Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Easter Sermon - Debunking the Empty Tomb

It’s Easter Sunday and it would be strange if you haven’t heard about the Resurrection and the empty tomb. There’s a great video online from this comedian John Crist showing a Pastor as he’s preparing for Easter Sunday. One line has him saying, “I am going to be saying some very tweetable quotes this morning: The easter basket is full but the tomb is empty.”
And it’s the empty tomb that has plagued the world for almost 2,000 years. Christians and skeptics alike have poured hundreds of hours into proving or disproving that Jesus’ tomb was empty. 
So today, we’re going to help everyone out and finish the debate. On this Easter Sunday, we’re going to prove that the tomb of Jesus was indeed not empty.
Now, that might be a little crazy to say. But I want to give you all the arguments of why the tomb couldn’t be empty, and to see just how valid the arguments are. Because if we can disprove that the was empty tomb, then we can disprove that Jesus rose form the grave. So follow me on this, so that we can discover the truth of the tomb together.

I’m going to give you several arguments for why the tomb couldn’t be empty. Each of these are not the most common arguments that are out there, but they are more of the modern arguments that are being presented today. (Arguments from:

First off, let’s start with Paul. This guy’s testimony is suspect already. I mean he was a persecutor of the Christians, and then Paul says he met Jesus on the road after Jesus’ death and resurrection. That’s pretty suspicious. But let’s see what he says about the empty tomb.
I you have a Bible, turn with me to 1st Corinthians chapter 15 verse 3, where Paul is writing to a non-Jewish audience in the city of Corinth. Listen to how he describes the the story of Jesus rising from the dead.

3 For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. 6 After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, 8 and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.

Did you catch that? Paul never mentioned an empty tomb. Paul talks about a resurrection but not an empty tomb. So maybe Paul is speaking to an earlier Christian tradition; a tradition that believed that Jesus hadn’t resurrected physically, leaving behind an empty tomb, but rather resurrected spiritually. See Paul is writing around AD 55, the empty tomb story must have been made up afterward because Paul didn’t mention it at all.
Oh wait no, no, the Gospel of Mark was written almost at the same as Paul is writing to the Corinthians. Maybe even earlier if what scholars like Robert Gundry say are true. It is true that Mark is the earliest biography of Jesus we have, with the date of the writing ranging from AD 45 to AD 60. And it’s true that Mark wrote from the perspective of Peter one of the original disciples. So it’s from an eye witness account. Oh and there’s the fact that Paul’s focus in this chapter isn’t to give an exhausted view of the circumstance of the resurrection, but rather focusing on the resurrection itself and it’s impact in a Christian’s life.

Okay, so that one didn’t really pan out. But the next one has to.

Here’s the second argument, that is sure to prove the tomb wasn’t empty. The empty tomb isn’t attested to from that many sources. I mean, all we really have is the disciple Peter’s eyewitness account in Mark’s biography. Then there’s Matthew who was one of the original 12, and his writing. And Luke, who did extensive historical research interviewing many different eyewitnesses, even most likely intervening Jesus’ mother Mary. And then there was John who was also one of the original 12. But that’s it.
I mean, we need more than just these four accounts to prove the tomb was empty, right? 
Well, well I guess there’s the Roman historian Tacitus who wrote of the superstition of Jesus’ bodily resurrection, right around the time of the early church. 
And there is the fact that other historical events and people, like Alexander the Great don’t even have eye witnesses like Jesus had. Or the fact that the earliest documents we have for Alexander’s life don’t even come around until a hundred years after his death. So I guess we do have better witnesses to the empty tomb, than to one of the greatest world leaders in all of history.
And I guess, that because the writings happened so close to the actually event, they could have been disproved at the time. 
So I guess this isn’t going to pan out either. Well, that was the weakest of the arguments anyway. 

