Preached by Jason Abbott
Well, friends, let’s not simply jump right into the resurrection of Christ Jesus without reminding ourselves what has proceeded it. Jesus on Friday afternoon died on the cross. And, after breathing his last breath, this is what Luke says happened:
Now there was a man named Joseph, from the Jewish town of Arimathea. He was a member of the council, a good and righteous man, who had not consented to their decision and action; and he was looking for the kingdom of God. This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then he took it down and wrapped it in a linen shroud and laid him in a tomb cut in stone, where no one had ever yet been laid. It was the day of Preparation, and the Sabbath was beginning. The women who had come with him from Galilee followed and saw the tomb and how his body was laid. Then they returned and prepared spices and ointments. On the Sabbath [the women] rested according to the commandment (Luke 23:50-56).
Now, from Friday then Saturday, the Sabbath, we move to Sunday morning.
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. 4 While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men stood by them in dazzling apparel. 5 And as they were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? 6 He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, 7 that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.” 8 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, 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.
There are two questions to ask ourselves whenever we consider this passage of Scripture—or any passage of Scripture that details the resurrection of the Christ. (1st) Did it happen? Is this historically reliable and, therefore, worthy of our belief? And, if it is, (2nd) what are the implications for us? What actually changes for you and me if Jesus rose from the grave?
1. Did it happen?
There is so much that could be said at this point. It’s almost hard to know where to start. This question’s literally been debated for nearly two-thousand years. That’s how important it is. That’s how important it is for you and me.
I could start with Luke’s gospel account. And, I could point out his purpose for writing it. He tells us in the first four verses that his mission is to write history. (This is why we subtitled our sermon series through Luke—History of the Christ.) Listen to what Luke says about his account:
Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you…that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught (Luke 1:1-4).
Collecting eyewitness accounts through interviews and thorough research, for the purpose of writing an orderly narrative of past events—sounds like history, sounds like the work of a historian.
Most of us get up everyday and turn on our televisions or turn on our phones to get the news. This news is typically pieced together through interviewing people and making sense of the evidence. Then, the reporter writes up an orderly account so you and I will understand what’s happened. And, what do you and I do with it? Well, for the most part (outside of the most cynical conspiracy theorists among us), we believe the report; we believe the thing really happened.
This is true also of our history classes. We read accounts of the distant past, and we trust that Caesar crossed the Rubicon, or that Abe Lincoln gave an address at Gettysburg. We believe the witnesses and the accounts they’ve given us.
At this point, it would be fair to object that those don’t tell us that someone who was dead became undead—that someone wrestled with and conquered death. So, you could fairly object that this isn’t normal history. And, you’d be totally right about that. Both believer and non-believer agree on that. Easter isn’t a celebration of normal history.
And, that objection brings me to another thing that could be said in support of the historical believability of the resurrection—namely, that there were a bunch of people who claimed to have seen it; there were a ton of individuals who testified that they met with the risen Christ. At one point, Paul gives us a list of witnesses, even witnesses who were currently alive and could be asked about it. He says:
For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers…most of whom are still alive (1 Corinthians 15:3-6).
You might argue—as some have argued—Maybe they all conspired together so as to consolidate power in the new religious movement which Jesus had started. Maybe it was all a giant lie to keep people under their control. However, this line of thinking is flawed in two major ways.
First, keeping such an elaborate secret—one kept hush, hush between more than five hundred people—seems extremely unlikely. With that many conspirators, a lie would most certainly get out.
But, second—and far more devastating to the argument that the resurrection was a lie—is that many of these eyewitnesses were persecuted and even executed for their belief in Jesus’ resurrection. (Sadly, we have abundant proof that people will die for what they believe about religion.) But, this is not an example of that! These Christians would have been dying (according to this argument) for a belief in the resurrection which they knew was untrue. That seems highly unlikely.
In fact, many ways that people try to explain-away the historical resurrection boarder on absurdity—perhaps, five hundred plus people all had a hallucination; or, perhaps, Jesus had fainted but wasn’t dead when they put him in the tomb.
(Is it very likely for hundreds of people to have the exact same hallucination over many weeks and in various locations? Is a mostly-dead, bruised and bloodied resuscitated leader, who appears to his followers, likely to inspire those followers to place their hope in his resurrection? Friends, I’m not making these things up. These are the kinds of arguments proposed to explain-away the resurrection.)
Look, in the end, it’s about your presuppositions. In fact, we should all admit that it’s usually about our presuppositions.
If miracles are off the table, if the very idea of a resurrection from the dead is an impossibility for you, then you’ll never accept texts like this one as historical. You, like Thomas Jefferson, will discard miracles and keep only natural elements in the narrative—there was a first-century Jewish teacher named Jesus of Nazareth; he was crucified as a criminal in Jerusalem around AD 33; his disciples proclaimed that he rose from the grave (etcetera, etcetera, etcetera). These are the natural facts of the matter—merely the non-supernatural facts of the matter.
