“Crowd Dilution” Jesus Sightings Part 4
“After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep.” 1 Corinthians 15:6
Intro: Today we conclude the Sermon Series “Jesus Sightings.” We have looked at the Jesus sighting of the Easter Jesus by Mary Magdalene and the other women. We heard about two men on the road to Emmaus sighting Jesus after the resurrection. We explored another Jesus Sighting by the Disciples. The title of today’s sermon is “Crowd Dilution.” Dilute means to weaken, to thin, to lessen, to take away the strength, to decrease the value or worth. We are going to talk about the mass sightings of Jesus by the crowds. All of the other sermons I have talked about Jesus sightings from the perspective of either his disciples or people who came to believe in Jesus.
Today I want us to approach Easter from the perspective of those who crucified Jesus. Think in terms of those who denied Christ and tried to create doubt and disbelief in the resurrection. They tried to weaken the testimony of the Jesus sightings. They tried to decrease and lessen the value of the words of the women. They called them “Women Tales” fairy tales and women gossip. They called the claim by the two men from the “Emmaus Area” a hoax, like we would think of a U.F.O. sighting. They diminished, the “Disciple Stories” as false teaching and lies. Their plan was to plant fear, doubt and divisiveness and it was working. They were keeping the Gospel at bay. The testimonies about the resurrection were questionable at best, But then Jesus appeared to more than five hundred at the same time. There will always be people who say that Jesus did not rise from the dead. But the number of Jesus sightings kept spreading.
Some said, Jesus was only unconscious and later revived. Mark 15:44-45 Tell us the Roman soldier told Pilate that Jesus was dead. Remember they did not break Jesus’ legs because Jesus had already died. And to make sure Jesus was dead the Roman Soldier took a spear and pierced Jesus’ side.
Two of Jesus’ close friends Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemous told in John 19:38-40 how they took the dead body of Jesus and wrapped him in grave clothes and placed his corpse in the tomb.
Some said, unknown thieves came and stole Jesus body. Some said, the disciples stole Jesus body. But remember the tomb was sealed and guarded by Roman guards. Matthew 27:65-66 Jewish leaders came to Pilate and said, “…Sir, we remember that that deceiver said, while he was yet alive, After three days I will rise again. Command therefore that the sepulchre be made sure until the third day, lest his disciples come by night, and steal him away, and say unto the people, He is risen from the dead: so the last error shall be worse than the first” (Matthew 27:63, 64).
When the chief priests and Pharisees asked that “…the sepulchre be made sure…,” the Greek word sphragidzo is used for “made sure.” This word described a legal seal that was placed on documents, letters, possessions, or, in this case, the sealing of the tomb. Its purpose was to authenticate that the sealed item had been properly inspected before sealing and that all the contents were in order. As long as the seal remained unbroken, it guaranteed that the contents inside were safe and sound. Before sealing the tomb, however, these legal authorities were first required to inspect the content of the tomb. They would look at the body of Jesus to properly identify who he was And that he was dead and that his body was inside the tomb to see that the body of Jesus and everything inside the tomb was in its proper place. Including the napkin over the face of Jesus in John 20:7 that is later found folded beside the empty grave. In order to understand the significance of the folded napkin, you have to understand a little bit about Hebrew tradition of that day. The folded napkin had to do with the master and servant, and every Jewish boy knew this tradition. When the servant set the dinner table for the master, he made sure that it was exactly the way the master wanted it. When the table was furnished perfectly, then the servant would wait, just out of sight, until the master had finished eating, and the servant would not dare touch that table until the master was finished. If the master was done eating, he would rise from the table, wipe his fingers, his mouth, and clean his beard, and would wad up that napkin and toss it onto the table. The servant would then know to clear the table. For in those days, the wadded napkin meant, “I’m done.”
But if the master got up from the table, folded his napkin, and laid it beside his plate, the servant would not dare touch the table because the servant knew that the folded napkin meant, “I’m not finished yet.” The folded napkin meant, “I’m coming back!”
When the disciples came to the empty tomb they found the grave clothes empty and the Napkin folded neatly. He (the master, Jesus) is NOT done, he is coming back! Hallelujah! Crowd would tell the sighting of the Napkin of Jesus…, it was folded!
After guaranteeing that the corpse was where it was supposed to be, these legal authorities would have the stone rolled into place and then sealed it with the official seal of the governor of Rome. In fact Matthew 27:27 tells us an entire battalion of soldiers or about 200 had been called out when they stripped Jesus and put the scarlet robe on him. When they placed the crown of thorns on his head and mocked and spit on him and lead him away to be crucified. These Roman soldiers would have guarded the tomb with their life, knowing that if the seal on the tomb was broken their life would be forfeited to Pilate the governor and the captain of their battalion would have punished them for failing their duty.
But the Jesus Sightings keep growing. From Easter morning for forty days Jesus appeared many times in many places. Acts 1:3 says “Jesus showed himself alive after his passion by many infallible proofs, being seen of them forty days.” This implies that there may have been other appearances of which we have no record. After the resurrection John 21:25 says, “Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.”
