ST ANDREW’S OCCASIONAL PAPERS
JESUS CHRIST – THE RISEN LORD
- The importance of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.
Which was the greatest miracle (i.e. the supernatural intervention of God into this world) of all time? Surely it was the Resurrection of Jesus. Yes Jesus had brought the dead back to life three times, the son of the widow at Nain (Luke 7:11-16), the daughter of Jairus (Luke 8:49-56) and Lazarus, the brother of Martha and Mary (John 11:1-44). This had happened in Old Testament times as well (e.g. Elijah and the son of the widow at Zarephath, 1 Kings 17:17-24) and would happen again during the early years of the Church (e.g. Paul raised Eutychus who fell asleep during a long sermon and toppled out of a third storey window, Acts 20:9-12). Yet in all these cases the return to life was temporary; all died again in the natural order of things. They were resuscitated, only Jesus was truly resurrected, free for ever from the claims of death.
So this was a unique event (see 9) but its importance cannot be overemphasised. Paul puts it very bluntly, “If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith….you are still in your sins….If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men”(1 Corinthians 15:14,17,19). The Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is the absolute bedrock of our Christian faith, without it, quite simply, there is no Christianity! If Jesus did not rise then we should close all churches, dismiss all Christian ministers and prepare for hell in this life and the next!
The mighty resurrection is the foundation of our faith.
- How did it all begin?
Jesus had died on the cross at Calvary and had been immediately interred by Joseph and Nicodemus in a new rock tomb, closed by a large stone rolled across the entrance. However the Jewish authorities had heard that Jesus had said, while He was alive, that after three days He would rise again. They were afraid that the disciples might steal the body to make it look as if this had happened – because they had no thought that it could actually occur – so they asked Pilate for permission to seal the stone and set a guard, permission that was readily granted (Matthew 27:62-66).
The thought of a mighty resurrection scared the authorities.
- How did it happen?
To be honest, we do not know! This was God’s work and no human saw it happen. Matthew tells us that following “a violent earthquake…an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and…rolled back the stone and sat on it…The guards were so afraid that they became like dead men”(Matthew 28:2-4). So the guards were unconscious and therefore useless as witnesses! John tells us that the grave clothes were still there, so the body had passed through them. Truly we are in the realm of the miraculous, the supernatural intervention of Almighty God.
The mighty resurrection was truly “an act of God.”
- How many angels?
According to Matthew there was one whose “appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow” (Matthew 28:2,3). Mark records the presence of a “young man dressed in a white robe” (Mark 16:5), while Luke tells of “two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning” (Luke 24:4). John says that Mary Magdalene saw “two angels in white” (John 20:12).
So were there two angels or only one? What were they wearing? It could be that the angels were coming and going on God’s business, so that there were different numbers at different moments. However what really matters is that their presence underlined the fact that something very special had happened, as it did when Jesus was born (Luke 2:9-14).
The mighty resurrection was confirmed by the angelic presence.
- The witness of the women.
“Very early in the morning, just after sunrise, they were on the way to the tomb”(Mark16:2). They – not the disciples, but a band of women led by Mary Magdalene (i.e. Mary from Magdala, a town on the western shores of the Sea of Galilee). Mary had become a follower of Jesus after Jesus had healed her (Luke 8:2). These women came expecting to anoint the body of Jesus which had been so rapidly interred just before the Sabbath began. They must have been unaware of what Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus had already done (John 19:39,40). But what they found was totally unexpected. The stone, which they had doubted they could move (Mark 16:3), was rolled away and the body of Jesus had gone.
Bewildered as she must have been, it was Mary who ran to fetch Peter and John (John 20:2). Later she had the privilege of being the first to meet the risen Jesus, even though at first she mistook Him for the gardener (John 20:15).So it was that Jesus revealed Himself to her in one word, simply calling her by name (John 20:16).
The mighty resurrection was first demonstrated just by calling a woman by her name (John 20:16).
- Even the disciples found it hard to believe!
