I preached this sermon on April 21, 2019, Easter Sunday at Seed Church. You can listen right here.
Happy Easter Seed Church! HE IS RISEN!!!
Today, we celebrate the most extraordinary event in history. A human being who conquered the grave after a horrible death. Our greatest foe- the grave- defeated by Jesus of Nazareth exercising the power of God. What an incredible truth!
In 2015, Grammy award winning hip hop artist, Kendrick Lamar recorded a song on his critically acclaimed album of that year. The song was titled, “How Much Does a Dollar Cost?” The song is in story form. Kendrick talks about parking his luxury car at a gas station one day. He boasts about stacking his money with all of his success. And at this gas station, he encounters a homeless man. Kendrick believes that this homeless man is smoking crack. He thinks he smells moonshine and gin…in his words. Trying to brush off this homeless man, he slams his car door and tells the bum to beat it.
However, there is an intensity about this guy at the gas station. A curiosity mildly comes over Kendrick. He continues to talk to him and as the song goes: “Guilt trippin and feelin resentment. I never met a transient that demanded attention. They got me frustrated, indecisive and power trippin. Sour emotions got me lookin at the universe different. I should distance myself, I should keep it relentless. My selfishness is what got me here, who the fuck I’m kidding?…”. And then, “He (the bum) looked at me and said, ‘Your potential is bittersweet.” I looked at him and said, ‘every nickel is mines to keep.’ He looked at me and said, ‘know the truth it’ll set you free. You’re lookin at the Messiah, the son of Jehovah, the higher power, the nerve of Nazareth, and I’ll tell you just how much a dollar cost….embrace your loss. I am God.”
So at this gas station, presumably in south central LA while doing the most normal, mundane chores of life- getting gas in a vehicle- Kendrick encounters Jesus disguised as a bum. At first, he did not recognize Jesus and tried to shoo him away like other panhandlers. The gravity of this song though that even in the most mundane moments of life, our perspectives could cause us to miss Jesus. Perhaps with Kendrick in this moment, it was his success and his wealth and his busy lifestyle of not having time. The consequences of missing these moments perhaps would echo for all eternity.
I didn’t really grow up going to church. My perspective on Easter was a an extremely fun holiday because I would wake up in the morning as a kid and my parents would have an Easter basket for me. There would be candy an sometimes, a brand new Nintendo game. Super Mario Bros 3 or a Legend of Zelda sequel. I had no idea why Easter was celebrated while I was growing up. I didn’t know that this special day was about Jesus’ resurrection. I had a perspective and from this perspective, I was missing something vital and eternally important.
When we read the gospels, the disciples had perspectives as well. Their perspectives, informed by their religious faith and by their lives in first century Palestine, almost caused them to miss the culminating work of Jesus- a guy who they had followed around for the better part of three years. According to the views that they were taught, most of the disciples believed the Messiah would come back and restore Israel. Kick the Romans out and set up God’s Kingdom again. A “Messiah” who died a violent death on the cross, a torturous and bloody massacre, was not in the cards according to their beliefs. They were anticipating a triumphal and inspiration Messiah to lead the charge against their earthly enemies.
The days after the crucifixion had the disciples huddled in the upper room, scared out of their minds. Wanted as fugitives for following Jesus, most of them probably expected a similar fate to that as their friend Jesus. But then something happened…
The title of this message is “Perspectives on the Resurrection” and I wanted to, on this holy Easter Sunday, to dig in a little bit to the four Gospel accounts. The disciples had diverse groups that they were trying to preach the good news too about Jesus’ resurrection which speaks to the way they wrote their own accounts on what happened on the greatest morning in human history.
We will begin with Matthew 28:1-10. The Gospel of Matthew is a testament written to a Jewish audience. Many of you have probably read the Gospel of Matthew and will note that there are many references to the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. Matthew was showing how the life of Christ was prophesied before His arrival on earth from the Old Testament.
Verse 1-2: “Now after the Sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And behold, there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it.”
Recall that the Sabbath for Israel back at this time was Saturday. Shabbat. So early Sunday morning is when Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. This other Mary was Mary the mother of James and Joseph, the mother of the sons of Zebedee (from Matthew 27:56, 61). Now why were they coming to the tomb? The previous evening Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus had already wound linen bandages around the body which was after 6pm when the Sabbath-shabbat would have ended. They would have had a mixture of myrrh and aloes. The women were coming to the tomb now, in the morning, in order to anoint the body to prevent rapid decomposition. Bodies would have deteriorated quickly in the Jerusalem climate- very warm and dry. There was a surprise in store to say the least.
