"What Will It Take?" #81-34 Presented on The Lutheran Hour on April 27, 2014 By Rev. Ken Klaus, Speaker Emeritus of The Lutheran Hour (A Pillar of Salt) Copyright 2014 Lutheran Hour Ministries
Text: John 20:25
Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed! Of all the truths which are known to humankind, this is the most important. By God's grace and the Holy Spirit's power, it is my prayer that faith in the risen Redeemer is yours. Indeed, God grant the living Lord lives in us all. Amen.
Neither his friends nor his enemies could argue that the great leader was dead. The experts, as well as numerous eyewitnesses, were willing to attest to that fact. Even so, rumors began to circulate and people began to believe that their leader was not in his grave. That explains why a small group of people came together in the graveyard to see for themselves. They had to know; was their leader there or was he not, and if he wasn't in his grave, what had happened to his body? Sound familiar? Well, perhaps it is not as familiar as you might think.
You see, this Sunday, the Sunday after the Christian Church has celebrated the Savior's resurrection, right now I'm not speaking about Jesus. I'm talking about Abraham Lincoln. In the years after the great President's funeral many came to believe his body had been stolen. Such a belief was not without foundation. After all, more than one attempt had been made to steal away the President's corpse. That is why, in 1887, the Emancipator's casket was opened. His super-secret honor guard saw for themselves: the President's body remained where it had been placed. The rumors were silenced, the case was closed.
At least the case should have been closed. Let me take you to a different time, a different century. The date was September 26, 1901. On that date President Lincoln's body was to be placed into its final, and more secure, resting place. Before it was enclosed in a great, steel cage and surrounded by tons of concrete, it was decided Lincoln's casket should be opened one more time. Over the decades rumors had once again begun to make their rounds. People were coming to believe that somehow, in someway, somebody had managed to take the President's corpse. Those who were there that day report a harsh, choking smell came from the freshly opened casket. Solemnly, 23 people filed past the box. All agreed, more than 30 years after his death, Lincoln's remains were there. Yes, his black suit was now covered with a yellow mold and his gloves had long-since disappeared; but his face, his beard, the mole on his cheek, his shock of hair were all readily recognizable. Today we know the corpse of Abraham Lincoln awaits the day of resurrection in its crypt underneath the giant monument at Oak Ridge Cemetery in Springfield, Illinois. The rumors about Lincoln's body have been, for once and for all time, laid to rest.
There are other rulers whose names appear in history who have not been as fortunate. Khufu, the Egyptian Pharaoh who had the great pyramid built to keep his remains for all time, is absent without leave. Whether his body was removed by grave robbers or hidden by loyal priests cannot be decided. All we know is that the ponderous edifice designed to keep his corpse... is empty. Similarly, Alexander the Great is on the missing list. The General who conquered much of the known world before he reached the age of 35, was buried in Alexandria, Egypt. There, Alexander lay for centuries in a golden casket filled with honey. To that spot Caesar, Mark Anthony, and Augustus came to pay their respects. But, today, if you asked a tour guide in that ancient city to take you to see Alexander, he will confess, "Nobody knows where Alexander is." In 2007, it was announced the casket, the sarcophagus of Herod the Great, the ruler who murdered the children of Bethlehem, had been found by Israeli archaeologists. Yes, the casket was found, but Herod was nowhere in sight. It is assumed his grave was raided and destroyed at the time of the Jewish Revolt, but nobody can be sure of that or where Herod's body might be today.
Countless hours and great fortunes have been spent to keep and preserve the bodies of the rich and famous. Sometimes, as was true for Vladimir Lenin, those bodies are symbolic of a political system or a matter of national pride. It is not by accident that after the Nazi war criminals were executed at Nuremberg, their bodies were burned in the crematorium ovens at Dachau and thrown into a river. This was done to prevent the graves of those leaders from becoming rallying places for future generations.
Still, this Lord's Day, we must acknowledge that all of these questions about missing bodies and empty graves are nothing when they are compared to the controversy which has swirled around the burial of Jesus of Nazareth. There are a number of reasons why this might be. First, while the final resting spots of other historical personages may be of interest to the archaeologist, or the nationalist, or the hero-worshipper, they offer little to hold the attention of the common Joe or Jane. Second, while it is true the passing of these historical figures may be significant for someone who wants to win in Trivial Pursuit or desires pull down the big bucks on Jeopardy, their deaths have little practical value elsewhere. Lastly, and most importantly, there is no other death in all of human history which serves as the basis of faith for hundreds of millions of people. That is because no other faith claims the deceased has risen from the dead.
