On this one day of the year, most of Christendom celebrates the RESURRECTION of Christ. I hope that many of those people also take time to remember the death and burial of the Lord as well. The death, burial and resurrection of Christ go together – they are a matched set. But they aren’t the little knick-knacks many people make them out to be – toys pulled out once a year. As I say, each of the three – The death, burial and resurrection – link together. Without the second member of the set, there wouldn’t have been a third. And without the third part, the first member would have been proven to be null and void. “Christ died for our sins, according to the scriptures; and … he was buried, and … he rose again the third day according to the scriptures.” Furthermore, He was “declared to be the Son of God” and our Saviour, BY “His resurrection from the dead” – Romans 1:4.
I suppose that most professing Christians can describe to some extent Jesus’ death and burial. They can tell you a bit about the cross and the borrowed tomb of Joseph. They know a little about the death and burial of Christ. But what about the burial of the man of whom we read in our opening scripture – John the Baptist? I am not implying that John’s death and burial are as important as that of the Lord Jesus, but I’m going to try to make a point. Not more than one in ten professing Christians can tell you about the burial of John the Baptist. Some will remember that he was beheaded for righteousness’ sake. But very few would remember that his disciples gathered up his headless body and buried it.
It is the differences between John’s and Jesus’ graves that I’d like to consider this morning. Nathaniel Hawthorne once wrote, “A grave, wherever found, preaches a short and pithy sermon to the soul.” Someone else added, “Of all pulpits from which the human voice is ever sent forth, there is none from which it reaches quite so far as from the grave.” Sadly, like voices on the wind, the message of the average grave is soon forgotten. For example, most of the world knows the details of the death, burial and resurrection of Christ. But when it comes to the burials of others, we either know nothing or we quickly forget. We may be able to point to the graves of our parents and even our grandparents, but beyond that, our memories get a little fuzzy.
Every grave, even the tomb of Christ, tell us that our lives are short. Jesus and John were both in their early thirties when they died – young. Like them, the clay vessels of our bodies are easily damaged and broken. We are all as “vapor that appeareth for a little time and then vanisheth away.” “All flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass. The grass withereth, and the flower thereof falleth away.” Every grave tells us that we had better prepare for eternity, because earthly life is short.
If every tomb as a message – then the EMPTY, garden tomb of the Lord Jesus must provide a doctrinal dissertation. Every year for two thousand years, thousands of sermons have been preached on Resurrection Sunday. And the theme has often been the same – “He is not here, He is risen.” There is perhaps no more important message from human lips – or angel’s lips – than those sentences related to the resurrection of Christ.
But what if we compare the graves John and His Saviour, Jesus Christ? What additional lessons can be gleaned with the comparison? What if we consider the burial of John as representative of all the burials of everyone except Christ? John – an ordinary man, was in fact one of the greatest men who ever walked this earth – That is what the Lord Jesus said of him. “The law and the prophets were until John;” He was the one preparing a pathway for the Lord. He was the first Baptist, a preacher of repentance. Hundreds, if not thousands, of souls are with the Lord today because of his short ministry. At his death, his disciples ventured into the jaws of the lion to rescue his body. He was buried without great ceremony, but apparently with great tears. Where was that grave? No one but God knows for sure. Where IS that grave today? As all grave eventually go – it is gone. That under-shepherd of Christ was smitten by the will of a wicked woman, and John’s sheep scattered. The day when his burial party left that tomb or grave-side many never met again in this life.
The grave of John marked the end of an era, but grave of Jesus was essentially the beginning eternity. The whole of Christianity is unintelligible without the reality of Christ’s resurrection. And the distinction between those two burials can be seen in the LIVES of John’s disciples and Jesus’ disciples. Thankfully, some of the first group became members of the second.
Three days after Jesus’ burial, His disciples began to behave unlike anything anyone expected.
The natural thing, upon the death of Christ was for the disciples to disband and disburse. The bond which held them together was gone. “Their rabbi was dead,” the Jews might have said. The fires of hell had melted the glue holding them together. By ordinary laws they should have said: “Back to your tents O Israel, we have no man to reign over us..” “Let’s get back to our fishing, our finances, our farming and our philosophies.” At the death King Saul that is what Israel did. It was the same Absolom, and hundreds of other dynamic leaders. The Jewish teacher Gamaliel was right – “If Jesus is an ordinary man those disciples will prove it by scattering.”
