Running on Empty

Last week I mentioned the sermon's title, "And Then There Were None," was unintentionally the same as a book by Agatha Christie. This week, I chose "Running on Empty" fully well knowing that there was a song and record by Jackson Browne with the same name. Now, that's not my favorite Jackson Browne song—if I had to choose one it would be the combo of "The Load Out" and "Stay" on the same record…although if I was going to choose my favorite song about touring, nothing beats the live version of "Turn the Page" by Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band.

Although I'm sure you all wish we could keep talking about 70's music, just like last week's talk didn't parallel the Christie novel, this one really has no connection to the Jackson Browne song. I just like the title. πŸ™‚

And Then There Were None

Last week's sermon wrapped-up like a television show's season finale. It ended with Jesus "yielding up his spirit" (Matthew 27:50)…but that really wasn't the worst of it. Instead, before His end…

[ These are quick sermon notes…not cleaned-up…and missing the "extras" that come out in the audio (which is available here). All quotes are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted. ]

His disciples had fled.

And then there were none.

The Jewish rulers had damned him.

And then there were none.

The people who greeted Him as king and Messiah less than a week before chose a "notorious prisoner" over Him.

And then there were none.

The Roman governor who knew He was innocent "delivered him to be crucified."

And then there were none.

His Father treated Him as sin and left Him alone on the cross.

And then there were none.

And then there were truly none.

At that point there were many teary eyes in this sanctuary, including those of the preacher. We all can empathize how it feels to be alone…and we realized that we have never been as alone as Jesus was at that moment.

And that it was our fault!

So that "we might become the righteousness of God" "For our sake [God] made [Jesus] to be sin" even though He "knew no sin" (see 2 Corinthians 5:21).

In choosing sin we left Jesus alone on that cross…and…for all intents and purposes…we killed Jesus.

The Rest of the Story

But I also mentioned I didn't want to stop there…so this week is the…in the spirit of Paul Harvey…"The Rest of the Story."


First…and I thank Kathleen since her question on Facebook prompted me to include this fact…

No matter how terrible His death was on the cross, the first thing we should remember is that Jesus willingly choose to do it…that it was the Godhead's plan from the beginning. As I mentioned in a previous sermon, God was not caught unaware by the actions of our rebellious parents in the Garden of Eden.

They knew the cost of creating us humans.

And they did it anyway.

Praise God!

However, that does not diminish the severity of what we caused, or reduce the torture we inflicted on our Lord.

So, we rightly felt pretty miserable at the end of my sermon last week, and should feel the same right now…

Not the Whole Gospel

But, praise God again, the Gospel does not end on the cross…we'll turn to John 19:38-42 to continue the Passion Week narrative:

After these things Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus, and Pilate gave him permission. So he came and took away his body. 39 Nicodemus also, who earlier had come to Jesus by night, came bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds in weight. 40 So they took the body of Jesus and bound it in linen cloths with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews. 41 Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid. 42 So because of the Jewish day of Preparation, since the tomb was close at hand, they laid Jesus there.

Already we have some good news…we see Joseph of Arimathea…which Luke 23:50 says was a member of the council…and "how can [I] enter a second time into [my] mother's womb" to be born again Nicodemus (John 3:4)…a "ruler of the Jews" according to John 3:1…both finally stepping out in faith and exposing their support of Christ by treating His body with the care and respect it deserved.

Now we know the "bad" Jewish rulers were aware of the burial of Jesus' body thanks, in part, to Matthew…where we spent most of our time last week. Let's look at Matthew 27:62-66:

62 The next day, that is, after the day of Preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate 63 and said, "Sir, we remember how that impostor said, while he was still alive, β€˜After three days I will rise.' 64 Therefore order the tomb to be made secure until the third day, lest his disciples go and steal him away and tell the people, β€˜He has risen from the dead,' and the last fraud will be worse than the first." 65 Pilate said to them, "You have a guard of soldiers. Go, make it as secure as you can." 66 So they went and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone and setting a guard.

Based on that…we know that from some point Friday evening (as we track days) the tomb and the garden near it had the body of Jesus and more than one guard…although the fact there was more than one guard becomes clearer as we continue reading with Matthew 28:1-6.

Now after the Sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. 2 And behold, there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. 3 His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. 4 And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men. 5 But the angel said to the women, "Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. 6 He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay.

Hmmm…so at this point the tomb (and surrounding area) is short a body of Jesus…might still have a couple soldiers (assuming they hadn't recovered from the shock of it all)…"Mary Magdalene and the other Mary"…and an angel whose "appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow." Not quite Grand Central Station, but a curious increase in Sunday morning attendance, eh?

