she can go and get Him.
Then Jesus speaks a SINGLE word. He says “Mary”. And suddenly, and impossibly, she KNOWS Him! She doesn’t understand HOW such a thing can be, but she KNOWS! This is JESUS! He’s ALIVE!
In the 10th chapter of John’s Gospel, Jesus tells us that He “knows His sheep”…(verse 14)…and that “His sheep know His voice”…(verse 16). Here is the proof of that statement. Jesus speaks her name; and even though she knows He is dead…even though she watched Him die…she hears that voice and KNOWS it is HIM! And He is ALIVE AGAIN!
In that brief instant all her grief turns to joy, and she probably grabs Him. She LOST Him once, she doesn’t want to do it again. She most likely dropped to her knees and threw her arms around His ankles, saying “MASTER!”…(Rabboni…i.e….’teacher’)
And the Lord gently chides her “Don’t cling to Me, Mary, I have to return to My Father.” This NEW manifestation of Christ in the world will be TEMPORARY, only another 40 days, and then He will have to leave them again. They must not try to hold on to His PHYSICAL presence, because when He leaves, He will send back His SPIRITUAL presence, Who will remain with us as long as we are IN this world.
Now, John, writing under the inspiration OF the Holy Spirit, uses this theme of ‘light and darkness’ all through his Gospel account. So it is no accident that he tells us about Mary going TO the Tomb in DARKNESS, but then RETURNING from there in LIGHT…the brightness of a brand NEW DAY.
In John chapter 1:5, he tells us concerning the Arrival of Christ into this world “The Light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not ‘comprehend’ It.” (i.e. “overcome”) And in John 12:35 Jesus warns us “walk in the Light lest the darkness overtake you”…and again in chapter 12:46, Jesus said “I have come as Light into the world; that whoever believes in Me should not remain in darkness”.
Mary knew all about ‘believing’, as this was the second time that Jesus has given her a second chance. ONCE, she had been LOST in sin and evil, and the Lord had rescued her and given her a new start in life, a NEW life of JOY! And she had BELIEVED Him, and the darkness had FLED from her instantly!
So NOW I want to come FORWARD in time, to TODAY…to the PRESENT, and to US, gather here this morning. And not to us ONLY, but to our FAMILY members, our FRIENDS, our LOVED ONES; and see if there are some places where darkness is creeping into those lives…the lives of those we love.
Maybe it’s just a SMALL dark cloud, hovering, WAY over on the HORIZON of a life, and it’s not really WORRISOME yet. But it WILL be, if you don’t take care of it now. See, DARKNESS is PERVASIVE. It NEVER remains small. Once it gains a FOOTHOLD in a life, it will begin to GROW!
Remember, way back in the Beginning, 1st chapter of Genesis, when darkness covered the whole WORLD? Well, it WANTS to DO that AGAIN. And you understand that ‘darkness’, in the Scriptures, is a SYNOMYM. It stands for the direct OPPOSITE of ‘GOODNESS’, and ‘WHOLESOMENESS’, and ‘LOVE’.
So do YOU, or someone you LOVE, suffer under darkness? Whether it’s that tiny black cloud, or a CRUSHING WEIGHT of blackness, filling every aspect of one’s existence. Jesus told us “a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump”, using LEAVEN as another synonym for EVIL, and telling us that once it gets that TOEHOLD in your life, it will begin to GROW, and attempt to take OVER that life, completely.
A whole LOT of people, even people who have claimed the Name of Jesus, still think they can PLAY with sin…that they can “handle it”. They have come to the Lord, come to the LIGHT, but still try to KEEP some ‘secret sin’, kinda tucked away in a hidden corner of their lives, and think that it won’t HURT anything.
But I would believe that most of YOU know better. You KNOW that if you have a barrel of nice fresh crisp APPLES, and if you put just ONE ‘rotten’ apple IN that barrel, the FRESH ones will NOT affect the ROTTEN one, but that ROTTEN one will CERTAINLY affect the GOOD ones. And it WILL, one at a time, SPOIL the entire BARREL, unless it is REMOVED COMPLETELY. You can’t even leave a small PIECE of that rotten apple…not a tiny SLIVER, because that is ALL it TAKES, to ruin ALL of them.
And that small INSIGNIFICANT little sin, that you try so hard to keep secret, will do the SAME thing to your LIFE! You may think you can CONTROL it…but what you are REALLY doing is RESISTING the GRACE of GOD! Trying to gain PEACE, on your OWN terms! Trying to find JOY, at your OWN price!
But you know that 2nd Corinthians 12:14 says “what communion hath LIGHT with DARKNESS?”…In the beginning, darkness covered the earth, and God sent His LIGHT, and he DIVIDED that darkness FROM the light. And that very division is PERMANENT. Man cannot change it. You can either walk in LIGHT, or you can walk in DARKNESS, but you CANNOT do BOTH! No matter HOW much you may WISH to.
Now maybe the darkness you are struggling with isn’t even a PERSONAL thing with you, OR with a LOVED one. Maybe, like me, you look at this once great NATION of ours, and you can SEE darkness gaining more and more ground every DAY!
We hold elections, and people take office, and the FACES change, but the PROBLEMS remain the same. The complete LACK of the moral courage to stand against the rising tide of blackness that is about to engulf America doesn’t EXIST! The courage necessary to stand against the evils of pornography…against RACISM…against ABORTION…simply does NOT exist, at any level where it could be EFFECTIVE!
Look at the evils of DRUG ABUSE in this country. And the MILLIONS and MILLIONS of dollars that are thrown at it, and the only RESULT is, we have the highest incarceration level in HISTORY! And we can’t build NEW jails fast enough, and in SPITE of all that, drug abuse CONTINUES to rise.
I don’t know WHAT the ANSWER to these problems is, but I’m smart enough to know that what we’re doing NOW isn’t working! And where are the politicians with the courage to stand up and say that?
We are a nation that has LOST its MOORINGS! A nation once founded on religious principles, and preserved by the BLOOD of our brightest and best, and now drifting aimlessly…leaderlessly…into darkness!
But where is the voice of REASON? Where is the GLEAM of a LIGHTHOUSE to guide us BACK where we BELONG? Darkness happens when GOD is left OUT!…out of your LIFE, or out of our NATION! And there is NO SUBSTITUTE for the LIGHT that can keep the darkness at bay!
ONLY God in Christ, the Light of the WORLD, can DO that! TOTAL SUBMISSION to Jesus CHRIST is our ONLY answer. Absolutely NOTHING else will help. And can you try to look ahead, to the results of this upcoming election, and SEE any leaders emerging, from ANY party, that has THAT on their agenda? Or will the WINNERS immediately begin working on their RE-election, as America LOSES, AGAIN!? Darkness wins, when light fails.