Sermon Preached at Grace Community Church (EPC)
Sun City Grand, Surprise, AZ
Sunday, April 8, 2018
by the Reverend Cooper McWhirter
“The Wonder of It All!”
On Easter Sunday, we spoke of two traveling companions who were on the road to Emmaus. As part of Jesus’ ‘inner-circle’, they heard rumors about the women discovering that His tomb was empty. is tomb to be empty But Cleopas and his wife didn’t stay around to find out what happened. They simply wrote it off. Perhaps thinking it was all a hoax! Could the same be said of you and me?
This morning we’ll examine eye-witnesses accounts as to what really happened on that first Easter. Those who were ‘in the know’. However, these accounts varied. Some turned out to be patently false! So, what are we to make of all this?
Much of what we believe is based on faith; not speculation. But our Christian faith is not a ‘blind’ faith. It’s a faith that is verifiable. In part because of documented testimonies offered by credible witnesses.
When it comes to the death and bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ, a person can ill-afford to be impervious as to known facts. Ultimately, either you believe, or you choose not to believe. There can be no ‘fence-sitters. Dear ones, it is that simple; and it is that profound. But this much we do know. There will be consequences!
A family was watching the Easter story on television. The parents had seen this movie on numerous occasions. They knew the ending before the beginning. Their youngest child, however, was especially moved by the dramatic scenes. Especially when Jesus was beaten, scourged, and crucified. Tears streamed down her cheeks, but she spoke not a word. Then, when it showed Jesus’ body being placed in the tomb, suddenly she shouted aloud: “Now comes the good part!”
Yes, “Now comes the good part!” Easter marks the day when Christians celebrate the glorious resurrection of their Lord and Savior. Although this was a one-time event in redemptive history, it should be remembered and observed throughout the year!
The Easter story is not folklore. It wasn’t a legend, or a storyteller’s fairy tale. Nor was it fabricated by an enterprising business just to sell greeting cards, chocolate bunnies, or Easter eggs.
Although Calvary’s cross has come to symbolize Jesus being raised from the dead, it is the empty tomb that will forever epitomize our Lord’s victory over sin and death. A victory which every believer will one day experience for themselves.
And yet, on that first Easter morn there were few who grasped the significance of the empty tomb. In this passage, some tried to explain away the unexplainable. Which goes to show that this momentous event…WAS SEEN DIFFERENTLY (repeat).
Before the break of dawn, Mary Magdalene and Mary, the mother of James, came to Jesus’ tomb. A great earthquake had purportedly occurred. Like the tremor on Good Friday when, at the precise moment Jesus yielded up His Spirit, “…the earth shook; and the rock were split” [Matthew 27:51].
The millstone, estimated to have weighed 2,000 lbs., sealing the tomb’s entrance mysteriously had been rolled away. This fact alone should peak our curiosity, which raises the obvious question: “Was the stone removed to allow Jesus’ exit? Or, was the stone rolled away to allow the women, and then later for Peter and John to enter and examine its contents.
As the women drew closer, an angel appeared whom they described as being bright like a bolt of lightning, and His garment a glistening white like fresh-fallen snow.
The angel assured these women not to be afraid, saying: “I know that you are looking for Jesus who has been crucified. He is not here, for He has risen, just as He had said.” The angel invited the women to draw closer to see for themselves that His tomb was indeed empty.
The angel instructed the women to tell the disciples to depart for Galilee where they, too, would see the risen Lord. The women made a hasty departure but then suddenly they came ‘face-to-face’ with the Lord who greeted and reassured them not to be afraid. And they knelt at His feet and worshipped Him. The Lord reminded them that the disciples were to meet Him in Galilee.
But let’s assume that you decide to discount what these women saw with their own eyes. You presume, just as the disciples did, that they were hallucinating and were not in control of their facilities. But then how do you explain what the Roman soldiers said who guarded the tomb? Scripture tells us [that]: “…the guards shook for fear of him (presuming this was the angel) and they became like dead men.” These were their words; not ours!
