Craig Smith - Ain't No Grave
Welcome, welcome, welcome, my name is Craig Smith, I’m the lead pastor here and I just want to welcome you to Easter at Mission Hills, so glad you’re with us. How many of you are glad to be here? Yeah. You know, around the world, they’ll be 2 billion people this weekend who are gathering to worship God and to remember the life, the death, and ultimately the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 2 billion people. We’re just a pretty small part of that. But I wonder like, why you’re part of that. I wonder why you’re here. And maybe you’re here because you have faith. How many of you are here because you have faith and the resurrection of Jesus cements that faith for you? Can we just get a celebration going on that? That’s awesome.
Some of you are here because you have faith, let’s be honest, some of you are here because you have family, right? Can you just be honest with that? You promised mom, or dad, or your kids, or your husband, your wife, or maybe grandma, somebody that you’ll go to church with them in Easter. We’re glad that you’re here. But maybe you’re here because you have family, maybe you’re here because it’s tradition, right? We have tradition. We go to church on Easter, it’s probably part of a package. You maybe got up early this morning, you got the kids hopped up on sugar, and then you dropped them off with the nice people at kids ministry, and said, “Good luck with that. I’m gonna go to a worship service, I’ll be back in about an hour or so,” right?
You know, we have a lot of different reasons for being here. But what’s interesting to me, I was thinking about this week is that, when you really get down to the bottom of it, we’re not actually here because of anything we have, we’re actually here because of something we don’t. Do you understand that? We’re not here because of anything we have or something we have, we’re here because of something we don’t. Specifically, we don’t have a grave for Jesus of Nazareth. Which if you think about it, it’s a little bit strange because every other religion makes a big deal out of the final resting place of its founder, right?
Muhammad’s buried under a green dome in Medina, Saudi Arabia. Buddha was cremated in Kushinagar, India. Joseph Smith founded the Mormon religion, he’s buried in a little town in Illinois. Every religion makes a big deal out of the last resting place of its founder. We don’t, right? We don’t have a grave. And in fact, if we did, we wouldn’t be here. Do you understand that? Because we’re not here because of something we have, we’re here because of something we don’t. We don’t have a grave. If we did, honestly, we probably wouldn’t be gathering, we wouldn’t really know the name of Jesus if there were a grave for him. And you might go, “Well, he’s a great teacher,” right?
Yeah. Man, I know that’s a terrible thing for a pastor to say on Easter. And I’m not saying Jesus wasn’t a good teacher, I’m just saying that an awful lot of his words of wisdom were not unique to Jesus. Like, can we just be honest about that? I mean, Jesus said things like, you know, “We should love one another,” so did Buddha. Jesus said, “We’re supposed to honor God,” so did Muhammad. Jesus said we’re supposed to take our sins seriously, Joseph Smith said that. An awful lot of the words of wisdom from Jesus, they can be found in other religions. We’re not here because we have words of wisdom from Jesus.
The most astounding things Jesus said were all about who he was. He didn’t claim to have wisdom. He didn’t claim to have insight. He claimed to be wisdom. He claimed to be insight. He claimed to be the Son of God. He claimed to be able to do things because of who he was. And honestly, all the things that are most interesting about Jesus, the things that that we remember, it’s not his words of wisdom, it’s what he said about himself. And if he were in a grave, everything he said about himself would have been proven false. So, we’re not here because of words of wisdom, we’re here because we don’t have a grave. And you might go, “Oh, but isn’t he like every other religious leader? Didn’t he kind of build momentum and he got enough momentum going that it just sort of continued after his death?”
No, not at all. Actually, every other religion does start that way. You know, you had a charismatic leader who got some people around them, and then you know, that spread and more people began to follow until, by the end of his life, that religious leader had a huge following of people. There was so much momentum that there was an army of people going, “Well, I can take up the banner and continue what you started.” And so, they just kind of continued that momentum. That’s not the way it worked with Jesus. It worked that way for Muhammad, worked that way with Buddha, it worked that way with Joseph Smith, but it didn’t work that way with Jesus. Jesus didn’t end his life with momentum. Do you understand that?
