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A few weeks ago, I was in the historic cemetery at Botany. Here are buried many of Australia's earliest citizens, and many who have since come to this country from overseas. The cemetery reflects the demographics of the Botany area and its surrounds. That led me to thinking. What would archaeologists make of this cemetery if they were digging it up in 2000 years time, like archaeologists are digging up tombs in Jerusalem from the time of Jesus?
Obviously almost all of the graves would have turned the bodies back to the earth from which they were made. The elements of the soil would have claimed their own. Elements of the earth are taken up into the bodies of animals from the plants they eat and into us when we later eat the animals or other plants. So the elements of earth pass on into our cells making our bodies. Upon death, these bodies of ours oxidize quickly in a crematorium or decompose slowly in a grave. Then it comes to pass that these bodies of ours return to the earth, "ashes to ashes, dust to dust". Nothing of us remains. The gravestones, mostly made of sandstone would break down into sand or wear away in the wind. Wood would have decomposed, even the metal name plates would largely disappear. Nothing much would remain except for the imported Italian marble tombs with their lead caskets of the very wealthy. From them archaeologists could deduce that most people in Sydney were wealthy and spoke Italian. Archaeologists can get it wrong!
On Easter Saturday, the Archaeologist on our radio program, "Sunday Night Live With Gordon Moyes", David Down, gave a brilliant insight from archaeology and history, concerning men of the Old Testament who had insight into the Resurrection of Jesus. In passing, he made reference to an Israeli Archaeologist Professor Amos Kloner of the Bar Ilan University in Tel Aviv. Professor Kloner has been making a study of first century tombs, like that of the one in which the body of Jesus was laid.
The Gospel record of the burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ says Jesus was buried in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea. Matt 27:57-28:2. "As evening approached, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who had himself become a disciple of Jesus. Going to Pilate, he asked for Jesus' body, and Pilate ordered that it be given to him. Joseph took the body, wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, and placed it in his own new tomb that he had cut out of the rock. He rolled a big stone in front of the entrance to the tomb and went away. "Take a guard," Pilate said, "and go, make the tomb as secure as you know how." So they went and made the tomb secure by putting a seal on the stone and posting the guard. After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb. There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it." Matt 27:60. The resurrection story starts with an open tomb, with the huge tombstone rolled away.
Mark's Gospel adds, Mark 16:3 "Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb and they asked each other, "Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?" But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away." The tombstone was rolled away. It was obviously round. However, Prof. Kloner claims that this stone was not round but square. He points out that 98% of the known tombs in Israel from this period had square openings and square blocks of stone were pushed against them to block the opening. That's the way it was with tombs in Jerusalem and with many other tombs from that time.
Writing in the September 1999 edition of Biblical Archaeological Review Professor Kloner claims the blocking stone used to seal Jesus' tomb was most likely square, not round. The Greek text makes it clear the stone was round as the words used mean "roll away", or "roll something". There is also the sense in which it is used in the Gospels. The women would have had difficulty in rolling away a large round stone such as was used to block the entrance of the family tomb of Herod the Great in Jerusalem.
Why does Professor Kloner claim the tomb stone was square not round? Because 98% of the known tombs from that time had square stones to close their entrances. Further, he indicates poor people like Jesus, would not have buried in tombs with round stones as these were very expensive.
I am sure he is correct in saying that 98% of tombs discovered have square stones blocking the entrance. But he is making the same mistake as an archaeologist in the future looking at the surviving tombs of Botany cemetery would make if he were to deduce all people living in Sydney were Italian, simply because the only surviving tombs will be Italian marble, and almost all have Italian writing on them and people of Italian descent in them.
Prof. Kloner writes: "Round blocking stones were extremely rare, appearing only in the very prosperous and distinguished family tombs." He has forgotten that the Bible says Joseph of Aramethea, who provided his own tomb for the burial of Christ, was "a rich man", Matthew 27:57, and a "prominent council member", Mark 15:43, which probably means that he was not only a member of the Sanhedrin, the ruling Jewish administrative body of the day, but he was a leading member of that council. He was also on apparently good terms with Pontius Pilate, the Roman Governor in Jerusalem, for he "went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus." Luke 23:52. As a Jew Prof Kloner should also have remembered the Messianic prophecy that the Messiah, said Isaiah, "was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death." Isa 53:9
So the idea that it was a rolling stone is not only plausible but very likely, both because of what the eyewitnesses wrote and what the prophecy foretold. Once more the Bible is supported by archaeology.
