David Jeremiah - The Resurrection of Jesus
It's neither the dark Fridays or the bright Sundays that require the greatest amount of grace. We've all learned, even in our own lives, that the greatest grace is needed during eternally long Saturdays when we're waiting for what happened to be resolved, when we're waiting for the promise to be kept, when we're waiting for the diagnosis to be confirmed, it's those long Saturdays that are so hard. There's a very famous sermon on Easter by a friend of mine and the title of the sermon, "It's Friday But Sunday's Coming". Say that with me, "It's Friday, but Sunday's coming".
That's surely how it was for the friends of Jesus is the hours of Saturday overtook them with emptiness, but something was about to happen that would change these men and women forever. No longer would they be cowards hiding in the backdrop of the crucifixion, but something would happen that would change them into flaming evangelists who filled the whole world with the gospel, and according to the record, even of secular historians. These particular people turned their world upside down. It is the experience of the resurrection of the Savior that explains all of this.
And, of course, this particular truth about his life is found in all of the gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. I've chosen today to tell the story from the 24th chapter of the book of Luke and the first 12 verses. Here we are told of the experience of the empty tomb and are met with some visiting women in verse one. "Now on the first day of the week, very early in the morning, they, and certain other women with them, came to the tomb bringing the spices which they had prepared". We see these women on their way to the tomb engaged in this ministry of love, but we forget it was also a ministry of sorrow and hopelessness. These women who came to the tomb on that first Easter would have been some of the last ones at the cross with their Savior.
Luke tells us that all of his acquaintances and the women who followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance watching the crucifixion. It is moving to see them now on this day early in the morning, coming to the grave of their loved one, bringing their spices. They brought the spices as a show of their love for their dead master. They thought of him as dead and yet they still loved him with a great love. The things they had hoped for seemed destroyed, but their love for the Lord was not destroyed. I mean, Jesus had been beaten and put to death, but the love of these women did not die with Jesus. They had been told by Christ before his death, about his resurrection, but either they did not believe him or it just went over the top of their heads. They were coming to embalm the Lord's body because they thought this was the end of him.
Their faith had failed them, but their love was still strong and they brought their spices that day, which would have been sorted into the foldings of the cloth around his body sort of as an external embalming process. They came with love to visit his grave but as they drew near to the grave, something happened. Verse 2 says they found the stone rolled away from the tomb. That's not just an incidental detail. Let me fill in the blanks. This was something that was quite amazing to them. In fact, one of the other gospel writers tells us that this was the subject of their conversation on their way to the tomb that day. "They had said among themselves", Mark 16:3, "Who will roll away the stone from the door of the tomb for us"?
Now, Matthew records in his writings that a large stone was rolled against the front of the tomb. Mark says the stone was extremely large and some of the manuscripts described the stone as a stone which 20 men could not roll away. The tomb, according to the Scripture, was one that had been hewn out of rock, and the door that went into the tomb was about four-and-a-half feet high and five feet wide. So, the question would be, what kind of a stone would be necessary to close the mouth of a tomb like that? Scholars have discussed what it would take for a stone to be big enough to cover the tomb where Jesus was buried, and they have said it would have weighed somewhere between one-and-a-half and two tons. On that first Sunday morning when the women came to the tomb, one of the first things that shocked them and made them realize something was going on was, this stone was not where it was supposed to be. It was not in front of the tomb, it was not even rolled back up the slot. It was in a place by itself where it could not possibly have gotten if humans were involved in the process.
Now, we've read the rest of the story so we know what happened. It was an angel in cooperation with an earthquake that got that stone out of the place where it was supposed to be. But think about this, if you're the women, you're on the way. You've had this conversation. "What are we gonna do with the stone when we get there"? Then you get there, the stone's not in front of the tomb, it's not in the groove. It's over here in the field by itself. How did that happen? In order for us to understand what was going on, we have to get into the minds of these women as this story begins to unfold before them. Now, they approached the sepulcher where Jesus was buried. And the Scripture says in verse 3 of Luke 24 that they went in, and they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. Immediately, they noticed that no one was in the tomb.
