Jesus is risen! Let us rejoice together in this incredible truth. Today we are talking about the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. We’re talking about not simply the fact that it happened, but what it actually means for our lives. Thank you so much for taking time to remember the hope we have with me today. This week is Spring Break for my family. This will be the only post for this week. I look forward to seeing you next week. Don’t miss the next stop on our journey through Mark’s Gospel. It just keeps getting better from here.
I have a bit of a…unique sense of humor. It’s not that I don’t find things funny that most other people do. It’s that I think things are funny that some other people don’t. As a case in point, I’m a big fan of Monty Python. I actually own the special edition version of Monty Python and the Holy Grail. And while I’ve never gotten to watch their original sketch comedy TV show, I have seen most of their movies.
In any event, one of my favorite sketches has long been Monty Python and the Spanish Inquisition. Part of the humor is that the whole thing takes place about 400 years after its brief moment in the sun, but then they’re going for comedy, not historical accuracy. In the sketch, a couple of people are talking and in response to a question to which one of them doesn’t know the answer, he blurts out, “I didn’t expect the Spanish Inquisition.”
Suddenly there is a jarring musical sting and three figures wearing red robes and generally looking ridiculous burst into the room. The leader gleefully exclaims: “NOBODY expects the Spanish Inquisition! Our chief weapon is surprise…surprise and fear…fear and surprise…. Our two weapons are fear and surprise…and ruthless efficiency…. Our *three* weapons are fear, surprise, and ruthless efficiency…and an almost fanatical devotion to the Pope…. Our *four*…no… *Amongst* our weapons…. Amongst our weaponry…are such elements as fear, surprise….” and by that point they had pretty well lost the fight on all of those.
Now, if you’re a fan of this kind of thing you may be quietly giggling inside—as much at my pathetic reenactment as your memory of the original sketch. If you’re not, you may be wondering whether or not I’ve lost my mind (admittedly not without due cause). The sketch really is pretty funny in context, even if it is based on wildly historically inaccurate, if overwhelmingly common, portrayals of that historical episode. Suffice to say here, not only did most people expect the Spanish Inquisition, they asked for it. That to the side for the moment, do you know what historical event people really didn’t expect? The resurrection.
This morning we are going to take a brief pause from covering another big area of Christian theology together and focus our attention in on a specific historical event. But this one historical event is the most important event in all of human history. More importantly even than that for us this morning, though, this event is the one on which the whole of our faith hangs. Without this one thing, the rest of our faith crumbles into a giant heap that is frankly not worth pulling out and even trying to reclaim.
Even if this morning isn’t about a larger theological category like the doctrines of God, sin, people, and redemption, if we are really going to understand what and why we believe, this is perhaps the most important thing for us to grasp. At the very least, it is the most foundational. Because without this, there isn’t anything else. And in a world that is increasingly and openly hostile to our beliefs faithfully lived out in the world around us, if we don’t have this one down, we won’t have a leg to stand on in the conversation. If we are going to be faithful to our commission from Christ to share our faith, this is not a state of affairs we can abide.
This morning, then, let’s marvel together at the story of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. Like last week, we are going to let the apostle John be our guide. If you have a copy of the Scriptures nearby, find your way to John 20 with me and let’s see how this unfolded.
“On the first day of the week”—that is, Sunday—“Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark. She saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb.” Now, if any of His followers had had even the slightest inkling that Jesus was going to rise from the dead, this would have been cause for some cautious optimism. None of them did, though. At all. In even the slightest, most miniscule amount. No one expected the resurrection. If they had expected it, you can imagine a crowd being there ready to count down to the big reveal. Five…four…three…two…one…resurrection Sunday! But there was no one. If they had expected it, you can imagine they would have at least entertained the notion of stealing the body just to hedge their bets as the Jewish religious elite feared they would do in asking Pilate to station a guard outside the tomb to secure it against such trickery. But they didn’t. Because no one expected it.
No one expected it in spite of the fact that Jesus told them it was going to happen over and over again. I’ve been reading slowly through the Gospel of Mark in my personal devotions for the last few months and blogging my thoughts as I go. One of the things that has really stood out as I’ve gotten to the middle of Mark’s Gospel is just how much he drives home the point that the disciples could not fathom what Jesus meant when He said things like, “The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of man. They will kill him, and after he is killed, he will rise three days later.” Earlier in that same passage, after Jesus had been talking about it, Mark notes “they kept this word to themselves, questioning what ‘rising from the dead’ meant.” By the time we arrive at this fateful Sunday morning, they still didn’t understand it any better.