Khufu and Alexander and Herod died and were buried. Those are historical facts. Still nobody claims that the empty graves we see today have been made noteworthy by a resurrection. Robbers, political opponents, and the forgetfulness of the centuries have done their best to cloud the events which occurred after the passing of these personages, but nobody has claimed that any of these men possessed the power to defeat death and show themselves alive to a doubting world. Only Christianity makes such a claim. Today we confess that all of our doctrines, influence, and authority rises and falls on the validity of the claim: Jesus Christ has risen from the dead.
You see, if Jesus did not rise, then He was not the Son of God. If He was not the Son of God, He was a regular Man just like anyone else. If He was a regular Man, He could not have fulfilled the prophecies made about Him and the Christ Who suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried; remains dead. If Jesus is still dead, then He is the world's greatest Liar and history's most monumental Deception. If Jesus is still dead, then our sins remain unforgiven, we still stand condemned, and all who believe in Him are to be pitied.
Amazingly, it was Jesus' enemies, not His family, friends, or followers, who understood the impact and importance of the Savior's resurrection. That is why, after Jesus had breathed His last, after His heart had been punctured by a Roman spear, after His cold and lifeless body had been hurriedly buried in a borrowed tomb, the Jewish chief priests and scribes went to Pilate and said, "Sir, we remember how that Impostor said, while he was still alive, 'After three days I will rise.' Therefore order the tomb to be made secure until the third day, lest his disciples go and steal him away and tell the people, 'He has risen from the dead,' and the last fraud will be worse than the first" (Matt 27:63-64).
Not for a second did those leaders believe that Jesus would actually rise. No, they were far more concerned with the possibility of Jesus' body being stolen and someone claiming a resurrection. To stop such declarations before they got started, these leaders asked for, and received, permission to have the tomb guarded and the grave made secure. It was a shrewd move designed to prevent any false claims of a resurrection from being made by Jesus' disciples. It was a shrewd move that succeeded far better than those religious leaders could have hoped. You see, the same guard and seal which prevented false claims of a resurrection, also guaranteed that if Jesus rose from the dead, it could be believed.
Let me explain. As far as the disciples and any plot concocted by them were concerned, the priests could have saved themselves the time and the expense. I say that because Scripture is embarrassingly frank when it talks about what Jesus' followers thought and believed after His execution. The women who had been at the cross and had seen the Savior die, followed His funeral procession to His borrowed grave. They noted its location because it was their intention, when the Sabbath Day of enforced rest was over, to go back so they could pay their last respects and finish the final rites for Jesus' body. That they had no inkling Jesus might actually defeat death is shown by their predawn trip to the grave on Sunday morning. Wishing to do their respectful work before the Judean heat would make the smell of His decomposing body insufferable, they made their way to the grave in the cool of the day. As they saw it, their job was to anoint a corpse, not pay homage to the risen Lord.
And if the ladies were mistaken as to what was going to happen that miraculous morning, what can be said about His disciples? They had slept in the Garden of Gethsemane when Jesus needed them; they had run into the darkness rather than defending Him; they had been absent when witnesses made their false reports about Him, and all but one thought it wisest to stay away from His crucifixion. For them, Jesus was dead and it was unnecessary for them to accompany the ladies to the grave. Scripture tells us their time was spent cowering in fear behind locked doors. The two disciples from Emmaus spoke for all of Jesus' followers when they explained, "... we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel" (Luke 24:21). Note the tense. We HAD hoped. Yes, we had hoped Jesus would lead us, He would free us, He would restore us. All that we had wished for but when Jesus died, our hopes died with Him.
That first Resurrection Sunday nobody thought Jesus was actually going to rise from the dead. When the women came back from Jesus' grave and told how they had actually seen the Savior, the disciples refused to listen and remained disinclined to remember how Jesus had promised He would rise from the dead. No, the disciples disregarded the remarks of the women as having come from mourners who were overwrought by what they had seen at Calvary; ladies who had been made semi-hysterical by their grief.
Theirs was an attitude which was soon to be echoed by one of their own brothers, Thomas. You see, after Jesus had confronted the ten disciples by coming into their midst through locked doors; after He had eaten with them; after He had breathed on them; after He had spoken to them and comforted them, they simply had no choice: they had to believe the Savior had defeated death, conquered the grave, and was the world's Savior. These were facts they tried to convey to the only member of their group who had not been with them when Jesus had made His extraordinary appearance.
