The Empty Tomb
Have you experienced any situations in life where reality does not match up to your expectations? You probably have. For example, sometimes when our kids were younger Grace might try to slip some healthy ingredient into a favorite food of theirs. They would take a bite and the reality just wouldn’t quite match up to their expectation. There would be the immediate, “Mom, what’s in this?”
I remember one time when Grace even tried that on my brother and father. Both despise mushrooms, but Grace and I love mushrooms in our spaghetti sauce. One time early in our marriage…I think it might have been the first time my family came to visit Grace made spaghetti. She used her food processor and chopped up some mushrooms really fine and hid them in her sauce. A few minutes into the meal we looked across the table and there was my brother picking out these little tiny bits from his sauce. He had discovered this sauce reality didn’t meet expectation. My dad claimed he noticed them as well, but he choked them down.
Sometimes expectations and reality don’t line up. In some cases, it is a fairly easy matter to readjust our expectations; but at other times we find such adjustments quite difficult. It usually depends on how much we have invested in our expectations.
This morning we are going to encounter people who had to go through one of these surprise adjustments…people whose expectations were far different from the reality they encountered. If you joined our service on Friday, we briefly examined Luke’s account of the crucifixion events found in chapters 22 and 23 of his Gospel. This morning we are going to come back to Luke to look at his record of what happened early on the following Sunday morning.
Our verses will primarily deal with a discovery made by a group of ladies very early that day. These ladies were mentioned in the very last verse we read on Friday. To help us tie everything together, I want to go back to that verse to begin reading this morning. Turn with me in your Bibles to Luke 23, verse 49. This is the final verse recording the scene at the cross…<read 23:49>. There…at the cross on that Friday afternoon, nearly 2000 years ago…were a group of ladies who had accompanied Jesus on His travels from Galilee to Jerusalem. They had been with Him during this fateful week and then had stood there at a distance when He died on the cross. They had stayed with Him until the end.
Now read along with me as we close out the events of that Friday…read <23:50–56>. These same ladies had observed the place where Jesus was buried…the tomb He had been laid in by this wealthy man, Joseph of Arimathea. The glimpse that we have in these few verses is that of a small band of very devoted ladies. They had stood by Jesus as He died, ministering to Him through the comfort of their presence. They had followed along as His body was taken and placed in the tomb. These are ladies who loved Jesus greatly.
These few brief glimpses into the lives of these ladies on that fateful Friday are helpful as we look to our passage for this morning. As we read our verses for today, we will encounter these devoted ladies coming upon the surprise of their lives as they discover the empty tomb.
Transition from introduction to body:
Let’s read our verses from the beginning of chapter 24, verses 1–12…<read 24:1–12>. As we think about these verses together this morning, the first thing that I want us to contemplate is…
I. The Reality of the Empty Tomb
Let’s begin with the reality presented in these verses. There are two aspects to this reality that are clearly expressed. First off, there is…
A. The expectation of a dead body
The one thing that is crystal clear in these verses is that the women were not expecting to find an empty tomb that morning. They were fully expecting to come to the tomb and find Jesus’ body there. They had spent the remainder of the evening on Friday…prior to sunset when the Passover Sabbath began, preparing burial spices and perfumes. Now, at daybreak, we find the ladies heading out to the tomb carrying these spices.
Now, it had already been almost a day and a half since Jesus had died. Not trying to be too crass, I want you to realize that in that Palestine climate decomposition would set in very quickly. These women saw it as critical that they get the spices to the tomb as soon as possible. The spices would serve to mask the unpleasant odors that accompanied decomposition.
While that is not too pleasant to think about, these spices are a very clear indication of what the ladies’ expectation was that morning. They had seen Jesus’ body placed in the tomb and that body is what they expected to find when they arrived there.
The passage later makes it equally clear that the disciples had the same expectation. When the ladies came and told the remaining eleven disciples—remember, Judas, the disciple who betrayed Jesus, was no longer with them—when the ladies came and told the eleven disciples that the tomb was empty, the disciples didn’t believe them.
In fact, Luke uses a very interesting word in verse 11 to describe the disciples’ thoughts as to the ladies’ report that the tomb was empty. The word that we have translated as “nonsense” is a medical term. We should remember that Luke is a doctor…the term he uses is a medical term d for the delirious babbling of a very sick person. The disciples thought the ladies were babbling like a very sick person when they claimed the tomb was empty. These were not men who were expecting Jesus to rise from the dead and were just sitting around waiting for the word to come. They were expecting that their dead Lord would remain dead and considered statements to the contrary as utter nonsense.
This is the first aspect of reality that we see in our passage. There is the reality of the expectation of a dead body. All of the people that we encounter—the ladies and the disciples—were expecting that the tomb would contain a dead body that morning.