John next tells us how Mary responded to the discovery of the open tomb: “So she went running to Simon Peter and to the other disciple, the one Jesus loved [John consistently refers to himself like that and you know he had to be chuckling a bit each time he did because all the other guys had passed and couldn’t argue with him anymore], and said to them, ‘They’ve taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they’ve put him!’”
Peter and John did what any guy does (to our shame) when a woman brings him really significant news like that: They ran to see for themselves. “At that, Peter and the other disciple went out, heading for the tomb. The two were running together; but the other disciple outran Peter and got to the tomb first.” Once again: John got the last laugh. The pair went into the tomb—Peter first—and saw that Jesus was in fact not there. And still, they didn’t get it. Look at v. 9: “For they did not yet understand the Scripture that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples returned to the place where they were staying.”
What follows is a really tender scene in which Jesus reveals Himself to Mary Magdalene. We next pick up the story when Jesus reveals Himself to the full group of disciples. Jump down to v. 19 with me. “When it was evening of that first day of the week, the disciples were gathered together with the doors locked because they feared the Jews.” Now, pause there for a minute. Does that sound like a group of men who were feeling glad and bold because their Lord had risen from the grave? To me it sounds like a bunch of guys still scared for their lives because their security blanket was gone and all the more so now because they figured the Jewish leaders were going to blame them for Jesus’ missing body and come after them like they did Him. It’s pretty hard to imagine this group simply made up the story of the resurrection.
I love what happens next. Come back to v. 19 with me: “Jesus came, stood among them, and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’” The door was locked, and Jesus was suddenly standing among them in the flesh…and not flesh that was in the same state as the last time they had seen Him. It’s no wonder He led with “peace be with you.” They were probably freaking out. I mean, sure, the women had reported seeing Jesus to them, but they were dumb and wouldn’t believe them. Jesus quickly proved His identity by showing off His scars.
The main group was convinced by this, but Thomas wasn’t with them. When they reconnected with him and told him the news, he figured they were all playing a mean joke on him. Jesus did His walk-through-walls thing again and repeated his performance with the rest of the guys for Thomas. And, although Thomas expresses some pretty stubborn doubt at first such that he earned himself the rather unfortunate moniker, “Doubting Thomas,” it’s really the next thing he says that should most define him for us. When presented with the overwhelming evidence that this really was Jesus alive and well in front of him, Thomas immediately exclaimed, “My Lord and my God.” How many folks have been similarly presented with powerful evidence for the resurrection and refused to believe?
At the end of the day, though, Jesus rose from the dead. That’s all there is to say about it. The disciples couldn’t have made up the story. That notion has been thoroughly discredited. They didn’t steal the body. That doesn’t make any sense at all either. They were as shocked by the missing body as everybody else was. The notion that Jesus somehow didn’t really die on the cross is just silly. A body double doesn’t make sense either. The only rational and reasonable explanation for what happened on that Sunday morning was that Jesus rose from the dead. He is alive.
And that sounds well and good, but that idea all by itself doesn’t seem very practical. So Jesus is alive. Wow! but what else have you got? My friends, don’t let yourselves fall into that trap. It’s so easy to do. We know in our heads that Jesus is alive, but we live our lives as if He never walked out of that tomb. We live as if the resurrection doesn’t really matter. But oh how it does. And this morning, I want to give you three reasons why it does.
The resurrection matters because it gives us the guarantee that there is something on the other side of death. It’s hard to understate how important a thing this is. Every human religion has postulated something on the other side of death because people have always had this inherent sense that death should not be the end. As followers of Jesus, we would argue the reason for this is that we are made in the image of a God who is eternal. Death just isn’t right. Yes, there have been professing atheists who argue that death is simply the end, but in the history of the world—and even today—this is a decidedly minority report. That should tell us something. It should tell us not that we are right in our belief in the resurrection of Jesus, but that we are right in that there is something on the other side of the grave. Jesus proved it when He walked out of that tomb. So much of our fear of death has been wrapped up in the unknowns of it. We always fear what we do not know. Death was always the great unknown. But no longer. Not since Jesus rose. Now, yes, there are still many unknowns here, but the fact that there is some meaningful measure of hope that the separation from loved ones it forces on us may only be temporary is a powerful thing.
