It is Time to Believe.
A Look at the Resurrection of Jesus.
(1Co 15:3-6 NKJ)
3 For I delivered to
you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins
according to the Scriptures,
4 and that He was
buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures,
5 and that He was
seen by Cephas, then by the twelve.
6 After that He was
seen by over five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain to
the present, but some have fallen asleep.
As we meet today to celebrate the
resurrection of our Lord Jesus and his conquest over death we are forced to
consider what it means for us and ask; what are its implications? Jesus death
was the ransom that needed to be paid for the forgiveness of our sins. That
forgiveness is what enables us to know beyond doubt that when we pass from this
life into the next, that we will have life eternal and life abundant. It is
also our surety or guarantee that when we confess Jesus as Lord, that our sins
will be forgiven.
I want to read a quote by Max Lucado it goes like this, “being
religious without knowing the cross is like owning a Mercedes with no motor.
Pretty package, but where is your power?”
I would like to tell you a story
about a man whose name which George Wilson. He lived during the 1880s and was
involved in robbing the US mail. Unfortunately for George Wilson a man was
killed during the commission of the robbery and he was convicted and sentenced
Evidently George had quite a lot
of influential friends and they petitioned the then president Andrew Jackson
for a pardon for George. Subsequently Andrew Jackson issued a pardon for him.
Now one would think that
considering the presidential pardon that was offered, that George would have
been quite willing to accept the offer and avoid the death penalty, however, he
refused the offer of pardon creating something of a conundrum for the
One can only guess at George's
motives for rejecting the pardon, maybe he felt that what he had done was
To resolve the situation
President Jackson sent the whole matter to the Supreme Court for their
judgement. After a lengthy period of hearings and discussions the Supreme Court
came to this decision:
United States Supreme Court.
pardon is a deed, to the validity of which delivery is essential, and delivery
is not complete without acceptance. It may then be rejected by the person to
whom it is tendered; and if it is rejected, we have discovered no power in this
court to force it upon them.
Their judgement was that if the
prisoner involved did not accept the pardon then it was invalid. Because,
George had refused the presidential pardon as was his right to do so; he was
ultimately hanged as planned.
As we look at the resurrection of
our Lord we are faced with choices. Several weeks ago I spoke on the passage in
Luke 15 involving the prodigal son and I explained that we are all subject to
the consequences of the choices we make in life.
We can choose to accept our
Lord's death as payment for our wrongdoings or we can reject it. That is our
choice. Please keep that thought alive and I will come back to it.
In today's passage we look at the
resurrection of our Lord and as we spend a while looking at this passage I want
you to contemplate the following question;
Why would those who have died in
Jesus name throughout history do so rather than deny his resurrection?
There are four key points that I
want a focus on this morning:
1. The emptiness of the tomb.
2. The angel's testimony.
3. The witness of the women.
4. The unbelief of the disciples.
When we are faced with the
resurrection of Jesus we are forced to confront our own unbelief just as his
disciples did. In today's world we are living in a time when the ease in which
an individual can publish an opinion or article about the resurrection has
never been easier.
As a consequence, the Internet in
particular, is full of articles and stories about how Jesus resurrection was
not a historical event, but was, rather an invention of the early Christians in
order to propagate the myth of Jesus life and death.
We are living in a time when
everybody has an opinion and is quite vocal in voicing it. Never before have we
as Christians needed to be secure in our faith of the resurrection.
As we look at the evidence of the
empty tomb will find many who would say that it is just a story to propagate
the Jesus myth.
1. The first thing we need is to
be secure in now knowledge that gospel stories of Jesus life death and
resurrection are historically accurate. I can assure you that there are few if
any critical scholars of the New Testament in the world today who deny the
existence of Jesus as a historical figure.
Scholars such as Dr Bart Ehrman
a lecturer in New Testament studies the University of North Carolina and
one of the world's greatest protagonists to Biblical inerrancy constantly goes
on record saying that Jesus was a real historical figure.
