The Reception of the Resurrection (Luke 23:50-24:12)

      In high school I was recruited by all of the Ivy Schools accept for Harvard University. Harvard eventually came to their senses, but knowing that I did not have the test scores to get into the school I politely rejected them before they could reject me. So I can say with a straight face that I chose not to attend Harvard University. I am sure that Harvard quickly got over their rejection, but thousands of High School seniors are having a difficult time dealing with their own rejection. Siobhan O’Dell, a senior from High Point, NC, made national news when she recently rejected her rejection. She received her rejection letter from Duke University, but graciously responded,

Thank you for your rejection letter of March 26, 2015. After careful consideration, I regret to inform you that I am unable to accept your refusal to offer me admission into the Fall 2015 freshman class at Duke. This year I have been fortunate enough to receive rejection letters from the best and brightest universities in the country. Despite Duke’s outstanding success in rejecting previous applicants, you simply did not meet my qualifications. Therefore, I will be attending Duke University’s 2015 freshmen class. I look forward to seeing you then.

Regrettably, regardless of her finest attempts to reject her rejection, Ms. O’Dell will not be attending Duke next year.

      Facts sometimes can be hard to accept. The problem is not in the information, but in the desire to receive the information. This Easter weekend, the facts of the resurrection of Jesus Christ will be heralded from pulpits all over the world. The problem will not be in the facts cleared stated in the Scripture, but in our desire to receive the truth of the resurrection. The problem is not in the details, but in our ability to receive them. I pray that you will not only examine the facts, but receive them as truth. For as Ms. O’Dell discovered; her rejection of her rejection did not change the facts. Truth is truth regardless of whether we want to accept it or not. Let us examine the truth of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

The Respect of the Disciples

Before we can examine the truth of the resurrection, we have to first establish that a resurrection is needed. There have been many explanations put forward to discount the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, including several that states that Jesus Christ never really died. The Romans were professionals in execution. It is clearly seen in the Luke 23:44-49 that the Jesus Christ really died and confirmed by the Roman Centurion, the watching hostile crowd, along with the disciples and the women who followed Jesus. Luke is very detailed in his description of the respect shown to Jesus in his death. He was not treated like a common criminal, but as one deserving of the highest honor. Luke 23:50-56,

Now there was a man named Joseph, from the Jewish town of Arimathea. He was a member of the council, a good and righteous man, who had not consented to their decision and action; and he was looking for the kingdom of God. This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then he took it down and wrapped it in a linen shroud and laid him in a tomb cut in stone, where no one had ever yet been laid. It was the day of Preparation, and the Sabbath was beginning. The women who had come with him from Galilee followed and saw the tomb and how his body was laid. Then they returned and prepared spices and ointments. On the Sabbath they rested according to the commandment.

Jesus was dead and buried. Luke clearly presents the facts.

      Joseph Arimathea was a wealthy and righteous man. Even the most liberal scholars affirm him as a true historical figure. He showed tremendous courage by going to Pilate and asking for the body of Jesus. He laid Jesus in a tomb where no one had ever yet been laid. Joseph was looking for the kingdom of God and was a disciple of Jesus. We cannot fully know if Joseph was expecting a resurrection, but we can know that he clearly believe that Jesus was dead. Do not gloss over these verses.  The physical death of Jesus Christ is essential for the Christian faith. Jesus had to literally die for there to be a literal resurrection. 

       One day we all will literally die. We cannot avoid it. We may try to ignore it. We may not want to think about it, but it is coming. You can reject the facts, but you cannot change them. If you are here visiting today, I wonder have you ever considered what happens after death? Have you ever taken time to think about short time we have in this life. The great man of God, Moses prays in Psalm 90, “The years of our life are seventy, or even by reason of strength eighty; yet their span is but toil and trouble; they are soon gone, and we fly away. So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom. (Psalm 90:10; 12) Thinking about death actually can change how we live. Are you afraid to die? What confidence do you have in death?  What hope do you have for your life after death?

The reason why Christians so joyfully celebrate Easter is because they understand what the resurrection of Christ saves us from. The Bible gives the reason we all die. We die because of sin. Romans 5:12, “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned.” Death spread to all men because all sinned. We will all die, because we all have sinned. Hebrews 9:27, “…it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes to judgment.” Upon our death, we are going to be judged.

The question for you and me is what is our hope in that judgment? Our only hope in judgment is that Jesus Christ literally died to pay the penalty for our sins. The Apostle Paul writes,

And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister.” (Colossians 1:21-23)

Our only hope is to believe in faith that Jesus died in our place taking our sin on the cross and transferring his righteous life to us. But his death would mean nothing for us if there was not a resurrection.

The women saw the tomb where Jesus was laid. They, as devout Jews, rested on the Sabbath according to the law, before returning on the first day of the week. And when they arrive, God has messengers waiting with a reminder.

The Reminder of the Divine

         Luke places the emphasis on the declaration by the angels that were sent to testify to the resurrection by God. Luke 24:1-9,

But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared. And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men stood by them in dazzling apparel. And as they were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.” And they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb they told all these things to the eleven and to all the rest.