They shared their tale with Thomas and he refused to accept their word. For centuries preachers have called him "Doubting Thomas," but the nickname is unduly harsh. None of us, not you, not I, are inclined to believe someone can rise from the dead. I have conducted over 300 funerals and all of those deceased have stayed where they were placed. And, if one of their graves did happen to be found empty, I could give 100 logical explanations to explain away that grave's emptiness. Yes, I could give 100 explanations and not one of them would declare: "The individual has risen." We all know resurrection doesn't happen and if it does happen, then an extraordinary thing, a miraculous thing, a unique and Divine thing has taken place.
Which ought to lead you and me to inquire: "So, then, did Jesus rise?" All of us who have ever thought about death and grave, sin and punishment ought to inquire, "How can I be sure?" If that is the question which is on your heart this day, let me ask a question of my own: "What would it take to convince you that Jesus has risen from the dead?" There is an expression which says "Seeing is believing." Today in an age of computer-generated special effects, we know we can't believe what we see. In the last month I have seen talking dogs, a dead Colonel Sanders selling chicken, and the crew of the Starship Enterprise go faster than the speed of light. None of us believe what we see.
So once again I ask, 'What would it take for you to believe Jesus has risen from the dead?" Are you willing to take my word? I think not. Too many politicians have told you untruths; too many theologians have shown their unreliability; too many advertisers have made false claims about their products. Most of us are disinclined to put our trust in the words of any human being. We might be willing to concede that we are being given a version of the truth, but we still aren't ready to say, "This truth is whole, absolute, and verifiable."
So, my friend, what would it take for you to believe? The question is all important. Your eternal destiny, heaven, and hell rest on the answer you give. What will it take for you to believe? What proof can I offer? If I say, 'Millions have been comforted by knowing the living Jesus"; you will reply, "Other religions also offer comfort to their adherents." If I say, "The Bible is truth," you will reply, "Other books make the same claim." What will it take? I could tell you to look at the prophecies which Jesus fulfilled. That is an explanation which carries some weight. It is a claim which no other faith can make. But that calls for work on your part, and you who have dismissed God's word and the Savior's story, are not inclined to do that kind of investigation.
So what can I say to convince you? I will say this: "Where is Jesus' dead body?" That's it: "Where is His corpse?" The Jewish leaders most certainly wanted to stop this new faith before it got a serious foothold. Why didn't they produce Jesus' body? It should have been a simple thing for them to do. And if they couldn't do that, why didn't they come up with a Jesus look-alike? It wouldn't have taken that much. Bodies decompose quickly in the Judean heat. Puncture a corpse with some nail holes; whip the back of the corpse; scar the head with a crown of thorns and voila, you have a Jesus' clone.
Why they didn't produce a body, some body, anybody's body and say, "This is Jesus!"; they didn't because they couldn't. That's right, they couldn't. They couldn't claim Jesus' body had been stolen; they couldn't say His tomb had been robbed; they couldn't say these things because it was common knowledge that crucified Jesus, dead Jesus was alive and well. James saw Him; Peter saw Him; the ten disciples saw Him; the eleven disciples saw Him; the two Emmaus disciples saw Him; more than 500 people at one time saw Him. All of these folks saw and knew Jesus was not dead. That is why, on Pentecost, after a short sermon, thousands believed in the risen Redeemer. On that day God's plan of salvation became clear to them. They knew death had been defeated, sin and Satan had been conquered. No longer was the grave their final destiny; no longer was hell their ultimate end. Because Jesus lives, His believers live. That is the fundamental, the incontrovertible proof of Christianity. Jesus lives and because He lives we can join with a no-longer-doubting Thomas and say, "My Lord and my God." If you do, your life will be eternally changed for the better.
An exaggeration? Not at all. I remember how, as a little boy, I came home from a long and trying day at school. "Mom, I'm home," I said as I burst through the door. But Mom wasn't downstairs. She wasn't anywhere. The seemingly empty house became cold and forbidding. Anxiously I called out, "Mom!" From the basement I heard, "I'm here, Kenny." Those few words instantly changed the atmosphere of the whole house. No longer unfriendly and frightening it became one of warmth. Today the living Lord Jesus comes and says, "I'm here." If you hear Him and believe in Him, this world and your life will be filled with peace.
If the living Jesus is Someone you need and long for, we stand ready to make sure the introduction which has begun today is complete. That is why we extend this invitation to you: "Please call us at The Lutheran Hour." Amen.
LUTHERAN HOUR MAILBOX (Questions & Answers) for April 27, 2014 Topic: A Pillar of Salt
ANNOUNCER: Questions and answers with our Speaker Emeritus, Pastor Ken Klaus. I'm Mark Eischer.
