The Resurrection of Jesus. Is it Real? Does it Matter?
Bible Text: Mark 15:42 – 16:8 | Speaker: Clayton Fopp | Series: Easter 2015 | Mark 16:1 – 18
The Resurrection of Jesus: Is it real? Does it Matter?
What’s the difference?
Many of you, I’m sure, heard the big news of last week, the kind of , major breaking international news story.
Of course I’m talking about the news that the longest running hoax article, on Wikipedia, hsd been discovered, and removed!
For nearly a decade, Wikipedia, the free online encyclopaedia that anyone can edit, had hosted an article about an Aboriginal deity called Jar’Edo Wens
According to the article, Jar’Edo Wens, was the god of “earthly knowledge and physical might”, except, of course, he wasn’t!
The article was created one Sunday morning back in 2005, by an Australian prankster.
And so this , entirely false article sat, for 9 years and 9 months, being used as source material for countless essays, articles, and other publications.
My question is, what’s the difference?
Is there any difference between the existence of Jar’Edo Wens, and the resurrection of Jesus?
Somebody claims they are both true;,
A claim about a deity,
A claim about a resurrection,
People have written about both of them, and those writings in turn have shaped and influenced other works,
Both have Wikipedia articles about them.
What’s to say the article about the resurrection of Jesus on Wikipedia, what’s to say that’s not the longest-running hoax on the site?
How do we know?
It took 9 years and 9 months to uncover the Jar’Edo Wens hoax, is it just that we haven’t uncovered the hoax in the resurrection story?
Or put it a different way, how do we know that the resurrection of Jesus is real?
Is it something that can be relied upon?
It is extraordinary, out of the ordinary, that’s for sure.
Of course that in itself doesn’t mean it’s not real. There are plenty of things that are unique that are still real!
But the question we’ve all got to answer is, is the resurrection of Jesus real, and if it is, does it matter?
So thanks for being here, as we think about these questions. If you’re a Christian, and you’re here celebrating the resurrection with us today, I hope it’s useful for you to reflect on these questions.
If you’re here and you’re not a Christian, you’re perhaps trying to figure some of this stuff out, well I want to say to you especially, thanks for being with us, and I think we’ll see some good answers to these kinds of questions in Mark’s account of the first Easter Sunday.
No matter who we are, we’re probably at least familiar with the general thrust of the story of Jesus’ crucifixion. And as they say, familiarity can breed contempt.
You might remember the movie Men in Black from 1997. The secret agents in the film had a little device called a neuralyzer, which would wipe people’s memories.
You’d look into it, there was a bright flash, and then a certain amount of your memory was gone, and the agents would recreate memories for you.
And so while the movie was still playing at the cinema, they put an ad on TV, “If you have seen the movie Men in Black, look into your television set now”, and then the screen flashed a brilliant white, and the voice continued, “see the movie again, for the first time”!
I hope that in some ways, we might see something of this story, as if for the first time,
Please don’t tune out, simply because you’ve heard Mark’s testimony so many times before.
Jesus is really dead
For example, we might not really notice, the lengths Mark goes to, to make sure we realise that Jesus was really dead.
Verse 43, Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent member of the Council, who was himself waiting for the kingdom of God, went boldly to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body. 44 Pilate was surprised to hear that he was already dead. Summoning the centurion, he asked him if Jesus had already died. 45 When he learned from the centurion that it was so, he gave the body to Joseph.
Jesus is really dead.
That might seem like a strange fact to feel the need to point out, but did you notice how many times Mark tells us, Jesus is really dead.
This man named Joseph of Arimathea, went to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body, verse 43.
Next verse, 44, Pilate was surprised to hear that he was already dead
So Pilate, he’s the roman governor, he goes to ask the guy who was in charge of the crucifixion, the centurion, “is he really dead?”
Yes, he’s already dead, verse 45, so Pilate gives the body to Joseph.
And then Joseph, verse 46, bought some linen cloth, took down the body, wrapped it in the linen, and placed it in a tomb cut out of rock
Pilate, the governor, who sentenced Jesus, to be crucified, thinks Jesus is dead.
The Roman Centurion, the professional executioner, the person whose job it was to actually kill Jesus, thinks Jesus is dead.
