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Craig Smith - Easter 2022


Craig Smith - Easter 2022
TOPICS: More to the Story, Easter

What I wanna do today is I wanna talk to you about the missing link between the cross and the empty tomb. The missing link between the cross and the empty tomb. We all know the story of the cross, right? We all know that Jesus was arrested by a group of religious leaders who were threatened by what he did and who he claimed to be. That he claimed to be the Son of God so they arrested him, they put him on trial. They pushed back, they pushed hard, they gave him a chance to back down, they said, you’re not really thinking you’re the Son of God, right? And instead of backing down, Jesus leaned in he goes, actually, not only am I not gonna back down, but I’m just gonna tell you from here on out, you’re gonna see me sitting at the right hand of God the Father and coming on the clouds in glory. And they’re like, well, thank you for that. Appreciate it. That’s perfect. That’s exactly what we needed. You clearly are a heretic, you clearly are a blasphemer, you clearly are out of your mind.

And so his enemies handed Jesus over to their enemies, the Roman Empire. And the Roman Empire, beat him within an inch of his life, and then they nailed him to a cross where he died. We know that part of the story. And I think we probably know three days later, the tomb was empty, right? Is there anybody going whoa, wait, wait, what? I didn’t realize there was more to that story. We all kind of know that.

What I wanna talk to you about today is the missing link between the cross and the empty tomb. And you might not have ever thought about there being a link between the two, but there really was. Because the problem is I think most of us go well, I mean, isn’t tombs what you do with bodies? Once somebody dies, don’t you just throw them in a tomb, isn’t that the natural thing? But it’s not for a crucified body. When somebody was crucified, their bodies weren’t put into tombs. In fact…and I’m sorry, this is a little graphic, but I just need you to understand what was normally done. When somebody was crucified, their body was left on the cross. Because people were crucified because in some way they had sort of challenged the authority of Rome.

And so when Rome crucified somebody, they left the body on the cross as a horrific, but very effective warning to anybody else who was thinking about rebelling. So they left him on the cross until the body began to decay and parts began to fall off. And then somebody would go and they’d collect what was left and they would throw it into a trash pile. That’s what happened to the bodies of people who were crucified, they were thrown onto a trash pile. That’s what should have happened to the body of Jesus. But it’s not what happened to the body of Jesus. Jesus was actually laid in an empty tomb. And not just any tomb, it was actually the tomb of a rich man.

Which is so interesting, because almost 800 years before Jesus was born, God gave a man named Isaiah a glimpse of what the Messiah would do for us. And here’s how Isaiah recorded what God showed him. He says, “But he the Messiah, the Savior, but he was pierced for our transgressions for our sin. He was crushed for our iniquities for the wrong that we’ve done, and the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds, we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned our own way, we’ve all sinned, but the LORD has laid on him, the iniquity, the sin of us all. He was oppressed and afflicted, but he did not open his mouth, he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep, before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth. By oppression and judgment, he was taken away. And yet who of his generation even protested? For he was cut off from the land of the living, for the transgression, for the sin of my people, he was punished. And he was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death.

And that’s a strange line, that last line “He was assigned a grave with the wicked and with the rich in his death.” For centuries, the Jewish rabbis puzzled over this, they argued, like how can that be? You know, and we kind of get how Jesus could have a grave with the wicked because our sin went on his shoulders. He died the death that we deserve, he died the death of the wicked, not because he was working, but because he’s carrying our sin. So, I get the grave with the wicked. But like the rabbis for centuries, it doesn’t really make sense that he was also given a grave with the rich. That’s not what Roman law called for. It’s not what Jewish custom called for. So how did he end up in that tomb?

Well, the missing link was a man, and the man’s name was Joseph. It’s Joseph of Arimathea. He’s kind of a bit player in the Gospels. We don’t know much about him. He shows up in all four of the Gospels but we’re just told little snippets of information about him. But the reality is, even though he doesn’t come across as one of the main figures in the Easter story, he’s a very important part of the Easter story. He’s way more important than we realize because if it weren’t for Joseph, there wouldn’t have been a tomb for Jesus to go into. And there wouldn’t have been a tomb for Jesus to walk out of. If it weren’t for Joseph, there wouldn’t have been a tomb for the stone to be rolled over and for the women to worry about how the stone was gonna get rolled away from. If it weren’t for Joseph, there wouldn’t have been a place for the women to go, and there wouldn’t have been a place for the disciples to run. There would not have been an empty tomb to celebrate on Easter.