But besides seeing things differently, what was later: REPORTED WAS ALSO DIFFERENT (repeat).
It doesn’t matter what gospel narrative you read, or what Bible translation you prefer. You will find remarkable similarities as well as subtle differences as to what events happened that Easter. The gospel writers add to this mystic. Inadvertently, they help to distinguishing between fact and fiction. That’s because if the four narratives were written verbatim, we would have suspected collusion. As if they had fabricated a myth. Instead, each writer wrote from his own unique perspective. At times choosing not to reiterate, or otherwise duplicate, what was already written.
And yet, many, if not most, of the events of that first Easter were collaborated and authenticated by all four writers. Their accounts were interwoven, knitted together, into one Gospel. The Gospel of Jesus Christ which is all together: reliable, verifiable and irrefutable!
But supposing you decide to disavow what the gospel writers reported. But know this. Over the last two thousand years there is not a single accredited scientist, literary scholar, or historian has come forward with a single iota of fact to disprove both the work and Person of Jesus Christ!
I find it rather amusing how skeptics and naysayers have clumsily attempted to explain away what really happened between Good Friday and Easter. Preposterous suppositions have been tossed about for centuries! For example, some have claimed that Jesus didn’t really die on the cross at Calvary. He simply feigned death and then was later resuscitated because of the cool, damp tomb.
They seem to have conveniently forgotten that a soldier ran a spear through Jesus’ side causing both water and blood to pour out. Irrefutable proof that death had occurred. It might interest you to know that if a Roman soldier had mistakenly taken down a crucified subject before he had died, that soldier was obliged to take his place!
Others have argued that Jesus’ body was removed by the disciples.
Such theorists fail to mention that the soldiers guarding the tomb were armed with swords and spears. The tomb’s entrance was affixed with a Roman seal which was to warn anyone who might tamper with, or otherwise disturb the gravesite. An offense punishable by death.
Some would have us believe that the risen Lord appeared to only a select few. But this, too, is false. The apostle Paul, in his first letter to the Corinthians, wrote: “…after He was buried, and then raised on the third day day…He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time…” [1 Corinthians 15:4-6a]. So, are we to assume that all five hundred people were in a trance!
Which leads us to believe that the events of that first Easter: WERE BASED ON TRUTH; NOT FICTION (repeat).
Remember the 1960’s TV show, “Truth or Consequences” hosted by Bob Barker? People laughed hysterically at the antics of the contestants. But the story of Easter is not a laughing matter! What Christ accomplished on the cross at Calvary will determine your fate and mine. You cannot casually dismiss, or otherwise discount the events from Good Friday to Easter Sunday.
Yes, people saw things differently. And they reported events differently. But the truth remains the same. Truth does not go away! It’s my firm belief that the names written down in the “Lamb’s Book of Life” are penned with Jesus’ blood; not with a pencil and eraser!
What I find most problematic for unbelievers can be found in verses 11-15. The soldiers guarding Jesus’ tomb went into the city. Notice, they didn’t go to their superiors. Sleeping while on guard duty called for the death penalty. Instead, they appealed to the high priest, Caiaphas. They told him all the things that had happened. The ruling council chose to make up a false narrative. The soldiers were then given “hush money.” A great deal of money!
They concocted a ‘half-baked’ story saying that Jesus’ body was exhumed by His disciples. In verse 15, we’re told that soldiers took the money “…and did as they were instructed, and this story was widely spread among the Jews, and is to this day.”
But, for those who still find it difficult to believe, let me ask you: “If the Easter story is just that…a story. Then why did the Jewish council find it necessary to fabricate a lie? And why would they have paid these soldiers to gain their silence?” It doesn’t add up!
Perhaps the most telling words were from Caiaphas. In addressing the ruling council, he said: “You know nothing at all, nor do you take into account that it is expedient for you that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation should not perish” [John 11:49, 50]. Dear ones, truer words…prophetic words…were never spoken from the lips of an unbeliever!
Let us pray…