Jesus actually had more momentum early in his ministry than he did late. He started with a bang, but he kind of went out with a whimper, if we can be completely honest. The biggest crowds were with Jesus at the beginning of his ministry and probably because of the miracles. But honestly, over time, as people began to realize that he wasn’t gonna be the kind of Savior they were expecting, that he wasn’t gonna raise up an army, He wasn’t gonna fight back against the Roman Empire that oppressed the Nation of Israel for so long, when they began to realize that he wasn’t gonna do that, he wasn’t gonna be that kind of Christ, they stopped following him. The crowds dissipated, things got smaller.
At one point, Jesus actually looked at his disciples, his closest group and he said, “Are you gonna leave me too, like everybody else?” And they said, “No, you have the words of life, who else would we go to?” But the point is, that he started off with the big crowds, but by the time we got to the events of Easter week, the crowds had diminished. It was a very small group of people gathered in the garden that day when they came to arrest him. If they’d been an army behind them, we might have a very different story. But he didn’t have an army. He had a group of people who couldn’t mountain much of a resistance. They didn’t amount much. The only casualty in the resistance that they offered to the people who came against Jesus was, one guy lost an ear. That’s what the accounts tell us that Simon Peter had a sword.
I don’t think he knew what he was doing with it, he cut off a guy’s ear. I don’t even know how you do that. Like, how do you just…? Like, you just cut straight down? And like, it didn’t even cut into his shoulder apparently, so, like, it wasn’t even… I don’t even know how you pull that off. And Jesus healed it. Jesus put the ear back on. It’s like, “Don’t do that.” And then they scattered. We’re not here today because Jesus built momentum that carried on after his death. We’re not here for any of those reasons. Which means, if you think about it, it means that when they put him in the grave, that should have been the end of it. When they buried him, they didn’t just bury his body, they buried their hopes in him, they buried their belief in him, and they buried their faith in him.
It was what he claimed about himself that was the reason that that group of people will still following him because he said, “I’m the Son of God.” He said he could do incredible things and when they put him in the grave, it proved that he couldn’t do any of those things, that he wasn’t any of the things. So, when they put him in the grave, that should have been the end of it. Understand this, it’s so important. They buried their faith in him, with him. They buried their faith in him, with him. When they put him in the grave, they put their hopes, their dreams, their faith in the grave with him.
And so, that should have been the end of the story. I mean, let’s talk about Simon. He’s just an everyday guy. He didn’t have any particular, you know, prominence in society. He wasn’t well-placed. He wasn’t well educated. He’s a fisherman. He’s just a regular guy doing regular guy stuff. But Jesus came to him one day on the lake shore and he said, “Come follow me.” And Simon said, “Okay, I’ll do that.” And I think he probably did because this crazy thing that Jesus did, you might have heard about it. Jesus said to Simon and some of his friends in the boat, just a little bit out from shore, he said, “Why don’t you drop down nets and catch some fish?” And they’re like, “Because it’s the wrong time of day for fishing. And it’s the wrong part of the lake for fishing. But don’t make the crazy man upset, so fine, let’s…” And they dropped nets, and maybe you know the story, they began to pull it up, and the nets were so full of fish, that the nets began to break.
And then Simon, I think, Simon, he looked at Jesus and he thought, “You’re not a guy who knows stuff. You didn’t just know where the fish were. You’re not a guy who knows it, you’re a guy who makes stuff happen. Seriously, you wanna hang out with me? You want me to come. All right, let’s see where this goes.” And that was just the tip of the iceberg. When he followed Jesus he saw incredible things, right? I mean, he saw people who had never seen anything, who were blind from birth, he saw them open their eyes and take in the beauty of God’s creation for the first time. He saw tongues that had never been able to speak, loosen and begin to sing God’s praise. He saw legs that have never held people’s weight, be able to lift them up and allow them to begin to dance. He saw dead children given back to their parents. He had incredible encounters with Jesus himself.