But there is another aspect of reality that we must see in these verses that is equally clear. That is…
B. The experience of an empty tomb
When the ladies came to the tomb, they did not find what they expected to find. Rather than the body of Jesus sealed inside the tomb, they found that the stone covering the opening was rolled aside and the body of Jesus was missing…the tomb was empty.
It really seems as if they still had no idea that the lack of body in the tomb meant Jesus had risen until the two men—angels we are told later in verse 23 of this chapter in a passage that I plan to look at tonight if you join us again—the angels told them that Jesus had risen back to life. All the ladies could determine from their own experience was that the tomb was empty.
Likewise, Peter, after he had heard the ladies stories ran to the tomb to check it out. He too discovered when he looked into the tomb that it was empty…at least as far as Jesus’ body was concerned. He did see the linen wrappings there...wrappings which would have been taken with the body if someone had simply moved it to a new location. The wrappings emphasized the emptiness of the tomb.
The point of Luke’s account of both the ladies’ and Peter’s experiences is to provide eye-witness testimony that the tomb was empty. These people experienced an empty tomb. That was the reality.
What was the reality that day? A group of people with an expectation of a dead body had the experience of an empty tomb. That reality of the empty tomb is the first thing to contemplate in these verses. Secondly, let’s consider…
II. The Reason for the Empty Tomb
What is the reason for the empty tomb? When the ladies encountered the two angels they were given the reason. Again there are two aspects to the reason for the empty tomb. First off, there is…
A. The vicarious payment for sin
Verse 7 is a great verse; it is one of the verses in the bible that speak of divine necessity—things that must be as they are because it is the divine will of God that they be this way. The angels remind the ladies that Jesus Himself had told them to expect what they are now experiencing. Jesus had told them that “the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified…and the third day rise again.” They had forgotten this all-important third part!
From this short reminder, the ladies…and Luke’s readers for that part, including us…were to remember all that Jesus had said surrounding these teaching. Granted, Jesus’ teaching had been primarily directed at His disciples, but these ladies had been around the group for a long time. It was expected that they would know His teachings as well and could now remember them— the same things that we need to remember as well. You see, we must understand why it was necessary for Jesus to be crucified.
As we were reminded on Friday when we looked at the record of Jesus’ trials in chapters 22 and 23, Jesus was not put to death because he had done anything deserving of death. In fact, everyone that was in any position whatsoever to speak on the matter were fully united in their testimony that He was an innocent Man. Rather, the reason Jesus had to die was because God had determined that He would become the vicarious payment for sin.
Vicarious might not be a word you use on a regular basis…but it is the perfect word to describe what Jesus did. Vicarious simply means feeling or experiencing something through the actions of another. We sometimes will say a parent is trying to live vicariously through their children when they push their children to participate in things that they were unable to do themselves as children. So when we say that Jesus was the vicarious payment for sin, we are saying that He paid for sins in the place of others, He picked up the tab so-to-speak...which is the glorious message of the Gospel of Jesus.
You see, we are all sinners…every one of us. And our sin generates guilt which the holy Judge of the Universe—God—demands payment for. That required payment for our sin is death. What Jesus did when He went to the cross was that He paid vicariously…in place of…the sin debt of others before God. God had determined that this was the only way, other than an eternity in hell, that the sin debt of any person could be paid. It is only through the vicarious death of Jesus that payment for the sins of another can be paid. He died in place of us because we deserved to die.
That is why it was necessary that the Son of Man must be delivered over and crucified. The reason wasn’t because of anything He had done that deserved death…the reason was because of all the things of that we had done that deserved eternal death.
In the words of the angels in verse 7 we should see the first aspect of the reason for the empty tomb; Jesus had provided the vicarious payment for sin. Yet, because He was the totally innocent Son of God, the second aspect of the reason for the empty tomb is…
B. The victorious power over death
Death exists in the world because of sin. In the earliest chapters of Genesis, we are told that God created the world without sin and that when there was no sin, there was no death. We are also told, though, that death would be the consequence of sin entering the world and we learn there that as soon as sin did enter the world, death followed. Death is sin’s curse on this world…it is the ever-present reminder to us of sin’s presence.
Death is being given nearly constant attention these days as the states daily the number of deaths attributed to the coronavirus. The country, along with countries all around the world are tracking COVID-19 deaths.
What we need to recognize this morning is that COVID-19 is just one way that the penalty for sin is being seen. Hear me carefully; I am certainly NOT saying that anyone who dies from COVID-19 is a particularly bad sinner. I don’t believe that for a moment. In fact, many good people are dying from this virus. What I am saying is that because of sin none of us will escape death; it will come to all of us in some form, COVID-19 or otherwise, because we all have sin’s curse upon us. We are all sinners.
