Today, we're talking about the basis for our faith. Literally the thing that if it didn't happen, our faith would be destroyed. I'm not exaggerating or hyperbolizing when I say that if there was solid evidence that the resurrection was a lie and never happened, I would stop being a Christian today, and you should too. Paul even says as much in 1 Corinthians 15.
There are a few reasons why, just in the Gospel of John, the allegations of Jesus rising from the dead are credible, and we will examine them today.
Early on Sunday morning, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and found that the stone had been rolled away from the entrance. She ran and found Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved. She said, “They have taken the Lord’s body out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”
As an aside, I find it fascinating that instead of referring to the third day in the grave, John and the other gospels refer to Jesus' resurrection as being on "the first day of the week". This is the reason we worship on Sunday, not Saturday, which is the Sabbath. This is a day of excitement, not drudgery! And the emphasis is on the start of something new here. It almost has language reminiscent of Genesis 1. On the first day, God is recreating.
All of the gospels lean heavily on the character of Mary Magdalene having been one of the first witnesses to something at the tomb of Jesus, and this is the first reason for the credibility of the resurrection from this passage:
In that day and age, the testimony of a woman wasn't admissible in the courts, so if you wanted people to believe what you're saying, they would have only included the testimony of men. Unless this detail actually happened, it would never have been included in the narrative of the gospel because it would have seemed to make the story less plausible in that day and age.
As we'll note, a common characteristic of resurrection stories is that people don't believe it. They try to excuse it or explain it away. In this case, Mary reports that Jesus' body has been stolen.
Grave robbing was common in that day, so it wasn't an altogether implausible explanation- in fact, this is how we can verify the fact of the empty tomb- the Pharisees accused the disciples of Jesus of stealing his body.
Peter and the other disciple started out for the tomb. They were both running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He stooped and looked in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he didn’t go in. Then Simon Peter arrived and went inside. He also noticed the linen wrappings lying there, while the cloth that had covered Jesus’ head was folded up and lying apart from the other wrappings.
If the grave were indeed robbed, the robbers wouldn't have left the expensive linens and spices which Jesus was buried with. No one with any sense would have taken the body and left the graveclothes, which brings us to our third reason why we can trust the credibility of the resurrection:
At some point, if they are false, all stories break down. As the British say, "the truth will out." All supposed inconsistencies in the gospel accounts of the resurrection of Jesus have plausible explanations. The disciples had nothing to gain by testifying to a lie.
Charles Colson, a top advisor for President Nixon, who you might remember from our Gods at War series was quoted as saying,
“I know the resurrection is a fact, and Watergate proved it to me. How? Because 12 men testified they had seen Jesus raised from the dead, then they proclaimed that truth for 40 years, never once denying it. Every one was beaten, tortured, stoned and put in prison. They would not have endured that if it weren't true. Watergate embroiled 12 of the most powerful men in the world-and they couldn't keep a lie for three weeks. You're telling me 12 apostles could keep a lie for 40 years? Absolutely impossible.”
And he's right. They had nothing to gain, and everything to lose. Why would they all give up their lives if they didn't believe it? There was an authenticity to their faith- they believed that Jesus is ENOUGH. This reminds me of what Matt Chandler says in this video:
Jesus is enough. He's enough for you. He's enough to overcome your addictions. He's enough to overcome your depression. He's enough to overcome your sin. He's enough to overcome your discomfort. He's enough to overcome your doubt. He's enough to overcome your inadequacy. He's enough to overcome your failure. He is enough, and sufficient for you, and his resurrection is that which proves it. It's the down-payment. Because Jesus raised from the dead, he is enough to guarantee that WE will be raised from the dead! This is why Paul makes his argument in 1 Corinthians 15:
I passed on to you what was most important and what had also been passed on to me. Christ died for our sins, just as the Scriptures said. He was buried, and he was raised from the dead on the third day, just as the Scriptures said. He was seen by Peter and then by the Twelve. After that, he was seen by more than 500 of his followers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then he was seen by James and later by all the apostles. Last of all, as though I had been born at the wrong time, I also saw him. For I am the least of all the apostles. In fact, I’m not even worthy to be called an apostle after the way I persecuted God’s church. But whatever I am now, it is all because God poured out his special favor on me—and not without results. For I have worked harder than any of the other apostles; yet it was not I but God who was working through me by his grace. So it makes no difference whether I preach or they preach, for we all preach the same message you have already believed. But tell me this—since we preach that Christ rose from the dead, why are some of you saying there will be no resurrection of the dead? For if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, then all our preaching is useless, and your faith is useless. And we apostles would all be lying about God—for we have said that God raised Christ from the grave. But that can’t be true if there is no resurrection of the dead. And if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then your faith is useless and you are still guilty of your sins. In that case, all who have died believing in Christ are lost!
