We Won't Get Fooled Again
It is satisfying to be able to say, "April Fools!" after seeing that someone has bought your tale hook, line, and sinker. But when it comes to this April Fools, we say boldly with the 1971 song, "We won't get fooled again!"
We won't get fooled into thinking that Easter is a spring festival of new growth; all there is to Easter is budding trees, blossoming flowers, bunnies, and candy. This is not a celebration of the spring equinox. We won't get fooled into thinking that Jesus' resurrection is something that only goes on in the hearts of pious Christians. We won't get fooled into thinking it was "the strong passion of a possessed woman" who gave to the world a risen Christ, as a critic said in the 19th century. No, all she gave us was a gardener (Sasse, This is My Body, 307).
Even that last is helpful because at least it admits something historical happened today. For if you're outside of history, you're outside of Christianity because Christianity roots itself in history: "On the night He was betrayed" roots the Lord's Supper on a particular night; our "crucified under Pontius Pilate" in the Creed connects this event to the 116 A.D. Annals of Tacitus (15.44).
Check it out. Of course, you'll find pages of atheist, challenging, dismissing it in the way all facts about Christianity are on the internet. What won't be challenged is that many ancient facts have just one source. When a fact as 2 or 3, well that's considered unimpeachable by historians. The resurrection has 7: the 4 Gospels, Acts, Paul, and Peter (In the Fulness of Time, 197). You dismiss this because they're all from the Bible. Okay, consult Josephus (Antiquities 18: 63-64). The translation accepted pre-1972 will be challenged, but even the one now accepted as original doesn't deny that the tomb was empty (Fullness, 199-200). Not one of the Jewish writings state that Jesus' body was still in the tomb. All admit it was empty but give natural explanations. "And such positive evidence within a hostile source is the strongest kind of evidence" (Ibid., 198).
If you're going to step over the empty tomb of Jesus, at least admit that much. Britain's Unknown Warrior from WW I is buried "'in the pathway of kings" so, "not a monarch can ever again go up to the altar to be crowned" without stepping over "the grave of the man who died that his kingdom might endure" (Unknown Soldiers, 302). Those who step over the grave of Jesus are stepping over a grave that history admits is of a real person, was empty, and who claimed that He gave His life to appease God's wrath against sinners. And from 35 A.D. on history documents that it has been preached "everyone who believes on Him receives forgiveness of sins."
Enough of the history lesson. Let's go to the realm of movies, and here too we won't get fooled again. Raiders of the Lost Ark was more right than wrong. Okay, not that the Nazis really found the Old Testament Ark of the Covenant; not that the angel of death came out of it and melted the faces of the Nazis; not that it is stowed away in some government warehouse. But it was right that the Ark is still on earth, sort of.
Let's read the eyewitness account. Mary Magdalene is at the tomb first but when she sees the massive stone thrown aside, she doesn't look in, but runs to tell the chief apostle, Peter and the special apostle, John. They go running to the tomb. Young John is faster than old Peter so gets there first. He stoops down and sees the empty linens but doesn't go into the tomb. Then slower but bolder Peter barrels into the tomb. He too sees the empty grave clothes. They leave. Mary remains crying the way you do for a dead loved one. The Greek word is the kind of crying that has so many tears it feels like all that is you is drying up. Now finally Mary stoops down and look what she sees. Angels, and here's two important parts: They're seated "where Jesus' body had been, one at the head and other at the feet."
Remember Jesus burial linens weighed about 100 pounds wrapped about Him with myrrh and spices. The literal Greek depicts this scene: the body of Jesus has vanished from the grave wrappings leaving them in place except for gravity causing them to sink in (Fullness, 185). What's this have to do with the Ark of the Covenant? The Ark's lid had 2 cherubim. Ex. 25 says, "And you shall make two cherubim of gold.one cherub at one end and one cherub at the other end." See the picture? The lid of the Ark had an angel on either side, and that lid was called the mercy seat.
Here's where the pictures comes altogether. The Greek translation of the Old Testament, 250 B.C., uses the word hilasterion for the mercy seat that was the lid of the Ark. The New Testament in Hebrews 9:5 does as well. But this word is used by Paul in Romans 3:25 for Christ. "God set forth Jesus as a mercy seat." In the Ark were the two tablets of God's laws that proved Israel was guilty of breaking every single one of them in every way imaginable. Above that mercy seat dwelled the Lord in a cloud. On the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur, literally Day of Covering Over (ISBE,1, 360), the blood of the sacrificial animal was poured into the mercy seat. Now the Lord dwelling above the mercy seat could no longer see the tablets of the Law which proved the Old Testament Church was guilty.
