Success Leaves Clues

Heritage Presbyterian Church

April 4, 2021
Easter Sunday
Scripture reading: Mark 16: 1-8 (women find the tomb empty)

Today we hear the most frustrating Resurrection account of the four Gospels.  One commentator remarked that the ending of Mark’s Gospel is written as if to set up a sequel to a book or a movie.  It is certainly…abrupt in its tone.  If you read the original Greek, it is also curious that it ends with the word “for” as in “the women fled for they were afraid.”  This is certainly a mystery.

But we Christians believe in the risen Christ!  Especially on this day – Easter Sunday, that great “getting-up morning” – we certainly believe in Christ’s resurrection from the dead.

Yes, we believe…how can we make non-believers accept what we already acknowledge?  

It’s not enough to say, “Well, I believe.”  Just taking your word for it might not carry the day.  The success of that triumphant day is not something that others will usually take at face value.  We need more than that…we need clues.

Because success leaves clues.  This strengthens our assertion that Jesus Christ rose from the dead.

Let’s start with the most common explanations for the tomb being empty EXCEPT for Jesus rising from the dead.  If success leaves clues, then these clues should point to the success of Jesus rising from the dead – just as he promised.  [These come from a chart in the Life Application Bible]:

1.  Jesus was only unconscious and later revived.  This one amazes me in its ludicrously.  This would mean that Jesus of Nazareth, who was beaten into shock, slapped and punched, crowned with terrible crown of thorns, forced to carry his cross uphill to Calvary, nailed to it, left hanging there for at least 6 hours, stabbed in the heart by the soldier…wasn’t really dead.  This despite the Centurion telling Pilate that Jesus had been dead for some time when Joseph of Arimathea came to ask for Jesus’ body.  This despite the soldiers breaking the legs of the two thieves who were crucified with Jesus – but not his because he was already dead.  Then Jesus was laid in the tomb where the cool of the night supposedly revived him, so he got up, rolled the stone away, appeared to the women (apparently cleaned of all blood and gore) and then made his way to Galilee. 

The clues here reject this theory as virtually impossible. 

2.  The women made a mistake and went to the wrong tomb in the early morning darkness.  This mistake was made despite Mary Magdelene and Mary, the mother of Joses, and perhaps other women seeing where Jesus’ body had been placed by Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus.  This is also despite both Peter and John running to that same empty tomb – ahead of the women – and seeing nothing there either.  This also despite three of the Gospels agreeing on this specific detail: the women saw exactly where Jesus had been buried.

Clues here point to this theory being extremely unlikely.

3.  Unknown thieves stole Jesus’ body.   I love this one because it sounds the most desperate.  In fact, when the elders of the Sanhedrin heard the tomb of Jesus was empty, they bribed the guards who had been on guard duty and then began spreading this rumor to convince the people; Scripture tells us “this story is still told among the people to this day.” (Matthew 28: 11-15)  

Can’t you just imagine the initial reactions of the Sanhedrin? “What?  What do you mean THE BODY IS GONE?!?!?”

…just prior to someone brainstorming an answer to the problem.  

Other suspects might be Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus.  Both men took Jesus’ battered and bloody body down from the cross, covered him with a linen cloth, laid him in a nearby tomb – hurriedly because the sun was setting and the Sabbath was almost beginning.  In all these two men were doing, an important clue is almost forgotten: Numbers, chapter 19, specifically states that anyone handling a dead body would be ritually unclean for seven days.  Two righteous men such as Joseph and Nicodemus would not have further contaminated themselves, especially after handling the body in the first place.

Another suspect group is Jesus’ disciples.  They stole his body to prove Jesus rose from the dead.  The problem here is that the disciples were then ready to die for their faith if necessary; stealing Jesus’ body would have been admitting their faith was completely meaningless.  They had already abandoned him – even denied him.  They would have never stolen his body to prove a point; that would have been the most disrespectful action they could have taken toward their beloved Master.

And finally: the religious leaders stole Jesus’ body so that if the disciples tried to tell people he had risen from the dead, they could have produced the body to prove them wrong.  This one is so ridiculous it is almost laughable.  The reasoning is that Jesus’ disciples saw him, touched him, ate with him, spent time with him – and then proclaimed that he had risen from the dead.  When they did, why didn’t the religious leaders produce the body to refute their claims once and for all?

In the final analysis, the clues definitely do NOT point to someone stealing the body of Jesus from the tomb; they reinforce the belief among Christians that Jesus really did rise from the dead on Easter morning.

So now that the various “missing body” theories have all been addressed, the rest is pretty easy:

  • Jesus rose from the dead, just as he said he would.
  • He conquered sin and death, and his sacrifice atoned for any and all sins that any of his believers might commit.
  • The empty tomb is what we acknowledge, especially on Easter morning.

With all those clues at our disposal from Scripture, it’s all pretty easy, isn’t it?

Well…isn’t it?

You know it’s not.

Believing in Jesus can be difficult when good things happen to wicked people – or when bad things happen to righteous people.

Believing in Jesus can be hard when we hear of innocent children being trafficked for human slavery – even in this modern age.

Believing in Jesus can be disheartening when we hear of refugee camps all over the world, some of them holding nearly a million desperate people at a time.

Believing in Jesus can be frustrating when natural disasters such as ice storms or hurricanes or tsunamis or tornadoes or earthquakes can strike at any moment – and hit the just and the unjust equally.

Believing in Jesus can be embarrassing when our friends, neighbors, classmates, or acquaintances mock us for what we do and what we won’t do.

Believing in Jesus can be painful when we are faced with loss of loved ones or jobs or homes or status or some of our daily freedoms because of a pandemic that seems to never want to end.

Believing in Jesus can be something that makes us want to tear our shirts and pull our hair out and scream as loudly as we can when life is a mess – and we feel powerless to do anything positive about it; when, instead of calling on Jesus for help, we cry out, “Where are you, Jesus?”

Believing in Jesus can make us quiet when others around us are loud and upset.  This also makes the crowd wonder what is different about us. 

Because believing in Jesus is something true Christians will confidently proclaim to you – whether it’s on Easter Sunday or any other day of the year.  Because they have whatever clues they need to make the decision that the Son of God came to earth, walked among us, taught and healed and loved us, sacrificed himself on our behalf, and rose from the dead on that Easter morning.

The success of this leaves clues for any believer to notice, claim, and proclaim.Amen!  Amen!  HE IS RISEN!  Amen!