The women were expecting to find Jesus’ body in the tomb. They came prepared with spices to anoint the body for burial. The whole account has one of shock and amazement.  

Luke shows his respect by adding the title Lord Jesus to this account. The women will realize very quickly why Jesus is the Lord. When they arrived they noticed that the stone was rolled away. In Mark’s account the women were wondering who was going to roll the stone away implying the size and the weight of the stone, but here Luke emphasizes words of the angels.  The women were perplexed and confused why the stone was removed when the angels appeared in dazzling white apparel. It was clear that these messengers were from God. And in seeing these messengers from God, they bowed in reverence. A great picture of how our hearts should be when God speaks to us through his messengers today.

God sends his messengers to remind his people about his resurrection. This is not new news as the angels make clear, but they bring to remembrance the words of Christ. Hear them again, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.” Jesus is alive. Jesus Christ has been vindicated for his righteousness and has conquered the grave. The women should not have been surprised for Jesus told them this was to happen. The keyword in the angels account is the word “must” in verse 7.  Luke uses the Greek word “dei” which means “it is necessary” highlighting the divine redemptive plan of God. God planned this salvation before the foundation of the world. It could only come through the Son of Man being delivered, crucified and raised on the third day.

      The third day was a symbol through Scripture as the day of salvation. The Jews should have expected salvation to come,

God gave Isaac salvation on the third day, Genesis 22:3-4, “So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac. And he cut the wood for the burnt offering and arose and went to the place of which God had told him. On the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes and saw the place from afar.

God gave Joseph’s brothers salvation on the third day, Genesis 42:17-18, “And he put them all together in custody for three days. On the third day Joseph said to them, “Do this and you will live, for I fear God.

God gave Jonah salvation on the third day, Jonah 1:17, “And the LORD appointed a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.

God gave Esther salvation on the third day, Esther 5:1-2, “On the third day Esther put on her royal robes and stood in the inner court of the king's palace, in front of the king's quarters, while the king was sitting on his royal throne inside the throne room opposite the entrance to the palace. And when the king saw Queen Esther standing in the court, she won favor in his sight, and he held out to Esther the golden scepter that was in his hand. Then Esther approached and touched the tip of the scepter.

God promised repentant Israel salvation on the third day, Hosea 6:1-2, “Come, let us return to the LORD; for he has torn us, that he may heal us; he has struck us down, and he will bind us up. After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will raise us up, that we may live before him.”

All that to say is that God had been planning to give salvation to his people on the third day for a long time. The women should not have been surprised, but they needed a reminder.

Beloved, we are so much like these women. We need a reminder. God has promises us so many great and precious promises, but we are so prone to forget.  This is one of the reasons why God sends his messengers to us week in and week out to declare his Word so we shall not forget. The world wants us cover our eyes to God’s salvation, but we must remember. Peter said his whole ministry could be summed up in reminding the people of God of resurrection. 2 Peter 1:12-16,

Therefore I intend always to remind you of these qualities, though you know them and are established in the truth that you have. I think it right, as long as I am in this body, to stir you up by way of reminder, since I know that the putting off of my body will be soon, as our Lord Jesus Christ made clear to me. And I will make every effort so that after my departure you may be able at any time to recall these things. For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.

What are you facing today where you need to remember that God is in control and has promised you a resurrection? Do not be deceived by the world, our God is not dead; He is alive. He does not promise a life without suffering, He promises a resurrection. Remember, Remember, Remember!!! We do not base our lives on cleverly devised myths, but trust the facts of eye witnesses who saw Jesus die and be raised.

The Reception of the Discreditable

      Luke makes a specific point to identify the women by name that went to the tomb and reported the events to the apostles. Throughout this gospel Luke has given honor and respect to women who were treated as outcasts of society. Women were no credible witnesses. They were not allowed to testify in court. In God’s sovereign plan, he chose women to be the first witnesses and the first reporters of the resurrection.

Luke is careful throughout his Passion account to show the various witnesses who testified to Christ’s life. Do not forget Luke’s purpose to write an orderly account” so that the church would have certainty concerning the things that have been taught. Luke is writing facts, because no one would use women as witnesses if they wanted anyone to believe the resurrection. We do not always like facts and are very quick to reinterpret history, but Christianity has done more to improve the treatment and respect of women than any other religion in history. In her article, Christianity: The Best Thing that Ever Happen to Women, Sue Bohlin writes,

The first people Jesus chose to appear to after his resurrection were women; not only that, but he instructed them to tell his disciples that he was alive (Matt. 28John 20). In a culture where a woman’s testimony was worthless because she was worthless, Jesus elevated the value of women beyond anything the world had seen…As a result of Jesus Christ and His teachings, women in much of the world today, especially in the West, enjoy more privileges and rights than at any other time in history. It takes only a cursory trip to an Arab nation or to a Third World country to see how little freedom women have in countries where Christianity has had little or no presence. It’s the best thing that ever happened to women.[i]

She is right. Christianity is the best thing to happen to women. As our culture becomes more and more confused about gender, do not allow the culture to reinterpret history.

