01 Empty - Easter 2012
Jesus spent six hours suffering on a Roman cross. During this time, he fulfilled the work he had come to do. He paid the debt that humanity owed. Then, at the end of the workday, he spoke his last words, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit” and breathed his last.
Shortly thereafter, one of his followers, a man named Joseph, secured rights to his body and buried him in his newly purchased, unused family tomb.
You may very well know this story, but just as a refresher – we know that the Roman government stationed guards at the entrance of the tomb. The tomb was actually a cave hewn into the side of a hill. The cave entrance was covered with a large rolling stone. The body of Christ was lain inside, covered in burial cloths and remained there.
For three days.
Then, everything changed.
The dead Jesus was no longer dead.
Resurrection has always been a difficult thing for people to grasp.
For years, the debate has been about the fact that this just doesn’t happen. A man cannot be dead for three days and then come back to life, especially in a day where there were no modern medical procedures and brain scanners, etc.
The story of Jesus coming back to life has left some doubters to scoff at the authenticity of the story.
At one point, in fact just a few decades ago, the debate centered around the viability of an historical Jesus existing. We’re not hearing so much of that nowadays, but it’s still there. There are those who discount his existence. Some point to other biblical characters like Pontius Pilate, who plays a major role in the Passion week story, as there being no reference in Roman history of his existence.
The only references were in the Gospel accounts of the Bible and some first century stories written by Philo and Josephus. Therefore, if this Roman governor didn’t exist, the story goes, it’s most likely Jesus didn’t either.
Then, there was the discovery in 1961 of what is known now at the Pilate Stone. This stone, about 2’ x 3’ was uncovered in the city of Caesarea Maritima. The inscription on the stone attributes the dedication of a monument to Pontius Pilate, a prefect of the Roman-controlled area of Judea. He lived in Caesarea from 26-36 AD and journeyed to Jerusalem when needed.
While there are still many who state that Jesus never really existed, items like this continue to affirm the authentic historicity of the gospel.
The modern world, with its logical, scientific understanding of natural law dismissed the resurrection as fairy tale.
Today, in this postmodern culture, there is still unbelief, but it is not tied to natural law. The postmodern mindset disbelieves because the resurrection does nothing for me, apparently. The cultural standard is that of systematic and individual truth – what’s true for me may not be true for you and that’s OK. Therefore, if there’s no understanding of how the resurrection affects me positively, there’s no reason for me to believe it. Therefore, it remains a fairy tale, and one that just wastes my time.
Unbelief reigns in the hearts and minds of the natural man. Unbelief is the starting assumption of most.
As followers of Christ, this assumption must be acknowledged. In fact, we must first understand and be able to answer why the resurrection matters.
Three days after Christ’s death, the tomb that held his body was empty. This emptiness is our message. This emptiness is the fulfillment of the Gospel.
For many, to be honest, it just doesn’t matter if Jesus rose from the dead or not. I’m not saying it doesn’t truly matter – I’m saying that many believe it doesn’t matter. The inner question that comes from many is “Do I care? Why should I care?”
Years after the resurrection and this event of Jesus’ coming back to life occurred, Paul the Apostle was in Athens, Greece. This cultural center was powerful and many would gather to hear the philosophers and intelligent men banter and debate as they contemplated the deep things of life.
Not unlike coffee shops and diners where the world’s problems and political woes are solved daily by men drinking their coffee and offering their insight.
In Acts 17, we find Paul in this city at a gathering place on Mars Hill. He enters into the philosophical debates and, as always, seeks to explain the truth of the gospel in ways the Greeks can understand.
As his discussion comes to a close, this is said. . .
30The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all peopleeverywhere to repent,
31because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”
Paul speaks of the reality of humanity’s judgment. He speaks of the calling for repentance for all.
All have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory. All - you and me and everyone else in this world. We are all idolators and self-worshippers.
Then, he refers to a day, already set aside, when all humanity will be judged by one appointed. This one who is the standard bearer – the one who will judge is the one who was raised from the dead.
The Easter story was told long before the church assigned it to the calendar.
The resurrection story, even in the age of the Greek philosophers and first century people was revolutionary.
In this age of enlightenment, we sometimes just presume that ancient peoples believed anything and that to them, this supposed “fairy tale” of resurrection was commonly believed.
Check out the next verse.
32Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked. But others said, “We will hear you again about this.”
"Some mocked.” – That response continues today.
Some wanted to talk more about this. That too still happens.
Following this, we are told that some believed and joined Paul. Some, not all believed.
Not all believe today. Just some.
Going back to the Gospel account of the day of resurrection, we find that God revealed the key moment in history to a few people – a few witnesses.
The testimony of a few was the plan from the beginning.
1Now 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.
2So 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.”
3So Peter went out with the other disciple, and they were going toward the tomb.
4Both of them were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first.
5And stooping to look in, he saw the linen cloths lying there, but he did not go in.
6Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen cloths lying there,
7and the face cloth, which had been on Jesus’£ head, not lying with the linen cloths but folded up in a place by itself.
8Then the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed;
9for as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead.
10Then the disciples went back to their homes.
The few who came to the tomb – Mary Magdalene, Peter, John, saw the empty tomb.
The telling verses are 9 and 10. - They did not understand the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead. So them went home.
It says that the “other disciple” went in and believed. Believed what? He believed the tomb was empty. That’s it. Not that there was a resurrection. Just that the body wasn’t where it was supposed to be.
They had just seen evidence of the resurrection, but didn’t recognize it. The empty tomb was not comforting at this point.
It wasn’t until the following verses where the risen Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene, then the disciples themselves complete with the encounter with Thomas and his doubts, that they knew the truth. They had been told about it, but they could not yet comprehend.
The truth had been revealed, completely.
This man they had been following for three years had been telling them about this continually. . .but they were ignorant to the truth. They didn’t get it. It hadn’t yet clicked for them mentally.
What an emotional ride this previous week had given them. The joy of the triumphal entry with Christ. The palm fronds and the proclamation of him as king. The hiding out from the crowds. The meal of Passover with their rabbi. The prayer time in the Garden of Gethsemane, the arrest, the fear, the beatings of Christ, the dispersion of the disciples. The beatings of Christ. The cross. The six hours hanging there. The death. The burial. The fear.
Now this. An empty tomb.
Maybe you’re like these disciples that first Easter day. You hear the tomb is empty. You run down to see. . .and sure enough it is.
You’re not sure what this means to you, but you’re not feeling good about it.
Maybe you’re not in fear for your lives like the disciples were. Maybe you’re not hiding out like they were.
Then again. Maybe you are in fear. Maybe you don’t understand. Maybe you are hiding.
The empty tomb reminds you of an emptiness that is very real.
It’s an emptiness within you. It’s a void that you have tried to fill with so many things – relationships, jobs, money, material possessions, alcohol, drugs, sex, power, friends, etc.
Yet, it’s still there.
We’ve all been there. We have all felt this emptiness. Just like these disciples – a shock, a sadness, a confusion, a void.
Then, the answer. Jesus arrives. He surprises some. He shocks some. Many believe. Those who do are filled. That void, that emptiness is no longer empty.
It seems contradictory. It seems paradoxical. An empty tomb is needed so that our empty lives may be filled.
That’s the message of Easter. That’s the hope of resurrection.