In this book Did Jesus Exist
he writes: "despite an enormous range of opinion there are several
points which virtually every scholar of antiquity agrees. Jesus was a Jewish
man known to be a preacher and teacher, who was crucified (a Roman form of
execution) in Jerusalem during the reign of the Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius
Pilate was governor of Judaea".
He goes on to say: "even
though this is the view of nearly every train scholar on the planet it is not
the view of a group of writers who are usually labelled, and often label
themselves as mythicists".
All sorts of claims are made by many church leaders who are unable to reconcile the resurrection with today's science. Having grown up in world where evolution has been taught as fact rather than theory many have embraced the idea of the resurrection being symbolic rather than fact.
This group who gather around figures
such as American Episcopal Bishop John Shelby Spong author of
Resurrection; Myth or Reality claim the resurrection was some sort of existential event. He writes, "Jesus appeared to Simon from the realm of God, and that realm is not within history, it is not bounded by time and space." He goes onto claim that Jesus resurrection was not a bodily resurrection but rather some sort of spiritual resurrection. In his mind Jesus was not brought back from death into a physical body. His body still lays somewhere in a grave in Palestine.
His argument is long and convoluted but essentially he is saying that on the road to a Emmaus Simon Peter had an epiphany of shorts when he came to understand that there was a need for Jesus to be resurrected in a spiritual form so as to fulfil Jesus own prophecy. This existential resurrection becomes real to the believer when they finally understand as Peter did the need for Jesus to be resurrected in some form.
For a deeper look at a repsonse to Spong,s aurgument see this article: Bishop John Shelby Spond: Resurrection: Myth or Reality. "A Critique"
As I said this is a view held by many Christians today and is most often used to try and explain away the miraculous nature of the resurrection. The world in which we live is increasingly finding it hard to believe in miracles such as the resurrection.
However, the first thing then that is needed to be settled in our own minds before we approach the empty tomb is that Jesus did exist and was not an invention of some later Christian tradition, as claimed by many today. Many of whom class themselves as Christians.
As Christians, having accepted
the reality of Jesus existence, we then need to come to terms with the
resurrection itself. There are many people who have over the centuries made all
sorts of claims about the empty tomb. Some claiming that Jesus body was stolen
by the disciples or perhaps by Jewish authorities.
We read in Mark's account in chapter
Mark 15:43 – 45 about Joseph of Arimathea who being a respected member of the
Jerusalem Council petitioned Pilate for the release of his body. The body was then placed in a tomb that had been
cut into a rock in preparation for either Joseph of Arimathea's death or another
member of his family.
Both Joseph of Arimathea and
Nicodemus were eye witnesses to the dead body that had been Jesus of Nazareth.
Likewise, Pilate enquired of the Centurions and other guards as to whether or
not he was actually dead. Having been assured that he was indeed deceased he
allowed his body to be taken away for burial.
We read there were guards placed
at the tomb to ensure that Jesus body was not stolen or removed and as such the
only explanation for the empty tomb is that he had been resurrected. Matthews
account (Matthew 27:62 – 66) of this event goes into some detail as to how the
chief priests and Pharisees had been warned, "Sir remember what that
impostor said while he was still alive, 'after three days I will rise
again'. Therefore command the tomb to be made secure until the third day
otherwise his disciples may go and steal away until the people say, 'he has
been raised from the dead' and the last deception would be worse than the
Likewise, we read that Mary
Magdalene and the other Mary were seen sitting opposite the tomb as Jesus body
was placed inside and sealed.
As there were no witnesses to
Jesus resurrection other than the angels that we read of in Luke's account
present at the actual resurrection of Jesus, the only evidence that we have is
that he is body was no longer there where it had been placed: and this despite
the guards that were posted! The grave clothes lay empty within the tomb. It
has been said by some that the grave clothes lay as they had been wrapped
around Jesus body after his burial. Of course this cannot be verified but what
can be verified is that his body was no longer in the tomb.
