Today, but not just today, we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus.
That is what we as Christians believe, that a man was executed by crucifixion, and that on the third day after he died, he physically rose from the grave, alive again, in an incomparable, and to this day, unrepeated event with no scientific explanation.
The reason Christians meet on Sundays is because Jesus rose on a Sunday.
Sunday was the old Monday, and Saturday was, and still is the Jewish holy day, the day that commemorates Gods rest from his work of Creation. But for Christians, the importance of the resurrection turned Sunday into the day for worship.
So, every Sunday, is the day we celebrate Jesus’ resurrection.
Today, I want to speak on the importance and implications of the resurrection
If we read the gospels and the new testament, I find it interesting that the resurrection does not take up a lot of space. For example, in Luke, out of 24 chapters, there are 2 chapters that detail the betrayal arrest, trial and crucifixion, (the passion) but only one chapter on the resurrection. In Mark, there are 16 chapters, and almost 2 chapters on the passion, but only a short chapter on the resurrection. It is similar in the other gospels.
And besides this short treatment, what I also find interesting is that the details of how the resurrection is discovered and announced vary between the gospels. Was it a group of women or only Mary Magdalene? At what point did the angels appear, was there one or two angels? Only Matthew mentions the guards and the earthquake caused by an angel.
But they all agree that women were the first to whom Jesus appeared, that he did appear later to the disciples and Peter, (Peter is singled out, I think particularly because of his betrayal) that he appeared to the 2 on the road to Emmaus, that he ate with the disciples, and that the disciples worshipped him.
I know that these discrepancies are not evidence to doubt the new testament. The gospels were written retrospectively after the event, and the many details were to some degree summarised in the excitement of the truth of the resurrection.
This morning we read John’s version. He gives the most detail about the actual events at the empty grave, and that is probably because he was one of the 2 who ran there himself, he even mentions that he outran Peter.
The next point I wish to make is that the resurrection was unexpected.
No one, not a single follower, expected to see Jesus again, alive and well. Even though Jesus had told the disciples, more than once, what was going to happen.
It’s hard for us to see this. We have had many years of Easter celebrations, we know the story well, the ending is no longer a surprise, and that is good. But it was not like that for the disciples, they did not go to bed at peace after the crucifixion, knowing that in a couple of days Jesus would be Ok.
The resurrection in some ways was disturbing, and confusing. It was unexpected. It had never happened before, nor has it since.
Our recent pandemic was unexpected and disturbing. Although, in our lifetimes we haven’t experienced it, but we still had history to tell us of other pandemics.
The resurrection only happened once.
And briefly, I think Peter would have found this quite a difficult time, having failed so epically, in his denial, and having bitterly regretted his words and actions, having a risen Jesus to face may have brought new questions and fears. How would a risen powerful Jesus deal with his failure?
But the resurrection, after the initial shock, was actually the most wonderful event in all history.
Once Mary Magdalene realised the gardener was actually Jesus, she wanted to touch him, probably to hold on to his feet, which is how Matthew describes the women meeting Jesus. But Jesus asks her not to, he has to return to the Father.
Why, was the resurrection such a wonderful event? I’ll get to that.
The next point I want to make is that the resurrection, from my reading of the gospels, was, in biblical terms, a relatively quiet event.
Despite its amazing power and significance. He appeared to only a few of his followers only a few times that are recorded. Paul tells us in 1Corinthians 15:5-6 that he appeared to about 500 others, and last of all to himself.
500 sounds big, but considering the much bigger crowds that he preached to eg the feeding of the 5000, even in Jesus terms, it was small. And Jesus certainly did not appear to anyone of political importance at the time, not to religious leaders, not to Herod, not to Pilate, or Caesar. He was not risen in order to overthrow the authorities that had crucified him, it seems that that was not even a consideration. So, if nothing else I would like to say that this implies that he rose particularly for his followers, for the ones he loved. And he did this relatively quietly, and relatively privately, unlike the crucifixion, and then Pentecost, and the preaching of Peter and Paul. But without the quiet resurrection, there would be no power for Pentecost, and for the church to explode into being. The quiet resurrection is still the power that propels the church, and us as Christians.
1 Corinthians 15:3-8 (NIV) For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. 6 After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, 8 and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.
Let’s imagine for a moment, that Jesus had simply died.
If we look at the state of affairs after the crucifixion, we see that things would have most likely “petered out”, for want of a better word. Peter and the others actually went back to fishing. Everyone was in a state of grief or regret. No-one was expecting Jesus to rise. There were no wise men following a star, like there was at his birth. There as only grief, regret and despair, there may have also been relief for the Pharisees and religious leaders to be finally rid of Jesus.
I do not believe a new religion would have started, certainly not a world-wide one.
For example, Jewish people (I learnt recently on YouTube listening to a Jewish guide in Jerusalem) are not actively seeking others to become Jews.
But Jesus did rise. And after the resurrection, Jesus commanded his disciples to go out into all the world, and make disciples of all people, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. And this did happen.
And we know that Jesus actually rose, not because Christianity has spread across the globe and survived 2000 years, but because eye witnesses have recorded the events. The New Testament is a historical document. If you look at how documents are classified as historical, it includes things like, consistency and accuracy between copies and other contemporary texts, numbers of copies, earliest copies, and then style of writing etc. The new (and old) testament, when held up to strict criteria, actually fulfil those criteria in more ways than any other historical document.
So, what does it mean for us, that Jesus rose from the dead.
I am going to mention a few things that come to my mind.
Firstly, it means that Jesus is still alive today.