There’s more to his story. And in his story actually, I think we begin to understand something of the more that God has for us in the Resurrection. We don’t know much about him. One of the things we know about him is that he had possessions. Matthew says, “As evening approached,” Jesus has just died. “As evening approached, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph who had himself become a disciple of Jesus.” Says he’s a rich man. And understand Matthew, who’s writing that, Matthew was a pretty rich man himself. Matthew was a tax collector, he’d collected quite a bit of wealth. And so for Matthew to go, that guy is rich. Matthew is basically going that dude is loaded, okay? Like, he’s got it all, he has all the money, he has all the toys.

And, you know, that’s one of those places where I think the world says, oh, you’re not satisfied with life, you’re feeling like you were made for more, you’re feeling like that, there’s more that you’re looking for? Well, I can tell you how to get it, the world says you just need more money. If you just had more money, if you had more possessions, you’re gonna get the more you’re looking for, right? If you could just get that house, if you could just get that car, if you could just get that bank balance, if you could just get that phone, if you could wear those kinds of clothes, if you can afford to go on those kinds of trips, have those kinds of experiences. That’s what you’re looking for, you’re looking for more, your money will get you more of what you’re looking for. But it’s a lie.

And Joseph had the more, he had the more money, he had the more possessions, but he clearly was looking for something that those resources couldn’t get him. And so he became a follower of Jesus, became a disciple, Matthew says. And disciple means he wasn’t just a fan he wasn’t just reposting the best quotes from Jesus’s messages on his social media accounts. No, no, he was a follower. He was listening to what Jesus said and he was doing what Jesus said to do, and he was living the way he saw Jesus live.

And some people struggle with that, right? They go, I don’t know how you can be rich disciple because didn’t Jesus say that it’s hard for rich people to get into the Kingdom of God? Didn’t Jesus say that it’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to get into heaven? And the answer is, yes, he did, but it’s not because wealth is wicked, it’s because treasure attracts our trust. Money attracts our trust. Money, whether you have a lot of it or a little of it, money is constantly whispering, “You just need a little more of me, and you can get a little more of what you’re looking for. Joseph had gotten to that point where he realized that all his possessions didn’t give him the more he was looking for. Some of us aren’t quite there yet, and we need to get there. Joseph looked away from what his money could offer to what Jesus could offer.

We also know that Joseph had position. Luke says, “Now there was a man named Joseph, a member of the Council, a good and upright man.” The Council he’s talking about there is called the Sanhedrin. It was a group of 70 Jewish leaders and the high priests, and together basically they were in charge of passing the laws and enforcing the laws in Israel. They did it under the authority of the Roman Empire. But within the nation of Israel, they had tremendous power, the people there, they aspired to that position. It wasn’t handed down because you inherited it, you actually had to earn it in some way. You had to play the game. He was a politician is what I’m saying. And I know it’s weird, “But Craig, didn’t you just say he’s a good and upright, man, and now you’re telling us he’s a politician? What are you talking about, right? Because we have a hard time reconciling those.” But Luke tells us he’s both those things. He was political that’s how he got his position because ancient Israel was divided.

It’s funny, people always tell me today that like, “Craig, like, we’ve never been as divided as a country. There’s never been so much division in the world as there is today.” And I’m like, “Have you read history?” Because this is nothing new, okay. From the moment Adam and Eve sinned division kind of defined the world that we live in, right? Adam and Eve sinned, they ran away from God instead of running to God for the first time. God caught up with them, and they turned on each other. I mean, Adam looked at God, he’s like, “Well, sorry, but, you know, yeah, I mean, I ate the apple but you know, the woman, by the way, that you put here. I’m just saying, she gave it to me, right?” And I guarantee you Adam slept on the couch for a good three months after that, right? She’s like, “I cannot believe you threw me under the bus with the Almighty, right?” Like there’s division right there. There was division between them and God, there was division between them and each other. That’s always been the world since Adam and Eve sinned.

In ancient Israel, there was division that made our political division look like a walk in the park. In ancient history there are four major groups, the Sadducees, the Pharisees, the Essenes, the Zealots, they hated each other. For Joseph to get a position on the Council, he basically had to play nice a little bit with everybody. And he got that position.

