When a person experiences a major event in their life, it often has long-reaching effects. When something earth-shattering and life-changing occurs, you can’t help but live differently in response to it. When I was in high school, a friend of mine was killed when a train struck his vehicle. The crossing lights and gates did not function, so he didn’t even know the train was coming. At age 17, that was a life-changing experience for me. Even today, as I cross railroad tracks, I always look down the tracks before I get to them, just in case the warning signals aren’t functioning. But my friend’s death did more than just change my driving habits. Most teenagers never think about dying. They think it is a long way away, something they don’t need to worry about until they are old. The death of my friend helped bring into sharp focus the fact that I wouldn’t live forever and neither would my friends. It caused me to change the way I viewed life, and taught me not to take for granted the time I had with those I loved. It helped me to understand the pain family and friends go through as a result of the death of someone they love and hopefully has made me a more compassionate person and a better pastor. The experience affected me deeply on many levels, and who I am today is related to the life-changing experience I had while I was still in high school.
This morning we are going to look at the ultimate life-changing experience—the resurrection of Jesus Christ. We’ll see how the disciples experienced a radical change as a result of Jesus’ rising from the dead—how they went from being a small group of guys hiding in Jerusalem, to a small group of guys who changed the world.
Last week we looked at the account of Jesus’ burial by two prominent Jewish leaders, Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea, and noted that there was also a small group of women with them as they prepared the body. This was late on Friday, so they had to work quickly to finish before the Sabbath began, since no work was allowed on the Sabbath, particularly not anything having to do with dead bodies. After they finished up their work on Friday, they left Jesus’ body in the tomb, sealed behind a large stone.
The women who had been at the tomb on Friday made plans to return to the tomb on Sunday (the day after the Sabbath) so that they could go and finish the job of covering Jesus’ body with spices (or maybe do the job the way it should have been done to start with!) They likely spent the Sabbath planning out and preparing for their trip to the tomb on Sunday morning.
While the women were planning to visit the tomb to anoint Jesus’ dead body, the Jewish leaders were concerned with protecting the body. Matthew’s gospel tells us that on Saturday the Jewish leaders began to get worried, because they remembered that Jesus had said he would rise on the third day after being killed, so they asked Pilate for guards who would ensure Jesus’ disciples couldn’t sneak back to the tomb, steal the body, and claim he had risen. So, Pilate gave them a group of guards who put a seal on the tomb that would indicate if someone had tampered with it, and posted guards there so they could keep watch.
At the crack of dawn on Sunday morning, the women headed out for the tomb as they had planned. They carried with them the spices they had prepared and made the trip to the place where they had been Friday evening. Mark’s gospel tells us that along the way they began to worry about how they would get in to see Jesus. They knew that he had been sealed into the tomb with a large stone and they didn’t know how they’d get the stone rolled away. We don’t know whether the women knew there were also Roman soldiers posted there. What we do know is that when they arrived, they found that the stone had been rolled away already. What they did not find, however, was the body of Jesus.
It is interesting to see the response of the women to the empty tomb.
2 They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3 but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. 4 While they were wondering about this…
The women did not immediately jump to the conclusion that Jesus had risen from the dead. Even in the first century they knew that when you died you didn’t come back to life. They were not expecting Jesus to rise from the dead. They were wondering about why Jesus wasn’t there. You can imagine the thoughts running through their mind. They are the same thoughts you would have if you went to visit the grave of a loved one and discovered an empty hole in the ground where their body had been buried before. Unless you had really strong evidence to the contrary, you wouldn’t for a second conclude that the person had somehow come back to life. These women were surely beginning to panic a bit as their minds raced through all of the possible explanations of why the body was missing.
Fortunately, they get a little assistance in dealing with their confusion. Two angels appeared to them.
4 While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. 5 In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead?
The angels first of all offer them a gentle rebuke. They ask why they are looking for a living person among dead people. The question makes sense. Is the first place you look for a living person in a cemetery? Unless you have a good reason to think that’s where they will be, you do not. The angels wanted the women to see that Jesus was not dead, but he was alive and well. But that wasn’t at all what the women expected. It didn’t compute. They had seen Jesus’ dead body, they weren’t seeking a living person, they were looking for a dead one! Now the angels took a more direct approach.
6 He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: 7 ‘The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’ ” 8 Then they remembered his words.