But, here’s the trouble with this thinking. By discounting the very possibility of miracles, you have discounted the possibility of God. If miracles can’t happen, then neither can God exist—at least not in any significant or all-powerful way. Instead, we have a God who is ruled by his creation rather than a God who rules over his creation. We have a weak or impotent God.
Look, as far as historical documents from the ancient world go, the gospels are impeccable. Historically speaking, these texts put other ancient texts to shame in terms of the number of existent copies, the accuracy of the copies’ transmission, and the proximity of the earliest manuscripts to the events which they report to us. Take out the miracles, and not one historian would doubt that the gospel accounts record very reliable history. Take away the modern presupposition—that miracles don’t happen—and the gospel narratives would enjoy a more serious consideration by many in our skeptical world.
So, here’s the question before us. Are you willing to grant that if God exists then miracles—even Jesus rising from the dead—could take place in real history? If you’re not, then there is no reason which I (or anyone else) could present to you in order to convince you otherwise—in order to convince you that Jesus Christ did, in fact, rise victoriously over death.
If, however, you’re willing to grant that there’s a Creator God—who stands over this world and the laws of nature—then Jesus’ resurrection isn’t just possible but, perhaps, because of the evidence, even quite probable. Likely a historical fact! The most important happening in the history of the world!
And, it’s this realization and belief that brings us to our second question.
2. What does it change?
The short but giant answer to that question is—everything. The resurrection of Jesus changes everything.
We see this in today’s passage. The women who go to Jesus’ tomb in sorrow and grief leave with hopeful joy and excitement at the prospect of his resurrection. They are fearful at the beginning but bold in their testimony to the eleven disciples at the end. They are honored in Luke’s narrative as the first disciples who believe and trust in the resurrection of Jesus. Most of the rest of the disciples are shamed because they dismiss these women and don’t believe their testimony.
(By the way, how Luke portrays ten of the eleven disciples in this narrative is just another example of why this account should be regarded as believable to us. These faithless ten disciples—who dismiss the women to their shame in this text—would become the leaders of the early church. Who would invent leaders who look like these guys? The answer is no one would. This is just who these early leaders were in real life—weak, faithless, and chauvinistic. But, the resurrection of Jesus would eventually transform them too…because it changes everything.)
But, as we close, I want us to consider Peter. Think about him for a moment with me. In the last few days leading up to this event, he has proclaimed allegiance to Jesus even if it meant death, yet, when danger came, he ran off and hid himself; Peter told Jesus he would never deny him, but, when confronted by a servant girl and two others around a fire, he says that he never knew Jesus. Peter, of the eleven, is the one who has promised the most yet delivered the least.
When, however, the women return talking about all they’ve just witnessed—an empty tomb, two dazzling messengers, and the remembrance of Jesus’ promises about his death and resurrection—what does Peter do?
Well, in contrast to the other disciples, Luke tells us that 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 (v. 12).
This apostate would become Christianity’s lead apostle. This denier of Jesus would become one of Christ’s chief confessors. This disciple who ran from danger and death would, in the end, courageously march to his death because of his faith in Jesus Christ. The resurrection of Jesus changes everything.
Friends, I don’t know who in this fallen world dismisses you like the women are dismissed by the apostles. I don’t know the forces in life that marginalize you, that treat you as if what you say is “an idle tale” and what you do is of little value. But, I know faith in the resurrection can provide you with courage to boldly face it. Christ’s resurrection changes everything.
I don’t know what you might have done that is shameful and embarrassing like the ten apostles in this passage. I don’t know the kind of prejudice you harbor. But, I do know that following Jesus, our resurrected Savior, can bring redemption because his victory over death changes everything.
I don’t know all your failure. I don’t know who you’ve let down or betrayed as Peter let down and betrayed Jesus in the end. But, I do know Jesus’ resurrection offers forgiveness and restoration. It gives you the power to be forever transformed and perfected—even to image and share God’s holy glory. It changes everything.
Friends, the resurrection of Jesus is the foundational doctrine of Christianity. With it, the faith stands. Without it, the faith falls—because it’s the confirmation that what Jesus said about himself and about his mission is true. Jesus’ resurrection is God’s signature certifying that in and through Christ Jesus all of God’s promises are a yes; they are granted.
- The shame of sin…taken away from us through faith in Christ. (Yes.)
- The power of death over us…broken through faith in Christ. (Yes.)
- The chasm which separated us from the joy of eternity in God’s glory… bridged through faith in Christ. (Yes.)
The resurrection says all this, and infinitely more, is yours thru faith Jesus.