Do you remember the song, “There’s a hole in the bucket?”
Henry - there’s a hole in the bucket
Lisa - well fix it!
Henry - How shall I fix it?
Lisa - With straw!
Henry - The straw is too long.
Lisa - Well cut it!
Henry - With what shall I cut it?
Lisa - With the axe!
Henry - Well, the axe is too dull.
Lisa - Well sharpen it!
Henry - With what shall I sharpen it?
Lisa - With the stone!
Henry - The stone is too dry.
Lisa - Well wet it!
Henry - With what shall I wet it?
Lisa -With water!
Henry - With what shall I get it?
Lisa - With the bucket!
Henry - There’s a hole in the bucket.
It all goes back to the hole in the bucket???
This week I read the Easter story with children at Awana at Rosenort School. I would never have done that if I wasn’t pastor of REMC. I would never be pastor of REMC if, 27 years ago, I hadn’t sensed God calling me to be a pastor in the first place. I would never have received that call to be a pastor if I hadn’t become a Christian at a crusade when I was nine years old. I would never have become a Christian if my parents hadn’t taught me what it means to follow Christ. They would never have done that, if they hadn’t heard the gospel when they were children and teenagers… and if we trace this back, the gospel message would never have gone out if Paul had not obeyed the call of the Holy Spirit to go preach the gospel in Gentile territory. That would never have happened if the Holy Spirit had not come on the believers on the day of Pentecost which in turn would never have happened if Jesus had not ascended into heaven. And that could not have happened if Jesus had not been raised from the dead. So, what happened to me this week, indeed, the way I live my life today has a direct connection to the resurrection of Jesus. It all goes back to the resurrection. This morning, we will examine the resurrection story from Luke 24:1-12.
But, how do we know that Jesus rose from the dead? If what I did this week goes back to the resurrection, and if the resurrection is not true, then my actions, indeed my life, is built on nothing. It all goes back to the resurrection, but did Jesus really rise from the dead?
Doubt has always been a part of it.
Thomas Jefferson, a great man, nevertheless could not accept the miraculous elements in Scripture. He edited his own special version of the Bible in which all references to the supernatural were deleted. Jefferson, in editing the Gospels, confined himself solely to the moral teachings of Jesus. The closing words of Jefferson's Bible are these: "There laid they Jesus and rolled a great stone at the mouth of the sepulchre and departed."
Doubt began with the women, who were the first to realize the possibility. They did not come to the tomb hoping to see Jesus alive. They came to the tomb wondering who would roll away the stone so they could anoint the body with spices and perfumes as is proper for a dead body. When they found the stone rolled away and the body of Jesus missing, they wondered about this. When the angels appeared to them, and reminded them of Jesus’ prophecy, the words of the angels were a rebuke to them - they should have known, but they had doubted this possibility.
When the reality dawned on them, they went back to the eleven and the others and told them about what they had seen. Once again doubt is the first thing that appears. These women - Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary and some others had remembered the words of Jesus and it is likely that they had come to belief. They likely told the disciples that the tomb was empty, that an angel had appeared to them and they reminded them of the prophecies of Jesus but what was the response of the disciples? In verse 11 we read, “…they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense.” Their words seemed as silly talk to the disciples. They did not believe them.
Peter, however, was astute enough to consider the possibility and ran to look for himself. After seeing, it does not say that he believed, rather, it says he “went away wondering to himself what had happened.”
Doubt is a great part of the story and has always been for many people. There continue to be many who doubt and who offer all kinds of explanations. Some people have suggested that the women went to the wrong tomb. Others have proposed that Jesus never died, but that he simply swooned and in the coolness of the cave was revived. The popular explanation among many including the Jewish leaders (as other gospels record) was that the disciples stole the body. One group even suggests that the Jewish leaders stole the body. These doubts have been around for a long time. More recently, some have suggested that the resurrection never happened. Rather, they suggest that years later, the idea of the resurrection came come from the imagination of over-zealous disciples who were trying to develop support for their movement. In a similar way, many have spiritualised the resurrection so that they believe that although there was no real resurrection that is OK because the idea of resurrection, of renewal, of newness and hope is a good thing and we can encourage that kind of thinking.
