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Sermon for April 12, 2009

Text: Luke 24:1-12

Title: Visiting An Empty Tomb

I.)  What does an empty tomb mean to us?

A.) Charles Swindoll tells of playing when he was a boy at sandlot football on a lot next door to a Methodist church at the end of our block in Houston. There was always a marshy puddle and lots of mud around it because of an outside leaky faucet. It was a place where locusts would come to find water. And once a year they would shed their skin.

If you’ve ever seen this sight, it’s incredible. It looks exactly like a locust about an inch and a half long, but it’s empty. You pick it up and it’s light as a feather. It has its legs and it has its carcass, at least the shell about it, but if you squeeze it, there’s nothing but air on the inside. Somehow, in the amazing way God has made insects, they have the ability to slip out of the shell.

B.) In the same amazing way God made it possible for Jesus to slip out of the empty shell of the tomb.

1.) For God it was a simple statement of His amazing power.

2.) For those early disciples who encountered the empty tomb it was a mixture of emotions.

3.)

II.) Almost two thousand years later, encountering the empty tomb of Jesus Christ is a mixture of emotions.

1.) There are those who stand in pure disbelief of the empty tomb

a.) Two thousand years ago those standing in the most obvious disbelief were the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Roman authorities

b.) Their roles and their authority rested on Jesus remaining in the grave.

c.) They had not believed in Jesus while He walked on earth why should they start now.

d.) But they were not the only ones filled with disbelief

e.) Interestingly, some of the disciples harbored disbelief

f.) When the women came and told their story many of the male disciples dismissed the stories because they came from women

g.) Before we condemn those disciples we must remember their mindset

h.) They had just watched their rabbi, their mentor, their savior die on a cross

i.) They were probably angry, disillusioned, and felt large heartaches.

j.) Yet while we must have sympathy on the disciples at this point, we cannot ignore the danger of their disbelief

k.) Disbelief can be disastrous, just ask the following New Yorker

a number of years ago there appeared in the New Yorker magazine an account of a Long Island resident who ordered an extremely sensitive barometer from a respected company, Abercrombie and Fitch. When the instrument arrived at his home he was disappointed to discover that the indicating needle appeared to be stuck pointing to the sector marked “Hurricane.” After shaking the barometer vigorously several times—never a good idea with a sensitive mechanism—and never getting the point to move, the new owner wrote a scathing letter to the store, and, on the following morning, on the way to his office in New York City, mailed it. That evening he returned to Long Island to find not only the barometer missing but his house as well! The needle of the instrument had been pointed correctly. The month was September, the year was 1938, the day of the terrible hurricane that almost leveled Long Island.

2.) Of course the crowd that actually entertains disbelief is usually rather small.  A much larger crowd is the skeptics.

a.) Before the women encountered the angels their hearts were filled with skepticism.

b.) Notice the question the angels ask the women, “Why do you look for the living among the dead?”

c.) That same question is asked of us repeatedly

d.) Why because we all have a touch of skepticism in us

e.) Like those women we look for life in things that only filled with death

f.) Out of fear and grief we think we can find our answers

g.) Once again though, we must remember the power of skepticism

Pyrrho of Elis, Greece, was a young man who, joining the forces of Alexander of Macedon, journeyed through places like Egypt, Babylon, Persia, and India. During his travels his ponderings led him to conclusions that produced the Greek philosophical school of Skepticism.

Pyrrho maintained that no knowledge could be known for certain, whether scientific, moral, religious or metaphysical. On all questions of truth, we must suspend judgment, which will lead us, according to Pyrrho, to a state of mind known as Ataraxia—a complete calmness of the soul.

This philosopher is remembered as the ultimate anxious doubter who was not sure of anything, who did not know anything, and was not sure he did not know—who even doubted whether the world itself were not an illusion, and whose friends accompanied him in his walks lest he should doubt the reality of a precipice and walk over its edge to his own ruin.

h.) Skepticism often leads us to only gloomy states. 

i.) Sooner or later we have to decide what we will do about the empty grave

C.) Of course the largest crowd is those who stand by in amazement. 

1.) Most of us like to be amazed. 

2.) Let me illustrate with an incident from my life

a.) The other day I became fascinated with a card trick on the internet.

b.) It seemed so simple yet the answer to the trick eluded me. 

c.) I did web searches and most people talked about how juvenile the trick was but I still did not understand how it was done

d.) I asked Anne and she said, “I don’t fool around with that stuff.”

e.) I probably spent a good thirty minutes trying to understand this trick.

f.) After long examination I finally figured it out.

g.) Once I figured it out, the trick lost its appeal.

h.) Since that day, I have not looked at those cards.

3.) Many of us stand at the empty tomb looking in with a mixture of confusion and amazement in our spirit

4.) We desire to believe

5.) We have heard the power of the empty tomb

6.) So many things in our lives could be changed by the empty tomb.

