I heard a story this week.
A few years ago a teacher gave her students an assignment for Easter. She gave them plastic eggs and asked them to go outside and find something to put in that egg that would symbolize life. After a few minutes of adventure the teacher called the children in and they opened their eggs. Kids shared twigs with fresh leaves, insects and blades of grass. A boy named Phillip stood and showed everyone his egg. It was empty. Some of the kids snickered and Philip unabashed said mine is empty because Jesus tomb was empty.
A few months later a newspaper reporting on Philip’s untimely death noted that at the conclusion of the service 8 children marched to the front of the church and placed a large empty egg on top of the casket. Wrapped around the egg was a banner with the words – “the tomb was empty” printed on it.
The tomb was empty. Is it real?
FACT: A Jewish man called Jesus was publicly executed on a Friday afternoon outside of Jerusalem around 30AD.
FACT: In 300 years a religion in his name had spread across the world and become the official state religion of the Roman empire.
FACT: Today there are 2 and a half billion people in every country on the planet who call themselves by his name.
What happened between that Friday afternoon and today?
How did a blue collar tradesman from a small village in an obscure corner of the ancient world become the leader of a religion would remake the world and swell to over 2.5 billion people who refer to him with words like Savior and Lord?
The cleanest explanation for our late modern scientific sensitivity is that Jesus was a great man and a great teacher. After he died his followers passed on his teachings and those passed down from generation to generation.
With the passing of time the stories expanded and mythologized into what we know today – a legendary tale of miracles, claims of divinity and a resurrection.
The problem with this explanation is that it isn’t possible.
The last few decades of biblical scholarship (Christian and non-Christian) have settled on this fact: the first formal creed of the early Christians, outlining the Resurrection, can be dated within 3 years of the death of Jesus.
Here is Gerd Luddeman a New Testament scholar and historian who is also an atheist:
“the elements in the [Resurrection tradition] are to be dated to the first two years after the crucifixion of Jesus”
It was not 1 or 2 hundred years but 3 before formal statements of the Resurrection were widespread.
In our Bibles we have the translation of the first known written record of that creed.
It’s in 1 Corinthians chapter 15 in the New Testament. The letter we call first Corinthians is dated right around 50AD. The Creed it quotes is dated nearly 20 years earlier.
The question of Christianity is not a matter of hundreds of years of adaptation and mythologizing – it’s a question of immediate historical events.
Within days of the crucifixion, the followers of Jesus were out in the streets of Jerusalem with an extraordinary tale of a man who rose from the dead.
Jesus was alive, his tomb was empty and he had appeared to more than 500 people. Within days, the band of Followers of Jesus rapidly expanded into the thousands.
Here’s the data you have to deal with.
Jesus was very publicly executed. His case had captured the attention of the entire city. In the very city he was publicly crucified in the extraordinary claim of his empty tomb and resurrection, had taken hold.
How did that happen?
You may have heard that the ancient world was a superstitious one and that ancient people were prone to easily accept wild and impossible stories.
What we see in the records is something else entirely.
In fact, the almost unanimous response to the resurrection of Jesus was skepticism, which required extraordinary experiences to overcome.
New Testament Scholar NT Wright points out that the predominant culture surrounding Jerusalem in the 1st century were the last ones you would expect to invent something like the resurrection.
Jewish belief was divided but by the first century many had come to believe in a final resurrection of the dead at the end of human history.
However, the thought of a single man, in the middle of history, physically rising from the dead had absolutely no precedent.
When you add the claims of divinity surrounding the accounts of the Resurrection of Jesus, you would expect the monotheist Jewish religion of that day to do exactly what it’s leaders did – reject those claims with violent opposition.
What about the Greeks and Romans? Didn’t they have stories of God men doing unbelievable things? Wright observes again, that a physical, bodily resurrection of a man had no precedent in the ancient world.
The very idea was offensive to a culture which saw the body as weak and corrupt and sought to transcend the physical for the ideal world.
Like the Jewish leaders, the Romans viewed the claims of a bodily resurrection as offensive and dangerous.
Even if the culture was different and was as ready for an unbelievable story like the Resurrection you have to ask the question, where did the story come from?