The angels came straight out and told the women that Jesus had risen from the dead, and then they reminded them that this shouldn’t be a surprise—it is exactly what Jesus had said was going to happen! He had plainly told his followers that he would be turned over to sinful men, be crucified, and be raised again on the third day.
In hindsight, with the benefit of 2,000 years of perspective, it seems absurd that these women hadn’t figured out that Jesus was going to die and then come back to life on the third day. But their response really isn’t surprising. Their entire world had fallen apart; they were distraught. The one who they thought was going to become the leader of the entire world was instead brutally murdered. None of what was happening made any sense to them—until the angels reminded them of what Jesus had said. Then they got it.
After they began to put the pieces back together, the women went running back to tell the disciples what they had seen. I can almost picture them arriving back at the place where the disciples were basically hiding out. After sprinting the whole way back from the tomb, they arrive, breathless, and begin trying to tell them about the empty tomb. I imagine them speaking in short, excited sentences as they tried to catch their breath. “Jesus’ body…gone…Angels…He is Risen!…” The response of the disciples was not favorable. They didn’t jump to their feet as though this was the news they’d been waiting for. As a matter of fact, their response was quite the opposite.
They didn’t believe a word the women said. The NIV says that they thought the women’s words seemed like nonsense. Literally, the word means that they thought their words were delirious crazy talk. The disciples had seen Jesus’ dead body, and they weren’t about to believe such a fanciful story from the mouths of these women.
Also understand that in Jewish society, women had few rights, and they were not allowed to serve as witnesses in court. If you had committed a crime and the only witnesses were women, you would go free, because the testimony of a woman was not admissible in court. This may have been part of the reason that the disciples didn’t believe what these women had to say—because women were seen as unreliable witnesses.
What is interesting, however, is that every gospel account points to the fact that the women were the first to discover that Jesus had risen from the dead. They were the first eyewitnesses on the scene, and the Bible accurately records their testimony. This is one of the arguments in favor of the Biblical record being accurate history as opposed to an elaborate fabrication created by the disciples. If you were making up a story about how Jesus had risen from the dead in those days, you would not have women as your star witnesses, because their testimony was routinely ignored. But, since that is what actually happened, that is what the biblical writers recorded.
Fortunately, these women were persistent in their story, and some of the disciples went to check it out for themselves. Luke tells us that Peter got up and ran to the tomb. John says that Peter and John both did. There really isn’t any contradiction here, just a different emphasis—it makes sense that John would mention that he had also run to the tomb to see for himself.
When Peter arrived at the tomb, he saw that indeed it was empty. All that was left were the strips of cloth that Jesus had been wrapped in—maybe the cloths still even held the shape of the body that they had previously held. While the strips that had covered Jesus were there, Jesus’ body was nowhere to be found. Like the women, Peter did not immediately jump to the conclusion that Jesus had risen, but the text tells us that he went away, wondering to himself what had happened.
What is most interesting about the account of the resurrection is that once Peter and the other disciples finally understood the importance of what had occurred they were forever changed. They went from hiding from the Jewish authorities to preaching at the temple. They went from hiding in Jerusalem to traveling far and wide to share the message that Jesus had risen from the dead with people they had never met. For that reason, we need to look at why the resurrection is so important. As the disciples grasped what had really happened, they became emboldened in their faith. The resurrection proved several things.
First, Jesus was who he said he was. Jesus claimed to be God, and he claimed that he would sacrifice himself in order to provide a way for his followers to be forgiven. When Jesus was killed, his followers assumed that it proved he wasn’t who they thought he was. When he rose from the dead, it proved he was exactly who we said he was.
Second, there really was forgiveness of sin through Jesus. When Jesus rose from the dead, it showed his victory once and for all over sin. Just before he died on the cross, Jesus said the words “It is finished” which also have the meaning of paid in full. He paid the penalty for sin on the cross and rose again victorious over death.
Third, it proves there is life beyond the grave. Jesus proved once and for all that it is possible to live even though you die. We can trust Jesus when he says there is life beyond the grave because he has proved it in his own life.
