A glance at the TV or at the newspapers over the past few weeks will have told you what the world’s media thinks is most important. The amount of ‘column inches’ our newspapers devote to different topics is a good indication of their perceived importance. The migrant crisis, the threat of terrorism, George Osborne’s Budget and the EU referendum are all front page news.
It’s a great shame that the same amount of attention isn’t paid to another important topic. A news item that may be two thousand years old, but can hardly be described as out of date. I’m referring, ofcourse, to the resurrection of Christ. An event that consumes many ‘column inches’ in the Bible. An event that is good news – great news, indeed – for our troubled world.
But did Jesus really rise? Did Mary’s encounter with Christ that first Easter morning really happen? Is it historically true or a total fabrication? And if it is historically true, is it really relevant to us today? So over the next few minutes I hope to reassure you that the Jesus really did rise, and to persuade you that the resurrection really matters. Easter is both historically true and highly-important today.
1. It’s historically true!
At the outset, be assured that Easter really happened, Jesus is alive! Our two New Testament readings this morning provide some of the earliest and most detailed historical evidence for the resurrection. Evidence that rules out every alternative explanation for the Empty Tomb. For example:
- Jesus didn’t simply survive the crucifixion, and regain his health in the cool of the tomb. The Romans knew how to crucify people, and had used a spear to make sure Jesus was dead. Only a miracle could have raised him back to life.
- Nor was Jesus’ body stolen by thieves or taken by the Jewish or Roman authorities. Jesus’ corpse had no value to grave robbers. And if it had been taken by the authorities they would have quickly produced it to refute claims that Jesus was alive.
- Jesus’ body wasn’t taken by the disciples either. Even if they had managed to get past the guards at the tomb, why would they have subsequently suffered and died for a faith they knew wasn’t true? As John’s Gospel shows us, the disciples were not expecting Jesus’ resurrection, and were initially shocked and surprised by his empty tomb.
- Nor was the Risen Jesus just a ghost or a hallucination. 1 Corinthians chapter 15 tells us Jesus was seen by more than five hundred people over several weeks. He showed them conclusively that he was really alive and had a real body. Christ even ate fish with his friends and showed them the marks of the Cross on his hands, feet and side.
On top of all this historical evidence, countless Christians over the past two thousand years can testify to a personal encounter with the Risen Christ. Our Gospel reading this morning explicitly names three individuals who would meet the Risen Jesus face to face – Peter, John and Mary. Encounters that turned their worlds upside down. Encounters that gave them great joy and hope. Encounters that gave them such a strong and confident faith that even the might of the Roman Empire could not suppress it. Because he really did rise, we too can encounter the Risen Christ today, as he speaks to us in Scripture, ministers to us through his Church, and moves within our hearts by his Holy Spirit.
2. It’s highly-important today!
So the resurrection is historically true. The risen Jesus is alive and active today. But why should we bother to invite him into our lives? Is the resurrection highly important or wholly irrelevant to us in 2016? Well, unsurprisingly, the New Testament wants to leaves us in no doubt that the resurrection is highly important. Highly important for each one of us, because it means (i) “Christ is King”, (ii) “Guilt can go away” and (iii) “Death is defeated”. Let’s briefly look at each of these in turn:
- Christ is King!
Firstly, the resurrection is God’s vindication of Jesus, his endorsement of everything that Jesus said and did. By raising his Son from the dead, God the Father declared to the world that Jesus is Lord, Christ is King, God’s Son really is the rightful ruler over all our lives and all of creation
Since the resurrection declared Christ as King, our right response must be to acknowledge and submit to his loving rule. In verse 6 of our Gospel reading this morning, Peter is the first person to enter the empty tomb. A few weeks later, at Pentecost, Peter was declaring the resurrection to the Jerusalem crowds. He called upon them all to: “Repent and be baptised in the name of Jesus”. Peter was challenging his listeners to turn from their old lifestyles and live instead for the Lord of all. The same challenge confronts us all today. Christ is risen, Christ is King, so let’s surrender every area of our lives to his good and perfect rule.
- Guilt can go away!
Secondly, the resurrection also means our guilt can be taken away. The resurrection is God’s ‘seal of approval’ on Christ’s finished work on the Cross. By raising Jesus back to life, God was showing his acceptance of Jesus’ death on our behalf. God was showing that his Son had indeed wiped our slate clean, that our penalty had been fully paid, that the perfect sacrifice for sin had been made. Because Jesus died and rose again, God is always ready to forgive us for Christ’s sake. No guilt is too great to be beyond God’s forgiveness, and no sin too significant to be beyond his grace. Christ is risen, our guilt can be taken away - all we need to do is ask.
- Death is defeated!
Thirdly, and perhaps most wonderfully, the resurrection declares that death is defeated. The grave could not hold Jesus for long, and one day all Christians will regain restored bodies just as Jesus did. Jesus’s resurrection was the first fruit of the general resurrection that all God’s people will one day enjoy. The restoration and renewal of Christ’s body was a foretaste, a foreshadowing, of the restoration and renewal of all creation that God will one day complete.
When they are not talking about referendums and tax rates, our TV news programmes and newspapers are often concerned about the state of the environment. About air pollution, water shortages and ozone depletion. But as Christians living in the light of the resurrection we know not to despair. The Creator has already intervened to renew and restore one small part of creation - Christ’s human body - and will one day renew every inch of our world. So this Easter Sunday, as we look back to the empty tomb, every Christian can look forward to the future with confidence. Christ is risen, death has been defeated!
As I finish, I hope this morning that we have been reassured that the resurrection is historically true, and reminded that it is highly-important today. Even in 2016, the resurrection of Jesus should remain headline news, because:
- To a world seemingly running out of control, it invites us to follow Christ the King.
- To a world overwhelmed by sin and evil, the resurrection offers us forgiveness and freedom from guilt.
- And to a world facing death and decay, the resurrection offers us everlasting life.
In our Gospel reading this morning, the resurrection of Jesus turned Mary Magdalene’s tears of sadness into tears of joy. And, thank God, it can do the same for us today!