The Centre of History: Easter
3/29/2016 4:04:40 AM
March 27, 2016
Rev. David Williams
Scripture: Luke 24:1-53
I want you to imagine that one day you wake up and look out the window and the sky is the wrong colour. Instead of blue, it’s green. [pic] Wondering about this, you go down stairs to make some coffee or tea. You turn on the tap and the water starts to run, but instead of being wet, it’s dry. It feels like a powder. It looks like water, but the water isn’t wet anymore! You turn on the news and the anchors are talking about the fact that suddenly the sun is revolving around the earth, instead of the earth around the sun! Everything has changed! The very nature of reality has shifted!
Two thousand years ago, something on a similar scale happened. The world changed. The nature of reality shifted. It was not as tangible as what I just described, but it was actually more important, more fundamental to the nature of reality. [pic] There was a new answer to life, the universe and everything. The change was less easily observed, it is not as visible to the naked eye, but that does not make it any less profound. In fact, the change is one that requires outside intervention to detect. It is a matter of divine revelation to come to see the nature of this shift.
You see, two thousand years ago the first resurrection happened. For the first time in all of history a man who died was resurrected. He wasn’t resuscitated. He wasn’t reanimated. He was resurrected. He who was dead came back to life, but not to life as it was before. Coming back to life had happened previously in history. In fact, the man in question had brought back to life, had resuscitated, 3 different people. But in each of those cases, the patient who was returned to life was doomed to repeat the experience of death. Their bodies were still subject to sickness, fatigue, hunger, pain and decay. They came back to life, which was a miracle, but it was life as it had been before. But resurrection is not the same. It is not resuscitation. It is more than that. It means coming back to life but life is a new form, a new kind of life.
This is hard for us to wrap our heads around. [pic] We are familiar with people being resuscitated. We see lots of medical shows on TV, both real and fictional, in which doctors are able to use the paddles or CPR to bring someone back to life. That is resuscitation. [pic] We may be familiar with science fiction stories in which dead people come back to life as “undead” creatures, zombies and vampires and the like. This new existence is much worse than the life they had before. But never do we see resurrected people. We don’t get what that means. We confuse it with these other forms of dead people coming alive again.
But the resurrection of Jesus marks a seismic shift in the nature of life, the universe and everything. The resurrection of Jesus marks the entry into this world of the Kingdom of God, the rule of God. It marks the beginning of literally a new age or a new kind of reality and experience. The resurrection marks the beginning of New Creation. In terms of significance, it is on the same scale as the original creation of the universe in the first place!
Today we are going to explore some of the events that happened on the first day and in the first month of this new age, this Age to Come as it is sometimes called.
Text and Context
Please turn with me in your Bibles to Luke 24. We are going to read the entire chapter together. Don’t worry, I’m not going to go into as much detail on the text as I usually do! But it is rare that we look at the events of Easter in their entirety. Usually we just read a piece of it, one scene or one vignette of the first Easter. Even today we are only going to see 1 of 4 Gospel accounts of the resurrection.
Remember, Jesus had just been crucified on the preceding Friday. At the end of the day on Friday, his body was taken down from the cross after the Romans made sure he was dead. Some of his followers, including Joseph of Arimethea, took Jesus’ body and buried it in Joseph’s tomb. As was the custom, a large stone was rolled across the entry way to close the tomb. This happened on the Friday. Saturday is the Jewish Sabbath, so nothing much could happen on that day, not even taking care of the body. Now let’s read together what began on the Sunday.
Themes in the Text
Notice as the text begins the action centers on some women. This is significant because women were not allowed to testify in court in Israel. Why does that matter? Because if someone was to make this up after the fact they would never have women be the first on the scene, the first witnesses, if they wanted people to believe them. The fact that women are the first to find the empty tomb is a sign of the truthfulness of the account.
Second, notice the attitude of the women, their purpose. They were not going to the tomb to see if Jesus had been raised yet. They were going in order to embalm the body. They fully expected to find Jesus dead. They were going to complete the hasty embalming job that had been done on Friday. When they found the tomb empty, they were confused. They didn’t immediately think, “Oh, Jesus has risen! That’s what he told us!”
Similarly, when they went to tell the 11 remaining disciples, the disciples didn’t say, “Yes! We expected this! He is risen indeed!” Rather, they didn’t believe and said it seemed like foolishness. In fact, they were hiding in the upper room with the doors locked because they were afraid of the Romans doing to them what they had just done to Jesus! They were not anticipating Jesus’ resurrection and victory. They were anticipating further defeat!
Again, with the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, Luke says they were downcast. Jesus asked them what was wrong. Notice the irony in their questions, “Are you the only person who doesn’t know what has happened in Jerusalem?” In fact, he was the only person who DID know what had happened! And when Jesus began to speak with them, he had to explain the whole thing going as far back as the books of Moses. It was not a simple lesson of, “Remember, you expected Jesus to be raised from the dead.” Rather, he had to explain that the Saviour, the Christ, had to die and then be raised on the third day. None of Jesus’ followers expected the resurrection.