KLAUS: Hi, Mark. Good to be here. So, what do you have for us today?
ANNOUNCER: Today we have a question from a listener who writes... or maybe I should say, who challenges us, "In the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, why did God turn Lot's wife into a pillar of salt for looking back? Was that mercy?"
KLAUS: Let's back up a bit. Lot, who's that? He was Abraham's nephew and he needed his own space. So, he and his family went to live near a couple of towns that have become synonymous with gross sin and wickedness...
ANNOUNCER: Sodom and Gomorrah.
KLAUS: The Bible doesn't give us the name of Lot's wife or whether she always had this unfortunate stubborn streak. All we know is that two angels came and warned them about the impending destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. The angels told them to get out, to flee and not look back.
ANNOUNCER: Even then, the angels had to pretty much take them by the hand in order to make them leave.
KLAUS: They got out, just before the fire and brimstone came down, but Lot's wife gave in to temptation, looked back and was zapped into a pillar of salt.
ANNOUNCER: Now, we always speak here of God's mercy. Where was God's mercy here?
KLAUS: God is always merciful... and He is always just. The two are part and parcel of Who He is and how He deals with humanity.
ANNOUNCER: Now I can easily understand the justice part in the story; Lot's wife disobeyed and immediately suffered the consequences. But I think many folks would have a hard time understanding how God's mercy comes into play here.
KLAUS: I agree. So, let me try and explain how God's mercy is involved in this story and then expand the application beyond Lot's wife.
ANNOUNCER: Sounds good.
KLAUS: Okay. First, let's talk about Lot, his wife, his family. Were they sinners?
ANNOUNCER: Of course. Just like all human beings.
KLAUS: Okay. Even though they were sinners, God still warned them about the impending destruction of their town. He told them how they could escape. He told them they should get out and not look back.
ANNOUNCER: He did all of those things.
KLAUS: Sounds like mercy to me. Did they do as the Lord told them?
ANNOUNCER: Lot and his daughters did. Lot's wife didn't. She turned around.
KLAUS: When she turned around, was that simply a matter of curiosity or because she regretted having left all of her stuff behind?
ANNOUNCER: The Bible doesn't tell us.
KLAUS: No, it doesn't. What it does say is that Lot's wife chose to ignore what God had told her to do. She showed her priorities. I think she thought she could get away with it. In short, by turning back she showed her loyalties.
ANNOUNCER: I suppose that's so. But I don't understand yet how what happened to her could, in any way, be merciful.
KLAUS: Let me explain. Lot's wife showed her true feelings by looking back. In a way, God then showed respect for those feelings and gave her what her heart desired. She was destroyed along with the city she couldn't leave behind. You see, our merciful God doesn't force His grace on anybody. On the contrary, He gives people what they really want-even if that means their eventual destruction.
ANNOUNCER: All right. I think I understand. Can you tell me how that might be expanded? Maybe that would help to clarify things.
KLAUS: Okay. Be glad to. The world is a sinful place; all of us who live in it have shown our disobedience to the Lord and His will. For this we justly deserve to be punished. Okay?
ANNOUNCER: I agree.
KLAUS: But God, in His mercy sent His Son into this world. Jesus fulfilled the law by living a perfect life for us; He resisted every temptation placed in His path, He died the death our sins had earned. On the third day He rose from the dead and showed that for all who believe on Him as Savior, forgiveness and eternal life is theirs. Okay?
ANNOUNCER: I can't find any fault with that.
KLAUS: But there are people who refuse God's grace, who chose not to worship Jesus, who prefer to remain in their sins, who wish to make it on their own. What is going to happen to them?
ANNOUNCER: The Bible says that apart from Christ, they will wind up in hell.
KLAUS: Is that because God wants them to go to hell?
ANNOUNCER: No. God wants them in heaven. That's the whole reason why Jesus did what He did.
KLAUS: Do you see? If somebody doesn't want anything to do with Jesus and they reject the salvation He won for them at such a great price, God, in His mercy, will sadly, regretfully give them what they want. He won't force them to be saved. But, ultimately, ultimately, God wants us to be saved and that is why He sent His Son Jesus into the world.
ANNOUNCER: Thank you, Pastor Klaus. This has been a presentation of Lutheran Hour Ministries.
Music Selections for this program:
"A Mighty Fortress" arranged by Chris Bergmann. Used by permission.
"Christ Jesus Lay in Death's Strong Bands / That Easter Day with Joy Was Bright" arr. Henry Gerike. Used by permission.
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