Sunday, April 20, 2014
Pastor Joe Wittwer
#2—Easter Sunday: He is risen!
Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!
This is Sunday! (Well…this is Friday or Saturday, but we’re celebrating like it’s Sunday!) This is Day Two of our series, “Three Days…” We’re looking at three days that changed the world. The first day was Good Friday, the day Jesus died, and we saw last Sunday what happened and why it mattered. As Good Friday came to a close, things looked bleak. Jesus was dead and buried; his disciples were scattered and hiding; and the Jesus movement looked doomed. It was over. On the cross, Jesus had said, “It is finished.” And his enemies certainly believed it was. They had crushed the Jesus movement before it got started. On Friday and Saturday, it looked hopeless. It looked like evil had won. It looked over. That was Friday and Saturday…but Sunday was coming!
This is Sunday! Day Two of our three days that changed the world—Easter Sunday or Resurrection Sunday, the day Jesus was raised from the dead. So what happened, and why does it matter?
1. What happened on Sunday? Christ is risen!
Early on Sunday morning, Mary Magdalene and some of the other ladies who had followed Jesus took spices to the tomb to complete the process of embalming Jesus’ body. Jesus had died on Friday, and by the time they took him off the cross, burial preparations had to be done hastily since the sun was setting and the Sabbath beginning when no work could be done. But now the Sabbath was over—Saturday had come and gone—and so early Sunday morning they set out to finish the job.
When they arrived at the tomb, the stone covering the mouth of the tomb had been rolled away. An angel dressed in bright white was there, and announced, “Don’t be afraid. I know you’re looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come see the place where he lay, then go tell his disciples.”
Why the angel? If you had gone to your friend’s tomb and found it empty, what would you assume? Someone had moved the body. Your first thought wouldn’t be, “Oh, my friend is alive! He is risen from the dead!” Your first thought would be that someone has messed with the grave, and moved the body. John tells us that’s exactly what Mary Magdalene assumed at first. So an angel is posted at the tomb to make sure the disciples know what happened: “He is not here. He is risen.” This isn’t grave-robbing; this is a resurrection!
So the women hurried back to where the men were hiding… I’ve got to point out a couple things.
First, through this whole story of Jesus arrest, death and resurrection, the women comport themselves with more courage than the men. Including here, where we see the ladies going to the tomb—a potentially dangerous place to be if the Romans were still hunting for Jesus’ co-conspirators. The women went, and the men stayed in hiding.
Second, all four gospels indicate that the first person to see Jesus was a woman. This is significant since in Jewish culture, women were considered unreliable witnesses; their testimony wasn’t even allowed in court. If you were making this story up, who would you have seeing Jesus first? A man! A good strong brave reliable man whose testimony would stand up in court. But every gospel has Jesus appearing first to a woman. Why? The only explanation that makes sense is simply because that’s the way it happened.
Matthew tells us that as the women hurried back to where the men were hiding, Jesus appeared to them. It’s the first appearance of the resurrected Jesus—what do you think Jesus said to them? “Hi.” Most of your Bibles will say, “Greetings.” It’s a translation of the common Greek word of greeting (chairete), comparable to saying, “Hey, how are you? Good to see you.” Dale Bruner’s commentary translates it, “Jesus met them and said, ‘Hi.’” Doesn’t this seem a bit understated? They’ve just seen Jesus alive from the dead for the first time! What amazing thing will Jesus say to explain or mark the moment? “Hi.” It’s as if Jesus is saying, “See, I told you! What did you expect?”
ILL: A pastor named Skip Viau tried to tell this story in a children’s sermon one time. He posed the question, “What were Jesus’ first words to the disciples after he was raised from the dead?” Before he could give Matthew’s answer, a little girl waved her hand, and Skip deferred to her. “I know,” she said. “Ta da!” It’s as good a translation as any. 
So the women hurried back to where the men were hiding, and told them what they had seen (an empty grave) and what they had heard (the angel’s announcement that Jesus is alive). But even an empty grave and an angelic announcement wasn’t enough to convince the disciples. Even the women’s testimony that they had seen Jesus wasn’t enough. A couple of the men did run to the tomb, and like the women had reported, they saw the stone moved and the tomb empty, except for the graveclothes. Jesus’ body had been wrapped in linen, covering everything except his head, which had been wrapped with a separate piece. They saw the graveclothes lying there like a discarded cocoon, as though Jesus’ body had simply evaporated and left them behind, the headpiece separate from the body wrapping. John saw this and believed, but it still wasn’t enough for the others. They wouldn’t believe until they saw Him themselves.