Even when Jesus appeared to the disciples in the upper room, they thought he was a ghost! He had to go to great lengths to convince them he was alive, that had a physical body. This is not a story of the disciples eagerly expecting or even hoping for the resurrection. They were beaten. They had lost. [pic] They looked like a top ranked basketball team that gets knocked out of the championship tournament in the second round. They had no hope. The resurrection was the last thing on their minds. So much so it took them a lot of convincing when it happened.
So that’s the first theme we see in the text. The second is the nature of Jesus’ resurrected body. First, he is able to get out of the tomb. Luke reports that Peter ran to the tomb and saw the grave clothes. In another Gospel, we read about the grave clothes being found folded neatly in the tomb. Jesus didn’t wake up in his old body, wrapped in the strips of cloth and have to fight his way out. No, whatever happened to his body, the grave clothes were left neatly folded on the shelf where he had been laid.
Second, the disciples on the road did not recognize Jesus. This tells us that Jesus’ resurrected body could appear different than his earthly body. It was not until their eyes were “opened” as Jesus broke the bread that the two clued in to who he was.
In addition, Jesus was able to disappear from their sight. Later, he was able to appear in the upper room, even though the door was locked. So we see that Jesus’ resurrected body had some characteristics normal bodies do not have. Yet he was not a ghost. He was not a disembodied spirit. He had a physical body, which is why he was able to take some of their fish and eat it. They were able to touch him. They were able to see the holes in his hands, feet and side from his crucifixion. So his body was not only recognizable, but still carried the scars from his execution.
Resurrected bodies have both physical and supernatural qualities. Jesus is not a reanimated corpse. Nor is he a resuscitated but otherwise normal individual after the resurrection. His resurrected body is unlike any other human body that has ever existed. That is the point. In the words of Paul, Jesus is the firstborn from among the dead. He is the first of his kind. He is the first of many, but the resurrection of other people will only happen in the future.
What the Resurrection Means
This brings us to the very important question of what the resurrection means. I’m going to give you a lot of theology right now and it may be a little overwhelming. That’s ok, because it should be overwhelming! We are talking about a once in history event (so far). We are talking about the core, the foundation of one of the world’s major religions. We are talking about God’s solution to a seemingly impossible problem. If we’re not overwhelmed by the significance of God’s greatest work, there’s a problem with our God!
For those of you who have been Christians for a while, you’ve probably heard a few Easter sermons. Maybe you’ve gotten to the point where you take for granted the resurrection. Hopefully this will inspire you and re-ignite your awe for God. For those of you who are new Christians, or who are not yet Christians, this may be overwhelming or mind-boggling. I don’t apologize for that. Instead, I hope this sparks your interest. I hope you realize that Christianity is very different from any other religion or philosophy. There is more going on here than you will find outside of Christianity. I hope this will inspire you investigate further! I hope it will give you a taste of what Christianity is about that will whet your appetite and make you hungry for more.
The resurrection is a unique event in history (to date). This poses some difficulty for us on a couple of levels. First, some dismiss the resurrection because nothing else like it has ever happened before or since. Dead people stay dead. Even resuscitated people die again. They don’t gain supernatural powers when they are revived. So some people dismiss the resurrection out of hand because it is not scientifically repeatable.
Second, because it is unique, some people misunderstand it. This can lead to disbelief, like those who liken the resurrection to zombie stories. Or is can lead to disbelief like those who think Jesus is just a great moral teacher, prophet or guide. They look at the parts of Jesus’ teachings about loving others and think that’s what Christianity is about. In still others, the resurrection is baffling so even though they believe in Jesus and accept the forgiveness he brings, they think Christianity is about going to Heaven when we die and living as angels or spirits in Heaven for eternity. All three of these views are wrong! Jesus didn’t come so that we can go to Heaven when we die! He came to bring new life and redeem creation. He came to usher in a new age of creation, a new kind of creation. He came to bring a new kind of life, one without sin and its effects.
This work of Jesus is on the same cosmic scale as creation itself. He is making a new creation out of the old one by redeeming it from the inside out. This is what the resurrection marks! The resurrection is the beginning of this transformation of the world from one in which sin and death rule to one in which Jesus and agape love rule. The resurrection is on par with the Big Bang! Whether you believe the earth is old or young, you need to grasp that the resurrection of Jesus is an event as significant as the original act of creation itself. God said, “Let there be light” at the beginning. With the resurrection, we can infer that he said, “Let there be life.”
And just as the original act of creation cannot be repeated, or even studied or comprehended fully (the laws of physics break down as we look back at creation) so the resurrection cannot be repeated or even studied or fully comprehended.
