Summary: Part 4 of the series, The Truth About Jesus Christ.
[Note: The arguments for the Resurrection in this sermon were taken from an excellent book called The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus by Gary R. Habermas & Michael R. Licona.]
We’ve been called together this morning to investigate a crime scene in Jerusalem: the empty tomb of Jesus of Nazareth. The leaders of the Jews have accused Jesus’ disciples of stealing His body. The disciples are making the outrageous claim that Jesus rose from the dead. It’s our job to figure out what really happened. However, we won’t have access to the usual kinds of evidence, such as fingerprints, DNA, and surveillance video. Instead, we will examine only ancient writings, both Christian and secular.
As we begin our investigation, let’s read the New Testament’s explanation of the empty tomb. [John 20:1-9, 19-20]
I. THE EMPTY TOMB
How do we know that the tomb was empty?
A. Jerusalem factor.
Jesus was publicly executed in Jerusalem. His post-mortem appearances and empty tomb were first proclaimed publicly there. It would have been impossible for Christianity to get off the ground in Jerusalem if the body had still been in the tomb. His enemies in the Jewish leadership and Roman government would only have had to exhume the corpse and publicly display it for the hoax to be shattered. Not only are Jewish, Roman, and all other writings absent of such an account, but there is total silence from Christianity’s critics who would have jumped at evidence of this sort.
B. Enemy Confirmation.
If your mother says that you are an honest person, we may have reason to believe her, yet with reservation, since she loves you and is somewhat biased. However, if someone who hates you admits that you are an honest person, we have a stronger reason to believe what is being asserted, since potential bias does not exist. The empty tomb is attested not only by Christian sources. Jesus’ enemies admitted it as well, albeit indirectly. Matthew writes, “When the chief priests had met with the elders and devised a plan, they gave the soldiers a large sum of money, telling them, ‘You are to say, His disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep’” (Matt. 28:12-13). In A.D. 150, Justin Martyr writes that the Jewish leadership was still spreading the same rumor in his day. There would have been no need for an attempt to account for a missing body, if the body had still been in the tomb. When the boy tells his teacher that the dog ate his homework, this is an indirect admission that his homework is unavailable for assessment. Likewise, the earliest Jewish claim reported regarding Jesus’ resurrection was to accuse the disciples of stealing the body, an indirect admission that the body was unavailable for public display. This is the only early opposing theory we know of that was offered by Jesus’ enemies.
C. Testimony of Women.
If someone concocted a story in an attempt to deceive others, we presume that they would not knowingly invent information that could hurt the credibility of their story. For example, we have heard of those who, in attempting to promote themselves, have made up stories about their heroism in the military or of having an education they really did not possess. However, is it normal to invent and spread a story about oneself as a thief or liar? When we come to the account of the empty tomb, women are listed as the primary witnesses. They are not only the first witnesses mentioned. They are also mentioned in all four Gospels, whereas male witnesses appear only later and in two gospels. This would be an odd invention, since in both Jewish and Roman cultures, women were lowly esteemed and their testimony was regarded as questionable, certainly not as credible as a man’s. Even the disciples did not believe the testimony of the women. Luke writes that they “did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense” (Luke 24:11).
II. THE FACTS
There are four facts backed by so much evidence that nearly every scholar, even the skeptical ones, accept them.
A. FACT #1: Jesus died by crucifixion.
Crucifixion was a common form of execution employed by the Romans to punish members of the lower class, slaves, soldiers, the violently rebellious, and those accused of treason. The first-century Jewish historian Josephus reports that during the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, the Roman soldiers felt such hatred toward the Jews that they crucified a multitude of them in various postures. Crucifixion was a very tortuous death. In the first century B.C., Cicero calls it the most horrendous torture. So hideous was the act of crucifixion upon a man that he also writes that “the very word ‘cross’ should be far removed not only from the person of a Roman citizen but from his thoughts, his eyes and his ears.” Tacitus in the second century refers to it as “the extreme penalty.”