Doubt has always been a part of the resurrection - not only among detractors, but also among the first witnesses and among those who have heard since. Are we among those who doubt, those who struggle with belief or believe?
The text we are looking at today, gives three evidences which speak to these doubts and invite us to believe. The evidences presented are the empty tomb, the presence of the angels and the prophetic words of Jesus. One of these - the angel visit - is a subjective experience and could not be verified, but two of these are verifiable - the empty tomb and the prophetic word and they can help us make the decision to believe.
The empty tomb is a big deal in this passage. It is held up as the first evidence.
As the women came upon the tomb, their first indication that something was not as expected was that the stone was rolled away. Then as they came to the tomb and went inside, they came upon the second indication – they did not find the body of Jesus.
When Peter went to see what they were talking about and he wanted to check it out for himself, the first evidence we are presented with again is the evidence of the empty tomb. It tells us that all he saw was “the strips of linen lying by themselves.” In other words, we now have two witnesses - the group of women and Peter - who both saw the same thing. The law required two or three witnesses and we have that. The body of Jesus was not there. The tomb was empty.
This observation is presented as evidence. It is evidence that dispels a lot of the doubt filled explanations. It dispels the idea that the disciples went to the wrong tomb. It also dispels the idea that the disciples stole the body. They would not have gone to see where Jesus was if they had stolen the body. They would have stayed as far away as possible. So it is clear that the empty tomb points to the resurrection. The tomb is empty and this must be dealt with. The best explanation is the resurrection.
But the purpose of emphasizing the empty tomb is more than just to present evidence and point to the resurrection. The purpose of the empty tomb is also to indicate the nature of His resurrection. Some have tried to spiritualise the resurrection. Not many years after the beginning of the church, there were some who began to look at the resurrection of Jesus, not as a real physical event, but as a spiritual event. People believed that Jesus did not physically rise from the dead, but that he rose spiritually, that his spirit rose. Such a point of view indicates that God is not interested in us physically, but that we are merely spiritual beings. This kind of thinking led some people to suggest that one could do as he pleased with his physical body because it would be destroyed anyway. As long as one would remain spiritually in tune with God what you did with your body didn’t matter. We still have that kind of thinking around, but God does not permit such a separation of our physical and spiritual. We are physical\spiritual beings. Jesus rose from the dead physically and the empty tomb is the evidence of that. It tells us that he truly conquered physical death and that we can therefore also hope not just for a spiritual resurrection, but for a physical resurrection at which we will receive a new physical body. The empty tomb is the basis in reality that Jesus rose and that He did not just rise spiritually, but physically. It is important evidence.
The words of the angels present us with the second evidence for the resurrection. That is the evidence of the prophetic word. The key to this evidence is not the angels. At the time, they were important because it seems that the disciples did not remember the words of Jesus or of OT prophecy. God had to send messengers in order to open their eyes. That was the purpose of the angels, they opened the eyes of the disciples to show them what had been there all along.
What had been there all along was the word of God which had already long ago presented this truth that the Messiah would die and rise from the dead. Way back in Genesis, in the very first prophecy in which God made known his plans for his people, this truth was already implicit. In Genesis 3:15, God made a promise to the serpent. We read, “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.” The promise is spoken to the serpent and refers to the offspring of the woman - the Messiah. The death of Jesus is implicit in this statement when God promises, “you will strike his heel.” The resurrection of Jesus is implicit when God says, “he will crush your head.”
Much clearer prophecies appear in Psalm 22. Here we have images that remind us of the death of Jesus. We also have images that point to the resurrection of Jesus. When we read in verse 22, “I will declare your name to my brothers in the congregation” it seems that after the death language of the one forsaken of God, there is a hope of life after death.
The words of Isaiah 53 are even more amazing. There we read about his death, “he was cut off from the land of the living for the transgression of my people he was stricken. He was assigned a grave with the wicked and with the rich in his death.” But we also read about his resurrection, “he will see his offspring and prolong his days…he will see the light of life and be satisfied.”
