The Resurrections of Billy
Happy Easter on
this grand and glorious day!
I would like to
begin the sermon by telling you a very, very old story, yet in a new
and contemporary way. By
telling this very old story in a contemporary way, you may pick up
some of the shock value that was heard when the story was originally
There was a famous
preacher in the land, a very good looking, a very charismatic
preacher and people flocked to hear him.
Many people in the land thought he was indeed a prophet.
He was spell binding before the crowds and spoke with great
authority. Thousands, hundreds of thousands, came to hear him preach,
and they came from all over the nation.
His name was Billy Gramman.
One day, this
contemporary prophet, this Billy Gramman, came to Seattle,
Washington, for a rally. People
heard that he was coming and they started to make preparations for
his visit. Opinions of
the local religious leaders were divided; some thought it was
absolutely wonderful that Billy Gramman was coming to town, but
other religious leaders denounced him, calling him a religious
manipulator and a huckster. Many of those same religious leaders who were highly critical
of Billy Gramman were secretly jealous of him because he had so much
more charisma that they were thought of having.
The rally came
closer and closer and there was amounting opposition to the rally
from this group of religious leaders, many of whom were zealous
fanatics who wanted to do away with this Gramman.
They were fanatics all right, absurdly fanatic, and in a
bizarre twist of events, on Friday afternoon, at three o’clock, he
was shot in Seattle. Assassinated.
A gunshot rang out from a tower and a bullet struck his chest,
bursting out his back, and killed him.
The city was
stunned, absolutely stunned. The
city went into mourning. The city didn’t know why and how this
whole thing happened in our fair city, but it was such a tragedy.
A funeral was held immediately, and Billy Gramman’s body
was buried there in a graveyard north of the city, in Washington
It was early Sunday
morning at the crack of dawn, about five A.M.
Some of his loyal followers went to his grave to put flowers
on the sacred soil. The burial day had been so chaotic. There had been hundreds of thousands jamming the streets to
watch the funeral car go by and thousands at the cemetery, so his
followers decided to go at the first hint of dawn on Sunday morning
to place their flowers. They
approached the cemetery site, and as they approached the grave, they
looked and saw that the grave had been molested.
Somebody had been there during the night and dug up the
grave. Grave robbers
had struck and the disciples were absolutely horrified at what had
been done. They slowly
approached the grave and they peered down in to the hole and saw the
open casket. It was
empty. They looked
around. There was a young man sitting there that they not previously
noticed in the confusion of the morning moments.
He sat there, throwing wads of dirt at the ground and then
simply said to them: “Billy Gramman is not here.
He has been raised from the dead by the powers of God.”
The women spit out: “That’s
absurd. That is ridiculous, preposterous. Who has ever heard of such a thing? Tell us young man, who stole the body?” So these women ran to find a telephone to call his followers
and tell them the shocking news.
Naturally, the SEATTLE TIMES and the POST INTELLIGENCE
immediately ran stories. Shock editions:
WHAT HAPPENED TO GRAMMAN??? WHO KILLED GRAMMAN??? WHO STOLE
THE BODY??? Rumors were
spreading fast. Was it
the fanatical group of religious people who killed him and then
stole the body? Or was
it the friends of Gramman who stole the body? Or perhaps a third
party, maybe someone else? No one knew for sure.
The only facts were these: the famous Billy Gramman had been
killed on Friday; he had been buried; and the body was now gone.
Meanwhile, all the
followers of Gramman were torn up emotionally about this. They
weren’t expecting an assassination on Friday.
They weren’t expecting his body to be stolen on Sunday
morning. This was too
much for them. It was
Well, that same
Sunday night, they were gathered together in a motel room at the
Holiday Inn near the airport. His followers were questioning one another: “What were you
women talking about? Were
you too excited? Were
you hallucinating? Did you see a
vision? Maybe it was so
early in the morning you didn’t see clearly?”
Suddenly, they were startled in that same Holiday Inn motel
room because Billy Gramman was standing right there before them.
They were startled! Frightened! They thought they were
hallucinating and others of them thought they were seeing a ghost.
Haunted rooms in the Holiday Inn. Everyone was confused from fear and Billy Gramman said to
them: “Why are you
troubled? Why are you
so upset? Why do you
have such questionings in your heart?
Look at my chest and see the assassin’s bullet.
Look at my back and see where the bullet came out. Touch the
wounds in my body and see that it is I.
Touch me and see that I am not a ghost or a hallucination.”
While they still disbelieved for joy, Billy Gramman said to
them: “Do you have
anything to eat?” They
gave him a cheeseburger and fries, and he ate it.
Then he said to them, “Open up your Bibles and I will show
you what it taught concerning me.
