On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. 2 They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3 but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. 4 While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. 5 In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, "Why do you look for the living among the dead? 6 He is not here; He has risen! Remember how He told you, while He was still with you in Galilee: 7 ‘The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’” 8 Then they remembered His words.
Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through Him, as you yourselves know. 23 This man was handed over to you by God's set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put Him to death by nailing Him to the cross. 24 But God raised Him from the dead, freeing Him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on Him. 25 David said about Him: “I saw the Lord always before me. Because He is at my right hand, I will not be shaken. 26 Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will live in hope, 27 because you will not abandon me to the grave, nor will you let your Holy One see decay. 28 You have made known to me the paths of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence.”
29 Brothers, I can tell you confidently that the patriarch David died and was buried, and his tomb is here to this day. 30 But he was a prophet and knew that God had promised him on oath that He would place one of His descendants on His throne. 31 Seeing what was ahead, he spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that He was not abandoned to the grave, nor did His body see decay. 32 God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact. 33 Exalted to the right hand of God, He has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear. 34 For David did not ascend to heaven, and yet he said, “The Lord said to my Lord: Sit at my right hand 35 until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.”
36 Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.
I believe in God, the Father Almighty, creator of Heaven and Earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary, Suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead and was buried. He descended to the dead.
On the third day He rose again.
Ever since the beginning of the Christian Church, there has been a clear understanding within the Church of the absolute necessity of the Resurrection of Jesus.
It is without doubt one of the major cornerstones of what we believe.
So it should come as no surprise that the doctrine of the resurrection of Jesus is also the main focus of attack of those who oppose the Gospel of Christ.
Before Jesus ascended to Heaven, He left a very simple but profound instruction for His followers. We know it as the Great Commission – a call for them (and subsequent generations of Christians) to proclaim the Gospel to the ends of the Earth.
The very first Christian sermon on record was preached by Peter in Acts 2, and he concludes it with these words: “Let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.”
This was a bold and decidedly dangerous statement to make, unless if he could substantiate it.
The challenge facing Peter was this: Jesus had been put to death, and Peter believed that God had raised Jesus from the dead.
The Book of Acts records a number of Christian sermons, and the common denominator is the fact that Jesus Christ is risen.
The death and subsequent resurrection were the focal point of early Christian preaching, and it remains the focal point of the Christian Church today. If we do not consistently preach and proclaim that Jesus died for our sins, but conquered death by rising from the dead, then we have failed as a Church. We might as well close the doors and have a lay-in on Sunday mornings.
We have the task of teaching the world to live up to certain moral standards, and there are many other social issues that we must preach about, but the focus of our teaching should ALWAYS be this: Jesus Christ, born, crucified and risen from the dead.
There is a lot of modern preaching these days which focuses on Jesus as Saviour, but not enough on the Lordship of Christ, which was certainly a priority in the first century.
The resurrection gave Jesus authority and Lordship.
There was also a call for lives to be changed as a result of the resurrection of Christ. Paul said to the Colossian Church in chapter 3, “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.”
In a very real sense, Paul is saying that not only was Jesus risen from the dead, but so were His followers.
The question we need to ask ourselves is this: If we insist that Jesus is risen from the dead, is that resurrection reflected in the changes we see in our own lives, and if not, why not?
Let’s put it another way: Is Jesus my Lord and Saviour, or is He just my Saviour?
We need to consider the absurdity of just what Peter and his friends were preaching in those early days: A simple Jewish carpenter who had a gift for healing and teaching was put to death and rose from the dead.
One can only imagine the hostility and the ridicule they must have faced, so how on earth did they manage to get anyone to take them seriously?
The answer is quite simple – they argued the resurrection, and they argued it from historical fact.
The first fact is this: Jesus was put to death and buried in a tomb. Some of His followers went back to the tomb after the Sabbath to find that the stone had been moved away from the entrance, and the body was missing.
The second fact is that the followers of Jesus who were in disarray and were nowhere to be seen when Jesus was put on trial and put to death were suddenly back together within a few days, and they were totally transformed.
The people who planted and established the very first Christian Churches were completely under qualified and unsuited for such an important project, and would almost certainly not have been accepted in a modern theological seminary.
But yet they succeeded. They did it!
Acts 4:33 says “With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them all.”