Did the disciples invent the story to make a profit? Aren’t there plenty of people today who make a good living preaching about Jesus?
There were no prosperity gospel millionaires among the early Christians. They had nothing worldly to gain from inventing a resurrection story.
The spread of the Resurrection accounts met fierce opposition.
All but one of the early leaders were killed by hostile authorities because they would not recant their story. Every one of them suffered tremendously in order to spread an account many in the ancient world did not want to hear.
The message they spread taught them to love their enemies, to turn the other cheek when attacked and to pray for those who persecute them.
It taught them that the greatest on earth were the lowest servants. That God had chosen the poor to be rich in faith.
They took Jesus literally and sold their possessions to spread wealth among the poor among them.
The early Christians were poor and persecuted. Why would they invent the Resurrection?
Whether you accept the Resurrection or don’t, you are left with a miracle.
So here is the first question you have to deal with on Easter Sunday – is there any explanation of the rise of Christianity that fits the facts better than the conclusion that the tomb was empty and that Jesus is alive?
The miracle of a church that cannot be explained is easier to ignore.
The miracle of a man who conquers death presents a much greater challenge to my self determination.
Someone may be thinking OK, maybe it’s possible. 2/3 of Americans believe Jesus rose from the grave. What does it matter? What does something that happened on the other side of the planet 2000 years ago have to do with me?
In Luke 24 we will see three massive, this changes everything realities revealed in the resurrection.
First, the women who discovered an empty tomb found in the resurrection, a love that could never die.
All of the historical accounts of the Resurrection begin with women.
In fact, the prominent place of women in these accounts is one of the improbable features of the Resurrection.
In both Jewish and Roman societies, a woman’s testimony was not accepted in court. Opponents of Christianity mocked the religion for the role women played.
Even the men in their own company took the women’s account as hysteria and nonsense.
Yet it was women who were the first to learn of the resurrection and the first honored messengers of the Risen Jesus.
That role was consistent with the experience women had with Jesus
The longest recorded conversation Jesus had was with a woman. The first time Jesus openly acknowledged his identity as the Messiah was with that same woman, the Samaritan Jesus met while sitting beside a well.
As a despised foreigner and a female, the woman at the well had no significance whatsoever in Jewish social structures, yet Jesus showed her the honor of giving her his time, his attention and most valuable of all – he gave her himself.
In the most famous set of Jesus parables’ he tells the story of a shepherd searching for a lost sheep – a story that invoked an experience of men in a male vocation.
He then tells the story of a woman on her knees in her home searching for a lost piece of wedding jewelry. A story that only a woman could feel the full weight of
In Jesus women found a place at the table. In Jesus women found honor.
In Jesus they found safety.
The ancient world was not a safe place for women. In one account from Jesus life, a woman was dragged naked onto a street corner because she was caught having an affair.
Religious leaders brought her to Jesus to try and catch him in a trap. According to their law she should be stoned. Unless he wanted to dishonor their law he would have to support their judgment.
Can you imagine that woman’s state of mind in that moment?
What did Jesus do?
“He who is without sin, he said, let him cast the first stone.”
With one sentence, he shamed those men, her accusers. He broke their power over her and saved her life.
After the crowd dispersed, he wrapped her naked soul in the rich, soft robes of mercy.
“Does no one condemn you? Neither do I condemn you.”
Then there was that time at a dinner event at the house of a religious leader.
A woman who was known locally as a prostitute came into the house and created a scene. She came up behind Jesus and started weeping.
She dropped to her knees in front of him and her tears dripped all over his feet and she began to wipe them with her hair.
It was a moment of extraordinary emotion and vulnerability.
Have you ever lost it emotionally in front of other people? It’s not fun exposing your heart for the world to see.
What caused that outburst of emotion? That woman’s outward actions revealed the inner emotional experience of a woman in a cruel world who for once in her life, found a man who was strong and safe.
The guests at the table were outraged, but Jesus defended her actions and honored her above even the host of the dinner.
Then she received the ultimate gift of strength and safety when she heard the words, “your sins are forgiven.”
