* The Empty Tomb: Matthew 28:1-10
After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb. 2 There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. 3 His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. 4 The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men. 5 The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. 6 He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. 7 Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.” 8 So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. 9 Suddenly Jesus met them. “Greetings,” he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him. 10 Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”
Jesus and Mary Magdalene: John 20:14-18
Mary turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus. 15 “Woman,” he said, “why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?” Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher). 17 Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet returned to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'” 18 Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her.
* “The Day of Resurrection” R-298 / K- 208
A Cover-up: Matthew 28:11-15
While the women were on their way, some of the guards went into the city and reported to the chief priests everything that had happened. 12 When the chief priests had met with the elders and devised a plan, they gave the soldiers a large sum of money, 13 telling them, “You are to say, ‘His disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ 14 If this report gets to the governor, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” 15 So the soldiers took the money and did as they were instructed. And this story has been widely circulated among the Jews to this very day.
On the Road to Emmaus: Luke 24:13-25
Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. 14 They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. 15 As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; 16 but they were kept from recognizing him. 17 He asked them, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?” They stood still, their faces downcast. 18 One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, “Are you only a visitor to Jerusalem and do not know the things that have happened there in these days?” 19 “What things?” he asked. “About Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. 20 The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; 21 but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place. 22 In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning 23 but didn’t find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. 24 Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see.” 25 He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken!
In the Upper Room: John 20:19-23
On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord. 21 Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” 22 And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”
Doubting Thomas: John 20:24-31
Now Thomas (called Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it.” 26 A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” 28 Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” 30 Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. 31 But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
Gone Fishing: John 21:1-14
Afterward Jesus appeared again to his disciples, by the Sea of Tiberias. It happened this way: 2 Simon Peter, Thomas (called Didymus), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples were together. 3 “I’m going out to fish,” Simon Peter told them, and they said, “We’ll go with you.” So they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing. 4 Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus. 5 He called out to them, “Friends, haven’t you any fish?” “No,” they answered. 6 He said, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.” When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish. 7 Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” As soon as Simon Peter heard him say, “It is the Lord,” he wrapped his outer garment around him (for he had taken it off) and jumped into the water. 8 The other disciples followed in the boat, towing the net full of fish, for they were not far from shore, about a hundred yards. 9 When they landed, they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread. 10 Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish you have just caught.” 11 Simon Peter climbed aboard and dragged the net ashore. It was full of large fish, 153, but even with so many the net was not torn. 12 Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” None of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. 13 Jesus came, took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. 14 This was now the third time Jesus appeared to his disciples after he was raised from the dead.
Restoring Peter: John 21:15-25
When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?” “Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.” 16 Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you truly love me?” He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.” 17 The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my sheep. 18 I tell you the truth, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” 19 Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me!” 20 Peter turned and saw that the disciple whom Jesus loved was following them. (This was the one who had leaned back against Jesus at the supper and had said, “Lord, who is going to betray you?”) 21 When Peter saw him, he asked, “Lord, what about him?” 22 Jesus answered, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.” 23 Because of this, the rumor spread among the brothers that this disciple would not die. But Jesus did not say that he would not die; he only said, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you?” 24 This is the disciple who testifies to these things and who wrote them down. We know that his testimony is true. 25 Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.
After hearing about 15-16 minutes of Scripture, you have probably figured out that there is a lot more to the Easter story than simply the Resurrection of Jesus.
That was certainly the focal point of the day – the history-changing event that catapulted the Jesus movement from a small Jewish sect to the largest religion in the world – and opened up eternal life to us.
Jesus’ victory over death got the day off to a great start – and rattled a lot of people in the process. The earthquake – plus an angel as brilliant as lightning who rolled aside a huge stone – left the Roman guards trembling with fright.
But if all Jesus had done was rise from the dead and then secretly float upward to heaven, it’s doubtful that 2-point-3 billion people – 31-percent of the world’s population – would put their trust in Him.
There was so much more to that great day and the days that followed.
The angel tells the women who had come to the tomb to let the disciples know what had happened. But Jesus – always sensitive to the emotional needs of His friends – meets them along the way and reassures them that they have no reason to fear – especially now that He is alive again.
