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The Resurrection of Christ: The Power of an Empty Tomb: Part 1

23 Apr

Six Powerful Witnesses of the Resurrection of Christ

I thoroughly enjoy John’s statement at the end of his epistle in John 20:30-31 “And many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book: But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name.”
There are a host of skeptics lining up to undermine and deny the powerful claims of the Bible. This book is loathed by many, because it presents an exclusive way of salvation, men as helpless before their Creator and accountable to Him, and it presents an immutable source of authority. Jesus said, “I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live,” and “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” John took the time to carefully develop before all who would take the time to listen the validity of the claims of Christ and His glorious gospel! Please notice the following six evidences that stand as a testimony to the skeptic.

 The Witness of an Empty Tomb John 20:1-10

“The first day of the week cometh Mary Magdalene early, when it was yet dark, unto the sepulcher, and seeth the stone taken away from the sepulcher…Then went in also that other disciple, which came first to the sepulcher, and he saw, and believed.” Now I know that an empty tomb is not enough to prove that Christ rose from the dead. Really all it proves is that his body was no longer in the grave, but notice what the text says about the disciple who saw the empty tomb. It says that when he saw the empty tomb, he believed. What did he believe? He believed the statements that Christ had given before the resurrection. He saw an empty tomb, once guarded by what was probably a Roman legion according to A. T. Robertson, and believed the statements that Christ had made concerning his death burial and resurrection. He saw with his eyes enough evidence to be convinced that Jesus is the risen Christ. It is amazing to believe that that little nugget of evidence is all that he needed to believe these statements. If that was all there was to the account, then I could understand the skeptics complaints for lack of evidence; however, each of these “evidences” stack one upon another to build an unquestionable case for the resurrection.

The Witness of Mary: John 20:11-18

“But Mary stood without at the sepulcher weeping: and as she wept, she stooped down, and looked into the sepulcher, And seeth two angels in white sitting, the one at the head, and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain. And they say unto her, Woman, why weepest thou? She saith unto them, because they have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid him. And when she had thus said, she turned herself back, and saw Jesus standing, and knew not that it was Jesus. Jesus saith unto her, Woman, why weepest thou? whom seekest thou? She, supposing him to be the gardener, saith unto him, Sir, if thou have borne him hence, tell me where thou hast laid him, and I will take him away. Jesus saith unto her, Mary. She turned herself, and saith unto him, Rabboni; which is to say, Master…Mary Magdalene came and told the disciples that she had seen the Lord, and that he had spoken these things unto her.” The empty tomb was enough for the apostle who believed; however, it was not enough for Mary Magdalene. When she came to the tomb and saw the stone rolled away, she assumed that the body of her Lord had been stolen. Her assumption has been presented by many skeptics today as well. If the empty tomb was not enough, then what would convince her? As she was in the midst of her confusion and sorrow, she was able to see and speak with the resurrected Christ bodily before her. Seeing was enough for Mary, and then she took what she had seen, and went to testify to the other disciples that had not received the same privilege that she had received. Now comes the challenging question: would you be satisfied enough to believe the testimony of a man who saw an empty tomb? Most would not. Then, how convinced would you be if it was the testimony of one woman who claimed that she had seen the resurrected Christ and talked to Him? This would be more credible; however, people who are emotionally charged are not usually reliable when it comes to giving the details of what they have witnessed.

The Witness of the Ten: John 20:19-20

“Then the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled for fear of the Jews, came Jesus and stood in the midst, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you. And when he had so said, he showed unto them his hands and his side. Then were the disciples glad, when they saw the Lord.” The third significant witness of Christ’s resurrection builds on the first two. Notice the condition of the apostles in verse 19. The text says that even though John had believed the moment that he saw the empty tomb, and Mary Magdalene had believed when she saw Christ, the rest of Christ’s disciples were cowering in hiding for fear of their lives. The text does not say that they believed or doubted the message, but it does show us by their actions, that there was significant fear, and in the case of at least one of the disciples, there was serious unbelief. The word of one eye-witness was not enough for them, but then again why should it be? Someone could not even be prosecuted on under Jewish law on the basis of one witness. The disciples needed more substantial proof then the testimony of Mary. That scenario is what makes this next section recorded by John so much more significant. These men needed proof of the resurrection, not just hear-say. The passage says that this exactly what they received. They saw the resurrected Christ with their eyes and were “glad” at this sight. They identified Him as the Christ when they saw the marks of His passion, and according to Luke’s account of this event, Jesus ate food before them demonstrating that they were not seeing a ghost, but the resurrected Lord bodily before them. Certainly the testimony of these ten men who saw the Lord would be a worthy enough record for anyone to believe!

The Witness of Thomas: John 20:26

“And after eight days again his disciples were within, and Thomas with them: then came Jesus, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, Peace be unto you…Then saith he to Thomas, Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side: and be not faithless, but believing. And Thomas answered and said unto him, My Lord and my God. Jesus saith unto him, Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.” I do not know if it would be fair to say that there is a crowning moment of testimony in the book of John, but if there is, then this would probably be that crowning moment in the book. Please keep in mind that John’s purpose is to validate the historical facts that become the basis of the Christian faith. John is not calling people to exercise a blind faith in something abstract or nebulous. He is calling all men everywhere to humbly depend upon this man that he claims is the sinless risen Savior of the world. What makes this section so powerful, you might ask? Think about the nature of Thomas’ skepticism. Thomas walked with Christ for over three years. He preached the gospel of the Kingdom of God. He saw countless miracles that demonstrated Christ’s identity. He heard the claims that Christ made about His person, both public and private. He knew the Old Testament and the prophecies of the Messiah. Thomas had probably performed miracles with the other disciples that validated their ministries as from Christ. Thomas heard all the discourses, and stayed by Christ’s side when others left Him. Now Thomas has the testimonies of an empty tomb, Mary, and the other ten disciples. What more did he need to believe? Notice what Thomas said in verse 25. “Unless I can see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe.” That statement stands as a sobering reminder of the natural attitude of fallen humanity toward God’s truth. Thomas said, I will not believe, unless God does something miraculous and unexplainable. In Luke 16, a rich man in hell cried out to Abraham to have mercy on his family and send Lazarus from the dead to testify to them that hell is real and the message of the Gospel is not to be taken lightly but embraced. We often think that if someone saw such an amazing sign, it would get his attention. Notice the words of Abraham to this rich man in Luke 16:29-31. Abraham said, “They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them…If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.” Though the “heavens declare the glory of God” to the far reaching corners of the planet according to Psalm 19, and the truths that God is Creator Lord, and Judge are seen in the midst of all creation according to Romans 1, man suppresses and ignores that truth that God graciously puts before him. This was the condition of Thomas, a skeptic who needed to believe the truth that was placed before him in his past and now in his present. What makes this section so special is not the degree of unbelief, but the humbled response of the skeptic when the Lord stood in His presence. His all-knowing Lord extended His hands and said touch my hands which were nailed to that cross for you sins. Look deeply into the scars that bear record of your paid sin debt. Believe on Me, and do not doubt! Thomas responded with this powerful testimony, you are “My Lord and my God.” Thomas believed when he saw for himself. Thomas’ doubts met squarely by fact and evidence stand as a powerful witness to the resurrection of Christ.

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