Sunday, November 19, 2023

Is there Life after Death? The Empty Tomb of Jesus Examined

“When Corrie Ten Boom of The Hiding Place was a little girl in Holland, her first realization of death came after a visit to the home of a neighbor who had died. It impressed her that some day her parents would also die. Corrie's father comforted her with words of wisdom. "Corrie, when you and I go to Amsterdam, when do I give you your ticket?" "Why, just before we get on the train," she replied. "Exactly," her father said, "and our wise Father in heaven knows when we're going to need things too. Don't run out ahead of Him, Corrie. When the time comes that some of us will have to die, you will look into your heart and find the strength you need--just in time." -Today in the Word, MBI, October, 1991, p. 30.

Will you have the strength when the day comes for you to move from this world to another? We can trust the Father, that he will give us the strength we need in the moment, just like Corrie ten boom was taught by her dad.

That’s why it’s unwise to look into the future and worry about what might come. Sometimes I’ll be very tired after a long week, and I’ll sit and worry about the next week: How can I make it? But the next morning I wake up with the strength I need for that day. Then the next day, same thing. And on and on it goes. He gives us the strength we need for the moment. But don’t think about the future and stress, you have not strength yet for that, yet, in time, it will come.

Can a human live beyond the grave? That is the question we consider today. Many in our world today believe after death, there is nothing, life is simply over. People live that way. They expect no life after death. So they live how they please in this life. They do whatever they want, betting on the fact that there is nothing coming later.

They live in fear of death. In fact, the word of God says, from Hebrews 2:14-15, “Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil— and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.”

Jesus Christ is the way to life beyond the grave. He frees those who are held in slavery to the fear of death.

I don’t fear death anymore. I know where I’m going. I know that there is life after the grave.

Why? Because it all started with Jesus Christ, the first man to rise from the dead. He showed us he could do it, so he showed us he can and will make it happen for us as well.

We scope in to Mark chapter 16, we’ve just seen Jesus betrayed and crucified. He was shown to be dead. And Joseph of Arimathea requested his body, to give him a proper burial.

Joseph of Arimathea had placed Jesus in his own tomb and the stone had been rolled in front of the entry to the tomb.

Many have wondered where Jesus’ tomb is in Israel. Many believe Jesus’ tomb is located at the site of the holy church of the sepulche, the church built around what was believed to be the site of the tomb where Jesus was laid. It was first discovered in about the 4th century AD by Constantine the emperor of Rome who ordered that the location be found.

But there are other sites where Jesus tomb could’ve been. Some believe it’s the garden tomb in Jerusalem. Still others believe it was the Talpiot tomb in the old city. W

We see in Mark 16 it says this, verses 1-3: “When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. 2 Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb 3 and they asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?”

Jesus had been crucified on a Friday. It was the “day of preparation.” On Saturday the jews would practice the sabbath. And now it’s Sunday, the first day of the week.

It’s very early in the morning, just after sunrise. Three women, the women most important to Jesus’ ministry, his mom Mary, Mary Magdalene, the woman who was a prostitute but became a devout follower of Jesus, and Salome, who was the mother of James and John two of Jesus followers.

They are detail oriented. The men are hiding away somewhere trembling for fear of the roman and jewish authorities. The women are concerned with anointing the body of Jesus.

That’s how women are, they see something that needs to be done and they go do it. They aren’t worried about getting in trouble for loving Jesus, they’re too loyal for that.

But they do realize quickly, who is going to role the stone away?

Next, it says in verses 4-5…

"But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed."

The women are surprised to find that the stone blocking the entrance to the tomb has been rolled away. It’s very early in the morning. They aren’t expecting anyone to be there.

And I think we have to understand the grief the women are feeling right now. They’ve lost their savior, their lord, their dearest friend. They are grieving and struggling to understand what is happening. They are hurting and depressed and broken and filled with sorrow.

They don’t know what to do next. So they are going to care for the body. But God is about to completely flip the script on them.

They see this young man, in a white robe sitting there in the tomb. But this is no mere man. This guy is actually an angel, a messenger of God, coming to give them some very specific instructions.

The events become supernatural here. God is able to break the laws of nature. He does so regularly. He made the laws of nature after all is it any wonder that he can break them when he desires to do so?

Is it any wonder the God who made the universe made other life forms as well, like animals, and angels?

Don’t let that word “angel” scare you, it’s filled with a lot of old ideas and things from media. But the word means messenger, or envoy, a diplomatic agent of God, one who is sent.

And here we come to the key scripture of Mark 16, the breakthrough moment:

It says in verse 6: “Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him.”

He has risen from the dead. Essentially this messenger of God tells them, Jesus is alive right now. He is not in fact dead. And very importantly: See the place where they laid him.

He was saying to them, inspect the evidence yourself. You are now eye witnesses to what is happening in human history at this moment. Your testimony matters. Remember this moment.

Jesus is not dead. And the entire world changes for these three women. The entire world changes for the disciples, though they don’t know it yet. The entire world changes for you and me, because Jesus does not stay dead. He is alive. And we find out, there is in fact, life after death, if it’s for Jesus, who is our brother in the faith, it can be for us too today.

