Easter: The Day the World Changed
4/8/2018 12:45:26 AM
April 1, 2018
Rev. David Williams
Scripture: Luke 12:1-12, 36-48
I love the Lord of the Rings. Tolkien’s trilogy has sold millions of copies for decades. It is beloved by generations and has even been translated into several dozen languages. There have been several film adaptations, including the most recent and most famous series released in 2001.
Why do these books hold such appeal? While I cannot speak for everybody, I know some of the reasons I love these books and have reread them numerous times. First, there is the classic struggle of good versus evil, of light versus dark. Second, the main character, the Hobbits, are the quintessential “little guy.” They are small of stature, peaceful by nature and not known to have much use for “adventures.” But it was a few of these “little guys” who brought an end to the great evil power, Sauron. Tolkien himself has said that Hobbits are modelled after “the typical Englishman.” The Lord of the Rings is, then, very much a “David vs Goliath” story.
Another feature that draws people in is the amazing attention to detail on the one hand (Tolkien was a linguist and literally created several complete fantasy languages for the characters in his books!) and the sweeping, epic nature of the story on the other hand. Throughout the trilogy, there are repeated references to events and people from ages gone by in the fictional world of Middle Earth in which the story takes place. It turns out that Sauron, the evil villain in the books, was but a lieutenant of a far greater evil force, Morgoth, thousands of years earlier! So throughout the books, there are reminders of a greater story going on, a much longer story and history behind the tale you are reading.
At one point in the second book, hero Frodo and his best friend Sam are about to sneak into the land of Mordor, the home of Sauron. Their goal is to sneak up to the volcano, Mount Doom, where the “one ring” was forged in order to cast it into the fire and destroy it. Weary from their journey, surrounded by darkness and enemies, Sam reminds Frodo that he has a crystal which contains light from a magical gem from long ago that was part of the story of Morgoth’s defeat. Sam and Frodo talk about the fact that they are part of that greater story stretching back thousands of years. While the characters may enter and leave the stories, the great stories continue on and on. They wonder whether or not their story is one with a happy ending or not. But realizing they are part of that bigger story, realizing that they are following in the footsteps of great heroes of the past, of the heroes of their childhood tales, encourages them and gives them the strength to carry on a bit further.
In another good movie, “Stranger Than Fiction,” Will Ferrell plays and accountant, Harold Crick, who starts to hear a voice in his head. The voice is a woman’s voice and while it doesn’t talk to him, it does narrate events in his life. He comes to realize it isn’t schizophrenia because the voice doesn’t seem to know he is there, that he is listening, and it isn’t talking to him, rather it is describing him with startling accuracy. With the help of a literary professor, Harold Crick realizes he is a character in a famous author’s novel! He is hearing that author as she types out his story! His task, then, becomes to determine if this story is a comedy or a tragedy. The difference being that in a comedy the main character lives happily ever after, but in a tragedy the hero of the story dies. Convinced he is living a tragedy, Crick changes his life, takes risks like starting a relationship, learning to play the guitar and the like. Realizing he is part of a larger story motivates him to live life differently.
My question for you, today, is “What kind of story are we in?” What kind of story are we part of? Notice, I did not just say, “What kind of story are you in?” I said “we,” because I believe we are all part of a much grander story than is just any one of our lives. In contemporary, Western society, many reject the idea of such a grand narrative to the world, a “metanarrative” so to speak. But many worldviews to believe in a grand story. Certainly Christianity is founded upon, or has behind it at least, the idea of a grand story, a metanarrative.
The story of Christianity is the story of God’s loving pursuit of fallen people for the sake of reconciling them to himself so that they can live in relationship together for eternity. That’s a mouthful! Read it twice! This is the story of the Bible- God’s loving pursuit of fallen (sinful) people for the sake of restoring them, reconciling them to himself so they can be in relationship with one another into eternity. This story of loving
pursuit is laid out in Scripture in 4 acts: Creation, Fall, Redemption and Consummation. [See Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart, How to Read the Bible Book by Book, p. 14ff] Creation and Fall happen very quickly. The next several thousands of years covered by the Old Testament are about Redemption, reaching a climax with the incarnation of Jesus, his atonement on the cross and his resurrection. The life of the church is also part of the Redemption story, only looking back to the resurrection and living that truth out in the world. Consummation refers to the future fulfilment of Jesus’ work when he returns to earth and sits in judgment on humanity and renews all of creation.
The climax of this story is the resurrection of Jesus. It is the key to the whole thing. We are going to read one of several accounts of the resurrection in the Bible. We’re going to read a good portion (but not all) of Luke’s account. It is good to remember that Luke begins his Gospel by describing his goal and process. His goal was to set down an orderly account of the story of Jesus. To that end, he went and visited eye witnesses and got their stories!