The Ark is still on earth today; at least the lid is, the mercy seat, the 2 angels mark the spot. The empty grave clothes are still in the shape of Jesus' body. We know that because Mary can see that one angel sits where Jesus head had been, and one sits where His feet were. The guiltless flesh and blood of Jesus, the innocent Jesus was given over to suffering, damning, and death in place of the sins of everyone. God saw all the sins of the world, all your sins, on the cross that Friday afternoon. So much so that His only beloved Son became sin to Him, and the wrath of the Holy God cannot but break out against sin. And it did. All of it did. In Jesus, the everlasting mercy seat, God can't see any sins any longer. The angels mark that place in time and space where you can look and see: "Ah there it is; those empty grave clothes prove Jesus paid for all sins because if He hadn't He would still be suffering and dying for them. He's not. He's risen. My sins are paid for. I can see that!"
Or can you? Don't get fooled again. Only the blind can really see. You see this in the text. John sees with his eyes the grave clothes are empty, but nothing more. You're mistaken if you think the text is recording that Peter went away unbelieving while John went away believing. No, John believed the grave clothes were really empty. Jesus was really gone, but not that He had risen. How can I say that? Because the next sentence does: "John saw and believed" is followed by "They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead." Understand' is "know by revelation." They knew by seeing that grave was empty, but they didn't know by God's revelation that Jesus had to rise from the dead. They were still blind to what Jesus had said repeatedly: On the third day, He must rise. They were blind to what even his enemies repeated. They told Pilate Jesus said, "After 3 days I will rise again." So much credence did they give to that they posted a guard at His tomb (Mt. 28:62-64).
Seeing will only get you so far. Mary can see a gardener with her eyes. That's all she can see. It is only when her back is turned, that she can see' with her ears. You do that, don't you? You're watching a movie; you know that actor, but you can't place them. It could be age; it could be makeup; it could be the role. Then you close your eye, and you know who that it is. And that's what happened to Mary. She recognizes the voice of her Good Shepherd as Jesus said, "My sheep recognize My voice and follow Me."
And Mary won't get fooled again. We can tell this from her confession, "Rabboni." This is not the name used for an ordinary teacher. In older Jewish literature, it is used but seldom with reference to men and never as a mode of address. As a term of address, it is confined to addressing God in prayer. Mary is essentially saying what Thomas will a week from now, "My Lord and my God" (Morris, John, 839-40).
The Word of God will bring that confession from you too. Since it's sharper than a two-edged sword it can pass all your defense mechanism. The Word of the Lord was able to make a donkey confess the truth; the Word of the Lord was able to bring a murderous Paul, the adulterous David, and the 7-fold demonized Mary Magdalene to faith. The Word of the Lord goes from the empty tomb proclaiming, "We have seen, still see, and will forever see the risen Lord." The Greek form conveys the idea of a flashbulb that leaves a lasting impression in your eyes, not for seconds but forever. But Mary doesn't emphasize what she saw but what Jesus said. The last line is literally, "And these things He did say to her."
Someday will be your death day; some bed is going to be your death bed, and you might remember the wonderful trumpet sounds of Easter; you might remember smelling the Easter lilies; you might remember seeing the Baptismal font glittering with water; the altar decked with the silver and gold Communion vessels; the pastor standing before it. But none of these will give you a modicum of comfort. Don't get fooled again; it's not what your eyes see but what Jesus' lips say that comforts. And He says, "Even though your sins crucified Me, I'm still your brother. And if I'm your brother, God Almighty is your Father, and in Me He is the God of peace, mercy, and grace." Hear Jesus speak to you in the Means of Grace today. "In Baptism I took you into the grave with Me and raised you with Me to walk about in a new Life." "In Absolution I say, Son, daughter, the forgiveness I won on Calvary I give to you today.'" "In Communion, I say This is My Body and Blood given and shed for you; eat, drink, live!'"
O there are April Fools this April 1. They're Sin, Death, and the Devil. They thought they had you for sure. You were there's! April Fools! You belong to Jesus. He's got the scars on His risen body to prove He bought you body and soul. We don't get fooled again! Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Resurrection of Our Lord (20180401); John 20: 1-18