It is Time to Believe.
A Look at the Resurrection of Jesus.
(1 Col 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 to death.
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 President.
One can only guess at George's motives for rejecting the pardon, maybe he felt that what he had done was beyond forgiveness.
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.
A 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 first."
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 called Theophanies.
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 asleep.
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 be denied.
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 28:5)
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 fact.
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 no.
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 day.
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 crucified.
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 other beforehand.
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 more reliable.
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 resurrection.
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 philosopher.
© Trevor Forrester BMin AdvDipTh Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.