This is the Easter reflection that I shared at Shepparton Baptist Church on Sunday the 1st April. Enjoy
John 20:1-18 NIV (New International Version)
The Empty Tomb
20 Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. 2 So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”
3 So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. 4 Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5 He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. 6 Then Simon Peter came along behind him and went straight into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, 7 as well as the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head. The cloth was still lying in its place, separate from the linen. 8 Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. 9 (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.) 10 Then the disciples went back to where they were staying.
Jesus Appears to Mary Magdalene
11 Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb 12 and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.
13 They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?”
“They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” 14 At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.
15 He asked her, “Woman, 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 ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending 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.
I often go to the movies. There are a lot of movies I enjoy. There aren’t too many that I don’t. I have a friend who is really into movies. He loves to watch them, read their scripts and has even written a few movie scripts himself (which I have to say are good). What I find amusing is that moment after the movie finishes, and we look at each other. It’s the look that says “well? What do you think?”. At that moment, my mind runs through all the scenes in the movie and get a swift impression on what I thought. I end up saying something like “That was good!” or “What happened to this scene” or “Wasn’t that part the best?”. What my friend will say is a complete mystery to me. We went and saw The Last Jedi (the latest Star Wars movie) together. He hated it. I enjoyed it and thought he would say he did too. But I was very wrong!!!! He hated it so much he still gives me a hard time for liking it! When we talked about it though, he had a hugely different perspective on it than I do. He was looking at the technical aspects of the plot, the action sequences, the dialogue, how it all fit together as a movie and how it fulfilled the expectations of the series.
What that tells me is that we both approach the movie with very different perspectives. My friend is looking at the details while I am looking at the overall effect.
This mornings passage is like that too. If we were to make a movie out of these verses, my friend would pick it apart. There are so many plot holes. As an example, we see that Mary went to tell the disciples that the tomb was empty, the story tells of Peter and the other disciples running to the tomb but not Mary. Then it says she stood outside the tomb crying. It doesn't fit without making some assumptions. Or that John tells us that Mary Magdalene went to the tomb, but later she tells the disciples that “we don’t know where they have put him”. There are assumptions that need to be made to fill in the blanks. We get into even more trouble when we compare the other gospels with John’s account as well. It all seems like a patchwork quilt. Bit are put here; then other bits are put there. My friend would be driven nuts if there was an attempt to make it the way all the gospels give the account of Jesus’ resurrection. I’m guessing he wouldn’t be the only one!
When you think about it, it’s quite remarkable that what is the most crucial happening in the Bible for Christian faith is so weirdly scattered.
If we read 1 Corinthians 15:14-17 (read it) even Paul tells us that this is the most crucial thing to happen. He doesn’t point to the cross, to the beatings, to the denial of Jesus’ disciples or the foot washing or the miracles that happened while Jesus was alive. No, he points fairly and squarely at the miracle of Jesus being raised to life again.
Whenever we come to Christian faith, it has to come back to the resurrection of Jesus. The Bible we read is from the hands of men (inspired by the Holy Spirit), the reports we find of Jesus’ death lead us to believe that it happened. His miracles can be rationally explained…well, sort of. People can even manage to rationalise the Old Testament into scientific applications.
There is one thing that cannot be rationalised, his resurrection. It’s the sticking point of many and often overlooked as well.
Given the importance of what happened, it’s no surprise when it comes to the controversy as well. Many will pick apart it’s historical accuracy. Other’s compare each of the gospels to find inaccuracies in each. Others continue to look for “plot holes”. Others read the stories and find the disciples at work behind the scenes setting it all up. Honestly, it is a mess when you start to do that. Things don’t add up well in what we would call historical accuracy. But, doesn’t that make it even more authentic? If you were to plan something as major as suggesting that your dead Rabbi was, in fact, the Messiah and that he wasn’t dead…would you not put some effort into the alibi? Jesus’ disciples weren’t particularly intelligent. Sure, they weren’t dumb, but they weren’t scholars. Can you imagine the detail they would have had to come up with to have an alibi so crazily messed up? I can’t. The best I can imagine is a story that they all stuck to and make sure there weren’t any inaccuracies.
And yet, even with that as part of the equation, there are only two choices when it comes to the resurrection of Jesus. It happened, or it didn’t. Yes or no. Alive or dead. Jesus couldn’t be half resurrected nor could it be possible that he didn’t die on the cross.
What do you believe today?
The easy part is agreeing that he died. The hard part is believing he was raised to life. It takes a step of faith. It takes belief. And that is hard. We live in a world where we are taught to pull apart everything. Pull apart the plots of books and movies. Look for accurate historical data. Look for the truth. If the mechanics of something can’t be figured out, it should be doubted.
Faith is different. With faith, it’s about believing that something is possible before you have the facts. In the book of Hebrews, it says that faith believes in the unseen. In our culture, we tend to belittle faith. We treat it like it’s childish and as we grow up, we need to dismiss it. For those of you who have read or seen the Narnia series. The wardrobe is exactly about just that. A childlike faith gains them entrance into the world of Narnia, but unbelief gets them to the back of the wardrobe.
Is it childish to believe that Jesus was raised from the dead? Is the Bible to be regarded as a children’s tale? No! There are parts of the bible that I’m still not sure I want my boys to read! The Bible is definitely not purely for children. Neither is faith and belief in the unseen.
We have two choices. Believe or not. We have free will to choose. What will you choose today?
If you choose to ignore or not believe that Jesus was raised to life, that is your choice. I would suggest that you not believing that Jesus was raised to life even takes some faith. Faith that the information you have is accurate. You need to have faith that it hasn’t been modified to suit a story either.
I chose to not believe in the resurrection of Jesus for a long time. It seemed like a fantasy story more than something that happened. At some point, in my life, I was confronted by the story of Jesus in a way that I could no longer discount. I was confronted with this very same question. What will you choose Richard? There are only two options. Believe that Jesus was resurrected or believe that he wasn’t. I chose to believe that Jesus was resurrected. And wow! I had no idea that it would change so much in my life. Before that choice, the world was a pale comparison to what it is before me now. It was like those shows where it shows reality in black and white until new life comes to it in colour. The bible talks about scales coming off people eyes, and they could see for the first time. It was like that. Everything was more amazing than before. My mind could understand more abstract concepts than it could before. I had trouble understanding the Bible before my choice, but now it made sense. It was completely weird!
Part of the problem is that life can revert to bland again. God opens our eyes, minds and hearts to the deeper parts of reality but we can shut them down again. We forget our earlier choices. We forget that we chose to believe in the resurrection. We forget that love we had when we first believed.
If you choose to believe, or you already have chosen to believe. Don’t let the resurrection fall back into obscurity until next Easter. If you have chosen to believe that Jesus is resurrected and alive, keep it alive in your hearts. If today is about anything, it’s about life and living it to the full. We were redeemed by the death of Jesus; we are now guaranteed an eternity with the Father and His love because of his resurrection.
I will finish with asking that simple question once again.
“What do you choose?”