Posted by: Johnold Strey | April 6, 2010

Sermon for the Festival of the Resurrection of Our Lord (2010)

THE EMPTY TOMB: A PLACE OF VICTORY

  1. A specifically predicted victory
  2. A seemingly unbelievable victory

Conclusion of a Lent sermon series titled “The Places of the Passion”

Text: Luke 24:1-12

Introduction

I love the worship experiences we have during Holy Week and Easter.  From the children processing with their palm branches last week, to today’s exuberant opening hymn, “Jesus Christ Is Risen Today,” and everything in between, the worship of Holy Week and Easter is something to savor.  One of my favorite services of the past week was the Easter Vigil we held last night.  The Easter Vigil is still a very new concept to much of American Christianity, but last night’s service does a very effective job communicating the facts of Jesus’ resurrection and making a strong impact on our hearts.  The Vigil began with the same quiet and somber mood that we left with on Good Friday.  As the service started, the sense of Good Friday devastation gave way to an Easter sense of anticipation and hope.  We listened to several Old Testament readings that described God’s great acts of deliverance in the past.  Those readings led up to the dramatic announcement of God’s greatest act of deliverance: the resurrection of his Son, Jesus Christ, from the dead.  The Easter Vigil is a great way to connect the end of the season of Lent with the beginning of our Easter celebration.

This morning’s sermon is going to do the same thing.  This sermon connects the end of Lent with the beginning of our Easter celebration.  During the midweek services we offered throughout Lent, we heard a sermon series called, “The Places of the Passion.”  We walked through the story of Jesus’ sufferings and death scene by scene, starting in the Upper Room and concluding at the cross.  The cross appeared to be the end of the story.  But our actual final destination is the one we heard about in today’s Easter Gospel.  Today we make the last move in our Lenten journey, from the cross to the empty Easter tomb of Jesus.  The Easter facts and spiritual impact that we celebrated in last night’s vigil are described in Luke’s Easter account, which was read a few moments ago from the center of the congregation.  The first visitors came to Jesus’ tomb early on Easter morning, thinking that death had defeated him.  Instead, they found out that Jesus’ tomb—his empty tomb!—was a place of victory!  That’s what we will discover this morning as we arrive at our final stop on our Lenten and Easter journey.  The empty tomb is a place of victory: a specifically predicted victory, and yet a seemingly unbelievable victory. 

I.

The women who left their homes in the dark and arrived at the tomb at dawn expected a dead, defeated Jesus.  You can tell from their actions.  They brought burial spices with them.  When the first major clue met them—the stone rolled away from the tomb’s entrance—they went inside looking for Jesus’ dead body.  Despite three clear predictions that Jesus made in Luke’s Gospel, and who knows how many predictions beyond that, these women and Jesus’ other disciples forgot Jesus’ predictions of his resurrections.

But the women didn’t forget for long!  Two angel messengers suddenly appeared and did what angels do—announce important and miraculous acts of God!  “While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them.  In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, ‘Why do you look for the living among the dead?  He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: “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.

The angels’ rhetorical questions revealed how easily these women—and, ultimately, all of Jesus’ disciples—forgot Jesus’ prediction.  So what do you do when someone forgets?  You remind them!  The angels did their job, stated the fact that Jesus rose from the dead, and recalled several prior incidents where Jesus predicted his victory over death long before it happened.  And that’s all it took to jog the memory of the women at the tomb.

I tend to follow news and happenings in the Milwaukee area, because that’s where I’m originally from.  The Milwaukee Public Museum is currently offering an exhibit of the Dead Sea Scrolls.  Perhaps you have heard or read something about the Dead Sea Scrolls.  These scrolls are a collection of manuscripts discovered in the Holy Land in the middle of the last century.  Among these scrolls are the earliest known copies of the Old Testament.  These Old Testament manuscripts can be positively dated to the B.C. era.  That’s extremely important, because prior to this, the oldest copies of the Old Testament that historians knew about were more recent documents, well into the A.D. era.  Now, for the honest inquirer, we have solid evidence of a pre-B.C. era Old Testament.

Why is that so important?  Remember that the Old Testament contains predictions of the Messiah’s resurrection from the dead—for example, Psalm 16:10 and Isaiah 53:11.  Before the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered, many critics of Christianity assumed that these Old Testament predictions were written long after Jesus’ ministry and were made to look like they were predictions of his resurrection.  With the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, an honest person has to come to grips with the reality that these are truly prophecies and not carefully concocted statements after the fact.  In other words, Jesus wasn’t the first to predict his resurrection.  God the Holy Spirit had made multiple predictions of Jesus’ resurrection long before God the Son entered into our world.

It’s one thing to make a prediction or promise.  It’s another thing for that prediction or promise to come true.  I’m skeptical when a politician makes a promise or predicts that his policies will produce certain results, because all too often those words are just wind.

But if a prediction or promise comes through—well, that grabs our attention!  God predicted the resurrection of his Son through the Old Testament prophets.  Jesus predicted his own resurrection multiple times to his followers.  And on this day, those predictions were proven to be more than just wind.  Those prophecies became reality—and that demonstrates the Word of God to be more than a generic spiritual document.  This shows Scripture to be the inspired and unerring Word of God that records Jesus’ specifically predicted victory at his empty Easter tomb.

II.

But someone might think to himself, “Fine, but does this mean that Jesus’ resurrection really happened?”  Fair enough.  The idea that a dead man would come back to life is, under normal circumstances, pretty hard to believe.  All we have to do is look at Jesus’ own disciples to find the first skeptics of the resurrection.  “When they came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others.  It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the apostles.  But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense.”