Fourth, it proves he is still living today. Unlike the founder of every other religion in the world, Jesus is still living. Mohammed is dead. The Buddha is dead. Joseph Smith is dead. Jesus died too, but he didn’t stay dead. The Bible tells us that Jesus is still at work on our behalf, offering strength, comfort, and guidance as we live our daily lives. Jesus is not dead, but alive! This means that Christianity is not about principles, but a person. Jesus did provide an example of how to live and gave instructions on how to live, but Christianity is about having a relationship with Jesus, not just following his example. We don’t gather together to learn more stuff, but to follow the living Christ!
What we find in the resurrection is that everything in our faith hinges on whether Jesus really did rise from the dead. Later on, the apostle Paul tells us that if Christ is not raised then our faith is in vain. The resurrection is not just an event in history; it is the event that changed history.
If Jesus’ resurrection proved all of these things, if it really is such a landmark event then our lives should be changed by an encounter with the risen Christ. If we have truly believed that Jesus rose from the dead and continues to live today, then we should live differently. We say all sorts of things have changed our lives, and we say those things truthfully. Maybe you’ve made some of the following statements:
- GPS has changed my life
- DVR or Tivo has changed my life
- Getting an education or switching careers changed my life
- My kids have changed my life
- Having a smartphone has changed my life
- The internet has changed my life
- My friends have changed my life
- Winning this award or achieving this goal has changed my life
If you’re like me, you’ve said several of these statements before. And probably several of those statements are true. But let me ask you this. Has the resurrection of Jesus changed your life? I know you know what the “right” answer is, but don’t answer too quickly. If we say that Jesus’ resurrection has changed your life, then we should be able to give specific examples of how. What’s different as a result of Jesus rising from the dead? What about your life has changed?
The disciples could say with assurance that the resurrection of Jesus changed their lives because they were totally different people. They went from being people who were defeated and in hiding to being people who boldly proclaimed the Gospel message. They went from being people who were concerned about their own comforts to being people who were concerned about God’s glory. They were changed. The resurrection made all the difference to them.
The resurrection should make a difference to us as well. If Jesus was dead and rose again, if he paid for the sins we have committed throughout our lives, if he continues to live on and offer help to us as we live our lives, shouldn’t that impact the way we live? If we really believe these things about Jesus, then Jesus’ resurrection should have a far greater impact on our lives than GPS, the internet, or even having children!
I tried to come up with a list of things that I could think of that should be different in the life of someone who truly believes in the resurrection. If we truly believe, then we should:
- Not be defined by our past sins, but emboldened and grateful because we know they are forgiven.
- Seek God’s help as we face struggles in life, realizing that we don’t have to live life in our own strength because Jesus is still alive and will guide us as we live.
- Be excited by the fact that we have forgiveness and life beyond the grave—so excited that we should want to share the news with everyone we care about. We should be so excited that we even want to share it with people we don’t know!
- Be joyful, because we know that we are forgiven and that no matter what happens in this life, we win!
- Have the perspective that even when things are difficult, this life is not all there is, living joyfully in the knowledge that we will spend eternity in Heaven!
- Be willing to offer forgiveness, understanding the difference that forgiveness has made in our own lives and wanting to extend that same kind of grace to others.
This is the kind of radical change we see in the disciples who believed in the resurrection. They were totally different, Jesus had changed their lives. They were different because they truly believed in the resurrection. Kyle Idleman, in his book, Not a Fan, said, “We don’t often think of it this way, but here’s an important truth that needs some attention in circles of faith: A belief, no matter how sincere, if not reflected in reality isn’t a belief; it’s a delusion.” The person who claims to believe in the resurrection but is unchanged by that belief doesn’t really believe at all.
If we are doing our jobs as pastors of this church, then the resurrection story should be familiar to you. You should know the basic facts of what happened. But my purpose this morning is not to simply call you to remember the facts of the account. We are called to consider the impact of those facts on the way we live! Jesus is alive! That has huge implications. It means that you and I can have a real relationship with God. It means that all our sins have been paid for. It means that life is heading toward something rather than being random. It means we have someone we can follow, trust, and look to for guidance. It also means we should stop playing around in our discipleship and follow with energy and devotion. It seems obvious, but following, by definition requires more than mere mental assent—it requires us to do something.
Significant events change us. Some things impact us negatively and make us more cautious in life, but the resurrection of Jesus should impact us in a different way. It should energize us and excite us. It should cause us to worship, to serve, and to live with an unquenchable joy. It should motivate us to know Him and grow in our relationship with Him. And it should do this not just on Easter Sunday, but every single day of our lives.