Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Empty Tomb


In light of the Easter season I want to talk about the empty tomb of Jesus. We know that Easter is a celebration of the Resurrection, but was the Resurrection just a myth started by the early followers of Jesus? I want to share a few things that refute that idea.

1. Consider the women witnesses. The gospels show us that the first ones on the scene that first Easter morning were women, including the mother of Jesus. They were the first to discover the empty tomb, and they went back and told the male disciples (Matthew 28). Of the disciples, only two bothered to go check it out. Thomas never went to the tomb, and he doubted that it was really empty until he saw the risen Lord for himself (John 20).

It is important to remember that in the First Century women were looked down on (by culture, not by Christians). Women were not allowed to testify in judicial matters because they were not viewed as being capable of giving an accurate account. If the disciples simply created the notion of the empty tomb, they never would have recorded that women were the first to make the discovery, and they never would have sold Thomas out for doubting, unless they were more concerned with accuracy than with their own pride.

2. Nobody found no body. I know that is not good grammar, but it is good preaching. If the disciples had made up the story of the empty tomb, than all the Romans would have to do is roll the stone away and produce the body. There were throngs of people in an uproar wanting to see if Jesus had actually come back to life, and the uproar could easily have been silenced with Exhibit A. The only problem was that there was no Exhibit A. The body of Jesus was not found, for indeed, He has risen.

3. Sleeping soldiers. Since nobody found no body, then perhaps the disciples simply stole the body of Jesus. But how did they get past the guards? Think about these Roman soldiers. They were armed and dangerous, and they were dressed in superior armor. They were trained killers, and if someone they were guarding ever escaped, they paid for it with their lives. On the other hand you have the disciples. Fisherman mostly, and the equivalent of an IRS agent. Men who were too chicken to follow Jesus after His arrest; one even denied knowing Him for fear of his own life. Did these disciples overpower the guards and steal His body?

That is obviously impossible. So the story was created that the soldiers fell asleep and the disciples stole the body. If you were a Roman soldier, a trained killer who would be executed for letting Jesus’ body be stolen, would you lay down for a little shut eye? This is very unlikely.

4. Crazy conversions. The fact that people were converted after the Resurrection is a proof that Jesus did not stay dead. Consider Paul, for example. He believed that Jesus was a liar and a lunatic, not the Lord. He felt so strongly about his belief that he even killed anyone who worshipped Jesus. What accounted for Paul’s conversion? What made him become the greatest missionary the world has ever seen? Simple. He saw the resurrected Jesus on the Demascus road. James is another good example. Aside from being a disciple, he was the son of Mary and Joseph, making him the half brother of Jesus. From what we read in the gospels James did not believe that his brother really was the Christ. And yet we read the letter that he wrote (the book of James) and we realize that he became a great Christian leader; he even died a gruesome martyr’s death. What made the difference in his life? He was in that upper room when his half brother walked through the closed door in His resurrected body.

And aside from the death that James died, consider how many other disciples died. Decapitations, upside-down crucifixions, exiles—these were no pleasant experiences. But, you might say, many people die for what they believe! That is true, but no one dies for a lie. The 9/11 hijackers sincerely believed that Allah would give them eternal life for their suicide bombings, or else they would not have done what they did. If the disciples stole the body and lied about the resurrection, would they really suffer some of the worst deaths imaginable without recanting? No, these men would rather die than deny seeing the risen Lord!

5. Timely texts. There are some critics of the empty tomb that say that the gospels were written 150 years after the resurrection, and these accounts were not written by eye witnesses. If this were true then it would be easy to see how legends could creep in and influence the texts. But it is not true. While the Discovery Channel may only promote late texts, the majority opinion among scholars is that Mark, the first gospel written, was actually written fewer than sixty years after the resurrection. Mark worked in conjunction with Peter, an eye witness. Matthew and John were eye witnesses who wrote two of the gospels, and Luke was a historian who wrote his gospel with help from Mark’s gospel.

These texts were written early enough after the resurrection to be verified. For example, when John wrote about Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead, all the people had to do was ask Lazarus if it were true. When the gospels mentioned specific people that Jesus revealed Himself to, all the skeptics had to do was ask them. If those people denied the claims than the Christian movement would have stalled.

These are just five simple statements that help us see that the tomb really was empty on that first Easter morning. Of course, even without these statements, I still would believe in the resurrection, simply because the Bible records it, and that is enough for me.

“He is not here, for He is risen like He said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay.” Matthew 28:6

If you believe in the resurrection, then spread the word—Jesus is risen!