The Bible taught that I would be wounded, killed, and then
raised from the dead by the powers of God on the third day. You are
to go out into the world, preaching about my resurrection and
Billy Gramman, this
famous religious leader, continued to be on this earth in this
strange body form for forty days and forty nights. Suddenly, he was
gone and shortly thereafter, the Spirit came upon his followers and
gave them new power to carry out their task.
Thus ends the parable, the story for this Easter morning.
This is a story that a real live flesh and blood man, Billy
Gramman, who was a great religious leader, was killed on Friday,
buried, and on the third day, was raised from the dead.
And you were there.
If you had been
there on Sunday night in that motel room at the Holiday Inn and he
appeared, what would your reaction have been?
For me, it is
important to hear the resurrection story in its contemporary form.
It is far too easy on Easter morning to romanticize the
resurrection of Jesus Christ, to believe in the prettiness of the
story without thinking it through.
It is so easy to fictionalize it, to be caught up in the
trumpets and Easter lilies and Easter feelings, and not come face to
face with the hard, raw facts.
It reminds me of
going to a restaurant at night, when that restaurant is dimly lit,
and you get caught into the atmosphere of the evening and the
atmosphere of the low romantic lights.
If you come into that restaurant the next morning and turn on
all the lights, you see what that restaurant is really like. There would be dust and cobwebs and pipes, all which needed
to be covered up by the romanticism of the low lights.
Well, I think that
sometimes happens on Easter morning.
We get caught up in the romanticism of Easter, with the
atmosphere of Easter, the atmosphere of the lilies, the atmosphere
of the festive morning, the atmosphere of the trumpets, and we
really don’t hear the Easter story.
We don’t hear the bald facts, the brute facts, the
intellectually offensive and absurd facts, that there was a Billy
Gramman in the motel room, a real live and flesh man who was raised
from the dead. If you
were there, would you have really believed?
Today, on this
Easter morning (or the Sunday after Easter), I would like to preach,
not on the atmosphere of Easter, not on the lilies and the
triumphant trumpets, but on this Sunday, I would like to turn on the
lights in the tomb. I
would like to look at the offensiveness of the story.
I would like to turn on the spotlights and focus them on the
The empty tomb is
the fulcrum of faith, the pivotal point of our religion.
Christianity stands or falls with the resurrection.
Without the resurrection, Christianity is a faith that is a
farce for fools. As the
Apostle Paul wrote, “If Jesus Christ was not raised from the dead,
we of all people are the most to be pitied, for our faith is in vain
and our preaching is in vain and we have fooled ourselves with this
preposterous hoax.” Without
the resurrection, the Christian faith is a farce for fools.
So let’s turn on
the spotlight and focus it on the grave.
Basically, there are five explanations as to what really
happened at the grave. All five explanations are important and I
would like to briefly look at each of these five explanations.
The first is this:
“You want to know what happened?
I’ll tell you what happened!
It was the Jews who stole the body.
The Jews, who jealously hated Jesus and then rallied the
Romans against him to be killed, wanted to hide Jesus’ body.
They didn’t want the grave of Jesus turned into a
martyr’s shine, so they came and took the body away because they
didn’t want a martyr’s shrine where people could gather and
agitate for a revolution.” Now,
there is some degree of plausibility to this explanation. It makes
sense that the Jews would want to steal the body in order to quiet
down a possible revolution.
explanation given is this: “It
was the early Christians who came and stole his body. His own
followers came and took the corpse away.
These first Christians were dissatisfied and were angered
that Jesus had been improperly buried, and so they took his body to
a place where they could mourn without interruptions from the Jews
and Romans. They wanted
a private memorial shine for their martyred leader.
… Now, if this is true that the early Christians were the
ones who came and stole the body, then Christianity is a deliberate
deception by some of the earliest apostles.
But the first Christians were the most fanatical of
believers. To me, it seems that the first Christians were the true
believers in the resurrection.
It doesn’t make sense that they would hide the body.
Yet some of you may secretly believe it.
Christians stole the body and then perpetuated a myth from
which they benefited somehow…by being persecuted and killed?
It just doesn’t make much sense.
explanation of what happened to Jesus after he was in the tomb
(nobody questions that the dead body of Jesus was put into a grave)
is that the women and disciples experienced hallucinations and
visions. These women
and disciples so wanted Jesus to be alive that the resurrection
happened in their minds. Now, we know that anybody can be convinced
to believe anything. We think to ourselves: If
a person is hysterical enough or traumatized enough, you can get
your mind to believe and see almost anything.
These people then so wanted, so expected Jesus to be alive,
it actually happened in their minds.