In Matthews account we read that
the stone had been rolled away and that the guards that had sealed it were
missing when the women arrived. There had been what they claimed a localised
earthquake which caused the covering stone of the tomb to be moved away. Of
course, there is no historical record of an earthquake occurring in Judaea at that time. However, there are accounts throughout the bible of God directly
intervening into human history causing events such as this to happen. They are
We also read in Matthew's gospel
that when the women approach the tomb they found it empty. There is also the
account in Matthew 28:11 ff of the guards telling the high priests everything
that had happened.
Matthew goes on to tell us that
the elders devised a plan to give out large sums of money to the guards so that
they would say that the body had been stolen by Jesus disciples while they were
They also warned the guards that
if the Governor was to hear about it that they would satisfy him that it was
the disciples who took Jesus body. What we have here is a conspiracy of silence
that was to be committed by the scribes so that the resurrection of Jesus could
One of the main ingredients of
any conspiracy is that there needs to be something to conspire about. In other
words you cannot have an untruth unless you have a truth in the first place. This
is clear evidence that Jesus was no longer in the tomb and that he had been
resurrected just as he had foretold.
2. The second point I want to
consider is the testimony of the angels who were found inside the tomb when
Mary and others looked inside. They declared, "Do not be afraid; I know
that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has
been raised has he said. Come, see the place where he lay." (Matthew
In Luke's account we read that
the angels proclaimed, "why do you look for the living amongst the dead,
he is not here, but risen." We are faced here with another dilemma of
sorts. For those who do not want believe in God (atheists) there is an almost
insurmountable problem when it comes to passages such as this. Angels, who are
they, what are they and do they really exist?
I would like to tell you another
story. During the long years and hours of my illness I spent many nights in
what can only be explained as a tremendous amount of pain. I can remember on
several occasions waking and sensing the presence of a being near my bed. Their
appearance was not distinguishable but what I could sense was light.
I have no doubt that during the
long hours of my illness that angels were looking over me and I suppose in many
ways it is the reason that I was finally able to contemplate my own death. Just
knowing, that God has sent his angels to look over me gave me a peace that was
so serene that I was able to ask God to take me to himself and away from all the
suffering that I was enduring.
From my prospective, the
testimony of the angels to Mary Magdalene and the other Mary is as important as
any other points I could raise with regards to Jesus resurrection.
3. The third point I want to
cover, is the witness of the women to the resurrection of Jesus. When looking
for reliable witnesses to any event it is usually necessary to find somebody
who was there both before and after that event.
In John's account of the crucifixion
(John 19:25-27) we read that Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Jesus along
with a crowd of women were witnesses to his crucifixion and death. Likewise, it
is women that the writers of the gospel mention are the ones who first discover
that Jesus had been resurrected.
Unlike the disciples they did not
go away and hide at our lord's crucifixion but chose to stay in witness the
event. This makes them, in the eyes of the law, especially in any court in the
land today viable witnesses. In his book The Case for the Empty Tomb
Ross Clifford the principle of Morling Theological College highlights how for a
witness to be reliable they need to be present at two points in the commission
of any crime or event.
The women were present at point;
a. Jesus death and b. His resurrection; this would make them some what
impeachable witnesses. If as, some have claimed the accounts of Jesus death and
resurrection are inventions of the early Church and not based on historically
accurate information, why did the gospel writers choose to have women as the
foremost witnesses to the resurrection of our Lord Jesus.
In a patriarchal society such as
the one that existed during the early first and second century the testimony of
a woman would have been seen as less credible than the testimony of a man. I
would suggest that if the gospel writers were involved in some sort of
conspiracy to try and invent a mythical Jesus; why would they use the least
credible witnesses in the eyes of their world?
For one thing, I think this
really highlights the place that women should have within our society and
within the church particularly. If in the eyes of the gospel writers the women
who witnessed Jesus death and resurrection were indeed credible and
unimpeachable witnesses then one is left with only one conclusion, that many of
the ways in which society has seen them are without any basis in Scripture.
Their testimony was true and
reliable and along with the evidence of the empty tomb and the witness of the
angels provides very sound evidence that the resurrection was indeed a historical
4. Finally, the last point I
would like to cover is the unbelief of the disciples on first hearing about
Jesus resurrection. In the passage before us today in Luke's Gospel (Luke 24:10
– 12) we read that when Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James and
the other women told the disciples about what they had seen and heard they were
met with disbelief.