Jesus, however, did not carry the sentence of death. He was sinless. When He willingly allowed Himself to suffer the punishment that sin demanded, He broke the power of sin and death. His resurrection from the dead was the conclusive evidence of this truth. For Jesus to have victorious power over death the tomb had to be empty—He had to rise from the dead. The resurrection is the evidence that the chains of death upon mankind were broken. The tomb had to be empty for Jesus’ victorious power over death to be on brilliant display. The empty tomb was a cosmic display of Jesus’ victorious power death.
We first contemplated the reality of the empty tomb. Now we have considered the reason for the empty tomb--the vicarious payment for sin and the victorious power over death which were both accomplished through Jesus dying and rising again. Let’s now think about…
III. The Reaction to the Empty Tomb
We have two different reactions displayed within our verses as different people encountered the empty tomb. In the ladies we see…
A. The witness of the glorious event
The impression that we have is that as soon as the ladies received the word from the angels, they connected the dots between their current experience and Jesus’ words—they understood that the empty tomb meant that Jesus had risen from the dead as He had said He would. And immediately they returned to the city…the tomb would have been outside the city…they returned to the city as fast as they could and told the eleven disciples.
I can’t imagine that they did tell the disciples in any kind of causal, calm fashion either. We don’t know how large the group of ladies was, but there were at more than three as three are mentioned by name with a note of the other women as well. I am sure that the moment this group burst into the room where the disciples were things instantly got rather loud. They ladies were witnesses to the glorious event of the empty tomb…they would not have been sedate and reserved about that fact. They would have been rightly bursting with excitement.
An excited, bold witness of the glorious event is one proper reaction to the empty tomb. In Peter, we see a second reaction,…
B. The worship of the glorious Savior
Peter is always presented as the most impetuous of the disciples. So, it isn’t at all surprising that he would be the first one to run out to the tomb and check things out for himself. When he stoops down and looks into the tomb, he sees for himself that it is empty, and we are told that he went away “marveling” at what had happened. I know that the NIV translates the term Luke used as “wondering” but the word is usually used as a positive response to something that has happened, so I think “marveling” is the better translation. I believe what we see in Peter’s response is an act of worship of the glorious Savior as the truth of the situation begins to dawn in his mind. His Lord, Jesus, has risen from the dead and Peter marvels at this glorious fact. He worships God for all that the empty tomb represents.
We have contemplated the reality of the empty tomb. We have considered the reason for the empty tomb. We have observed the reaction to the empty tomb. I would suggest that the one thing that is left for us at this point is to think…
IV. Our Response to the Empty Tomb
We must think about our response to the empty tomb. We cannot contemplate the reality, consider the reason, and observe the reaction to the empty tomb without having a response of our own.
The tomb is still empty. That reality of it has not changed. Jesus is risen. Nor has the reason for the empty tomb changed in the past 2000 years. Jesus died as the vicarious payment for sins and He victoriously arose in power over death. The question becomes, “How will we respond to the empty tomb?” Jesus died to pay for sins; did He pay for your sin when He died. Is His victory over death something that will benefit you? For the answer to be yes, each one of us must believe in Jesus. We must believe in the One risen from the tomb! We must believe in the One risen from the tomb!
The Bible is clear, it is only those who accept by faith that Jesus died for their sins who will experience His vicarious payment. It is only those who accept Jesus as their personal Savior who will share in His victorious power over death. And I am quite sure, that there are some listening today who are not among that group…you may have resisted Jesus in the past or you may have refused to admit that you need a Savior or you may have thought that general belief that the tomb is empty is enough. Friend, responses like that will damn you to an eternity in hell…an eternity which could start at any moment because none of us know when physical death will overtake us. To have Jesus pay for our sin we must believe in Him—the Person who died in our place. We must trust that He died for us. We must acknowledge before God that we deserve to die for our sins, but we want God the Father to accept Jesus’ death in our place. If you would like to know more what it means believe in the One risen from the tomb, please contact me…you can find my email on our website. We must believe in the One risen from the tomb!
Friends, if you know Jesus as your Savoir…if you have accepted the empty tomb and all that it represents in our lives. How are you responding? Does your response look like the response of that group of ladies? Are you so excited about the glorious event—your Savior is risen—that you cannot contain yourself? Are you bursting with excitement to share the news of the empty tomb? Do you have joy exploding out of you that cannot be contained because our Savior lives?
And are you worshipping our glorious Savior. Our Savior has completely, totally, absolutely, permanently, fully paid the penalty for our sin. We are declared righteous through faith in Him. He has conquered sin and death…for us! He truly is the King of kings and Lord of lords. He is the eternal Son of God, the reigning Messiah who will come again in majesty and glory. Are we worshipping Him—marveling at His grandeur?
Transition from body to conclusion:.
We must believe in the One risen from the tomb!
Reality can force us to adjust our expectations when what we expect does not match what is. This morning we have seen in Luke’s gospel the amazing adjustments that the ladies and the disciples had to make on that Sunday morning when their expectations smashed into the empty tomb. The tomb is empty.
We must believe in the One risen from the tomb!