Looking Into The Empty Tomb

Randall Caselman
Bella Vista Church of Christ
3/30/97 pm

Looking Into The Empty Tomb

Reading — 1 Corinthians 15.12-19

This morning we visited Jerusalem examining the LAMB AND LOVE OF GOD. We witnessed the sacrifices made on our behalf on Mt. Moriah. Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God, becoming the sacrifice for our sins. Tonight we want to return to the region of Moriah. This time we find ourselves standing before an open tomb... An empty grave. As we stand there with Peter, John, Mary, the women, and other disciples; we find ourselves pondering the meaning of what we see.

We feel the cold, damp air of the darkened tomb  We ponder the power that broke the seal and rolled the stone from the opening.  We run our fingers across the torn strips of linen cloth that shrouded the body of Jesus.

What does it mean? What does this empty tomb say to us? Three things tonight:
• We see POWER.
• And we see HOPE.

The Bible tells us that God is, and that He created all things, and without him was nothing made that was made. God created the seen and the unseen world about us. He created the spirit world we do not see and the physical world we do see. The Bible tells us of this world’s beginning. It tells us of our beginning. The Bible is history — HIS STORY. From the fall in Genesis three until that day when we can be reunited with Him. It tells us of paradise lost in the garden of Eden to paradise found in heaven, made possible by the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. As we stand before the open tomb our hearts are made afraid as we realize that all the warnings and judgments of Scripture are valid. Then we feel relief in the fact that all the promises are also valid. Promises such as:

• I came that you might have life and have it at its fullest.
• Ask and you shall receive, seek and you shall find, knock and it will be opened for you.
• You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free.
• Come unto me all you that labor and are carrying heavy burdens and I will give you rest.
• He that believes and is baptized shall be saved.
• There is now therefore no condemnation to those who are in Christ.
• In my Fathers house are many mansions, I go to prepare one for you and will come again, so that where I am there you may be also.

You see, the resurrection of Jesus validates all of Scripture, its judgments and its promises.

If the resurrection is a hoax, If the tomb is occupied, Then the entire Bible is a hoax, a vicious sickening lie. Paul put it in these words, if Christ is not raised, then we Christians are the world’s most miserable and to be pitied people. We ought to celebrate His resurrection every day, because it declares that the word of God is truth, its judgments and promises can be trusted.

Second, the resurrection affirms His Sonship. Last week, we noted that Jesus made some incredible claims about Himself.
• He said He was God.
• That He was older than Abraham.
• That He was perfectly sinless.
• That He was the only way to heaven.
• That He was the Savior of the world.
• He said, you destroy this body and I’ll raise it again in three days.
The empty tomb affirms His credibility... He was and is who He said He was and is.

Thirdly, the empty tomb affirms and authenticates His death. Without the resurrection, the cross becomes a real tragedy. If the tomb is occupied, then Jesus was just another good man who died on a Roman cross. But if it is empty, then His death is our claim to:
• Forgiveness.
• Redemption.
• Reconciliation.
• Sanctification.
• And salvation.

Our religious world has become fascinated with the tomb of Jesus, with the grave site. But the early church demonstrated no such interest at all. Why do you suppose that’s true? Especially knowing that the early church was mostly Jewish. I mean they knew where Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph and Sarah were buried. In his sermon on Pentecost Peter said, we know where David’s grave is located. Why was the primitive church not interested in enshrining the grave of Jesus? Because it was empty. The angel said, why are you looking for Jesus in a cemetery, why look for the living among the dead? He’s not here. Here it is church, the resurrection took the focus off His tomb and placed it where it belonged, on the cross; where He became the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.
- The resurrection,
- The empty grave,
- Affirms, validates what took place on the cross.

The empty grave affirms life after death. The resurrection answers Job’s age old question, if a man dies will he live again? Church, listen to me, reality is at stake here. If death swallows up life, then Paul says:  We ought to live like the world; eat drink and be merry because tomorrow we die... And that’s it, that’s life. We can live by Frank Sinatra’s theology, I did it my way.

