Posts Tagged 'Easter'

The Risen Christ, And the Power to Serve

Just in time for Easter, the media are pushing a new survey that says nearly one in four Christians don’t believe in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. From the Telegraph:

Nearly one in four Christians do not believe in the story of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, a poll has claimed. Fewer than one-in-three Christians in Britain believe “word-for-word” the Biblical story of Jesus rising from the dead, with another 41 per cent believing some sections should not be taken literally. But the Palm Sunday poll for the BBC found 23 per cent of those calling themselves Christians “do not believe in the resurrection of Jesus from the dead” at all.

Can you be a Christian and not believe in the Resurrection? Apparently so. It’s easy to blame our “post Christian society” for such a poll result, but a cursory glance at Church History tells us that the Resurrection has frequently been doubted. And the doubt started very early on.

Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. (Matthew 28:16, 17 | TNIV)

Not too many years later, a large church in Corinth had a big problem accepting the Resurrection of Christ and the future resurrection of believers. Paul’s explanation went like this:

But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost.  If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all others. (1 Corinthians 15:12 – 19 | TNIV)

Verse 19 is a verse that all those so-called Christians who don’t believe in the Resurrection of Christ should get to know. Think about what Paul is saying in it:

If only for this life we have hope in Christ

That phrase speaks to all those people who claim to believe in Jesus as “the good guy,” the “loving rabbi” who taught about love and went about doing good. These people love the Beatitudes but don’t have any use for the divinity of Jesus Christ or of His literal Resurrection from the dead. There are plenty of people who have great respect for the Jesus of the Beatitudes. But the second phrase tells us that’s just not enough:

We are to be pitied more than all the others

In other words, it’s pitiful – pathetic – to have such a limited view of Jesus Christ. It’s not enough. The moral teachings of Jesus, as powerful and life changing as they may be, can’t save you. Simply living according to the Beatitudes would make our sick society relatively healthy, but not result in any souls getting saved and would offer no hope for the future. Indeed, hope for the future is grounded in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.

History of the Crucifixion

The Crucifixion of Christ is a historical event. We can read about in the Bible and in other sources. For example, Cornelius Tacitus (55 – 120 AD), Rome’s greatest historian, wrote this:

Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus…

Josephus, a Jewish historian, wrote:

At this time there was a wise man who was called Jesus. And his conduct was good and he was known to be virtuous. And many people from among the Jews and other nations became his disciples. Pilate condemned him to be crucified and to die. And those who had become his disciples did not abandon his discipleship. They reported that he had appeared to them three days after his crucifixion and that he was alive; accordingly, he was perhaps the messiah concerning whom the prophets have recounted wonders.

And according to the Talmud, a collection of Jewish writing from 70 – 200 AD, we read this account:

On the eve of the Passover Yeshu was hanged. For forty days before the execution took place, a herald went forth and cried, ‘He is going forth to be stoned because he has practised sorcery and enticed Israel to apostacy. Anyone who can say anything in his favour, let him come forward and plead on his behalf.’ But since nothing was brought forward in his favour he was hanged on the eve of the Passover.

That the Crucifixion of Christ happened is indisputable. But it’s the Biblical record that gives us details of how it happened. When our Lord finally died on the Cross, a number of strange events took place:

• The heavy curtain of the Temple was torn in two, Matthew 27:51;
• There was an earthquake, Matthew 27:51;
• Many graves of Old Testament saints were opened up, Matthew 27:52;
• Some of the resurrected saints were seen in Jerusalem after the Resurrection of Jesus;
• A Roman centurion, no less, declared Jesus was truly the Son of God, Matthew 27:54

The burial, Matthew 27:57 – 66

Some time before sunset, shortly before the Sabbath was about to begin, one Joseph of Arimathea took it upon himself to secure the body of Jesus Christ in order to bury Him. For the body of a fellow Jew to go unburied was considered a terrible thing.

As evening approached, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who had himself become a disciple of Jesus. Going to Pilate, he asked for Jesus’ body, and Pilate ordered that it be given to him. Joseph took the body, wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, and placed it in his own new tomb that he had cut out of the rock. He rolled a big stone in front of the entrance to the tomb and went away. (Mastthew 27:57 – 60 | TNIV)

What do we know about this man, Joseph of Arimathea? He was born to Matthias, and had at least one brother, Jonathan, and was intelligent and well-thought of by those who knew his family. He was born about eight years before Jesus Christ, and by the age of 17 had a strong desire to learn about the laws and customs, both religious and civil, of his people. He studied the teachings and philosophies of the Pharisees, the Saducees, and the Esseans, in order to choose the best Jewish sect to join.

Young Joseph would eventually join the Pharisees, but did not become obsessed with power and authority, as many of his peers did. His heart remained pure, and it was Joseph’s hope that through his efforts, the Jewish faith would grow in strength and purity and remain devoted to the teachings of Scripture. And just like when he was a young boy, all who knew this Pharisee were impressed with his sincerity and integrity and devotion to the faith.

But when Jesus Christ burst onto the scene and gained fame for His teaching and miracles, he caught the attention of the Pharisees, and some like Nicodemus and Joseph understood that there was something different – special – about this Jesus Christ. In time, Joseph became a convert and a disciple of our Lord’s.

It took a great deal of courage for this Pharisee to approach Pilate and ask for the body of Jesus, but Joseph did and his request was granted.

Burying Jesus had to be done quickly, and so there was no time for extensive preservation. Our Lord’s Body was wrapped up in linen and placed in a brand new tomb. The two Mary’s, who had been utterly devoted to Jesus for such a long time, were there, silently watching carefully where their Lord was buried.

Christ’s Resurrection, Matthew 28:1 – 10

After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb. (Matthew 28:1 | TNIV)

This visit recorded in Matthew is probably the same one we read about in John 20, but there only Mary Magdalene is mentioned. And only Matthew mentions this:

There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men. (Matthew 28:2 – 4 | TNIV)

The angel’s words in Matthew are similar to Mark’s record.

Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’ ” (Mark 16:6, 7 | TNIV)

It’s interesting that none of the Gospel writers even tries to describe the Resurrection of Jesus, yet it makes sense: There were no eye witnesses to the actual event. Our Lord left His tomb quietly, after the Spirit gave Him life in a moment.

For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit. (1 Peter 3:18 | TNIV)

The fact is, as much as we wish the Resurrection took place like some of the paintings portray it, nobody saw it happen; Jesus didn’t come out of the tomb with shocked guards watching Him. Silently, miraculously, and gloriously, our Lord simply rose up and passed through the stone with no fanfare.

For their part, the women didn’t linger at the tomb. They had a job to do; a witness to share. The angel kept the women from discussing how it all could have happened or speculating about things they couldn’t hope to comprehend. He ordered them to go and spread the news. On their way, who should they meet? None other that their risen Lord:

Suddenly Jesus met them. “Greetings,” he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.” (Matthew 28:9, 10 | TNIV)

This first appearance of Jesus was important given what He told them: “Do not be afraid.” It sounds like the women were afraid at that moment, but the Greek suggests they were living in a state of constant fear. The command of Jesus looks more like this: “Stop being afraid.” These precious women were afraid of many things this day, the least of which was the appearance of the Man they loved and worshipped. Fear had no place in their hearts this happy day.

The challenge, Matthew 28:16 – 20

Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. (Matthew 28:16, 17 | TNIV)

The disciples were obedient to the word of their Lord. They went north to Galilee. We’re not told what mountain they were to go to, but in spite of their doubts, they went. A word of explanation and encouragement about Matthew’s account would be good right about now. For those of you who know your Gospels, it’s clear that Matthew has left out a lot material. He doesn’t mention all the post-Resurrection appearances of Jesus, but remember what the angel told the two women back in verse 7: “He is going ahead of YOU into Galilee.” In other words, in spite of Matthew’s rather truncated account, the women as well as the eleven disciples were present in Galilee. In fact, it’s entirely possible that this encounter in Galilee was mentioned years later by Paul:

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. (1 Corinthians 15:6 | TNIV)

Galilee was the perfect place for this meeting. It was probably near the end of Jesus’ 40 days on earth, given the familiarity of His words. In spite of everything, though, some doubted. I have always said that “doubt is the beginning of faith,” and I believe that to be true. These doubters, and we have no idea how many there were, still went IN FAITH. Their faith was far from perfect; who’s isn’t? The main thing is that in spite of their doubt, they still obeyed the word of the Lord. And we should too. We can’t let out doubts – our imperfect faith – keep us from living lives in obedience to the Word of God. In due time, the Lord will give us certain victory over those doubts.

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18 – 20 | TNIV)

That’s what we call today, The Great Commission, but at the time they were simply words of instruction given by Jesus to His followers. Edward Blair, in his excellent book “Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew,” wrote that this commission from Jesus is the whole point of Matthew’s Gospel. In these three verses, we see the absolute, final authority of Jesus Christ, but also, as Blair called it, “its derivative authority.” With authority from Jesus, His followers were to go and evangelize the whole world. Not only that, we also see what discipleship is all about: teaching those evangelized the Word of God and not abandoning them at the very moment of the spiritual rebirth. And we have the promise to Jesus’ continued presence.

One of those who heard this Great Commission could possibly have been Joseph of Arimathea. It’s speculation, of course, but when you consider what became of this man, it seems more than probable. For some time after the death and Resurrection of Jesus, he lived a solitary life. Eventually, but he joined with Peters 72 disciples, according to tradition, and began to fulfill the Great Commission. As Roman persecution of Christians dialed up in intensity, and with martyrdom looming on the horizon, Peter’s followers dispersed, including Joseph of Arimathea, taking the Gospel with them.

Joseph travelled all over Italy, preaching and teaching the Gospel, and very often his life was in peril. Eventually he returned to Jerusalem, after the threat of persecution had died down, reporting to the church there all that he had done. The church, impressed with his missionary zeal, ordained Joseph of Arimathea and commissioned him to take the Word to what would become England. He would end up, as tradition has it, in Glastonbury, some three years after Jesus ascended to heaven. Still only in his yearly 40’s, Joseph had a long and powerful ministry of preaching and performing miracles by the power of God, and in one day he baptized 18,000 people. There’s surely a hint of exaggeration there, but there is no doubt that Joseph of Arimathea is an unsung hero of God’s Word.

You have to feel sorry for those who doubt the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. They will never exceperience what Joseph of Arimathea and countless followers of Jesus have experienced:  The continued presence of Christ in their lives and the power given them to fulfill the Great Commission through the Holy Spirit.

The Point of Christianity

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The only reason for the existence of the Christian faith is the reality of one event: the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Without it, Christianity takes its place alongside all the philosophies of the world. The resurrection of Christ is what sets the Christian faith apart from Hinduism, Buddhism, Scientology, and any other religion you can think of. The resurrection is so vital a doctrine that, as one writer noted,

We cannot make too much of the death of Christ, but we can make too little of the resurrection of Christ.

On the importance of the resurrection, the great apostle wrote:

And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. (1 Corinthians 15:14 NIV)

But not everybody thinks the resurrection is so great. Celcus, a Roman living and writing in the second century, wasn’t exactly impressed with the Christian faith or with it’s Founder. Here’s what he thought:

While he was alive he did not help himself, but after death he rose again and showed the marks of his punishment and how his hand had been pierced. But who says this? A hysterical female and perhaps some other one of those who were deluded by the same sorcery, who either dreamt in a certain state of mind and through wishful thinking had a hallucination due to some mistaken notion…or which is more likely, wanted to impress others by telling this fantastic tale.

The truth is, the church of Jesus Christ is very good at celebrating the birth of our Lord, and even commemorating His death. Unfortunately, we don’t make nearly enough of His resurrection, usually reserving that topic for Easter. We should take notice of the sermons recorded for us in the New Testament, because they all have the resurrection of Jesus Christ as their theme.

John 20 is “the resurrection chapter” in John’s Gospel.

An empty tomb: ultimate evidence, John 20:1 – 9

John begins his account of the resurrection with words that have resonated throughout the Christian centuries:

Early Sunday morning, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and found that the stone was rolled aside from the entrance. (John 20:1 TLB, see also Mark 16:1, 2)

Westcott made an interesting observation of how John recorded our Lord’s Passion versus His resurrection.

[John’s account of] the passion is the history of the descent of selfishness to apostasy, his history of the Resurrection is the history of the elevation of love into absolute faith.

Just so. As the Christian greeting cards say today:

It wasn’t the nails that held Jesus to the Cross, it was love.

Given the truthfulness of that statement, it was highly appropriate that John, the disciple Jesus loved, would make sure his readers knew that it was Mary Magdalene who discovered the empty tomb. She had been forgiven so much and her love for her Lord was legendary. You’ll remember that she was the woman from whom Jesus had driven out no less than seven demons. She was eternally grateful to Him for setting her free, and she would be the first person to discover He had been set free from the bonds of death. Yet she had no idea what had happened to Jesus. The idea of a resurrection wasn’t something she’d consider. Why would she? It’s not an everyday occurrence!

Something else to consider: At this time in history, women were truly without rights, legal or otherwise. They didn’t even have standing in a court of law. When John wrote his gospel, many years after the events chronicled in it, he had no problem writing the truth that it was a woman, and a scandalous one at that, who saw the empty tomb first.

When John, then Peter, reached the tomb, he looked in but did not enter. They were understandably filled with confusion and alarm. Like Mary Magdalene, any notion that Jesus had risen from the dead hadn’t entered their minds. However, it didn’t take them long to come to the right conclusion!

Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. (John 20:8 NIV)

John is writing about himself here – he sometimes referred to himself in the third person. His moment of belief came in one decisive moment; the moment he saw the folded-up grave cloths. John needed no convincing; faith came immediately.

There’s an interesting play-on-words taking place in the original language that is missed in the English translation. There are no less than three different Greek words used in this passage translated as “seeing,” or something similar depending on what translation you are reading from. In verse 5, when John “bent over and looked in,” the word means to perceive and understand. John took a while to try to understand what it was he was looking at. Then in verse 6, when Peter went into the tomb and “he saw,” which is the Greek word theaomai, from which we get our word “theatre.” Peter stared at the grave cloths, but more like a spectator. Then in verse 8, John entered the tomb and “he saw and believed.” This time, the word “saw” means to know for certain. He knew and he believed before he saw the risen Christ.

Charles Spurgeon, never at a loss for words, noted this:

You are not asked to trust in a dead Jesus, but in One who, though He died for our sins, has risen for our justification.

Verse 9 gives us a bit of an insight into the mental state of the disciples. We sometimes get the idea that these men, eleven of the twelve at any rate, were super-saints. But in some ways, they were a kind of dull group:

They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead. (John 20:8 NIV)

This is not an unimportant verse for us to simply skip over so as to get on with the good part of the story. It teaches us something, that if we take it to heart, will help us to understand ourselves better and those lost souls we are witnessing to. These men had walked with and talked with Jesus for some three years. He had hinted at His death and eventual resurrection on a number of occasions but they didn’t get it. Not only that, John says that these men, good Jews all, didn’t even grasp their own Scriptures on the subject! Perhaps John had in mind Psalm 16:10 when he wrote what he did:

For you will not leave me among the dead; you will not allow your beloved one to rot in the grave.  (TLB)

So, the next time you kick yourself for coming to an understanding of a verse or passage of Scripture only after the umpteenth time you’ve read it, studied it, or heard a sermon on it, remember John and his pals! Even with the help of the Savior, there were some things their minds just didn’t get until they were illumined by the Holy Spirit.

Personal appearances of Jesus after His death, John 20:10 – 16

You can’t keep a good Savior down for long! Herbert Smith put it aptly:

It wasn’t a tomb at all – it was a room for a transient. Jesus just stopped there a night or two on His way back to glory.

Three days after His death, Jesus rose from the dead and visited some of His friends.

Our Lord’s first appearance was to Mary. In all, there were eleven appearances of Jesus before His ascension, but this was the first. Why did He appear first to Mary Magdalene? Proverbs 8:17 tells us this:

I love all who love me. Those who search for me shall surely find me. (TLB)

She may have loved Jesus genuinely, but that love wasn’t enough for her to recognize Him when He appeared to her.

She glanced over her shoulder and saw someone standing behind her. It was Jesus, but she didn’t recognize him! (John 20:14 TLB)

Here’s another incident that should make us stop and think. Why were the folded grave cloths enough proof for John that Jesus has risen from the dead, but not for Mary? She initially saw exactly what John saw but while he achieved believing faith, she did not. God never deals with two people the same way. He treats all people as individuals, respecting their temperaments and their level of faith, or lack thereof.

Mary, while she didn’t have faith, did have love. But love wasn’t enough for her to achieve the same level of faith John did. Unbelief is blind, love notwithstanding. There are a great many people who have sentimental feelings for Jesus and what He did for them, especially around Easter. Who isn’t moved by the Easter story? But sentimentality does not equal faith. Mary had a strong love and a sentimental attachment to Jesus but she didn’t have faith – yet. She wept because she loved Him, and because she didn’t have believing faith.

“Why are you crying?” he asked her. “Whom are you looking for?”

She thought he was the gardener. “Sir,” she said, “if you have taken him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will go and get him.” (John 20:15 TLB)

William Barclay’s observations are insightful on this verse.

The simple and poignant fact is that she could not recognize Him through her tears. She could not take her eyes off the tomb, and she had her back to Jesus. She insisted on facing in the wrong direction.

He’s absolutely right about that! Read verse 16 –

Mary!” Jesus said. She turned toward him. “Master!” she exclaimed.

Most Bible scholars make much of the fact when Jesus spoke her name, Mary believed. Barclay makes the valid point that she recognized Jesus when she got her eyes off the empty tomb and put them where they belonged: on the Man who was no longer IN the tomb.

How many people “love” Jesus but miss out on His presence because they are looking away from Him instead of at Him? It’s a dangerous thing to misinterpret your feelings for faith. It’s dangerous because it causes you to miss out, not only on our Lord’s presence, but all things that come with His presence: a sense of peace, contentment, meaning in your life, and so on. Blinded by feelings and emotions may actually feel good for a while, but that kind of experience is shallow and leaves you spiritually cold. Which explains why there are so many shallow, cold Christians these days.

At that moment of recognition, Mary called Jesus by an interesting name: Rabboni. Why did she use that title? Historically, “rabboni” was a title rarely used of men and never used in addressing them. That word was primarily used to address Yahweh. Believing faith had finally dawned in Mary. She knew that Jesus Christ had not just risen from the dead, but that He was, in fact, God Himself.

When Mary recognized Jesus, she grabbed onto Him.

“Don’t touch me,” he cautioned, “for I haven’t yet ascended to the Father. But go find my brothers and tell them that I ascend to my Father and your Father, my God and your God.” (John 20:17 TLB)

It’s not that Jesus didn’t want to be touched – He encouraged Thomas to do the very thing Mary was doing! Mary, finding out her Lord and Savior was alive, wanted to stay in His presence; she didn’t want Him to leave her and she didn’t want to leave Him. Problem was, that wasn’t what Jesus wanted her to do. He had a job for her to do: take the good news of His resurrection to others.

That begs yet another question: Why didn’t He just appear to them in person? Well, actually He did, so why the urgency for Mary to take the good news to the others? Christians are not saved to just get them into heaven or to sit in a pew on Sundays. We have a job to do as surely as those first disciples of Christ did. In a way, what Jesus wanted Mary to do represented a kind of pre-Great Commission commission.

There they met him and worshiped him—but some of them weren’t sure it really was Jesus! He told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and earth. Therefore go and make disciples in all the nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and then teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you; and be sure of this—that I am with you always, even to the end of the world.” (Matthew 28:17 – 20 TLB)

We all have a the same job to do, as Mary and as the disciples. It’s great to feel warm and comfortable in His presence. But there comes a time when we have to step out to share our faith with others.

The story of Easter is truly the greatest story ever told.  It speaks of a God who went to greatest extreme to show His love for lost souls.  It speaks of a Savior who gave all for all.  It speaks of a love to strong, the grave could not contain it.  The power that raised Jesus Christ from the dead is still at work today, changing the hearts of anybody who puts their faith and trust in the Cross.

It’s All About the Resurrection

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A lot of people aren’t sure what to do with Easter.  It’s not like Christmas.  There aren’t “Easter carols” and there isn’t the exchanging of gifts or the wild decorations associated with Christmas.  Christmas occurs at the end of the year—a fixed date.  Who knows when Easter is from year to year?   Christmas has a jolly fat man who is able to inexplicably slide down everybody’s chimney, but Easter has a bunny that, as far as we can tell, does nothing.  Christians and even people from other belief systems or of no belief system enjoy Christmas, if only for the time off work.

So, Easter gets short shrift.  It’s really a “Christian-only” deal because, bunny not withstanding, it’s all about THE resurrection of Jesus Christ.  The resurrection is the most important event in the history of the world.  Even our calendar recognizes it.  Or at least it used to until the curious “C.E.” replaced the traditional “A.D.”  Of this once-time event, Robert Flatt once remarked,

The resurrection gives my life meaning and direction and the opportunity to start over no matter what my circumstances.

That’s a nice sentimental thought, but wholly inadequate.  Truth is, if Christ had not risen from the dead, there would be no Christianity, no Christian faith, no hope, no Church, no Redeemer, no Savior, and no Lord.

Let’s take a look at the power of the resurrection and how it impacts our lives.

Recognizing the Risen Lord, John 20:1, 11—18 

Mary Magdalene’s shocking discovery, John 20:1

If you are reading this study, you are probably a Christian and at least generally familiar with the whole Crucifixion story.  It is the basis of your faith, after all.  So we’ll dive right into the day of the Resurrection.

Early Sunday morning, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and found that the stone was rolled aside from the entrance.  (John 20:1  TLB)

Those who would deny the events of this particular Sunday morning, have to contend with eye witness accounts in the four Gospels—and almost all of the New Testament in fact, and all the prophecies of the Old Testament.  Everything in the Bible points to or back to this day.

It was appropriate that John would begin his version of the Resurrection with the experience of Mary Magdalene.  There were other women heading to the tomb besides Mary.  They are mentioned by name in the other Gospels, and include Mary, the mother of James and Salome, as well as Joanna and probably others!  But John focuses on Mary Magdalene.  She had been forgiven of so much and her love for her Lord was legendary.

What she saw before even going into the tomb was shocking:  the stone had been rolled away.  The Greek construction is a little more graphic:  “the stone having been taken away.”  Actually “taking away a boulder” is far more powerful than just “rolling it away.”  Who did this?  Matthew tells us that an angel—one angel, mind you—did it.

Mary’s sorrow, John 20:11—13 

You’d think Mary would be excited at the prospect of an open, empty tomb.  But, no, she wasn’t.  She hadn’t put two and two together like Peter and John did.  The effect of the empty tomb on them was staggering.

Then I went in too, and saw, and believed that he had risen…  (John 20:8  TLB)

But the truth hadn’t yet dawned on Mary.  She saw the empty tomb, but apparently not the grave clothes.  She had assumed somebody had stolen her Lord’s body.  She also saw two angels in the tomb who probably appeared in the form of two young men.

The question often asked is why did these angels appear to Mary (and the other women) but not to Peter or John?  Some think it was because the faith of the women was so weak they needed something like an angelic appearance.  That’s pure speculation, of course, usually put forth by men.  Another idea suggests the appearance of the angels and their message was a kind of reward for the ministry, love, and devotion these women had for Jesus during His earthly ministry.  However, there really is no explanation as to the angel’s appearance to the women only, but one thing is certain as far as Mary Magdalene was concerned.  The emotional tears of grief blinded her to the greater reality of her Lord’s Resurrection.  The application to believers today is obvious.  Sometimes our emotions and feelings, no matter how appropriate they may be, can get in the way; they can cause a kind of “spiritual blindness.”

The Lord’s question, John 20:14, 15 

She glanced over her shoulder and saw someone standing behind her. It was Jesus, but she didn’t recognize him!  “Why are you crying?” he asked her. “Whom are you looking for?”  (John 20:14, 15  TLB)

For some reason, Mary turned away from the angels, which suggests they appeared like ordinary men.  After all, would you be able to take your eyes angelic visitors?  Turn away she did, and she looked straight at the risen Jesus.  And she didn’t recognize Him!  Can you imagine?  A Bible scholar with the regrettable name of Gossip offers three reasons as to why Mary didn’t recognize the Lord she loved so much:

  • Mary wasn’t looking for a risen Christ, she was looking for a dead Jesus.
  • The risen Lord sought her out, and she wasn’t expecting that.
  • Even though Mary loved Jesus and sought Him with her whole being, she just didn’t recognize Him because He did the unexpected.

Very often this happens to Christians, who fail to see the good God is doing in their lives because sometimes that good appears to be something else.  Blessings often come disguised as illnesses or other challenging circumstances, and because God comes to us and does unexpected things in unexpected ways, we assume He’s just not there.  How many opportunities to give God the glory have we missed because we were busy looking the other way; looking for something else?

Jesus’ revelation, John 20:16—18 

Mary Magdalene found the disciples and told them, “I have seen the Lord!” Then she gave them his message.  (John 20:18  TLB)

Mary finally got it!  Verse 16 has often been called “the greatest recognition scene in the history of literature.”  All Jesus had to do was mention her name, and Mary instantly recognized who this Person was!  Hoskyns said it best:

The true, life-giving ruler of the Paradise (Garden) of God has called His own sheep by name and she knows His voice.

In adoration, Mary latched on to her Lord; probably clinging to His feet, but Jesus didn’t want to be touched right now.  That’s a curious thing, considering He would later encourage doubting Thomas to literally “thrust” his hand into the wound on His side.  To Mary, Jesus used the word haptomai, meaning “hold on to.”  This was the time between the Resurrection and the Ascension.   Hoskyns, once again, said it best:

So intimate will be the relationship with Jesus that, though Mary must for the time being cease from touching Him, because He must ascend and she must deliver His message, yet, after the Ascension, both she and the disciples will be concretely united with Him…

Or to put it another way, Mary wanted to hold on to Jesus because she loved Him so much, but He had to leave so that He could send the Holy Spirit who would dwell within Mary and all believers.  And there is no more intimate relationship with the Lord than that!

Relationship with the risen Christ, Luke 24:13—18, 26—35 

Here’s another case of followers of Jesus who just didn’t recognize Him.  These two hapless followers of Jesus were strolling along a road.  It was the Road to Emmaus, and was probably a seven mile trip from Jerusalem to the village of Emmaus.  The risen Lord joined the two disciples on their trip.

As they walked along they were talking of Jesus’ death, when suddenly Jesus himself came along and joined them and began walking beside them.  But they didn’t recognize him, for God kept them from it.  (Luke 24:14—16  TLB)

These two loved the Lord but just didn’t believe that Jesus had risen from the dead.  That’s the real reason why they didn’t recognize Him, by the way.  They didn’t recognize the risen Lord because they, like Mary, weren’t looking for Him.

Jesus asks a question, Luke 24:17 

“You seem to be in a deep discussion about something,” he said. “What are you so concerned about?”  (Luke 24:17a  TLB)

Of course, Jesus knew exactly what they were talking about, but this was our Lord’s way of jumping into a private conversation.

The disciples respond, Luke 24:18 

“You must be the only person in Jerusalem who hasn’t heard about the terrible things that happened there last week.”  (Luke 24:18  TLB)

Now, this comment provides a little sidelight of historic note.  These two followers of Jesus could not believe that this “stranger” hadn’t heard about the arrest, trial, and Crucifixion of Jesus.  That was huge news in and around Jerusalem.  Now there were these rumors about a Resurrection.

But Jesus persisted in “playing dumb,” not because He’s having fun with these two fellows, but because He wanted to teach them something.  He did this by leading them in a discussion about the Scriptures.  Many Jews of Jesus’ day, like devout Christians today, were students of the Word, yet often missed the essential meanings.  For example, they were well-versed in the prophetic passages that spoke of the Messiah as King and Lord of the world, but completely missed the verses that spoke of the Lord’s suffering as God’s way of dealing with sin and evil.  Here, Jesus took time to reason with these men, showing them how this theme ran through the whole Old Testament.  He showed them that suffering by way of the Cross was actually the way to ultimate victory.

Opened eyes, Luke 24:28—32 

They began telling each other how their hearts had felt strangely warm as he talked with them and explained the Scriptures during the walk down the road.  (Luke 24:32  TLB) 

It was almost the end of the day before the two friends of Jesus recognized Him, but at the moment they did,  He miraculously vanished from their sight.  What’s interesting is not so much why they didn’t recognize Jesus, but when they did:  it was while (they realized in hindsight) He shared the Scriptures with them and when He broke bread with them.

Knowing Jesus is all about entering into a relationship with Him.  Many modern Christians are oblivious to this.  To them, their faith is a religious thing, their faith is a formal, Sunday thing.  Jesus doesn’t come into their minds during the week.  Their Bibles sit, collecting dust.  However, He is the Word, so as we read and meditate on the Word, we are actually in a relationship with the Living Word.  And having a meal with people has always been seen as an “intimate” thing to do.  After all, you don’t eat with your enemies, do you?

Eager witnesses, Luke 24:33—35 

Within the hour they were on their way back to Jerusalem, where the eleven disciples and the other followers of Jesus greeted them with these words, “The Lord has really risen! He appeared to Peter!” 

Then the two from Emmaus told their story of how Jesus had appeared to them as they were walking along the road and how they had recognized him as he was breaking the bread.  (Luke 24:33—34 TLB)

How these men changed after their encounter with Jesus!  Rufus McDaniel, an ordained minister of the Christian Church denomination, preacher, pastor, and extremely prolific hymn writer—he wrote over 100!—penned these words a hundred years ago that describe how these two friends of Jesus must have felt:

What a wonderful change in my life has been wrought
Since Jesus came into my heart;
I have light in my soul for which long I have sought,
Since Jesus came into my heart.
 
Since Jesus came into my heart,
Since Jesus came into my heart;
Floods of joy o’er my soul like the sea billows roll,
Since Jesus came into my heart. 

These men were transformed from extreme pessimists into outgoing optimists.  They ran back to Jerusalem, by now dusk and getting dark, completely unafraid of the dangers of traveling this semi-wilderness road.  This is what Jesus does to people!  He transforms them.  He gives them purpose, direction, and courage. The great Woodrow Kroll wrote,

God intends to use you in wonderful, unexpected ways if you let Him.  But be prepared; finding God’s purpose and following it will undoubtedly require work and sacrifice—which is perfectly okay with God (because He knows the marvelous blessings that He has in store for you if you give yourself to Him).

Have a blessed Easter, and may the power of the Resurrection empower you to serve Him!

 

THE END OF DEATH

1 Corinthians 15

1 Corinthians can be thought of the manual for church operations because from beginning to end, it covers the gamut of problems any church can face. Paul deals with personal and ethical issues, liturgical issues, problems surrounding the exercise of spiritual gifts, and with chapter 15, Paul will deal with doctrinal problems.

There was an element in the Corinthian church that believed in the resurrection of Jesus Christ but not in the resurrection of God’s people. They were “Christians” because they believed whole-heatedly in the bodily resurrection of Christ, but they had been so influenced by false teachings outside the church that they disbelieved in their own bodily resurrection. The teachings of popular Greek philosophies were finding their home in the Corinthian church, and these Greek ideas “envisaged the disembodied spirit of man passing through the planetary spheres finally sloughing off every part of man’s flesh-and-blood existence, even self-consciousness and reason.” (James L. Price)

The popular notion of the day was that all material things were either evil or the source of all evil, therefore man’s physical body could never be part of heaven. They believed in the immortality of the soul, but not of the body. This, of course, was in total contradiction to apostolic teaching which said that the bodily resurrection of Christ was just the “firstfruits” or the initial evidence of the resurrection of the Christian. Christ’s work of redemption is total; He has redeemed the whole person, including the body.

I declare to you, brothers, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. (1 Corinthians 15:50)

While this is undoubtedly true, Paul will go on to reveal to his readers a great “mystery.” The resurrection of the believer is not merely a change of states, from death to life, but it is a complete change from a “physical body” to a “spiritual body.” The mystery is that there will be a continuity: our resurrected bodies will be new, but they will be ours.

The under-discussed topic of the resurrection of the believer was of prime importance to Paul. He based his entire life of faith in Christ on the hope of his personal resurrection.

1. The resurrection of Christ, 15:1—11

Paul’s defense of the resurrection of the believer rests on the fact of Christ’s resurrection. Up to this point in his letter, Paul has already taught that the Church is in reality a living organism with Christ as its Head. His logic is flawless: If Christ as the Head of the body arose, the body will also rise.

Results of Paul’s teaching, vs. 1, 2

The denial of the resurrection of believers carried with it serious consequences. The Corinthians had originally accepted, believed, and been committed to the true Gospel as preached by Paul and others. The result of their acceptance of that Word was their salvation. By entertaining a “new teaching” that denied the bodily resurrection of believers was to alter that true Gospel!

This is the insidious nature of all false teaching; rarely do those Christians who believe it realize the full ramifications of believing a teaching that is contrary to the Gospel. To accept the truth of the Gospel, live by the Gospel and stand up for the Gospel would mean nothing if all of a sudden you start believing false doctrines. To believe in false teaching is to alter your original commitment.

Foundation of the Gospel and the witness of history, vs. 3—11

How certain was Paul that Christ rose from the dead? He lists no less than six historical proofs of the event:

  • Cephas, or Peter was an eye witness. A large number of the members of the Corinthian church were loyal to Peter, so they would appreciate and respect his testimony.

  • The Twelve, or the original group of apostles. Actually, there were only 10 who witnessed the risen Lord the first time, since Judas had killed himself and Thomas was absent. Eventually, though, 11 saw the risen Christ personally. The word of the apostolic body carried tremendous weight in the early Church years.

  • 500 witnesses. Just in case some of the Corinthians had doubts about memories of The Twelve, they could ask some 500 other folks who had seen the risen Jesus!

  • James. This, of course, was James the brother of Jesus, who was a disbeliever during Jesus’ lifetime. However, the Resurrection seemed to be the determining factor that convinced James the skeptic that Jesus Christ was who He claimed to be.

  • All the apostles.

  • Paul himself. Paul did not see Christ only in a vision. He believed that what he saw on the road to Damascus was, in fact, the risen Lord Himself.

So all the original apostles and several hundred other believers in the Early Church were eyewitnesses to the resurrected Christ and Paul, along with the other evangelists, preached the same Gospel with the same emphasis of the resurrection and this Gospel, verified by history and eyewitness testimony, was exactly what the Corinthians believed. Why change now?

2. What happens when you believe bad theology, 15:12—19

Paul had just shown that the resurrection of Christ was an established historical fact, attested to by the Gospel and by eyewitness accounts. That was the good news. Now for the bad news. What happens if a Christian rejects the resurrection? By appealing to our reason, Paul uses an argument known as reductio ad absurdum, “reduction to the absurd.” In other words, Paul will show what happens if you don’t accept the doctrine of the resurrection as taught in the Gospel: it results in an untenable, absurd position. Without the resurrection, Christianity folds up.

The argument: The resurrection of Christ is undeniable. Therefore, if just one person rose from the dead, how can anybody deny it? So key is the resurrection to the Christian faith, Paul reaches the end of his argument with:

And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. (vs. 17)

And what is the final result of refusing to believe in the resurrection of the dead?

If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men. (vs. 19)

In other words, we’ve been duped if there is no resurrection. We’ve believed a lie and we’re all lost.

The point of Paul’s case for the resurrection of Christ and of believers is that no Christian is free to pick and choose what parts of the Gospel to accept and which parts to reject! As they say, “In for a penny, in for a pound.” Salvation is an all or no thing proposition. You either believe it all, or you don’t believe it at all: reductio ad absurdum, it’s ridiculous to think otherwise.

3. The doctrine of the resurrection, 15:20—34

Just as there is certainty about Christ’s resurrection, we can be 100% sure of our future resurrection. He was the “firstfruit,” the first of many who will eventually be resurrected at the great ingathering of believers at the fulfilment of the redemption of the Kingdom of God.

The logic and theology of these verses is breathtaking. In this section, Paul explains how the believer’s future resurrection is vitally connected to Christ’s historic resurrection. As death entered the world through one man, Adam, resurrection entered the world through another man, Christ. Adam gave the gift of death to man, Jesus gives the gift of resurrection.

The thing is, though, just as it took a while for death to work its way through the human race (life spans got gradually shorter and shorter, most people don’t die after they commit their first sin), so the resurrection must be worked out in the believer. This is how we can be saved now, but not yet glorified; salvation from sin is not all there is, as Paul wrote in verse 19. It really is just the beginning.

But each in his own turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. (vs. 23)

Like everything else God does, there is an order to the resurrection: Christ first, then later we who belong to Him. But notice this verse:

Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. (vs. 24)

Christ is completely victorious over every single enemy of man, even death, but the subjection of death—the last enemy—is a process. That’s why we die. But at some time in the future, Christ’s victory of death will be fully realized by His followers when we personally experience our own resurrection, just like our Lord’s.

But why the delay? Verse 25 gives us the answer:

For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.

During this period, between our salvation and our resurrection, between Christ’s resurrection and His second coming, all of Christ’s enemies need to be destroyed. The emphasis of verse 25 is “until.” This world will be delivered to God but only after Christ, the King, has subjected all powers. This is certainty, but it will take time.

Now, for the sake of continuing his argument in support of our eventual resurrection, Paul makes two negatives comments. First, if there is no resurrection, then why are some being baptized on behalf of a dead person? This is a puzzling verse, but probably refers to the strange practice of vicarious baptism—that is, baptizing a living person in the place of another who died unbaptized. And second, if there is no resurrection, why are the apostles risking their lives preaching a Gospel that teaches it? Why would anybody endure the risks associated with Christianity if the end of all things is death?

The summation of Paul’s argument is wonderfully succinct:

Do not be misled: “Bad company corrupts good character.” Come back to your senses as you ought, and stop sinning; for there are some who are ignorant of God—I say this to your shame. (vs. 33, 34)

There was a real danger that some in the Corinthian church were being corrupted by unsaved friends. This could have been why so many were now disbelieving of the believer’s resurrection. The phrase “do not be mislead” does not mean misled by others, rather, it means don’t deceive yourselves! The point of Paul’s admonition is that if a believer keeps the wrong company (in this case, those who deny the resurrection), he may corrupt his otherwise good Christian witness and turn other believers away from the truth.

4. The nature of the resurrection body, 15:35—50

Now to the verses so many believers are interested in: what will our “resurrection bodies” be like? Paul begins his answer with two questions: “How are the dead raised” and “With what kind of body will they come?”

In response to those questions, Paul exclaimed:

How foolish! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. (vs. 36)

What does this mean? Most of us aren’t farmers, so thankfully, Paul goes on to explain, writing that all believers would receive a resurrection body perfectly suited for life in the spiritual world. By using a nature from analogy, Paul makes it clear that death is merely a transition to a higher form of life.

Seeds, vs. 36—38

A seed goes through stages: it is planted in the ground, it dies (germinates), finally it re-appears, transformed and alive.

Men and animals, vs. 39

People, animals, fish, and foul all have different kinds of flesh. Why does Paul bring this up? He is preparing his readers for the notion that there are different kinds of bodies—different forms of life, if you will—yet all are alive.

Heavenly bodies, vs. 40, 41

Again, Paul illustrates the differences between heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but God created all.

Application of the analogy, vs 42—44

With a series of powerful contrasts, Paul describes the resurrection body in terms of how different it will be from our earthly bodies.

First Adam/Second Adam, vs. 45—50

More contrasts show the differences between our present earthly bodies and our future resurrection bodies. The first Adam was a man created from the dirt, and because we are related to him, we all have a physical body like his. The the last Adam, Christ, is not from the dirt, but from heaven, and because of our relationship to Him, we will have a spiritual body. The spiritual body of the believer will be like that of the risen Christ. This must happen because flesh and blood cannot enter heaven.

5. Triumph over death, 15:51—58

We now know that our bodily resurrection is part of God’s plan of redemption. With this stunning group of verses, Paul reaches a magnificent climax. This is surely one of the most exalted passages in the New Testament. Since the eternal state is not made up of flesh and blood, all believers will necessarily undergo a transformation when the Lord returns. Those who died before His return will be resurrected and transformed, while those who survive until He returns will be transformed from that which is temporary to that which will be eternal.

But how will God accomplish all this? Paul calls it a “mystery,” which means something which cannot be discerned by the natural mind but is the result of revelation. What is the mystery? Unfortunately for the overly curious, the mystery is a revelation, not of how God will do it, but rather what He will do to make His people compatible with their eternal home. Simply put, He will change us; in the twinkling of an eye, man’s essential nature will undergo a drastic, permanent change. The signal for this event will be a trumpet blast.

This change that will affect all believers, those who have passed away and those who are living, will not be a renovation or an upgrade of our present bodies, but a complete change. And yet, our personalities, our identities, will not be lost. Somehow, unknown to us at the present time, we saints will be completely different when Christ returns and yet we will easily recognize each other.

The resurrection of Christ and the eventual resurrection of believers spells the end of sin and death. These awful twins of evil have been hounding mankind since it was evicted from the Garden of Eden so long ago. Christ is victorious over sin and death, we are victorious over sin and soon we will be victorious over death. When we are clothed with our new bodies, death will finally be dealt it’s final blow.

This doctrine is all but ignored by the Church, and yet it is so interwoven with victory over sin that these two ideas cannot be separated. If there is no resurrection, as some in the Corinthian church thought, there can be no victory over sin. Why? Death is the result of sin, and none can escape it except for believers. Victory over sin and the reality of the resurrection are two towering aspects of God’s plan of redemption.

The real mystery is not how God will do this, but why? What makes us worth it?

Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God… (1 John 3:1, KJV)


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