An Almost Empty Tomb-John 20:3-10
Rev. Dr. J. D. Landis
Easter is the moment we have been anticipating for the last two months. It is the high point for the Church of Jesus Christ. There are approximately 2.2 billion people who claim to be followers of Jesus and most of them will be out on Easter. The University of Michigan recently reviewed statistics that showed some very high percentages of people who claim to believe and attend worship. The article said, that it is probably slightly higher because people overstate the case. But it showed 89% for Nigeria, 84% for Ireland, and 40% for the U.S. I truly believe that it is not always just basic duty that brings people out on Easter, but I think that deep down in their hearts people want to see what faith is all about and want to be assured of the resurrection.
Now I am aware this morning that we all have different levels of faith. What I want to say to you is that Jesus Christ wants to meet you wherever you are and remove your doubts. You may have faith but find yourself doubting like the disciples did, or you may be more skeptical like Thomas who says I just can’t believe at all until I see more. If you are one of those gathered here this morning who have a great deal of doubt and skepticism I want to tell you that I went through that too in college. I drifted from church and did not live out my faith daily. I also had professors that sought to bring doubt. One professor questioned the resurrection, the bible and even Jesus existence. He tried to tell us that other religions were the source of Christianity. I remember struggling with doubt, just not knowing how to answer Him.
At that point I had no resources to draw upon. I was in tears one night as I called out to God. I knew Christ was the way, but did not know how to answer him. All of a sudden the lights went on. I saw that Jesus Christ is the only one who promises eternal life, and the only one who claimed to be God, and who also died for us. No other religion has that. I went on to be a strong Christian. Being in the ministry, I have based my whole life on the truth of the resurrection. My belief is why I am who I am. Many others like Josh McDowell and C. S. Lewis also went through a similar crisis. C. S. Lewis was a college professor at Oxford. His conversion changed the whole Christian world. His writings still impact the whole world. His Chronicles of Narnia are being portrayed in the movies.
If you want to go deeper in understanding the Easter Story, reading all the accounts in the Gospels you will find the Easter story reads like a Sherlock Holmes suspense movie. It was a “who done it kind of search” that lasted for about 18 hours. There were 8-10 women and 11 disciples, but many others who were asking questions, sorting things out and seeking to know what is hoax and what is real truth. Luke 24:9 says that the stories were being talked about by lots of people in the Christian community. And the Good News is that Jesus Christ was and is there to remove all doubts, even the greatest with doubting Thomas. The signs, evidences and clues that Jesus gave were not only for the disciples but they were for you and me. The bible says the account of these things were written so that all of us might know that we have eternal life. I want to have that assurance of faith to live every day with victory, and I want to have that assurance of faith that when my time comes I can rejoice as God takes me home to heaven. Don’t you? *** So let these things build up your faith. One of the greatest evidences that our bible is true and that the resurrection is real are the predictions that Jesus Christ made years before they happened, and also the many predictions in the Old Testament about His life, death and resurrection. Often when Jesus told about something that was going to happen to Him, He quoted thousand year old prophecies.
People get all excited about Nostradamus, Edgar Cayce and Jean Dixon and the things they spoke that came to pass, but the prophecies in the bible have them beat by 10,000 times. One of the best bible scholars Dr. J. P. Free, says that there are 332 distinct prophecies in the Old Testament fulfilled in Christ. He says the mathematical probabilities of that happening in one man is 1/84000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000. That is 1 over 84 and 97 zero’s. That almost seems like infinity. A trillion is 10 to the 12th power. This would be a trillion to the 8th power. So basically it is mathematically totally impossible for this to have happened by chance. Only one person could have made this all happen…God. I believe that Jesus has given us enough evidence to believe in the resurrection. He also gave the disciples enough evidence. I counted about 12 things He told them that were going to happen, that were fulfilled in 3 days. I am sure He told them more. But they just had an awful time getting it. He told them ahead of time that He would be betrayed, He said He would be delivered over to the authorities, He would be mocked, spit upon, whipped and then killed. He also said He would go ahead and meet them in Galilee.