But wait. It gets better. Because of the resurrection, we can trust everything else Jesus said and did as true. All of it. Why? I’ll put this as simply as I can: You go with what the guy who predicted and pulled off His own death and resurrection says. It really is that simple. And if you don’t buy it still, then you’ve got to answer the question: What do you do with the guy who predicted and pulled off His own death and resurrection? Because if He was right about that one thing, you’re going to be hard-pressed to make a convincing argument that He’s not also right about everything else. When a guy claims to be God, we pass him off as crazy. But when that same guy does something only God could do, it’s time to reevaluate our skepticism. In other words, the resurrection, more than anything else proves Jesus’ identity as God. If you are trying to convince someone that Jesus really is God in human form, point to the resurrection. There is no greater proof.
There’s one more reason the resurrection matters so much and this one is the biggie. Because of the resurrection, we can live as well. Here’s why: Jesus’ death paid the price for our sins, but as long as He was lying there in the grave, the power of death was not broken. It had claimed but its latest victim and things were as they had always been. Sure, this one had taken the sin of the world into the ground with Him, but He was dead and tomorrow, there would be more victims to claim. In this one, though, there was more going on than the normal state of affairs. This time, instead of death being able to claim its victim and move on, God moved and took Him back. He gave life where there had been none. And once death’s grip was broken, there was no repairing it. Resurrection was God’s response to Jesus’ sacrifice. His death was a grave injustice. It was the greatest injustice in all human history. So, the God of justice fixed it. And by giving Him life again, He declared death itself to be dead. Its power is broken forever. Because Jesus lives, so can we.
There’s just a bit more, and this is the very best part. Because death’s power was broken in Christ, when we are willing to trust ourselves to Him, we too can live the life He enjoys forever. Because He lives, so can we. But don’t just make this a “we” thing and ignore it. Because Jesus lives, so can you. You can live—really live—not merely play at life. You can have a life entirely freed from death in every form. Yes, the body you have right now may expire, but that will be but a momentary interruption to a whole eternity of living to the fullest. And we know that is a possibility because Jesus didn’t stay dead. He rose on the third day. Because Jesus lives, so can we.
And if that sounds like amazing news, that’s because it is. We can live because Jesus does. Because He lives, so can we. But how? How do we gain access to this amazing life? By trusting in Him. More specifically, by entrusting our lives to Him. And we can do this in confidence because He really is who He said He is. Remember? The resurrection proves it. Here’s how: You first acknowledge your brokenness; your sinfulness. That isn’t terribly pleasant to do—much less even think about doing—but you’ve just got to own it. You are a sinner, and you can’t fix that on your own. From here, you give mental and volitional assent to the reality of Jesus as Savior and Lord (you need both of those). You forego any claim you might have made to your own life and entrust it entirely into His hands. You commit to living life His way (with His help) from this point forward with Him as your leader. When this happens, any time God looks at you in your ugly sinfulness, He’ll see Jesus instead and pronounce you good to go. Because you are now residing under His care, you’ll get to share in His reward for faithfulness. I know, that sounds wildly unfair because you didn’t do anything to deserve it, but you get it anyway because Jesus satisfied God’s justice. And because Jesus satisfied God’s justice, you get to enjoy His righteousness. Quite a deal. Because He lives, so can we.
That’s a pretty good place to be, but even there you’re still not quite totally finished. What comes next may be the most important part of all. You start living as if Jesus were alive and Lord. Every time you come to that fork where what you want goes off in one direction and what He wants goes off in the other, you take His path. And you invest yourself in learning more about who He is, in developing a deeper, more intimate relationship with Him. As we talked about back in January, engaging with the Scriptures and prayer are your best tools in this effort. But so is getting and staying fully engaged with a community of faith. You can’t do this on your own. Thankfully, you’re not on your own. You’ve got a living Savior who is committed to walking with you every step of the way. Because He lives, so can we.
The short version here is this: If you want the life that Jesus offers because of the resurrection, there are three things you need to do: Acknowledge your sin, acknowledge His lordship, and commit to living in light of that. Do that, and eternal life is yours. Because He lives, so can we. Because He lives, so can you. On this resurrection Sunday, I hope you will.