      Jesus chose to give women a prominent place in sharing the greatest news the world has ever heard. God does not make mistakes. Luke 24:8-10, “And they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb they told all these things to the eleven and to all the rest. Now it was Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James and the other women with them who told these things to the apostles.” Jesus honored women when no one else would. It is just like our God to give the greatest testimony ever heard to discreditable witnesses.          
The Rejection of the Disciples

The women came back to the apostles and share what they had seen. Everyone was still trying to figure out what was happening. We learn from John’s account that Mary herself who reported the missing body to the apostles thought that they had stolen it. Even though Jesus told them beforehand that this was going to happen, the disciples were slow to believe. Luke 24:11, “but these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.” The apostles did not trust the testimony of these women, but thought they were making it up. They believed it to be an idle tale and did not believe them. Although the text says the apostles did not believe the women, it was actually Jesus they did not believe.

Jesus had told them on three occasions that he was going to be delivered to the chief priests, suffer, die and on the third day be raised. They did not pay careful attention to the words of Christ or they remember the words and dismissed them. Luke does not paint the apostles in a very good light giving even more weight to the evidence. If this was a lie, why would the apostles describe themselves so poorly and use women as the primary witnesses? It does not make sense unless it is true.

And yet, I wonder how many of you are like these apostles. You may have heard of the good news of the death and resurrection of Christ, but are slow to believe. It seems like an idle tale. This is what many are saying about Christianity today. Richard Dawkins has said, “Faith is the great cop-out, the great excuse to evade the need to think and evaluate evidence. Faith is the belief in spite of, even perhaps because of, the lack of evidence.” The apostles seem to have heard and evaluated the evidence from the women and found it wanting. It seems like the first apostles did not believe exactly because the evidence was not compelling, but we have read the rest of the account and see what happened to these apostles who were slow to believe after they examined the evidence.

The Resurrection of the Dead

Peter decided to examine the evidence. He heard the women’s testimony and went to see the tomb for himself. Luke 24:12, “But Peter rose and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; and he went home marveling at what had happened.” Peter came to the tomb and he looked inside and did not see Jesus. He said he went away marveling at what had happened. We do not know for certain that when Peter “marveled” he truly believed in the resurrection, but we can assume that his heart started to fill with hope. “Could this be true? Could Christ actually be alive? Could Jesus really be the resurrection and the life?”

Peter’s mind was filled with questions as he stared into that empty tomb. He had to ask, “What does that empty tomb mean?” Romans 1:4 tells us what it means in that Son, “was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord.” The resurrection proves that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. The early church does not make any sense without the literal, bodily resurrection of the Jesus from the dead. We know as Peter started in that empty tomb, his hope was stirred, but we know that his hope was confirmed when he saw the risen Christ. If Christ has not been raised our faith is futile and we are still in our sins.
     Friends, Peter went from a denying Christ to willingly die for Christ. Why? There is only one reason, Peter believed in the resurrection from the dead. He believed and was changed. He was born again to a living hope to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled and unfading? The hope for future glory transformed Peter life. Has the resurrection changed you? It is a simple question. Have you placed all your hope in the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead? If you truly believe in the resurrection it will change how you live, how you spend your money, how you spend your time, how you forgive your spouse, how you do everything because the resurrection power changes you as you trust in Christ. Tim Keller shares a story of this power,

 A minister was in Italy, and there he saw the grave of a man who had died centuries before who was an unbeliever and completely against Christianity, but a little afraid of it too. So the man had a huge stone slab put over his grave so he would not have to be raised from the dead in case there is a resurrection from the dead. He had insignias put all over the slab saying, "I do not want to be raised from the dead. I don't believe in it."

His rejection of the resurrection did not change the facts. His belief of the truth could not change true. He tried to deny the resurrection with that huge stone slab over his grave like Pilate tried to with a huge stone over Jesus grave, yet, as Keller continues,

When he was buried, an acorn must have fallen into the grave. So a hundred years later the acorn had grown up through the grave and split that slab. It was now a tall towering oak tree. The minister looked at it and asked, "If an acorn, which has power of biological life in it, can split a slab of that magnitude, what can the acorn of God's resurrection power do in a person's life?[ii]"

And Keller adds these comments,

The minute you decide to receive Jesus as Savior and Lord, the power of the Holy Spirit comes into your life. It's the power of the resurrection—the same thing that raised Jesus from the dead …. Think of the things you see as immovable slabs in your life—your bitterness, your insecurity, your fears, your self-doubts. Those things can be split and rolled off. The more you know him, the more you grow into the power of the resurrection.[iii]

Beloved, Peter looked into the tomb and marveled at God’s resurrection power.  He would spend the rest of his life testifying to the power of the resurrection and I pray you would do the same. This Easter, I urge you to receive the resurrection of Jesus Christ from dead and experience His power to break the immoveable slabs in your life. I pray you would be like Paul who was willing to give his life to “know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible to attain the resurrection from the dead.” (Philippians 3:10-11) Receive Christ and His resurrection power.