And that happened…on Sunday night.
John tells us that evening the disciples were together behind locked doors—they still feared for their lives and were in hiding. Suddenly, Jesus was there. The doors were still locked—it was like, “Beam me down, Scotty!” So what is the first thing Jesus said this time? “Peace.” They were already jumpy and afraid, and suddenly He appears out of nowhere—it makes perfect sense that He would say, “Peace! Relax, it’s me. Easy big fellas.” Jesus showed them His hands and side, and to prove that He was real, not a ghost or figment of their imaginations, He asked for food and ate it in front of them.
This was the first of many appearances. For the next 40 days, Jesus appeared multiple times in multiple places to multiple people, individually and in groups as large as 500 at one time.
It’s worth noting that in three of the gospels, Jesus singles out Peter. He mentions Peter by name, pays Peter a special individual visit, and in John 21, tracks Peter down when he abandons ship and restores him to his calling. Why single out Peter? Because while all the disciples abandoned Jesus when he was arrested, Peter denied three times even knowing Jesus. And this was after bragging to Jesus that even if everyone else bailed, Peter would be there for Him. Big brag, big bust. Peter was broken, and Jesus knew it and gave him some TLC, a little personal attention. I’ve always loved that. When we fail, the resurrected Jesus doesn’t dump us, but finds us, forgives us and calls us to get back in the saddle and go on. If you’ve failed and fear that God has given up on you, take a close look at Peter’s story—and get back in the saddle. God hasn’t given up on you. The resurrected Jesus still wants you.
So Sunday starts with the disciples sad, confused and hopeless; Jesus is dead. And Sunday ends with the disciples stunned and overjoyed; Jesus is alive. Ta da! They have seen Him, touched Him, talked with Him.
That’s Sunday—a day that changed the world. How?
2. What changed? What does it mean?
Here are a couple big ones!
A. The Jesus Movement was launched.
Jesus’ resurrection is the trigger that started the Jesus movement. Let me say it another way: without the resurrection of Jesus, there would be no Christian faith. Without the resurrection, Jesus would just be a footnote in history, or forgotten altogether.
I told you last week that during Jesus’ life, there were at least 18 would-be messiahs in Israel. The Jews expected the messiah to drive out the Romans and make them a great nation again. But all of them ended the same way: captured and executed by the Romans. In a speech in Acts 5:36-37, Jewish rabbi Gamaliel mentions two of them. The first was Theudas.
Acts 5:36 Some time ago Theudas appeared, claiming to be somebody, and about four hundred men rallied to him. He was killed, all his followers were dispersed, and it all came to nothing.
According to first century Jewish historian Josephus, Theudas was called Messiah (think “Theudas Christ”). He claimed he could part the Jordan River and make the walls of Jerusalem fall down. The Romans eventually captured him, and decapitated him in Jerusalem in front of the crowds.
The second was Judas the Galilean.
Acts 5:37 After him, Judas the Galilean appeared in the days of the census and led a band of people in revolt. He too was killed, and all his followers were scattered.
Josephus tells us that Judas founded the Zealots. He and two thousand of his followers were captured and crucified. The crosses were all left standing in the Galilean countryside—the Romans were sending a message.
Gamaliel’s point was that when these would-be messiahs were killed, it was the end of their revolution or movement. It came to nothing. They were soon forgotten. And Gamaliel insisted that the same thing would happen to this Jesus movement. Leave it alone; if it’s not from God, it will die.
But of course the big difference was that Theudas stayed dead. So did Judas. But Jesus didn’t; He rose from the dead. And it was this single fact that propelled the Jesus movement forward.
It wasn’t the teaching of Jesus that sent His followers to the streets; it was His resurrection. Christians weren’t simply believers in a set of ideas, a theological system or an abstract philosophy; they were eyewitnesses of an event. The central teaching of these first Christians was not that they believed an idea was true, but that they believed something happened. God raised Jesus from the dead. They saw him.
