April Fools? Easter 2018
Luke 24:1 – 53
Easter – April Fools?
Spaghetti doesn’t grow on trees ...
One Monday evening in 1957, the BBC current affairs show Panorama, featured a family of farmers in Southern Switzerland, walking among their spaghetti trees, harvesting their crop.
The program explained that following an unseasonably mild winter, and the virtual eradication of the spaghetti weevil, all over Switzerland, farmers were harvesting a bumper crop of spaghetti from their spaghetti trees.
In the 50s in the England, spaghetti was mostly known only as something that came in a can with tomato sauce, it was considered quite exotic, and so thousands of people were duped by this April Fools day hoax.
Today, it’s still considered the biggest hoax ever pulled, by a reputable news service.
The next day hundreds of people called the BBC asking for instructions on how to grow their own spaghetti trees. And they were apparently told, “place a sprig of spaghetti in a tin of tomato sauce, and hope for the best"!
I’m sure all of us can remember April Fool’s day hoaxes that we’ve come across, and there’s a chance that some of us have even fallen for one already this morning! Although let me assure you that people telling you about Daylight Saving time finishing today, they’re not trying to fool you. That’s a real one!
The thing is, while we can all think of April Fools day hoaxes we’ve come across, none of us want to be fooled, do we?
We don’t want to be taken for a ride.
And yet, the event that we’ve heard about this morning,
A man condemned and executed,
Not in his tomb,
With his followers, claiming to have met angels,
And then insisting that they’d seen him face to face,
It has all the hallmarks of a classic April Fools Day hoax, doesn’t it?
We’d think though, that you couldn’t pull it off today!
It seems too unbelievable, to fool anybody.
Spaghetti trees only works when the British public really hasn’t seen any kind of pasta,
The story of someone rising from the dead, would seem hard to convince people of, in our day.
Or actually though, in any day.
We’re not the first generation to think that dead people stay dead, are we?
There’s never been generation that thinks it’s normal for people who have been killed, brutally murdered no less, to come back to life.
And yet, this story has persisted, and defied all attempts to disprove it.
We can believe the resurrection because it’s not a hoax pulled by Jesus’ followers (v 1 – 8 & 37 - 39)
So, are there good reasons to believe that Jesus was raised from the dead, even though it’s very unusual?
Well, in this part of the Bible we have in front of us, what the historian Luke calls his “orderly account” of the life of Jesus, notice that he shows us firstly, that the resurrection clearly isn’t a hoax pulled by Jesus’ followers.
They weren’t expecting it at all.
On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the 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
Clearly Jesus’ disciples hadn’t taken the body and hidden it, to make it look like Jesus had risen from the dead, because these women, who are some of Jesus’ most devoted followers, they’ve travelled with him quite a long way, from Galilee up in the north of the country down to Jerusalem,
They’ve been hanging round with him for ages, and yet they’re not expecting Jesus to have been raised from the dead.
They’re not even hoping he’s been raised from the dead.
That thought doesn’t even seem to have occurred to them, since they’re carrying the spices they had prepared ready to anoint his body.
Some of you know that I used to work in the Department of Anatomy at the University of Adelaide. And over Christmas holidays one year, the air-conditioning and refrigeration system in the lab broke down, and all the anatomical specimens, that is, bodies and body parts! started to warm up!
I won’t go into any more detail, other than to say, it was pretty gross!
Here we’ve got a warm climate, Jesus is buried above ground, and so these women have brought spices to anoint and preserve his body as was their custom.
And while we’re here, let’s eliminate another alternative explanation that some people like to offer, a way of getting around the evidence of the empty tomb.
Some people like to say that the women just went to the wrong tomb.
But again, look just up at verse 55 of the previous chapter, these women saw the tomb and how his body was laid in it.
Between Friday afternoon when Jesus was buried, and Sunday morning when the women arrive, they’re not going to have forgotten which tomb he was in, or lost their way.
I realise that some men like to make jokes about women,
And holding maps upside down, and all that!
But you can’t do that here. This whole group of women, down in verse 10, didn’t all forget where Jesus was. And even if they had, it would only have taken a day or 2, for someone to point out the right tomb, and this would all have come to nothing.
Did you see in the news this week about the Egyptian coffin at the University of Sydney? It had always been thought to be empty, but after 150 years someone finally bothered to look inside and they discovered it had a body in it!
It’s such a colossal mistake that it’s headline news around the world.
If these women thought the tomb was empty but in fact it wasn’t, then when the true story surfaced, it would have spread like wildfire.
But this tomb is empty.