And I want to say to you that the gospel rests entirely on the fact that the tomb was empty. This has been our claim, and no one has ever been able to deny it. Let's face it, the Jews of Jesus's day could not deny it, even though there was nothing they wanted more than to discredit the witnesses of the resurrection. And the Romans could not deny it in spite of the fact this was the most embarrassing event in the ten-year reign of Pontius Pilate. In order for you to grab the magnitude of this very thing, the empty grave, let us remember that the disciples began to preach the resurrection of Jesus Christ, not in some distant country, they began to preach that Christ was risen from the dead in the city of Jerusalem.
The Garden Tomb isn't out in the country. It's not in the suburbs, it's almost downtown, and the disciples began to preach that Jesus had come back from the grave, that he'd risen from the dead. And anyone who wanted to prove that had only to do one thing, go to the tomb where he supposedly was buried and produce his body. If they had done that, Christianity would have been dead on arrival and there would be nothing like what we enjoy here today in the celebration of a living Christ. What was the central truth of the apostles' preaching? What was the stimulus of the miraculous afterglow of the resurrection of Christ? Read the book of Acts and there you will find all the sermons that were preached during the after part of the resurrection, and they're all about the resurrection. They're not really about the crucifixion. They're all about the fact that Jesus overcame death and he was alive.
When the disciples became aware of this and it finally got into their spirit, they knew they were doing something miraculous. They knew they were living in a moment that had never been known before. They had a leader who had died, and had been dead for three days, and had come out of the grave victorious over death. And not only that, that's what he told him he was gonna do before it happened. So, everywhere they went, they preached on this. God blessed the message of the resurrection and the church was born.
We're here today because of those early days of the preaching of the apostles. How many of you know that the world offers promises full of emptiness, but Easter offers emptiness full of promise? Empty cross, empty tomb, empty grave clothes, all full of promise. Well, that's what happened when the women arrived that day, but there's an explanation of all of this about to happen. In verse 4, we meet some angels. "And it happened, as they were greatly perplexed about this, two men stood by them in shining garments". Now, we shouldn't be surprised that the angels show up at the resurrection because they showed up a lot during the Lord's ministry on this earth.
I wrote a book on angels some years ago, and I remember how surprised I was to discover how involved the angels were with Jesus while he was on this earth. Let's face it, they got it all started when they heralded his coming outside of Bethlehem, announced that Jesus was to be born. It was the angels who told Mary this was gonna happen. It was an angel who told Joseph, it was angels that told the shepherds. When Jesus began his public ministry and he went out into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan, guess who was with him. Angel.
When he was in the garden of Gethsemane in that hour of agony for humanity, guess who was there. Angels. And who rolled the stone away from the tomb? It was the angels. And who shared the message of the gospel for the first time? It was the angels, two angels that Mary saw when she looked into the tomb. And these angels had a message for Mary, a very assuring message. "As they were afraid and bowed their faces to the earth, the angels said to them, 'Why are you seeking the living among the dead? He's not here, he's risen!'" In other words, Jesus is alive, the tomb couldn't keep him under. All the famous tombs in the world are famous for one reason, for the bodies that they contain. The tomb of Jesus is famous for what it does not contain. It was empty on that first Easter and it is still, and the emptiness is a constant reminder of this angel message, "He's not here, He's risen", as he said.
So, the angelic messengers give an assuring message and that assuring message is the message we celebrate on this day. And then there's this moment of awakened memory, and I put this in here because it's kind of critical to the way some people look at the resurrection. Verses 6 through 8, the angel speaking to the women said, "Do you remember how He spoke to you when He was still in Galilee, saying, 'The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again.'" And the lights go on, "Oh, yeah, I remember that".
I run into people all the time that say, "I don't know why you people make such a big deal out of the resurrection. Jesus didn't even believe in the resurrection". What do you mean Jesus didn't believe in the resurrection? He experienced the resurrection, but he also spoke about it. During his three years of ministry, he spoke freely of his death, his burial, and his resurrection. For instance, early in his ministry immediately after he cleansed the temple, he got into this discussion and he said this to the Jews of Jerusalem, and I gotta tell you what he said freaked them out. He said, "If you destroy this temple, in three days, I will raise it up".
Now, he's standing at the temple that was built, that took hundreds of years to build, one of the seven wonders of the world, and he's talking to the Jewish people and he says, "If you destroy this temple, I'll raise it up in three days". And they say, "Yeah, right". But you don't have to wonder what he was saying because in the verse it says, "But he was speaking of the temple of his body". In other words, "If you destroy this temple, in three days, I will raise it up". On another occasion during the second period of his Galilean ministry after he healed the demoniac Jesus said, "For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth".
