Jesus Rises from the Dead
Journeying through John (chap, 20: 1-18)
The Resurrection distinguishes Christianity from all other religions. Jesus not only died for us but He conquered death by rising from the dead. We serve a risen Savior. And “because He lives, we shall live also.” (John 14:19) No other religion begins to compare!
There were Scriptures in the Old Testament that foretold that a rich person would have something to do with Jesus’ burial or death. (Isaiah 53:9) And that is what happened. “When evening came there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who himself had also become a disciple of Jesus. This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus… When Joseph had taken the body, he wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, and laid it in his new tomb which he had hewn out of the rock, …” (Matthew 27:57,58a,59,60a)
Nicodemus joined Joseph of Arimathea to provide for Jesus’ burial. “And Nicodemus, who at first came to Jesus by night, came when He died bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pounds.” (John 19:39) Nicodemus’ gift of one hundred pounds of spices for Jesus’ burial was a very large amount such as was used in royal burials. Jesus’ disciples all ran away (Mark 14:50) and left His burial to these rich men who were part of the Sanhedrin and had secretly been following Jesus. If we had been there when He died, would we have run away with His disciples?
There are two places in Jerusalem that Christians believe might have been where Jesus was crucified and buried. An ancient church, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, in old Jerusalem stands over the spot that was believed to be the hill of Calvary where Jesus was crucified. In about 325 A.D. the Church of the Holy Sepulcher was built where ancient wisdom and tradition designated was the place where Jesus had been crucified and buried. Thousands of Christians visit this place each year remembering their Saviors’ death.
Visitors can walk uphill through the old city from the ancient excavated ruins of the Praetorium where Pilate judged Jesus, to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, believed to be where He died. The old narrow cobblestone lane called the “Via Dolorosa” winds uphill from Pilate’s Praetorium through the walled city of Jerusalem and on to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. Many Christian pilgrims travel to the old walled city of Jerusalem and walk along this narrow lane, just several layers above the old lane that Jesus may have been forced to walk carrying His cross so long ago on His way to die. The words “Via Dolorosa” mean the “way of sorrows”, and each year thousands of believers from around the world come and walk this lane of sorrows trying to follow in His footsteps and remember His sorrow.
The second place in Jerusalem where some believe may be the site of Jesus’ crucifixion and burial is a spot just outside the old city walls. This site is in an ancient garden that is next to a hill where the rock formations look somewhat like a skull (Golgotha- the place of the skull). There is an ancient tomb dug into the hill near the skull like rock formation. Since Jesus died shortly before the Sabbath, Jewish law prescribed that His body be buried quickly before sundown. So His grave would have had to be nearby. Scripture describes this place almost perfectly. “Now in the place where He was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid. And there they laid Jesus, because of the Jews’ Preparation Day, for the tomb was nearby.” (John 19:41-42)
Before daybreak in the morning after the Sabbath, a group of women made their way to Jesus’ tomb bringing spices. When they arrived they found the large heavy stone rolled away from the entrance of the tomb. Jesus’ grave clothes were inside the tomb but His body wasn’t there. Two angels stood inside the tomb and spoke to the women. “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but He is risen…” (Luke 24:5b-6a)
The angels reminded the women that Jesus had already told them that He would rise again on the third day! Had they all just forgotten? Had they not believed Him or taken Him seriously when He had assured them that He would conquer death? The angels spoke: “Remember how He spoke to you when He was still in Galilee saying, ‘The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again.’”. (Luke 24:6b-7) Do we make the same mistake they made? When things go wrong do we forget the promises the Lord gives us and despair as they did?
Mary Magdalene stood outside by the tomb weeping. She didn’t understand what the angels were telling her. She didn’t understand that Jesus could come back from the dead, even though He had told her that He would. But then she turned and saw Jesus standing there beside her. For a moment she thought He was the gardener, but when He spoke her name, “Mary” she recognized Him. In her shocked amazement and joy she grabbed Him and clung to Him whispering, “Rabboni” (which means Teacher).
When Jesus rose from the dead with power, the very first person He showed Himself to was a woman! (Mary Magdalene) Jesus asked Mary Magdalene to go tell His disciples and Peter that He had risen and she quickly obeyed. But even though she came running to their door trembling with the exciting news, the disciples didn’t really believe her! (Mark 16:11) Women were second class citizens in that patriarchal society and what they had to say was not taken seriously. They were thought to be liars. If Jesus had wanted the word of His resurrection to get out quicker with more media coverage, why did He give a lowly woman the job of spreading that news? After conquering death, Jesus could have first appeared to a wealthy important man to make a better impression. But as usual, our Lord broke the rules.
Even though the disciples forgot that Jesus had promised that in three days He would rise, the chief priests and the Pharisees didn’t forget! The Pharisees asked Pilate to make the tomb secure by posting guards. (Matthew 27:62-66) Surely the armed guards with their swords and spears could keep Jesus from rising!
A violent earthquake erupted in Jerusalem early Sunday morning. An angel came down from heaven to the tomb and rolled back the stone and sat on it. “His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men.” (Matthew 28:3-4) Later when the guards recovered a bit, they ran away and went and found the chief priests. They poured out their story of how the earth had shaken and how Jesus had risen with power and how an angel whose appearance was like lightning had rolled away the stone. Scripture tells us that even when the evidence was right in front of them the religious leaders still refused to believe. They gave the guards a large sum of money to bribe them to keep quiet and to not tell anyone that they had witnessed Jesus rising from the dead.
The men and women who were there- back when Jesus was crucified buried and resurrected- all played their parts. One man carried His cross. Peter denied Him three times. Many stood by and mourned and wept. Some ran away. The high priests schemed and lied to get Him arrested. Pilate let Him die. The crowds shouted “Crucify Him”. The soldiers mocked and beat Him. When He rose from the dead the women rejoiced. The guards shook and became like dead men. The disciples were slow to believe that He was alive. The high priests paid for a cover up. Jesus’ death and resurrection affected both His followers and His enemies. Each had the choice to be for Him or against Him. No one could be neutral.
After all these years, Jesus’ death and resurrection is still center stage and we each still have a part to play in it. We can take up our cross and follow Him. Or we can deny Him and work against His kingdom. His death and resurrection affects every person in every generation. Everyone is either for Him or against Him. (Matthew 12:30) No one can be neutral.