The Empty Tomb


John 20: 1-10
Sermon delivered by Bishop Jonathan D. Keaton
The Garden Tomb, Jerusalem, Israel
February 19, 2014

John 20: 1-10 describes the Empty Tomb as Mary Magdalene, Simon, Peter and the disciple whom Jesus loves experience it.

The Son of God, Mary’s baby, laid in the tomb momentarily, a victim of state prosecution although he had no blood on his hands. They crucified our Lord as if he was a terrorist, a traitor or number 1 on the FBI Most Wanted List.

Remember, Herod tried and failed to kill Jesus in Bethlehem. Enraged that the Wise Men refused to give him the location on this new King of the Jews, King Herod slaughtered all the male children two years and younger. But Jesus had already escaped to Africa.

Folks in his hometown synagogue tried and failed to kill him. They were highly upset that Jesus claimed to be the Messiah after he read Isaiah 61 to them. The Spirit of the Lord made him do it. Before they threw Jesus off a cliff, he slipped through their hands. Some of the religious leaders in the Sanhedrin tried and failed to kill Jesus after he raised Lazarus from the grave. Like Bethlehem and Nazareth, they came up short. In Bethany, Jesus wept but didn’t die.

But Jerusalem, this Holy City, pulled off what no other city could. Trumped up charges resulted in a sentence of death. Jesus was crucified, died and buried, criminalized for an impeccable ministry steeped in righteousness. While the tomb is empty, I do acknowledge that the dirty tricks employed by Jesus’ enemies worked, albeit temporarily. Jesus died after committing his spirit into God’s hands.

Why is this important? Too often we’ve failed to believe what Jesus said about his suffering, death and resurrection. Three times, he told his disciples this was going to happen. And three times, his prophesy went in one ear and out the other. Jesus made John 3:16 crystal clear in his statement recorded in John 10: 17. “I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me (not Pontius Pilate, my enemies or a world of lost sinners). I lay it down on my own accord, I have the power to lay it down and I have the power to take it up.”

Don’t be deceived. His enemies meant crucifixion for evil; God and Jesus meant it for good. They held the trump card, namely resurrection.

For 2,000 years Christians have declared the tomb is empty because Jesus was raised from the dead. We’ve ignored the knee jerk of Mary Magdalene, “They have taken our Lord out of the tomb and we do not know where they have laid him” (John 20:2). Most importantly, we have totally rejected the calculated disinformation of chief priests and scribes contrived in Matthew 28: 11-15. Handed cash under the table, Roman soldiers bore false witness against the disciples claiming they stole Jesus’ body from the grave. A lot of people believed the lie.

The church has chosen to believe the post-resurrection testimony of these who walked, talked and followed Christ.

  1. Mark’s gospel says Jesus first appeared to Mary Magdalene. She carried the good news to disciples testifying “I have seen the Lord.” But they didn’t believe her. But it happened!
  2. In John’s gospel, our Lord appeared to eleven frightened disciples gathered in an Upper Room. “Peace be with you”, he said. Then he showed them his hands and side. “Receive the Holy Spirit”, he said.
  3. Jesus appeared to two disciples on the Emmaus Road. When our Lord made himself known to them in the breaking of bread they exclaimed “did not our hearts burn from within as we talked to him by the way?” They rushed to the eleven with news of their Risen Lord, “he is risen indeed.” Responded their colleagues, “Good Friday is going to be Easter.”
  4. Thomas wasn’t’ around when Jesus appeared to the disciples. He rejected the testimony of his fellow colleagues. “Unless I see the nail print on his hands and push on his side and touch them, I will not believe”, Thomas said. Later, Jesus appeared to Thomas. He ordered Thomas to touch the marks in his hands and side. And Thomas cried out, “My Lord and my God.”

Post-resurrection testimony from Jesus’ disciples and friends is all I need to undergird my belief that Jesus got up from the grave early Sunday morning with all power in his hands. A familiar Easter song sums up what I think about the Empty Tomb:

“I serve a risen Savior
He’s in the world today.
I know that He is living,
Whatever men may say.
I see His hand of mercy;
I hear His voice of cheer;
And just the time I need Him
He’s always near.
He lives, He lives, Christ Jesus lives today!
He walks with me and talks with me along life’s narrow way.
He lives, He lives, salvation to impart!
You ask me how I know He lives?
He lives within my heart.”