Let’s consider our text and, as we work through it, point out a number of the eye witness details and also point out how what is written points to the truth of the resurrection.
What It Says
The first thing we see is that these events happened on the first day of the week- that is Sunday. This is why Christians traditionally gather on Sundays! It is because of the resurrection that we gather to worship God together on Sundays. In the early church, they met many other times during the week, but always they made Sunday a special day for worship, devoting themselves to the Apostle’s teaching, prayer, fellowship and the Lord’s Supper.
The next thing we see is that the first visitors to Jesus’ tomb were women. We need to note a couple things. First, notice their faithfulness! Women were the last ones with Jesus on the cross. They are the first to go to the tomb as soon as the Sabbath ended. Why did they go? Did they go to see if Jesus really did rise from the dead like he promised? No! Not at all! They went with spices they had prepared so they could finish embalming the body! On Friday, when Jesus was buried, the Sabbath was about to begin at sunset. So all they could do was wrap the body in a linen cloth or shroud. On Sunday they came to finish the job of embalming the body. They women expected to find Jesus’ dead body!
What did they find when they arrived? They found the stone was rolled away from the front of the tomb. That would have raised eyebrows. They entered the tomb but did not find the body of Jesus as they expected! They were baffled by this and maybe thoughts went through their heads like, “You’re sure this is the right tomb?” and “I wonder if somebody else took the body to embalm it?” or things like that.
While they were still puzzling over where the body went, two men appeared. These men wore bright shining clothes. They were angels. The women are freaked out, so they bow down. Take a look at what, specifically, they angels ask them: “Why are you looking for the living among the dead? He is not here, He is risen!” They didn’t say, “Why are you looking for the living among the dead- he didn’t die.” They didn’t say, “He escaped.” They say, “He is risen!” They rule out the possibility that Jesus was deeply wounded, but managed to somehow survive his day on the cross after being scourged, that he then woke up in the tomb, unwrapped himself and escaped. No. The angels specify that he has risen from the dead!
The angels go on to remind the women that Jesus taught them in Galilee that he would be crucified and on the third day be raised again. THEN the women remembered his words – not before! They didn’t come to the tomb remembering his words, coming to see if it happened. They fully expected to find a dead Jesus there and be able to finish the job they barely started on Friday- embalming the corpse of their master!
They went back to the other disciples and told them what happened. The women who were there are then named. Why? Because Luke is listing eye witness details. He probably interviewed at least one of these women to get the story. Either way, these women would still have been alive at the time of Luke’s writing his Gospel so people could go ask them if this story was true. Luke is establishing his sources and listing people who could verify what he wrote.
The men, the Eleven remaining apostles along with other students or disciples of Jesus, didn’t believe the women. Why? First, because they were women! Second, because the story didn’t make any sense. The other
disciples also thought Jesus was still dead. They expected they would be next! This is an interesting detail on two levels. First, it highlights the fact that in that culture women were not considered reliable witnesses. If somebody were to make up the story of the resurrection after the fact, there is no way they would invent women as the first witnesses of the empty tomb or the first to receive the word Jesus was alive (from the angels). That’s not something you would make up and lie about if you wanted people to believe you.
Second, it points to the disciples’ expectations too. They were not expected a risen Jesus. If they were, they would have reacted with something like, “Yes, you silly women. Weren’t you listening to Jesus? We expected this. Now we are just waiting for Jesus to arrive and tell us what to do.” But that’s not what we read, is it? No! The other disciples didn’t believe them because they didn’t remember or understand what Jesus had been saying to them before.
Peter, though, goes to check things out himself. We don’t know what his thinking was. We do know, from John’s Gospel, that John went with him. We also know, from Johns’ Gospel, that John was a faster writer. Three times in John he makes sure to include himself as “the disciple who outran Peter.” Maybe they figured the women had gone to the wrong tomb? Maybe they thought the body had be stolen to be desecrated? Maybe they had an inkling of hope that Jesus was back? We don’t know what they were thinking but we know what they found. They found the same empty tomb. So the women didn’t go to the wrong spot. Peter and John confirmed the location. They didn’t “miss” the body. No. Peter and John also checked the tomb and found the linen wrappings neatly folded and put away. This is another eye witness detail!
Why does this matter? Because it means Jesus didn’t survive the crucifixion and wake up in the tomb. Who, upon being buried alive, and waking up, would take the time to fold up the grave wrappings? Also, it means nobody stole the body. Who, when stealing a corpse, would unwrap it first? Jesus had been scourged, which reduced his body to a bloody pulp. If you were going to steal the body, you wouldn’t want to unwrap it! Pieces of Jesus would start to fall off the body. In a day or so it would start to smell. (Hence the spices the women brought!) No, you wouldn’t leave the grave clothes neatly folded if you were stealing the body either!
