Cross Examinations: #5
Examining Key Witnesses In The Jesus Conspiracy
The Verdict WAS and IS Resurrection. On Friday, He who was innocent was found guilty; He who was sinless bore the sins of the world; He who showed only love and compassion was treated with cruelty and hate. They nailed Him to the cross, watched Him die and sealed Him in a tomb. Their Verdict was guilty. They thought it was over. But God’s Verdict was Resurrection.
Christ is Risen. Christ is Risen, Indeed.
All four of the Gospels tell us the story of the Resurrection but let’s look at Luke’s version this morning. Luke 24:1-12 (NRSV)
 But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared.
 They found the stone rolled away from the tomb,
 but when they went in, they did not find the body.
 While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them.
 The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.
 Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee,
 that “the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.”
 Then they remembered his words,
 and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest.
 Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles.
 But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.
 But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened.
They were amazed. They were stunned. It was too good to be true. When Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James and the other women with them came running back from the tomb with the news, the disciples had to see for themselves.
They ran to the tomb. And sure enough, there was “nobody” and NO “body” in the tomb. It was empty except for the two cloths that had been used to wrap the body of Jesus for burial. One at the head and one at the foot. Both folded neatly.
One source reports that first century carpenters and masons had the habit that if the owner wasn’t home when they finished their job, they would take their apron or carpenter’s tool belt and fold it up neatly on their work to signify that it was finished. They left their apron or tool bag as a symbol and sign that they would return. It was a symbol both of their promise and of their pride in their workmanship.
If that’s true, the disciples and the women saw it with their own eyes. Luke says they were amazed. Mark says they didn’t understand. John says in their confusion they went back to the Upper Room because it was just too good to be true. But later, in their amazement, they began telling everyone.
I. THE TOMB IS EMPTY:
A. It’s proven to be one of the most popular stories of all time. People have sung praises to its author since it was first written and released. And yet, it has never won an academy award. And now, because of its popularity, you can see it in all kinds of odd places: the grocery store, bookstores, the video stores, and in the most unlikely homes.
People talk about all the time. It’s the story that goes like this . . . . . .
Once upon a time, an extraterrestrial visited our planet. He lived among the people and He watched them with great fascination. He befriended the common people. And it seemed to be the children, more than the adults, who understood this extraterrestrial. And we understand that, because, in a child’s eyes, even the most wondrous is somehow believable.
This extraterrestrial possessed unusual hands. They were healing hands. With the touch of one finger, pain and hurt simply disappeared.
Even though they tried to keep it a secret, it wasn’t long before the news of this strange visitor reached the authorities. They sought to capture him and confine him. They didn’t understand his mission, his purpose or his peaceful spirit. And in their hands, the extraterrestrial gasped and died.
Those who knew him, those who had spent time with him wept. But he wasn’t finished yet. Somehow, through some incredible miracle, the extraterrestrial sprang back to life. People could scarcely believe their eyes or the stories that the witnesses had told.
The extraterrestrial stayed with his friends for just a short time after coming back to life. But he returned to the heavens. But before he left, he turned to his friends and he whispered, “I’ll be right here.” And then they watched him ascend into the heavens.
Wasn’t that a strange thing to say? But then, that’s how the story ends, at least that’s how it’s told in the Gospel of Matthew. “Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
And yet, that’s not really the end of the story. Because even though it’s nearly 2000 years later, people still gather to hear the fascinating story, not of E.T., but of Jesus, the Son of God, who died for our sins and was raised from the dead. People keep coming, like little children, to hear it again and again like a favorite bedtime story. (1)
Those who know and love the story best; those who believe it and have faith in its main character and its Author are given the assurance that they too shall conquer death.
That’s what this day is all about. Resurrection. Not the movie E.T. which was released in June, 1982, 30 years ago. Spielberg has said it is coming out on BluRay, so expect a big 30th Anniversary edition like the 20th Anniversary. You see, today E.T. doesn’t stand for some weird little Extraterrestrial created out of the mind of Hollywood. Today E.T. stands for Empty Tomb.
That Empty Tomb is what brings us here today. Resurrection is what brings us here.
B. In the movie E.T. there is a great Resurrection scene. If you haven’t seen the movie, then briefly: Elliot is your normal boy, until one day, when he meets a little lost alien. Elliot decides to keep the alien a secret in his home and gives him the name E.T. As Elliot works to keep E.T. hidden and helps with find E.T. a way to get back home, a secret government agency is also out to get him; which they eventually do. Unfortunately E.T. dies. But just like today, it’s not the end of the story. WATCH
C. I think that once they realized the truth of the Resurrection, once they got over their shock, that’s exactly how the Disciples reacted. No wonder Thomas was put off and doubted. They all appeared to be suffering from some kind of hysteria. They were just rejoicing at The Verdict.
