Easter 6) The Risen King

The Risen King 
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Text: Luke 24:1-12

 

We’ve been looking at the Kingship of Christ over the last 5 weeks. And we’ve noticed how Jesus isn’t the sort of King we would expect. He is a gentle king who comes riding into Jerusalem on a donkey. He is a sacrificial king who serves others by laying down his life. He is an obedient king who submits himself to his Father’s will. He is a rejected king who is forsaken by God in order that we might be accepted by God. And he is a crucified king, who dies in order to save others. And if that was the end of the story, you may admire his idealism, you may be impressed by his selflessness, you may even respect his moralism, but in the end it all comes to nothing. As a king he was a complete failure, just another fanatic crushed by the Roman empire, just another corpse slowly turning to dust. Who would follow such a person? Who would call him king? Who would worship him? Who would ever want to identify with Jesus? Well today we’re going to see what makes all the difference. We’re going to see why we would follow Jesus, why we would call him king, why we would worship him, why we would identify ourselves as Christians. And it all, and I stress ALL, has to do with the fact that Jesus is the Risen King. The resurrection of Jesus makes all the difference. This morning I want to look at the evidence for the resurrection, the biblical explanation, and what it means for us today.

 

1) Evidence of the Resurrection

So let’s start with the evidence for the resurrection. If this was a crime scene there would be three different types of evidence, physical evidence, the evidence of eyewitnesses, and circumstantial evidence.

a) The physical evidence

So let’s start with the physical evidence. According to Luke a group of women go to the tomb where Joseph of Arimethea had placed Jesus’ body (Lk 23:50-56). They went early on the first day of the week, which in the Jewish calendar was a Sunday. So they arrive just after sunrise on Sunday morning expecting to find Jesus’ body in the tomb. But when they arrive they find two unusual things. Firstly, the stone that covered the entrance of the tomb has been rolled away. They had been worried about how they were going to shift the stone, but someone has already beaten them to it. But even more surprising is that when they look inside the tomb is empty. Jesus’ body is gone. The fact that they had witnessed his crucifixion was bad enough, but just imagine how they must have felt to discover someone had taken his body. The NIV says they were wondering about it, but Luke actually uses a Greek word that means they were perplexed. They were upset and confused. Who would do such a thing? John records Mary Magdalene telling the other disciples, ‘2 …They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him! (Jn 20:2b)’ Luke tells us that Peter ran to the tomb and looked inside and saw Jesus burial clothes lying in the empty tomb. If someone had taken Jesus’ corpse they must for some strange reason unwrapped it first. So that’s the physical evidence, the tomb was empty. The stone had been rolled away, Jesus body had been unwrapped and he was gone.

b) The Eyewitness evidence

The second piece of evidence is the eyewitness accounts of people who saw the risen Jesus. No one actually saw Jesus rise from the dead, after all he was alone in the tomb, but plenty of people saw him shortly afterward. The Bible records at least 6 separate occasions that Jesus met people after his resurrection: Mary Magdalene near the tomb (Jn 20:10-18 cf. Mt 28:8-10), Cleopas and his friend on the road to Emmaus (Lk 24:13-32), the 10 disciples without Thomas (Jn 20:19-23), and then later with Thomas (Jn 20:26-30), and later with 7 disciples while they were fishing (Jn 21:1-14), and finally at his ascension (Mt 28:16-20; Lk 24:33-52; Acts 1:4-9). But Paul tells us that Jesus in fact met many other people after his resurrection. He writes, ‘4 …[Jesus] was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and …he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. 6 After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living... 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, 8 and last of all he appeared to me also… (1 Cor 15:4b-8a)’ Paul’s point is that if you want to ask these people if Jesus had risen from the dead, then you could, most of them were still alive. Peter says, ‘41 …[Jesus was seen] by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. (Acts 10:41b)’ And Paul says, ‘30 But God raised [Jesus] from the dead, 31 and for many days he was seen by those who had traveled with him from Galilee to Jerusalem. (Acts 13:30-31a)’ It wasn’t just one person who said they had seen Jesus, or even two, but dozens of people, hundreds of people, at different times and different places. Jesus walked with them, he ate with them, he taught them stuff. Jesus was seen, alive by countless eyewitnesses.

c) The Circumstantial evidence

The final piece of evidence for Jesus’ resurrection, is circumstantial. Circumstantial evidence isn’t evidence you can produce, like an empty tomb, or burial clothes, it’s not evidence you can hear like people’s eyewitness accounts, rather it looks at the circumstances that can only be explained by that event. In the case of Jesus’ resurrection there are three main circumstances that only make sense if Jesus really rose from the dead.