And the rest of the disciples, including all the blokes, they’re not expecting this any more than the women, are they?
We see it down in verse 37 when Jesus appears to them. They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. 38 He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? 39 Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.”
This is not the behaviour of people who conspired together to perpetuate a myth.
If you expect Jesus to still be in the grave, you’re in good company with Jesus’ closest friends.
We’re not in the middle of some April Fools Day prank pulled by the disciples. They are as surprised at the vacant tomb as we are.
Now, I’ve been known to occasionally visit Amazon.com.
When it comes to shopping, I hate driving in city traffic,
I hate queuing in shops,
And I hate trying on clothes.
Which all become entirely unnecessary, is you shop online!
So I remember once when I was looking at the book, The Case for Christ, Amazon informed me, that it contains what they call Statistically Improbable Phrases, that is, phrases in this book, that you’re not likely to find in many other books.
And one of these statistically improbable phrases is, “vacant tomb.”
Perhaps you agree!
You think the Amazon computer got it right.
Surely Jesus didn’t really rise from the dead. It’s unusual. It’s statistically improbable.
Or maybe you’re in a slightly different category. Maybe you’d like to believe in the resurrection, but you’re not sure that you can.
You don’t want to be somebody’s April fool.
Let me give you a tip though. Don’t go searching on Amazon for “Statistically Improbable”, because all you’ll find is a book on dating. And then every web page you visit for the next week will be filled with ads, for things you don’t want!
But this is unusual,
Tombs don’t often get vacated like this.
And yet knowing it was just as unexpected for those who were there, reassures us, that Jesus’ friends haven’t just pulled off the greatest April Fools prank in the history of the world.
We can believe the resurrection because of God’s testimony about it (v 4)
But Luke gives us more.
We can believe the resurrection is true, because, although it’s unusual, God himself testifies about it. It’s accompanied by the kind of supernatural activity we’d expect to see, if Jesus’ words are true.
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? 6 He is not here; he has risen!
These 2 are angels.
And we think, “hang on, this is a bit out there”, but if Jesus’ claims about himself are true, we should expect to see some dramatic signs of God at work,
If Jesus acts with God’s authority as he claims, we’d expect God to act to vindicate him, to provide some explanation.
Jesus said that be brought about the Kingdom of God, that he was establishing God’s rule over his creation in a completely new way.
Jesus promised that he would defeat death,
He promised that those who put their trust in him, would also live, even though they died. That is, Jesus offered a kind of life, that continues even beyond the grave.
And perhaps most significantly, Jesus said there’s a problem called sin.
We live in God’s world as if God neither exists nor matters,
We take all the good gifts God gives us;, family, relationships, fulfilment, enjoyment, but we have no time for God.
We decide we’ll determine what’s right and wrong, and we don’t care what God says.
That’s what Jesus called sin, and because that’s the attitude of our heart, we end up hurting others, and hurting ourselves.
And we also find ourselves cut off from God, and facing death and separation from God
But Jesus said he can take away sin.
In fact he said he’d take our sin, on himself,
He had no sin to pay for, but he’d pay the penalty for yours and mine.
And on Friday we saw, as we read through Luke’s account of the crucifixion, just how terrible the penalty for sin is, as Jesus takes on himself the right and just punishment for our sin and rebellion.
Now, none of that is disputed. Those are exactly the claims and teachings that all the historical records, both inside the Bible and others, attribute to Jesus.
That is unequivocally what Jesus claimed to be, and what he claimed to do.
And so when someone like that is arrested,
Paraded through a kangaroo court,
Tortured and executed,
Never before seen, and un-repeated events,
God’s messengers from heaven turning up,
This is exactly what we should see,
If Jesus was telling the truth.
If Jesus really does offer a kind of life that extends even beyond our physical death, we’d certainly expect him to have life beyond his own death.
- If Jesus is in a position to offer forgiveness, because he doesn’t have his own sin and rebellion to pay for, then it makes perfect sense for God to reverse the human verdict passed against Jesus, that he was a law-breaker and a troublemaker.
- If Jesus was telling the truth all the way through Luke’s gospel, then messengers from God, and supernatural events are exactly the kinds of thing that we should expect to see.
We can believe the resurrection because Jesus himself said it would happen (v 5 – 8)
Because in fact, Jesus had said explicitly, that he would die, and then rise from the dead.
See there in verse 5, the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? 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.’ ”
The resurrection of Jesus, the empty tomb is unusual, yes. It’s an even that’s happened once, in the history of the world, but it’s not unexpected.
At least, it shouldn’t be.
Jesus had said this was going happen.