It is hard to put ourselves in the place of those disciples. The crucifixion has shattered their world, they had not really understood what Jesus had said about His resurrection (John 20:9) and now something very strange was happening – folk were seeing Jesus alive again! No wonder they too were bewildered. Take, for example, the case of Thomas. Jesus had appeared to a group of the disciples when Thomas was absent. When Thomas came back to the group, they were full of wonder and amazement, “We have seen the Lord.” But Thomas was unconvinced and demanded physical proof (John 20:25).
A week later Thomas was there when Jesus came again. Jesus offered the proof that Thomas had demanded, but it was not needed. All of Thomas’ doubts vanished in the presence of his Master, “My Lord and my God” was his response (John 20:28), as it should be ours too.
The mighty resurrection destroyed all doubts.
- The resurrection appearances were both public and private.
uot;MsoNormal” style=”text-align: justify;”> Sometimes Jesus appeared to a whole group of His followers and the events are recorded in detail for us to read and rejoice over.
However, at other times, He appeared to individuals, as to Mary Magdalene (see 5) and again the details are still available to us. Yet there are at least two occasions where there is no further information.
Both Luke (24:34) and Paul (1 Corinthians 15:5) tell us that Jesus appeared to Peter. But there is no elaboration. Peter must have been heartbroken when he looked back and saw how he had denied his Master, despite being warned (Luke 22:34). The news of the resurrection must have both thrilled and scared him. How could he face Jesus? The meeting was so sacred that we are not told what happened, but Peter emerged, forgiven and strengthened, to be the early leader of the disciples.
Again, Paul (1 Corinthians 15:7) records that Jesus appeared to James, Jesus’ own brother, who had earlier thought that Jesus “was out of His mind” (Mark 3:21). James’ life must have been totally altered by this private meeting as he later became one of the leaders of the young church.
The mighty resurrection was for individuals.
- What sort of a resurrection was it?
There have been those who have claimed that the disciples only saw a vision of Jesus after His death. However the gospels make it absolutely clear that the resurrected Jesus was no apparition. Thomas was invited to feel him (John 20:21) and Jesus was able to cook breakfast for His men (John 21:9,10). He could eat and drink with them (Luke 24:43; Acts 10:41). So it was a physical resurrection, but it was more than just a return to the old life. The resurrected body had extra powers, being able to appear and disappear (John 20:19) in ways we do not as yet understand. But these extra abilities do not alter the basic idea that this was a real person who showed Himself to so many witnesses, including 500 people at one time (1 Corinthians 15:6).
The mighty resurrection revealed a very real Jesus.
- Was this a unique event?
As we have already explained (see 1), Jesus brought the dead back to life, but His resurrection was different, because it was both permanent and His resurrection body, although physical, had extra abilities (see 8). No one else, in all the history of our world, has been resurrected in this way, at least not yet! Because the promise is there that all His followers will, one day, follow Jesus in this way and be raised with a “spiritual body” (1 Corinthians 15:44) such as Jesus had. This takes us into realms which are at present closed to us, but the promise is there, that we shall, after this life, be with Jesus “in paradise” (Luke 23:43) with a body clothed with “immortality” (1 Corinthians 15:54).
The mighty resurrection will, one day, be a fact for all of us who believe and trust in Jesus.
- Above all – Victory.
The victory began on the cross. The cry “It is finished” or “It is completed” (John 19:30) reveals that Jesus knew He had done what He came to this earth to do, to fulfil the message the angel gave to his mother Mary even before His birth, “He will save His people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). This victory was confirmed first by His resurrection, proving that He had beaten death, the penalty for sin (Romans 6:23). It was also confirmed by His ascension back to the heaven from whence He had come, and it will be confirmed again when He returns once more to this earth to reign for ever and ever.
The mighty resurrection will one day be turned into the eternal rule of the all-mighty and all-loving Lord Jesus Christ.
Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version. © 1973,1978,1984, International Bible Society. Used by permission of Hodder and Stoughton, a member of the Hodder Headline Group. All rights reserved.