i) The Transformation of the disciples

The first piece of circumstantial evidence is the transformation in the life of Jesus’ disciples. These simple fishermen go from frightened to fearless in the space of a few weeks. They give up their jobs, they face hardships, they go without food and sleep, they are ridiculed and beaten and tortured, in fact all but one of them is put to death. For what… good intentions, moral teachings, the latest fad? No, because they were convinced without a shadow of a doubt that they had seen Christ risen from the dead. Apart from the resurrection of Jesus there is no other explanation for the transformation in the disciples’ lives. They had seen the risen Jesus with their own eyes, they had touched him with their own hands, and from that day on everything was different.

ii) The Transformation of the sceptics

The second piece of circumstantial evidence is the transformation of the sceptics. The classis example is James, Jesus’ brother. The Apostle John tells us that during Jesus’ ministry ‘5 ...even his own brothers did not believe in him. (Jn 7:5)’ And yet only a few years later Jesus’ brother James becomes the leader of the church in Jerusalem and is eventually stoned to death for his faith in Jesus. Only the fact that James had met the risen Jesus could explain such a radical transformation. The Apostle Paul is another example. Paul hated Christians, in fact he made it his mission to arrest and kill them. And suddenly he becomes the biggest proponent of Christianity in the history of the world. The only explanation is the fact that he met the risen Christ on the road to Damascus and everything changed.

iii) The Transformation of Judaism

The final piece of circumstantial evidence is the transformation of Judaism. One of the pillars of Judaism was animal sacrifices, but suddenly thousands of Jews who became Christians stopped offering sacrifices. Another pillar of Judaism was the law, and yet Jews who became Christians suddenly emphasized a personal faith in Jesus rather than obedience to the law as the proper way of relating to God. A third pillar of Judaism was the Sabbath, and yet Jews who became Christians suddenly stopped worshipping on the Sabbath and started gathering together on the first day of the week, on Sundays. A fourth pillar of Judaism was monotheism, ‘the Lord is One,’ and yet Jews who became Christians suddenly started talking about God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. A fifth sudden change was the development of two new sacraments, the Lord’s Supper and Baptism, both of which celebrated Jesus’ death. The only thing that makes sense of these changes is Jesus’ resurrection. Only the belief that God had confirmed Jesus as the Christ by raising him from the dead would lead Jews to radically redefine their faith.

 

2) The Evidence Explained

Everything points to the historical fact that Jesus indeed rose from the dead, the physical evidence of the empty tomb, the evidence of the eyewitnesses who saw Jesus after he rose from the dead, and the circumstantial evidence of how Jesus’ resurrection transformed people’s lives. But of course this evidence has been explained in two very different ways.

a) Natural explanations

Firstly, people try and offer a natural explanation. The classic is that Jesus’ body was stolen. But if the disciples stole his body it doesn’t explain their willingness to die for something they knew was a lie. And if the religious leaders stole Jesus’ body it doesn’t explain why they didn’t produce it and ruin Christianity from the very beginning. The other natural explanation was that Jesus only seemed to be dead. But the reality is surviving 40 lashes, as well as crucifixion, and being stabbed with a spear, is pretty much impossible, let alone 48 hours in a tomb. Besides Roman executioners knew a dead body when they saw one.

b) Supernatural explanations

The only other explanation for the resurrection is a supernatural one.

i) The angels

It’s interesting that the women immediately jump to the conclusion that Jesus’ body has been stolen, but suddenly two angels appear with a different explanation. The angels say, ‘5 …Why do you look for the living among the dead? 6 He is not here; he has risen! (Lk 24:5b-6a)’ According to the angels Jesus’ body wasn’t stolen, it was restored to life. Jesus was no longer dead, he was alive. He wasn’t lying in the tomb anymore because he had risen.

ii) Jesus’ words

And then the angels remind these women of Jesus’ own words. They say, ‘6 …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.’ (Lk 24:6b-7)’ Jesus had told his followers that this is what would happen, that he would die and then be raised to life. In fact, he had told them on a number of different occasions. Matthew writes that ‘21 …Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things …that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life. (Mt 16:21)’ And after his transfiguration Jesus says, ‘9 …Don’t tell anyone what you have seen, until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead. (Mt 17:9)’ And on two further occasions that he will be killed and ‘23 …on the third day he will be raised to life. (Mt 17:23; 20:19)’ In fact, even the religious leaders had heard Jesus say this. After Jesus is pronounced dead they go to Pilate and say ‘63 …we remember that while he was still alive that deceiver said, ‘After three days I will rise again.’ (Mt 27:63)’. Jesus consistently told his disciples that he would die and be raised to life.

