Easter Sunday this week and for Christians, this has to be the best day of the year. We took a long section of John’s Gospel which is available online here. The sound file is available here, just follow the instructions on the page that will open.
One of the greatest sermons in the Acts of the Apostles is found in chapter 17. Paul is speaking to a group of people who had never heard the gospel. He concludes with three contentions;
- “He commands all people everywhere to repent.” Most people experience feelings of guilt from time to time. We have all fallen short. Paul is proclaiming that forgiveness is freely available for those who come to God in repentance.
- “For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed.” Judgement is a scary prospect but it also points to the fact that God is the God of justice and his justice will ultimately prevail. Some of the most evil people of the twentieth century died peacefully without ever having to give account for their terrible actions. God has decreed, everyone will stand before him and there will be no escape or quick exit. The biggest question is of course how have we responded to Jesus Christ?
- “He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead.” Let us briefly recap. Paul states; we need to repent because God will judge the world and he has given proof of all this in the resurrection of Jesus. That reminds us that the resurrection is not an optional extra for the Christian faith, it is the rock on which we stand and the proof that God has chosen given us. It is so important that where we spend eternity depends on how we respond to the death and resurrection of Jesus.
The proof rests with eyewitness accounts and reliable documents. In the passage, John when talking of the death of Jesus writes;
“One of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water. The man who saw it has given testimony, and his testimony is true. He knows that he tells the truth, and he testifies so that you also may believe. (John 19:34-35)”
In his first epistle he writes;
“That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched – this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. (1 John 1:1)”
All of the Gospel writers are either eyewitnesses or closely connected with the witnesses. Add in the quality and sheer number of ancient New Testament manuscripts and the evidence is compelling. The oldest surviving fragment is a small section of John 18 held in the Rylands Library in Manchester and dates from at least the second century and possibly into the first, placing it very close to the original document.
We shall look at the locations in the narrative today;
- The cross
- The tomb
- The garden
- The room
The Cross. John in common with the other gospel writers deliberately chooses to avoid the gory details of the crucifixion, stating simply “Here they crucified him”. This is probably because first century readers would have been well aware of the horrors involved. For us, so far removed from this form of brutality, it involves a conscious effort to imagine the horrific nature of this form of execution. Yet even on the cross, Christ shows his love. Other gospels tell us that he prayed for those who crucified him and forgave one of the criminals crucified with him. John tells us of the Lord’s love for his mother and his concern for her welfare.
Psalm 69:21 prophesied “They put gall in my food and gave me vinegar for my thirst.” Christ cried out “I am thirsty”, the one who is the fountain of living water is thirsty on the cross. It shows that he is dehydrated following huge blood loss and exposure to the elements. He is dying and suffering from raging thirst.
We read that he cried “It is finished.” The cross was a victory; Christ had taken everything that could have been thrown at him and still saw it through to the end. His mission was finished.
Jesus had said earlier “No one takes my life from me but I lay it down of my own accord”, here “He bowed his head and gave up his spirit”. Such was the authority of Christ.
In Psalm 22:18 “They divide my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing.” Soldiers are gambling for clothes while a few feet above them, the most awesome event in history is taking place.
John makes much of the water and blood; this is clear evidence that death has taken place. He is the eye witness.
Christ has been presented to Israel a number of times in the previous few days, in his triumphal entry into Jerusalem, as the suffering servant at his trial when the mob rejected him in favour of the notorious Barabbas and finally here as the dying Saviour crucified for a fallen world. Once more prophesy is fulfilled as Zechariah’s words “They will look on the one they have pierced” are played out so clearly.
The Tomb. Some were changed by looking at the crucified Christ. Secret disciples like Joseph and Nicodemus suddenly became bold and were prepared to miss out on the most important religious festival of the year by becoming ceremonially unclean through touching the body of Jesus. No one was looking for the resurrection
On the first Easter Sunday, Mary arrived at the tomb to find the stone removed and the body of Jesus missed. The tomb is empty, everyone started to run. Mary ran to the disciples, Peter and another disciple, almost certainly John, race back to the tomb. This is no robbery; everything is left in neat order. Though they still do not understand, John is starting to believe
The Garden. Mary was distraught, she had gone to the tomb to honour the body of Christ one last time only to find the body missing. She was weeping bitterly but the risen Christ was right there. She couldn’t see him through the tears but he called her name and his voice touched her with the astonishing news. Christ is risen. Sometimes like Mary we are so distraught that we can’t see Jesus through our tears. Yet he is right with us and calls our names.
Jesus has been working to a programme, he constantly surprised the disciples by knowing what would happen beforehand. His appearance to Mary is not a coincidence. In a society where women were very much second class citizens the first news of the resurrection was carried by a woman. “I have seen the Lord” what a message!
The Room. For those who focus on apologetics, the empty tomb is a big deal. The authorities would have been able to nip Christianity in the bud if only they had been able to produce the body of Jesus and the fact that they did not is strong evidence for the resurrection.
However, for believers Easter is not about the empty tomb, it is about the presence of the risen Jesus. For the disciples to know that the tomb was empty was puzzling. To be in the presence of Christ changes everything.
To these frightened people who had failed at the crucial moment Jesus appeared. He bore the scars of the nails and spear and he brought a message of peace. The disciples were not waiting for the resurrection. They thought that they would never see Jesus again. Many would have been regretting their actions in their final moments with him. The message of Jesus is “Peace be with you.” No wonder the disciples were overjoyed.
“He commands all people everywhere to repent. For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead.”
The resurrection literally changes everything. Without it, all ends in a grave with death, decay and corruption. With the resurrection, we have the hope of eternal life in Christ. As the hymn writer puts it “The sky not the grave is our goal”.