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"For we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not of ourselves."

He is risen indeed!

Empty Tomb of Jesus ?

by Brian Bailey

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. (1 Corinthians 15:3-10)

It was early, pre-dawn, and it was cool…April in Palestine. Roman soldiers almost universally hated duty in this country. The people were almost as bad as the barbarians to the extreme north of the Empire. They had never experienced a culture like the one here among the Jews.  The men were sullen; the women spurned any advances for companionship. Everything they did to honor their gods infuriated the populace. No pluralism in this gods-forsaken place. These Jews spurned the Roman pantheon of gods for one god. One god! To the Romans, this one god always spelt trouble.

It had been a dicey situation when the carpenter from north Israel was tried and executed. There could been a wholesale insurrection, but nothing had happened other than three condemned men dying. This brought them to here, guarding a tomb of a very dead Jewish trouble-maker. This was absolutely the last place they cared to be. Wasn’t the Roman seal on the stone covering the mouth of the tomb enough? The full power and anger of the Empire would fall on anyone who broke the seal. The Empire had brought peace to their known world, Roman peace. The Roman peace was bought with the blood of soldiers and taxes levied on the subjugated. Troublemakers who threatened that Roman peace found themselves executed or sent to the slave ships.

The soldiers were not educated very well, so they tended to be a superstitious group, leading to another reason why guarding a tomb held no appeal for them: they were afraid of ghosts.

Suddenly the area around the soldiers and the tomb itself was lit with a light brighter than the noon-day sun. The light was so powerful their eyes stung and tears rolled down their cheeks. Then it dissolved except for a blinding light by the tomb. The soldiers had already fallen to the ground in total fear. Those brazen enough to look could see at the center of the light a man whose face shone as well. His hair was long, and his face was strong, confident, and powerful as he gazed back at the soldiers. Then the radiant man turned his back to the soldiers, grabbed the stone covering the entrance to the tomb and easily rolled it away from the entrance.

The soldiers, absolutely terrified, ran for their lives. While the soldiers fled a group of women arrived from another direction. They, too, saw what they knew to be an angel. His voice was strong, yet gentle and brimming with excitement… “He is not here for he has risen…” (Matthew 28:5)

The question of the ages since those days is simply this: How do we know what happened that early spring morning in A.D. 30? And if it did happen, what does it mean for us today in this narcissistic age? Why believe this fantastic claim?
Believe. At this time we must be honest and admit we have no eyewitness to his dead body coming alive, coming out of the grave cloths and walking out of the tomb. But the circumstantial evidence pointing to a bodily resurrection is extremely powerful. 

Perhaps the most irrefutable evidence is found in the actions of the eleven remaining disciples and Paul. We have evidence and tradition which points to eight of them being put to death for their faith.  Of the remaining four we are not definite but do know this: Tradition and evidence show all engaged in missionary activity and, just as importantly, we have no evidence of any recanting their faith.  They all maintained the truth of this message about a Jewish carpenter now resurrected. The early Christians shook the Roman Empire to its core, not by wielding the sword but rather having it wielded on them. They would not renounce their claim that Jesus, not Caesar, was Lord, and they would not bend the knee to give the emperor divine status. For this faith, they faced estrangement from loved ones; they lost their earthly possessions and lived in the catacombs.  Peaceful, gentle and kind, they were hunted down, beheaded, crucified, burned alive, and thrown to animals for the sport of watching them being torn limb from limb.

From a totally human perspective it would have been easy to swear allegiance to Caesar with their fingers crossed behind their backs and save their own skin. Instead they willingly sacrificed their skin, their lives, to be true to their faith. Willingly assenting to their out and out slaughter makes no logical sense and goes against the very grain of human nature. Unless, that is, their assertions were true: Christ is risen indeed.

Chuck Colson has an interesting take on the veracity of the resurrection. It revolves around the Watergate scandal in the early 70’s which brought down the Nixon presidency. In Colson’s book, Loving God, he recounts his experiences during the period of the break-in and the aftermath which derailed Nixon’s administration. Colson held the position of Special Council to the President. He knew the trappings of power given to him by his position. The perks of office were incredible but also came at a high personal price. But Chuck Colson believed in Richard Nixon and was dedicated to him. By his own admission, Colson was a tough customer as a former Marine and practicing attorney. He was known as Nixon’s hatchet man.

