Pastor Mark E. Whitlock, Jr. (Courtesy photo)

This the story of God’s salvation plan for the forgiveness of sin. Three women go to the tomb of Jesus Christ early Sunday morning. He had been dead for three days. They discover the body is not there, then suddenly see two angels.

The angels ask why are they seeking the living among the dead. Had they forgotten who Jesus is? Had they forgotten what He said? The angels remind them. Then they remember. They go and tell the disciples that He has risen. The disciples and apostle don’t believe them. But Peter gets it and runs to the tomb to discover He had risen. What do you do, when you know it should have been you? He took my place.

ABC Television promotes “The Ten Commandments” movie as the greatest story ever told. I disagree. The greatest story ever told is the resurrection of Jesus the Christ. It is a story of God’s son giving His life for our sin and God resurrecting His life for our redemption.

It happened in a graveyard early Sunday morning. They arrive to anoint the dead body of Jesus for the final burial rites. Yet ,the body was not there. The question is why are they there in the first place? Why did they expect to see the body of Jesus Christ? They should have known better. These are they who knew followed Jesus!

It’s Mary Magdalene, who was healed by Jesus of seven demons, but why is she looking for the living among the dead?  It’s Joanna, who was married to Chuza, an influential member of the staff of King Herod Antipas, the Roman-appointed ruler of Galilee, who risked her life to follow Jesus, but why is she in a graveyard?  It’s Mary, the mother of James and John, the sons of Zebedee aka the Sons of Thunder. She wanted her sons the right and left of Jesus, but why are they there? Did they not listen to Jesus? Did they not know his mission? Why are they there?

We must ask ourselves the same question: Why are we in church? Why do we rise early Sunday morning, get dressed, and drive to church?  The Pew Research Center reported many reasons people come to church. Top survey result is: We want to feel closer to God. Other reasons were giving their children a spiritual foundation and to feel like a better person. But not one said: “I go because Jesus took my place for my sins!”

The Bible says in Luke 24:7-8, “The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, be crucified and on the third day be raised again. Then they remembered his words.”

How often we forget who Jesus is! We have become so accustomed to hearing the name, Jesus, that it has lost its value. Repeat after me: He took my place.  Jesus is the Son of God. Jesus was here from the beginning. John 1:1-2 says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning.

Who is Jesus? He just took our place. The question is: Who Jesus to us? I asked my Facebook followers: who is Jesus to you?” They responded: Jesus is my source, my provider, protector, my everything. But I had to ask myself: who is Jesus to me? Jesus is my counselor, my way maker, my all and all. He took my place!

In Luke 24:12, the Bible says Peter, however, got up and ran to the tomb. Bending over, he saw the strips of linen lying by themselves, and he went away, wondering to himself what had happened.

This message does not end, but is a wise beginning of a new life. It begins with three women remembering who Jesus is, to tell a dying world salvation has come to the earth. It begins with death, but extend to new hope to the hopeless. It is a wise beginning to a living end.

This thing is personal. Salvation is not public sport, but a very private personal experience. Some of you want a deeper relationship with God, but it requires going to graveyard in your life to discover those dead bodies are not there.

It requires looking in the mirror to admit, I have made mistakes, I have sinned to come short of God’s glory. It requires knowing that God has thrown sin into the sea of forgetfulness, never to be seen again.

Peter was so glad body was not there in the tomb. If the body of Jesus was there, Peter would not have been forgiven for denying Christ three times. If the body of Jesus was there, Peter would not have been forgiven for sins unknown.  Is there anybody happy that the body was not there? I’m so glad the body was not there. He took my place for my sins, faults, failures, lies and insecurities.

He did rise for my salvation. Because he rose, I, too, will rise. Rise, you mighty people! Rise to live, love, win, give, praise! He took my place!

The Rev. Mark Whitlock, Jr., is the senior pastor of Christ Our Redeemer AME Church in Irvine, CA.