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Who Will Roll the Stone Away?

4/12/09

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"Who will roll the stone away?" ask the women. How about you? Is there a stone in your life that needs rolling? What stone do you keep walking around, avoiding, wondering, "Who will roll the stone away?"

Your stone could be the economy or your personal economy. Money problems can be an awful big rock in the road. More often than not for me, it's not actual money problems but vague money worries. But real or vague financial anxiety could be a stone for us all as we wonder if car companies and/or major banks are going to fail and what effect that will have on us.

Of course, a people problem can make even a money matter look like a pebble. A marriage on the rocks trumps a stone in front of your bank account any day. A problem child or a child with problems can be much more of a burden than a financial problem. You don't just worry about any size stone connected with your kids. You ache and strain and give yourself an emotional hernia trying to move it.

Having studied the Book of Job, you know there is an even bigger stone than money fears or family matters. What does Satan say will break Job after pummeling his life with the stones of financial and family ruin doesn't? He says, "A man will give all he has for his own life." Yes, even a stone in your kidney let alone a dark spot on an X-ray shaped like a stone will funnel, channel, focus all your attention like nothing in else in life..and you know why? Because any problem involving your physical life brings up the matter of Death.

Now we've come to the largest of stones. Death is unmovable. When doctors "call" the time of death, no one can call a timeout. O you can deny it; you can ignore it, but sooner or later you're going to trip over this stone and stub much more than your toe. All the other stones in life like money worries, family problems, and even sickness are pea gravel in comparison to the granite boulder of Death. In fact, the others are only problems at all because of Death. Think about it. If there was no Death, life would be like playing a video game in invincible mode. Who cares if huge, numerous financial, family, or health rocks come flying at you, you can't die. But since you can die, since you do die, the big rock of Death gives force and fear to all the other stones in your life.

The cause of Death is sin. That's never on the death certificate of course, but what separates your soul from its body is sin. The wages of sin is death, and sin always gets paid. Got sins? You bet you do. Even though this world only recognizes the sins of intolerance and failing to "go green," you know you have sins. Your sinfulness covers your hands like oil or paint or grease. Everything you touch you taint. The Death stone sits on your chest, sometimes on your throat because of your sins. There's no such thing as little sins because all sins earn the same wage, and Death is big payday.

So here you are touching everything with sin: your world, your work, your marriage, your family, yourself, leaving skull and crossbone fingerprints of Death. The longer you live the more prints you leave behind. You try wiping your hands; you try being careful what you touch, and still you leave a trail of smudges, dirt, and stains all leading to that huge stone you can't roll away Death.

So why doesn't God just toss that stone out of the way? If God did that, He would break a promise He made. God promised the wages of sin is death. If God broke a promise, any promise, He would be untruthful. God isn't just truthful. He is the Truth. Therefore, God can't break any promise without ceasing to be God. Yet God is also love, and even in our fallen state God loves us, so how can His love and truth be reconciled? Only by something incredible, unimaginable, unbelievable.

God did the unprecedented, unheard of, unthinkable thing of taking your sins as His own. You were heading for the stone where you'd justly be put to death for you crimes, but God stepped forward and said, "I did that" to each and every sin you had ever committed. To your unbelief, to your worry, to your greed, lust, gossip, hatred, and immorality, God said, "I did that."

There's more. You know you can't put to death an animal in place of a man. Neither could God be put to death in place of man. The wages of sin were earned by men not God, so the death would have to be that of a true Man. Jesus Christ is true man. He has real flesh and blood. He has a heart that pumps and therefore can stop. He has a soul dwelling in a body and therefore the soul can be separated from it.

Jesus is true Man, but He is also true God. Through the miracle of a virgin conceiving, God the Son took on flesh and blood, and in this flesh and blood He took on all the obligations of God's holy Law. He fulfilled them perfectly. He was the perfect man, woman, child. His hands were free of oil, paint, or grease; everywhere He touched He left the sweet smell of life. This perfect Man who is also God paid the wages of sin on the cross. God had promised that sin earned death; God the Son claimed our sins and God the Father gave Him our death. That huge stone of Death rolled right over Him squashing the life out of Him.