7.) So we ask, “Is it true?”

8.) But as we ask we also know that the empty tomb leaves little unchanged in our lives so we also ask, “How will it affect my life?”

D.) Maybe it is at that point that we need to remember.  We need to remember what the Easter is all about.

1.) Phillip a mentally handicapped child may provide us with the greatest answer.

Philip was born with Downs Syndrome. He was a pleasant child—happy, it seemed—but increasingly aware of the difference between himself and other children. Philip went to Sunday school at the Methodist church. His teacher, also a friend of mine, taught the third-grade class with Philip and nine other eight-year-old boys and girls.

You know eight-year-olds. And Philip, because of his differences, was not readily accepted. But my teacher friend was creative, and he helped the group of eight-year-olds. They learned, they laughed, they played together. And they really cared about one another, even though eight-year-olds don’t say they care about each other out loud. My teacher friend could see it. He knew it. He also knew that Philip was not really a part of that group. Philip did not choose nor did he want to be different. He just was. And that was just the way things were.

My friend had a marvelous idea for his class the Sunday after Easter last year. You know those things that pantyhose come in—the containers that look like great big eggs—my friend had collected ten of them. The children loved it when he brought them into the room. Each child was to get one. It was a beautiful spring day, and the assignment was for each child to go outside, find a symbol for new life, put it into the egg, and bring it back to the classroom. They would then open and share their new life symbols and surprises one by one.

It was glorious. It was confusing. It was wild. They ran all around the church grounds, gathering their symbols, and returned to the classroom. They put all the eggs on a table, and then the teacher began to open them. All the children stood around the table.

He opened one, and there was a flower, and they oohed and aahed. He opened another, and there was a little butterfly. “Beautiful,” the girls all said, since it is hard for eight-year-old boys to say “beautiful.” He opened another, and there was a rock. And as third graders will, some laughed, and some said, “That’s crazy! How’s a rock supposed to be like new life?” But the smart little boy who’d found it spoke up: “That’s mine. And I knew all of you would get flowers and buds and leaves and butterflies and stuff like that. So I got a rock because I wanted to be different. And for me, that’s new life.” They all laughed.

My teacher friend said something to himself about the profundity of eight-year-olds and opened the next one. There was nothing there. The other children, as eight-year-olds will, said, “That’s not fair—That’s stupid!—Somebody didn’t do it right.”

Then my teacher friend felt a tug on his shirt, and he looked down. Philip was standing beside him “It’s mine,” Philip said. “It’s mine.”

And the children said, “You don’t ever do things right, Philip. There’s nothing there!”

“I did so do it,” Philip said. “I did do it. It’s empty. The tomb is empty!”

There was silence, a very full silence. And for you people who don’t believe in miracles, I want to tell you that one happened that day last spring. From that time on, it was different. Philip suddenly became a part of that group of eight-year-old children. They took him in. He was set free from the tomb of his differentness.

Philip died last summer. His family had known since the time he was born that he wouldn’t live out a full life span. Many other things had been wrong with his tiny body. And so, late last July, with an infection that most normal children could have quickly shrugged off, Philip died. The mystery simply enveloped him.

At the funeral, nine eight-year-old children marched up to the altar, not with flowers to cover the stark reality of death. Nine eight-year-olds, with their Sunday school teacher, marched right up to that altar, and laid on it an empty egg—an empty, old, discarded pantyhose egg.

2.) Phillip in his childlike innocence showed us that the Easter is all about an empty tomb

3.) It took an encounter with angels to help the women to understand this

4.) It took an Emmaus Road experience to help a group of disciples understand this

5.) It took seeing the nail scarred hands and feet of Jesus to help Thomas understand

6.) What will it take for us?

7.) All that we can rely on is faith

8.) Faith that the empty tomb still proclaims that death is conquered

9.) Faith that the empty tomb tells us that new life awaits us

10.) Faith that the empty tomb stands a monument to the defeat of sin, Satan, and hell

11.) We say we believe with our lips but what does our lives say about our faith?

IV.) Today, the empty tomb of Jesus Christ challenges us to act.

A.) What will we do with the empty tomb?

B.) Some of you need to make a decision right now.

1.) You have stood with disbelief for too long at the empty tomb.  It’s time to lay your disbelief, anger and disillusionment aside

2.) Others here today are struggling with skepticism.  You are continuing to look for the living among the dead.  It’s time to turn to God

3.) Still others here today are interested in the empty tomb yet, the commitment seems so large.  It’s time to take the plunge. 

4.) The empty tomb calls for faith, will your faith lead you to the right decision today.

5.) As we sing our final hymn I invite you to come and respond to the Jesus the Christ who is no longer in the tomb.

6.) If you need me to pray with you, simply raise your hand and I will come and join you at the altar.

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