Most of them seemed to happen on lakes. I don’t know why that is. There was a time, he was crossing over a lake, Simon was on the boat with Jesus and some of his followers, they’re crossing over the lake and a storm came up, and the water began to fill the boat, and it began to sink, and they realized, “We’re gonna die.” And somebody drew the short straw and had to go wake up Jesus and give him the good news. Can you imagine being that guy? You have to wake Jesus up from a nap. And he had to wake him up and go, “Yeah, we’re gonna die, just wanted you to know. All right, just whatever you wanna do, right?”
And Jesus sat up and he looked around, and he goes, “What are you guys so afraid of? And they’re like, “Death.” That we’re gonna die. That part, that’s what we’re afraid of.” And he stands up an he looks at the storm, and he goes, “Dude, peace.” It’s a rough translation of the Greek, just trust me on this, okay? And the wind and the waves stopped. And they looked at Jesus and said, “Who is this, that even the wind and the waves obey him?” And see what happened was, Peter started to believe in him. Peter started to think that maybe he was everything that he said he was, maybe that he was who he said he was. And maybe he could actually do what he said he could do. And Peter started to believe this. Peter started to hope. Peter started to trust. Peter started to have faith.
And you know, I’m calling him Peter, because, at some point in his ministry, Jesus looked at this guy named Simon, and he goes, “That’s not a good name for you. Then I’m gonna call you, Peter.” And Peter means the rock, which is so not what he was at that moment. But Jesus looked at him and said, “I see something in you. You could be so much more than you think you can. And if you just let me, I’ll bring all that out of you.” And Peter started to hope that maybe that was true, that maybe Jesus was who he said he was, he could actually do what he said he could do. Peter started to believe. Well, let’s talk about Mary, not mother in the manger, Mary. This is another Mary, one who’d be really convenient to just leave out of Scripture, not exactly a picture of purity. Her name was Mary Magdalene.
And maybe you’ve heard the legends about her. The legends probably aren’t true. We don’t actually know. There’s a legend that says that Mary Magdalene was a prostitute. We don’t know that. There’s no historical account that indicates that. What we do know is that Jesus cast seven demons out of her. And we know from Scripture, the demons only get a hold of people because of sin. Sin is actually what allows demonic spirits, evil spirits, to get leverage over us. And the fact that she had seven spirits would leverage over her, suggests that her sin was pretty serious, whatever its specific nature was. But Jesus cast the demons out. He didn’t have a spell, he didn’t have a ritual, he just had his own authority said, “Get out.” And they left.
And Jesus taught that, you know, if you cast an evil spirit out, if the house doesn’t get set in order, if you don’t deal with the sin that gave them access to you in the first place, they’re gonna come back and it’s gonna be worse. And I don’t believe for a second that he looked at Mary and he cast these demons out, and then he looked at her and he said, “Good luck with that.” No, no, he set her house in order. He took care of the sin that was allowing those spirits leverage over her. I think what he did for Mary is the same thing he did for an unknown woman that was thrown at his feet in the streets. She was trying to cover her nakedness because she’d been caught in adultery.
And in this moment, as a crowd gathered to look at her, the religious leaders sneered at her and they looked at Jesus, and they go, “What are you gonna do? We caught her, we caught her in adultery. And the Law of Moses says we’re supposed to stone such a woman. So, what are you gonna do, Jesus?” Maybe you know the story. Jesus looked at him and he said, “Let anyone who is without sin cast the first stone. Anyone of you who doesn’t have any sin in their lives, you be the ones who for the first time, that’s what we’re gonna do.” And one by one, the stones began to fall. Eventually, when it grew quiet for long enough, Jesus looked up at her and he said, “Is there no one left to condemn you?” And she said, “No.” And he said, “Well, then neither do I condemn you.” But then he said, this really important thing. He said this, he said, “Go now and leave your life of sin.”