The magnitude of the resurrection and what it means in terms of a new creation means that the life of a Christian is not about being good so that you get to go to Heaven. The life of a Christian is not about hoping, one day, to escape this world and be rid of it. The life of a Christian is about being a living witness to the truth that Jesus is the king of the universe and is in the process of making all things new. We are his ambassadors. We are the authoritative representatives of the new reality, the new truth behind the universe of which Jesus is the author and perfector. The life of a Christian is about redeeming this creation, not escaping it. Jesus didn’t come to make bad people good. He came to make dead people alive. [Ravi Zacharias]
This is what Christians mean when they speak of being “born again.” This is what it means to have new life in Christ. It means that you are joined the new Kingdom of God, the new reality in which God’s authority rules.
Now, because this work of redeeming creation has begun but is not yet fully complete, there is a tension. There is a duality. We live in two realities at once. We have one foot in the present age in which sin and death rule. We have another foot in the Kingdom of God, the age in which God rules and there is no sin or death. While we wait for Jesus’ return, we experience aspects of both of these competing realities. But the resurrection shows that death has been beaten. He has not been fully subdued, but the victory has been won. In his death throws, Satan will do as much damage as he can, he will take as many people with him as he can, he will rob God of as much glory as he can, he will blind all he can to the truth and love of Jesus, but he cannot win. He cannot undo the resurrection. He cannot undo the payment Jesus made on the cross for our sins. He cannot end new life. So we feel a tension, we suffer the fiery arrows of Satan in this life, we succumb to our sinful desires at times, but we still have new life in Christ.
On the inside, at our core, we have been changed. We have the Holy Spirit living in and working on our hearts. And as the Spirit slowly works on our transformation, slowly to ensure we do not break under the strain of change but also only as fast as we are willing to cooperate, we are reshaped into the likeness of our Saviour. Our sinful nature is slowly subdued as we grow and mature in our new life.
This change in our nature is what baptism is about. In a little while, Tim White is going to be baptized. Baptism is an outward sign of this inward change. It is our appropriate response of submission and obedience to God having been granted new life through the forgiveness of sins given to us by Jesus. The physical motion of baptism resembles death and resurrection. Paul says that we are joined with Jesus in his death through baptism. (Rom 6:4; Col 2:12) When we are baptized, we are publically declaring our allegiance to Jesus, that we have given our lives to him so that he can transform them and give us new life. We are announcing to the world that we have undergone this spiritual transformation now in anticipation of the physical transformation of resurrection we look forward to in the future.
This is what the celebration of Easter is supposed to be about- new life in Christ, the beginning of new creation, a redemption of this world so significant it is likened to making all things new. Easter marks the first resurrection, a singular event in history! The resurrection is so significant, so important, so earth shattering that it actually marks the very centre of history! Perhaps not the centre of the timeline of the history of the universe, but the centre in terms of the meaning of the universe. The resurrection was not God’s plan B. It was not his “Oops, people have sinned and screwed up my plans! What will I do to fix it?” The resurrection was God’s plan A the whole time. He knew when he spoke the universe into being that we would screw up and so he planned the new universe, the redeemed universe coming through Christ and the resurrection from the very beginning! So the resurrection marks the centre, the focal point of history because it marks the point at which God’s plan for all of creation really starts to take hold. The creation God wanted in the end begins to unfold in the resurrection of his Son Jesus. That is the nature of Easter! That is the meaning behind history. Joining in that new creation, redeemed creation is what being a Christian is about.
When you give your life to Jesus so that he can redeem you and give you new life, the sky is still blue, water is still wet and the earth still rotates around the sun. So things on the outside may seem the same. But on the inside, spiritually, emotionally, intellectually, a seed has sprouted in you. New life begins to grow. An infant in Christ has been born. There is a lot of growing and maturing to do, growing into first a baby and then a young adult in Christ, hopefully, someday becoming a father or mother in Christ, wise and mature and able to build into other Christians. A radical change has taken place and you are become part of a new reality in which God’s authority rules. And it is made possible because of that first Easter, that first Sunday when the women went to the tomb and Jesus wasn’t there. It is made possible by the greatest single act of God in our world since it began. That is what Easter is about. That is why we celebrate it. That is what Christianity is about. Anybody who tells you otherwise is short changing you and selling you something counterfeit.
If, today, you know that you do not have this new life I’m talking about, I urge you to pray to God that you will find it. Even the followers of Jesus, who had known him in person for years, had to have their eyes opened, their minds opened to understand what this is all about. So ask God to reveal to you the truth of the resurrection. Ask God for this new life he offers in Jesus. Ask Jesus to forgive your sin so that you can be reconciled to God through Christ and no longer be a slave to sin and death. Ask Jesus to enter your mind, your emotions, your will, your desires and imagination. Submit these parts of yourself to Jesus and ask him to be your boss. And he will bring you this new life, he will begin in you the work of redemption. You will find that while once you were dead, now you are alive! And if you do this, please come talk to me or to another believer who can help you learn what this means. Find a community of Christians who can be your spiritual parents to help you grown from an infant in Christ into a child and then a young adult in Christ.
So let’s celebrate Easter. Let’s celebrate new life, a new kind of life. Let’s celebrate with one another and especially with Tim, our brother in Christ who is taking this wonderful step of obedience and submission to Jesus as he makes public the new life that began in his a long time ago. Amen.
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