March 27, 2016
Obviously today is Easter. We are focused on the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. This is such a significant teaching in Christianity that Paul tells us that if Christ isn’t risen from the dead, the Christian faith is futile. It’s just a big lie.
So, we are in John 20:1-10 and we are looking at one of the accounts of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Let me ask you. What do you think about the resurrection of Jesus Christ?
I. WE SEE A REASONABLE ASSUMPTION. Jn.20:1-2
It is safe to say that no one was anticipating the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. His closest followers thought Jesus was going to restore the kingdom of Israel by defeating the Romans. And even though Jesus had told them that he was going to be crucified and would rise on the third day, they did not understand what he was talking about. At his crucifixion, the only disciple we have record of being at the cross is John. Luke tells us that some of Jesus’ acquaintances were there along with some women. It seems that his disciples were in hiding. Once Jesus died it looked as if all hope of his being the Messiah, the king of Israel, was dashed.
There was no question that Jesus was dead. Two of his followers, Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus were given custody of his body. Jesus was laid in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea. Some of the women who followed Jesus saw where he was buried and then went to prepare spices and ointments in order to finish the burial. They had to wait until the Sabbath was over. We know from the other gospels that a huge stone was rolled in front of the opening of the tomb and the tomb was sealed by order of the Governor, Pilate. In fact, Matthew tells us that a Roman detail was posted to guard the tomb. I say this to emphasize that Jesus was absolutely dead.
So early on the first day of the week, on Sunday, Mary Magdalene along with some other women came to the tomb to finish anointing Jesus’ body, but they found the stone removed from the entrance. Mary ran to where Simon Peter and John were staying. Notice what she says in v.2. “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him." As far as Mary was concerned the body of Jesus had been removed from the tomb. Was this a grave robbery? Could the chief priests have instigated this? She didn’t know who did it. But clearly, someone had taken the body away. Can you imagine how you would feel if your loved one was removed from their grave?
Again I point this out because it shows that the last thing anyone was expecting was that Jesus would rise from the dead. Mary came up with a very reasonable assumption. The body has been taken away.
God has given us good minds to use. Mary was using hers. We all know that dead people do not rise from the dead. It was fact back in Jesus’ day just as much as it is fact in our day. Some Jews believed that at the end there would be a future resurrection or renewing of the world, but they didn’t have much concept of individuals rising from the dead. The Greeks did not believe in a resurrection because for them the body was negative. It trapped the soul. The Greeks believed that the soul would be liberated from the body. A bodily resurrection was distasteful to them.
In addition to this the gospel writers did not do themselves any favors when they wrote that women were the first eyewitnesses. Celsus was a Greek philosopher who lived in the 2nd century. He attacked Christianity and one of his arguments was that Christianity is not true because the resurrection accounts are based on the testimony of women. Women were considered to be hysterical and their testimony was invalid. They could not be trusted.
So on one level we can understand why many would be hesitant to believe in the bodily resurrection of Jesus. It doesn’t fit with reality as we know it. Even Jesus’ disciples were slow to embrace the resurrection of Jesus.
But that said, there is something else in play here. Many have an inner hostility to Jesus Christ. After all Jesus made incredible claims. He claimed to be God in the flesh. He claimed to be the Savior of the world. He claimed that he alone had the truth about God and that everyone who wants to know God must follow him, Jesus. That doesn’t go over very well in our world, where people want to make their own way. So many people have a personal stake in denying the resurrection of Jesus. They don’t want the resurrection to be true. This is not such a reasonable approach to take. Perhaps you are one who does not believe that Jesus rose from the dead. You are skeptical about the claims of Christianity regarding Jesus.
II. WE SEE PERSONAL INVESTIGATION. Jn.20:3-7
When Peter and John heard this news from Mary they were concerned and they immediately began running to the tomb to see for themselves. John was faster than Peter and he got there first. It says, that John stooped to look in and he saw the linen cloths lying there. Peter finally got there and went right into the tomb. He also saw the linen cloths lying there. These would have been the cloths that were wrapped around the body of Jesus. The spices and ointments were spread on those cloths to keep the smell of death and decay at bay.
Then they saw something else. In v.7 we read that the face cloth that had been tied around Jesus’ head to keep his mouth closed was not lying with the rest of the linen cloths, but was neatly folded in a place by itself. Huh?
Peter and John were investigating the evidence in order to try to make sense of what was happening. The evidence was a bit confusing. I mean, if grave robbers were going to snatch the body would it make sense to take the time to unravel the linen from Jesus’ body and to untie the face cloth and neatly fold it up? Wouldn’t one rather have all those cloths on the body? Wouldn’t it be easier to move the body if it was wrapped? It just didn’t make sense. Mary’s reasonable assumption didn’t seem to fit with the evidence.