And Joseph, one of Jesus’ followers, carries Jesus’ body, wraps it up in a cloth, lugs it away to a tomb, and buries Jesus. He thinks Jesus is really dead.
And this is, of course, all on top of the 2 previous occasions in chapter 15 that Mark has told us, “Jesus is dead.”’
I know it’s been popular at different times in the last hundred years or so, to say that Jesus just kind of passed out on the cross, and that despite the blood loss,
And major trauma of crucifixion,
And having a spear stuck in his side,
And then being laid in a cold tomb for 3 days,
Despite all of that, somehow on Sunday morning, Jesus stopped being unconscious,
Decided he felt much better,
Unwrapped the grave clothes,
Rolled away the stone sealing the entrance,
Knocked out the soldiers guarding the tomb, and escaped,
Pretending that he had in fact died, and was alive again!
I know that some people like to believe that, but regardless of all the other flaws in that theory, and the multitude of ways that stretches credulity, we cannot escape the fact that all the witnesses agree that Jesus was dead!
The people who loved Jesus knew he was dead.
The people who hated Jesus knew he was dead.
The people who wished Jesus was still alive knew he was dead.
The people who were responsible for his death, knew he was dead.
Whatever we think of Jesus, there’s no alternative but to recognise that at this point, he is dead.
These women are not ideal witnesses.
Jesus’ disciples are convinced of it! Which is how these 3 women, become the first witnesses of the resurrection.
See there at the beginning of chapter 16, When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. 2 Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb
Clearly these women were expecting to find Jesus’ body still in the tomb. We can tell that, both from their question and from what they’ve got in their backpacks.
They bought spices, verse 1, so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body.
But the women have a problem, hence their question;, Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?,
But actually, that’s not going to be a problem at all, because these 3 women are about to become the very first recorded witnesses to the resurrection of Jesus.
See verse 4, when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away.
And so they’re able to walk right in to the tomb where Jesus’ body had been 5 As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed.
Little eye-witness detail there, he was on the right side. There’s no significance to that, it’s obviously just a detail the women remembered when they told their story to this historian, Mark.
This young man is an angel, a messenger from God.
Which is, of course, why the women were alarmed!
But he says, you don’t need to be alarmed, there’s nothing wrong, in fact this is exactly what Jesus said would happen. See there in verse 6.
“Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him.
Here are the first recorded witnesses of the resurrection, of the fact that the tomb is empty.
A messenger from God speaks to them, and as we see in verse 7, tells them to go and let Jesus’ other friends know.
Again, familiarity might kick in for us, or our kind of modern western assumptions, and we might not realise how entirely unexpected this is.
I mean, we know the resurrection is unexpected,
But for 3 women to be the first recorded witnesses of the resurrection,
For it to be women to whom Mark turns, actually to whom all 4 of the gospel writers turn, for evidence and testimony,
That, in the ancient world, was unheard of.
These 3 women are not ideal witnesses.
Especially not, to an event as significant as this!
In the first century AD, the testimony of a woman, was considered insufficient, to establish the facts of a matter.
And when it came to matters of faith or religion, what a woman had experienced, didn’t carry any weight at all.
In fact devout Jewish men prayed every day, as countless thousands still do, actually, their Morning Prayer,
Blessed are you, God, King of the Universe, for not having made me a Gentile,
For not having made me a sIave.
For not having made me a woman.”
The accusation levelled at Christians, sometimes, this is all just made up,
“The resurrection of Jesus is just a fairy tale,
They empty tomb is a myth invented by Mark and others to try and convince people that Jesus really did come back from the dead.”
If that were true, if Mark was making this up, there is no way in the world that he would put women on the scene first, he would have invented some much more “reliable” witnesses.
This week I was reading the “Image of Professions Survey” published by Roy Morgan Research. They publish it every year, a big survey of thousands of people, asking which professions Australians find most trustworthy and reliable.
And the result?! 91% of Australians believe that nurses are the most trustworthy and dependable profession. For the 20th year in a row, let me add! So I don’t really know why they keep running the survey!
Rounding out the top 5 were doctors, pharmacists, dentists and high court judges.
The school teachers here will be pleased to know that you’re considered more trustworthy and reliable than Supreme Court Judges!
