What’s So Important About an Empty Tomb?
by Jesse Dukes
If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.
1 Corinthians 15:13-14
As Easter approaches, I think its worth sharing an experience I had recently. I was talking to a teenager this past week who doesn’t identify as a Christian. He was telling my why he doesn’t find the Christian faith very compelling and our conversation went something like this:
Him: I don’t want to go to heaven for eternity, that sounds so boring, I want to explore other galaxies and stuff. Plus it seems like everyone who believes that just wants to escape this life… if you go to heaven forever in the end and the earth is destroyed, what’s even the point of this life?
Me: Did you know that the Bible doesn’t actually teach that people spend eternity in heaven?
Him: Uh, what?! What do you mean? Then what does it teach?
Me: The whole Bible story hinges on the claim that Jesus was resurrected from the dead in a new eternal body and that the story will end with God coming down to live here on a renewed and healed Earth with people, not people escaping to Heaven. So in that story, maybe you do get to explore other galaxies.
Him: Huh, weird… that’s a completely different story.
I imagine if you polled 100 people on the street and asked, “Where do Christians believe they will spend eternity?” My guess is that the vast majority would say: heaven. But if you read the Bible carefully, you see a hope that is distinctly rooted in life here on this earth, in living, breathing, human bodies (see Revelation 21, Isaiah 65:17-25).
Why does this matter though? Who cares if we spend eternity in heaven, or on the earth? As spirits, or in bodies? I remember reading those words of Paul in 1 Corinthians 15 for the first time as a young man myself and thinking, “Isn’t he being kind of harsh? Our preaching is useless and so is your faith?!”
An article came out this week that unpacks a recent Gallup study done on Religion and church attendance in America. The article highlights some trends in church membership that have been happening over the past 20 years and don’t appear to be changing anytime soon. After two decades of decline, for the first time ever, church attenders are in the minority in America. I’m sure there’s a myriad of reasons for this, but I believe that one of the main factors is that slowly over time, Christianity has forgotten the importance of the empty tomb and the bodily resurrection of Jesus. So as Easter approaches, I want to share with you some thoughts on why the reality of an Empty Tomb matters so much.
The New Testament is an amazing collections of correspondence letters, historical narratives, and apocalyptic literature… but the thing that links all of them together is that they all hinge on the claim that Jesus Christ was crucified, and that three days later rose from the grave in a resurrected body with power beyond normal human capacity. Earlier in 1 Corinthians 15:3-9, The Apostle Paul says this:
For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas (Peter), and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born. For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.
The central claim of Christianity isn’t a religious ceremony, or an inspired text, or a sacred location, or even an ethical principle… the central claim of Christianity is a historical event that could by verified by a staggering number of eye-witness testimonies from both friends and foes of Jesus of Nazareth.
This last aspect is probably one of the most overlooked. While one can imagine a scenario where someone’s followers and closest friends were motivated to fabricate a story of Jesus’ resurrection (although upon scrutiny this idea doesn’t hold water), what is impossible to imagine is how one of Jesus’ fiercest critics and opponents, for some reason made a complete about face and became arguable Jesus’ greatest evangelist. This reversal brought him no personal gain, and in fact came at the cost of his reputation, high societal position, his safety and comfort, and eventually his life.
Saul of Tarsus, the Jewish Religious Leader, had nothing to gain and pretty much everything to lose by becoming Paul, the Apostle of Jesus Christ. The only reasonable explanation for this reversal is that Paul saw irrefutable evidence that this Jesus who he thought was a false prophet, a fake Messiah, and a crucified cult-leader… was instead very much alive and was the hope of salvation for all who believe in His name.
To put this in today’s context, look at this excerpt from an excellent article by Kenneth Samples, that lays out 12 Evidences for the Resurrection of Jesus:
What caused Paul’s conversion—arguably the greatest religious conversion ever? To understand the true impact of this conversion, let’s consider what may be the modern equivalent of Paul’s first-century conversion to Christianity. Imagine the British prime minister and statesman Winston Churchill becoming a member of the Nazi party. Or the American president Ronald Reagan embracing Soviet communism. Or German Führer Adolf Hitler converting to the religion of Judaism. Whatever equivalent one rightly accepts, Paul’s conversion to Christianity was an absolutely astounding event.
When you really stop and look at the evidence, you see a sure and consistent pattern throughout the people who first experienced the truth of Jesus’ resurrection: the weak became strong, the timid became bold, the skeptics became believers, the oppressors became protectors, the ordinary became extraordinary, and the fearful became faithful witnesses of the world changing truth that Jesus is alive, and that He has conquered the grave and begun a New Creation.
The question is, would you like to see that sort of transformation is your life right now?
One of our central belief’s at the Gathering is this concept of Heaven Here Now. And the resurrection of Jesus is what lies at the heart of this idea. The good news of Easter is not just that there is a way to get to heaven when you die… the powerful truth that the empty tomb reveals is that HEAVEN HAS COME HERE NOW and that belief in the resurrected Jesus unleashes a power in your life that can transform lives, families, communities, and even nations right here and now.
If you would like to ask any questions about what it means to become a follower of the resurrected Jesus, please contact us today!