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Grave Robbers

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Apr. 15, 2001 AM

Miles City Wesleyan Church

Miles City Mt.

Grave Robbers

1 Cor. 15:19-26

                They called him "Resurrection Man."

He was a 36-year-old slave, purchased for $700 (a considerable sum in those days) off an auction block in Charleston, South Carolina, in 1852. His buyer was the Medical College of Georgia, and his mission was morbid but simple: to provide the medical school with fresh cadavers.

Everyone knew that his real name was Grandison Harris. But doctors playfully plastered him with the nickname Resurrection Man once he got good at robbing the local black cemetery and bringing the bodies back to school. 

The Resurrection Man was good. According to an eyewitness, he would go to the cemetery late at night, with only the moon watching. Quickly, he would dig down to the upper end of the box, smash it with an ax, reach in there with his long and powerful arms and draw the body out. He would put the cadaver in a big sack, place it in a cart and then - after restoring the grave to good order - carry the body to the school.

Grandison Harris was really a glorified grave robber, not a true Resurrection Man. He didn't bring the dead to life, but instead desecrated a cemetery and then carted its cadavers back to the doctors of the medical college. The closest he came to witnessing a resurrection was when he took a break one night after completing a job. The story is that he parked his loaded wagon in an alley and went inside a saloon to refresh himself.

Two medical students had been watching Harris, and when he disappeared they removed the body from his sack and hid it. Then one of them climbed into the sack. When Grandison returned to his wagon, the student groaned in a grave like voice:

"Grandison ... Grandison ... I'm cold. Buy me a drink!"   The results were predictable! 

About the same as the soldiers and disciples who found an empty tomb on resurrection morning, confused and scared witless.

The authorities had an explanation: grave robbers! The disciples dun it, they said. The chief priests and elders of Jerusalem gave a large sum of money to the guards who had witnessed the resurrection and insisted that they spread the story: "His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep" (Matthew 28:13).

Resurrection. Grave robbing. There's a long-standing link.

Still, this whole topic is bound to make us uncomfortable. The thought of tearing the top off a tomb is enough to make our skin crawl, and disturbing the dead in their place of final rest is one of the world's most enduring taboos. 

In China, three men were executed for robbing grave sites and destroying ancient corpses. In Beijing, at least 16 people were executed for stealing ancient Buddha statues, robbing graves and destroying ancient corpses in a nationwide crackdown on crime. 

So it's a bad day for grave robbers. Contemporary coffin-cracking criminals are getting caught, and this is a good thing. We really ought to slap the cuffs on thieves who plunder tombs for treasure - whether they are looking for bones that are valuable in themselves, or coins or jewelry or artwork that may have been interred with the body - as the Egyptians and other ancients often did.

Easter is always a bad day for the tomb raiders of the world, because nothing bothers a grave robber more than an empty tomb. On the day of the resurrection, Mary Magdalene and a group of women arrive at the grave, carrying spices and ointments and fully expecting to be greeted by the stench of death. But when they go in, they find no body. Mary assumes that grave robbers have already been there and done their dirty work, and she cries out to Peter, "They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him" (John 20:2). 

Then Peter gets up and runs to the tomb, climbs in and looks around. The only treasure he sees is a pile of linen cloths - hardly a valuable find in itself.

But the great treasure of the tomb is already gone. It just takes a little while for this shocking new reality to sink in. After Peter goes home, Mary stands weeping outside the grave, still convinced that the tomb has been robbed. It is only when Jesus appears to her and calls her by name that she discovers that her teacher has been raised to new life. Then she goes and announces to the disciples, "I have seen the Lord" (John 20:18).

There's no treasure in this tomb. No, the grave is cleaned out because Christ has been raised. The most valuable of bodies is not wrapped in a shroud - it is out and about in a resurrection body, appearing to the disciples, and to others, and now to people throughout the world. Jesus Christ is not going to be found in a grave, by tomb raiders or anyone else. "He is not here," proclaim the men in dazzling clothes on that first Easter morning. "He is not here, but has risen" (Luke 24:5). 

The point is that on Easter morning, we win it all. We are presented with a treasure more valuable that anything that's been plucked from the Titanic, unearthed from an Indian grave or stolen from the tomb of King Tut. Today we are given a gift of life, not death - a gift of the power and the presence of our risen Lord.

Treasures simply don't get any better than that.  Because he lives, we live. If we are living a graveyard existence - feeling like we are cadavers ourselves, decomposing through sinful actions, mindless work, dead-end relationships and stone-cold spirituality - Jesus rises before us with new life. He offers us forgiveness and guidance, inspiration and salvation, asking only that we put our trust in him and walk in his way. He invites us to join him in a new kind of life - a resurrection life - one that no longer fears sickness or sin or loneliness or death but focuses only on the abundant and everlasting life that begins and ends in God. 

The treasures of this new life are not stored up on earth, like the Egyptian treasures that gather dust in collections around the world. Nor are they gifts that can be bought or sold, traded or stolen. These treasures are all heavenly, not earthly - all part of an eternal relationship with God. 

These gifts never carry curses, like the legendary treasures of the Pharaohs. Only blessings. Only hope. Only everlasting life. Only the promise of victory over the grave.

So go ahead: Put your trust in the Resurrection Man. It's a very good day for raiders of his empty tomb. 

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