A good book for the Christian apologist as an advanced read I would recommend New York Times bestselling author Lee Strobel’s “The Case of Christ.” He asks the question: Is there credible evidence that Jesus of Nazareth is the Son of God? The third part of his book, Strobel researches the evidence of the Resurrection. (Reference page 303) “There is a true story in 1963 the body of fourteen-year old Addie Mae Collins, one of four African-American girls tragically murdered in an infamous church bombing by white racists, was buried in Birmingham Alabama. For years the family member kept returning to the grave to pray and leave flowers. In 1998 they made the decision to disinter the deceased for reburial at another cemetery. When the workers were sent to dig up the body, however, they returned with a shocking discovery: The grave was empty. Understandably, family members were terribly distraught. Hampered by poorly kept records, cemetery official scrambled to figure out what had happened. Several possibilities were raised, the primary one being that her tombstone had been erected in the wrong place. Yet in the midst of determining what happened, one explanation was never proposed: Nobody suggested that young Addie Mae had been resurrected to walk on earth again. Why? Because by itself an empty grave does not a resurrection make.”
But there were sighting after sighting after sighting of Jesus. But even these sightings alone are not enough to convince To me, the strongest proof of the Easter Jesus are the changed lives. One whose life was changed was one of the soldiers Mark 15:39 who had stood at the foot of the cross and watched as Jesus suffered and died being crucified. But then there was a great darkness and a great earthquake that covered and shook the whole earth. The Roman centurion cried out: "Truly this man was the Son of God."
Some tried to say the people were mistaken. The darkness at midday was a simple eclipse. But they had seen eclipses before Luke is very specific he says "for the sun stopped shining." Luke 23:45 (NIV) Some tried to say the earthquake was natural. This week there was an earthquake in Japan. Concrete buildings collapsed. Steel beams buckled. The earthquake in Jerusalem caused the veil of the temple to be torn in half. It shook the ground enough to unearth bodies up out of the cemeteries. But notice there was no destruction of the clay adobe houses the people were hiding in because of the darkness. If this had been a natural earthquake thousands of people would have died. But God caused the sun to stop shining and the veil to tear and the graves to open. Some people will try to explain away every healing, every answered prayer, every miracle of God. Don’t dilute the story told by the crowds.
Today there are people who want us to dilute the truth. They want us to water down the gospel. There are people who cringe when we talk about life after death. Some Christians never want to talk about the coming judgment or hell.
Years ago I was called to the bedside of a man who was dying of terminal cancer. Hospice had already taken over his care. He knew it was only a matter of time until the pain became so great that his only relief would be a morpheme coma and then certain death. When I first walked into the room Chris was reluctant to talk and there were several minutes of awkward silence. After a long pause a saw a tear run down his face as he began to cry. He told me he did not want to die and go to Hell. He said he had done some really bad things in his life. He felt the end was very near and there was no hope. I sat there and listened as he told me he wished he had been a better person. I told him it was not too late to give his life to Jesus and be saved. But no matter how much I tried to offer him the free gift of eternal life. He would always come back with saying, I just can’t be sure. Then I opened the bible and the Good News with him. Romans 10:13 got his attention: “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” There was another one of those long awkward moments of silence where I wondered if either one of us were going to take another breathe. Chris looked up and asked, “Will you pray for me?” My answer was, “I will pray with you.” I want to ask you all to repeat after me: I will pray it first and then you repeat it after me: Thank you God that Heaven is a free gift. I admit that I have sinned and cannot save myself. Thank you Jesus for dying in my place and paying the penalty for my sins. Come into my life and forgive me. Amen. Chris and I talked for quite a long while. But I could see a visible difference in the appearance on his face. I explained the next step for Chris was baptism. Of course there was no way to get him out of bed and into a tub to immerse him. It is never the amount of the sacrament you use: not how much bread, or the amount of wine or water (but the Holiness that matters.) I took a bowl of water. Asked the Holy Spirit to sanctify it, to set it apart, to make it holy unto the Lord. I sprinkled the water of baptism on him. Chris accepted Jesus as his Lord and Savior. He was now in the hands of God. Just a few nights later God called Chris home to be with the Lord in heaven. When I preached Chris’ funeral it was a celebration. The whole family cried, not tears of sorrow but tears of joy because they knew Chris was saved. That night when I went home it was difficult for me to sleep. I found myself thinking about how different it would have been if Chris had not believed in Christ. How different would that day have been if Chris had not accepted Christ? If Chris had not been saved. And how many other people there were out there like Chris who had not yet heard the Good News and had not yet made a decision to accept Christ. Who would tell the mass of people and crowds of lost that Jesus is risen, Jesus saves?
People testified, we have seen the risen Lord. I wish I had more time to talk about all the other Jesus sightings and proofs that Jesus is real. The fact that men who were scared for their life and hiding behind locked doors changed and became bold and courageous speakers who told the stories of Jesus. Can you think of anyone in history who would knowingly die for a lie? The disciples lay down their life for their faith. And oh what a change it made.
Have you sighted the Easter Jesus? Have you accepted Him as your Saviour? How has your life been changed because you have sighted the Risen Lord?
Closing: No matter what people are saying about Jesus today we still believe. We invite you to come into our lives. To help us begin a new life by faith. Come to the altar and repent of your sin. Accept forgiveness and pardon. Believe that God the Father, Jesus the Son and the Holy Spirit are real. Come let us pray together.