The Empty Tomb
Monday, April 9, 2012
As we get started, I want to mention a movie of the year that won 11 Academy Awards, including Best Picture. It’s the fictional story of A The Empty Tomb
Monday, April 9, 2012
OPENING SONG – Risen Today – Aaron Shust – This Is What We Believe
The resurrection and the empty tomb triggered profound shockwaves which had a ripple effect on every part of the first disciples thinking. The New Testament – from Acts to Revelation – is the result of these ripple effects – the fruit of their considered reflection born with the broader giving of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. What did Jesus’ apostles decide were the implications of his Resurrection? It turned their thinking upside down. It can and should do the same for Christ followers today. As we learn from their conclusions we were given a whole new way of understanding not just Jesus, but the very heart of God the Father and His future purposes for His world. At the same time the Resurrection is also an event which has important, unavoidable repercussions for us as individuals.
Three things we know from the empty tomb.
First, Jesus was vindicated by the empty tomb. The Resurrection gave those disciples a new understanding of Jesus himself – who he was and what he came to do. To put it mildly, if the God of Israel had chosen to raise this Galilean prophet from death, it suggested the stamp of divine approval. During his ministry there had been those who were opposed to Jesus and his work he came to do. But it was clear now that God himself thought quite differently. At the time of the crucifixion it had looked as though Jesus were a complete failure. Now that he had been raised from the dead, he had evidently received divine vindication. This cast a whole new light on Jesus’ ministry. It led the disciples to think the unthinkable as to who he really was, and also to look more deeply at the meaning of the cross. Who was that person dying on a Roman cross and what exactly was he doing there?
Second, from the empty tomb, we see Jesus’ life and teaching affirmed. As the disciples looked back over the 3 years of Jesus’ ministry, it was evident that all along he had said and done some surprising things. He had overturned their expectations as to what a godly prophet would do and what kind of company he would keep. Mark 2:16, ” when the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they asked his disciples, why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” Luke 7:39, ”when the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, if this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is–that she is a sinner.” He had claimed the ability to forgive people there sins. Mark chapter 2 verse 10: “but that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins. He said to the paralytic, I tell you get up, take your mat and go home. This amazed everyone and they praised God, saying, we have never seen anything like this! He broke rank with the traditions which had grown up concerning the observance of fasting, the Sabbath and the proper food to be eaten. Mark chapter 2 verse 18: ”now John's disciples and the Pharisees were fasting. Some people came and asked Jesus, how is it that John's disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees are fasting, but yours are not? Jesus answered, how can the guests of the bridegroom fast while he is with them? They cannot, so long as they have him with them. But the time will come when the bridegroom will be taken away from them, and on that day they will fast. No one sews a patch of unsewn cloth on an old garment. If he does, the new piece will pull away from the old, making the tear worse. And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the wineskins will be ruined. No, he pours new wine into new wineskins.” Jesus broke rank with tradition for the sake of his new covenant kingdom. And what really bothered the religious leaders of his day, was Jesus and the Sabbath. Mark chapter 2 verse 23:” Jesus was going through the grain fields and as his disciples walked along, they began to pick some heads of grain. The Pharisees said to him, look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath? He answered, have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need? In the days of Abiathar the high priest, he entered the house of God and ate the consecrated bread, which is lawful only for priests to eat. And he also gave some to his companions. Then he said to them, the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.” And as we read the Gospels this happens repeatedly. Mark chapter 3,” another time he went into the synagogue, and a man with a shriveled hand was there. Some of them were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched him closely to see if he would heal him on the Sabbath. Jesus said to the man with the shriveled hand, stand up in front of everyone. Then Jesus asked him, which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill? But they remained silent. He looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts, said to the man, stretch out your hand. He stretched it out, and his hand was completely restored. Then the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus.” Jesus also drew anger from the religious leaders when it came to food and the ceremonial washing of hands before eating. Mark chapter 7 verse 5: ”so the Pharisees and teachers of the law asked Jesus, why don't your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with unclean hands? He replied, Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written: these people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men. You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men. And he said to them: you have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions!”
In some ways he seemed to be redefining the law. And in calling 12 disciples, he gave a clear hint that he was redefining the law he gave a clear hint that he was reconstituting Israel around himself. Above all, in his elusive references to himself as the Son of Man and as the suffering servant, he was giving a whole new twist to the role of the long-awaited Messiah. Now this Jesus had been raised from death. So the God of Israel was effectively saying yes to all these shocking activities and claims. Although they had not understood his words at the time, Jesus had also predicted that he would be raised again from the dead. The resurrection proved him right. He was God's true prophet Jesus’ prophetic call to Israel, warning like Jonah of judgment to come if there was no repentance, had been a true call. Luke 13:5, ”I tell you, no! Unless you repent, you too will all perish.” His interpretation of the Scriptures, which was marked both by deep loyalty and radical re-evaluation, was a true interpretation. His miracles, which some could only explain by invoking the name of Beelzebub, had truly been accomplished through the finger of God, not Satan. And his teaching, which to his followers had all along possessed a unique authority, was now confirmed as possessing an authority that came from God himself. Jesus himself had said that human beings live by every word that comes from the mouth of God. Not surprising, then, Jesus’ disciples now treasured in their memory every word that had proceeded from the mouth of Jesus. Everything about Jesus’ ministry, what he said and what he did, was seen in a sharp new way in the light of the resurrection–indeed as embodying the very words and works of God himself.