Without the resurrection, there is no Christian faith. There is no Jesus movement, no church. Nothing. It ends with a dead Jesus in a borrowed grave. Period. But because of this single event, the Jesus movement is launched and the disciples take this shocking news around the world. Christ is risen!
The apostle Paul, who also saw the resurrected Jesus, insisted that this event was the hinge-pin of the Christian faith.
1 Corinthians 15:3–8 For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. 6 After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, 8 and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.
Here is Paul’s summary of the gospel: Christ died for our sins and was buried; Christ was raised on the third day and appeared to many. Then he said:
1 Corinthians 15:11 Whether, then, it is I or they, this is what we preach, and this is what you believed.
This is what we preach—our message is Jesus, crucified and raised. And this is what you believed. This is the gospel. Notice that it is not first a theological or philosophical system—that would come later. It was an event: Jesus crucified and raised. This happened! We saw it! God did something in our time that’s never been done. We’re following Jesus, who predicted His own death and resurrection—and pulled it off!
But some in Corinth doubted that the dead could be raised. Paul responded clearly:
1 Corinthians 15:14–15 And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. 15 More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead.
1 Corinthians 15:17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.
For Paul, the resurrection of Jesus was the hinge-pin of the Christian faith. Pull it out and the whole thing unravels and falls apart. If Jesus wasn’t raised, our message is useless, and our faith it futile. And Paul says, if Christ hasn’t been raised, we are not telling the truth about God, because we’re telling everyone He has!
Paul clearly believed that Jesus’ death and resurrection is the core of the gospel message. Without it, there is no Christian faith. Something happened!
How else do you explain this?
In the gospels, Jesus is rejected in his hometown. Afterwards He said, “A prophet is without honor in his home town, among his relatives and in his own home.” The people who had watched Jesus grow up just couldn’t believe that He was someone special. He was just the carpenter’s kid—he grew up down the street with all those brothers and sisters. But it wasn’t just the townspeople; even His own family didn’t believe. At one point, they came to take Him home, fearing He had lost His mind. (Mark 3:21) At another point, His brothers taunted Him, daring Him to go to Jerusalem. “You want to become famous? You won’t do it if you hide out here in Galilee! If you can do such amazing things, show yourself to the world!” John tells us that his brothers said this because they didn’t believe in him. (John 7:4-5)
How many of you have a brother? Did your brother ever think he was hot stuff, and you knew better?
ILL: In the second grade, I thought I was Zorro. At the end of the year parent-teacher conference, my teacher showed my parents all my work. At the top of every paper, there was no name, just Zorro, with a big Z! I had a rich fantasy life. I’m sure my sisters would have rolled their eyes!
Maybe Jesus’ brothers looked at him like my sisters looked at me in my Zorro phase. “Messiah…yeah, right!” You can understand why Jesus’ brothers weren’t buying this whole messiah deal, and we can cut them some slack.
But here’s the interesting thing. Did you notice in 1 Corinthians 15, in the list of resurrection appearances, this one?
1 Corinthians 15:7 Then he appeared to James
This James is Jesus’ brother. James had stubbornly refused to believe in Jesus, but after seeing his dead brother alive, James became a believer. In fact, he eventually became the leader of the Jerusalem church, and died for his faith.
What would your brother have to do to convince you that He is the Son of God? I’m guessing nothing less than a resurrection! I think one of the best evidences for the resurrection of Jesus is His brother, James, who came to faith only after seeing his dead brother alive.
What made James change his mind? What changed the forlorn and hopeless disciples who were hiding to save their lives, into joyous, confident messengers of Jesus willing to risk everything? What caused the Jesus movement to suddenly take off when every other messianic movement died with its leader? What gave birth to the resurrection community that we call the church? Why are there 3 billion people on our planet who claim to follow Jesus in some form? The answer is that something happened. God did something; He raised Jesus from the dead. Christ is risen!
What does it mean? One more:
B. Hope transforms us.
After the resurrection of Jesus, the disciples came out of hiding and began to boldly, fearlessly tell the Jesus story. They were no longer afraid. Why? Well, what is the worst thing someone could do to you? Kill you. But for these Christians, death had lost its sting. Jesus had embraced death and conquered it. There was nothing left to fear.