We often know exactly where the remains of our loved ones are. And some many famous historical people have their final resting place marked somewhere. I would love to visit the final resting places of Bach or Mozart. But for Jesus there is no final resting place. His body was not left behind, he rose physically.
When he rose, he broke the power of death over himself. Because he was fully a man, he died properly, but then came back to life in a way that has never happened before or since. He is now alive beyond death. If we think of death as a person, a powerful person, in an arm to arm battle with Jesus, death and Jesus wrestled one on one completely. It looked as though death had won, but then Jesus despite dying, knocked out death completely, and death will never be able to touch Jesus again. So that means that Jesus was alive, and still is alive today, physically, and his resurrected body can never die and will never die. So, we can say that there is a physical, living man in heaven, at God’s right hand, as seen by Stephen, the first martyr, before he died. That is truly wonderful.
We often think of our loved ones who have passed on, watching over us. Well the only human person I can guarantee is watching over us is Jesus our Lord, he is actually alive.
The resurrection means that Jesus is legitimate. What he said about himself and about God must be true. The resurrection proves his validity. All the details about what God expects of us, how we should love each other, forgive each other, trust, serve, give, pray, etc., is all valid and true and certainly deserves our attention. There is no other book we ought to read more often than the Bible.
I read many other things, but the one book I go back to over and over, is the Bible. And by the way, why do we believe the old testament? Because Jesus believed it. He rose from the dead, so what he believed and what he said must be true.
The resurrection also means that Jesus is the only way to God. Jesus said that about himself, I am the way the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father except through me. The resurrection validates this.
Jesus did not rise so that every religion would be valid, his resurrection trumps all other faiths, including Jewish faith, I say this understanding it may seem disrespectful to other faiths. This is not my intention. But to ignore Jesus rising from death is to ignore the most amazing event in all history.
The resurrection also implies strongly that Jesus was morally pure.
The moral victory Jesus had over death was his moral perfection. Death (and separation from God) was in fact the most serious consequence of sin. If Adam had not sinned in the Garden of Eden, death would never have entered into the world. If Jesus had, himself sinned, in the slightest way, morally, he could not have defeated death. His death would have been deserved and therefore, he would not have risen triumphantly.
The resurrection also implies that the crucifixion was both necessary and had a purpose, and achieved its purpose.
I will repeat this very important point.
The resurrection also implies that the crucifixion, the cross of Christ, was both necessary and had a purpose, and achieved its purpose.
What was the purpose of the crucifixion?
It was for the sins of the world.
Jesus came to destroy the works of the devil. (1John 3:8)
Without the cross, there is no way to forgive any sins.
It’s as simple as that.
The cross is where all of our sins are atoned for, propitiated, judged, and destroyed.
But without the resurrection, we would not know this, there would have been a tragic death, but no confirmation of its effectiveness. The resurrection proves the effectiveness of the cross in a powerful and irreversible way. A risen Jesus is the guarantee of his success.
But I want to take this a step further. The resurrection, proving how necessary and effective the cross was, also gives weight the seriousness of our sin before God. If our sin was not serious, God would not have sent his one and only beloved Son, to die for our sins and then rise.
So, without the resurrection there is no understanding that through the cross we have peace with God.
But because there was a resurrection, the cross was effective and we do have peace with God, and we now think differently about sin, we no longer want to sin. Notice that word “want”. It is important that we don’t want to sin. (and we no longer want to want to sin. I didn’t say we no longer sin!) And we personally consider/scrutinise the moral side of all our actions much more than we ever did before we had faith. All sin is rebellion against God, the cross destroyed our sin and rebellion, and as much as possible we want no more of it.
Finally, the resurrection proves not only that what Jesus said was true, but that Jesus is who he said he was. And that is, the Son of God, and more than this, God incarnate, a member of the Godhead.
When Thomas had finally been given the privilege of touching Jesus’ crucifixion wounds, he bowed and said “my Lord and My God”. Prior to the resurrection, the disciples did not think of Jesus as God, though Jesus implied it, for example when he told Philp, that to see Jesus is to see the Father.
Unfortunately, we worship many things. We are prone to this, including worshiping people, but humans should not be worshiped. Herod died a death of judgement from God when he accepted being worshiped as God, we read in Acts 12:23
Acts 12:23 (NIV) Immediately, because Herod did not give praise to God, an angel of the Lord struck him down, and he was eaten by worms and died.
But Jesus is the one man in all of history who does deserve our worship, and who we ought to worship. Because he is the Son of God and, he is God. This is proven by his resurrection.
I am not going to discuss or try to explain this truth which we know as the Trinity, the triune God, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, three persons, one God. But it is because of Jesus’ resurrection, and the understanding of his supremacy as the Son of God, that we have this understanding. I will briefly quote the start of John’s gospel.
John 1:1-3 (NIV) In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.
Jesus was a man, he is still a man, the resurrection proves he is also the son of God, and he was always God. He became man at one point in history, the incarnation, where Mary was overshadowed by the Holy Spirit, from then onwards he is always, and will always be, fully man and fully God.
So though, in my opinion, the resurrection was relatively quiet, it was powerful and unique, and proves beyond any other event, that Jesus is the Christ, and that he achieved all he set out to achieve, in particular, to save sinners like you and I.
To be a Christian means many things, but more than anything else, it means that we believe in a resurrected man who is also God, the Son of God, our precious saviour, Jesus.
He is King of all Kings and Lord of all Lords. And he is with us, and all people who gather together in his name. He actually leads our worship, and deserves our worship. He is with us by faith and in Spirit. Actually, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are all indwelling us and we them!
And our risen king Jesus will return physically and gloriously very soon, and this physical return will not be a private event. Every eye will see him, and every heart will know that Jesus Christ is truly Lord.