Luke 24: 5-12
The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the crowning event of all history. C.S. Lewis says, “Rather than hearing new ideas, sometimes we need to be reminded of old truths.” And this is a truth that never gets old for us. You see, all of us must understand that the resurrection of Jesus Christ can have huge implications for each of us.
Welcome to you today. Whether you come every week or whether this is your first time, we’re glad you’re here. We want to delve deeper into the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and we want to see “What’s the big deal about Easter?” I mean, “What’s so amazing about Easter?”
Now that word amazing is tossed around an awful lot. People will say, “It was just amazing!” And we use it to describe everything from an event to the weather, from a meal to an achievement. We’ll talk about someone’s Oscar outfit. “Oh, it was just simply amazing!” And yet we look at all these different uses of the word and we begin to understand that the level of amazement is closely tied to the level of personal involvement that we have.
For instance, if you lived in Southern Indiana on March 2, 2012 and your house was damaged by the tornadoes and somehow you escaped alive, you would tell people about that day and you would say, “It was amazing!” Why was it amazing? Well, part of your amazement would be because of the fact that you were there. You saw the sights and sounds. You experienced it.
Now with that as a backdrop I want to answer the question, “What’s so amazing about Easter?” We have to go back 2,000 years to determine why those who were there were amazed by what God did. And the Bible tells us in Luke 24 that, on that Sunday morning, four women who were followers of Christ went to the tomb and found that the stone that had been blocking the tomb had been rolled away. They walked inside, and when they went inside the tomb they found two angels there. And the angel spoke to them, and the women were terrified.
Look at Luke 24:5-8: The angels say to the women, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: ‘The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’ Then they remembered his words.”
In that moment, Christ’s veiled teachings began to make sense, and now, after the fact, it was obvious to them. But when they heard Jesus say it weeks and months before, it hadn’t registered with them.
So these four ladies hightail it back to the disciples after this angelic conversation at the empty tomb, and they say, “Guys! You’re not gonna believe it! Jesus is alive! He’s risen! The tomb is empty!” And instead of being excited, they look at the women like, “What have you been smokin’?” They stare at them as if this is a farfetched story, and they think, “Well, they are so distraught they’re just hoping that somehow something is going to happen.”
The Bible tells us in verses 11 and 12, “But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves. Then he went home, amazed at what had happened.”
Simon Peter is amazed. He marveled at what’s happened. This is an unusual turn of events. He’s not sure what it means, but he returns to tell everybody else.
Now at this point the disciples have not seen Jesus in the flesh. But that night they are together, and Jesus appears to them in bodily form, right there. Can you begin to fathom what that moment must’ve been like for them? And Jesus knows that they think He’s a ghost, so He is going to go to some extreme measures to make certain that they understand. “No ghost here. This is the real thing.”
Jesus says to them in Luke 24:39, “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. When he had said this, he showed them his hands and feet. And while they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement, he asked them, ‘Do you have anything here to eat?’” I mean, Jesus is doing everything He possibly can.
“‘Do you have anything here to eat?’ They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate it in their presence.” He’s trying to show He’s not a ghost. Verse 45, “Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. He told them, ‘This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day.’”
This is amazing. In other words, Jesus points them all the way back to the Old Testament prophesies and Scriptures and He says, “Can I remind you of what has been promised and prophesied for hundreds of years? This is the fulfillment of it. I am the fulfillment of it.” And He makes certain that it’s clear to them.
So what’s so amazing about Easter? Well, first,
Easter is amazing because it had never happened before.
It had never happened before. Now the disciples had seen Jesus bring people back from the dead through His incredible power, but this resurrection left absolutely no room for doubts or questions because — think about it — they had watched Him die the most brutal and barbaric death imaginable. They had watched the most horrific and humiliating death a person could experience. A Roman centurion’s responsibility was to make certain that the victim was dead before they brought him down from the cross, because if the person wasn’t dead it was the Roman centurion’s life that was at stake. Jesus was dead.
There had been the scourging. Only one-third of the people even survived the scourgings. There had been the nails in His wrists and in His feet. There were the times of having nothing to eat and just hanging there as He suffocated and gasped for every breath. Just to be dead certain, they thrust a spear into His side. And the Bible gives us a detail of saying, “The blood and water poured forth from Him,” which was medical confirmation that He had expired. He was as dead as dead could be.