In Jesus, women found honor. They found safety and they found friendship
In the most intimate display of friendship we have in the Gospels, the recipients are two women. Mary and Martha were sisters who appeared twice in the gospel accounts.
In the first, Jesus was visiting their house and was caught in the middle of a sibling dispute. Martha was busy prepping for a meal while Mary sat with Jesus. Martha complained that Mary was not working and Jesus replied that it was not her work that he wanted but her heart.
In the second account, Jesus arrived to visit the sisters after the death of their brother Lazarus. In that passage we see the friendship Jesus felt for these women in two extraordinary sentences:
Jesus loved Martha and her sister.
That incredible 2 words sentence, Jesus wept. That short, but profoundly moving revelation of the heart of Jesus came because of the empathy Jesus experienced at the grief of a woman who was his friend.
“If we could read the Gospels through first-century eyes,” writes Rebecca McClaughlin, a scholar of literature and a student of theology, “Jesus’s treatment of women would knock us to our knees. . . . Whether they were married or single, sick or disabled, Jesus made time for women and treated them with care and respect.”
In Jesus women found honor, they found safety. They found friendship.
That’s what brought those women to the tomb.
Author Dorothy Sayers sums it up well:
“Perhaps it is no wonder that the women were first at the Cradle and last at the Cross. They had never known a man like this Man—there had never been such another.”
In Jesus, they enjoyed the purity of a safe, strong and unconditional love.
Until that love met the fate of every other human experience of love and was destroyed by death.
On that Friday afternoon, all of the women who had gathered in devotion to Jesus watched love die on a cross.
What’s the ultimate enemy of relationship?
A great relationship can withstand financial stress, it can withstand competition in the form of other people, it can withstand internal conflict and external pressures, it can withstand the change that comes from age and the deterioration of the body – it can’t withstand death.
Death is the great enemy of love and the women who came to the tomb came in utter defeat.
They gave their hearts to Jesus. They opened themselves up to love and their hearts were shattered as the world ripped him away from them and destroyed his body.
Can you imagine the grief they brought with them? Some of you don’t have to imagine because you have been there.
When they, when those women, found the empty tomb and heard the voice of the messengers: “He is not here. He is risen.” this is what they discovered: there is a love that is stronger even than death.
The man who loved them so perfectly. The man who touched their bodies and brought healing and restoration, the man who looked into their souls and gave them words of intimate knowledge and unconditional acceptance. He was back and he would never leave them.
This account of the women staring in wonder, with hope just beginning to fill their hearts like the Eastern sun breaking out out at dawn – this is a powerful message to everyone who has ever loved and lost. It’s a powerful message to anyone who has ever longed for relationship and only found themselves defeated by love’s enemies.
What does the Resurrection mean to you?
It means that there is a love that cannot die. It means that you are invited into that love.
If you accept his invitation to relationship, if you see what He is and you want to belong to him – there is absolutely nothing you can do to be separated from him. There is absolutely nothing the world around you can do to separate you from him.
Peter, the disciple of Jesus, found in the resurrection a life after shame and failure.
In Luke’s account the only one to respond to the women’s incredible story was Peter. We’re told that he ran to the tomb. Why was he the one guy to go?
The Friday of the Cross was a nightmare for everyone who knew Jesus. It was especially difficult for Peter.
The final encounter Peter had with Jesus was nothing particularly special on the surface. After Jesus was arrested, he was taken to the Jewish High Priest for interrogation.
At some point during the night while Peter was waiting and watching in the crowd, Jesus turned to look at Peter and as a rooster crowed the two made eye contact.
That small moment was swallowed in a massive wave of quickly moving events.
But if you could see into the spirit of a man you would have seen in that moment a massive blaze of feeling.
Henry David Thorough said that the mass of men live lives of quiet desperation. Peter was not one of those men. Peter was a man of passion who had big dreams for his life.
When we meet Peter for the first time in the Gospels, he’s a fisherman along with his brother Andrew.
In their first encounter, Peter isn’t exactly respectful towards Jesus. After a long and disappointing night of work, Peter is coming to shore and this man steps into his boat and tells him to throw his net in one more time.