And Paul goes on to say that because of Christ's resurrection, we are guaranteed to be raised as well and talks about about the resurrected body. He concludes with this:
What I am saying, dear brothers and sisters, is that our physical bodies cannot inherit the Kingdom of God. These dying bodies cannot inherit what will last forever. But let me reveal to you a wonderful secret. We will not all die, but we will all be transformed! It will happen in a moment, in the blink of an eye, when the last trumpet is blown. For when the trumpet sounds, those who have died will be raised to live forever. And we who are living will also be transformed. For our dying bodies must be transformed into bodies that will never die; our mortal bodies must be transformed into immortal bodies. Then, when our dying bodies have been transformed into bodies that will never die, this Scripture will be fulfilled: “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” For sin is the sting that results in death, and the law gives sin its power. But thank God! He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ. So, my dear brothers and sisters, be strong and immovable. Always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless.
JESUS IS PREEMINENT. HE IS ENOUGH. BECAUSE JESUS IS ENOUGH IN HIS RESURRECTION, WORK IN GRATITUDE, NOT LOSING HEART, NOT GIVING UP, NOT LOSING HOPE, KNOWING THAT IN CHRIST OUR LABOR IS NOT IN VAIN!
I like to say, "Work like an arminian, sleep like a calvinist."
Because Jesus is enough, death has lost its sting!
Then the disciple who had reached the tomb first also went in, and he saw and believed—for until then they still hadn’t understood the Scriptures that said Jesus must rise from the dead. Then they went home. Mary was standing outside the tomb crying, and as she wept, she stooped and looked in. She saw two white-robed angels, one sitting at the head and the other at the foot of the place where the body of Jesus had been lying. “Dear woman, why are you crying?” the angels asked her. “Because they have taken away my Lord,” she replied, “and I don’t know where they have put him.”
Notice the confusion. Notice the despair. Notice the lack of harmony. Peter believed, but he's very contemplative about it, and he goes home, picture the man who wanders around muttering to himself, seeing things that no one else can see. Mary, however, is unconvinced and continues to weep and despair at Jesus' tomb, lamenting the disappearance of his body.
This is yet another reason that we can trust the accounts of the resurrection of our Lord:
We get to see the reaction of people in real-time as they try to understand the events in front of their eyes. Some are right and some are wrong, as in real life. They weren't expecting it. They didn't understand it. They misinterpreted it, and yet, we see a harmony of testimony in the early first century from the church about these events.
Some argue that there was even a 1st century creed recorded by Paul in 1 Corinthians 15 when he gives the list of people to whom Jesus appeared. Whether it is or it isn't, there was unity in the church!
She turned to leave and saw someone standing there. It was Jesus, but she didn’t recognize him. “Dear woman, why are you crying?” Jesus asked her. “Who 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.” “Mary!” Jesus said. She turned to him and cried out, “Rabboni!” (which is Hebrew for “Teacher”). “Don’t cling to me,” Jesus said, “for I haven’t yet ascended to the Father. But go find my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’ ” Mary Magdalene found the disciples and told them, “I have seen the Lord!” Then she gave them his message.
One thing to note here is that Jesus' resurrection accomplishes our adoption as sons. We get to call God our Father. Jesus calls those who follow him his brothers! And because of what Jesus paid, we get the same intimate relationship with God that he had here on earth!
But in the same way that Jesus says to Mary, "don't cling to me- I have a message for you: go tell it!", he says the same to us. Don't get me wrong- It's so great to gather in the church to worship together on Sundays, but we are more a church when we are out there fulfilling the command of our Lord and telling people about him than we are when we're here. Here, we gather in the church building, out there, we get the chance to be the church. And that's the difference. So let's pray, and sing, and respond today by telling one person today confidently, credibly, boldly, that Jesus died to forgive sins, that he rose from the dead, and that right now, he is ruling and reigning!