Strangely, the enemies of Christ were on the lookout for a resurrection, but the disciples weren’t. The enemies of Christ were convinced that the disciples would try to come up with something that caused them to think that He has resurrected. They thought they would try to steal the body. And so they went to the extra trouble of stationing guards right there at the tomb, and they sealed the tomb. If anybody crossed it, it was their life. And they put these soldiers out there to guard it, but they had no fear. They shouldn’t have. The disciples were holed up in a room scared to death, thinking that they would be on the next cross.
Eight different times in the Gospels prior to it happening, Jesus had predicted His own death. On several more occasions He spoke of a bodily resurrection. So for a person to call His own shots, to resurrect Himself? It was intentional. It was planned from before the foundations of the world were laid. This was amazing.
Think about it. Abraham, the father of the Jewish faith, died around 1900 B.C. No claim is made of a resurrection for him. Buddha, the founder of Buddhism, died in 483 B.C., but no one suggests that Buddha was resurrected. Muhammad, the founder of Islam, died on June 8, 632 AD, and thousands of Muslims visit his tomb every year. But Jesus? Jesus predicts His own bodily resurrection, and He pulls it off.
Flavius Josephus was a First Century Jewish historian. He recorded the historical annals for the Roman government. He was one of the most respected of all historians. He was not a Christian. He had nothing to gain by what he wrote. He just reported the facts. That’s what he did. It was very simple. It wasn’t opinionated. He just wrote down what the truth was and what took place. I want you to listen to what he wrote in his book called Antiquities. He wrote, “Jesus appeared to them alive on the third day, as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning Him.” Amazing.
The veracity of the resurrection could not be silenced. Eyewitnesses account for multiple appearances of a risen Christ to individuals and groups taking place over forty days, from His resurrection all the way into His ascension into heaven. Kings and leaders were aware of these resurrection reports. This was no secret. And the failure to offer a reasonable repudiation of the resurrection gave birth to Christianity, because there was no argument against the truth.
You see, Easter is amazing because a predicted resurrection had never happened before. But also
Easter is amazing because it could happen again.
Jesus had said He would rise from the dead, but they understood it more in a figurative sense. They thought about it in heaven someday. They had no idea that this was possible, even for Jesus. If Jesus could defeat death — and He promised His power to the disciples as well — then it makes sense that it could happen again.
If you are a March Madness groupie and you fill out brackets every year, then you know when you fill out your brackets that one of the earliest games is number two against number fifteen in four different portions of the bracket. And you’re not sure who to choose, but let me tell you this. If you are a number fifteen seeded team and you are in that game and you are playing against the number two team, in your mind you hold out hope. Do you know why? In the past it has happened before that a fifteenth-seeded team has defeated a number two team. And so you think in your mind before you go out on that court, “It’s happened before. It might happen again.”
So how could this resurrection thing happen again? Who is eligible for this resurrection? And what’s it going to be based on? Is it going to be based on church attendance? Is it going to be based on how much you give or how often you serve or how many people you tell about Jesus? How is it going to be determined?
Let’s imagine that you and I go to lunch this week. We go out to lunch. And during that meal I take a piece of paper and a pen, and I hand it over to you and I say, “I want you to come up with a number between one and ten that quantifies how good of a person you are.” And so you think about yourself and you evaluate. You think about some other people and you kind of compare yourself to them in your mind.
Then I say, “Let me help you understand. Jesus is a ten and Satan is a zero, all right? So write down your number of how good you think you are.” Now as I’ve shared this with you right now, I know that mentally you’ve already landed on a number. I know you’ve already chosen one in your mind. I’m not psychic; I just know that from human experience. And typically what most people do in a case like that is they will always write down six or seven. Do you know why? They look around and they’ll say, “Well, I’m a little better than average, you know? I’m a decent person.” Now they’re not gonna give themselves a nine, because if Jesus is a ten they’re not going to put themselves that close to Him. So they’ll usually be around six or seven.
Now before we go any further with this, I probably need to be upfront with you that several years ago Billy Graham was posed this very same question, and he was asked, “What number do you think you would be between one and ten?” And Billy Graham thought for a moment and he said, “You know,” he said, “With all the sin in my life, I think I would probably be a two or a three.” Ouch. Do you want to change your number now?
You see, we tend to compare ourselves to people who are less spiritual than we are. We try to say, “Well, you know what? If God grades on a curve, I’ve got it made. I’m in.” And we’re quick to compare ourselves with others. But here’s the problem: None of us measure up. None of us.
The Bible says in Romans 3:10, “There is no one righteous.” Romans 3:23 says, “For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” Romans 6:23, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life.”