Third, the identity of Jesus was clearly revealed by the empty tomb. It was not only Jesus words and actions that needed examination from this new vantage point, it was Jesus himself! Who was this person? Obviously this had been a hot topic in the minds of many people for the past 3 years. Jesus himself once asked his disciples for their opinion on the matter. On that occasion Peter found himself using the word “Messiah” and Jesus confirmed his verdict. But he immediately made it clear to both Peter and the other disciples that their thinking still had a long way to go. This Messiah would not do what the political activists wanted, but strangely would suffer and die in Jerusalem. Now, in the light of that death and resurrection in Jerusalem, it was confirmed that Jesus really was the Messiah–even if a very different one from what was expected. As Peter said in his first sermon ever, recorded in acts Chapter 2, the resurrection revealed that God had made Jesus to be both “Lord” and “Messiah”. This is stranger than it appears. In the popular religion of the time there were various tasks that the Messiah might perform. He was expected to restore the independent sovereignty of the Jewish people in their own land, to bring an end to pagan domination, to establish peace, to rebuild the Temple and to reform its worship. Yet on the surface of things, this Messiah had not apparently fulfilled any of these expectations. On what basis then could Peter and eventually all the New Testament writers make this bold assertion that Jesus was the Jewish Messiah? The claim would have been a non--starter, but for one thing: the resurrection. Certainly, some vague sentimental notion that Jesus’ spirit somehow lived on. would not have been sufficient to justify this radical new way of thinking. Jesus’ resurrection gave them the evidence they needed. God had vindicated Jesus. He had endorsed Jesus as the true Messiah. Jesus re-definition of the Messiah must therefore be correct. So if this was what Israel's Messiah truly looked like, they had to look again at those messianic expectations. Even if it was in unexpected ways, Jesus had fulfilled the messianic tasks. Peters first sermon also broke new ground in declaring publicly that, through the resurrection, God had vindicated Jesus as Lord. This represents the Greek word “curios”, a word which at one level can simply mean master. But it also had a far more staggering meaning. For this same word was the regular word used in the Greek version of the Bible used at the time of Jesus and was the word used to translate the word for God himself. In using this word as a title for Jesus–it occurs over 300 times in the epistles alone–the New Testament writers were making a startling claim–namely that Jesus was to be identified with the God of Israel himself. Previously the watch word of Jewish faith was the Shema of Deuteronomy 6:4, ”Hear, Oh Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” Now within 25 years of the resurrection a thoroughly Jewish writer like Saul of Tarsus could dare to say instead: “There is one God … and one Lord, Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 8:6.) Jesus has somehow been placed right there within the very being of God himself! Later in 1st Corinthians he also quotes the Aramaic word “Maranatha”, which means: “Oh Lord, come!” – a clear sign that the first Aramaic speaking believers in Jerusalem and Galilee had thought of Jesus as Lord. So from the earliest days Jesus’ followers dared to take for themselves the watchword which was quite different from that of their Jewish contemporaries: “Jesus is Lord”. Can you say that like they did then? Is Jesus your Lord? Is the Christ of the empty tomb your Christ? What made them do it? One thing. The resurrection. What makes you call Jesus your Lord? The resurrection. The tomb is empty. For Paul the resurrection also validates the use of another right title for Jesus–not just Messiah and Lord–but also Son of God. Jesus, he says, is declared to be the Son of God by resurrection from the dead. This too is a title used throughout the New Testament of Jesus–over 50 times in just the epistles. It was a phrase which had been used in a looser sense by the people of Israel as a whole. Now it was used of one specific individual with the clear intention of ascribing to him a unique and divine status. Jesus shared in the very being of God himself. This striking claim was based on one supreme event: the resurrection. They could now could see that Jesus had always been the son of God, even before the resurrection. What he was now, was what he had always been. Yet it was the resurrection and the empty tomb which declared this truth in a public way. The resurrection was God's way of revealing to the world what had previously been not fully clear–Jesus unique identity. On seeing the risen Lord, Thomas declared the unthinkable, which we all must declare:” my Lord and my God!”
CLOSING SONG - Eternal Life Has Risen – The Odes
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