But that is exactly the opposite to what really happened. They scattered all right. Acts 8:4 says that they scattered abroad preaching the gospel of the death, burial and resurrection of Christ. “He is alive, He is alive.” Instead of burying Christianity, that grave buried people’s fears, superstitions and idols. The death of Christ united those disciples, and thousands of them began to testify to the glory of the living Lord Jesus Christ.
The unity of those disciples was special, but HOW they were they united? One of the elderly ladies I pastored while in New Mexico told me about her grandfather who was a soldier in the Civil War. That man was captured and sent to prison at Andersonville – she said he called it a “living death.” But every so often for years after the war, there was reunion of the people that suffered and survived that death. They bore the scars that place, but they came back as farmers, merchants, doctors and lawyers. I wonder if some of the disciples of John ever had reunions? How many returned as fishermen, shepherds and farmers? I can picture such a reunion, If their allegiance was more toward John than towards the Lord Jesus.
But for the disciples of CHRIST, any reunion was not made between farmers, fishers and factory workers. Within four days of Jesus burial, He was transfigured in the disciples’ minds from Rabbi to Deity. While Jesus had earlier walked the streets of Jerusalem few accepted His real nature. But at the open grave something new entered the equation which changed everything. It was not just the cross – because no mere martyr can so revolutionize peoples’ lives like that. It was not merely the life that Jesus lived which changed Peter the fisherman to Peter the Apostle. The once timorous and tremulous disciples instantly became bold and boisterous. Even when WITH the Lord during His life, they had been weak and helpless, but now they were strong and courageous. Before, they were selfish children fighting for the first seats in Kingdom, but now they had been revolutionized into humble, saintly servants. What turned these people into heros of faith and action? There is no NATURAL explanation.
But the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is no natural event.
Nothing proves a fact or principle than seeing the effects of that principle in some practical way. Guglielmo Marconi was convinced that he could transmit radio messages over the curvature of the earth. At the time, 130 years ago, there was hardly a scientist in the world who agreed. It took a famous murder in London to convince the world. The two murders escaped capture by boarding an old small steamer bound for Quebec City. When the captain of that ship believed he had the suspects on board, he radioed England as his ship was leaving the English channel; he didn’t get a reply. But the chief investigator got the message and boarded another faster steamer, reaching the mouth of the St. Lawrence before the killers. In the mean time, the whole world was reading in their papers the wireless reports passed from ship to ship, to ship, to shore. In the process of that chase across the Atlantic, Marconi’s invention became a thorough success.
How can I be sure that Jesus arose from the dead? I can see the transmission of that truth in the changed lives of the disciples – to their converts, then to an other generation and another. I know that Christ was alive weeks after His undeniable death – because of the testimony of hundreds who saw him.. How do I know He is still living? Through the experience and testimony of thousands of saints since. I know that Christ is alive because I can see way He is fulfilling His scriptures. I know that Christ is alive today because He fulfills those scriptures not just generally but personally in my own life. “I serve a risen Saviour, He’s in the world today…. He lives within my heart.” I know He’s alive by an unbroken line of people who have been touched and changed by Him. It is similar to talking to someone on east coast through messages bounced from cell tower to cell tower.
The resurrection of Christ is the root and foundation of Christianity. From the church in Jerusalem, came other churches along the eastern Mediterranean coast. They came into existence because there were people being born again through the death, burial and resurrection of Christ. From those Mediterranean churches came churches throughout the world – filled with born again people. Twenty-five years after Jesus’ resurrection Paul was still preaching that resurrection in I Cor. 15. He was preaching it because it was so vitally important. He declared that message until the day of his own death. Rods couldn’t beat it out of him, nor stones, nor days in prison. Peter preached it on the day Pentecost in Acts 2 and then to
Sanhedrin and again to house Cornelius. “Jesus is declared to be the Son of God with power, by the resurrection from the grave.” There are references to the resurrection in Ephesians , I Thessalonians, Hebrews, II Timothy. Revelation, Galatians, Philippians, and Colossians. Christianity rises or falls on the resurrection of Christ.
And such ideas as this could not been maintained very long if they not true.