Of itself, the empty tomb could not convince the disciples. Someone could have carried the body away and buried it elsewhere. Only John believed immediately, when he saw the empty tomb. Peter and John found the linen burial wrappings, stiff with dried ointment, just as though they still enclosed a body with the head cloth separate. It was as if Jesus had passed through the shroud.
The disciples were really convinced when personally they met with the risen Jesus, and found their hopelessness and despair turned into joyful belief. It was Jesus without a doubt. He was neither a ghost nor an apparition. The disciples saw him with their own eyes, touched him, and ate with him. At the same time, Jesus' body was different after his resurrection. He went through closed doors. He could appear from nowhere and disappear to nowhere. Paul later called this sort of body a `spiritual' or `glorified' body.
The New Testament nowhere describes how Jesus was raised to life. The risen Jesus appeared to a number of people at different times - on one occasion to 500 people at once-but not to everybody. The Gospel accounts show signs of the disciples' complete surprise at what happened. The accounts of the resurrection are all in agreement about the principal features. All tell us that the tomb was empty and that Jesus physically appeared. The apostles were to witness both to the truth and the significance of Jesus' resurrection.
The Resurrection is one the cardinal facts and doctrines of the gospel. Our Lord clearly taught His resurrection. "If Christ be not risen, our faith is vain." 1 Cor. 15:14. The whole of the New Testament revelation rests on this as an historical fact. On the day of Pentecost Peter argued the necessity of Christ's resurrection. Ten different appearances of our risen Lord are recorded. He appeared to Mary Magdalene at the sepulchre. Then to certain women, Mary, Salome, Joanna, and others, near the sepulchre. Then to Simon Peter alone. Then to two believers on the way to Emmaus. Then to the ten disciples (Thomas being absent) and others "with them" at Jerusalem on the evening of the resurrection day. Then, a week later, to the disciples again, Thomas being present. Then to the disciples when fishing at the Sea of Galilee. Then to the eleven, and to more than 500 believers at once in Galilee. Then to James, then the apostles immediately before the ascension as they travelled from Jerusalem to Mount Olivet. There they saw Jesus ascend "till a cloud received him out of their sight". On every occasion there was ample opportunity of testing the fact of His resurrection. He conversed with them face to face. They touched him. He ate with them. In addition, Christ's appeared to Paul on the Damascus Road. Luke implies Acts 1:3 there may have been other appearances.
The importance of Christ's resurrection will be seen when we consider that if He rose, the gospel is true. If He did not rise from the dead, it is false. Christianity stands on the fact of the Resurrection.
His resurrection from the dead makes it obvious that His sacrifice was accepted. Our justification was secured by His obedience to the death. Therefore He was raised from the dead. Rom. 4:25. His resurrection is a proof that Jesus made a full atonement for our sins. His resurrection indicates His sacrifice was accepted as a satisfaction to divine justice. His resurrection shows His blood was a ransom for sinners. His resurrection gives a pledge of the resurrection of all believers. As He lives, so we shall live also.
Just before last New Year's Eve, in discussing the Man of the Millennium, 'TIME' magazine, quite correctly, declared that judging on His impact on human history, Jesus Christ was the Man of two Millennia. If Jesus Christ was the Man of Two Millennia, then Easter day two thousand years ago, when Jesus was raised from the tomb, was the day that made the millennium. That day made the millennia looking forward to it. That day made the millennia looking back to it. That day divided history into BC "Before Christ" and AD, "the year of our Lord."
The day that made the Millennium is the first Easter when Christ rose from the dead. Everything in Christianity depends upon that. Christ died for the forgiveness of your sins upon the Cross. He was buried in a tomb, with a round stone sealing it, and a guard set to watch it, for the redemption of your body and soul. He was raised from the dead to newness of life, so that you who believe in Him might share with Him in eternity.
Diggings, April 2000 D. Down Ed.
Biblical Archaeological Review. September 1999.
Rev Dr Gordon Moyes
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