• If life swallows up death,
• If the resurrection is the deeper and greater truth,
Then tomorrow we will die, but that death is nothing but an open door to a greater life. Paul reasoned like this about the resurrection from 1 Corinthians chapter 15, If Christ has been raised then so will we, for just as in Adam all men die, so in Christ all will be made alive. You see, because He lives, so will we. Paul wrote to the Philippians church saying, I want to share in this resurrection.

First power to instill and strengthen our faith. As Peter and John ran to the open grave, they did so in faithlessness. They didn’t rush to the tomb to instill and strengthen their faith in the resurrection. They didn’t believe in the resurrection. They didn’t believe the grave was empty. They were ambulance chasers, they ran there to satisfy their own curiosity. Turn with me to John chapter 20, and let me show you something. John chapter 20, verses 3-9... Are you there? Listen as I read and emphasize some words. So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent over and looking in saw the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. Then Simon Peter, who was behind him, arrived and went into the tomb. He Beheld the strips of linen as well, and the burial cloth that had been around Jesus' head. The cloth was folded up by itself, separate from the linen. Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.

John uses three Greek verbs in this narrative that are translated:
In our English Bibles, depending on the translation we use. These three Greek words, when translated into English, lose their distinctiveness.  The first is used in verse 5, and stooping over and looking in he saw. The Greek word used here simply means:  To glance at... To casually see... To just look in.

Now notice verse 6. Then Peter come following him and He saw, NAS says beheld, the KJ seeth, the linen wrappings. The Greek word here is not the same as in verse 5. This word means:  To examine...To look at closely... To look at carefully.

OK, read verse 8, So the other disciple, John entered the tomb and he saw and believed. The Greek for saw here means:  To be sure of... To accept as fact... To know for sure.

Do you see the progression?
• First glance,
• Then examination,
• Then acceptance as fact... What we call FAITH.

Church, standing before the empty tomb, understanding the resurrection, has the power to instill and strengthen our faith.

The resurrection is our power to live for Him These disciples became changed men as a result of what they saw in this tomb. These disciples fled from the garden arrest. Peter, just a few hours ago denied Jesus three times, but in 50 days he will attest to this resurrection in a powerful sermon before thousands of people... Why? Because of what they saw, or didn’t see in the tomb. Because they witnessed the resurrection evidence.

Now, can I ask you a question? Where are you and your preacher in this progression we just noted in John chapter 20?
• Have we just casually looked in?
• Have we examined the evidence?
• Have we come to a decision that we are sure of His being raised?

Well, how can we tell? SIMPLE!  Has this event changed our lives?  Are we just church-going people, casual followers like these disciples.  Or do we believe and are we doing what Jesus ask?  Are we indeed changed men and women?  Church, do you know what makes:
• Great preachers
• Effective Bible teachers
• Loving caring elders
• Dedicated deacons
• And committed Christians?

It’s Not talent, Not education, Not a multitude of teaching resources, Not business acumen, Not political clout; but a deep and genuine faith in the fact that Jesus Christ was raised, and is now enthroned at the right hand of God. Folk, we can conger up all kinds of excuses for our lack of involvement in the church, but basically it comes down to one thing, OUR FAITH IN HIM AND HIS RESURRECTION.

What was it that they saw that caused them to suddenly believe? The strips of cloth were not shredded and scattered about the cemetery. Nobody had to unwrap Jesus. He didn’t have to unwrap himself. He didn’t fight his way from the tomb. These grave clothes were still just as they were when Jesus’ body was wrapped. The grave clothes were still intact. The cloth that covered His face was neatly folded. Jesus materialized from the grave. Our skin tingles as we understand that the angel didn’t roll the stone away for Jesus to get out, but for us to see in.

Let me give you some Bible proof that Jesus has power over death.
• In John 10 He said: My life is my own, I have the authority, the power to lay it down And take it up. In John 2.18 He said, You destroy this body, this temple, and I’ll raise it up again in three days. If Jesus has the power to resurrect his own body doesn’t it stand to reason he can raise ours?