Marconi’s invention has just gotten more precise and more practical in the last hundred years. And from the very day of Jesus’ resurrection Satan has fought against this truth with all his might. But one of Christianity’s curiosities is that with each new attack, the guns of the enemies have been silenced. The truth has been clarified and reproven. The first attack was the lie that Jesus’ body had been stolen by His disciples. Then came the swoon theory that Christ fainted; He was not really dead. Then were explanations for the apparent appearances – gaseous images and ghosts. There is the ever-present idea about mass-hypnosis or mass-hysteria. Each attack has rebounded to the glory of the Lord. “Hallucination” – but the same hallucinations don’t lay hold of hundreds of widely scattered people. “Myth” – but myths cannot be generated and received in three days, especially if they are lies. “Vision” – visions don’t occur in dozens of different places and at different times. Every argument the infidels advanced have been returned upon their own heads. “But couldn’t Satan have stirred up these myths and created these visions?” I suppose so, but in this case they would be counter productive to his plans. He would have wanted to DESTROY the testimony of Jesus’ resurrection, not strengthen it.
There is no better attested historical fact than the resurrection of Christ. It is as well proven as the accounts of Alexander the Great or Attila the Hun. More experts question and deny Shakespeare than they to the resurrection of Jesus Christ. He lives, I know my Saviour lives.
There lays the difference between the graves of John and Lord Jesus.
That difference was clearly discernable in the first Century. Several female disciples came to the grave in Matthew 28 in sorrow, but they left in joy. The disciples of John buried their hero in sorrow and left in sorrow. When Mary saw the resurrected Christ she fell at his feet in worship. The disciples of John could only turn to Christ, and only some of them did so. Two travelers on the Emmaus highway returned to Jerusalem with the zeal of successful gold seekers. Peter, the denier, soon was in Temple boldly defying the murderers of Saviour. Saul of Tarsus, the blasphemer, became the great witness to the Gentiles of Jesus’ resurrection. Stephen, the deacon, was willing to receive the stones of his executioners when he saw the risen Christ. On and on we could go, describing the results of Jesus resurrection.
But what were the effects of burial of the great servant of Jesus, John the Baptist?
I mentioned earlier that survivors of the Civil sometimes held reunions.
There were reunions at Gettysburg and other specific battlefields. There were reunions in Washington and at several places in the South. But rarely were they more than once a year at any one location. I mused a few minutes ago about whether or not the disciples of John had reunions at his grave side. I have my doubts, but if there were such things, it wouldn’t have been more than once a year. But the disciples of Christ – how often did they reunite? Every week and even more often. Can’t it be said that many professing Christians are worshiping at the wrong grave site, SINCE they gather in remembrance only once a year? Why is it that Easter, Christendom wide, is the best attended church service of the year? Isn’t it just like the yearly reunion of the survivors of Andersonville? Isn’t it like the disciples of John Baptist, if some of them gathered periodically to remember their former teacher? My Bible says that the lives of Jesus’ disciples were completely revolutionized. They didn’t gather once a year to honour their Master – they gathered every week. They met on “the Lord’s Day;” John was “in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day.” And they prayed together; they spread the gospel in their neighborhoods and around the world. The disciples of Jesus were of one heart and one soul – because of the effects of Christ’s resurrection.
The people who worshiped at the open tomb of Jesus, became sold out for God. But those who buried the headless body of the Baptist scattered. They probably told their grandchildren that they walked by River Jordan with John. They heard his powerful voice, they were baptized by his hand, and so on. But unless they turned to Jesus, their experience with John was wasted. Some of them could be like so many Christians today, following some servant of the Lord without becoming disciples of Christ. They bow at the tomb of the servant but only nod toward the empty tomb of the Saviour.
At what tomb are you bowing this morning? Jesus’ you say? Then I have to ask, Is your transmitter crackling with the message of the Lord Jesus Christ? Is your receiver attuned to His Word? The tomb of Christ is not opened for just one worship service a year. Some who worship at the tomb of Mary put those to shame who claim worship the Lord Jesus. Those who worship at tombs of Joseph Smith and Charles T. Russell put professing Christians to shame.
How many people who worship only on Easter are actually worshiping at the grave of their grandmother. They are not there for Christ, but rather in the memory of mom who took them to church that same Sunday for 16 or 18 years. There are many who are more the disciple of their former pastor, like John, than they are the Saviour.
My friend, only Christ has the words of life; only He has eternal life to give. If you aren’t SERVING Him, how can you say that you’re TRUSTING Him? If you aren’t worshiping Him on May 21 are you properly worshiping him on April 21? It is not our service of the Lord which washes away our guilt, but our service often reflects our faith. Are you deceiving yourself into thinking, Christ is THE Saviour when he is not YOUR Saviour? There will be no joyous resurrection for you unless Christ is truly your Lord and Saviour. “Repent … of this thy wickedness, and pray God, if perhaps the thought of thine heart may be forgiven thee.”