Saturday, March 26, 2016

Jesus Is Risen

Jesus Is Risen

Matthew's gospel tells us that, after the burial but prior to the resurrection, the chief priests and Pharisees went to Pilate to request that guards be placed at the tomb. "'Sir,' they said, 'we remember that while He was still alive that deceiver said, 'After three days I will rise again.' So give the order for the tomb to be made secure until the third day. Otherwise, His disciples may come and steal the body and tell the people that He has been raised from the dead. This last deception will be worse than the first." (Matthew 27:63-64) We see these religious leaders unknowingly admit to their previous lies about Jesus saying He was going to destroy Herod's temple and rebuild it in three days. Obviously they knew all along that He was speaking of His own body and not the literal temple. Pilate agrees to their request and they put a seal on the tomb and set guards there. But early on Sunday morning, Matthew tells us there was an earthquake and that an angel of the Lord rolled the stone away, revealing the empty tomb.

The guards hurry into the city to report these things. Again the leaders concoct a scheme and they bribe the soldiers to claim they fell asleep and that the disciples came during the night and took the body of Jesus away. The chief priests and Pharisees keep on having to perform damage control, for if the problem were only that the body is missing, this lie might have satisfied the people. But Jesus appears in the flesh, alive and whole, to many people after the resurrection. He appears to the disciples, to the women, and to over five hundred people at once. (1 Corinthians 15:6)

"On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, 'Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; He has risen! Remember how He told you, while He was still with you in Galilee: 'The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.' Then they remembered His words." (Luke 24:1-8)

These two men at the tomb are most likely angelic beings. As is always true of the faithful angels who didn't rebel to follow Satan, they point to Jesus and to His words. They remind these women of the things Jesus said about Himself. Somehow, in the pain and fear and grief, the women have lost sight of what Jesus said about His resurrection. Maybe it was too much for them to believe after witnessing His death. They expect a body to be there for them to anoint but instead Jesus is alive and well and has left a sealed tomb behind. It was already empty before the stone was rolled away. The stone wasn't rolled away to let Jesus out but to let others in.

"When they came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others. It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the apostles. But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense." (Luke 23:9-11) The disciples think this is a tale told by hysterical grieving women and they don't believe or understand that Jesus is alive.

"Peter, however, got up and ran to the tomb. Bending over, he saw the strips of linen lying by themselves, and he went away, wondering to himself what had happened." (Luke 24:12) John tells us that he went along with Peter. "So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there, as well as the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus' head. The cloth was still lying in its place, separate from the linen. Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed." (John 20:3-8) John, the youngest disciple, in the strength of youth outruns Peter but stops just short of going into the tomb. Finally he goes in and the two of them witness the empty tomb together, the grave clothes discarded because they aren't needed anymore. The men don't know what to do or think. John tells us that "They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead." (John 20:9) This tells us that when John says he "saw and believed", he means that he saw the open tomb with no body inside, the linens left behind, and he believed what the women had reported. "Then the disciples went back to where they were staying." (John 20:10)

Imagine their distress and confusion. The body of the Lord is missing and they don't know why. Why would someone take the body but leave the linen it was wrapped in? Who moved the stone? How did they get in with the guards standing there? On top of all this, who were the two men who told the women Jesus was alive? What does it all mean?

A glimmer of hope shines out of the darkness. What if all the things Jesus said, all the things they never understood before, are true? What if, despite seeing Him breathe His last on the cross, He has taken up His life again, just as He said He would? What if all is not lost? What if their years of following the Master haven't been in vain? What if the words Jesus spoke are about to be fulfilled? "But I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy." (John 16:22)

I picture the disciples safely back in the locked room where they are hiding out of fear of those who accused and arrested Jesus. I believe a lot of loud and lively discussion goes on in that room among the disciples, the women, and the other followers gathered there. They don't know who took Jesus' body or why. They don't know if anyone took His body or whether He is risen. And if He is risen, where is He?

Next we find two of Jesus' followers (men not of the Eleven) walking the Emmaus road, about seven miles outside of Jerusalem, and they are in despair because Jesus has been crucified. They are probably shuffling their sandals dispiritedly through the dust, heads down, shoulders slumped. They aren't in any hurry to get to Emmaus and back to Jerusalem because there is nothing to hurry back for now that their Master is in the tomb. Or so they think.

"Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. They were talking with each other about everything that had happened." (Luke 24:13-14) When Luke says "that same day" he means Sunday, the same day the women found the empty tomb. Whenever we go through a traumatic time it can be difficult to stop talking about it. The shock of it is so great that talking about it helps make it real in our minds. Plus we find it comforting to speak with others who feel the same as we do. These two men are trudging down the road in sorrowful fellowship with each other.