Peter left the tomb amazed, or wondering. The Greek word means overwhelmed. He didn’t walk away thinking, “See! I told you so! I knew he would be raised!” Instead, he went away wondering what had happened. His amazement may have been the seeds of belief, but it was a marvellous, new belief, not a reminder of something he believed or expected before Jesus’ death.
The passage we skipped over was the account of the two on the road to Emmaus. This is a wonderful passage, but we looked at it in our series on the resurrection and we are pressed for time today.
The next thing we read is that “they” meaning the disciples, the Eleven and probably the women, were talking about the experience of the two on the road to Emmaus. They were still trying to figure it out. Then Jesus is standing among them! John tells us they were in the upper room with the doors locked for fear of being arrested and killed like Jesus was. So suddenly Jesus is with them in a locked room! How did he get in there?!?
They were startled and frightened. They still didn’t expect to run into a risen Jesus! They weren’t sure they believed the people who had seen him. Now, however, they can see him and they think he’s a ghost! The still think he’s dead. Entering a locked room added to this conclusion.
How does Jesus reassure them and convince them? He says, “Look at my hands and feet.” So first he is confirming it is him. Second, he rules out the other theory that when Simon of Cyrene helped carry the cross to Golgotha that the Romans accidentally crucified Simon instead of Jesus. Jesus had holes in his hands and feet from being crucified. There was no mistaken identity.
Jesus also invited them to touch him. Why? Because he wanted to demonstrate that his resurrection was physical. He was not a ghost or spirit. He was not a hallucination caused by mass hysteria. He even says, “A ghost does not have flesh and bone like I do.” The man who was physically crucified was physically raised and physically present in the room.
Now those present were too excited to believe! This was too good to be true. Why is this significant? Because again we see that they had not expected this. Nobody was saying, “See, just as I thought! Jesus told us about this whole resurrection thing!” No! Even when they were happy and excited and overjoyed, they still struggled to wrap their heads around what had happened. So Jesus asks them for some food and he eats it in front of them. He’s able to interact with the food and eat it. It didn’t just fall on the floor! Again, the resurrection is a
Finally, now that the people understand he’s really there, really alive, not a ghost, but physically raised from the dead, Jesus gets to the “I told you so.” “This is what I told you while I was still with you!” He reminds them he had been teaching them about all the prophecies in the Old Testament that pointed toward this. We looked at some of these passages on Good Friday, from the Passover lamb, to the suffering servant in Isaiah, to Psalm 22.
But, before we get too hard on the disciples, take note of verse 45: “Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures.” It takes Jesus’ divine intervention for us to understand the Old Testament, especially the passages pointing toward Jesus. It takes divine opening of our minds to believe in Jesus and the resurrection.
What does the OT say? That the Christ must suffer and rise from the dead on the third day. Also, that repentance and forgiveness of sin would be preached in the name of that risen Christ to all nations! Repentance is the appropriate response to the resurrection of Jesus. The result is forgiveness of sin! And look, it is open to all nations. It goes beyond just Israel. This stretches back to God’s promise to Abraham that all nations would be blessed by his descendants. It even goes back to God’s promise in the Garden that a descendant of Eve, the mother of all nations, would defeat Satan.
What It Means
So what does all this mean? First, the resurrection of Jesus was unexpected. It didn’t make sense. None of the followers of Jesus expected it. Jesus even tried to tell them ahead of time, but they didn’t get it when he taught it or when he died or even when the tomb was found empty.
Years later, when the Apostle Paul was in the Greek city of Athens, he was preaching about Jesus and the resurrection. Because the Greek word for resurrection sounds like a woman’s name, his listeners concluded he must be talking about a male and female god! A god and a goddess! Why? Because Paul certainly couldn’t be talking about an actual resurrection. He couldn’t actually be talking about a man coming back from the dead never to die again! That just doesn’t happen!
I’ve heard it said that today, in our scientific society, people know that dead men don’t come back to life. Dead men are not resurrected. This is often said with an air of superiority, that we are more sophisticated than first century (primitive) people. They may have been easily fooled, they were all superstitious, after all. But today, we know dead men don’t come back to life three days later. That goes against the laws of science!
But guess what. People back then knew dead men don’t come back to life either! They knew dead people were not resurrected. Maybe, possibly, some great prophets resuscitated dead people, like Elijah and Elisha. Even Jesus, in his three years of ministry, revived three dead people, including Lazarus. But those three people all died again one day. The resurrection of Jesus, however, is different. The Christian assertion is that he was resurrected with a new body not subject to decay. His new body is eternal. Nobody back then believed that was a “normal” event. Just as today we don’t think it’s a “normal” event. That’s actually the point!