What was he talking about? He was talking about the resurrection. Immediately following Peter's great confession, we read that from that time Jesus began to show his disciples "that he must go to Jerusalem, suffer many things from elders, and chief priests, and scribes, and be killed and be raised the third day". So, if somebody says Jesus didn't believe in the resurrection, they just haven't read the record. He believed in it. He taught it to his disciples. He told them it was gonna happen. He described all the details of it. And the fact that they didn't believe it, even after it happened many of them, is not the fault of Jesus. He told them the empty tomb and the resurrection, when it happened, hit the disciples with shock and awe.
In fact, in the early moments of his resurrection, the people who are closest to him, who had heard all these messages I just told you about, they didn't get it. They didn't believe it. It happened, it happened exactly as he said it would, and they were caught in unbelief, as his repeated appearances to them ultimately broke down their doubt. It's an amazing thing that they had been with him all this time, they had heard all these teachings, but when it happened... Of course, there's the evidence of the empty tomb and the declaration of the women. When they went into the tomb and saw that it was empty, the Bible says, "They returned from the tomb and told all these things to the eleven, all the rest, and 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".
I must stop here and make a note about the priority of women in this story. They were the first to see the empty grave. Women were the first to see the angels. Women were the first to see the resurrected Lord. Women were the first to hear his loving words. And women, believe it or not, were the first preachers. I have to admit that, it's in the Scripture right here. And the reason I say that is because while that is commendable and while women and their status has been raised incredibly, primarily because of the influence of Christianity, the status of women today in our culture, especially in our country, is higher than it is any other place they could be. But it wasn't that way in Jerusalem when Jesus came out of the grave. Women were given no credit for anything. They couldn't even serve as a witness at a trial.
And so, culturally, such a story from women would be viewed with suspicion. One of the main proofs that the resurrection story is credible is the realization that the 1st century church would never have created a story like that, whose main witnesses were women. They just wouldn't have done that. This is a God story. It's not a man story or a woman's story. This is a God story. And God probably has a sense of humor and he says, "Let's just use women. Let them be the first witnesses". And they've been witnessing ever since, did you notice? Witnessing about Jesus. You take women out of the church and it'd fall on its face.
Praise God for the faithful women who follow in the train of these first gospel women who witnessed the resurrection and went everywhere telling it. And when they told the disciples what they had seen, verse 11 says, "Their words seemed to them like idle tales, and they didn't believe them". I mean, the apostles were not men poised on the brink of belief, just needing somebody to push him over the edge. They were utterly skeptical. Even when the women they knew well told them of their experience, they refused to believe. So, if you're here today and you're a hard case, you're a skeptic, you're in good company. The disciples were just like that too. They got through it, and I hope you will too. But I'll tell you there's a person who's gonna enter into the dialogue here. He's gonna fix everything. He always fixes everything.
Do you know about Peter? Here comes Peter. Peter listened to these women. He didn't know if they were telling the truth or not. But Peter, listen to what it says. "Peter arose and he ran to the tomb". "I don't know if it's true or not, but I'm gonna find out for myself". Did you notice that in the story of the resurrection, there is more running than in any other place in the Bible? I'm not kidding you. Half of the running experiences of the Bible are in the resurrection story. The women ran from the tomb. Peter and John ran to the tomb. The disciples in a mass ran back to Jerusalem. And someone has written, "Where's that energy in the church today? We shuffle along, they ran". And then they came and they found this discovery. "Stooping down, when Peter got to the tomb, he saw the linen claws lying by the themselves". In a real sense, the grave of Jesus was not totally empty.
In fact, some years ago I preached an Easter sermon on the title, "The Not Quite Empty Tomb" because the tomb had some grave clothes that were still there. Now, I'm gonna quote from John's gospel, but first I want to explain something to you about John. John wrote his gospel, the fourth gospel, and he never talked about himself by name. He coined a special name for himself. Do you know what that name is? When John talked about himself in his writing, he called himself "the disciple that Jesus loved". Come on, John. I know you're trying to be humble, but that's over the top, man. The disciple that Jesus loved. Well, it gets worse. The Bible says in John 20, "So they both ran together, and the other disciple outran Peter and came to the tomb first".