The third one is the real gold. Did you know that there were other writings going around at the time of the early Christians that talked about an empty tomb? No? Well, let me enlighten you. There were two specific ones.
The first is called the Testament of Job, which was written between BC 1 and AD 2. Now I know what you’re thinking, that’s a long time to not know when something was written, and I know this time also encompasses the time when Jesus was crucified, buried and resurrected. And it’s true that the writer of the Testament of Job could have borrowed from the Christians rather than the other way around. So now that I think of it, maybe the Testament of Job isn’t the best one, I mean, it doesn’t even talk about an empty tomb; it just talks about Job’s children being in heaven, which isn’t even a resurrection as the early Christians understood it.
But wait, there’s Chaereas (Chair-eey-s) and Callirhoe (Cal-ir-oo), a greek romance novel. Where the woman Callirhoe (Cal-ir-oo) is placed in a tomb and later is taken out of the tomb by robbers, so that when her love Chaereas (Chair-eey-s) goes to find her, bam he finds an empty tomb. Just like Jesus’ empty tomb story. 
Well, I guess it’s not exactly like Jesus empty tomb. I mean it is a purposeful work of fiction, whereas Jesus’ tomb story is written as historical biography and could have been verified or contradicted by the witnesses of the day. And the earliest manuscript we have of Chaereas (Chair-eey-s) and Callirhoe (Cal-ir-oo) is from the 13th century, whereas the earliest Mark manuscript is from the 2nd century. I guess it’s also probable that, if anything, Chaereas (Chair-eey-s)  and Callirhoe (Cal-ir-oo) borrowed from the Christians rather than the other way around, since it was written sometime between the mid 1st century to the 2nd century. And the two stories are very different in that Jesus was crucified and verified dead, while Callirhoe (Cal-ir-oo) was simply asleep.
So, I guess we’re not doing to well disproving the empty tomb, using the most modern arguments that are available. And looking at the other arguments I have, I don’t think we’re going to accomplish what we set out to do today. Because even though we tend to think we can disprove the empty tomb, the reality is, every argument falls short in disproving the empty tomb.

And there are a lot of arguments of why the tomb wasn’t empty. The earliest one that we have is actually found in the Gospel of Matthew. Matthew writing his biography of Jesus, that we call a Gospel, writes this in his 28th chapter, starting in verse 12, “12 When the chief priests had met with the elders and devised a plan, they gave the soldiers a large sum of money, 13 telling them, ‘You are to say, “His disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep.” 14 If this report gets to the governor, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.’ 15 So the soldiers took the money and did as they were instructed. And this story has been widely circulated among the Jews to this very day.”

Matthew is writing between 50-60 AD, and just the fact that there was a rumor about why the tomb was empty, gives a good reason why it was.

But each one of these arguments fails to give a logical reason why the tomb was empty. Will this debate ever end? No, because when it comes down to it, each of us has to weigh the evidence for ourselves and make a personal decision. And that decision, though not simple to come to, is simple to state: Either Jesus was who the Bible says he is or he is not. Either Jesus is God, or he isn’t. 
Now the stated choice is simple, but the implication is not. If Jesus is who the Bible says he is, then that means that God did create this world perfect, but then we have a problem ‘cause taking one look at myself I know I am not perfect. And the Bible says the reason for that is sin. Sin is simply our desire placed above God’s. When our desire is to lie, we place it above God’s desire for us to tell the truth. When our desire is to cheat or steal, we place it above God’s desire for us to do justice, and to not be self-centered. And because we sin, God has to judge us, because a perfect God, who only works in perfection, cannot have something that is imperfect in his creation. And that judgment leads to our death. That’s some bad news. But if Jesus is true, if the tomb really was empty and Jesus rose from the the dead, that means that God himself came to earth to fix our imperfection. To save us from his judgment to death. Jesus lives a life where his desire is inline with God’s desire. And since he died without ever sinning, death could not hold him, and he raises from the dead. And that’s good news for us, because Jesus tells us this in John’s biography, 

13 No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man. 14 Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up,15 that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.
16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. 19 This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. 20 Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. 21 But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God (3:13-21).

If the empty tomb is true, and Jesus rose from the grave, then we stand at a crossroads. On one side we have the Bible being true, with the empty tomb showing us Jesus rose form the dead. That means we have the option of believing in Jesus to have our sin forgiven, and us being brought into eternal life.
On the other side, we have the Bible being false, where all the predictions about Jesus, were not fulfilled, and the if the tomb still had Jesus body, then none of it matters. Jesus was false, and we need to move on with our lives. 

But I have found that all the evidence, of history, of prophecy, of reason, and personal experience, all point to Jesus being true, alive and calling each of us to himself today.

My challenge for you is simple this week. In the foyer, I’m going to have someone passing out a list of the arguments I gave you today, and more. I would challenge you to read over and research those arguments and come to a decision of who Jesus is. 

Because if Jesus is a fake, then Christianity is worthless and you shouldn’t believe. But if Jesus is true, then he is worth it to follow, because everything in us needs him.

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