And that’s another one of those places where the world says you’re looking for a little bit more? Well, I’ll tell you how to get the more you’re looking for, you gotta get the position, right? You gotta get the promotion. You gotta be the manager of the branch or the division. You gotta become the owner of the company, the owner of your own company, when you get that position, then you’re gonna have the more you’re looking for. And not just business kinds of things, you know, if you could become a mother, you’re gonna get the more you’re looking for. If you could just be a mom, or if you could be a dad, if you could be a husband, if you could be a wife, if you could be a boyfriend, or a girlfriend, if you could get on to that team, if you could make that slot in that group of people over there. If you get that position, you’ll get the more that you’re looking for. So, you need to understand Joseph had the position but it didn’t give him the more he was looking for, he found himself looking to Jesus for what his position couldn’t give him.

We also know he had power. Mark tells us “And so as evening approached Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent member of the Council, he was himself waiting for the Kingdom of God, he went boldly to Pilate and he asked for Jesus’s body.” Mark says he wasn’t just a member of the Council, he was a prominent member of the Council. Just being on the Council meant that you had a certain amount of power with the rest of the people. But the fact that he was a prominent member means that he had power even among the other powerful people. The other powerful people on the Council look to him, they wanted his wisdom, they asked for his advice. He had influence beyond that of most of the other people on the Council, he had power.

And the world says, that’s how you get your more. You gotta take it. You gotta get power, you gotta get fame, you gotta get influence. You gotta be like Joseph. Like Joseph’s social media accounts every time he posted they went viral, right? His TikTok account was fire, right? He had the ability to lead people and move them, he was prominent. But he was still looking for something that his power couldn’t provide him. He was looking for more. And so he did something interesting. He did the only thing with his power that God ever intends that we do with power. I don’t know if you know that God gives power he does. But he gives it for a reason. He gives us power so that we can help those who don’t have that power.

So what did Joseph do? He went to Pilate and he asked for the body of Jesus. Nobody else could do that. The rest of his followers were scattered. And even if they weren’t scattered, they didn’t have the authority, they didn’t have the influence, they didn’t have the power to get the body. And so everybody expected that body was staying on the cross until it started to fall apart when somebody would come along and they throw it into a trash heap like it happened with every other body that was nailed to a cross.

But Joseph said, no, no, I’m not gonna let that happen. And so he went boldly to Pilate, and he used his power to do what no one else could. Which is interesting. It’s interesting that he went boldly to Pilate, meaning he went publicly to Pilate. He went knowing that everybody was seeing what he was doing. And the reason I say that’s interesting is because we know one other thing about Pilate, and that is that he was a secret follower. This is what John says, “Later, Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for the body of Jesus. Now, Joseph was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly, because he feared the Jewish leaders.” He was a secret follower of Jesus.

And that’s interesting to me. I’m gonna be honest with you, if somebody came to me and said, “Hey, I’m a follower of Jesus I’m just keeping it on the down-low. Like, don’t tell anybody.” Like I would be more inclined to call that person a fraud than a follower. Can I be honest with you? I’m just a little more judgmental than Jesus. Actually, I’m a lot more judgmental than Jesus. Because Jesus never called Joseph out on this. Jesus never saw Simon kind of on the outskirts of the crowd with his head down making sure nobody knew who he was and who he was following. Jesus never called him out. And the reality is this. Jesus always has more compassion for the weak than admiration for the strong. He always had compassion and he saw Joseph there on the edge of the crowd and stead of calling him out, Jesus thought to himself, there’s more to that guy’s story. We’ll get there.

And besides, the reality is some people kind of start off weak and they end pretty strong, that’s what he’s doing here, right? He’s bold now. Other people start out strong, and they kind of end up weak like, Peter, remember Peter? The night before this. Peter was the guy going to Jesus, “I got your back, bro. I don’t know about the rest of these losers, especially John I’m just not sure about him, right. But man, if they’re coming for you, they’re gonna have to go through me, okay. I will die for you, Jesus.” And then they came and Peter ran. Three times he even denied he knew who Jesus was. So I don’t know what’s worse, a secret follower or a public hypocrite? I don’t know. But I know that Jesus looks at both of them and goes, what you have done doesn’t matter, it’s what you do now that matters.

That’s always the way Jesus handles us. Because your past doesn’t define you what you’ve done is not what’s important it’s what you do now. And there’s always that next chance. Jesus is full of grace, and he’s full of mercy. And maybe it was realizing that that allowed Joseph to do something more than he’d done before, to go public, to go ask for the body of Jesus.

“Going to Pilate, he asked for Jesus’s body, and Pilate ordered that it be given to him. And Joseph took the body wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, and he placed it in his own new tomb.” A rich man’s tomb, “Which he had cut out from the rock. And he rolled a big stone in front of the entrance to the tomb, and he went away.”

