Mar 27 - Easter

Easter

March 27, 2016

1 Corinthians 15:3-9

 

 

EASTER

March 27th, 2016

1 Corinthians 15:3-9

 

Easter is the most important day in the Christian calendar.  It is more important than Christmas or any other day of the year. 

 

The Christian faith is based on the belief that all human beings are separated from a sinless God to some degree or another because everyone, from a very young age, does, says and thinks things that are wrong, things that go against one’s personal conscience. 

 

Children as young as 3 will lie to their parents, most often to conceal something that they had done that was forbidden to them.  And if we are honest with ourselves, we know that there is something within us that allows us to make choices, especially with regard to how we treat others, that are anything but how we should treat them.

 

The question then becomes, what can bridge the gulf between God and us?  Will psychological training?  Will philosophical study?  Will self-improvement?  Will giving to charity?  Will treating our loved ones better?  Will political involvement?  Will helping in a third world country?  Will volunteering? 

 

If we answer “yes” to any of these methods, then we are likely thinking that becoming or being a better person, or doing something of value for others, will balance the scales, so to speak, in God’s eyes, preferably in our favour.

 

Unfortunately, the Bible affirms that whatever actions we may take, that does not cancel or alleviate or outweigh the evil we do, simply because the human nature is such that it continually offends a holy God. 

 

What is needed ultimately, is something that God himself provides, something that will bridge the gap between himself and us in a different way.  And in the NT, that bridge is Jesus himself when he allowed himself to be executed in order to pay for the wrongdoings of the world.

 

Now why in the world would the followers of Jesus come to this conclusion?  Yes, Jesus claimed to be the light of the world.  Yes, he claimed to be the messianic Saviour.  Yes, he claimed to be the door through which people could enter into God’s kingdom.  And he said,

 

The Son of man came, not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom in exchange for many.

                                                                        Matthew 20:28

 

But the Jewish historian, Josephus, who lived in the first century, listed at least 10 other messianic claimants in and around the time of Jesus, most of whom tried either peacefully or through arms to set up God’s rule in Judea, and all of whom were killed in cruel ways, along with the followers who did not run away fast enough, by the Roman occupiers.[1] 

 

So Jesus, a man who grew up in the insignificant village in the outback of the province of Galilee, called Nazareth, steps on to the pages of history.  He begins to teach, to heal, to exorcise demons.  He attracts a crowd.  He then teaches them about the reign of God that is about to begin and calls them to turn back to God.

 

Those who listen to his teaching are sometimes confused because they do not understand the spiritual meaning behind the stories he would tell them of everyday life.  The kingdom of God is like a mustard seed, like a pearl, like a vineyard.  The kingdom of God is future but it is also present. It is open to the very people that others had written off as hopeless.  So those who heard him speak were amazed but also confused. 

 

Jesus offended the spiritual elite, he challenged the authority of the high priest and his family, he was understood to threaten the destruction of the temple and possibly even the rule of the Roman emperor. 

 

And so, understandably, the Jewish religious leaders decided that before he could foment a revolt that might cause them their privileged position, they had better get rid of him.[2]

 

The chief priests and the Pharisees gathered the high council [= Sanhedrin] and said, … “If we let him go on like this, everyone will follow him, and the Romans will come and take away both our position and our nation.”  … Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, … “It is better for us, that this one individual should die on behalf of the people than the whole nation be destroyed.”                                                      John 11:47-50

 

Pretty sanctimonious stuff in one way.  The primary concern was for themselves, their own position.  Yes, they didn’t want the nation to collapse because it would in fact cause them to lose their precious status and wealth.

 

When Jesus was arrested by the temple guard, there was one disciple who mistakenly thought that this was the time for armed resistance.  But when Jesus allowed himself to be arrested, all of his closest followers scattered, they abandoned him, they ran away, one even twisted out of his one piece tunic when a guard got a hold of it, and ran naked into the night.  They were terrified, and rightly so, that if they stuck around they would also face arrest and execution.