Jesus had told anyone who would listen, that he would die,
That he would rise again, defeating death,
And open up this new kind of life for us.
Which means Jesus wasn’t caught off guard by the resurrection. He knew all along this was the plan, and spoke about it in advance, so that even though people didn’t understand it at the time, when it happened they’d put the pieces together. Like here, Then they remembered his words.
So one example of this is in Luke chapter 9, And he said, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.”
Imagine that made some of the sorts of claims that Jesus made,
“I can forgive you for your rebellion against God,
I can bring you into relationship with the God who loves you,
I’ll take the punishment for your sin,
I’ll defeat death,
I can offer you a kind of life that doesn’t just stop at the edge of the grave, but continues beyond.”
And let’s say you believe me.
You’re probably a lot more discerning than that! But let’s pretend.
You believe what I offer,
But then, after we finish today, I leave here and step out onto Adelaide Road, and bang! I’m hit by the 864 bus to the city.
As you’re sitting there in the traffic congestion that my untimely demise has just caused,
You realise it’s me who’s under the bus, and a terrible sinking feeling begins in your stomach,
I’d made all those promises,
But now I’m dead.
I’d offered a new kind of life, but now I’m gone,
And you look at the date,
It’s April Fool’s Day, and it dawns on you that perhaps you’ve been had.
When con men and religious nutters die, they stay dead, don’t they?
And those who have trusted in them, are bitterly disappointed.
But Jesus is raised from the dead, as a demonstration that his claims about himself are real,
That what he says about us and our need for forgiveness is true,
That what offers us, we can depend on.
If Jesus said all along that death is not the end, that there’s more beyond,
Then when he dies and is raised from the dead, we know he spoke the truth about his ability to defeat death,
And so we can have great confidence in his other claims.
If somebody died and came back to life, I reckon I’d pay attention. That would be worth investing some time, to get to the bottom of it.
But if somebody said they were going to die, and then be raised to life, and then they died, and were raised to life.
Well, we’d be utterly foolish to ignore that, wouldn’t we?
That would make us the ultimate April Fools.
We can believe the resurrection because it’s at the heart of God’s plans for the world (v 13 – 27 & 44 - 47)
But of course, this all seems more difficult to believe, the further we get from these events.
We’re not the ones Jesus appeared to,
We didn’t hear his words first hand,
We didn’t meet the angels at the empty tomb,
How can we be confident, that Jesus really has been raised from the dead?
It’s great to know what the resurrection proves, or demonstrates about Jesus, but can we be sure it’s real?
Well, let’s have a quick look, at this road trip.
Notice that the events at the vacant tomb are over in those first 8 verses, and then we have this big long section,
Much more detail given here.
It’s later in the day, and 2 of Jesus’ disciples are walking from Jerusalem, where Jesus was crucified, to a town called Emmaus.
And as they walk along, they talk about everything that had happened.
The Sunday previously, Jesus had been welcomed to the city as a king, a hero leader for the nation of Israel.
5 days later, he’s crucified,
And now the tomb is empty.
But then as these 2 walk along, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; Luke says, 16 but they were kept from recognizing him.
And you can fell their heartache, can’t you?
When Jesus asks what they’re talking about, verse 17, They stood still. Their faces downcast
If it was me, I think Jesus would have got a “what do you think we’re talking about” kind of reply!
They’d just seen their friend, their leader, their teacher, the greatest, wisest, most loving man they’d ever known, executed by their own leaders, and yet even more than that, look at verse 21, we, had hoped, that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel.
Not only their own hopes, but their hopes for their nation were resting on Jesus and now it’s all over.
So how does Jesus respond?
Remember they don’t yet know who he is.
Does he jump out from behind a bush as they walk along the road and yell, “Surprise! It’s me! I’m not really dead!” A bit like the cartoon Jesus on our Easter invitations.
Or does he try the more compassionate approach, “It’s OK, I’ll make everything better,
I’ll take away everything that hurts”?
He doesn’t do either of those things, does he?
To make sense of their experience, and to help them understand what’s happened, he takes them, to the Scriptures.
To explain his identity,
To explain why he had to die,
To explain the vacant tomb, he takes them to their Bible. Verse 27, And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.
Imagine for a moment if Jesus had jumped out from the side of the road, “Surprise, it’s me! I’m alive”, and then he disappears again, to go off and surprise some other unsuspecting followers. What would have happened?
Well, if they were anything like me, by the time these two got to Emmaus, they’d be asking each other, “did we really see Jesus?” “Did he really appear to us?”
