James Cameron and the Jesus Tomb - Another Unsinkable Money Maker That's Full of Leaks
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Sunday, April 8, 2007 - 10:00/6:00  Sermon #: 1065/1066
Pastor Don

1 Corinthians 15:12-19 - "Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? [13] But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. [14] And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. [15] We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. [16] For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. [17] And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. [18] Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. [19] If in this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.”

There’s a story I told a few years ago in this church, but it made such an impression on me I’m repeating it. Years ago, a rather prominent preacher and his wife were discussing the beauty of the Easter season. The wife was a rather emotional sort and was moved by the music and the love and joy of the season. As the camera zoomed in on her tear stained face, she tilted her head to the side and said to her husband, "At this time of year, everything seems to be coming to life. It feels so wonderful to be a Christian, I'd believe all of this even if it weren't true!"

And the audience applauded.

Paul would not tolerate such delusional thinking. The resurrection of Jesus either happened or it didn't. Christianity either stood on fact or it didn't. And if it didn't stand on fact, it fell entirely. It was either empty tomb or empty promise. How it makes us feel is irrelevant.

People have always recognized that the resurrection of Jesus is the fulcrum on which the Christian faith pivoted. For that reason, critics have always had different explanations for the empty tomb. Even Christianity's enemies recognize the need to do something with the empty tomb. It's evidence that just won't go away on its own. One way or another it’s a stubborn fact that must be dealt with.

When I was still in High School everyone was all abuzz over “The Passover Plot” by Hugh Schonfield. The theory proposed, one we’ll be looking at today, was basically a modified swoon theory. Jesus didn’t really die. He was weakened and lost a lot of blood, but regained strength and came out of the tomb. Of course, nobody really pays much thought to that book anymore.

Then there was “The Da Vinci Code” by Dan Brown. That movie was poised, so the advertisers said, to topple the Christian religion. You can buy that book almost anywhere now 75% off the regular price. Blockbuster doesn’t even keep many copies of the movie on the shelf.

Now, James Cameron is hungry for another hundred million or so and has jumped on to the production bandwagon behind “The Jesus Tomb.” The movie will put on the big screen the book by Simcha and Charles Pellegrino and should pack in the crowds, nicely timed, as it is, for the Easter season. An orthodox Jew doing research on the most fundamental proof that Jesus was the Christ, God the Son, the Messiah.....Hummm.

Anyway, in the ossuary are supposedly the bones of Jesus, His parents, His wife (have we been here before?) and yes, His son Jude. Never mind that the names they have found are the most common Jewish names at that time. There are 45 ossuaries with the name “Joseph,” 22 with “Jesus,” and even 42 with the name “Mary,” which is an enormous amount when you consider that women’s names weren’t as regularly included at that time as men’s. In fact, banking on the identity of “Mary,” just as an example, is a long reach, being that over 21% of all Jewish women were named “Mary.”

This is well known. In fact, even in Jesus’ own family both His mother and sister were named Mary. To conclude that this is Jesus’ family ossuary based on these names would be mathematically like finding a grave site in New York with the name “Sal” and concluding it must be your Jewish brother.

And never mind that the “Jesus” inscription is actually “Jesus, son of Joseph.” To the uninformed this may by taken as the link - the proof - that this really must be the ossuary of Jesus, the Christ. But the inscription proves exactly the opposite. None of the followers of Jesus called Him Jesus, the son of Joseph. Only outsiders would have so referred to Him. Are we to actually think that James, Jesus’ half-brother, who lived right there in Jerusalem, with all he knew about Jesus, God the Son, would have put that inscription on Jesus’ ossuary? With all the hundreds and thousands of Jesus’s and Josephs about at that time, there is a better explanation for that strange, unused title for the church’s Lord. This wasn’t Jesus, the Christ.

And never mind that, despite the claims of the movie and book, there is no DNA linking any of the bones to Jesus the Christ. The book and film will make much of DNA talk. This is what gives the appearance of “scientific” research. But the only DNA evidence there is merely shows these bones - whosever they are - are related. They belong to the same family. But that proves nothing at all. What we would need for proof of identity is an independent DNA sample which we knew was from Jesus the Christ. Then we could match the samples in the ossuary. No such sample exists (at least not here on earth).

Then there is the whole issue of the use of ossuaries for the storing of bones. Usually the human flesh, in those times, would take about a year to desiccate - to thoroughly dry out. The body would then be taken from the grave and placed in an individual ossuary or family ossuary. So far, so good.
The problem with the grave of Jesus is the disappearance of the body, not a year after Christ died, but on Easter Sunday morning. This is so important. It is the whole issue. No one would have been shocked to find Jesus’ tomb empty a year or so after He died. But everyone - friend and foe - Jew and Roman - soldier and disciple - seemed caught off guard by the empty tomb three days after Jesus died. And if Jesus’ body were in some family burial site, James, Jesus’ brother, would have known about it.