And that’s so important. “Go now and leave…” He wasn’t justifying what she’d done. He wasn’t, you know, just kind of sweeping it. He wasn’t forgetting sin, it’s so important. Jesus didn’t forget sin, he forgave it. Do you hear me? It’s a huge difference. He didn’t just forget sin, he forgave it. That’s what he said to a man that had been born with the inability to walk, his legs were shriveled, they didn’t hold him. But he had a couple of good friends, some good friends who thought, “You know, I bet if we could get this guy to Jesus, Jesus could fix this man.”
And so, they hatched a plan and they put them on a cot, and they carried him, they got near the house, and they realized that there were way too many people gathered trying to hear Jesus. And so, they were never gonna get in to the house. And so, they decided if they can’t get him into the house, we’ll get him on top of the house. And I don’t know who came up with that plan. At some point, one was like, “I got it. Let’s just go up on the roof.” And I don’t know why they agreed, but they did. My guess is they kind of got up there, and they got the lame man up there with them, and they’re like, “Okay. We’re on the roof. What’s your plan now?” And he pulls out a knife. He’s like, “We’re gonna cut a hole on the roof.” And they let him do it.
And at that point, I feel really bad for the guy who owned the house, don’t you? Because he’s having a good old time. He’s down there and Jesus is right next to him. Jesus is teaching all those people there. And he’s thinking to himself, “This is awesome. Jesus is in my house. He is right there. It’s awesome.” They cut a hole in the roof of his house and they lowered this man down. Check this out, this is what Jesus said. He said, “When Jesus saw their faith, he said, “Friend, your sins are forgiven.” You see that? Forgiven, not forgotten, forgiven. And the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law began thinking of themselves, “Who is this fellow who speaks blasphemy? Who can forgive sins, but God alone?”
And the answer is nobody. Nobody can forgive sins, but God, alone. But Jesus claimed to forgive sins. And Jesus knew what they were thinking. And he asked, “Why are you thinking these things in your hearts? What’s easier to say, “Your sins are forgiven or to say get up and walk?” And it’s easy to understand the answer, right? It’s much easier to say, “Your sins are forgiven,” because there’s no evidence whether or not it’s actually true. Anybody can say, “Your sins are forgiven,” but there’s no way to know if you’re blowing smoke. There’s no way to know if you’re full of it. But you say to somebody, “Get up and walk,” you know right away whether or not they’re lying.
You know right away whether or not they’re full of something other than truth because you know right away whether or not they got the goods, right? So, which is easier to say, “Your sins are forgiven,” or get them off. But I want you to know that the Son of Man, that’s his favorite name for himself, has authority on earth to forgive sins. And so, he said to the paralyzed man, “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.” And immediately he stood up in front of them, took what he had been lying on, and he went home praising God. And the people started to believe, “Well, if he can make the lame walk, the maybe is who he said he is. Maybe he can actually do what he said. Maybe you can actually forgive sins.” It’s what he did for this man. That’s what he did for the woman laying on the street in front of them when they threw her down, caught in her sin.
It’s what he did for Mary Magdalene, whose sin had given seven evil spirits leverage over. This is what people were seeing. This is what people were beginning to believe. They heard Jesus say, honestly, just astounding things about himself. He said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.” And they thought maybe he’s telling the truth. Maybe he is who he says he is. They heard him say, “I am the gate, and whoever enters through me will be saved,” and they thought, “Maybe he’s telling the truth. Maybe he is who he says he is.” They heard him say, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die, and whoever lives by believing in me will never die.”
And they thought, “Maybe he’s telling the truth, maybe he is who he says he is. They started to believe, they started to hope. They started to have faith, they started to have trust, and then they killed him. Religious leaders were jealous that he didn’t care about their rules, that was undermining their authority. They came, they found him with a very small group of people, no momentum there. They arrested him, they subjected them to a mockery of a trial. The only real truth in the trial was a moment when they asked, “Are you then the Son of God?” And in the Greek, that can be a question, it can also be a statement. So, you’re the Son of God. They’re parroting back what they’ve heard him say, what they understand that people are beginning to believe about him, and he replied, “You say that I am,” which is his way of going, “You nailed it. You got it. Yes. I am the Son of God.”