Even Christians believe the resurrection is a unique event in history. And if you look at the disciples’ reactions, they didn’t believe resurrections happened either! They had to be convinced. And so we need convincing today, too. Nobody is asking you to believe this is a common event, or an easy event to believe in. We know it’s unique, unprecedented and unrepeatable today. Even Christians say that the only repetition of this event will happen in the future when Christ returns!
But if the eye witness evidence is true, if the tomb was empty, if the grave clothes were left behind, if Jesus did appear to all those people who were invited to touch him and investigate for themselves, then the resurrection did happen! And if did happen, what does that mean?
The resurrection redefines the story we are in. The story we are in, on the surface, looks like a tragedy. It looks like everybody dies at the end. It looks like this life is all there is. It looks like sin and death win.
But the resurrection changes that! The resurrection gives proof that our story is not a tragedy, but that there is hope to live happily ever after. This completely changes the nature of our existence. If we have hope for a happy ending, that changes how we live our life! If death need not be the end, then that changes things! Life is a comedy in the dramatic sense- not of humour, but of a happy ending. If Jesus really did rise from
the dead, that changes everything!
If Jesus was resurrected, that vindicates him. He was crucified like a criminal terrorist. To be crucified, or hung on a tree, was to be cursed. The resurrection vindicates Jesus. But more than the nature of his death, it also means what he taught in life was true too. Jesus claimed to be God. If he was lying that is blaspheme. God would not resurrect him if he was a blasphemer!
If Jesus was resurrected, that makes him unique in all of history. We need to listen to him! We need to become his students and to all we can to live like him, to become like him in our character.
What To Do?
If Jesus was resurrected, that completely changes the story of life. First, it means there is a narrator! We are not the narrator of our own stories. Second, it changes the meaning of life. The most important questions in life are the questions of origin, meaning, morality and destiny. Jesus defines the meaning of life. If he was resurrected, then he is the only person who has defeated death – the end of life. So we better listen to him, follow him, try to become like him!
Jesus also redefines morality. Right and wrong are not what we make them. They are not what society decides they should be. Morality is defined by Jesus. His prescription is to love God and love one another. That sounds easy, but it’s remarkably hard, but thank God Jesus also gives us a remedy for that- the Holy Spirit! Jesus actually invades our character to reshape us from the inside out to become more like him!
Jesus also redefines our destiny. We are not destined for a big dirt nap. Life goes on! We are not destined to become one with everything, or attain perfect nothingness, or be reincarnated. We are destined for a resurrection of our own and an eternal, physical existence in relationship with God forever.
So pray to believe. It takes the work of the Holy Spirit to come to faith, to believe in the resurrection of Jesus. It is a work of God in you. Pray for faith, pray to believe
Second, investigate the resurrection. Jesus understands it’s unique. He provided lots of evidence for the first disciples. He provides lots of evidence for us too, if we are willing to look for it! Don’t be afraid to investigate the resurrection. Lee Strobel, the best-selling author, started out investigating the resurrection in order to disprove it for a series of newspaper articles. It turned out that investigating the evidence lead to his conversion! He wrote about it in the book The Case for Christ. The movie version, which is very well done, is now out on Netflix both in the US and Canada. It’s worth watching, whether you’re a Christian or not, but especially if you’re seeking Jesus!
When you come to believe in the truth of the unique event of the resurrection of Jesus, repent! Change the trajectory of your life to fit the story arc revealed by the resurrection. Change your goals, change your desires, change your attitudes to head straight for Jesus. Jesus knows this is hard, which is why he doesn’t leave us to do it on our own. Instead, the Holy Spirit invades our heart and mind to change us from within to be like Jesus when we cooperate with him.
Find hope in your story! Your life is part of a much bigger story- the story of God’s loving pursuit of fallen creatures with the goal of reconciling them to himself to live with him for eternity. Your story is part of that bigger story whether you like it or not. So find hope that your story need not be a tragedy. Instead, find hope that there is a bright light inside you. Frodo had light in a crystal, which he kept in his pocket. You have the light of Christ in your heart. Let is shine brightly against the darkness, both in your heart and in the world. Let the light of that larger story of Christ shine within you and beat back the darkness.
If you’re trying to live for Jesus, but you’re feeling discouraged, beaten down, afflicted or oppressed, find hope in Jesus’ victory over death. No matter what happens between now and Christ’s return, you know the end will be a happy ending. There is no tragedy for Christ’s people, only bumps in the road along the way to victory.
Know that your sin hung around the neck of Jesus on the cross. When he rose on Easter, that sin was gone. [Martin Luther] You are the witnesses to Jesus’ resurrection power. Bear witness, testify to the power of resurrection life that brought back Jesus from the dead. Bear witness, tell your story of that life within you. Let it define your days and lighten your nights. He is risen! Amen!
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