Jesus had also spoken about his coming death and resurrection and at least on two occasions he had announced these things to his disciples. In Luke 9:22 we read, “And he said, ‘The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.’” Then again in Luke 18:31-33 Jesus told the twelve, “We are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written by the prophets about the Son of Man will be fulfilled. He will be handed over to the Gentiles. They will mock him, insult him, spit on him, flog him and kill him. On the third day he will rise again.”
So it is no wonder that the angels rebuked the women for not remembering what Jesus had said, it should not have been a mystery. The empty tomb together with the words predicting that this would happen make it quite clear that we need never “seek the living among the dead.” The evidence is quite clear to dispel our doubts and assure us that Jesus rose from the grave and is alive.
Further evidence, specifically the appearances of Jesus, are presented in the remainder of the text and Menno will present thoughts from that section next week. For today, we have these two truths. The tomb is empty and what has been written tells us that Jesus is alive.
Have you made the journey towards belief? There is room for doubt, for a journey of discovery. However, I believe that the evidence shows that Jesus rose from the dead. I trust that the journey of discovery will also lead you to affirm that the only logical conclusion one can come to is that Jesus is alive!
And what an astonishing truth that is. I began by suggesting that that truth has implications that reach down to us today. For me it is true that my life today is completely impacted by the resurrection. Not only is the line of connection the one I drew for you before, but there is a much more direct line. Because Jesus is alive today, I live my life with that in mind. John R. W. Stott said, “Christianity is in its very essence a resurrection religion. The concept of resurrection lies at its heart. If you remove it, Christianity is destroyed.”
We are aware that because Jesus is alive, the kingdom of heaven has broken into history. We often look at history from such a human point of view. Even the war in Iraq is viewed as if God has nothing to do with it, but that is not true. The resurrection of Jesus, the reality that Jesus is sitting on the throne in heaven today means that He is very much aware of what is happening there. At some point, what has happened in Iraq will be dealt with by the living God who sits on the throne and by Jesus who is at his side.
We become aware that death has been conquered. So, although death is frightening and not something that we look forward to, we face it with a much different attitude knowing that there is a resurrection. Yes, we will have to face separation, but not complete and final loss. There is an eternal life to look forward to.
We know that because Jesus is alive, the message we proclaim, the work and ministry we are involved in has the power and authority of Jesus behind it. We are not offering man’s message in man’s power. We are offering God’s message with the living power of the risen Christ behind it.
When life brings tragedy, we are able to face it and to find meaning in it. I have been studying suffering and am learning that there is tremendous meaning in suffering. None of us wants suffering, but as we listen to those who have to go through and live with suffering we find that in the midst of it, they find meaning and hope. This would not be possible were it not for the resurrection.
The world we live in is evil. Last week, one day I was quite discouraged. I had watched some things on TV. The story was about some men who were just totally evil. I wondered if there are people who are so totally evil that they will hurt and kill people just because they feel like it. Sadly, I suspect there are. I was so disturbed by this thought that I stopped watching and went to read the newspaper. There I read about life in east side Vancouver where drugs and prostitution are destroying many lives. I know this is true because I know people who have ministered there. Again, I was overwhelmed with the awful evil of this world. The resurrection helps us live in that evil world because we know that God’s living power is available to us to live in this world and the resurrection helps us know that in the end all will be made right.
When we come to belief in the resurrection, it connects to our lives now. What I did this week connects to it. But I often ask myself. “How could it connect more?” “Am I fully living in the resurrection?” Is my life really impacted daily by the reality of the Lord Christ who lives today?
Sydney Carter has written the poem, which is also a song:
I danced on a Friday when the sky turned black;
It's hard to dance with the devil on your back.
They buried my body and they thought I'd gone;
But I am the dance and I still go on:
Dance, then, wherever you may be;
I am the Lord of the Dance, said he,
And I'll lead you all, wherever you may be
And I'll lead you all in the dance, said he.