The Bible is full of miracles. Maybe the first one is the story of Noah.
|From the recent movie “Noah”|
I haven’t seen the new movie, but regardless of what Russell Crowe does and how Hollywood portrays it, it took some divine intervention to not only build a boat that big but to collect 2 every animal and then survive for 40 days and nights with all those animals on the raging waters. Then there is the miracle of the plagues that struck Egypt and Moses parting the Red Sea, immortalized in another movie, 10 Commandments, with Charlton Heston.
But there are other miracles in the Old Testament that have not been made into blockbuster movies. There is Elijah calling down the fire of God and Jonah being swallowed by a big fish when he was cast into the sea. Through his people, God performed many miracles in the Old Testament
Jesus certainly continued the work of God and performed many miracles. Through this season of Lent we looked at the miracles of Jesus and how he healed the woman who had been bleeding for many years
as well as 10 lepers,
Jesus healed a Canaanite woman’s daughter,
turned water into wine at a wedding in Cana
and fed close to 20,000 people with 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish.
But clearly the most important miracle of Jesus and the miracle to end all miracles was his own Resurrection.
As we have looked at the miracles of Jesus these past 6 weeks I have tried to share some pictures from the locations where these miracles took place, so today I want to do the same thing and show you the 2 empty tombs of Jesus. Yes, you heard that right -2 empty tombs. You see the reality is that we do not know what tomb Jesus was laid in after he was taken down from the cross which means we do not know where he rose from the dead. We might think it was strange that the disciples didn’t somehow mark the grave and celebrate it as the location of this miracle, but they didn’t do that because they had the presence of Jesus with them. Why go back to an empty tomb when you have the living Jesus at your side? So the tomb or grave of Jesus didn’t become any kind of shrine or holy site until 300 years after Jesus’ resurrection and by then no one knew for sure where the tomb was located.
It was about 325 AD when Christianity had become a dominant world religion under Constantine that people started to think about the locations of where Jesus was born and died. It was Constantine’s mother, Helena, who traveled to Jerusalem and investigated the city to try and determine where Jesus was crucified and buried. What she found was a hill that would have been right outside the walls of Jerusalem in the first century which was also along a main road so they began looking there. As a means of execution, crucifixion was not only used to put a criminal to death, it was to be deterrent to other people so we believe that Jesus was executed along a main road somewhere outside the walls of the city. We also know it was on a hill that they called Golgotha which means the place of the skull, so the hill may have looked like or resembled the shape of a skull.
Helena located a spot and close to it they also found an old tomb so they did a little more digging and exploration and Helena said that she found pieces of Jesus’ actual cross so she declared that to be the place where Jesus was crucified and buried.
|Church of the Holy Sepulcher|
Today that site is located in a massive basilica called the Church of the Holy Sepulcher where you climb some stairs to reach the top of the hill and under an altar you can reach down and touch the ground where many believe that Jesus was crucified.
|Under the Altar|
You then you make your way down to the place where they found the tomb and what they did in 325 / 326 AD was remove the mountain that would have been on top of the tomb but leave the actual stones in place where the bodies would have laid and then they built a church around it.
|The Chapel of the Angel INSIDE the Church of the Holy Sepulcher|
This is called the Chapel of the Angel, since it was only angels that were in the tomb when the disciples arrived.
I have to say that this chapel and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher had to be the most amazing structure I saw in the Holy Land beyond maybe the Temple walls, and inside the tomb, beyond the candles and icons and pictures of Jesus, there is just a slab of rock.
|The tomb of Jesus inside the Chapel of the Angel|
It has been worn smooth through 1700 years of people laying their hands on it and imagining what it would have been like to be the disciples rushing in there that Resurrection day.
Now I did say there are two empty tombs and the other one actually looks a lot more like what you might think of as the empty tomb because it is in a garden about a half mile outside the current walls of Jerusalem.
|The Garden Tomb|
Many believe that Jesus may have been crucified and buried here because not only is there a grave that dates to the first century,
but there is also a hill that looks like a skull.
Today you only see the eyes of the skull but if you can see in this older photo there is what looks like a full skull which leads some people to think that this was Golgotha.
|Look at the older picture in this picture to see the full “skull”|
Again, near this hill is a tomb that dates back to the first century or the time of Jesus and it is the rolling stone type of tomb, which means there would have been a giant stone here that would have rolled in this track and sealed the grave.
|Track that would have held the Grave Stone|
We know this is the kind of tomb Jesus was laid in because the women wondered how they would roll the stone away. There is no stone anymore, but the grave is still here and it has been damaged
|You can see the stones that have been used to repair the opening|
and there is some thought it could have been damaged in the first century by an earthquake, maybe the earthquake the bible talks about when Jesus rose.
What makes this sight compelling as the tomb of Jesus is that it is located in a garden and we know that because they found here an ancient wine press.
The grapes would have been crushed on one side and you can’t really see it here, but this side is higher and the juice would have flowed to the other side and used to make the wine. Now if there was a wine press here this large, then they would have grown the grapes here as well because they wouldn’t have added work to the process by transporting the grapes from a vineyard or garden far away. So this was a garden, a working garden, full of grapevines and the Bible says the tomb of Jesus was in a garden. In fact, Jesus was even mistaken for the gardener by Mary.