iii) The Church

And that’s the consistent teaching of the Church. In his very first sermon Peter says, ‘22 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. (Act 2:22-24)’ In fact, in the same sermon he adds, ‘32 God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact. (Act 2:32)’ And every time Peter preaches he mentions Jesus’ resurrection. In Acts chapter 3 he says, ‘15 You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead. We are witnesses of this. (Act 3:15)’ And again in chapter 4, ‘10 …It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed. (Act 4:10b)’ And in chapter 5, ‘30 The God of our fathers raised Jesus from the dead—whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree. (Act 5:30)’ And in chapter 10, ‘40 …God raised [Jesus] from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen. (Act 10:40)’ And Paul pretty much teaches the same thing (Act 13:30-37; 17:31). He writes to the Christians in Rome ‘9 That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. (Rom 10:9)’ Belief in the resurrection of Jesus from the dead is one of the central tenets of the Christian faith. In fact, the Apostles’ Creed, to which all Christian churches subscribe says, ‘I believe in Jesus Christ… [who on] the third day rose again from the dead… (The Apostles’ Creed)’ The central belief of Christianity is that Jesus rose from the dead. That’s what Jesus said would happen, that’s what the angels said had happened, that’s what the women witnessed on that first Easter morning, and that’s what so many of Jesus’ followers saw with their own eyes and proclaimed to the world. Jesus is alive.

 

3) The Meaning of the Resurrection

These women found the empty tomb nearly 2000 years ago, and we know that it changed everything for them, but why? What is the meaning of Jesus’ resurrection? Why does the resurrection change everything about how we see Jesus Christ? The New Testament talks about the significance of Jesus’ resurrection in four ways.

a) Proof that Jesus is the Christ (Rom 1:4)

Firstly, and most significantly for our series this Easter, is the fact that Jesus’ resurrection is proof that he is the Christ. Paul begins his letter to the church in Rome by saying ‘4 …through the Spirit of holiness [Jesus Christ our Lord] was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead... (Rom 1:4)’ The resurrection proves that what Jesus had said about himself is true. It confirms that Jesus is indeed the King of kings and Lord of lords. It transforms Jesus from a failed and very dead prophet, to being the Son of God. Without the resurrection no one would have followed Jesus, no matter how amazing his miracles, or his teachings, or his ethics. The Kingship of Christ is established by his resurrection from the dead.

b) Death has been defeated (Rom 6:9; 1 Cor 15:54-57)

Secondly, in Christ’s resurrection death has been defeated. Paul writes, ‘9 For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. (Rom 6:9)’ On the cross Jesus paid the penalty for our sin, he died the death we deserved, but in his resurrection he shows us that death has been defeated. In his classic discussion on Christ’s resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15 Paul finishes by quoting Isaiah 25:8 and Hosea 13:4, ‘54 …“Death has been swallowed up in victory.” 55 “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” (1 Cor 15:54c-55)’ And Jesus’ resurrection isn’t just his victory over death, through faith in him we receive victory over death as well. Paul finishes, ‘57 But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Cor 15:57)’ Jesus won the victory over death for us. We no longer need to fear death, it has been defeated by Jesus Christ.

c) New Life has been won (Rom 4:4b)

Thirdly, in Christ’s resurrection we have new life. Paul writes, 4 …just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. (Rom 4:4b)’ Just as Jesus was raised to a new life, so we receive a new life when we put our faith in him. And we are called to live out this new life that we have in Christ today. Just as meeting the risen Christ changed the disciples and even some of the sceptics, so knowing Jesus changes our lives. We don’t have a relationship with some guy who died 2000 years ago, we have a relationship with our risen Lord, who lives in our hearts through the Holy Spirit. Jesus gives us new life.

d) Eternal Life is Assured (1 Cor 6:14; 15:20)

Finally, Jesus’ resurrection means that eternal life is assured for those who put their faith in him. Our hope is that just as ‘14 …God raised the Lord from the dead …he will raise us also. (1 Cor 6:14)’ That’s why in 1 Corinthians 15 Paul calls Jesus ‘20 …the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. (1 Cor 15:20b)’ Jesus is the first to be raised to eternal life, and because of that ‘16 …whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (Jn 3:16b)’ Because Jesus rose from the dead we who put our trust in him know that we too will be raised from the dead and receive eternal life.

 

So this morning, as we finish our series on the Kingship of Christ, I want you to see Jesus not just in terms of his humility, or his sacrifice, or his obedience, or even his crucifixion, but ultimately through his resurrection. Jesus wasn’t just a good man who died, rather ‘he was declared to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead. (Rom 1:4)’ We call Jesus our King because he rose from the dead. We submit ourselves to him as our Lord, because he rose from the dead. We no longer fear the consequences of our sin because he rose from the dead. Our lives are transformed because he rose from the dead. Our hope in eternal life is secure because he rose from the dead. Brothers and sister, we follow Jesus, we call him Lord, we worship him, because he is the risen King. Amen.

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