Peter replies, what do you think we have been doing all night? The fish aren’t out today. Leave the fishing to the fisherman. Maybe it was the look in Jesus eyes, but something made him do it. The net dropped into the water and suddenly a huge weight of fish pulled on the boat.
That was when Peter realized that Jesus was no ordinary man.
When Jesus calls Peter to follow him, he gives up his job to join him. And he’s all in, he bets the farm or you could say the boat on Jesus.
In the gospels, no one was as passionate or dedicated to the cause as Peter.
It’s not long before he rises in influence and becomes one of the three members of the inner circle of Jesus.
He is on a path of high impact and honor in life. You can imagine the excitement he felt at the privileged position of being an insider in a movement that was going to change history.
He had no idea that in one night, in a matter of hours, he was going to throw everything away with a moment of weakness and moral failure.
At the Last Supper, just before he was arrested, Jesus told his disciples that something was about to happen that would cause all of them to leave him.
Peter probably offended, replied “Jesus, I thought you knew me by now.”
“Haven’t I proven myself? Even if all these guys leave you, I will never leave you.”
Jesus answered him, “Here’s the truth, Peter, tonight, before the Rooster crows at dawn you are going to deny me not once but three times.”
Peter didn’t believe Jesus, because he believed in himself. He believed he was doing something that mattered with his life. He believed the was going to play a big part in some great things.
“Even if I have to die Jesus, I’ll never leave you.”
Fast forward a few hours. Jesus has been arrested by an armed mob and dragged to authorities for a late night, makeshift trial.
Peters following along at the back of a crowd, Realizing that Jesus is not the only one whose life is in danger that night.
Three times Peter is recognized as an associate of Jesus. Three times he has the opportunity to be taken to Jesus’ side as an accomplice. Three times he has a chance to join Jesus and ease the burden of his solitary suffering.
Three times he denies any relationship to Jesus.
The third time, as Peter is cursing and swearing that he doesn’t know the man, a rooster crows and Peter looks over to see Jesus looking into his soul.
Can you imagine? Can you relate?
We don’t start life in a spirit of quiet desperation.
We are born ready to live. Desperation comes with time. It comes with disappointment and failure and humiliation.
My Father was a man who was born into this world with extraordinary potential and a lust for life. He could have done great things had he not been hamstrung by a weakness for alcohol. Over the years his dreams were crushed by moral failures.
What do we do when our dreams die?
When Jesus died on the cross, Peter’s heart and his honor died with him.
He had traded honor for shame. All of his boasting, all of his bold bets on a future at Jesus side – it was all for nothing.
Saturday was the first day of Peter’s descent into a life of quiet desperation.
When the women came running with the story of an empty tomb, when he saw it for himself he must have been torn between hope and fear. Hope that Jesus might not be gone forever and fear that he would have to face him after what he had done.
It happened in the saw way it all started. Peter is back at his nets. Now he’s not just a fisherman, he’s a disgraced fisherman. A failure who has no choice but to be a fisherman.
After another long and disappointing night, as Peter is coming to the shore he hears a voice – “friends, don’t you have any fish?” “throw your net on the right side of the boat and you’ll find some.”
When the empty nets filled with fish John, who is with Peter cries out, “it’s him. It’s the Lord”.
This is another one of those moments when a glimpse into the human soul would be blinded by an outburst of feeling.
Love overcame fear and Peter jumped out of the boat to swim towards the voice. In time Peter learned that Jesus knew all along that Peter would fail.
In time he would learn through the Resurrection that with Jesus shame and regret don’t have to have the last word.
He would learn through the living Jesus that there is life after failure.
Peter went on to live a life that would forever mark human history – not because he believed in himself, but because he believed in the risen Jesus.
In Peter there is a lesson for all who would follow. It’s a lesson about God’s ways with us – it’s about a recurring cycle of hope swallowed in defeat reborn in resurrection.