"As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus Himself came up and walked along with them; but they were kept from recognizing Him." (Luke 24:15) What a blessing it is to know that Jesus walks along the road of sorrow with us! We feel alone at times in our pain but Jesus is right there beside us just as He was right there beside these men. We may be so blinded by our sadness that we don't recognize Him, but we can be certain He is there.

"He asked them, 'What are you discussing together as you walk along?' They stood still, their faces downcast. One of them, named Cleopas, asked Him, 'Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?'" (Luke 24:17-18) According to John 19:25, the wife of Cleopas was one of the women with the mother of Jesus at the crucifixion. This man is very sad about the death of Jesus and he can't imagine this stranger not knowing what has taken place. The crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth is the talk of the town. He assumes this man has just arrived in the area and hasn't heard about it.

"'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. The chief priests and our rulers handed Him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified Him; 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. In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning but didn't find His body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said He was alive. Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but they did not see Jesus.'" (Luke 24:15-24) These men do not yet understand who Jesus is, for they call Him a prophet. While He was alive, they hoped He was the Messiah. But since His death they have given up hope. If Jesus had died and stayed dead, they could naturally have called Him only a prophet. All the prophets of old died and are still in their tombs. The problem is, the men of Jesus' time were looking for a military Messiah to save them from Roman oppression, not a Messiah who saves souls. They wanted Him to put the government back into Jewish hands. They expected Him to sit on the throne of David. They "had hoped He was the one who was going to redeem Israel". Oh, but they weren't wrong! The death of Jesus was the means by which He redeems those who believe in Him.

"He said to them, 'How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter His glory?' And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, He explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning Himself." (Luke 24:25-27) Jesus wants to know why they haven't taken the words of the prophets to heart. What about the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53, the One whose blood would make many righteous, the One upon whom our sins were laid? What about the Good Shepherd of Zechariah who was scorned and hated and valued at only thirty pieces of silver, the price of a slave? What of the Passover lamb, slain the night before the Exodus, which represented the true Passover Lamb who takes away the sins of the world? What about the promises made to King David of a coming King of his bloodline who would rule the world? What of the vision sent to Daniel about the King who will be given an everlasting kingdom? Jesus tells these men if they would just read and believe what the Scriptures say about the Messiah, they wouldn't be in despair right now, for they would realize that things have happened exactly the way they were foretold to happen. We note once again that Jesus calls Himself the Messiah and applies all the Scripture regarding the Messiah to Himself.

It may sound a bit harsh when Jesus calls them foolish and says they are slow to believe, but isn't this true of us all at one time or another? We have the entire Scripture at our fingertips, available for reading at any time. We even have the added benefit of being able to listen to it on CD or to pull it up on the internet or to watch it explained to us on TV. We don't even have to be very good readers in order to hear and understand the gospel. Many in Jesus' time couldn't read but they were free to go to the temple and hear the Scriptures read aloud. Jesus is pointing out that it's foolish not to believe the Scriptures. Our lives would be so much better if we simply made the choice to believe every single word in our Bibles. Jesus wants us to believe in faith, to take His holy words to heart, to stand on them and trust in them and count on Him to come through for us.

"As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus continued on as if He were going farther. But they urged Him strongly, 'Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.' So He went in to stay with them." (Luke 24:28-29) There's something about this man that makes them want to spend more time in His company. That's the precious thing about the the Lord: the more we know Him the more we want to know Him. We can't get enough of Him. The thought of spending eternity with Jesus is thrilling. On a side note, as far as I can see in the Scriptures, Jesus never turned down an invitation to go home with someone. He was always willing to do so and He is willing to go home with you and me too.

"When He was at the table with them, He took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized Him, and He disappeared from their sight. They asked each other, 'Were not our hearts burning within us while He talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?'" (Luke 24:30-32) When we take the Scriptures to heart, they burn within us. We recognize them as truth. Here we see Jesus echo the actions of the upper room on the first night of Passover when He broke the bread and said that it symbolized His body, broken for us. The truth of God's word opens these men's eyes and suddenly they know this is the resurrected Lord at the table with them. The resurrected body is not like a mortal human body in that it doesn't appear to be bound by the laws of physics. Jesus was already gone from the tomb before the stone was rolled away. Here we see Jesus disappear from the table. Later we we will see Him appear in a room with a locked door. Although we can't fully understand what a resurrected body is, we know one thing: "Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is." (1 John 3:2) We will have a body like our Lord's body.