Let me read you one line from the research: “the biggest losers were Ministers of Religion, down 7%, to 37% their lowest , ever , rating.
, which makes these women excellent witnesses!
But if Mark’s account of the resurrection of Jesus was fiction trying to be passed off as fact, the first ones at the empty tomb would have been a nurse, a doctor, a pharmacist, and a high court judge!
Or, of course, the first century equivalent!
Someone who’s evidence actually carried some weight in a court of law!
If Mark was making this up, I can promise you, the first witnesses of the resurrection would have been a priest, a teacher of the law, a member of the ruling council.
A bunch of educated middle class blokes!
In the 2nd Century AD, there was a Greek Philosopher named (K) Celsus, who was, the Richard Dawkins of his day. He was a public and vocal opponent of Christianity.
And the way that (K) Celsus liked to attack the Christian faith was to dismiss it as , and I quote, “the gossip of women about the empty tomb.”
The fact that these witnesses would never have been invented, adds weight to our confidence that this event has been accurately retold.
If in their day, they were such un-ideal witnesses, why does Mark tell us that these women were the first ones to discover the empty tomb?,
Well because these women were the first ones to discover the empty tomb.
And of course, it’s not at all out of character for Jesus,
It’s not at all out of place in the story of grace, is it?, for those who are at the margins of society,
Those who are considered to have little value,
Not considered worthy of respect,
For people on the edges like that, to be drawn in to the very heart of God’s action in the world.
The disciples we expect to hear about are nowhere in this scene, are they? They’re off in hiding,
Their moment will come, sure, but at this stage, it’s just these women,
Ordinarily on the edge,
Used to being ignored,
Expecting to be considered, insignificant.
They’re the first ones on the scene when history changes, and they are charged with the responsibility of telling Peter and the other disciples, the message from the angel, He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’
When people in our church meet up with others who are interested in finding out about Christianity, generally we read through Mark’s gospel with them over a number of weeks or months. You can see that it’s only 16 chapters long, and, well, chapter 16 is only 8 verses, because that last bit isn’t actually part of Mark’s gospel, it was added a couple of hundred years later.
But Mark is the shortest of the 4 gospel accounts of Jesus’ life. He’s usually very concise. He’s had to leave lots of stuff out to keep it to the length he wants it to be.
And yet, did you notice the number of times he repeats the identity of these women.
Back up in verse 40, before where we picked up the story, Some women were watching from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joseph, and Salome
Then verse 47, Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joseph saw where he was laid.
The very next verse, 16:1, When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices
This from the most concise and condensed gospel author in the Bible! He could have left out all this repetition of names and included a whole extra miracle or something.
Is there any doubt that Mark wants us to be very clear as to the identity of these women?
They’re almost certainly still alive at the time Mark’s writing. He’s saying, “Look, if you’re wondering, ‘Is this real?’, let me give you the names of the people who were there!
Go and talk to them yourself!”
The women weren’t expecting to find an empty tomb, quite the contrary, but their eye-witness experience, makes them an excellent source for us, trying to work out “Is this real?”
Does the resurrection matter?
You might still have questions, and that’s fine! I don’t expect that in just a few minutes I will have been able to address everything you wonder about in relation to the reality of the resurrection. I do want to move on to the other question I said we’d look at, that is, if it’s real, does it matter?
If you’ve still got questions, “Can I accept the resurrection?”, I’d love to give you a copy of this, it’s part of a series of 5 booklets we have available about Jesus, and his death and resurrection. This one’s called “Why Believe the Resurrection?” Come and see me afterwards, We’d love you to have a copy.
But our follow on question is, Does the resurrection matter?
If we’re convinced, or if we accept, even just for the sake of the argument, that the resurrection was a real event in history, that there’s no way that this account was made up,
Does it matter?
For Mark, writing his historical account, all those years ago, the issue is actually not primarily, the question, “Is the tomb empty”, he just establishes the fact that it is, but he knew that emptiness of the tomb was a universally acknowledged truth!
Anyone who wanted to, could go and see that the Jesus’ tomb was empty.
Everyone in Jerusalem knew, the tomb was empty.
Even those who were opposed to Christianity, and hated it, even they conceded that there was no body in the tomb that Sunday morning.