• Picture this, you have just finished the funeral, the casket is being carried to the grave site. A man stops the pallbearers and says to the family, don’t cry. Then he lays his hands on the coffin and says, get up. Now just a minute, one of the pallbearers objects. But his objection is interrupted by a sudden movement in the casket. The six men look at one another and set the casket down. The lid opens and the dead man steps out. Sound like something from late night television? Not at all Folk, NOT AT ALL. — This narrative is right out of the Gospel of Luke. Go home and read it, Luke 7.11-15. It happened in a little town called Nain in southern Galilee, near the Jordan river.

• Ask Jairus about Jesus’ power over death. His daughter was dead, The mourners were already in the house, The funeral had started. Jesus said, Tell Etha a Cum, little girl get up... She did! And her parents were astonished.

• Talk to Mary and Martha about Jesus’ power over death. Remove the stone... No... No... He has been dead three days, you don’t want to open this grave. Remove the stone! So they did and Jesus called Lazarus back from the world of the dead.

• Paul wrote to the church at Thessalonica assuring them that those who have died, faithful to Christ, will be raised first.

Church, we must know tonight, that as we stand gazing into this open grave, we can indeed see our own resurrection as a faith fact.

Paul also tells us this same resurrection power will change our mortal bodies. We will be changed, so that we can live forever in the unseen spirit world. Listen to First Corinthians 15, beginning with verse 50, I declare to you, brothers, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed--in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality.

Paul anticipates our next question. He says, some will ask what kind of body will this be? Same chapter, beginning with verse 35, But someone may ask, "How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come?" How foolish! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed, perhaps of wheat or of something else. But God gives it a body as he has determined, and to each kind of seed he gives its own body... There are heavenly bodies and there are earthly bodies; but the splendor of the heavenly bodies is one kind, and the splendor of the earthly bodies is another... The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable... It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.

You see, the same power that brought Jesus out of the grave with a new and glorified body will clothe our souls in the twinkling of an eye with an immortal body that is suitable for an eternal existence in heaven.

Hope for the forgiveness of sins. The Gospel of John tells us, as Mary looked into the tomb she saw two angels sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying. They were positioned at either end of a flat surface... Cherubim seated at either end of a flat surface. Where have we seen this before? Of course, on the lid to the Ark Of The Covenant. It was called the Mercy Seat in Exodus 25. In the NIV it is called the Atonement cover... It was the lid to the Ark. According to Leviticus 16, The Mercy Seat was where the blood was applied for the forgiveness of sins. Romans 3.25 tells us that Jesus has become our Mercy Seat, our Atonement cover through faith in His blood. The Hebrew’s writer tells us how and when this ATONEMENT takes place. Listen, Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water. Paul says, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.

Standing before the empty tomb we see the forgiveness of all our sins. Purged, covered, clothed, blotted out, removed from God’s sight, by the Blood of Christ. Ephesians 1.7 tells us, In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God's grace Praise God for His amazing grace.

At the tomb we have hope of His second coming. Folk, if His tomb is occupied, you can rest assured there will be no second coming. However, if it is empty, He will return.

• From the Mount of Olives, the angels said, Why stand you gazing into the skies, this same Jesus will come again just as you have seen Him go.

• To the church at Thessalonica Paul said the resurrection and the second coming are inseparably linked together. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him... For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. Wherefore comfort one another with these words.

The hope of our future depends upon the empty tomb. Jesus said, Let not your heart be troubled: you believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also. And where I go you know, and the way you know. I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man comes unto the Father, but by me.

Church, we can see farther through faith than through a telescope. Heaven awaits those who will:
• Have faith in God and in His son Jesus,
• Those who will repent of their sins, change their lives, become changed men and women, boy and girls.
• Those willing to be born again of the water and spirit in New Testament baptism,
• And then those willing to walk in the light as He is in the light.

The question remaining tonight is this: Can you see heaven from where you are spiritually? If not, don’t leave this service without making sure of your salvation, made possible by this empty tomb.

We close by noting that there are three possible reactions to this empty tomb:
1. We can ridicule the resurrection in disbelief. We can make fun of it, saying it never happened, that the whole thing is a hoax.
2. We can say, I believe He arose, but allow apathy and indifference to paralyze us into not letting this event make any significant difference in the way we live.
3. Or, we can by faith and acceptance come to Jesus tonight.

How will we respond to what we have seen?

Written By

Bella Vista Church of Christ


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