Easter Sunday - The empty tomb - Luke 23:32 - 24:12

This is a sermon by Lee McMunn from the Riverside Church service on 5th April 2015.

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Luke 23:32-24:12 Riverside Easter Sunday 2015

This morning I’d like to show you two things from this section of the Bible.


  • Why the death of Jesus was necessary 
  • Why the resurrection accounts are believable


First of all, let me show you why the death of Jesus was necessary.


I want to do this by reflecting with you on the words that were either spoken by Jesus or to Jesus on the cross.


Think of what we will do as putting the pieces of a jigsaw together.


We’ll start with something Jesus said. Look at verse 34. Read verse 34.


This is remarkable given the circumstances. And yet what does Jesus ask for? Not their eternal condemnation but for their forgiveness. 


They are not knowingly crucifying the eternal Son of God but they still needed forgiveness for their sinful lives. But how will that be possible? How can the guilty be set free from the eternal punishment they deserve?


Well, let’s read on and find out. Look at verse 35. Read verse 35. They recognise that in the past he has saved others but now in his hour of desperate need he appears to be powerless and weak. And so we should ask why isn’t he choosing to save himself? Or better, what is the connection between the saving of others and the saving of himself?


This wasn’t the last time someone at the cross brought up this theme with Jesus. Listen to what the soldiers said to him in verse 37, “If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.” 


And then look at what one of the criminals dying next to him asked in verse 39, “ aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us.”


Of course all these words were said with venom on their lips but as we read them God wants us to ponder their deeper significance. And so we should be asking as we read, why was Jesus not saving himself? Could it be that in order to save others he chose not to save himself?


If you are a well taught Christian then you will know this is the answer. But how would you show it from this section of the Bible? Well, look closely at what we read next. Verse 40. Read verses 40-41.


It is emphasised that Jesus was innocent. So why was he dying on the cross? Why would the all-powerful God allow it? Could it have something to do with the salvation of those who are guilty of a greater crime, the crime of cosmic treason against the God of the universe? Could it be that here was the innocent Son of God taking on the sins of the guilty world and exhausting the punishment we deserve so that we would never have to face it and instead be welcomed into the very presence of God? Look at verse 42. Read verses 42 and 43.


Here was a man who had a very bad track record. And here was a man who had no time to get a good one and no time to make up for his previous crimes. But here was someone who was promised an instant place in paradise with Jesus. 


Paradise is the Greek word paradeiso. This came from the Persian language and meant a place of beauty and delight. It often referred to a park or a garden. It was used to describe the Garden of Eden in Genesis 2:8.


But how? How was this possible? How could such a person be saved from what he deserved and given what he could never earn?


Let’s keep on reading and see what we discover next. Look at verse 44. Read verses 44 and 45.


There was a strange darkness from the 6th hour (12 noon) to the 9th hour (3pm). Darkness in the Bible during the day is a sign of God’s judgement. Who is being judged? The eternal Son of God. But why? Jesus was innocent. And yet heaven is not corrupt. So somehow the Son of God must be experiencing punishment for sin. But if not his own then whose? It must be the sin of other people. 


The consequence of his death was that the temple curtain was torn in two. This was not in the same place as the cross. These two events have been brought together to teach that the death of Jesus has opened up access to God. 


If we put all the pieces together, what do we discover?  In order to save others, Jesus could not save himself. In order to provide forgiveness, Jesus had to suffer in the place of the guilty. There was no other way. Jesus had to die. But he willingly chose to stay on the cross so that all who embrace his loving rule could have an eternal stay in paradise.


Billy Graham was born on 7th Nov, 1918. That makes him 96 years old! He has preached the Gospel to more people in live audiences than anyone else in history—nearly 215 million people in more than 185 countries.“There is a way, if you come by the way of the cross."



Secondly, let me show you one reason why the resurrection accounts are believable.


We certainly do need the implications of Jesus’ resurrection to warm our hearts. The assurance that the price has been completely paid. The hope that this is our future too.


But we also need evidence for our heads that the resurrection narratives are not fairy tales. 


Why do they have the ring of truth about them? Because they are so honest.


  • The women
  • The apostles

First, the women


We meet them in verse 1 as they make their way to the tomb. But what were they expecting to find? Look at what they were bringing. They were taking spices.


Bodies were put in a cave. When the flesh had decomposed the bones were put in a special box called an ossuary. Why the spices? To sweeten the smell.


The women were not expecting to see Jesus resurrected.


Also, notice how they reacted to the discovery of the rolled away stone and the missing body? Verse 4, “While they were wondering about this…” They didn’t automatically assume that Jesus must be raised from the dead. This is honest reporting.


The very fact that women were the first witnesses of the resurrection. In the 1st century world the testimony of women was widely regarded as unreliable and untrustworthy.  So if you were making this up, you wouldn’t have made women the first witnesses. That would make it less credible. So why have it like this? Because the bible writers were biased towards truth.


Second, the apostles


They were the key disciples who had the task of preaching the message in the early church. If they were making up the story then they would surely have wanted to make themselves look good. But they had a greater desire. A desire to tell the truth even if they looked bad. And this is exactly the story we read in the resurrection accounts. 


Look at verse 9. Read verses 9 to 11.


It seemed to them like nonsense. The Greek word is leros. It is the only time it is used in the NT. But it is used in medical settings to describe the delirious talk of the very sick.


Their immediate reaction is also an indication that they were not expecting the resurrection of Jesus.


I think what is described next is also very honest. How many of them went to the tomb? Look at verse 12. One out of 11. But run he did and he discovered the almost empty tomb. Why were the strips of linen lying by themselves? But even then, Peter’s response was not to believe that Jesus was alive. Instead, he went away wondering to himself what had happened. 


I find this honest reporting very compelling. 


What does all this mean for us?


The death of Jesus was necessary


Not yet a Christian. You need to embrace Jesus. Christian who has embraced Jesus. Hear the comforting words about paradise.


The resurrection accounts can be trusted


Not yet a Christian. The writers were biased but they were biased towards truth. Christian. Have your trust renewed in the words that you read in the pages of the Bible.


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