May 1, 2022

Online Worship for Easter Three, Sunday May 1, 2022

Passage: John 20:3-6
Service Type:

Sermon for Easter Three – Sunday May 1, 2022
Calvary/Marquette ● Soli Deo Gloria

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has given us new birth into a living hope through the Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade, kept in heaven for you. Amen.

John 20:3-6 (ESV)
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...

In the Name of Jesus, the Christ,
Who rose again bodily from death,
Dear Fellow Redeemed in His Blood –

As you know, I’ve been blessed recently to be present after the birth our three most recent grandchildren: Marigold, Brighton and Thomas. God blessed Alice and I with four of our own children, so it wasn’t a brand-new experience. We weren’t present at the moment of birth, but we know that the children were quickly cleaned up and dressed and then wrapped snuggly in a warm blanket.

When Jewish children were born...the process wasn’t a lot different. After Jewish children were born, they were quickly cleaned up, rubbed with salt (Ezekiel 16:4) and wrapped snuggly in strips of cloth. We know those strips of cloth as ‘swaddling cloths’ because we hear at Christmastime every year (Luke 2:7, NKJV):

“...she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger...”

Mary didn’t slip on a brand-new onesie she had packed for the occasion, but wrapped him in strips of cloth like a snug little package (traditionally with sweet smelling myrtle dust). They were called ‘swaddling cloths’ because they were wrapped around the infant. Two years later, the Magi (Wise men) came to worship the toddler Jesus, and brought gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.

It turns out that when Jewish men died their bodies were prepared for burial with a similar process. When death came the body was quickly cleaned up and wrapped in a linen sheet. Some say the linen sheet was bound in place with strips of linen cloth in layers along with aromatic spices. In most cases the dead were buried in the ground; but in Jesus’ case the body was to be buried in a rich man’s tomb as foretold by the Prophet Isaiah (53:9, NKJV):

“...and they made His grave with the wicked— But with the rich at His death, Because He had done no violence, nor was any deceit in His mouth.

So perhaps you are thinking: “Oh, Pastor...we don’t want to know the gruesome details. We don’t like to think about death, much less discuss how Jesus’ body was laid to rest.”

I would normally agree, but Jesus’ body didn’t stay in the tomb. He didn’t rot, but arose the third day. We take note of these things because the Linen Cloths wrapped around Jesus’ body are a yet another thing left behind. The empty linen cloths confirm that Jesus’ body wasn’t hurriedly carried away by grave robbing disciples. When the angel rolled away the large stone from the door of the tomb it revealed the linen cloths – not strewn about as if hurriedly unwound – but in place but without a body to support them. They prove that Christ arise from the dead bodily.

May God the Holy Spirit bless our study as we collect this second item left behind – the linen cloths. He is risen! Hallelujah! Amen.

It must have been a sad, busy and anxious day for Joseph of Arimathea. He had been a secret follower of Jesus because he was afraid of the consequences of making it public (John 19:38). It was his love for Jesus that drew him into the light of day. He used his authority to make a request to Pontius Pilate for the body of Jesus. After confirming with the Centurion in charge of the detail that Jesus was dead (Mark 15:44-45) the request was granted.

Joseph went out and purchased fine linen (Mark 15:46) for the purpose of burying Jesus’ body. He took the body of Jesus down (Mark 15:46) from the cross (no doubt with some help) and wrapped the body of Jesus in the linen. They carried the body to his own nearby tomb which was hewn out of rock (Matthew 27:60, Mark 15:46).
It must have been an equally sad, busy and anxious day for Nicodemus, another member of the Jewish High Court who had not approved of their condemnation of Jesus. He also was a secret disciple of Jesus and came to Joseph’s tomb with the other item necessary to prepare the body of Jesus for burial – a mixture of myrrh and aloes.

The Gospel of John offers the details (John 19:38-40):

38 After this, Joseph of Arimathea, being a disciple of Jesus, but secretly, for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus; and Pilate gave him permission. So he came and took the body of Jesus. 39 And Nicodemus, who at first came to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pounds. 40 Then they took the body of Jesus, and bound it in strips of linen with the spices, as the custom of the Jews is to bury.

 Myrrh – was a fragrant resin taken from a shrub like tree or bush, valuable for its odor. It was used for a wide range of things in those days. It was used as a perfume (Psalm 45:8) and was one of the ingredients in the anointing oil of the priests (Exodus 30:23). It was burned as incense and even used as a drug. On Calvary they mixed it with wine (Mark 15:23) to dull the senses, but Jesus refused to drink it. It was given by the Magi (Wise men) as a gift for the Christ Child (Matthew 2:11). It was also used as an antiseptic for embalming the corpses of the dead.

 Aloe – was not the stuff taken from the Aloe Vera plant which we use to treat a sunburn. It was the quick drying sap of a tree found in India and China valued for its odor. The tree from which this was taken grows to a height of 120 feet and a girth of 12 feet (it was used to embalm Alexander the Great’s corpse).