Mark, and the other historians writing in the New Testament, are really more interested in us asking the question, Why was it empty?,
Does it matter that it was empty?
And I want us to think for just a moment, about 3 significant messages the resurrection of Jesus sends us.
The resurrection matters because it vindicates Jesus
First of all, the resurrection matters because it shows us that Jesus’ claims are vindicated.
See those words from the angel, verse 7, But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he , told you.’ ”
The death of Jesus is not a depressing failure.
In the 1824 supplement to the Encyclopedia Britannica, there’s a funny story in the article on telegraphy, you know, semaphore, and signaling, that kind of thing.
A British Admiral named Robert Calder, wanted to inform London about the Duke of Wellington’s defeat of the French in Spain.
So he started signaling, “Wellington defeated, but then a fog suddenly descended, and no one could see the rest for the message! Apparently London was in utter despair, until much later in the day, when the fog lifted, and the rest of the message could be transmitted, “Wellington defeated, the French.”
The death of Jesus looks like defeat.
Jesus promised eternal life. And he’s dead.
The people of ancient Israel knew, and the Bible tells us, that each one of us has lived a life of rebellion against God.
Almost all of us, are very polite about it!
We live in God’s world, so he has the right to determine what life looks like.
But we live in the world that God made,
We take all the good gifts that God gives us,
But we act as if God isn’t there,
We decide we want to follow our pattern for life, instead of the pattern that God has established.
And that attitude is what the Bible calls sin.
Sin is not , murder,
Cheating on your tax return,
Downloading movies illegally.
Those things are all symptoms, of us rejecting God and his pattern for life.
And the Bible is clear, that the punishment for sin, the punishment for pushing God to the edges of our life and beyond, is death.
Spiritual death and separation from God forever.
But throughout his life, Jesus offered an alternative to that.
Jesus offered life with God , forever.
Think of John 3:16, perhaps the most famous verse in the Bible:, For God so loved the world, that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him, shall not perish, but have eternal life.
If that’s what Jesus offers;, life with God , forever, then his death would seem to be a problem, wouldn’t it?
Jesus offers life, but he himself succumbs to death!
“Wellington defeated, ”
But what did that angel say? Verse 6, You are looking for Jesus, the Nazarene who was crucified.
He has risen!
He is not here.
See the place where they laid him. 7 But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’ ”
Jesus had said repeatedly, that he would suffer, die, and be raised from the dead.
He says it in chapter 8 of Mark, .
He says it in chapter 9,
He says it in chapter 10!
This is exactly what Jesus said would happen.
Actually, the “has risen” there, in the original language, the verb is passive. “It’s he , has , been raised”. The emphasis is on God in heaven, doing the raising, to Jesus.
The resurrection is a statement about what God thinks of Jesus,
What God in heaven wants to say about Jesus.
I often get asked by people in our church if I’ll act as a referee, for job interviews or things like that. Although now, with the 37% trustworthy rating for ministers of religion, that might all change!
The resurrection is God’s reference for Jesus.
It’s God’s statement saying, “Jesus is trustworthy and reliable.”
God isn’t going to raise, a deluded, lying, religious nut, from the dead.
The resurrection matters because it demonstrates that Jesus really can do the things he claimed he could.
If the resurrection is not real, then nothing else about Jesus matters, at all!
Who cares if he was a good man or a wise teacher? History has had thousands of them.
But if the resurrection is real, then everything about Jesus matters, because the resurrection shows that Jesus really is who he claimed to be,
Those audacious claims about being the only way to God, about being able to forgive our sin and rebellion, the resurrection shows them all to be true.
The resurrection matters because it offers us great hope
And so the resurrection matters,
And not just because of what it says about Jesus, but also because through what it shows us about him, it offers us, great hope.
The resurrection matters, because clearly, death is not the end!
It’s not the end for Jesus, and it’s not the end for those who trust in the forgiveness and reconciliation with God that he offers.
I take quite a lot of funerals, it goes with the job! And I don’t know if you’re allowed to have a favourite part of a funeral, . but if you are, my favourite bit, is when I get to read from John’s account of Jesus life, chapter 11, verse 35, where Jesus says, I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; 26 and whoever lives by believing in me, will never die.