ILL: A missionary in Brazil discovered a tribe of Indians in a remote part
of the jungle. They lived near a large river. The tribe was friendly and in need of medical attention. A contagious disease was ravaging the population and people were dying daily. An infirmary was located in another part of the jungle and the missionary decided that the only hope for the tribe was to go to the hospital for treatment and inoculations. To reach the hospital the Indians would have to cross the river—a feat they refused to attempt. They believed the river was inhabited by evil spirits. To enter the water meant certain death.
The missionary tried to help them overcome their superstition. He explained how he had crossed the river to reach them and arrived unharmed. He led the people to the bank of the river and put his hand in the water. He walked out into the river and splashed water in his face. Nothing convinced them…until he dove into the water, and swam beneath the surface. When he emerged on the other side, he punched a triumphant fist into the air and the Indians broke into cheers and followed him across.
Jesus plunged into death and emerged on the other side, punching a triumphant fist in the air. Ta da! Death isn’t the end; there’s life on the other side. That hope inspired Jesus’ followers to take crazy risks.
- They spread across the Roman Empire fearlessly sharing the gospel in the face of persecution and death.
- When the plague swept through Roman cities, it was the Christians who fearlessly tended the sick and buried the dead, often at the cost of their own lives.
- When babies were abandoned and exposed to the elements to die, it was Christians who fearlessly took them home and raised them at their expense.
The hope Jesus inspired wasn’t just a syrupy hope of heaven that made people passive. What did Karl Marx say? Religion is the opiate of the masses. It drugs them into passivity. “We’re going to heaven so it doesn’t matter what happens here; it will all be better when we get to heaven, just hang on.”
That’s the not the hope Jesus inspired. It was a hope that transformed His followers into risk takers who lived their lives on the edge. It stirred them to take huge risks for God because there was nothing to lose and everything to gain! This is why Paul could write to the Philippians from jail and say,
Philippians 1:21–24 For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. 22 If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! 23 I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; 24 but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body.
Paul was in a Roman jail, and was unsure of the outcome. Would he be released or executed? He didn’t know. But he had an answer for both. Release me—to live is Christ. Kill me—to die is gain! He was completely fearless because of this hope.
So you follow Jesus who defeated death, and you live fearlessly for Him. But sometimes things don’t go well; you take a risk and it doesn’t seem to work out; you do the right thing and it blows up in your face. You live for Jesus and you wonder, is it worth it?
ILL: Ann Kiemel grew up in a place where she and her twin sister Jan were a minority both in terms of race and faith. She cried herself to sleep every night in junior high, and in high school, she tried to live for Jesus, but was often discouraged.
She would ask her dad, “Why does it pay to serve Jesus?” And he’d say, “Hang in there; it pays.”
“I don’t want to go to school today,” she’d tell her mom.
“Don’t you kids know that life is made up of ordinary days when there is no one to pat you on the back and see how noble and brave you are. It’s how you live your ordinary days that determines whether you have big moments.” And her mom would push her out the door in tears.
On the last day of high school during an awards ceremony, the principal called Jan and Ann to the stage. “Most of us are Hindus or Buddhists but these two girls came and brought their God to our campus. They’ve changed our world.” As the applause rolled, Ann stood there speechless, tears dripping off her chin.
Inside she whispered, “You were right, Dad. Through the hundreds of ordinary days when I wanted to give up, it paid. It pays to follow Jesus.
At the end of his great chapter on the resurrection, Paul wrote:
1 Corinthians 15:58 Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.
It pays to follow Jesus. We’re following the guy who predicted his death and resurrection and pulled it off! There is nothing to lose, nothing to fear. So go for it! Live full on for Jesus! And know that whatever you do for Jesus, counts. Live boldly!
Jesus’ resurrection wasn’t the end of the story. There’s more! And we’ll talk about that next Sunday in Day #3 of Three Days that changed the world.
 Ortberg, John (2012-07-31). Who Is This Man?: The Unpredictable Impact of the Inescapable Jesus (p. 187). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.
 Ortberg, John (2012-07-31). Who Is This Man?: The Unpredictable Impact of the Inescapable Jesus (p. 165). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.
 Ibid, pg. 166.