The reason I think this is more likely the tomb of Jesus
|Inside the Garden Tomb|
is because it is located in a garden, it is the right kind of tomb, the rolling stone kind, and it is a half mile away from where Jesus was crucified. If Jesus had been crucified literally steps from the cross then everyone would have known where he was buried but the Bible makes a point of telling us that the women followed and watched Joseph take the body away to the tomb – Luke 23:52-56. If the tomb was in the same spot as the cross, this wouldn’t be needed. I also have a hard time thinking they would hold a crucifixion so close to a working vineyard that makes wine and tomb belonged to Joseph of Arimathea, a wealthy and religious man, who wouldn’t have had a tomb along a road next to the location where Rome crucified prisoners.
So those are the two sites and for what it’s worth, I believe Jesus was crucified at the site of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher which would have been closer to the city which means it would have been more visible, therefore more of a deterrent which the Romans would have wanted, but that he was buried in the garden tomb which was farther away, the right kind of tomb and in a garden.
Seeing all of this helps us understand that the story is true, all the evidence points to the fact that it is true, but the location of the empty tomb really isn’t important for us today for the same reason it wasn’t important for the disciples, because the resurrection of Jesus is not a past event to be remembered it is a present reality to be lived. Jesus is alive – today – here and now – with us. Jesus is alive and if God has the power to raise Jesus from the dead. Then God can do anything.
Let’s go back to the tomb for a moment. We say it was empty, but it wasn’t really empty because the grave clothes of Jesus were there. The cloth that they used to wrap Jesus body was lying there as if the body of Jesus had just passed right through it. It was an empty shell. We don’t know what happened to those clothes – you have to wonder if they were ever used again or the disciples took them that day – but I can imagine Peter, James and John thinking back on that moment of seeing the clothes and then seeing Jesus and thinking to themselves, if God can do this? Then God can do anything.
If God has the power to raise Jesus from the dead, then God has the power to do anything and everything. If God can overcome the power of sin and death then God has the power to overcome any obstacle or problem in life. If God can do this…. Then the potential and possibilities are endless.
What is it that we need God to do in our lives? Where do we need this miraculous power of God to bring us resurrection and new life? Mary needed the restoration of a relationship. She needed to know that she was still loved and cared for and not alone in this world. Many of us need the same thing today and the power of the resurrection can restore relationships. Today you might think your marriage is dead – but God can heal and restore relationships. You might think your relationship with a parent or child is forever broken and gone, but God can restore and redeem. You might think there will be no relationship for you and that no one notices or cares for you and that you are destined to be alone and lonely in this world – but if God can do this…. If God reached out to love and redeem Mary than God can restore our relationship and heal broken hearts and lives and marriages and families.
One thing we all need the power of God to do in our lives is bring forgiveness. We have all sinned, we have all failed God and others, we all make a mess of our lives at times and that might be exactly where you are today and if it is, think about Peter. He failed Jesus when Jesus needed him the most. Three times he denied that he even knew Jesus as Jesus stood alone being unjustly condemned. What Peter needed as he stood in the empty tomb and touched the empty grave clothes was to know that Jesus forgave him. And he did. Later that day when Jesus appeared to the disciples he offered them all peace and it was then a few days or even weeks later when Jesus personally forgave Peter here along the shores of the Sea of Galilee.
Peter was forgiven and the empty tomb means that we are forgiven. Our sin is forgiven. Jesus not only paid the price for our sin on the cross but his resurrection means that he has overcome sin and so we are can be set free from our sin and from the guilt and shame that often clings to us through that sin. If we need to experience the freedom of forgiveness today – we can. If God can do this… then we know that God can forgive.
If what we need today is direction for our lives and sense of hope for the future, then the power of God that raised Jesus from the dead can give us just that. Again, think about the disciples. They thought their lives and future were over. All that they had given themselves to for three years had come to an end. The future for them which once seemed so powerful had come to crashing halt and a crushing defeat when the tomb was sealed, but if God can do this…. Then the potential and possibilities for the future are truly unlimited. The community that Jesus talked about is still possible. The kingdom of God that Jesus said was here could still be built among them and that mission was still something they could work for and give their lives to. Their future looked promising once again.
There are many times when we experience crushing defeats in life. We might lose a job, watch our financial security fade away or struggle with a the larger question of what is my life all about – do I matter and does God really have a plan for me? I have asked those questions many times in my life and I can imagine the disciple Andrew asking that question in the days after Jesus died. Did he matter? Did God have a plan? But then there was the empty tomb and the empty grave clothes and if God can do this… then God can do anything.
God does have a plan for us and God is here today to give us the power we need to accomplish that plan. Jesus gave his power to the disciples so that they could find their way in this world and accomplish far more than Jesus ever did. The disciples and the followers of Jesus took the story of his life, death and resurrection and spread it far beyond Jerusalem and Galilee. Within 30 years the good news of Jesus had spread all over the Roman Empire and was on its way to spreading all over the world. God’s plan was at work through them and today God’s plan is at work in us and through us if we will open ourselves up to God and accept for ourselves his grace and love and power.
Today we can experience for ourselves the miracle of resurrection, the miracle of God’s power and find healing for our hearts, minds and bodies. Today we can experience the power of forgiveness. We can be set free from sin and from the guilt and shame of our sin and today we can experience the guiding hand of God which can lead us to lasting relationships, healthier families, stronger communities and a world that can experience the power of God’s eternal kingdom because…
If God can do this… God can do anything.
If God can do this… God can do everything.
Whatever we need God to do today, whatever miraculous power we need from Jesus today, he is here to do it. The tomb, wherever it was, was empty and after that first day they never went back, they didn’t need to because Jesus was then and he is today a present reality with us. Jesus is here to do anything and everything we need.
Christ is risen…
He is risen indeed!!