And that's not actually the total account…God has given us different views in four gospels, and, for instance, Luke 24:4 says "behold, two men stood by them in dazzling apparel" and after this angels proclaimed the good news about our Lord's resurrection, we learn from Luke 24:8-10 there were more than just two Marys there at that point:

And they remembered his words, 9 and returning from the tomb they told all these things to the eleven and to all the rest. 10 Now it was Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James and the other women with them who told these things to the apostles…

So…to keep better count…at the point that the women were at the tomb…there was…

  • Mary Magdalene
  • Joanna
  • Mary the mother of James
  • Other women (Mark 16:1 says one of them was named Salome)
  • A couple guards
  • Two angels

Quite a crew eh?

It does not appear they remained there long, according to Mark 16:6-8:

And he [an angel] said to them, "Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him. 7 But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you." 8 And they went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.

The disciple's reaction?…John covers that best in John 20:4-10:

Both of them were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5 And stooping to look in, he saw the linen cloths lying there, but he did not go in. 6 Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen cloths lying there, 7 and the face cloth, which had been on Jesus' head, not lying with the linen cloths but folded up in a place by itself. 8 Then the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; 9 for as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead. 10 Then the disciples went back to their homes.

At this point, it finally seems like the tomb (and the garden it was in) are empty…however, if you continue on in John, you read:

But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb. 12 And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet.

Mary just can't leave…her love for Jesus is keeping her where she last knew He was…and…first with a couple angels…our Lord makes sure she is not alone.

And what do we see once we hit verse 14? Take a look!


Running on Empty

Now…why have I spent so much time discussing who was at the tomb at what point?

First, it's kind of interesting to see what we can learn from the various records…makes us a combination of Sherlock Holmes and a journalist. πŸ™‚

However, more importantly, it emphasizes a singular and unique fact all the more.

Who is buried in Grant's tomb?

Well, the old joke is nobody—you don't bury someone in a tomb. πŸ™‚

But the non-tricky answer is, of course, Grant.

Lenin's tomb? [Lenin]

Mumtaz Mahal's tomb (otherwise known as the Taj Mahal)? [Both Mumtaz Mahal and Shah Jahan1]

We could go on…but any time I ask the question, "Who is in John Doe's tomb?" the answer will always be, short of the body being stolen or moved or never placed in it, "Joe Smoe."

It is a fact of life…well, more of death…that we stay in our tombs.

Who is in Jesus' tomb?

Nobody. It is empty.

That is why it had so much activity shortly after Jesus was resurrected. That is why so many Christians, when they visit Israel, take time to view the Garden Tomb (even though there is no way to know for sure it is the actual place Jesus was buried).

The singular, unique fact that I alluded to above is that…

  • After Peter and John went back to their homes.
  • After the women heard the awesome news and left.
  • After the angels returned to their heavenly realm.
  • After Mary no longer worried where thieves had laid Jesus' body and departed.
  • After the guards went to the chief priests to report what had happened.
  • After the last tour of the day visits what may be the garden location.

The fact remains.

Unlike any other grave, tomb, or final resting place.

Jesus tomb is "running on empty." You might even say…

And then there were none.

And then there were truly none.

Just Like Jesus

So…great…Jesus' tomb is empty. What does that mean for us?

Paul answers this clearly in Romans 6:4-5:

We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.

5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.

Yes, for now, in Bekah and Larry's "tomb" in Maplewood Cemetery on Route 202 are the remains of those two greatly missed saints.

But it is Jesus' empty tomb that made it so I could quote these verses at both Larry and Bekah's funerals:

But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. 14 For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. 15 For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord (1 Th 4:13-17).

After Jesus returns…

Who will be in Bekah's tomb? [Nobody.]

Who will be in Larry's tomb? [Nobody.]

If I am called home before the second coming, who will be in my tomb? [Nobody.]

I don't know about you, but I like the answers to those questions a lot better then when we asked the same about Grant and Lenin and Mumtaz Mahal.

Most importantly, for you…

After Jesus returns…

Who will be in your tomb?

Unless you too have believed in Jesus, repented of your sins, been baptized into His death, and raised into His life…

You will be.

I much, much rather have itactiv that your tomb be "running on empty."


1Taj Mahal – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. (n.d.). Wikipedia. Retrieved April 29, 2011, from

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Alan is an ordinary guy, living in a small, high plains Colorado town...and humbled to be a minister of God...

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