When was the last time you had a plan that went wrong? For some of us, that's often the story of our DIY. But sometimes plans go more seriously wrong. For example, two weeks ago, builders started work on a house in London to make a basement playroom, but the plan went totally wrong. Thankfully no-one was there at the time, but the house collapsed. And on Good Friday, as Jesus died on the cross, his disciples' faith in him collapsed – because:
1. The cross made it look like the plan had gone totally wrong
You see, over their three years watching him, Jesus' disciples had become sure that he was the Saviour-King whom God had promised to send into the world – to put right everything that is wrong, by taking control. And that's because they had seen his control over things we can't control:
- They'd seen his control over sickness – like when he healed that paralysed man, lowered to him through a roof.
- They'd seen his control over nature – like when he calmed that storm at sea which threatened to drown them.
- They'd seen his control over evil, when he freed people from demonic power.
- And they'd seen his control even over death, like when he brought Jairus's daughter back to life.
And they had actually trusted him with the control of their own lives. He had called them to follow him as their rightful King – and they had done. But on Good Friday, that trust in him collapsed because, as I said, the cross made it look like the plan – God's plan through Jesus – had gone totally wrong. Because they knew that the plan was for God's Saviour-King to take control, to end all evil, and to bring in God's kingdom – a place that's finally perfect, because everyone there is finally living for God perfectly as King. But as Jesus died on the cross, all their hopes that he would do that were shattered, because instead of being in control, it seemed like he'd lost control. Instead of putting an end to evil, it seemed like evil people had put an end to him. Instead of winning, it seemed like he'd lost.
Well, at the end of Good Friday, they laid Jesus' body in a tomb cut out of rock and closed it with a stone. There wasn't time for a proper burial, but they planned to come back and finish the job after their Saturday Sabbath. That brings us to Easter Sunday morning and the events in our first reading from Luke's Gospel. So let me read to you from Luke 24.1-2:
"But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared [that is, spices for burial]. And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb"
Now Matthew's Gospel tells us that the tomb had been guarded, because the Jewish leaders who got Jesus crucified wanted everyone to know he was dead and discredited. So they had it guarded to guarantee that no-one could move the body and start rumours to the contrary. So on Easter Sunday morning:
- Mystery number 1 was that the guard was gone.
- Mystery number 2 was that the tomb was open.
- And mystery number 3, is coming up in verses 3-8:
"…but when they went in they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men stood by them in dazzling apparel [and Luke says later that they were angels]. And as they were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, "Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man [in other words, Jesus] must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise." And they remembered his words"
So Jesus had actually told them repeatedly that he must be killed and then rise from the dead. But they hadn't understood or believed him. Because after all, who plans on being killed? And after all, who do you know that's risen from the dead recently? It had made zero sense at the time. But these angels were saying it had now happened. So, verses 9-12:
"...returning from the tomb they told all these things to the eleven and to all the rest. [And 'the eleven' were the apostles who were the main eye-witnesses to everything Jesus did, and who gave Luke his information.] Now it was Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James and the other women with them who told these things to the apostles, but these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. But Peter rose and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves [in other words, the strips of cloth in which Jesus' body was wrapped]; and he went home marvelling at what had happened."
Mystery number 4 was that although the body had gone, the burial cloths were still there. And one thing is for sure: no-one would have unwrapped Jesus' body in order to move it. At which point maybe Peter began to wonder whether, in fact, no human being had moved the body at all. And what happened next showed he was right to wonder that. Because Jesus appeared alive, bodily risen from the dead. So, on Good Friday, it looked like the plan had gone totally wrong. But on Easter Sunday:
2. The resurrection showed that everything had in fact gone according to plan
So let's now look on to Luke 24.36 onwards. It was Easter Sunday evening; Jesus had already appeared to some of his followers; and verse 36 says:
"As they were talking about these things, Jesus himself stood among them, and said to them, "Peace to you!""
This is 48 hours after he'd been taken down dead from the cross. So no wonder, verse 37,
"…they were startled and frightened and thought they saw a spirit [in other words, a ghost.]"
But verses 38-42:
"And [Jesus] said to them, "Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have." And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. And while they still disbelieved for joy and were marvelling, he said to them, "Have you anything here to eat?" They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate before them."
Now the first thing that shows is that life beyond death is real. Stephen Hawking, the atheist scientist, said:
"I regard the brain as a computer which will stop working when its components fail. And there is no heaven or afterlife for broken down computers; that is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark."