The women naturally hurried off to find the other disciples of Jesus.  Luke mentions three of them by name and indicates that there were also some others in this group.  But their shocking and probably agitated demeanor made the disciples think that these ladies were just babbling.  Luke uses the Greek word leros to describe the women’s report.  Leros was a word sometimes used to describe illogical nonsense that a mentally ill or confused person might say.  And that’s what the disciples thought of the women’s report—leros, nonsense.  The first skeptics of the resurrection were Jesus’ own disciples—that is, until he appeared to them later that evening.

But Peter took the women’s report more seriously.  “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.”  We can tell that he took their report more seriously by his actions.  He runs.  He enters the tomb.  He checks out the evidence—the linen burial cloth strips that are folded neatly and lying by themselves in the tomb.  And in light of all of this, Peter seems to take the women’s report even more seriously, because instead of dismissing it, Luke tells us that he began to wonder and marvel at this seemingly unbelievable information he had just absorbed.  Perhaps the reality of the resurrection was just starting to sink in with Peter.

Last week Thursday, Starbucks released a story on its company blog about two new drink sizes that they were about to offer their customers.  The sizes were named micra and plenta, and the proposed drinks would be two ounces and 128 ounces respectively.  I read that and thought, “There’s no way this is real.”  And it wasn’t.  Last week Thursday was April 1; it was an April fool’s joke.

Many people feel that way about the story of Jesus’ resurrection.  It seems so unbelievable.  How can anyone say that it happened?  I think we can understand those kinds of questions.  Resurrections aren’t exactly an everyday occurrence.  But before we dismiss the women’s resurrection report simply because it seems unbelievable, and before our human nature decides to “play God” and say what can and can’t happen, perhaps we should at the very least take a close look at the facts, and let the facts speak for themselves.

Gary Habermas and Michael Liconia are authors of the book, The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus.  Gary Habermas researched scholars from all over the theological map, from the most traditional conservatives to the most progressive liberals, and sought out what facts they accepted regarding the resurrection.  Habermas came up with a list of four facts that over 95% of all scholars agree on.  Here are the four nearly universally accepted facts:  [1] Jesus died by crucifixion.  [2] Jesus’ disciples believed that he rose from the dead.  [3] The church persecutor Paul (Saul) was converted by what he believed was an appearance of Jesus.  [4] Jesus’ skeptical brother James was also converted by what he believed was an appearance of Jesus.  There is a fifth fact we can add to this list that about 75% of scholars accept, and that was that Jesus’ tomb was empty on Easter morning.

Now what happens when we put up the skeptics’ theories to these facts—which, by the way, are all recorded in the Bible?  Some skeptics claim that the disciples merely had visions of Jesus’ resurrection.  But spiritual visions would not account for a church persecutor like Paul becoming a believer in Jesus.  Some skeptics claim that the disciples may have briefly seen someone who looked like Jesus and they mistakenly thought this look-alike person was the risen Jesus.  But that would not explain how Jesus’ own brother, James, would have become a believer.  Some claim that Jesus never actually died, but that he was only in a coma and was later revived.  But Roman soldiers were not novices when it came to crucifixion, and there is no reason to believe that a man who went through the horrific brutality Jesus endured could have survived.  The list of skeptical claims could go on, but one of those four previously mentioned and widely accepted facts always refutes the critical claim.

Despite the seemingly unbelievable nature of Jesus’ resurrection, God has made it clear, even for us today, that his Son’s resurrection from the dead is fact, not fiction.  But that’s hardly the end of the story!  Because the Word of God gets the facts straight about Jesus’ resurrection, we have rock solid assurance that the Word of God also gets the truth straight about what Jesus’ resurrection means for us who believe in Christ Jesus!  Jesus’ resurrection means that each and every one of my sins and your sins is forgiven, for the Bible tells us that “[Jesus] was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification” (Romans 4:25).  Jesus’ resurrection means that you and I will also be raised from death, for Jesus said, “He who believes in me will live, even though he dies” (John 11:25).  Jesus’ resurrection means that my status as a member of God’s eternal family is secured, because baptism connects us to Jesus’ resurrection.  The apostle Paul wrote, “All of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death. … Since we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection” (Romans 6:3,8).  Even my ability to live a grateful life for God’s abundant grace is fueled by Jesus’ resurrection.  The apostle Paul also wrote, “Just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life” (Romans 6:4).  Jesus’ seemingly unbelievable victory over death is a fact, but it is a fact that assures us of God’s gracious forgiveness and promise of eternal life.  It is a fact that shows us how we are grafted into the family of God and given power to say “Thank you” to Jesus for his redemption every moment of our lives.

Conclusion

Just yesterday, the latest edition of the magazine Christianity Today arrived in my mailbox.  The cover article, “The Jesus We’ll Never Know,” explains how recent attempts to discover the “real” Jesus have failed.  Despite what our world says today, the real Jesus is not the man created by modern Ph.D.’s.  The real Jesus is the one found in the pages of Scripture.  The real Jesus is the one whose body was missing from the tomb on Easter morning because he had risen from the dead.  The real Jesus is the one whose love for you is so great that he would endure hell and death so that you might receive grace and forgiveness.  The real Jesus is the one who has convinced our souls that, despite all modern guesswork and theories, we know and confess that he is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Amen.

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Responses

  1. Truly, He is risen!


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