Meanwhile, the guards from the tomb and the religious elite cook up a good story about grave-robbery to explain away the empty tomb.
Jesus appears to two disciples on the road to Emmaus, and challenges them to believe everything the Hebrew prophets had foretold about the Messiah’s suffering and death AND victory over death. Later that evening, Jesus goes through a locked door into the room where He had His last supper with His disciples to speak peace to them – and then breathe the Holy Spirit into them.
A week later, Jesus appears to Thomas – who was not with the others when Jesus appeared in the upper room – and dispels all of his doubts.
During the week in between, Peter starts to get antsy. He is a man of action and wants to DO something, so he gets some of the others to go fishing with him. After a lousy night on the lake, Jesus shows up on the shore and gives them a great haul of fish – then makes them breakfast. But the most important thing He does that morning is reassure Peter that He has forgiven him for denying Him three times.
Forty days after He rose from the dead, Jesus is carried up into the heavens, where He sat down at the right hand of the Father – and He has been speaking to His Father on our behalf ever since.
Those are just the highlights that made it into the Gospels and the first chapter of Acts. But Paul wrote in his first letter to the Corinthian Christians that Jesus also appeared to 500 believers at the same time, and finally appeared to Paul himself.
All these events make up the whole story of the Resurrection. They were important to building the faith of those early Christians.
During those forty days between His rising from the dead until His rising into the heavens, Jesus’s disciples had a lot to deal with – and Jesus dispelled their doubts and eased their fears, fulfilled their needs and comforted them in their grief, and assured them of forgiveness. And in doing so, He built their faith in His Gospel – upon which He promised to build His Church.
He made it abundantly clear that He was really alive again. He made sure that lots of people saw Him, and saw that it was really He – in spite of some not-so-normal behavior like going through locked doors and telling professional fishermen that they had caught nothing because all the fish were on the other side of the boat.
The rock-solid faith of these witnesses to the risen Jesus fueled the explosive growth of the early Church. This is the argument at the core of Josh McDowell’s classic book Evidence That Demands a Verdict. He was
a skeptic who came to believe – in large part because he asked himself whether so many people would be willing to die for something if they had
no evidence that it was true.
It is true that people die for lies – but rarely in large numbers. (Jonestown being the exception) And it is true that Christians are still dying for their faith now – but they are following a faith that has a two-thousand-year track record.
How many, though, would have stood up to the Jewish religious hierarchy or the mighty Roman Empire for something that a few people said they had heard about – which could be easily explained away as some overzealous disciples’ stealing their teacher’s body to make it look as though He had kept His promise to rise from the dead.
How could such a fledgling movement have lasted in the face of such intense persecution unless the people KNEW they were dying for the truth because they had seen Jesus and had experienced His Gospel themselves?
Saul – who became Paul at his conversion – tried desperately to wipe it out, often being a witness as Christians were stoned to death for blasphemy. Less than 20 years after Jesus died and rose from the dead, the Roman Empire put Christianity on the list as an “illicit” sect of Judaism. By 64 AD, it was illegal throughout the Empire and it remained illegal until 325 AD, when Constantine made it the official religion of the Empire.
In the years between, many Christians died for their faith. Scholars’ estimates run the gamut from five-thousand to two-million – so we will never know how many Christian were martyred.
Christianity got a foothold in the world because the early believers saw the risen Jesus – and so they believed the whole story. But no one has seen Jesus in almost 2000 years: are we still as willing to believe the whole story of the Resurrection – or even a piece of it?
Just a month ago, churches were rocked by news that the General Social Survey had determined that Americans who claim “no religion” at all were in a statistical dead heat with Roman Catholics and Evangelical Protestants as the largest faith tradition – all of them around 22 to 23 percent of the population. We mainline Protestants are going the way of the dinosaurs – we’re down to about 11 percent.
What can turn this around? Certainly the Holy Spirit – which can send a tidal wave of revival through our nation.
But we also need to know what we believe: we need to know the whole story of Jesus’s Resurrection, and believe it, and share it – because it’s a story people need to hear. The whole story – which dispels their doubts and eases their fears, fulfills their needs and comforts them in their grief, and assures them that in Jesus Christ they are forgiven. Amen.