 

At the trial before the Sanhedrin, the high Jewish court in Jerusalem, one disciple, Peter, snuck into the courtyard, hoping to hear what would happen.  When recognized by a servant girl, he cursed and denied that he was one of Jesus’ followers, and left shortly after weeping at his cowardice.

 

When Jesus was crucified by the Romans, there was only one disciple, John, who had the fortitude to be at the cross for a while with the mother of Jesus … the rest of Jesus followers had gone into hiding.

 

 

None of his followers attended the burial – they were simply too afraid.  The two men who buried Jesus had spent any time with him publicly.  One was a rich Jew, who belonged to the Sanhedrin, by the name of Joseph, the other was a Pharisee by the name of Nicodemus. 

 

Joseph had gone to Pilate and asked permission to take down Jesus’ corpse … not something that did not hold with it real danger of guilt by association.  It may be that Pilate agreed because Joseph was rich and he was bribed.  Normally the bodies of executed criminals were buried in a landfill so that no one would come nd visit the grave. 

 

In any case, Nicodemus had purchased 75 lbs of spices in order to embalm Jesus’ body.  The two men took down the body of Jesus from the cross, took the large quantity of spices and herbs into which they dipped the burial cloths, wrapped the corpse with these cloths,[3] and laid it in an unused tomb that belonged to Joseph. 

 

The only ones who observed them were two of the women who had followed Jesus from Galilee, because they were interested to visit the tomb in order to embalm Jesus again after the Sabbath, the day of rest (Mark 15:47; Matthew 27:60-61; Luke 23:55-56).[4] 

 

Maybe they didn’t notice that Jesus had already been embalmed, or they thought that Nicodemus and Joseph didn’t do a good enough job, they’re men after all. 

 

Pastor Andy Stanley, who obviously is a fan of the Hobbit, said that Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus burying Jesus was like Thorin Oakenshield, son of Thrain, son of Thror, leader of the company of dwarves, and king under the mountain, being buried by orcs and goblins. 

 

Ok, I would agree that’s not really a good comparison.  But what should stand out to us is that none of Jesus’ closest disciples were there to bury him.  Not Peter, not John, not James … no one. 

 

Why?  Because they weren’t willing to put their lives at risk when Jesus was alive.  What would be the point in doing so now that he’s dead?  It would be dangerous and pointless, because everything that they had hoped would happen, all of their dreams about a new future, died with Jesus. 

 

Why put your life at risk for someone whose death disproved everything that he said and taught and stood for while he was alive?  Death undermined everything that he promised, and devalued everything he did.

 

Jesus claimed to be the son of God, the Messiah, the resurrection and the life, … but in the minds of his followers, everything evolved around a living Messiah, not one who was dead.  Jesus simply could not be the Messiah if he died while attempting to initiate God’s rule on earth.  Why risk their lives to keep a lie alive? 

 

So at first, the story of Jesus, the story of Easter, was no different from all the other messianic claimants who had lived and died around the time of Jesus. 

 

In fact, if you wanted to make up the story surrounding Jesus’ death, it would have been far better had the disciples, his closest followers, been portrayed as being those who threw caution to the wind and supported their leader despite the apparent dangers, who stood by him at the trial, at the crucifixion, and at the burial.   

 

If I was writing this story at the time when the disciples had become the leaders of the first church in Jerusalem, I would definitely paint them in a more positive light, wouldn’t you?  But they are not heroes in this story, they are mere terrified mortals who thought that their hopes and dreams died with their teacher, their Rabbi, their leader. 

 

In Jewish reckoning, the days begin and end at sunset.  So Jesus is crucified, he dies at 3 p.m. on Friday, and is subsequently buried late Friday afternoon, toward the end of the first day that ended at Friday sundown.  The second day, the Sabbath, begins at that point and ends at sundown on Saturday.  That is the second day.  The third day begins at sunset Saturday.  Halfway through the third day, just prior to daybreak on Sunday, Jesus is said to have risen from the dead. 

 

That is why Jesus is said to have risen on the third day, even though he was in the grave for only about 36 hours. 

 

So it is Sunday daybreak, and you know what you do not have?  You do not have one single person expectantly camped out beside the tomb waiting for Jesus to rise from the dead.  Not one.  No one was counting down. 