The author Bruce Barton describes this lesson well:
“God seems to specialize in allowing our dreams to die, only to bring them back around again in rather surprising ways. Job’s fortunes and even his family were restored to him many times over. Abraham and Sarah were blessed with a child long after nature would have made that impossible. And the ultimate example is the death and resurrection of Jesus himself. The hopes of many . . . seemed to have died on the cross with him. Little did they understand that even the Cross was all part of God’s sovereign plan to make a way of salvation for everyone.”
The Resurrection of Jesus means failure doesn’t have to be the end of the story. It means shame doesn’t have to define your identity.
It means that my father’s final moments of disgrace in death don’t have to be the final sentence in his story.
A love that can never die, a life after failure and shame.
I could talk about more reasons why the Resurrection is relevant to you.
I could talk about the two travelers who met Jesus on the road and in the Resurrection found a religion that flooded their souls with life and wonder.
I could talk about the apostles who found in the Resurrection a purpose that flooded their lives with meaning and adventure.
Those are for another sermon.
What I will do is finish with the early followers of Christ who found in the Resurrection a center heavy enough to hold everything together.
The two travelers on the road to Emmaus were sad because they hoped Jesus would be the one to redeem Israel.
They thought he was a great prophet who could do some great things for their people.
When he opened their eyes to understand the grand scope of the Bible and God’s purposes for humanity – when they were able to see Jesus they found themselves in the presence of something much greater than a prophet of their tradition.
A 5 year old boy from Texas went with his family to see the Grand Canyon. His family told him it was so huge it was bigger than downtown Dallas. He could hardly wait to see it. When they arrived he looked unimpressed and even disappointed. His Dad asked him what he was thinking.
“I thought you said we were going to see a big cannon.”
If you’re expectations are wrong, you can be disappointed even with God.
The two travelers were disappointed because they thought they would see a prophet who would redeem Israel. Their eyes had to be opened to see a savior who would redeem the whole world.
Jesus was much bigger than a local prophet of a local religion. He was the Son of God who came down to bear the sins of the whole world, to gather together billions of redeemed followers from every tribe and every tongue and to restore the world with an entirely new way of living.
When they saw that, they worshipped him.
Nobody goes to the Grand Canyon for a dose of self-esteem. We go to get lost in the greatness of the vast landscape. We go to forget our troubles in the presence of transcendent beauty.
If Jesus rose from the grave, the world trouble loses much of its meaning.
If Jesus rose from the grave, it doesn’t matter if we want the Resurrection to be real, He is Lord.
Now you have to deal with these questions – is this Resurrection real? Do I want to join the ranks of those who worship Him and share in his benefits?
What makes the Resurrection news so good is that anyone can join.
Jesus said in John 5:24:
“Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life.
On Wednesday, February 27, 1991, during the Desert Storm War in Iraq, a woman named Ruth Dillow received the worst phone call of her life. Her son, Clayton Carpenter, who was deployed and on the theatre of war, had stepped on a land mine and was dead. Shortly after the call two officers knocked on her door to confirm the news.
For the next three days Ruth Dillow grieved. No one could comfort her.
On the third day after receiving the terrible news, her phone rang again.
On the other end of the phone there was a voice that said, “Mom, it’s me. I’m alive.” At first she thought it was a cruel prank, but after asking question only her son would know the answer to she realized it was really him.
Somehow the wrong report had been sent out. He had been injured in an accident but he was very much alive.
The reality of the Resurrection is the difference between the first phone call and the 2nd.
If it didn’t happen it means nothing. We are on our own. Death is the end of love, hope and meaning.
If it did happen it changes everything.
It means that a new world has begun.
It means that love is real and cannot be defeated by death.
It means that there is life after failure and shame.
It means that there is a center big enough to bring order, peace and meaning to your life.
So what is our application?
It’s simple: look to Jesus and say, “what’s next, Lord?”
If you need help figuring out what’s next, here’s two steps for you:
- Find a Bible and read the gospel of John and get to know Jesus.
- Go to Youtube and search for The Chosen, watch the show.
We are going to take communion together. The last time Jesus broke bread with his people he told them they would do it again. You can be there when that day comes.
Tom Brown is the planting pastor of Vintage Faith Church in Wichita. Tom and his wife, Mandy, have worked together in ministry for 18 years and have four children. More about Pastor Tom Brown