What Colson witnessed in March and early April of 1973 (the actual triggering event, the break-in at the Democratic National Headquarters occurred in June 1972) was astounding to him. Several of the men, previously extremely loyal to President Nixon were ready to and did turn on each other likes sharks in an effort to stave off a prison sentence. Never was capital punishment on the table for the defendants. They simply faced fines and jail. According to Chuck Colson, the conspiracy to protect the President lasted about three weeks before the main defendants began to make deals through their lawyers.

See the contrast here? The Watergate Seven, as they were called, folded quickly at the threat of prosecution. They would not do jail time if they could at all avoid it; and if it took down Nixon to save them, so be it. The Apostles and the early followers, by contrast, willingly went to their deaths. Think of the disciples in particular…they had no reason to lie. They did not try to parlay Jesus for fame or fortune. No, they gave up their possessions, freedom, and lives, either in service to their Lord or in the crucible of martyrdom. These men were not con-artists or snake-oil salesmen; rather they had witnessed Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection, and they would not back down on that for any reason. They had to tell others about Jesus; Jesus himself commanded it.

Why suffer crucifixion, beheading, and bludgeoning, sawing in-half, stoning, and stabbing for what you knew to be a total fabrication? In short, why die for a lie? Chuck Colson’s point is that the Watergate defendants would not go to jail willingly for a lie and would certainly not face death to protect a falsehood about the break-in and the cover-up. If the assertion made by the Apostles was not true, leaving their own deaths aside, to make any such claim of the resurrection would be staggering. They would be truly the most evil of men who would watch others die horribly to protect what they knew to be an out and out lie. Such actions would defy logic and their own humanity to a level unthinkable.
Consider this also: these men were changed profoundly by this event.

Consider Thomas the disciple. Thomas has been given the moniker of the doubting disciple. When Jesus first appeared to the disciples as a group, Thomas was absent. Simply put, Thomas must have thought the others were all unhinged when they asserted they had seen Jesus. Doubting as he did, he said he needed empirical proof, like touching the nail-prints and the stab wound. He could not believe on words alone. It is almost amazing to think that he who had watched Jesus raise Lazarus could not conceive of Jesus being raised. Eight days later Thomas got his empirical proof when Jesus appeared again. Thomas, all doubts assuaged, called Jesus his Lord and God. This also makes the point that the disciples had not kept vigil at the tomb waiting for Jesus to come walking out on the third day. As far as they were concerned, Jesus was dead and the dream was over. Despite several previous announcements from Jesus, his resurrection was the last thing they expected to happen. They were not ready to believe that Jesus was anywhere but in that tomb. That all changed.

Consider Saul the persecutor, then Paul the Apostle. Saul was a religious zealot. He would have been no fun at a party. He seemed to have a one-track mind focused on the glory of God and annihilation of any who blasphemed Judaism.  So when the deacon Stephen was hauled out of his hearing and pummeled with stones till he died Saul approved of it and made it his personal mission to put the fledgling Church in prison or worse. This angry, hate-filled young man was willing to travel to hunt believers down and bring them back for trial to Jerusalem. On the road to Damascus Saul encountered the risen, glorified Jesus. Saul, this brilliant young intellect and passionate evangelist would leave his profound mark on Christianity. He traveled much of his known world to spread the very message he once sought to obliterate from the face of the earth.

Consider Peter, who barked the loudest of any of the band, proclaimed his devotion to the end, then fled in terror when the soldiers arrested Jesus. Peter did follow at a distance to the house of the High Priest but was reduced to denial and profanity by two servant girl and some bystanders. We only know this because evidently Peter told the others about his cowardice. Even in the immediate aftermath of the resurrection the disciples were still fearful and reclusive. Yet we read in the Book of the Acts that on the day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit came upon the early disciples that Peter, previously cowed by teenage girls, boldly spoke to several thousand people:

 "Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know— this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.  God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it… "Brothers, I may say to you with confidence about the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day.  Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants on his throne, he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption. This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses. (Italics mine)  (Acts 2:22-24; 29-32)

Afterwards, the Apostles and the infant Church set up the temple as their gathering place, right under the noses of the very people who had plotted the death of Jesus. Ultimately when a confrontation occurred between the Sanhedrin and the Apostles, the self-confessed coward said the following:

Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, "Rulers of the people and elders, if we are being examined today concerning a good deed done to a crippled man, by what means this man has been healed, let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead—by him this man is standing before you well.  This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved."  Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus. But seeing the man who was healed standing beside them, they had nothing to say in opposition. But when they had commanded them to leave the council, they conferred with one another, saying, "What shall we do with these men? For that a notable sign has been performed through them is evident to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and we cannot deny it. But in order that it may spread no further among the people, let us warn them to speak no more to anyone in this name." So they called them and charged them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John answered them, "Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard." (Italics mine) (Acts 4:8-19)

What made Peter, who acted as he did on Maundy Thursday night, then address the heads of his government in such a bold way? Why did Saul, on the verge of great power and prestige in his government, a man on a short list to climb the political religious ladder suddenly leave it all behind to now proclaim another truth? Why would Thomas, a no-nonsense skeptic, travel to Persia and India, preach this same Jesus and die at the edge of the spear? Why give up everything for a lie?