John could not help himself. He had to put in the text that when they ran to the tomb, he was faster than Peter. The other disciple that Jesus loved got there first. John left the tomb that day full of faith, but not Peter. The Bible says about Peter that he departed marveling to himself what had happened. So, I tell you all of this to let you know that the opening mood for Easter that day wasn't what you might think, that here's all these religious people maybe in a church someplace waiting to hear the news. "Well, he came out he's, he's risen". No, it was surrounded by people just like all of us in all different stages of belief and unbelief about the reality of the resurrection. Some were sure, some were not sure, but seemed to me like the ones who were closest to Jesus had the most trouble trying to figure this out, and accept it as fact.
When Jesus came out of the grave, he met astonishment, and surprise, and fear, and confusion. Yeah, he told him this was gonna happen, but they didn't get it. And Easter's still like that today. For many people, it's a surprise. So, let me ask you, if all of this is true, if he really did come out of the grave, if he is alive, if he overcame death, if he's the only one who's ever lived, who of his own power took back life, if that is true, what does it mean to us? Let me suggest three things that it means to me. Maybe you agree, first of all, it means that I can be forgiven. You see, when Jesus was teaching and preaching before his death, he said things like, "If you put your trust in me, you can be forgiven. If you put your trust in me, your sins can be covered". And then he went and did what he said he was going to do. He died on the cross and everybody knew that, and he was witnessed by the Jewish community, and by the Romans. He hung on a cross between two thieves and poured out his life and he died.
And so, let's put a period there for just a moment and say if that's all that happened, are we still okay? No, we're not still okay? We're not okay because a lot of people have died for things they believed in. A lot of people have said, "I'll die for this", even some of our own patriots have put their lives on the line for things they believe. But Jesus said, "I'm gonna die, and I'm gonna come back. And when I come out of the grave, you're gonna know that everything I told you about forgiveness is true". And when Jesus came out of the grave that day, what he proved was that his death on the cross was sufficient for our sin. I like to say it this way, his death was the sacrifice and his resurrection was a stamp on the document paid in full. So, my sins have already been covered.
You say, "How could that be? He was just a man". No, he was not, he was the God-man. He was the infinite God-man. He was God walking around in a body. And when he died on the cross, his death was infinite just as his life was infinite. His death was enough for everyone who would put their trust in him. So, when he died on the cross, you can be sure that it was sufficient for everyone, but how do you know it was really, really true, and that it was really miraculous, and that it was really from God? You know that because three days later, he came out of the grave victorious over death. Nobody's ever done that before. Roman says it this way, "He was delivered up because of our offenses, and he was raised because of our justification". And Paul tells us this, that if we confess with our mouth the Lord Jesus, and if we believe in our heart that God has raised him from the dead, we will be saved.
You know, I know that's a term that's gotten thrown under the bus in a lot of religious circles. I grew up with that term, people coming up and ask you, are you saved? Most of the time, people, they don't know what that means, but the Bible speaks of it very clearly. To be saved is to have salvation. To be saved is to be forgiven. To be saved means that your sins are forgiven, and God has accepted you, and you're on your way to heaven. And the Bible says, "If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised him from the dead, you will be saved".
So, I got saved one day, long, long time ago. My dad led me to Christ. I've been saved ever since because once you get saved, you stay saved. And I know that my sins are forgiven. I've done some things I'm not proud of, as all of you have, but I've confessed them to the Lord and the Bible says if we confess our sin, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and cleanse us from all unrighteousness, and that's what he does. I stand before you today free and forgiven. I'm a forgiven boy, and I know a lot of you are forgiven too, amen? But not only are we forgiven, the Bible says we have fellowship.
Remember what happened, Jesus came out of the grave. He came out of the grave and 40 days later, he went back to heaven. So, what's he doing up there? The Bible says he's seated at the right hand of the Father making intercession for us. Literally, he's our advocate in heaven. Do you know what that means? It means I got an attorney in heaven taking care of my stuff. That means when I do something that's not understood, my attorney in heaven, he takes that to the Father and puts it right. The Bible says he's making intercession for us. He is seated right next to God the Father and when I pray, he takes my prayers and he puts them in the perfect format and gives them to God, and they get answered.