 

At this point, there wasn’t a single person interested in telling an Easter story, or starting a church, or perpetuating a Jesus movement. 

 

Nobody expected “no body.”  Nobody expected “no body”!  Because when someone dies, they always, always, always stay dead.  Because when Jesus died, so did his movement.  Why would you want to flog a dead horse?

 

So the women who had watched to see into which tomb Joseph and Nicodemus would lay Jesus’ body, had come back early Sunday morning in order to place more ointment on the corpse.  They were expecting a body.  And when they were confronted with an empty grave, their first thought was that someone must have taken away the body of Jesus.[5]

 

And when they met two men in bright white clothing at the tomb who told them that Jesus had risen from the dead and no longer was in the grave, they were only scared and ran to tell the disciples, the very ones still hiding out, afraid for their lives. 

 

And when they heard from the women that Jesus had risen, they did not believe it – as the gospel of Luke recounts, “it seemed like a made-up story to them.”[6]  Why?  Because they were women and it sounded so unbelievable. 

 

And for those of us who hear the Easter story, 2,000 years later, it may sound just as – if not more -unbelievable as it did to Jesus’ closest followers back then. 

 

So what happened?  Why is it, that today, all over the world, on every continent, and in almost every country, reasonable and intelligent adults are celebrating the events that happened two millennia ago in Jerusalem?  Why did the story of Jesus not fall into obscurity, just like those of the other failed messianic claimants of that day?

 

All of the Gospel accounts give us the answer – After that Sunday morning, Jesus appeared to the women, to the disciples, to his followers, for a time period of 40 days – all that time carrying the wounds of his crucifixion. 

 

But we do not just hear about these appearances from the Gospel accounts.  The apostle Paul, an individual who initially tried to eradicate those who proclaimed a resurrected Messiah, literally arresting them in order to have them tried and executed, tells us what happened.   To repeat, Paul initially hated Christians and violently disbelieved in Jesus as Messiah.

 

I told you what is of first importance.  This is what was told to me as well.  The Messiah died for our sins, as it was foretold in the Scriptures.  He was buried and rose from the dead on the third day, again, as it was foretold in the Scriptures.  Then he appeared to Cephas [= Peter], then to the twelve.  Then he also appeared at one time to more than five hundred of our fellow believers.  Most of these are still alive, even though some have died.  Then he appeared to [Jesus’ half-brother] Jacob, then to all the apostles.  Last of all, as if to one born in an untimely manner, he appeared also to me. 

                                                            1 Corinthians 15:3-8

 

This is the earliest account of the events, about 22 years after they took place.  Paul is writing at a time when most of the eyewitnesses of Jesus’ death and resurrection appearances were still alive.  And he is writing because those eyewitnesses had told him what had taken place.  It wasn’t as if he was trying to fabricate a new story here. 

 

He is writing to a group of Christians who had never met Jesus.  And he tells them what is at the very core of their faith, what is of first importance, if Christianity has anything to offer to anyone, is the historical fact of the resurrection of Jesus.

 

Jesus died, he was resurrected from the dead, and he appeared.  He appeared to the apostle Peter, who did not believe that Jesus had risen from the dead when he was told. 

 

He appeared to his closest followers, none of whom believed that Jesus had risen from the dead when they were told. 

 

He appeared to more than 500 individuals, all of who initially did not believe that Jesus had risen from the dead. 

 

He appeared to his half-brother, Jacob, who did not care about the failed aspirations of his brother during his lifetime.  In fact, imagine what it would take for you to believe that your brother was the Saviour of the world?  It surely wouldn’t be his teaching on ethics or God, not his healings or exorcisms … all of which can be written off as parlor tricks.  Something very drastic would need to happen for you to believe that your brother was the Messiah, wouldn’t it?

 

Then Jesus appeared to the apostles, all of whom did not believe that Jesus had risen from the dead when they were told. 

 

And then lastly Jesus appeared to Paul himself, who considered himself worse than all the rest because he persecuted Christians and tried to put them to death.  He had to be knocked off his horse and blinded before he changed his mind. 