We've already said that God can't cease to be God. It is impossible for Him to break a promise since that would make the Truth untruthful. God is also Life and He can't cease being that either. The only reason the God-Man died was to pay for your sins. Once that debt was paid Death had no claim to Him. Death has no right, no power over God who is life, and so Jesus rose. The stone that we can't roll away is thrown out of our way because Jesus doesn't just rise as God but as Man. Our flesh and blood were forever joined to God in the Virgin's womb, so where God goes our flesh and blood go too.

The Death stone is rolled away, and so was the literal stone sealing Jesus' tomb. We know from St. Matthew that an angel rolled it away. Now you've got this all wrong if you think the angel rolled away the stone to let Jesus out. The risen Jesus wasn't in the tomb banging on the stone until the angel moved it. Jesus rose in a glorified body. Easter evening He has no problem getting into the locked upper room. Just as easily the risen, glorified Jesus has no problem getting out of the closed tomb. The angel doesn't roll the stone away to let Jesus out, but to let us in.

The women go in, and instead of finding a dead Jesus, they find a living angel. Notice how specific the angel is about what they are to look at, "See the place where they laid Him." This is because earlier Mark closed the Good Friday events with this sentence, "Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses saw where He was laid." They didn't see just the tomb Jesus was buried in but the very place where they had laid His corpse.

"See the place where they laid the dead body of Jesus; it's empty now." That's what the women were to do on the first Easter and what you are to do this Easter. Look, behold, see that this grave is empty. Go to the grave of Mohammed; it's occupied. Go to the grave of Buddha; if it could be found, it would be occupied. Go to the graves of Confucius, Darwin, and Nietzsche all are occupied. The grave of Jesus isn't.

But I don't think you get what that means. Neither did the women. The angel has to "translate" for them. He says, "See the place where they laid Him. But go, you must tell His disciples and Peter, Jesus is going ahead of you in Galilee. There you will see Him.'" Remember every one of these disciples had fled from Jesus in Gethsemane; they had all at some point done what we have: denied, disowned, been ashamed of Jesus. All the disciples had sinned terribly against Jesus. Yet the angel doesn't call them deserters, false friends, hypocrites, or even sinners. He calls them disciples. Because of the empty tomb, sinners as bad, as weak, as faithless as us the angel can call disciples.'

Notice, the angel especially wants the women to tell Peter, the gross, crass denier of Jesus who had fallen from faith, that the plan was still on. The death of Jesus was no rock in the road of His plans. He was still going to meet them in Galilee just as He told them before His death. Peter who must have died a thousand deaths since Thursday is to know that Jesus rolled away the stone of Death. Jesus' resurrection not only defeats Death, but it forgives Peter's denial, the disciple's desertion and your many sins.

That stone that you can't move, yet strangely follows you around your whole life is rolled out of the way. The grave is no more the end of you than it was the end of Jesus. Think how much time you spend thinking about Death, worrying about Death, wondering about Death. What if from this day forward you could stop? What if instead of seeing Death as the immovable stone, you saw it rolled out of your way? What if the stone was rolled away from your grave, so you could enter it without fear of being kept there? You can. In Jesus, you're not going to die the Death you fear. He did that already for you on the cross. He endured the pain, the guilt, the fear of a sinner's death, and He rises to tell you, "Because I did you won't, and because I rose you will too."

It is not only for this life that Jesus gives hope. No, He also gives hope at the end of this life, hope in the face of that stone no one can move. If at the point of death when all reason, medicine, and technology says, "This stone can't be moved" Jesus moves it, then what stone, what boulder, what mountain in your life can't He move? But even if His grace should decide not to move one during your decades in this world, what does that really matter to someone living forever in a world without end? Amen.

Rev. Paul R. Harris

Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas

The Resurrection of our Lord (20090412); Mark 16: 1-7