And here's the goodest of all the good news. He's not only in heaven as my advocate and my intercessor, he also lives within my heart and I can talk with him anytime I want. And I talked to him today, to my risen Lord. Last of all, third, not only do I get forgiven and I get fellowship with God, but third, my future is sealed, it's fixed. I don't have to worry about what's gonna happen to me when I die because the promise is this, Jesus said, "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me, though he may die, he shall live, and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die".
Well, wait a minute, that sounds like doublespeak. What is that all about? The Bible teaches that there's two kinds of death. In fact, it calls it the first death and the second death. Death is a word that means separation, that's what the word itself means. By the way, I've done some homework on this and death is 100%. Did you know that? For everybody. So, death is separation and the first death, it means that your soul and your spirit gets separated from your body. That's what happens when a person dies. We put their body in the grave, but the Bible says their soul and their spirit goes to be with God.
"Absent from the body is present with the Lord", that's what the Scripture says. That's the first step and all of us will, we'll experience that if the Lord doesn't come back beforehand. But the second death is one that's not understood by many. It's the one you don't want to get close to. The second death isn't the separation of your soul and your spirit from your body. The second death is the separation of your soul and spirit from God forever. Now, listen again to what Jesus said. Jesus said unto her, "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me, though he may die physically, he shall live".
When you die, you keep on living. "And whosoever lives and believes in Me, shall never die", the second death, because when you believe in Jesus, you live forever in his presence. So, what I know is this, I'm not afraid to die. I'm not anxious to die. I'm like the little boy who was in class one day and his teacher said, "How many of you want to go to heaven when you die"? All the little children raised their hands, except this little boy in the back. And she said, "Son, don't you want to go to heaven when you die"? Oh, he said, "Yes, when I die, but I thought you were getting up a load for today", you know?
I don't want to go, I don't want to die any sooner and I have to, but I'm not afraid to die because I know what's, what it is. I'll never die spiritually because I've made peace with God. I've faced death physically, and I know that it's a scary thing, but I'm not afraid of it because I know what it is. One day, Jesus is gonna come back and if we haven't already died before then, we're gonna be caught up together be with him. And the Bible says, so shall we ever be with the Lord. Well, that's the resurrection. That's why I believe in it, why I love to teach it, why this is such a special day. I'm forgiven, I got somebody to talk to every day in heaven, and I'm gonna spend eternity with my Father. Those are pretty good takeaways from the resurrection.
Carol Wolf tells about a time some years ago when she was in a Christian theater group, and she was traveling around doing a musical based on C.S. Lewis's, "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe". I don't know if you've read that, but it's a pretty good metaphor of the gospel. And the lion, Aslan, is a metaphor or a picture of Jesus Christ. I just need to tell you that so you understand the rest of the story. She said, "I helped prepare the costumes, and the sets, and the props, make the bookings". She said, "I booked a show at Easter in a children's hospital and when the kids arrived for the show in wheelchairs, and even on a gurney, as well as by foot, we realized that we were gonna be very crowded, and we decided to remove some of the set pieces. And even when we did that, the children were right next to the actors throughout the entire performance".
At any rate, during this performance, there was a scene where the white witch, the devil, humiliates and kills the good lion, Christ. And the children were totally caught up in the action. I mean, they didn't stir or speak, but more than a few were starting to cry. She said, "I was off stage watching this waiting to go on and the activities director of the hospital came and furiously started to chew me out". She said, "What are you doing? You didn't tell me this was gonna happen. Look at these children. You're breaking their hearts". I said, "Don't you get it? Aslan is like Jesus, he'll come back". Just then, two actresses playing sisters were singing a beautiful song in the midst of this presentation and the song is called, "Why Did This Have To Happen"? They sang about Aslan taking the punishment for their traitor brother, all while sitting in front of Aslan's dead body on the set.
When they finished their song, they cried on each other's shoulders and while in this posture of grief, Aslan sat up behind them and that's when the children came to life. They shouted with joy. They clapped and laughed as if they were full of excitement and the ones closest to the two women were shouting and pulling on their clothes saying, "Look, look, he's alive, he's alive". And that's what Easter is all about. We don't have a Savior whose remains are languish in some faraway unknown tomb. Jesus Christ is living today, and the same excitement that he brought to those children, he waits to bring to us if we will just come to him with our arms open to receive him.