And then they said, “Why do we need any more testimony? We’ve heard it from his own lips. He’s claiming to be the Son of God himself,” which is exactly what everybody was starting to believe about him. But they killed him. They took him to Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor. He had him publicly beaten to within an inch of his life. He was stripped almost naked. He was paraded through the city streets carrying rough timbers. They nailed him to a cross. And he died. They shoved a spear into his side to make sure that he was truly dead. And blood and water flowed out and they went, “He’s gone.” Joseph of Arimathea, and one dissenting member of the Jewish ruling councilmen, and Nicodemus, they came and I got his body, they took it to a grave that Joseph owned and they buried him in it.
But you need to understand, they didn’t just bury him in it, they also buried their faith in him, right? They buried their faith in him, with him. Because everything he said about himself was proven false by the fact that he was in the grave. Everything they claim to be and everything they claimed to do was proven a lie by the fact that he was in that grave. And so, they buried their faith in him, with him. Nobody thought rolling the stone over the tomb was like pulling the curtain to get ready for the act that was coming. They thought it was over. The story is done. He’s not who he said he was, he can’t do what he said he could do, and so, they buried all of their faith in him, with him.
And then they just tried to make sense of it, which they probably didn’t make a whole lot of progress on. Grief is such a powerful thing. And in those first few days, after you’ve lost someone you love, it’s not about progress, you’re just trying to survive. There were just trying to come to grips with the fact that everything they had hoped was true wasn’t. And the third day Mary… Mary who had buried, not only his body, but she buried her hope that she could actually be forgiven, who buried the hope that she could be free, the hope that she had a future. Mary had buried all that with him. She did the only thing she could do. She went to prepare the body for final burial. And early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and she saw the stone had been removed from the entrance.
And so, she came running to Simon Peter on the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and she said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb. And we don’t know where they have put him.” I want you to pay attention to those theys. She doesn’t know who they is. But somebody, she says, they’ve come and they’ve taken the body. And I think what you need to make sure you understand is she’s not thinking resurrection, she’s thinking grave robbery, right? She’s not thinking resurrection, she’s thinking robbery. And so, Peter and the other disciples started for the tomb. Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reach the tomb first.
And he bent over, he looked at the strips of linen lying there, but he did not go in. And then Simon Peter came along behind him and went straight into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, as well as the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head, the cloth was still lying in its place separate from the linen. And that’s interesting, actually because the fact that those grave wrappings were still there, it begins to cast a little bit of doubt on the whole grave robbery hypothesis. Because if you steal a body, you don’t leave the grave wrappings behind. It’s awkward to try to not attract attention when you’re carrying a dead body through the streets, if the dead body is also naked, super awkward. And so, that raises some questions about the grave robbery theory.
But what are the other options? Finally, the other disciple who had reached the tomb first also went inside, he saw and believed, and it’s so easy. And Christians says we read them like, “Oh, they believe in the resurrection.” No, no, that’s not what he believed. He believed Mary that the body had been taken. He believed Mary that somebody had come and stolen the body. What John says next is, “They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.” They’re not thinking resurrection, they’re thinking robbery. And then the disciples went back to where they were staying. Now, Mary stood outside the tomb crying and as she wept, she’d been over to look into the tomb, and she saw two angels in white seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot. And they asked the woman, “Why are you crying?”
“Because they have taken my Lord away,” she said, “And I don’t know where they have put him.” She’s still thinking, robbery, not resurrection. And then she turned around and she saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus. And I don’t know why. But honestly, my guess is, because he’s the last person she expected to see standing there. The grief is so deep and so profound. And there’s no expectation whatsoever. She’s thinking robbery, not resurrection, no expectation that the guy behind her could be the guy who’s supposed to be in the grave. And so, she didn’t recognize him. It just didn’t connect. And then, thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you’ve carried him away, tell me where you have put him and I’ll go get him.”