"They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together and saying, 'It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon.' Then the two told what had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognized by them when He broke the bread." (Luke 24:33-35) It's nearly dark but these two men can't wait to run and tell the others about Jesus. But when they get there, they hear even more good news, that Jesus has appeared to Simon Peter. In 1 Corinthians 15:5 the Apostle Paul makes reference to the Lord appearing privately to Peter before He appeared to all the disciples together. The late Dr. J. Vernon McGee of the Thru The Bible Radio broadcast once said, "The Lord Jesus Christ appeared to Simon Peter privately because there was something that needed to be straightened out. Remember that Peter had denied Him. The restoration to fellowship was a personal and private transaction between Peter and his Lord."

The four gospels tell us of several appearances of Jesus following the resurrection and Luke tells us that, "While they were still talking about this, Jesus Himself stood among them and said to them, 'Peace be with you.' They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. He said to them, 'Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? Look at My hands and My feet. It is I myself! Touch Me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.'" (Luke 24:36-39) The Lord's resurrected body still looks and feels like a natural human body. That gives me comfort, knowing that someday when we have a body like His, we will still have our own recognizable and familiar shape. We will still be us. In a resurrected body, the Lord was able to appear at will wherever He wanted. I can't say whether or not our own bodies will be able to do this, for at the resurrection our Lord took up His power and glory once again, the power and glory that rightfully belongs to the Son of God.

"When He had said this, He showed them His hands and feet. And while they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement, He asked them, 'Do you have anything here to eat?' They gave Him a piece of broiled fish, and He took it and ate it in their presence." (Luke 24:40-43) The ability to eat conclusively proves to the disciples that Jesus is still made of flesh and bones, that the Son of God is still a man, that He isn't a vision of a spirit or ghost. I believe that in the kingdom of God we will be able to eat. The book of Revelation speaks of the marriage supper of the Lamb and of the fruit tree that bears fruit in all seasons. I don't, however, believe we will eat any meat there, because after the earth is restored to its former glory which it had before sin entered, the animal kingdom is once again at peace with each other. If this is true on earth then certainly I think there wont be any meat-eating in heaven. Just as before the flood mankind didn't eat meat, we won't eat it in the Lord's kingdom either.

"He said to them, 'This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about Me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.'" (Luke 24:44) Yet again we see Jesus declare Himself to be the Son of God, the Messiah, by attributing all of Scripture to Himself. The law spoke of Christ. The prophets spoke of Christ. The psalms spoke of Christ. From the first word of Genesis to the last word of Revelation, our Bibles speak of Christ on every page.

"Then He opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. He told them, 'This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. I am going to send you what My Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.'" (Luke 24:44-49) Jesus tells the disciples that they will be given what has been promised: the Holy Spirit. They are to stay in Jerusalem until this promise comes on the Day of Pentecost, which Luke describes in in the book of Acts.

We can't do anything worthwhile for the kingdom of God in our own power. As Christians, it's the Holy Spirit living within us who enables us to live in a way that honors the Lord. This is why the disciples were to wait for the power that comes through the Holy Spirit. They will need this power to preach the forgiveness of sins in the name of Jesus. They will need this strength to face the hatred and persecution that is coming to them for the sake of Jesus. Luke tells us in Acts that during the forty days in which Jesus appeared after the resurrection, He said, "Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift My Father promised, which you have heard Me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit." (Acts 1:4-5) On the Day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit falls on all the believers, 3,000 souls are saved at the preaching of Peter. It was after receiving the Holy Spirit that the apostles began to preach in Jesus' name. It was after receiving the Holy Spirit that these men "turned the world upside down" with their testimony of Jesus Christ. (Acts 17:6) And its only through the Holy Spirit that you and I can do anything to lead others to Christ. If the Lord has no part in our work it won't bear fruit. But if we do the work through the power of the Holy Spirit, freely given by the Father to us who believe on the name of Jesus, the blessings will overflow from our lives into others.

Before we conclude today we will study the final appearances of Jesus and His ascension to heaven. First I want to take a passage from the book of Acts. Jesus has just told the disciples to remain in Jerusalem until they are baptized by the Holy Spirit. "Then they gathered around Him and asked Him, 'Lord, are You at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?'" (Acts 1:6) These men still want to see their nation be a sovereign power in the world once again. They feel they would be better off if they weren't under the iron fist of Rome. They wonder if now, in His resurrected body, Jesus will overthrow their oppressors and sit on David's throne. "He said to them: 'It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by His own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you, and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.'" (Acts 1:7-8) Sometimes we want to know more than we need to know. We want to look into things that are God's business, not our business. The Lord knew every one of us before we were even conceived and the Lord has a purpose and plan for each of our lives. We must concern ourselves with what the Lord gives each of us to do. It's His business about the times and the dates and the seasons.

