Removing the Shroud of Unbelief
April 4th, 2010 (Easter)
at the First Presbyterian Church of Tucker
Reverend Anthony R. Locke
Matthew 27:57-60 When the even was come, there came a rich man of Arimathaea, named Joseph, who also himself was Jesus’ disciple: He went to Pilate, and begged the body of Jesus. Then Pilate commanded the body to be delivered. And when Joseph had taken the body, he wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, And laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn out in the rock: and he rolled a great stone to the door of the sepulcher, and departed.
Prelude Christ Arose!
Luke 24:34 Alleluia! Christ is risen!
The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!
This is the good news that we have received, in which we stand, and by which we are saved: Christ died for our sins, was buried, was raised on the third day, and appeared first to the women, then to Peter and the Twelve, and then to many faithful witnesses. We believe Jesus is the Christ, the Anointed One of God, the firstborn of all creation, the firstborn from the dead, in whom all things hold together, in whom the fullness of God was pleased to dwell by the power of the Spirit. Christ is the head of the body, the church, and by the blood of the cross reconciles all things to God. Amen
Romans 10:9 If we confess with our lips that Jesus is Lord and
believe in our hearts that God raised him from the dead, we will be saved.
John 20:1-8 English Standard Version
1 Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb.
2 So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.”
3 So Peter went out with the other disciple, and they were going toward the tomb.
4 Both of them were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first.
5 And stooping to look in, he saw the linen cloths lying there, but he did not go in.
6 Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen cloths lying there,
7 and the face cloth, which had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen cloths but folded up in a place by itself.
8 Then the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed
History affirms the resurrection. There are proofs, evidences that beg a response. Yet, regardless how convincing these proofs are, God calls us to believe. We must believe. If we fail to have a solid faith then we are of all men most miserable. The Bible says that Jesus was crucified, dead, buried; He descended into Hell, and on the third day He rose again from the grave.
This is the heart of Christianity upon which all the rest of our salvation is knit together. The Gospel teaches that we are baptized into Jesus by the Holy Spirit. We are united with Him in His whole righteous life, in His death, resurrection and ascension that we might be like Him in all respects.
God sees you righteous this morning because of the finished work of Christ on the cross. The Father considers us as Holy as Jesus. We are not holy on our own. We are holy in Jesus. God looks at us through the shed blood of the Lamb without blemish and without spot. We are made clean and glorified as a trophy of grace in the house of God. This is resurrection power.
We are united with Jesus in His life; we are united with Jesus in His death.
Romans 6:3-7 Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. 5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. 6 We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. 7 For one who has died has been set free from sin.
We are dead to this world because we are united with Jesus in His death. Now, we are alive to the Kingdom of our Lord because we are united with Him in His resurrection. We are part of the new creation that Jesus is establishing. The creation waits and groans to be recreated without the stain and misery of sin. Believers are already tasting the heavenly gift as we live for Jesus, abhor what is evil and cling to that which is good.
This is the theme of our celebration this morning. The resurrection of Jesus is the beginning of the new creation. Old things are passing away, Behold, all things are becoming new.
So what about us this morning? Are we becoming new? Let me press the moral imperative to this happy Easter message. Our lives must be being transformed into the likeness of Jesus, or we lose a credible claim to the newness of life promised in the Gospel.
God wants us to embrace a transforming faith, a faith that is alive, that is so powerful that it is like the proof, the evidence of unseen things. How do we increase our faith?
Recently in the news there was an international story that spoke to our Easter theme. The passage in Matthew and John both speak about things that were seen, especially the textiles. There was a large cloth napkin around His head and a clean linen sheet that was used to wrap His body.
The scientific community thinks they have that cloth. It is known as the Shroud of Turin. Some people think Joseph of Arimathaea saved it and that the sheet has survived to this day.
Now, these kinds of things are very skeptical. For many years the world assumed it was a fake. In 2005 some scientists were able to prove that the Shroud of Turin is in fact not a fake but a genuine first century burial cloth used to wrap a dead body which was crucified. Was it Jesus’ body that was buried in that shroud? I don’t know. It could be.
This last week the internet and news stations were a buzz when a face was constructed using 3D computer imaging of the blood stains and sweat patterns. The extracted image, his face only, was shown to the world. For me, the face looked a lot like my imagination of the face of my Lord. It made me uneasy.
And that gets me wondering even further. Why would I care if it was the real burial cloth that was used to bury Jesus? Would my faith be richer? Would my Christian commitments and resolve be stronger? Would I feel vindicated if scientists could some how affirm my faith in the historical death of a man named Jesus who was then raised to life never to need that burial shroud again?
Considering further, we think we know the place in Bethlehem where Jesus was born, yet that truth doesn’t uniquely strengthen my faith. We know the hill on which Jesus was crucified. We can walk the streets, cross the brooks and swim in the lakes around which Jesus lived. Yet, none of these things increase our faith. So how do we increase our faith in Jesus’ resurrection?
Faith is a byproduct of God’s sovereign work of grace. The Spirit uses the scriptures to germinate and then grow our faith. The testimony of the Apostles and the crowds of witnesses are more convincing than any stained, cold textile material from a few thousand years back.
Jesus and the Father are co-conspirators. They send the Holy Spirit to invite and draw us to the Gospel. God enlightens our minds and regenerates our spiritually dead will so that we can answer the call of grace and be saved. God draws us into saving faith, unites us with the life, death and resurrection of His Son, and brings us into newness of life as a believer.
This good confession then becomes our life profession. God calls us to persevere. We must continue to look to Jesus who is the author and finisher of our faith. When we hear the acclamation “Jesus Christ is risen!”, our souls should cry out intuitively, “He is risen indeed!”
If we hope for our faith to be increased by worldly proofs, then I would fully expect for Jesus to respond as He did in Mark 16:14. The scriptures say that “He appeared unto the eleven as they sat at meat, and upbraided them with their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they believed not them which had seen him after he was risen.”
Our faith is not built upon the shifting sands of religious legends or by archeological proof dug up from the sands of Palestine. Our faith is not anchored in such fickleness.
Our faith is anchored in the risen Christ who brings us into His eternal Kingdom. We are baptized into Jesus’ death, buried with Him to this world, and now alive with Him forever more.
Say it with me, “I believe.” Don’t say it because someone unfolded some proof or evidence. Shred the shroud. You don’t need it. With empty hands and with eyes that have not seen cry out “I believe for I have seen the glory of the risen Christ!”
Make this your life long profession to the world. Join hands with millions of others, join with those in the scriptures who say, “I have seen Jesus.”
Let the scriptures be sufficient and let Christ be your sufficiency. Profess this capstone of your confession that “Jesus Christ is risen!” He is risen indeed!
Benediction: May the God of peace, who raised to life the great shepherd of the sheep, make us ready to do his will in every good thing, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen