On the First Day

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The only true hope for the world lies in Jesus Christ and his Resurrection. But millions in Europe and other parts of the world are thinking true hope lies in education or in evolution. Humankind, they say, is insufficiently educated or insufficiently evolved. They do not see Jesus Christ as the only hope for life’s problems. Why is that so?

Answer – because there is a crisis of faith not only in the world but too often in the church. For some preach a “watered down Christ” and a “watered down gospel”. The supernatural is being removed and Christ’s real Resurrection from the dead denied. But it was the Resurrection of Christ that changed the disciples who then, literally, changed the world and its civilization for good. They knew that Christ was risen and alive and they told others of the fact, its implications and the faith in Christ that should follow. They also knew, however, persuasion was no easy task.

In one of his Parables Jesus had reminded them that proving the Resurrection may not persuade individuals. In the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus Jesus makes Abraham say in Luke 16v31:

“If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.” (Luke 16v31)

If you refuse to let God speak to you, nothing will convince you of the truth. Jesus’ enemies in his life-time were forever asking for evidence but never open to conviction. Who has come to Church like that this morning? Well, the Bible teaches that the Holy Spirit of God wants to open your heart and mind. But he uses, among other things this message about Jesus and the Resurrection. So will you now open your Bibles at Luke 23v50 – 24.12 - our passage for this morning.

And my headings are first, JESUS’ BURIAL; secondly, THE RESURRECTION FACT; and thirdly, THE RESURRECTION FAITH.

First, JESUS’ BURIAL

Luke’s account of the Resurrection of Jesus is, of course, just one of four accounts. These accounts are all different to some extent as each writer is underlining different truths. The main differences are in the appearances of the risen Jesus to different disciples on different occasions in different places. But they fundamentally agree on the basic facts.

The Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke all agree on three things: one, that some women, including Mary Magdalene, went to the tomb of Jesus on the first day of the week and found the stone rolled away from the tomb’s entrance; two, that there was an angelic visitation and the women were told that Christ was not there but risen; and, three, that the women had an experience of holy fear and left the tomb. Then when we look at John’s Gospel we find it, too, fits in with this outline, except the angelic interpreter has not been mentioned. But two angels are mentioned when Mary goes back to the tomb.

These differences along with the different appearances indicate the Gospel writers were certainly not colluding but using different sources that (we can see) confirm the basic facts. That said, we must begin with the fact that Jesus was buried. Look at chapter 23 verse 50:

Now there was a man named Joseph, a member of the Council, a good and upright man, who had not consented to their decision and action. He came from the Judean town of Arimathea and he was waiting for the kingdom of God. Going to Pilate, he asked for Jesus' body. Then he took it down, wrapped it in linen cloth and placed it in a tomb cut in the rock, one in which no one had yet been laid. It was Preparation Day, and the Sabbath was about to begin. The women who had come with Jesus from Galilee followed Joseph and saw the tomb and how his body was laid in it. Then they went home and prepared spices and perfumes. But they rested on the Sabbath in obedience to the commandment. (Luke 23v50-56)

The burial of Jesus was so essential to the gospel proclamation. In Paul’s summary in 1 Corinthians 15 verses 3-5 he writes this:

For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve [and he goes on to tell of other appearances] (1 Co. 15v3-5)

The burial of Jesus tells us two things: first, that Jesus was truly dead. Not only had the Roman soldiers seen that he was dead before Joseph was permitted to take Jesus’ body. Joseph, too, obviously saw that he was dead. So he took the body and placed it in his tomb with its stone door that was then rolled across after the body had been placed inside. No exit was possible. And the women knew Jesus was dead. That is why they went home to prepare for embalming the body.

However, one of the great differences between Christianity and Islam is over the death of Christ. Christians affirm Jesus Christ died as do historians. Many in Islam disagree. But Jesus’ burial, which was witnessed, surely confirms his death.

Secondly, the burial of Jesus tells us that his was a real resurrection. So when Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 15 that Christ “was buried” and “that he was raised on the third day,” he meant that what was buried is what was raised. The resurrection was a reversal of the burial. It was not like “John Brown’s body” that lay “mouldering in the grave” while his “soul goes marching on”! For first century Jews “resurrection” meant (in some way) a bodily resurrection. Jesus was, indeed, “dead and buried”.

And from our passage, now note the disciples who had not kept their heads down and were not in hiding.

First, there was Joseph, a wealthy member of the Jewish supreme Council or Sanhedrin. As a minority of one, or one of very few, he had “not consented” to the execution of Jesus. So God has his servants in high places. But he expects them to have the courage of their convictions and be willing to be in a minority of one, when necessary, for Christ’s sake. Does any one need to be reminded of that truth this morning?

And, secondly, the other disciples who had not fled were some female followers of Jesus. In contemporary Jewish culture women were not given the honour they deserved. But so often God uses those the world thinks insignificant to achieve his purposes. In this case the women became the very first people in history to tell the good news of the Resurrection of Jesus. So never think you are not high enough up to be used by God.

That brings us to our …

second heading and THE RESURRECTION FACT

Three things need to be said about this fact. First, it was an event – an actual happening. Look at chapter 24 and verses 1-3:

On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. (Luke 24v1-3)

The women had taken their Sabbath rest. On returning to the tomb with their spices they found the stone rolled away and the tomb empty because they were told Jesus has risen. Attempts to deny the resurrection are all so weak. One early denial was that Jesus had only swooned. But as we have seen, it is clear Jesus was dead. Another denial was that the women went to the wrong tomb. But Luke tells us that on Good Friday they saw the tomb and saw how the body was laid in it. Then, Celsus, a second century Richard Dawkins, said the Resurrection account was cooked up by, I quote …

“… 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 hallucinations.”

But none of the disciples were expecting Jesus to rise. There was no such “wishful thinking”. Their problem was that they all thought he was dead. With their hopes dashed they had no thoughts of resurrection. They had to be reminded, as we shall see, of hints and statements about Jesus’ resurrection he had made earlier. They had either misunderstood or forgotten these.

Another ploy was that of the authorities who put around a story that the disciples had stolen the body. But the disciples would never later have suffered persecution and death for a known lie. Their courage is another part of the evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus. Of course, we are not just talking about an empty tomb. We are talking about an empty tomb and then Jesus, with a real but transformed body, meeting with the disciples. It was these meetings that finally convinced the disciples that this event was fact and not fiction. So the Resurrection was an event – an actual happening.

Secondly, it was a momentous event. Look at verses 4-8:

While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: 'The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.' Then they remembered his words. (Luke 24v4-8)

There is a temptation to dismiss angels as a primitive way of talking, or a superstition, or something from unconvincing Christian art. You read little about angels in the central part of the gospel story. You only hear about them at the beginning and end of Jesus’ life. At both points their presence come when we are dealing with something that really happened, but it was happening at the intersection of time and eternity and utterly unique.

The Incarnation and Resurrection were both actual events that happened. So they were fully historical. But they were not simply of a piece with the rest of history. At the tomb the presence of angels made clear to the women both the infinite mystery and the infinite majesty (and the distance from them) of the event which had just taken place. The angels somehow knew exactly what had happened. There were two angels, we are told.

But we do not have to assume they spoke in unison! Matthew and Mark refer just to one who spoke. And he prepared the women (and through them the currently unbelieving other disciples) for the varied appearances of the risen Jesus.

So “in their fright,” we are told (verse 5), “the women bowed down with their faces to the ground.” Mark’s Gospel particularly emphasizes this holy “fear”. These women were seeing angels “in clothes that gleamed like lightning”. Luke is trying to describe the believable but the unimaginable, as the women were hearing from angels about God breaking into world history in the resurrection of Jesus.

It was momentous because it would affect all history and prefigure the end of all history. It was the beginning of God’s new Creation. But that beginning will reach fulfilment and all be made 100 percent clear when Christ returns at the end of history. Jesus’ resurrection, therefore, is the final resurrection for all, brought forward in time. Christ, says Paul, …

“… has indeed been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Cor. 15v20).

So Easter is not just about the coming of Spring and the new life you see in lambs and flowers. For the newness of Spring soon becomes Autumn and Winter and death. But Jesus’ Resurrection is nothing like that. It was not like the Resurrection of Lazarus who came back to life only to die again one day. Jesus’ new life was of a new order. And in the presence of that new order these women rightly showed holy fear.

Tom Wright a few years ago wrote a newspaper Easter article entitled, “The Church must stop trivializing Easter.” That is a good title to remember.

For the third thing to say about the Resurrection Fact and this momentous event is that you are to remember it - this dawn of God’s new age. Paul wrote to Timothy in 2 Tim 2v8:

Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David. This is my gospel. (2 Tim. 2v8)

Timothy is not primarily to remember Jesus Christ as a great moral teacher, or even a great miracle worker, but as “raised from the dead.” This was the heart of Paul’s preaching.

Paul, along with other Jews, had been unable to believe that Jesus was the promised Messiah. He seemed such a failure. Worst of all he had been crucified. The law of Moses ruled that anyone who had been crucified was especially “cursed”. So how could Jesus Christ be the Messiah?

But then on the Damascus Road Paul met the risen Jesus. He there saw that Jesus was none other than the Suffering Servant, prophesied by Isaiah. He was the one who would die for our sins and take away the sin of the world and become, as Paul put it in Galatians 3v13, a “curse for us”. That is to say, he died bearing the punishment you and I deserve. So the Resurrection is the resurrection of the crucified Messiah. That is the resurrection, Paul says, “remember”.

But you ask, “was Timothy able to forget it?” The answer is “Yes”! And you and I can forget it. It is certainly true that it can fade from your memory and cease to be the fundamental truth that you live by. Paul says to Timothy, a young church worker, and to us all, “be warned.” So the Resurrection Fact was an event, a momentous event and one to remember. That brings us to my …

third and final heading, THE RESURRECTION FAITH

When Paul spoke of remembering the Resurrection, he added these words, “this is my gospel.” But how exactly was the Resurrection his gospel and the foundation of the Christian faith? Answer, first and foremost it defined the true nature of Jesus Christ. It defined him as the Second Person of the Divine Trinity, the Second Person of the one God (who is truly one and truly three), one God in three persons – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Paul’s letter to the Romans begins with these words:

Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God … regarding his Son, who as to his human nature was a descendant of David, and who through the Spirit of holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans 1v1-4)

The Resurrection clearly defines who Jesus Christ is. But then the Resurrection says something for you personally (and for all), for your past, your present and your future. Regarding your past it is the confirmation that the death of Christ on the Cross can deal with your sin. By trusting in Christ you can be forgiven. You can be right with God. And the Resurrection proves that. 1 Cor 15v17 and 20 say: “if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins … But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead.”

Who has never yet come to Christ for that forgiveness? What could be a better morning for doing so than Easter morning?

Regarding the present, Paul says that when God forgives you, by his Holy Spirit he gives you new life and new Resurrection power to live for Christ now in this needy world. Ephesians 2v5 says, God “made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions – it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ.”

And regarding the future … the Resurrection of Christ gives you, together with all believers, a wonderful hope and assurance of resurrection life in a new heaven and a new earth.

So let me conclude with Paul’s concluding words of 1 Corinthians 15 – his great chapter on the Resurrection:

Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed - in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”
“Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?”
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Cor. 15v51-57)


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