So we all are sinners. There are no tens in the room. And really it makes very little difference whether you think you are a one or you think you are a nine, because in Isaiah the Bible says that our righteous acts are like filthy rags compared to the holiness of the one true God. So the bad news is, there is no way we could ever measure up. There’s no way we can earn our way into heaven. Heaven is a perfect place, so how can imperfection reside there, let alone enter in? It’s impossible. And so we are faced with an earthly dilemma that begs for a heavenly solution.
But I’ve got some good news for you. You see, this resurrection…it had never happened before, it could happen again, and now
Easter is amazing because it could happen for you.
It really could. You say, “How?” You see, it’s one thing for you to hear, “Death isn’t the end,” but it takes on a whole new meaning when you understand and believe that death isn’t the end for you. Such a truth can radically affect how you approach life and death.
Several years ago Beth and I led a trip to Israel. 140 people from church went along with us. We grew spiritually by leaps and bounds, and the Bible, the Scriptures, came alive to us in a new way. But on the last day that we were there we went to the Garden Tomb. Now they’re very careful not to say, “This is the actual tomb of Christ where He was buried.” I mean, no one would be so foolish as to make that type of a claim. But we were in the close proximity of it. We had to be within a stone’s throw of it in any direction.
And it’s not so much that it was the exact tomb, but it’s the fact that this was a tomb from the First Century. And it was an unused tomb, which Jesus would’ve been in, and it was somewhere within that area. So when you walk in that Garden Tomb, it’s a very surreal experience because of what it represents.
And when our group was there, as we were taking turns going into the Garden Tomb in small groups, one of our older ladies in the group, when she walked in, she tripped and she fell backwards; and she landed on her back and her head. It was a very tense moment for all of us. Fortunately she was all right, and we tended to her needs. And after a couple of minutes she got up and she walked out. I told her, “You have traveled 6,000 miles. Go back in there and just have a special moment.” I said, “We can all wait. Don’t worry one bit.” She went back in.
When she came out, we went straight into a worship service right there, overlooking the Garden Tomb. And I preached a sermon and in my message I kidded her, and I said, “You know, there have been tens of thousands of people who have walked into that tomb, but only two have ever laid down in it.” And I said, “On top of that, the good news is that both of them got up and walked out.”
And that’s true. That’s not wishful thinking. It’s not some concocted myth to fool ourselves into feeling good at funerals. The resurrection of Christ was real and it has implications for everyone who accepts Jesus as their Master and as their Savior. Paul says to the Christians in 1 Thessalonians 4:13, “We don’t want you to grieve like other people who have no hope.” You see, Christians who go to a Christian funeral — they don’t have to grieve the way the rest of the world does. Why? Because it isn’t saying, “Goodbye.” It’s saying, “See you later. I’ll catch you later.”
When we went into that Garden Tomb on that day, it brought back a flood of memories of the year before, because the year before, while in Jerusalem, Beth and I had hoped to go to the tomb. And while we were there in Jerusalem we received a phone call that her father had passed away unexpectedly. And the next flight that we could get on wasn’t until that night, and so we didn’t really know what to do.
We were there with another couple. It was a very awkward time, a very sad time. You just don’t know what to do. We had the day planned for Jerusalem, and I said, “What do you want to do? Do you want to go to the hotel?” And she said, “No,” and we didn’t. Instead we walked here. We walked to the Garden Tomb. And on one of the most painful days of our lives, separated from family by thousands of miles, we somehow found peace and hope in this symbolic place, knowing that in the big scheme of things, because of Jesus’ resurrection, we would get to see Beth’s dad again in the presence and company of his Lord and Savior. Because if it happened once, it can happen again and it can happen to you.
You see, not to be morbid, but unless Jesus Christ returns in our lifetimes, every one of us in this room will die. One out of one will die. Those are the statistics. Aren’t you glad you came today? No one outlives death. No one outruns death. No one outsmarts death. Death is inevitable. Even Jesus died. And that’s what makes this Easter story so amazing and so important for us.
You see, the stone wasn’t rolled away to let Jesus out; the stone was rolled away to let others look in and be forever changed. Jesus’ resurrection wasn’t hidden in a corner. We have the eyewitness accounts of tons of people: four women, eleven disciples, over five hundred people who He appeared to over the course of forty days.