 

So why are we here this morning?  Maybe you think that it is because someone was crucified 2000 years ago.  Let me tell you, tens of thousands of people were crucified by the Romans back then. 

 

Or maybe you think we are here because someone taught some memorable stuff back 2000 years ago and someone else wanted to keep that teaching alive.  If that’s all there was to Jesus, trust me, none of the NT authors would have written about him. 

 

Or maybe you think that you are here because your spouse or parent pressured you into being here.  You may think it’s because you’re keeping up a family tradition.  But the truth is, if something extraordinary had not happened way back then, your family members would not care one iota whether or not you were here this morning. 

 

We are here because the very same group of individuals, who were deathly afraid of being arrested and killed for having associated with Jesus, after they had seen him resurrected, went out into the streets of Jerusalem and proclaimed Jesus to be the Messiah, the Saviour of the world, the son of God, in the full knowledge that the threat of arrest, imprisonment, torture and death, was just as real as it had been after Jesus’ arrest.

 

We are here, because those same people, who were in hiding, terrified of being identified as Jesus’ followers, after they had seen the resurrected Jesus, boldly poured into the streets of Jerusalem, as well as cities and towns throughout the Mediterranean, to proclaim that Jesus was the Messiah, the son of God.

 

And they did this in the full knowledge that their actions could lead to their death … as would indeed be the case of many, including Peter and Paul and Jacob, the half-brother of Jesus. 

 

That is why we are here this morning.  It is not to perpetuate a story, a myth or legend.  If it was, that would be an unmitigated shame. 

 

Yes, from a distance the story about someone being raised from the dead 2000 years ago seems absolutely unbelievable.  But when you considered the subsequent events … then the unbelievable story can be believed. 

 

WHAT WILL I DO WITH THE RESURRECTION OF JESUS?

 

If you believe that it is just an invention of desperate people over 2000 years ago, or if you believe that it is the conviction of gullible and naïve individuals, you might as well continue to ignore it.

 

But if you think that this is an event in history, that there is truth in it, I want to challenge you this morning to pray a very short prayer to God.  Maybe just a whisper of a prayer. 

 

If you’re curious about God and the possibility of getting right with him, whisper, “I’m curious, heavenly father.”

 

If you’ve walked away from God many years ago and you desire to reconnect, whisper, “I’m back, heavenly father, I’m back.”   

 

If you came this morning, not expecting to be bored to tears and hear anything of importance, but you hear God’s call on your life, whisper, “I believe, heavenly father.  I believe that Jesus came to die, to be buried, and to rise again, in order to be the one to allow me to be forgiven and set right with you.” 

 

Prayer:  Thank you for the men and woman who gave their lives away to allow us to read and know the Easter story.

 

 

 

 

 

[1] 1. Judas, son of Hezekiah (4 BCE)
2. Simon of Peraea (4 BCE)
3. Athronges, the shepherd (4 BCE)
4. Judas, the Galilean (6 CE)
5. The Samaritan prophet (36 CE)
6. Theudas (45 CE)
7. The Egyptian prophet (52-58 CE)
8. An anonymous prophet (59 CE)
9. Menahem, the son of Judas the Galilean (66 CE)
10. John of Gischala (67-70 CE)
11. Simon bar Giora (69-70 CE)
12. Jonathan, the weaver (73 CE)
13. Lukuas (115 CE)
14. Simon ben Kosiba (132-135)

[2] Mark 14:1; John 11:45-53

[3] Mark; Matt; Lk – (linen) burial shroud; John – they bound the linen cloths with the spices around the body. 

[4] In Matthew, Mary and Mary sat opposite the tomb; Luke, the women followed and saw the tomb and how his body was laid.  They then returned to prepare spices and ointments.  John 19:38-42 does not mention the women until Sunday morning.

[5] John 20:2,13,15.  Luke – they were perplexed; In Mark, the women fled and said nothing, being perplexed.  Matt has them reporting back to the disciples, who apparently believed them.

[6] Luke 24:11 (Mk 16:11) – to them it seemed like idle tale;