What would it have been like to have been at the tomb that Sunday morning? What would you have seen if you had been there? Was it a morning like this one, with the sun peeking its head over the trees, the birds serenading the rising sun, the cold dew covering the ground? Was it a morning like this? You surely would have seen Roman guards stirring from their sleep, stretching their sore arms and legs, grumbling among themselves. They hated this kind of duty — the air was cold, the ground was hard. They were in a cemetery, away from their families because some Jewish leaders were scared to death of a peasant rabbi they had just crucified. He is dead, for God’s sake! These priests had come to Pilate on the Passover, breaking their own laws — to ask him to seal the tomb with a Roman guard to keep His disciples from stealing the body. Because of these leaders, the guards have been stationed here since Friday night and they are not happy. This will be their last day.
If you had been there, you might have noticed an unusual breeze blowing through the camp and the sound of what seemed like voices calling out in the distance. An eerie light filtered through the air. You might have seen the guards get up, rubbing their eyes, when suddenly the ground begins to shake beneath them. The soldiers fall to the ground and each time they try to stand, they are knocked down. It is an earthquake just like the one on Friday. They hear a scraping noise by the tomb and they look up to see one who shines with a blinding light. He rolls back the stone like it was a pebble and then hops up on the stone and looks at the soldiers with a grin on His face. The guards are absolutely frozen in fear — they become like dead men — which is appropriate since they are in a cemetery.
You would also have seen two women on their way to the tomb carrying spices. One was Mary Magdalene from whom Jesus had cast out evil spirits, and the other was likely the sister of Jesus’ mother. They were on the way to the tomb when the ground begins to shake. Haltingly, they run to the tomb and see the guards lying on the ground, the stone rolled away, and the gleaming figure in white sitting on the stone. He says to them: “Don’t be afraid — He is not here — He is risen just as He said — Go quickly and tell His disciples.” The women drop their spices and begin to run back into town, but as they do, they almost run headlong into the one they had come to anoint. “Greetings,” He says to them. And if there was ever an explosion of joy, it was that moment. They fall at His feet, weeping for sheer joy. He tells them, “Don’t be afraid — go and tell my brothers….”
It’s hard to know what we would have seen, the details are sketchy. Little is said about the actual resurrection; it’s as if God said, “Let this be shrouded in mystery. All you need to know is that Jesus is risen! He is alive!”
But it is a story of one surprise after another, one irony after another. A group of religious leaders plot to put to death the very one they had taught about — the Messiah. These leaders broke their own laws by appearing before Pilate on Passover. Here is a group who bribed Judas to betray Jesus, who arrested Jesus and tried Him illegally, who brought in false witnesses to lie about Him, who incited the crowd to ask for Barabbas the murderer, who asked for the execution of an innocent man — and they call Jesus the deceiver! They begged Pilate to seal His tomb to keep His disciples out. But they were really sealing the tomb to keep God in, away from them. They were securing themselves from the presence of God in their midst, an effort many of us know so well. Although you can secure a tomb to keep people from coming in, it’s difficult to secure it to keep people from coming out!
Then, there is the surprise of the ones to whom Christ appears. He first appears not to the Twelve but to two women. Women were not even allowed to testify in Jewish court because they were not considered reliable witnesses. But Jesus anoints them to be His first wit-nesses. The only people Jesus appears to are His own followers. Something in me wishes He had made an appearance to Pontius Pilate or to Caiaphas. Right as they are settling down to sleep, to walk in their room and whisper, “I’m baaaack!” That would have shaken them up — and the whole city of Jerusalem. But He only appeared to His own followers, as if to say, “If the word of the resurrection is to spread, it will be on your shoulders.” And the same could be said for us as well. We are the bearers of the resurrection story.
Yet the greatest surprise of all is that the one who was dead is now alive. No one comes out of the tomb except for a few Jesus called. Death is the greatest enemy of all. But in that one moment, Jesus showed who the real deceiver is. The real deceiver is death; Jesus exposed him as a 98-pound weakling dressed up like Hulk Hogan. His power cannot keep Christ in the tomb.
This scene is the fulfillment of Psalms 2; religious and political leaders, backed by spiritual powers, gather together against God and His anointed one, and they do all in their power to silence Him. They arrest Him, beat Him, nail Him to a cross, put Him in a tomb, seal it with a stone and Roman guards (give it your best shot, God!). But there is no tomb deep enough, no stone big enough, no power strong enough, Psalms 2 says. God only laughs in heaven.
Understand — on Friday God wept and all creation wept with Him. The sun turned to darkness — the earth shook with God’s great sobs. But on Easter Sunday — God laughed and all creation with Him. This time the earth shook with God’s laughter. The picture of the angel seated on the rock is testimony to God’s laughter, and His great love for surprises. Don’t you know every angel in Heaven wanted that assignment, best assignment any angel could ever have! To roll back the stone and hop up on it — just swinging your legs and smiling at the soldiers.
“What’s the matter — cat got your tongue?” The stone is testimony to God’s great victory:
The seal of death — became the seat of life;
The seal of despair — became the seat of joy;
The seal of darkness — became the seat of light.
The very stone which was used to seal Jesus in the tomb became the seat where the resurrection was first proclaimed. God specializes in surprising outcomes — specializes in the miraculous and the impossible. He loves to bring life from death, light from darkness, good from evil.
I read a piece this week about the Oklahoma City bombing, which happened three days after Easter. The story chronicles what has happened in that city since then; walls between people and between churches have been taken down. At local restaurants, the subjects often talked about are spiritual ones. The article spoke about Nick Harris, Pastor of First Methodist Church, which is located next to the bombing site. Harris was supposed to be taping a TV show in his sanctuary at that time. His producer was uncharacteristically late, which saved both their lives.
After the explosion, when Harris stepped into the sanctuary, he saw another miracle. Easter Sunday had been three days earlier, and the church still had several lilies along the altar and the choir loft railing.
“Everything else had been blown down,” Harris says. “The windows were out. The skylights were out. But the Easter lilies were still standing in place. Not a single one of them had been knocked over. To me, regardless of all the destruction and all the damage, those lilies told the story that life is more powerful than death and good is more powerful than evil and love will always reign over hate.”
All my life God has been surprising me; He seldom acts the way I think He should, but He always acts in ways that are right. So often in life the things which cause me the greatest pain are the very things God uses for his purposes in my life — much like the stone that Easter Sunday. It’s a surprise I am even here preaching this morning. In high school, I was scared to death of standing up to speak in class.
Now God has me proclaiming the resurrection. It’s a surprise to me that He takes one so undeserving and gives him a church like this one and people like you. God is a master of surprising outcomes.
No matter how much darkness tries to seal you in, no matter how hard evil is at work around you, know that God loves surprises. Know that Christ is here, He is risen. When walking through difficult times, keep looking up. Somewhere in the background, you may see an angel seated on a rock, and he has a big smile on his face.

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