We’ve been doing a Cross Examination of some of the characters of the Easter story. We’ve Examined Lazarus, Mary Magdalene, Judas, Peter and the Repentant thief. And like every trial or hearing, the judge or jury eventually makes a ruling and pronounces the verdict. The Verdict for Today is Resurrection. I think that Verdict and this passage tell us two things: THE TOMB IS EMPTY, BUT NOT THE PROMISE.
There are at least four places that I know of which some claim to be the tomb of Christ. There is one on the Mount of Olives, the hill directly across from Jerusalem. Another claims there is a tomb in the Garden of Gethsemane, we just haven’t found it yet.
In Jerusalem itself, there are two places that are celebrated as the tomb of Christ. The first is within the current walls of the city, but was actually outside the walls of the city when Jesus walked among us. It’s the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. I think this is probably the most historical.
The other place is known as the Garden Tomb. It looks more like what we think it should look like. It’s a garden and a tomb in the garden. But I’m not sure it’s the most historically correct.
But you know what all four of these places have in common? The tombs are empty. The Garden Tomb reminds you of that as you leave. On the door are the words of the Angel, “He’s not here, He is Risen.” The Tomb Is Empty.
II. BUT NOT THE PROMISE:
A. But what we need to remember is: THE TOMB IS EMPTY, BUT NOT THE PROMISE.
The Promise is Forgiveness and Resurrection for all who believe in Christ Jesus and accept Him as their personal Savior. Peter puts it this way in his first letter: 1 Peter 1:3-4 (NRSV)
 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,
 and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you.
Our inheritance is Eternal Life. Our inheritance can’t be destroyed. It can’t be defiled in any way. Nor will it ever fade. But THE PROMISE is not just about the future. It’s about today and every day. Jesus told us, “I am with you always.” And because of that Promise we can remember that THE TOMB IS EMPTY, BUT NOT THE PROMISE.
B. And knowing Jesus is alive and with us in every situation gives us confidence to live that promise in our daily lives. We no longer need to be frightened or afraid of what tomorrow might bring. We no longer need to fear death.
Even though Becky was born with birth defects, her faith helped carry her entire family through some difficult times. By the time she was four years old Becky had already had several operations. Becky was in the hospital recovering from yet another operation when an eight year old girl was brought into her room. The older girl was scheduled for brain surgery and was very frightened. She began to cry and soon became hysterical. Her parents tried their best to comfort her but realized they could not.
Becky sat quietly with a serious look on her face. Then suddenly she smiled. “I know what to do,” she whispered to her mother. She climbed off her mother’s lap and walked slowly toward the wailing girl.
“Don’t cry,” she said softly, rubbing the girl’s cheek. “I was afraid too” she told the older girl. “But I’m not anymore.”
The other girl was quietly crying as Becky continued to stroke her cheek. Between sobs the older child asked “Why aren’t you afraid now?”
Becky said, “Because I have my Jesus. No one has to be afraid if they have my Jesus.”
And with that Becky raised both of her hands to her heart and held them like a cup, as if scooping water from a fountain to drink.
“Here,” she said, “open your hands for me.” The other girl had stopped sobbing and was totally involved in their conversation. Solemnly she reached out as Becky transferred her most treasured possession into the cupped hands of her new friend. “Take my Jesus,” she said. “If my Jesus is with you, you won’t be afraid.” (2)
The risen Lord Jesus gives us confidence to face all of our tomorrow’s. The risen Lord is with us and will never desert us.
WE’RE CALLED TO REMEMBER THE PROMISES OF CHRIST. AND TO REMEMBER THAT THE TOMB IS EMPTY, BUT NOT THE PROMISE.
Do you remember High School English class? Not English lit or American lit. I mean the class where they taught or tried to teach us all about adjectives and adverbs and dangling participles? One of the things I remember about English class was diagramming sentences.
To diagram a sentence you had to know all parts and especially all the various tenses. Past, Present, Future and then there was one that always bumfuzzled people, the Future Perfect. According to the website, www.EnglishPage.com, “The Future Perfect expresses the idea that something will occur before another action in the future. It can also show that something will happen before a specific time in the future.” (3) A couple of Examples of Future Perfect:
By the time she gets home from work, he’s going to have cooked an entire meal.
By the time Mom and Dad get my report card, I will have moved in with Grandma.
As John Wesley said: “And best of all, the Risen Christ is with us.” No matter what my English teacher might say, THAT, my friends, is Future Perfect. God’s Verdict for Easter offers the most perfect future we can have, a future in which we receive our Promised inheritance, Eternal Life. All we have to remember is The Verdict and The Promise: THE TOMB IS EMPTY BUT NOT THE PROMISE.
This is the Word of the Lord for this day.
1. Adapted. Original Source unknown
2. Homiletics, April 11, 2004 (Communications Resources, Inc., Canton, OH)