If I told you 12 specific things that were going to happen to you, in the next three days, and they all came to pass. These things are recorded in Mark 9:31 and 10:34. How did they miss it? Some of these things He said over and over. But we like the disciples sometimes just cannot put it together either. Has not God showed us things at times that we have forgotten? Did God ever speak to your heart at a vacation bible school as a child? God did to me at age 10 and that is where I first believed. Were you ever in youth group or Sunday school and the lights went on for you? Has anyone here had a grandmother or grandfather in whom you really saw Jesus? I did. Did anyone have a mother pray for you in war or time of danger and God protected you? Wasn’t God speaking there? If you have not believed yet is there someone who has been reaching out to you with love, that you might believe in Jesus. Isn’t God speaking there? I think God is speaking but often we are not listening, or not understanding. It will all come together when you give your heart to Jesus Christ.
Well the disciples were trying to sort it all out. Mary just had to go and get Peter and John. John got to the tomb before Peter and looked in first. The tomb was low, so the bible said he had to stoop to look in. He saw the empty tomb with the grave clothes. Peter being the more impulsive one, does not just look in, but he steps in and there he sees the grave clothes also. The grave clothes of the body is in one section and the grave clothes of the head is in another. Most sermons on Easter emphasize that the tomb was empty and it was. But I want to offer to you today, that it was the almost empty tomb, that also gave much evidence that Jesus was still living. What am I talking about? I am referring to the linen clothes.
There has been a lot of debate about what kind of wrapping was around Jesus, was it a sheet, was it a shroud? But it dawned on me this week that we have missed two very, very important clues. God has given us in His Word some explicit instruction about how Jesus was wrapped. Does anyone like a good crossword puzzle? The fun thing for me is to get a series of words around the one word I can’t get, to unravel the mystery. You see the bible is like a crossword puzzle and each word or idea that you get helps you to find the next one.
Do you remember who else was wrapped in linen and placed in a tomb? It was Lazarus. In John 11 we have a story, that probably is just about a clone of what God was going to do with Jesus. Lazarus had been dead for 4 days when Jesus had gotten there. Now Lazarus is in a cave with a big stone over it. Hmm… Cave, big stone, a man who has been dead for 3-4 days, wrapped in linen clothes with many people upset weeping. What does that remind us of? Can you possibly imagine that Jesus did not picture his own death as he stood there? I don’t think so? Could you possibly imagine when He called Lazarus forth that He did not think of the Father calling Him forth. Could he possibly see the man walk out and not think of himself in linen clothes? Especially with burial being very traditional.
God gave Jesus a picture of His own death and resurrection. That is part of the reason He wept. God showed the disciples exactly how it was going to happen too, but when they get there just a week or so later they forgot it all. I got a new insight on this. When Jesus told Mary and Martha I am the resurrection, He was literally saying you are not only going to see Lazarus, but you are going to see what is going to happen to me, because I am going to rise. Some of you are might ask pastor, isn’t there anyone today who would be a living example of someone rising like Lazarus, so all of us could have the same encouragement. I am glad you asked that.
Do you know that they believe now that there are close to 10,000 million people who have had a near death or real death experience and have seen heaven and have seen Jesus, loved ones and saints in heaven? The most recent one is this 10 year old boy who was on T. V. Some people made fun of him, but others were amazed. I think he said there are pets in heaven. There is also a new report out from Nigeria of a pastor who was stone cold dead for a day or so, whom they prayed over and claim that He came to life. He too has a lot to tell. We also have the story of Don Pieper. God uses these things to bring people to faith.