Luke 24:11 "But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did
not believe them."
The question that we need to ask;
were the disciples expecting Jesus to be raised from the dead? The answer is
In the entire gospel accounts we
can read that even though Jesus predicted his own death, that the disciples had
no understanding that he would be eventually would ultimately die and be raised
from the dead.
Instead, after the crucifixion most
of them had hidden themselves away for their own safety's sake and were in some
state of what only can be called dismay. I would imagine that after his
crucifixion the disciples were feeling rather depressed sensing that their
teacher had been taken from them and that they were now alone.
They had no expectation that
Jesus would indeed do what he said he would do and die and rise on the third
This had created for them a
crisis of faith. They had placed their trust in their teacher and their
expectation prior to that final journey to Jerusalem was that Jesus would be
with them forever. Instead, he had been taken by the authorities and tried then
We read in Luke's account that
Peter on hearing that Jesus body was missing and that the angels had proclaimed
that he now lived raced to the tomb. We also read in John's account (John 20:1
ff) that "Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one that Jesus
loved" were met on their way to the tomb by the women who proclaimed
that Jesus was alive.
Many have pointed to the apparent
contradictions in the accounts of the resurrection as a reason not to believe
in it. I would rather suggest that each of the gospel accounts were written by
the individual authors each giving their own prospective on the events that
took place on those fateful days.
It is a known fact in legal
circles that if two witnesses tell exactly the same story down to the fine
details that there is a good possibility that they have colluded with each
This is not what is happening
here, what we have is a consistent reliable story of the events of the
resurrection which because of the dissimilarity between the accounts make them
I know that today many people are
like the disciples were at this time and struggle with unbelief particularly
having been influenced by today's popular culture (the I generation). We live
in a culture which seeks to not only deny the existence of Jesus but also his
As we read further into this
account in Luke's Gospel we see that Peter and most of the other disciples
finally came to believe and understand the resurrection of our Lord. Their
unbelief came to be an undeniable belief that Jesus had indeed been raised from
the dead and this is confirmed in the accounts of his making himself known to
the disciples on the walk to Emmaus.
Of course the most doubting
disciple was Thomas who would not believe that Jesus had been resurrected until
he could place his fingers in the nail holes on Jesus hands. Likewise, he
needed to be able to place his hand into the wound on Jesus side where he had
been stabbed with a spear by the centurion, who by the way declared "surely
this is the son of God." (Matthew 27:54)
Now back to George Wilson!
So, how do we apply the
resurrection of our Lord to our own lives? I suppose, if we contemplate George
Wilson's reaction to the pardon that was offered to him by President Jackson we
realise that we too are faced with a choice.
Just as George Wilson refused to
accept his pardon, many of us fail to recognise the importance of Jesus
resurrection. If we refuse to accept the resurrection as fact, and if we only
have head knowledge of Jesus, than we are treading on the most precious gift of
all. That is, the life and death of our Lord who he was willing to sacrifice
himself for our benefit.
We really need to sit down and
examine ourselves when we examine the resurrection, because if we choose not to
accept the resurrection as truth, then we are effectively saying to God that
Jesus sacrifice was not enough. I know that at times all people everywhere
struggle with unbelief and I know that in my own case, if I had not experienced
the presence of the Lord is such a powerful way I doubt whether or not I would
have become a believer.
That is an indictment against me.
It is not something that I am necessarily proud of because I class myself as a
companion of Thomas. God will no doubt reward those who believe without seeing,
to a greater extent than people like me, who only come to believe after God's
direct intervention into our lives.
I would like to encourage people
to reflect on their understanding of the resurrection and its meaning in their
life. I would like to encourage them also to re-examine their own faith in
light of the resurrection.
If we take the resurrection as
being myth or hearsay or even just a story to bring across some truth then we
are denying the gospel message. Without the resurrection Christianity has no
basis to exist. Without the resurrection we might all is well give Christianity
away as being nothing more than the belief in a first century sage or
© Trevor Forrester BMin AdvDipTh Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.