This is what must be explained. And there are only so many possibilities. The options are infinite in number. There is only a fixed set of explanations that have even been proposed. Today is the best day of the year to consider some of them:


Here is the Scriptural account in question - Luke 23:54-24:3 - “It was the day of Preparation, and the Sabbath was beginning. [55] The women who had come with him from Galilee followed and saw the tomb and how his body was laid. [56] Then they returned and prepared spices and ointments. On the Sabbath they rested according to the commandment....[24:1] But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared. [2] And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, [3] but when they went in they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus.”

But what if these women went to the wrong tomb? It would certainly be an easy mistake. The Bible says they came very early in the morning. It was still quite dark. And after all, these women were overcome with grief. They had been crying. They probably hadn't had much sleep. Certainly they would have liked to believe Jesus was still alive. They were grasping at straws. They simply jumped to the conclusion that Jesus rose from the dead.

But there are still some questions we need to ask:

The New Testament historical documents tell of the angels also at the tomb. Did they go to the wrong tomb? Was it too dark for them? And how about later on? Was there nobody who could find the right tomb? Not Joseph of Arimathea - the owner of the tomb (Luke 23:50-53)? Why couldn’t he find the right tomb? What about the thirty Roman soldiers Matthew says were posted at the tomb? Were they all standing at the wrong tomb too?

I mean, it’s not mathematically impossible that all of these people - earthly and heavenly - went to the wrong tomb. But the odds get quite steep against it. Stick with Lotto 649.


Since “The Passover Plot” this explanation has become moth eaten. We’re told Jesus suffered on the cross, came close to death, but later on, in the coolness of the tomb, He revived, regained His strength, and convinced people He actually rose from the dead.

This explanation has a lot going against it. Say what you want about the Romans, they were not beginners at execution. They knew what they were doing. The Bible makes it very clear that Jesus actually died. The soldiers made certain He died. They double checked - Mark 15:42-45 - “And when evening had come, since it was the day of Preparation, that is, the day before the Sabbath, [43] Joseph of Arimathea, a respected member of the Council, who was also himself looking for the kingdom of God, took courage and went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. [44] Pilate was surprised to hear that he should have already died. And summoning the centurion, he asked him whether he was already dead. [45] And when he learned from the centurion that he was dead, he granted the corpse to Joseph.”

Sometimes it amazes me the lengths to which people will go to escape the resurrection of Jesus. This theory is harder to accept than the biblical account. Who could honestly believe that Jesus was almost beaten to death - that after all that loss of blood, with no medical attention, with no nourishment or help, that after being too weak to carry His own cross, He broke loose from the grave clothes, shoved the stone out of the mouth of the grave, fought off an entire regiment of Roman soldiers, and then convinced the world that He was risen from the dead?

Again, I suppose it’s not technically mathematically impossible. But the odds seem incredibly stacked against it. Can you really believe this? If you do, then please don't tell me that I have great faith to believe in the resurrection. Friend, I take my hat off to you! You have unbelievable faith! More than I could ever muster. It's so much easier to believe the historical account of the gospel records.


After all, it was his grave. Perhaps he changed his mind. He was a rather timid follower of Jesus. Perhaps he decided he wanted that grave back for his own use. So he simply moved the body of Jesus. He could probably get permission. And then in the hysteria of the moment, people thought Jesus had actually risen from the dead.

But why didn't the soldiers know Joseph came back to the tomb? When pressed about why the grave was found empty while they were on guard they were so unable to come up with a good explanation they were forced into absurdity:

Matthew 28:11-15 - "While they were going, behold, some of the guard went into the city and told the chief priests all that had taken place. [12] And when they had assembled with the elders and taken counsel, they gave a sufficient sum of money to the soldiers [13] and said, “Tell people, 'His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep.' [14] And if this comes to the governor's ears, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble." [15] So they took the money and did as they were directed. And this story has been spread among the Jews to this day.”

This explanation is incredible. And why would they use it if they didn’t have to? If Joseph had moved the body, it would have been the greatest news in the world to the soldiers (who faced severe punishment for failure on duty) and they would have gladly told the world. Clearly, something else must have happened.

By the way, Matthew doesn't even take the time to mention the obvious. If the soldiers were sleeping, how would they know who came or did what with Jesus’ body? But I digress.

This is the explanation, though modified in few minor details, that will be milked for James Cameron’s millions. We’ve already seen this was the explanation the soldiers were paid to give. But there are too many loopholes. How did the disciples get the body? The leaders had actually prepared in advance for the possibility of someone tampering with the grave of Jesus. And the text says they were particularly on the look-out for the disciples:

Matthew 27:62-66 - “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, '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, '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.”

Did the disciples actually fight off all of the Roman soldiers? Were they really that brave and mercenary in their activities? Is this really what Peter looks like when he can't admit even knowing Jesus to a servant girl in the courtyard for fear He might be punished? And weren't the disciples all locked away for fear of the Romans after Jesus’ crucifixion?