A Chinese pastor was sent to a slave labor camp. He was so effective in sharing his faith, that they beat him if he talked to anyone. They were to watch him at night and if he moved his lips in prayer they beat him. One day he fell down into an iron ore pit. The camp doctor tried to revive him. Lee said he saw many things in 90 minutes. After no results they began to dig a grave for him. Li opened his eyes. The doctor said who are you? He said Li Tianen. Do you believe in God, Li said yes. The doctor said now I believe in God too. Many thousands have believed in Jesus in China because of this. So now we know that these grave clothes of Jesus were like what was on Lazarus. What we don’t know is how Jesus was resurrected. Did He just pass through the clothes as He did through a door later that night or did He come to life and then unwrap them Himself or was it with the help of the angels. In some sense it does not matter, we can ask that when we get to heaven. But here is what matters. The clothes were in an orderly fashion. The head piece was carefully wrapped and laid in a position separate from the other clothes, that were probably in a coiling shape.
Jesus is seeking to reach the disciples and you and I with all our doubts not only by the empty tomb, but by the fact that He carefully wrapped these clothes. Jesus was giving a message. First He was saying, I have not been stolen. They would not have wrapped my clothes up and laid them here, they would have just whisked me out as is. Secondly, I have wrapped up these clothes to show you that I am alive and in command. Just as I told you I would rise and I will also be coming to see you in Galilee as I said. Now we can see this all pretty clearly, but Mary, Peter, John and the rest missed it.
It appears that Peter and John went back and really pondered this evidence, when the lights went on we don’t know. But Jesus now really ramps up the evidence, for now He makes His first resurrection appearance. It is to Mary. Jesus will ramp up His efforts to teach us too, if we like Mary will have that eager, open and deep desire to know the truth. Now Mary sees Him in the garden, thinking He is the gardener, but then her eyes are opened and she sees that it is Jesus. Mary has this extra dose of love, and faith that seem to be missing in the others. Because of her perseverance she gets the privilege of being the first to see the risen Christ. Friends, I want to say to you, if you keep hanging in there and seeking and searching God is going to show you Himself, and God is going to put some things together that you just could not understand before. We like Mary need to persevere, to literally leave no stone unturned, to watch and wait with faith, hope and love. And Jesus will help us with our doubts with our struggles with our uncertainties, both daily and for the long haul. Our family went away for vacation at the beginning of April. It was a good time of rest, and refreshment, all of us being together. When I came back I said Lord let me ease back into the work, and don’t let me get hit with everything all at once. That prayer was answered, but the answer was it will not be peaceful at first but it will come later.
First, I went to see Andrew Allie, at U of M. And he was in rough condition, he was so in distress, and he told me it was his worst day ever in illness. He could hardly talk. I was devastated.
Then on the same day I went to see Jan Peterson, and she was on a respirator and I could not wake her up. That was a downer too. On top of that I was anxious about all the changes here with staff and leaders. Then I learned that my daughter had a bump on her head that had to be removed. In the mix my wife has had this horrible cough, that the doctors cannot sort out. Then Bethany our other daughter got sick too. I also learned that a cousin learned had serious lung cancer. And my wife’s Aunt, like a second mom, seemed to be fading with a blood disease. I said Lord I can’t carry all this, you just have to help me. Show your victory Oh God in these circumstances.
Well on Wednesday and Thursday I was amazed as resurrection hope just seemed to rise up. Andrew called me and said, I am doing much better. The prayers really helped me. I learned that Jan was out of her coma. The doctor said, he could not find my daughters lump, so it is ok for now. I learned that the cousin who had lung cancer, was prayed over, and the doctors think they can remove it in a contained surgery. When I went to see Aunt Mary Lou, she looked just great, God keeps sustaining her. Not everyone in our house is well yet, but God just lifted me up, when I said Lord you are going to have to take it. Now not all difficulties work out quite that quickly, but God is still working in our doubts and uncertainties.
Jesus wants to just keep coming to us, and showing us that He is alive. Wherever you are today Jesus wants to come to you. He wants to search you out and show you he is alive. All you need do is open the door. Behold He said I stand at the door and knock. No matter what you are facing He can guide you through it. Perhaps now you just see the grave clothes, but Jesus is going to come and show you life. He is now arranging things to bring you to a place of hope and joy. But you must give Him your heart. You must accept the truth. The evidence is there. He is Alive. He wants to give you eternal life. The resurrection demands a verdict from you today. Don’t miss it.