 The Gospel of John tells us that Nicodemus brought 100 pounds of the mixture but he uses a word referring to the Roman pound or Litra. A roman litra was just short (12 oz) of the English pound (16oz) which is why some translations say he brought 75 pounds (English weight) of the substance. Joseph and Nicodemus must have communicated beforehand because the linen was useless without the mixture and vice versa.

These two men took the body of Jesus and inside the tomb they hurriedly prepared it for burial. They may have wrapped it in the linen cloth and then bound it or cut the cloth into strips. They bound or tied the body in strips of linen along with the spices...which was the custom of the Jews to bury.

The preparation of Jesus’ body was witnessed by some of the women who sat opposite the tomb (Matthew 27:61) and observed where and how he was laid (Luke 23:55). They were present when just before 6pm on Good Friday, the large stone was rolled into place over the entrance of the tomb. The women returned and prepared spices and fragrant oils with which they planned to return with after the Sabbath.

So, it came to be that the adult body of the child once wrapped in swaddling clothes came to lay wrapped again in strips of linen cloth in the new tomb of Joseph of Arimathea. It seems such a tragic end to the infant of Bethlehem. It seems such a waste when that infant grew up to be the first sinless human being since Adam before the Fall...only to be rejected by sinners, crucified and buried.

If Jesus of Nazareth had been like every other man to die upon this earth...the linen cloths would have simply returned to dust in time just like his earthly remains. If the women had returned to the tomb and found the large stone in place and a dead Jesus within, they might have finished their act of love...but we wouldn’t be here today with joyful hearts and hopeful lives. We would be lost sinners, awaiting certain condemnation before the Judgment Seat of God.

But Christ arose from death and the linen cloths were found intact in the tomb as they were...but there was no body. Alerted to the fact that the large stone had been rolled away, Peter and John returned to Joseph’s new tomb...

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...

The Linen Cloths...were yet another thing left behind. They had served the purpose of preparing the body of Jesus for burial, but they weren’t needed for long. He did not remain in the grave, neither did he decompose or his remains turn to dust. He arose the third day...leaving the linen cloths behind. He is arisen! Hallelujah!

When Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, the Gospel of John tells us that when Jesus cried out, “Lazarus, come forth!’ the once dead man came shuffling out of the tomb. When He did so, Lazarus was still bound hand and foot in the grave clothes (John 11:44). The strips of linen that had been used to bind the body of Lazarus with the spices were still in place. Lazarus’ face was still wrapped with the face cloth. Jesus had to tell his startled sisters to unwrap him and let him go (John 11:44).

When Christ arose the Linen Cloths were left behind much like the leftover cocoon from which the butterfly departs. Isn’t it fitting that the butterfly should serve as a symbol and reminder of Christ’s Resurrection? The body of Jesus was left in the grave wrapped in a cocoon and on the third day he arose from death, passing through the cocoon of the linen cloths to appear alive and be recognized by the same people who saw him a corpse.

The Linen Cloths serve to us as confirmation that the same Jesus arose from death bodily. When Peter and John entered the tomb, they didn’t find the linen cloths strewn about having hurriedly been unwound from a corpse...but there in the same place they had been but without a body to support them.

The Linen Cloths are proof that Christ has arisen from death. They are a reminder that the glorified resurrected body of Jesus was a physical body but one with properties befitting eternal life. The fact that after the Resurrection Jesus appeared behind locked doors and disappeared from sight give us insight into the resurrected bodies we will be given, for it is written (Philippians 3:20-21, ESV):

“....our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.”
While we say goodbye to our loved ones in death, we are confident that if they died trusting in Christ that they will be raised to life again. They are buried in earthly bodies but will be raised again and fitted with new and glorious bodies like Christ’s Resurrected body. They will experience no pain or sorrow or crying. We will join them to dwell with the LORD forever.

If we came across the Linen Cloths today its doubtful that they would still bear the scent of myrrh and aloes. One would think that time has taken a toll on them so that they are no longer even cloth but dust.

While our bodies may return to dust the same Jesus who once was bound in linen strips will call us forth from the dust of death and reconstitute our bodies with the power that He possesses. We, with Job, will see our redeemer with our own eyes. We take comfort in the words of the hymnwriter (TLH 206:4-5,9):

I am flesh and must return unto dust, whence I am taken;
But by faith I now discern that from death I shall awaken
with my Savior to abide in His glory, at His side.

Glorified, I shall anew with this flesh then be enshrouded;
In this body I shall view God, my Lord, with eyes unclouded;
In this flesh I then shall see Jesus Christ eternally.

Laugh to scorn the gloomy grave and at death no longer tremble;
He, the Lord, who came to save Will at last His own assemble.
They will go their Lord to meet, treading death beneath their feet.

Lord Jesus, we follow you in life and thru death to life eternal!