And what about these telling verses:

Luke 24:9-12 - "....and returning from the tomb they (the women) 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, [11] but these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. [12] But Peter rose and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; and he went home marveling at what had happened.”

The important point here is we see clearly the disciples’ reaction while they are still alone, before they are under any pressure from anyone else. There are no Roman authorities to tick. This is a recording of their honest, in house reaction upon first hearing of the resurrection. They couldn’t believe it.

They didn't believe it among themselves. That's not how you react if you know where the body is. The disciples - especially Thomas - were all convinced by the evidence of Jesus' resurrection against their wills.


The idea here is that the people had loved Jesus so much, and had wanted Him to be their king so badly, that they were all so overcome with grief that they just weren't emotionally stable, and they began to dream up these appearances of Jesus. This is a slightly different approach. These followers of Jesus weren’t trying to deceive. They were just deceived. They were sincere enough - just mistaken.

But even here there are serious problems. Paul had this possible explanation in mind and exposed it weakness - 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 - “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, [4] that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, [5] and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. [6] Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. [7] Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. [8] Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.”

Paul says about 500 (more, actually) people saw Him at the same time. This is Paul’s way of disarming the delusion theory. Are we really to believe they all had the same hallucination? And at exactly the same time?

And then there's the really tricky question. How did Thomas reach out and touch the hallucination's side? And exactly how does a hallucination digest fish and bread? And when did hallucinations learn to cook over a real fire? Not a dream fire, but one that can cook fish?

Clearly, this explanation won't do.


There isn’t even a possible text for this explanation because it makes no sense at all. Who would have been more anxious to prove the resurrection of Jesus a hoax then the Roman leaders? If anybody wanted to stamp out the early excitement of these followers of Jesus, it was they. And what quicker way to do it than to produce the dead body of Jesus while these Christians were celebrating in the streets.

Clearly, they didn't because they couldn't. They didn't have the body of Jesus.


1 Corinthians 15:3-4 - "For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, [4] that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures....”
1 Corinthians 15:20-24 - "But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. [21] For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. [22] For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. [23] But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. [24] Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power.”

The empty tomb is important for us all to remember. It not only tells us of a resurrection. It tells us what kind of resurrection. It's a physical resurrection. A literal resurrection. It makes all of death work backwards. It takes the body of Jesus out of the grave.

Paul says Jesus' resurrection is just the firstfruits. That old word means our resurrection is just as certain and will happen in the same way. Your physical body will experience the power of death being undone.

Jesus Himself said it best: “Because I live, you also will live”(John 14:19). The best word in that verse is “also.” We are pulled into Christ’s resurrection. That's the message of hope for those who love Jesus.


Matthew 12:38-41 - "Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered him, saying, "Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you." [39] But he answered them, "An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. [40] For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. [41] The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here.”

There is no reason to take these words as being merely parabolic or symbolic. Jesus seems to be describing - in His omniscient knowledge of the future - an event that will actually take place when He comes back again to judge mankind.

Here’s what our Lord, who was described as “full of truth” said. People from Nineveh will stand up when the people of our day are being judged. They going to have stern words against many people who knew all about the life, death, and particularly the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.

Much in the fashion of a modern day demonstrator or protester, they're going to push to the front of the crowd for a hearing. And they're going to say something like this:

"You know, all your excuses for not living for Jesus don't impress us very much. We never heard anything directly about Jesus. We never had these marvelous accounts of His life. We never heard His teaching. We never heard of His cross. And we certainly never heard about His resurrection. We didn't have the writings of Paul and Peter explaining the marvels of the Gospel."

"But when Jonah preached to us about our sin and about a holy God, we repented! What's with you? How can you have any excuse? How can you rely on some silly notion of escaping judgment and punishment for not embracing the truth?"

"If we had heard and seen what you've seen and heard we would have come running to Jesus. You're that much more guilty because of the great miracle of the resurrection of Jesus from the dead!"

Jesus said something like I just described would happen. He saw this future event as clearly as you watched last night’s news. And He warns us, in love, to prepare our hearts to deal accurately and faithfully with the truth of His resurrection from the dead. This is history that reaches forward into your future and mine. This is history with fingers.
So there is hope mixed with accountability. What you’ve just heard about the resurrection of Jesus isn’t just truth you can agree with. Jesus never intended to leave people with the option of liking Him, or agreeing with some of the things He said. You and I either bow before Jesus as Savior and Lord with all of our devotion and obedience or He passes sentence on our lives for rejecting God’s remedy for our sin and despair.

What a powerful event Easter is! Easter brings the best news of all and the worst news of all. Easter leaves no one alone. Jesus comes to every life as Risen Lord or as Risen Judge. Open your heart to His loving, freeing, eternal life giving grace this Easter Sunday.

Romans 10:9-11 - “....if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. [10] For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.”