And Jesus said to her, “Mary.” And she turned toward him, and she cried out in Aramaic “Rabboni,” which means teacher, I love that. It’s just the one word, “Mary.” And suddenly understanding comes flooding in, right? But not just understanding. It’s not just understanding is coming flooding in, also all the stuff she put in the grave with him has come rushing back out and into her, right? Because suddenly, if he’s not in the grave, then maybe her forgiveness is still on the table. Maybe her freedom is still a live option, maybe her future is actually secure. Maybe all the things that he said he could do, he actually could do. If he was in the grave, then there was none of that other stuff she buried with him in there either. Do you understand that?
Listen to me, her faith in him, rose with him. Her faith in him was…it had been dead and buried with him. But when he wasn’t in the grave, then neither was her faith, her freedom, here forgiveness, her future. But by the way, do you know what you call a grave with nobody in it? Yeah, I have no idea. But it ain’t no grave, it’s a hole in the ground. It’s a dent in the dirt. It’s a cleft in the rock, but it ain’t no grave, not with the body in it. And listen, because there ain’t no grave for Jesus, there’s no grave for your future, for your forgiveness, for your family, your relationship with God for all of eternity, there’s no grave for your future, all that stuff.
You can’t stay dead because there ain’t no grave. You have a future because he has risen. You have forgiveness because he’s risen. You have a family because he is risen. There ain’t no grave, not for him, not for you. And you’re here today for one of two reasons. You may not know that, but there’s really only two reasons. You’re either here today to celebrate the fact that because of your faith in him, there ain’t no grave for you or you’re here to let him lift you out of yours. It’s the only two reasons we’re here today, to celebrate that there ain’t no grave for you or to let him lift you out of here. See, this is the thing that we call the Gospel. God loved us, but we didn’t love him back. We sinned. “And the wages of sin is death,” is what Scripture says. It’s easy to understand why. It’s not because God’s cruel, it’s not because he wants that, it’s just the way that works, it’s a natural order of things.
If you walk away from the light, you end up in the dark. God is the author and source of life. And so, if you walk away from life, you end up in the grave, you end up in death. It’s just the way it works. But he loves you so much, He sent his own Son to die in your place. And three days later, he walked out of that grave. There ain’t no grave for Jesus, and there ain’t no grave for our future, for our forgiveness, for our family, for our faith. You’re either here to celebrate that or you’re here to let him raise you out of yours. And if you came today and you’re not sure why you came, I want you to understand, you do not need to leave this place, still in the grave of your sin, still separated from God. Because everything needs to be done to lift you out of the grave has been done, you simply need to accept it.
How many of you are here to celebrate, that there ain’t no grave for you? Can we celebrate that for a second? If you can’t celebrate that, there’s no reason why we need to leave today without you being able to do it. So, let’s pray. Dear follower of Jesus just say this with me to God the Father in your heart:
God, thank you for loving so much. We know that our sin put us in the grave, but we know that Jesus walked out of it. And so, our faith in him means there’s no grave for us and we’re grateful. Thank you.
If you’re a follower of Jesus, even as you’re celebrating that in your heart, would you begin to pray for the people around you, for the people watching online, and all of our campuses right now? Let me just speak to you for a moment. If you’re gathered with us today and you don’t have a relationship with God, you’ve never said yes to what Jesus did on the cross for you, if you never put your faith in his resurrection, and you know, that you have done wrong and that separated you from God, you’re in a grave of your own making. If you know that, but you’re ready to walk out of it today, you’re ready to grab ahold of Jesus and be taken out of that grave, and into life with God for all of eternity, if you’re ready to say yes to Jesus, wherever you are just in your heart, you just have this conversation with God. You say:
God I’ve done wrong and I’m sorry. I’ve sinned. And I know that that separates me from you and your life. So, my sin puts me in the grave. I’m sorry. Jesus, thank you for dying in my place. Jesus, thank you for rising from the dead to prove that death couldn’t hold you, to prove that there ain’t no grave for you, and I don’t want there to be one for me. So, Jesus right here, right now, I’m saying yes to your offer of forgiveness. I’m putting my trust in you. I believe you are who you said you are. I believe you can do what only you said you can do. You can set me free. So, I’m putting my faith in you. Jesus come into my life. I’m yours for now and forever. Amen.