Is there any significant evidence that would speak to the reality of the resurrection of Jesus? The interesting thing about Christianity is that it is a religion that is rooted in history and historical events. Even though some other world religions have founders, it is not critical to those religions for the founders to be alive. It is critical in Christianity. Christianity is first and foremost not about concepts. It is about a person, Jesus Christ. We know about Jesus through the eyewitness accounts written by Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and Paul. In addition to this there are some ancient documents that are secular in nature that bear witness to the person of Jesus. The New Testament documents are historical documents that are extremely well attested. I mean the New Testament documents are far more attested as being reliable and accurate than just about any other documents of ancient history.
And while there are minor differences in the way the story is told, the clear assertion of the gospels is that Jesus rose from the dead and showed himself to the disciples and others. Paul adds in 1Cor.15 that the resurrected Jesus appeared to Peter, the disciples and then to as many as 500 people at one time and many of those people were still living when Paul was writing this. Another interesting bit of evidence is that if Jesus had not risen from the dead, why didn’t the Jewish leaders just produce the body? That would have been easy enough to do?
And then there is the amazing fact that the disciples were transformed from being fearful and cowardly, to being powerful witnesses for Jesus Christ. I mean many of these men gave their lives for the cause of Christ. Who gives their life for something they know to be untrue? Lastly there is the evidence of lives that have been transformed through Jesus Christ. And that leads me to say that in v.8-10…
III. WE SEE A STUNNING CONVICTION. Jn.20:8-10
As Peter and John explored the empty tomb, they had different reactions. We don’t know exactly what Peter’s thoughts were. But it tells us that John saw and believed. And even though there are Old Testament passages that speak to the reality of the resurrection, both Peter and John did not make any connection with the empty tomb and the Old Testament. But John believed. Maybe he was reminded of some the things Jesus had said. We don’t really know. We just know that he believed Jesus had risen from the dead.
Recently I read a book called “The Mind of God,’ by Paul Davies. Paul Davies is an English Physicist who teaches at Arizona State University. He has also taught at the Universities of Cambridge, Adelaide, Macquarie, and Newcastle. He is the director of BEYOND: Center for Fundamental Concepts in Science.
In his book he talks about the possibility of finding a theory to explain the existence of everything. He quotes from many well-known scientists like Stephen Hawking, etc. Here is what amazed me. After discussing these matters in great depth, in the last chapter is a section called “Mystical Knowledge.” When I saw it I sort of sat up. At the end of the day, Davies appeals to mystical knowledge. He writes, “But in the end a rational explanation for the world in the sense of a closed and complete system of logical truths is almost certainly impossible…If we wish to make progress beyond, we have to embrace a different concept of ‘understanding’ from that of a rational explanation.”
And then there is the story of Sarah Salviander. Sarah is research scientist in astronomy and astrophysics at the University of Texas. Sarah was born in the U.S, but grew up in Canada. Her parents were socialists and political activists. They were also athiests. Religion had absolutely nothing to do in her life. It wasn’t until she went to college that she began to meet Christians. She didn’t know much of anything about Christianity but she was extremely hostile toward the Christian faith. She thought Christians were weak and foolish and that Christianity was philosophically trivial.
She continued to meet more Christians and even some Christian professors. In her studies she was amazed to find how there is an underlying order to the universe. One summer she read The Count of Monte Cristo, which is a story that deeply examines forgiveness and God’s role in giving justice. One day as she was walking across campus she writes, “I stopped in my tracks when it hit me, I believe in God! I was so happy; it was like a weight had been lifted from my heart. She had embraced theism. It wasn’t until some years later after getting married that she began reading the Bible. She found the person of Jesus Christ to be compelling. She writes, “Intellectually, I knew the Bible to be true, and as a person of intellect, I had to accept it as truth, even if I didn’t feel it. That’s what faith is. As C.S. Lewis said, it is accepting something you know to be true in spite of your emotions. So, I converted. I accepted Jesus Christ as my personal savior.
Now I’m not saying that you should embrace Jesus Christ because Sarah did. I refer to Paul Davies and Sarah Salviander to show that there is much more to life in this world than science and naturalism. When I came to the end of Paul Davies’ book, I felt sorry for him. I felt sorry because a belief in God and his son, Jesus, in my view, is the most reasonable foundation and explanation for the existence of a universe in which men and women are personal, willful beings. A personal God who has revealed himself in Jesus make wonderful sense of all things. O there are questions. We struggle with the question of evil. But then there is the resurrection of Jesus.
O my, the resurrection of Jesus validates all that he said including his offer of forgiveness of our sins and the receiving of his eternal living under his good rule in the kingdom of God.
So! Christ the Lord is risen today. Alleluia! Jesus is alive and you can enter into life with Christ. How, by turning from your present way of living and by putting your confidence for life and eternity in Jesus. Ask Jesus to forgive you of your sins. Ask Jesus to give you his new life. Begin to orient your life around the person and teachings of Jesus Christ as you read about him in the New Testament. You will embark on a whole new way of living that will blossom into an abundant, joy filled life with Christ for eternity. Amen