Then, the Christian faith is a product of self-deluded people
who then spread their hallucinations to everyone. …
Now again, there is a degree of plausibility to this
explanation. It has a ring of validity to it.
Traumatized people do see visions of things they want to see.
But, on the other hand, it must be said that the facts are
these: From all the
evidence, the first Christians were not expecting the resurrection
of Jesus. They didn’t
expect it. It was the
farthest thing from their mind.
They were just as shocked as everybody else. And further, you can imagine one person hallucinating or two
people hallucinating, but a whole group?
First Peter, then the women, then all the eleven disciples,
then all of the apostles, then all the five hundred.
Were all of these people hallucinating in all of these
different situations? There
seems to be too many different situations and too many different
people. But still,
that may be a valid explanation:
hallucinations did happen to all those different people at
different times, and thus the persecuted church was born.
There is a fourth
explanation. The people in these days were more primitive in their
thinking. These more
primitive people accepted such things as resurrections and miracles
more easily than we do today. They
had simpler minds then and they were less scientific; and more
gullible, and such unscientific, gullible people were more apt to
believe in such stories of resurrections.
Today, we are much more scientific.
… Now, again , there is a grain of truth to this reasoning.
People are more advanced in the sciences today, yet it must
also be said that the historical facts are these:
for the early apostles, the resurrection was a shock.
It was an absolute shock that Jesus was raised from the dead.
The disciples didn’t believe it; it was absurd, ridiculous;
they were skeptical. My
response to the raising of Billy Gramman at the Holiday Inn would be
absolutely skeptical as a twentieth century mind; and the first
disciples were also skeptical as first century minds.
The facts are facts, and the fact is that the first believers
were skeptical of what they saw.
explanation of the empty tomb is this:
Jesus of Nazareth was raised from the dead by the powers of
God just like the Bible said and that God’s plan is to raise you
from the dead at the end of history.
Jesus is the first sample, the first taste, the first glimpse
into a future resurrection. Jesus’
resurrectioin body for forty days and forty nights is a glimpse into
the future of humankind at the final resurrection, a kind of preview
of coming attractions which are freely given to you and me.
Now, this is what
the Apostle Paul preaches. He
does not preach that we believe in the resurrection of Jesus
therefore we believe in a general resurrection at the end of time.
No, not at all. That
isn’t what Paul teaches. Rather,
Paul says that we believe in the general resurrection at the end of
time. Paul believes in
life after death and then Jesus is the first taste, the first
sample, the first bite of the apple that all of us are going to eat
at the end of time. Christ
is a foretaste of the feast to come. And what a grand taste it is.
How delicious. How
delectable. What a
grand meal awaits us all. The human mind cannot imagine the kind and
quality of meal that God has prepared for us.
And so, in the
glaring lights of Easter Sunday (or the Sunday after Easter), and in
the glaring lights on a restaurant on Monday morning; in the glaring
lights without the Easter bunnies, without the Easter fanfare,
without the Easter lilies, what do we hear today?
The grave is empty!!! What
happened??? What happened to the body in the grave??? … The Jews stole
the body? Maybe. The early Christians stole the body? No, doesn’t really make sense?
Well, then the first Christians had hallucinations and
Well, then, the first disciples were more superstitious and
primitive then and more easily believed in such tales?
Really? Or, did God really did raise Jesus of Nazareth from
the dead? Did God do this for the first time in the history of
civilization? The resurrected Jesus was a foretaste of the future
resurrection, a glimpse into our God given eternal destiny.
really did happen that Easter morning?
You have five options. What
do you believe really happened?
The hard fact of all history is that Jesus of Nazareth was a
great religious leader who really lived.
Nobody denies it. Jesus
of Nazareth was killed. Nobody denies that.
Jesus of Nazareth was buried in a tomb. Nobody disagrees.
Everyone agrees on those three fundamental facts.
But there are further historical facts:
It is a fact that the early Christians did not expect Jesus
to be raised from the dead. It
is a fact that the disciples were skeptical of what they saw.
It is a fact that their minds were not as superstitiously
primitive as sometimes we would like to imagine.
It is a fact that it is hard and even impossible for our
minds to comprehend the resurrection, never having seen or
experienced one. It is
a fact that the Old Testament prophesied the death and resurrection
of Jesus Christ. It is
a fact that the early church began because of some great event that
propelled it into action. If
you add up all these facts, the Apostle Paul then writes:
“In fact, Jesus of Nazareth has been raised from the dead
by the powers of God, a foretaste of the feast to come.
This is our sure and certain hope.”
That was the sure and certain hope of the disciples who saw
and touched him that night. That
is what happened on Easter. Skeptics
touched him, saw him, believed him.
Skeptics believed on that first Easter day and skeptics still
believe today and live their lives centered in that belief.