Between the resurrection and the ascension, we find, "After His suffering, He presented Himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that He was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God." (Acts 1:3) We must remember that at the beginning of his gospel, Luke said that he personally interviewed eyewitnesses. This is their testimony about the risen Lord. And Luke found it convincing enough to stake his life on it.

The Apostle Paul wasn't a disciple but, after Jesus ascended to heaven, He also made a personal appearance to him. "And last of all He appeared to me also." (1 Corinthians 15:8) Salvation came to Paul quite some time after the ascension, during which time Paul persecuted the church. He was responsible for the imprisonment, punishment, and even death of the believers. Against all odds Christ came to him, long after the point Paul would have expected such mercy. But isn't that how He comes to us all? We have all denied Him somehow, or persecuted Him or His followers, yet Christ comes and extends mercy to us.

Paul also adds the same detail as Luke, that Jesus appeared privately to Simon Peter. This meeting is shrouded in mystery because of its personal nature. We don't need to hear the conversation between our Lord and the disciple who denied Him. I think we can be certain, though, that the Lord restored Peter during that meeting and told Peter he was forgiven. I believe there were words of grace and mercy. I think that manly man Peter cried a whole bunch of tears. Out of respect for this disciple who became such a great leader in the church, I too am happy to leave this meeting between him and the Lord in the dark.

Paul also tells us that Jesus appeared to over five hundred men and women at once, who witnessed Him in His resurrected body. At the time of Paul's writing, most of the witnesses were still living and available for questioning. Anyone reading the letter to the Corinthians was free to go ask them, just as Luke did. Luke didn't simply take Paul's word for it; he went in person and talked to every witness he could find. The testimony of these witnesses caused Luke to conclude that Jesus Christ is Lord.

Jesus appeared to His brother James privately. James will later become a leader in the church at Jerusalem and he is the author of the book of James. Before the resurrection none of Jesus' brothers believed in Him. They even attempted once to seize Him and take Him home to Nazareth, thinking He was becoming mentally unhinged. This meeting between our Lord and His brother is as shrouded in mystery as the meeting with Peter. They had things to sort out between them. Again I believe the Lord had no words of condemnation but only words of love and mercy. I think during this meeting the Lord commissioned James to lead the church at Jerusalem. Whatever took place between them, it convinced James that Jesus Christ is the Lord. He was willing, like Luke and Paul and Peter, to stake his life on it.

Following the forty days of ministry which Jesus performed after the resurrection, we are told, "When He had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, He lifted up His hands and blessed them. While He was blessing them, He left them and was taken up into heaven. Then they worshiped Him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy. And they stayed continually at the temple, praising God." (Luke 24:50-53) An additional detail is given to us from Acts 1:10-11, "They were looking intently up into the sky as He was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. "Men of Galilee,' they said, 'why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen Him go into heaven." These men need to be about their Father's business. There is work to be done. When Jesus returns for the church, He isn't going to miss any of us. We don't have to stand around staring into the sky, afraid we will miss the return of our Lord. Whether we are alive or dead at Christ's return, there is no danger of Him missing a single one of us. "For the Lord Himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever." (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17) We will all ascend to heaven to forever be with the One who made it possible for us to find redemption. In the meantime, our job is to do the will of our Lord and fulfill the commission He assigned us: to tell others of His love, His redemptive death, His resurrection, and His salvation.

On Monday we will return to our Prophets And Kings study on the books of 1st and 2nd Kings. In the meantime, let's rejoice along with the disciples over our risen Lord. Let's be about our Father's business in witnessing to others about the love of Jesus Christ and the plan of salvation. We have the promise that our Lord is coming back for us and that we will be reunited with our loved ones. We have the constant assurance of the Lord's love and presence with us in the Person of the Holy Spirit. No matter what kind of "road to Emmaus" you may be walking, Jesus is walking right beside you. We need not shuffle through this world in despair, heads hanging low, shoulders slumped, as if we have no hope. All our hope is fulfilled in the One who died for us, rose for us, and sits at the Father's right hand daily making intercession for us.

The gospel of Jesus Christ cannot be ignored, only accepted or rejected. There is no other option. And if we reject Him we are rejecting the testimony of men who gave their lives for what they believed was the truth: that they had seen the risen Lord. We would also have to reject the miracles that even the Pharisees couldn't dispute. We would need to reject the account of the empty tomb which even the enemies of Jesus didn't dispute. And we would have to reject the words of Jesus Christ Himself.

Because Jesus is alive our hope is alive and nobody can say this better than the Apostle Peter, a man who found grace in the eyes of the Lord, a man who found forgiveness and redemption in Christ. "Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In His great mercy He has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and to an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade." (1 Peter 1:3-4a)

Our Redeemer lives! Because He lives we too can live. Our hope is alive and nothing can take it from us.

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