Thirdly, there were numerous and consistent reports that various people had seen Jesus alive. The apostle Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 15, “What I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that, He appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all He appeared to me also.”
Modern Christians and those who were there 2000 years ago do not believe in the resurrection of Jesus as wishful thinking.
Rather, we have examined the documented evidence of the empty tomb, the transformed disciples and the reports of eye witnesses and we have come to the only logical conclusion: Jesus Christ rose from the dead.
The absolute necessity and importance of the physical resurrection of Jesus Christ for the Christian Church cannot be over-emphasised. It is crucial to what we believe and stand for.
1 Corinthians 15:14 says quite simply, “If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.”
Without the physical resurrection of Jesus, we have nothing.
In the early 20th century an English freelance writer by the name of Albert Henry Ross, who was an outspoken opponent of the Christian faith knew that if he could disprove the doctrine of the resurrection of Jesus, then the whole theory of the Christian faith would come tumbling down like a house of cards. And he was right. If you can prove the resurrection was a lie, then so is everything else the Christian faith stands for. So he began researching in order to write a book about the ‘lie’ of Christianity.
Those of you who have done the Alpha course would have heard this story before, but it is well worth retelling.
After Ross had analysed the facts, he did write a book under the pseudonym Frank Morison. But by the time he wrote it, he himself was a Christian. The title of the book is ‘Who Moved The Stone?’
Now we already know from Biblical and other historical sources that Jesus was a real person, and that He was crucified. Even Albert Ross/Frank Morison acknowledged that, so in his attempts to debunk the Christian faith, he offered three alternatives to the theory of resurrection.
The first alternative was that Jesus didn’t really die on the cross, but had just fainted, recovered and woke up in the tomb.
The Roman soldiers were experts at execution. Jesus was flogged and beaten before He was crucified. Many people died from the flogging alone and didn’t even make it to the cross.
Jesus was crucified the day before the Sabbath, and no one was allowed to be executed on the Sabbath, so the soldiers had to make sure that anyone crucified on that day must be dead before sunset, which signified the beginning of the Sabbath. John tells us that the legs of the other two men crucified with Jesus were broken in order to speed up their deaths, but Jesus’ legs weren’t broken, because it wasn’t necessary - He was already dead.
John 19:33-34. “When they came to Jesus and found that He was already dead, they did not break His legs. Instead, one of the soldiers pierced Jesus' side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water.”
We now know that this flow of blood and water is the separation of clot and serum – a medical phenomenon, which only occurs after death. This was not known at the time, but now offers us clear medical evidence that Jesus died on the cross.
Then of course there is the large rock which was always placed at the entrance of Jewish tombs. It took three or four strong men to move this rock – how could one man, after being beaten and hung on a cross for six hours have the strength to move it on his own?
The second alternative was that the disciples had stolen the body, and then gone around claiming that Jesus had risen from the dead.
Matthew 27:62-66. “The next day, the one after Preparation Day, the chief priests and the Pharisees went to Pilate. ‘Sir,’ they said, ‘we remember that while He was still alive that deceiver said, ‘After three days I will rise again.’ So give the order for the tomb to be made secure until the third day. Otherwise, His disciples may come and steal the body and tell the people that He has been raised from the dead. This last deception will be worse than the first.’
‘Take a guard,’ Pilate answered. ‘Go, make the tomb as secure as you know how.’ So they went and made the tomb secure by putting a seal on the stone and posting the guard.”
The Roman soldiers were expecting the disciples, and were guarding the tomb.
The third alternative was that the authorities stole the body.
But once the disciples started telling everybody that Jesus had risen from the dead, all they had to do was produce the body, but they couldn’t, because there was no body to produce.
The evidence that Jesus rose from the dead is overwhelming.
John Singleton Copley was three times the Lord Chancellor of Great Britain in the 1700’s and he once wrote “I know pretty well what evidence is; and I tell you, such evidence as that for the resurrection has never broken down yet”
Another famous quote comes from Charles Darling, a former High Court judge in England who died in 1936. He said “In its favour as living truth there exists such overwhelming evidence, positive and negative, factual and circumstantial, that no intelligent jury in the world could fail to bring in a verdict that the resurrection story is true.”
There are many other arguments and writings, both ancient and recent which argue the truth of the resurrection of Jesus, but of course the bigger question is this: Why the resurrection? What does it mean to you and I today?