We can live forever too. That is the great question, answered, can we live after death? If we’re in Christ, the answer is yes. We can have eternal life. We don’t have to suffer eternal death.

You’ve found the fountain of youth. The meaning of life. The truth about everything. The answer to the nagging question about death, can we survive death? The answer is yes. Through Jesus Christ.

Why then does the world seem so perplexed about this question? Because they don’t want to have to come through Jesus. They are busy with technology, medical science, and DNA manipulation among other things, busily trying desperately to find a way to overcome death through bio-technology, to find some way to stop the flesh of the human from failing. But it’ll never work.

God decreed that humans would live and die, and then face judgment. And no amount of Elon Musk technology, or Yuval Noah Harari’s protestations about giving humans god-like powers will ever succeed in overcoming what God has ordained.

Only through Jesus Christ can we find eternal life. It’s so simple we just can’t quite face it. We want it to be more complicated. We want to use science and technology and medical knowledge and computer coding and DNA manipulation, but we can’t quite grapple with an intelligent designer of the universe who loves us and made us for a purpose. That offends our modern sensibilities too much. It makes us cringe. So we avoid it. But we shouldn’t, because there’s something there if we’ll allow ourselves to see it.

Next, we get the instructions from the agent of God.

In verse 7, “But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’”

Go and tell the disciples, and Peter, their leader, everything you’ve seen and heard. Spread the word. Be the eye witnesses and report what you’ve seen.

We have that same calling today, to be the eye witnesses for what Jesus Christ has done in our lives. We are to describe it to others so they can see our witness and think to themselves, “Maybe God is real. Maybe Jesus really is real. Maybe God can help me the way they helped this person!”

We have all encountered Jesus Christ. We haven’t encountered him in the flesh, but in the Spirit. And we all know he’s done a real, genuine work within us. It’s not a myth, it’s not a mind game, it’s something solid, tangible, real, something we can’t explain, but has fundamentally changed us into different people than we were before.

Finally in verse 8, we see how the women respond: “Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.”

So at first the women are so shocked by what they’ve just seen, they are full of fear, bewildered, and they run for their lives away from the situation.

Here’s where it gets a bit confusing. Because chapter 16 actually includes another 11 verses, verses 9 through 20. But, you may notice that depending on your Bible translation, it may be in italics in your Bible. That’s because the oldest manuscripts of the Bible don’t include verses 9-20.

But, many ancient translations do include verses 9 through 20, so there is some debate among scholars, should we include verses 9-20? Some manuscripts say that 1-8 is the short ending, while 9-20 is the long ending.

In any case verses 9-20 don’t change the content of the Bible at all, everything mentioned in 9-20 is mentioned in the other gospels, Matthew, Luke and John. So it all lines up. But I chose for this sermon and our focus on Mark’s gospel to mainly focus on verses 1-8.

Some manuscripts also include this statement between verses 8-9, which says, “Then they quickly reported all these instructions to those around Peter. After this, Jesus himself also sent out through them from east to west the sacred and imperishable proclamation of eternal salvation. Amen.”

But in most manuscripts, including in our modern Bibles, you’ll see this portion, which I will read for you now. It says this…

"When Jesus rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had driven seven demons. 10 She went and told those who had been with him and who were mourning and weeping. 11 When they heard that Jesus was alive and that she had seen him, they did not believe it.

12 Afterward Jesus appeared in a different form to two of them while they were walking in the country. 13 These returned and reported it to the rest; but they did not believe them either.

14 Later Jesus appeared to the Eleven as they were eating; he rebuked them for their lack of faith and their stubborn refusal to believe those who had seen him after he had risen.

15 He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. 16 Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. 17 And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; 18 they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well.”

19 After the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, he was taken up into heaven and he sat at the right hand of God. 20 Then the disciples went out and preached everywhere, and the Lord worked with them and confirmed his word by the signs that accompanied it."

Can humans live beyond the grave? The answer to that question is yes. The gospel of Mark has displayed for us, chapter by chapter, that this Jesus is really the son of God, come to Earth in human form. And Mark shows us why Jesus came, so that humans in the ugliest sins, the most filthy sins, can be reconciled to God, right relationship can be restored between God and sinful humans. And that is done through a mediator, Jesus Christ.

For most of Mark’s gospel we see present effects of what Jesus does, he heals someone of sickness, he teaches a parable, he gives wisdom, he confronts the authorities, he tells us about sin and righteousness, but in the end, we see the final and most important gift Jesus gives us: Life after the grave.

A way to heaven for sinful humanity. Eternal life. And then after receiving that gift we’re told, now share it with everyone you can, as Jesus said, go into all the world and proclaim the message.

That’s our mission today, as we live, to spread the message everywhere.

So we return to the beginning, like Corrie Ten Boom wonders, will we have the strength in the moment? I often wonder that, will I believe to the very end? In the Pilgrim’s progress before they enter the gates of heaven they must travel through deep waters, where their faith is tested one last time, you could call that death, the last test, will your faith remain through the test of death itself, and I believe for you and for me, when that time comes, not before, but when it does come, we will find we have the strength we need from God to stand that test of death, through which we will find eternal life on the other side.