And suppose they still turned around and went back to Jerusalem, as they do in verse 33, by the time they made it back there, they’d be even less convinced and more confused. And what would they tell the other disciples? “We, thought we saw Jesus, perhaps, maybe, we think.”
And then Jesus would have to appear to them again, to convince them,
And probably again a few days later,
And again, and again, and so on.
But he doesn’t do that, does he? He shows them that in their Bible, God’s already given them everything they need to know to make sense of this;,
This is the heart of God’s rescue plan for his world,
And he’s been working towards this for centuries.
So that when he has to leave them,
Or when they start thinking this is too good to be true,
Or when people who haven’t seen Jesus face to face challenge them about what they believe,
Then their faith in Jesus,
Their confidence that this is true and reliable, won’t depend on Jesus turning up again, or some kind of religious experience,
But will be rooted in God’s Word, and in the fact that God keeps his promises.
God knew that his Messiah would suffer, for the sin and rebellion of people.
He would suffer and die, but then be glorified and honoured.
The events of Easter are at the very heart of God’s plans for his world.
And just so we don’t miss it, Jesus does the same thing to the rest of the disciples later on that day, down in verse 44. Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.” That is, the Old Testament.
45 Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. 46 He told them, “This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.
If you’re interested in knowing God, and having a relationship with Jesus, it’s not frequent and fulfilling experiences, that will keep you on the right track.
I reckon lots of us would quite like Jesus to appear to us,
We’d even be happy if it looked quite like the front of the invitation.
We think, how easy it would be to believe,
How easy to live as a follower of Jesus, if we could see him face to face every now and then.
But friends, if your faith in Jesus,
Your confidence that he’s trustworthy,
Your ability to follow him, if that depends on what we might call “spiritual experiences”, that will only ever leave you empty and wanting more,
When the emotional high wears off you’ll be looking for the next encounter to keep you convinced about Jesus, and if there’s no encounter your faith will falter.
Jesus appears to these 2, sure, and the other disciples, but he won’t let their faith and confidence rest on that.
Their hope for the future,
Their whole worldview, comes from understanding the promises of God.
God’s great plan of salvation that reaches its climax in Christ, has been in motion for centuries, and nothing, not even the work of evil men, can stand in its way.
There’s more beyond death
It becomes clear, that if Jesus has been raised from the dead, then it means that death is not the end.
It means there’s more beyond the grave.
There’s the life that Jesus offers us, life that doesn’t stop at the edge of the grave,
The promise of seeing loved ones again,
The assurance that lives cut short, aren’t finished.
A friend of ours was buried this week.
She’d served God in a warzone in one of the most dangerous countries on earth, only to succumb to a cancer.
She was younger than me.
A life cut short.
The reality of Jesus’ resurrection says, there’s life beyond death. He proved that.
We will see her again.
But the resurrection of Jesus also says that death is not the end, meaning judgment awaits us on the other side of the grave.
There is no such thing as escaping justice.
Just this week a UK man known as “the beast of wombwell”, died in remand before serving time for the murder of a 14 year old school girl.
Or think of the Texas mailbomber, who killed 2 black men and injured several others in March, only to blow himself up before he could be arrested
Or think of anyone, actually, who hurts others, treats people badly, and seems to get off scott-free.
Well, Easter says, “they don’t.”
Easter tells us, “sin matters”, Good Friday tells us how much sin matters,
And Easter Sunday shows us that death is not the end,
There will be justice,
You can trust in that.
There’s more beyond the grave
In the Spanish city of Valladolid (Val ah dah leed) is a monument to Christopher Columbus, who died in the city in 1506. The statue features Columbus, and a globe picturing the world, and written around the globe is the national motto of Spain, Ne Plus Ultra, it means “no more beyond”.
It was understood to mean that past the Straits of Gibraltar, there was nothing else in the world! No more beyond.
But of course Columbus, in discovering and charting the new world, proved that to false. There was much beyond!
And so also in the Valladolid monument, is a lion, tearing away the first word from that Latin phrase, leaving “plus ultra”, more beyond.
Jesus resurrection from the dead, tells us, there’s more beyond.
The grave is not the end,
There’s a kind of life that extends past death.
There’s a right and just judgment on sin, and we see exactly how God treats sin and rebellion,
But we see also the forgiveness that God offers us in Jesus.
Easter says, “there’s more beyond.”
After Columbus, the kingdom of Spain decided to re-think their motto, and they dropped that first word. Now they say, “There’s more beyond.”
Maybe this Easter, it’s right for you to re-think your motto, what you live by, what you think about life and death.
Maybe it’s right for you, to acknowledge that Jesus’ death and resurrection teaches us there’s more beyond.