There is no doubt that raising a dead person is very dramatic, and is bound to grab our attention, but apart from that, why did God raise Jesus from the dead?
Firstly, it was so that God could show His acceptance of Jesus’ sacrifice.
All our attempts to please God fall on deaf ears. The Bible tells us repeatedly that God will not accept our good deeds, and that the sacrifice of Jesus is the only acceptable sacrifice. By raising His Son from the dead, God gave Jesus His seal of approval.
Another reason for the resurrection is to conquer our biggest fear – death.
While we still have to face physical death, Jesus has shown through His resurrection that He has power over our biggest fear.
Those who put their faith in Christ will die once only. The second death – eternal separation from God has been defeated.
Thirdly, Jesus was raised from the dead in order to fulfill His eternal purpose.
God’s original purpose was to create a universe and a humanity with which He could share an intimate fellowship.
Human beings though, thwarted God’s original purpose when we chose to abuse the gift of free will.
This resulted in us being cast adrift from God, but thanks to His grace and love for us, God’s eternal purpose has never changed.
God took the initiative, and took on human form, because God’s just nature demands that a price must be paid for human sin.
We have the choice: We can either choose to believe that Jesus paid the price (which is clearly shown to be acceptable by His resurrection), or we can pay the debt of our sin ourselves.
The problem with the second option is that although we are able to pay the debt, we will spend all of eternity paying it.
No-one in Hell will ever be given a receipt with the words ‘Paid In Full.’
The only means of God fulfilling His eternal purpose is by incarnation, crucifixion, resurrection and ascension – a task which only God Himself could undertake in the person of Jesus Christ.
A true Christian Church will always preach Jesus Christ risen from the dead.
It matters that Jesus was an actual human being. It matters that there was an actual virgin birth. It matters that Jesus was actually crucified. And, perhaps most important of all, it matters that He was actually resurrected from the dead.
If an actual, physical resurrection from the dead did not happen, then there is no point to following Christ. Our Christian faith would literally be hopeless. Everything stands and falls on the resurrection being a historical reality.
It can be so tempting to focus on the morality of Jesus, or His teaching, or His example, but, important as all these things are, they are not the crux of why Jesus came. At the heart of everything is the cross where He was crucified and the empty grave He left behind once resurrected.
Take these away and you’re left with nothing but man-made religion and philosophy.
This defeat of death by the resurrection of Jesus wasn’t something simply for Him. What it has done for us is to open the door to eternal life for everyone, and the end of death itself. Everyone who puts their trust in Jesus, the Bible tells us, will not die, but have everlasting life.
Now of course, people die every day. From our limited, human point of view, death doesn’t seem to be very defeated at all. But this is why we need to see with the eyes of faith.
How? By looking at Jesus. Jesus overcame death, received a new body, and became the first to receive what we will all, in time, receive too.
The promise of a resurrected life is for us if we believe in Him.
1 Corinthians 6:14 says “By His power God raised the Lord from the dead, and He will raise us also.”
The dead in Christ shall all be raised up again. For the time being, our physical bodies may continue to die, but we die with the knowledge that, at the right time, when Christ returns, we shall be raised up. We will receive a new, physical body - just like Jesus - that will never know death again.
And we will spend all of eternity with Jesus. This is the hope that we have.
This is why the resurrection is so central to the Church.
Without the resurrection, the entire narrative of the Bible completely breaks down. Everything stands or falls on this one moment in history. Without it we have nothing.
This is about an actual, historical event - or it is nothing.
Quoting from 1 Corinthians 15 again: “If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, then all our preaching is useless, and your faith is useless. And we apostles would all be lying about God—for we have said that God raised Christ from the grave. But that can’t be true if there is no resurrection of the dead. And if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then your faith is useless and you are still guilty of your sins. In that case, all who have died believing in Christ are lost! And if our hope in Christ is only for this life, we are more to be pitied than anyone in the world.”
Even though we will still die physically (if Jesus does not return during our earthly lifetime), eternal life actually starts now.
Eternal life is not simply for the next life. It is for now. Look at the total transformation in the lives of the disciples of Jesus after the resurrection.
In John 10:10 Jesus said “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”
The resurrection of Jesus opens the door to that life now. The completion and ultimate fulfillment of that resurrection life is still in the future.
That is our hope, and that is why we can say “I believe in Jesus Christ, suffered, crucified, dead and was buried. But on the third day He rose again.”