Jesus’ resurrection, promises our resurrection.
It demonstrates once and for all, Jesus’ power and authority over death.
Who better to trust with my death, than the person who has been through death, and lived to tell the tale!
Just the other day I was at a funeral and I heard someone saying, “death is just like going into the next room.”
My Buddhist friends tells me that death is just a gateway for my spirit to attach itself to some other life, based upon how good or bad I’ve been in this life.
But I don’t believe them. None of them!
And do you know why?
Why do I choose to trust Jesus with my death, rather than them?
Because has experienced death, and beaten it, just as he promised he would, and those other people haven’t!
How do I know that Jesus really is able to forgive my sin?
How can I be sure that when Jesus says anyone can come to God, that that includes me?
How can I really ever be convinced, that Jesus’ death means I don’t need to fear death?
Because God raised Jesus from the dead.
If you were with us a few weeks ago, that language we used, God co-signs the bottom of Jesus’ cheques.
The resurrection of Jesus matters, because it offers us great hope.
The resurrection matters because it warns us that God will judge sin
The resurrection also matters because it warns us that God will judge sin.
Have a listen to these words from the Apostle Paul, spoken in Athens. We looked at these words on our first Sunday here a couple of months ago. For God has set a day when he will judge the world with justice, by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.
Or as the New Living Translation puts it, he proved to everyone who this is, by raising him from the dead
God the Father has identified the judge of the world, by raising him from the dead.
Now, we think that sin and rebellion needs to be judged. There’s a price that needs to be paid! I don’t think there’s anyone who thinks that’s not true!
Our problem is, actually, that our sense of judgment and punishment is entirely screwed up!
In the news just this week, death threats, and threats of other retribution, have been made against the gliding club, where Germanwings co-pilot Andreas Lubitz learned to fly as a 14 year old.
We don’t think evil-doers should get off scot-free,
We agree that evil should be punished,
The problem is that humanity’s assessment of what should be punished and how, is completely messed up.
So isn’t it great that it’s not up to us.
God has appointed a judge, and he’s announced to everyone who that judge is, by raising him from the dead.
The resurrection matters because it shows us that Jesus is the judge of the world.
I have a friend who happens to be one of the world’s leading experts on the Rwandan Genocide. You’ll remember, back in 1994, up to a million people, or 20% of the entire population of that country were massacred.
My friend, who lecturers all over the world, sought after by CNN and the BBC every time Rwanda makes it into the news, I asked him once, if it seemed to him, that the perpetrators of these crimes ever thought they would face justice.
Without a moment’s hesitation, he said absolutely not.
Listening to these people speak about their actions, it never crossed their minds, even for a moment, that one day they would be judged for the crimes they committed.
And no doubt, many of them will die, without ever facing justice.
But the resurrection says, death is not the end.
Ultimately, we will have to give an account.
There is something beyond the grave, and ultimately there will be justice.
The resurrection matters, because it warns us that God will judge sin, and it tells us that Jesus is his appointed judge.
And so, it seems, the resurrection is real, and the resurrection , really , does matter.
Which means it’s really something worth getting right. You don’t want to be wrong about the resurrection,
You don’t want to just hear something that someone else says, something you read, something on TV once, and just take it on board without thinking about it.
There was a comedian in the Melbourne Comedy Festival Gala last week, who joked that he’d started doing something religiously, and he said, “by religiously, I mean doing it without really thinking about it!” Of course that got a laugh from the audience, it even got a laugh from me!
But actually, I think when it comes to the resurrection of Jesus, the risk of responding without really thinking about it,
Of believing something without looking into it,
That’s something I’d hate for you to do, because you’ve just assumed, that the resurrection isn’t real, or it doesn’t matter.
Can I say, you don’t want to get caught, not having done your research.
An atheist scholar named Matthew McCormick wrote a book a couple of years ago called “Atheism And The Case Against Christ.” I’m not convinced by anything I read in it, but I noticed, that in the book, McCormick mentions an Aboriginal deity, named, you guessed it! Jar’Edo Wens!
Don’t , get , caught, not doing your research.
Look at the eye-witness testimony,
Listen to the historians,
Follow where the evidence points,
See the truth of the resurrection,
And see how much it matters.