But it needs to be said that he has no evidence to say that – there's no telescope that can see through death. Whereas here is solid evidence that Jesus went through death, to show us that life beyond is real.
But Jesus has also shown that life beyond death is bodily. And on the one hand, Jesus' body was recognisably the same. That's the point of him showing them his hands and feet – he's saying, 'This is the same body that went through the cross.' But on the other hand, it was a completely transformed body. Elsewhere, the Bible calls it 'his glorious body' – which means a body transformed for heaven, for someone who now belongs there rather than here. This shows it's not that this life is physical and life beyond death is spiritual. It's that this life is physical but under God's judgement of mortality, whereas life beyond death is physical made perfect, where there's no more sickness and aging and death – and no more sin (in other words, human evil) to spoil it, either. And Jesus' resurrection appearances were a preview of what all of us who trust in him will ultimately enjoy.
Now you might wonder, 'How can personality continue, while your body dies, and is then raised and transformed?' But even in this life we face that kind of mystery. Because aren't you the same person who was once in the womb, and once a toddler and once a teenager? One of my children's favourite jokes right now is, 'Why can't you trust what atoms say? – the answer being, 'Because they make up everything.' And in the last seven years, did you know that the molecular make-up of your body has changed completely… and yet you're the same person. Reality is more mysterious than we think.
But the resurrection doesn't just tell us about life beyond death. Above all, it tells us about Jesus. Because here he was, alive again, before their very eyes. That meant it hadn't all gone wrong – it was, in fact, all right. And it meant the sinful rulers who'd put him to death hadn't won – but that he was categorically more powerful than them. And it meant that he was also categorically more powerful even than death itself.
And looking at him risen these disciples could finally see that he was fully God, and God's Saviour-King, in a way that they just hadn't been able to, before the cross and resurrection. Now we ourselves can't see Jesus as they did – we live by faith in what these eye-witnesses saw. But the same Jesus is alive today in glory. And he is still in control of all the sinful rulers of this world (which is a relief, given the current cast list), and he is still in control of every smaller circumstance that affects us personally. And he is still in control of death, and has the power to bring us safely through it, to himself.
So, the cross made it look like the plan had gone totally wrong; the resurrection showed that everything had in fact gone according to plan. And the last thing Jesus says here is that:
3. The cross and resurrection were the plan all along
Look on to Luke 24.44-46:
"Then [Jesus] said to them, "These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled." Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures [in other words, the Old Testament – the part of the Bible written before Jesus and which pointed forward to Jesus], and [he] said to them, "Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead,"
So Jesus was saying: 'It's not just that I told you the cross and resurrection were the plan all along. The Old Testament had said that, long before my coming.' For example, 700 years before Jesus' coming, the prophet Isaiah spoke of Jesus' death on the cross, as if it had already happened. He said this (Isaiah 53.5):
"he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was upon him,
and by his wounds we are healed."
So we were made to live in relationship with God. But the truth is that we've all turned away from giving God his rightful place in our lives. So there is, hanging over each one of us, a judgement or punishment which we deserve for that. And the judgement is being given what we've wanted – namely, life without God, cut off from God (now and forever). And 700 years before it happened, Isaiah explained that on the cross,
"[Jesus] was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace [with God] was upon him,
and by his wounds we are healed."
In other words, Jesus faced the judgement for our sin, so that we can be forgiven our sin and turn back into relationship with God. And the thing to get this Easter Sunday moring is that when God raised Jesus out from under death, it wasn't just his supreme way of saying, 'This is my Son – everything he said about himself was true; he was right and those who rejected him were wrong.' It was also his supreme way of saying, 'This is your Saviour-King – and what he did for you on the cross has worked.' Because the resurrection showed that, instead of death-and-judgement spelling the end of Jesus, Jesus spelt the end of death-and-judgement. If the cross was a fight, on our behalf, between Jesus and death-and-judgement, the resurrection showed that Jesus had won. So look at verses 46-47 one last time:
"[Jesus] said to them, "Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance [in other words, turning back to him] and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem."
So the cross and resurrection were the plan all along. But they weren't the end of the plan - because the plan is now that all people everywhere should hear about Jesus' death and resurrection, and that they should hear him calling them to turn to him, be forgiven, and start life over again with him as King. And if this Easter you know you've done that, you can share the joy of those first believers, that your life and your death are safe in his hands.
But if this Easter you know you haven't yet done that, can I say: please look into this more – by coming back here if you're local, or some other way if you're visting – so that you can make up your mind whether this really is the plan that runs the universe, and whether Jesus really is its Saviour-King.