Such an interesting thing for him to do. At this moment, it’s almost hard to understand why he would do that at this moment. Up to this point, he’s been secret, he’s been keeping his faith in Jesus under wraps. And now when he has so much more to lose because the tides turned, the enemies of Jesus are riding high, they’re looking for the followers of Jesus they’re gonna stamp this whole thing out. And it’s in this moment when he has the most to lose that he suddenly does a little more than he’d done up to this point. He kind of goes public in his support of Jesus.

Why would he do it now? I’m sure he struggled with the thought that it was too late. I don’t know if you’ve ever struggled with feeling like it’s too late. I promise you, Joseph felt like that. He felt like, I’ve done too much I missed my chance and now it’s too late. I’m always gonna be defined by what I did, I’m always gonna be defined by my past.

And as he went to Pilate, I’m sure all along the way, he was like, I’m not even sure I’ve got what it takes to go through with this. At any moment, I could still peel off, I could still head back home, and nobody needs to know that I was a follower of Jesus. I could still go home. I don’t know if I’ve got what it takes to actually walk into that man’s courtyard and ask for the body and let everybody see that I’m a follower of Jesus. And even if I have the power to do that, what’s that gonna do to my future? What’s gonna happen when they know I’m a follower of Jesus? I’m gonna lose the position. I’m gonna lose the power. I’m gonna lose the possession. My future is gonna be a mess so what am I doing here?

But his hope, his hope was drawn from what he’d seen consistently in Jesus’s own interactions with people. People who said, yeah, my past is a mess. He said I don’t have what it takes now and my future looks dismal. What Jesus said to them over and over again, and that I believe Joseph took hold of in this moment was this reality is that Jesus has forgiveness for your past, and he has power for your present. And he has hope for your future.

He has forgiveness for your past, he has power for your present, he has hope for your future. And I believe Joseph clung to that as he went. As he went thinking, “I don’t know why I’m doing this now, I should have done more before. Maybe if I’d been a little bit more public in my support of Jesus, then maybe the Council wouldn’t have turned against him in the first place. Maybe if I had been a little more public in my faith in him last night, he wouldn’t be on the cross right now. This feels like too little too late.” But do you know how much Jesus loves what we think is too little? Hear me, church, Jesus loves what you think is too little. He loves to get that little and turn it into something way more than you thought.

When my girls were little, one of their favorite things to do is, Coletta and I would hold one hand and they take these little steps, little girl steps, and then we’d swing them big. Anybody can get an amen on that. You’ve done that. You remember that? So Jesus is like that. He loves little steps and he loves to turn them into big leaps. He goes, “I can do something more with that. You don’t feel like it’s enough don’t you worry about it, you give me what you can, you trust me the way you can and I’m gonna turn it into a whole lot more.”

And I believe that as Joseph went to Pilate, he was thinking, “I don’t get this, but I still think that he’s the Messiah, I still think he’s the Son of God. I have to believe that there’s more to the story. I don’t get this. I don’t understand what God’s doing. I don’t understand why the Messiah has been nailed to a cross. I don’t understand what you’re doing God, but I gotta believe there’s more to this story. And so I need to trust you just a little bit more.” And so he went and he asked for the body. He prepared it with his own hands. And he rolled the stone over the tomb. Which brings us to that other side of the story that I think we probably know pretty well that we’re here to celebrate right?

Three days later, a small group of women made their way in the early morning dawn, they were worried because they didn’t think they’re gonna be able to roll that stone away from the tomb. But when they got there, they realize the stone was already rolled away. And then they stuck their head in the tomb and they realize that the body of Jesus was gone. And confused and scared they turned around and there were a couple of angels who said, “What are you guys doing here? Why are you looking for the living among the dead? He isn’t here. He is risen.”

And then they turned a little farther and they saw Jesus. They met the risen Jesus. And then they ran and told his disciples and they came running and they met the risen Jesus and that changed everything. A group of people who had just a few days early had run from the threat of Roman power and the religious persecution on the hands of those religious leaders, they had run, but now they stood. They stood boldly, just like Joseph.

And over the next several years, as they told the story of having met the risen Jesus, most of them were killed for it. But because of their message, the message of the Resurrection, what had become what had once been the threat to Christianity became the greatest ally to it. The Roman Empire that had executed Jesus actually became the Holy Roman Empire. That’s the power of the Resurrection it turns enemies into advocates, turns persecution into a platform all because of the resurrection of Jesus.