The only reasonable and logical conclusion we can draw is that the men spoke the truth: The tomb is empty; Jesus is risen and ascended to the right-hand of God our Father.

Because Jesus lives our sins are forgiven and the wall between us and God is demolished, just as certainly as the Berlin Wall that came down in 1989.

Because Jesus lives, there is a glorious life for us to live beyond our current tents. That Jesus lives is also most meaningful to those who have mourned the loss of a loved one. I think of the loss within the past eight months of my mother and of my son Charles all those many years ago. Anna, my spouse, just past the ten-year marking of her father’s passing. I think of my friend Robin who just lost her mother scant weeks ago. Losses of this nature are not something to endure with stoicism, nor are they something you ‘get over.’ The pain of loss is like a vivid scar, a terrible wound, or the loss of a limb. It is ever with you, and although time will blunt its pain, all it takes is just the right memory or reminder to transport you emotionally back to that terrible time.

We recently received an email from a widow who wrote poignantly “…So please put out the word for me as I am dealing with way more than I feel I can handle.  I have had so many people tell me the Lord will only put on me as much as he thinks I can handle.  I just wished he had a lighter hand, if you know what I mean. So if you could put out the word for me just to give me some strength to just get through all this.  I am in just about every way stressed out that a person can be.  Between the financial, psychological, and physical issues I am just about at my breaking point.”
It is for her and those like her, that Easter has more meaning than anything else. She with her husband, I with Charles and my mother, Anna with her beloved father, and Robin with her mother; Easter is the most critical event. We stake so very, very much on the fact that Heaven is real and we shall be reunited. For us all of us this is a most critical event. We, along with our loved ones, will have a new tent, a new body which will be free of disease, corruption, and death. Age will no longer hinder us. In this safe-harbor, that which we call Heaven, we will see the final conquest of that most cruel of predators - death. There will be no more death. There will be reunion.

All of this will be reality, not a distant far-off dream, because it is true that Jesus is risen indeed. 

Hear the bells ringing
They're singing that you can be born again
Hear the bells ringing
They're singing Christ is risen from the dead

The angel up on the tombstone
Said he has risen, just as he said
Quickly now, go tell his disciples
That Jesus Christ is no longer dead

Joy to the word, he has risen, hallelujah
He's risen, hallelujah
He's risen, hallelujah

Hear the bells ringing
They're singing that you can be healed right now
Hear the bells ringing, they're singing
Christ, he will reveal it now

The angels, they all surround us
And they are ministering Jesus' power
Quickly now, reach out and receive it
For this could be your glorious hour

Joy to the world, he has risen, hallelujah
He's risen, hallelujah
He's risen, hallelujah, hallelujah

The angel up on the tombstone
Said he has risen, just as he said
Quickly now, go tell his disciples
That Jesus Christ is no longer dead

Joy to the world, he has risen, hallelujah
He's risen, hallelujah
He's risen, hallelujah

(Keith Green, Easter Song)

Postscript...hopefully, by the time you read this, if all went according to plan, I will have published my newest book, A Great Cloud Devotional Book, Vol 1 on Kindle. What I have done is taken what I consider some of my better devotions, along with some new material (such as this piece), and created a book. Thank you, Dirk Daube, for the suggestion. After that is another book I have written that I plan to readdress and publish about God's Grace and our humanity.

The book on Ruth (click HERE for the link to some of the first chapters, then follow links to buy the book) was published earlier this year and is available both in paperback and on Kindle. If you would like a series of lessons (four, one hour lessons or all at once with breaks, a seminar) taught at your church or fellowship I would be most honored to do so. Right now I have about  four hours a day of activity in me. I ask for your prayers that Jesus would sustain me through recent health concerns that I might be faithful to that which He desires for me. Pray that He would keep me faithful and guard my heart.

Blessings and Joy, Brian

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Last Update: 2013-08-12 16:41