And the skeptic says, “Oh, well, yeah. Come on. I mean, they loved Jesus so much. They loved His teachings that in the years to come they kind of fabricated this story, and after He had died, they just kind of made it up and they went with it because it made them feel better.”
Really? I challenge you to study the manuscript evidence surrounding the Bible. I dare you to study what the Bible has to say, what the Old Testament prophets said. The likelihood of a man coming along and haphazardly fulfilling 300 messianic prophesies; what’s the compound probability factors of that? I challenge you to study the Dead Sea Scrolls found in Qumran in the 1940s, carbon-dated at hundreds of years before the birth of Christ and yet every messianic prophesy is right there. Study God’s Word, the Bible, the record that God has protected and preserved so that you can decide.
The New Testament gives us four credible accounts of people who knew Jesus extremely well, and their writings have stood the test of time under the light of the most intense scrutiny. Even secular historians recount for us how ten…ten of the disciples were martyred in gruesome fashion rather than deny that Jesus came back from the grave. And logic would suggest that no one would die for something that they knew to be a lie, and yet each of them — ten of them separately — chose death over questioning the resurrection of Jesus Christ and His deity. Why?
I’ll tell you why. Because they were there. They saw it. They heard it. They experienced it. He’s alive! They were there on Friday. They were there on Sunday. It was amazing. And it’s amazing news for each of us, because if it happened once, it can happen again and it can happen to you.
And some of you are thinking, “Oh, Dave, I mean, thanks but Jesus wouldn’t want me. I mean, Jesus wouldn’t want me.” I know that’s how some of you feel. I know that’s how you feel because you tell me that. And in your heart of hearts you’d say when you write that number down, “I’m a two. I’m a two on my best day.” And most days you feel like you’re a zero in God’s eyes. You say, “Why would God want me? Why would God forgive me?” I’ll tell you why. Because God does His best work in hopeless situations.
Simon Peter found that out. Simon Peter knows how you feel. Look back again at that amazing weekend two thousand years ago. Peter had to feel like he was in the negative numbers. He was at his lowest point. That week Jesus had called him Satan and compared him with Satan when he said something. The night that Jesus was betrayed, Peter said, “You know what? Hey, even if all these dudes deny You, I’ll never deny You. I’m willing to die for You, Jesus!” And a few hours later he denies that he even knows Jesus three times, and on the third denial, a rooster crows, fulfilling Jesus’ prediction. And at that very moment, Jesus is being dragged after He’s been beaten, and He’s dragged through the courtyard right past Simon Peter.
The Bible is quite clear in its terminology. It says, “He wept bitterly.” Simon Peter, realizing what he’s done, just weeps. And he runs to get away. He ran to get away from the people who realized he was a friend of Jesus. He ran from his fears. He ran from his failures. He ran from his past. Think about what life must’ve been like for Simon Peter from Thursday night to Sunday morning: grief-stricken by guilt, suicidal, embarrassed, paralyzed by the past.
But then Sunday morning the ladies report that the body’s gone, the stone has been moved and the tomb is empty. So what does Simon Peter do? Simon Peter ran. And this time instead of running from something, he runs to something; because hope is greater than guilt and hope is greater than fear.
Today, is there anything that you’re running from? Anything that you’re running from? A fractured friendship? A failed marriage? A consuming addiction? A lustful lifestyle? Maybe it’s a life that is just lived for self and everything comes back to you, and you realize right now in this moment that you are tired of running. But Simon Peter shows us that running isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It all depends on your direction. He had been running from his past mistakes, but on that first Easter morning he chose to run to an empty tomb. And I encourage you to do the same thing, because what you run to is more important than what you run from.
We’ve all got some deeds, and we’ve all got some denials in our past; and Satan hopes to hold us hostage by them. But I believe that God brought you here this Easter to say to you, “You may have given up on Me, but I haven’t given up on you. I’m not finished with you yet.”
So what difference does a resurrection make? You know what. It means you can have a forgiven past. It means you can have a fresh start. It means that you can have a bright future. It means that you can have eternal life. It means that although death may take you, it cannot keep you.
At the tomb Jesus put death to death. And when you accept Jesus and choose to live for Him and give Him your life, Jesus takes up residency inside of you. When you give Him your heart, He gives you His. And that’s the power of the resurrection. So whether you run to the empty tomb, like Peter did, or whether you walk to the empty tomb, like Beth and I did, just make certain you get there. Just make certain you get there.
Dave Stone is Senior Pastor of Southeast Christian Church in Louisville Kentucky, and is a Contributing Editor of Preaching.