The Resurrection of Jesus changed everything. It changed me 30 years ago. And my guess is a lot of you are here today because it changed you. Can I get an amen if the resurrection of Jesus has changed your life? Amen. Yeah. Amen. Listen, I don’t know what happened after the Resurrection. The Bible didn’t say anything more about Joseph, just that his little bit more set the stage for so much more. I really wish I could have seen the conversation that he had with Jesus after the Resurrection wouldn’t that be cool. What I imagine is Jesus at some point kind of pulled Joseph aside and he put his arm around him. Hi bro. That’s how Jesus talks. Just wanted to thank you for the loaner tomb. But yeah, I’m not gonna be needing it anymore. And by the way, just so you know neither are you, neither are you. You’re not going to need a tomb. I’m not saying we’re not gonna die. What I’m saying is that faith in Jesus means that our tombs are only temporary. They’re not our final resting place.

“For God so loved the world.” He so loved you, not a generic world but each and every one of you that makes up this world. “For God so loved the world, he so loved you that he gave his one and only Son that whoever believes in him.” Not who works harder, not who earns their way into. But who simply believes, who puts their trust in him, will not perish but have eternal life. And hope you understand that eternal life doesn’t just mean life that goes on and on and on. It’s not just a quantity of life. Eternal life is a quality of life. It’s a life that goes deeper and deeper into all of the more that we long for. The reason you long for more in life is because God created you for more. The resurrection of Jesus makes it possible for you.

I got news for you. The tomb isn’t really empty. The body of Jesus isn’t there he’s risen but the tomb is not empty. The reality is that the tomb, the empty tomb holds more for you than you can possibly imagine. Do you hear me church? The empty tomb holds more for you than you can possibly imagine. It holds forgiveness for your past. It holds power for your present, it holds hope for your future. It holds joy, it holds peace. It holds meaning, it holds significance. It’s ours to seize. It’s waiting for us to reach into the tomb and take it out.

And some of you are here today and you’ve never taken hold of any of that. This is the first time that something stirring in your heart and you’re realizing that the empty tomb holds everything that you’ve been looking for, all the more that you’ve been seeking. And you can take hold of it right now. You don’t have to earn your way into it by effort, you receive it in relationship. Jesus rose from the dead so that he can enter a relationship with you. And if you’ve never entered that relationship and begin to take hold of all the more that he has for you. You can do it right here right now.

I’m asking everybody to close their eyes, bow their heads. If you’re ready to seize the more that you were created for, the more that Jesus died for, the more that Jesus rose for, you’re gonna take hold of it in relationship. And like all relationships, it begins with a conversation. So have this conversation with God right now. Just say something like this to him:

Hi, God, I’ve sinned. I’ve done wrong and I’m sorry. I need your forgiveness. Jesus, thank you for dying on the cross for me to pay the price of my sin. I believe you rose from the dead. Now I understand that you’re offering me more, more forgiveness, power for my present, hope for my future. I’m ready to take hold of it, Lord, I’m ready to seize it. So, Jesus, I’m gonna follow you from here on out. I’m yours now and forever. Amen.


Can we celebrate those who’ve made that decision to seize the more that Jesus died and rose for today? So excited for you, we’re so excited for everything God has for you. I’m gonna ask you to be like Joseph for a second here, okay? Be bold, let us know you made that decision. Here’s how you can do it. Easiest way just text the word “Jesus” to 80875. If you decided to start that relationship with Jesus today start following him, text “Jesus” 80875. Or on your way out if you’re one of our campuses, stop by the Welcome Center tell them, “I said yes to Jesus today.” Either way, we wanna get you some resource to help you begin seizing all this more that God created you for, that Jesus died and rose for.

And I know a lot of us have been following Jesus more than the last 30 seconds, we’ve been following Jesus for decades. And whether you’ve been following Jesus for 30 seconds or 30 years, the reality is God has more for you. He still has more for you. He’s always offering you more.

And I know there’s a part of you that goes, “Yeah, but you don’t understand my past, you don’t understand how messed up my present, you don’t understand how dismal my future looks.” And I say, “You don’t understand the Resurrection. Because the Resurrection means there is more forgiveness for your past, there is more power for your present, and there is always more hope for your future, you just have to take hold of it.”

For the next couple of weeks, we’re gonna continue to unpack what it looks like to take hold of that. So I encourage you to come back over the next few weeks as we continue to explore the more that that empty tomb holds for you.
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