A violent earthquake! That will get you out of bed in the morning. The women did not see this happen apparently. The earthquake may have been the result of the angel’s descent from heaven and the angel’s rolling away of the tomb. Not only that, look at this detail. The angel sat upon this rock. Just sitting there. Just chilling. This symbolizes Christ’s triumph. The rock that was imprisoning Jesus in this tomb was knocked over and the angel just sits on top of it as if saying, “This big thing that Joseph of Arimathea put here is not any kind of match for the power of God.”
Verses 3-4: “His appearance was like lightning and his clothing white as snow. And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men.”
The radiant description here of the angel is a cue to the reader that this figure has come from heaven and has a holiness as a messenger of God. The clothing was as white as snow. The Roman guards were freaked out. The ESV translation says they “trembled” and the NIV says “shook”. This is actually virtually the same word as “earthquake”. You could say the soldiers quaked. “Became like dead men” apparently means they were likely not unconscious perhaps by the violent tremor or the drama of seeing an angel.
Verses 5-7: “But the angel said to the women, ‘Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for He has risen, as He said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell His disciples that He has risen from the dead, and behold, He is going before you to Galilee; there you will see Him. See, I have told you.’”
How many times is the phrase “do not be afraid” mentioned in the New Testament? A huge amount of times, right? This was a common saying of Jesus. The angel says the famous words: “He is not here, for He has risen, as He said.” And then, if an angel coming from heaven, rolling a stone away and sitting on top of the rock triumphantly wasn’t enough to show us as human beings what was going on, the angel invites the women to, “hey, come see the place where He lay” if you want too. Sometimes faith is hard for us to grasp. We still need more proof. We see human nature here in this account.
Jesus is announced as going before the women to Galilee. Galilee, or at least the Sea of Galilee, is about 70 miles north of Jerusalem.
Verses 8: “So they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to tell His disciples.”
Have you ever had a tremendous fear but also great joy? Fascinating thinking about how those two emotions would go together. I think my son Reuben has a small scale reaction along these lines every time he asks to watch Ratatouille. He loves the movie and it is exciting for him to watch the adventures of Remi the Rat cooking food in a fancy French commercial kitchen. However, he gets really scared at the beginning when the grandma is wielding her shotgun against the rats in her house. Probably a fairly normal reaction. You see a colony of rats infesting your entire house and dropping down from the ceiling and grab the shotgun. Fear and great joy…on a smaller scale.
Verse 9-10: “And behold, Jesus met them and said, ‘Greetings!’ And they came up and took hold of His feet and worshiped Him. Then Jesus said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.”
On the way to tell the disciples, they run into Jesus. The women seemed to immediately recognize here and Jesus offers “Greetings” or some translations have “good morning”. A common greeting. They take hold of his feet. This is a small detail but consider what Matthew is getting at with putting this detail in the verse: Jesus was flesh and blood raised from the grave. They were not grabbing a spirit or a ghost of some kind. They were grabbing and worshipping a bodily risen Savior. Jesus asks them to “not be afraid” and to go tell the disciples and remind them to go to Galilee where the Great Commission will be rendered. Jesus is reassuring these women after an extremely crazy and wild morning.
Let’s turn to the gospel of Mark perspective which was probably the first gospel written found in Mark 16:1-8:
Verse 1-2: “When the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene and Mary the Mother of James and Salome bought spices so that they might go and anoint Him. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb.”
Very similar to the Matthew account. Mary Magdalene and Mary the Mother of James (called the other Mary in Matthew) are mentioned. We have a third woman mentioned in the Gospel of Mark: Salome. Who is Salome? She is previously mentioned by Mark in Mark 15:40 as being present at Jesus’ crucifixion and she pops up in the resurrection narrative as well. Not a ton of mention of her explicitly in Scripture except for Mark’s Gospel. She is in non-canonical gospels as a disciple of Jesus but these were written later and we do not believe they are inspired.
William L Lane, a commentator on the Gospel of Mark had good insight into the ritual that they were looking to perform at Jesus’ tomb: “Spices were not used for mummification, which was not a Jewish custom, but to offset the odors from decomposition. It is not uncommon to find in Palestinian tombs dating to the first century such funerary objects as perfume bottles, ointment jars and other vessels of clay and glass designed to contain aromatic oils. The desire of the women to ‘anoint’ the body indicates that the oils were to be poured over the head. The preparations for returning to the tomb in performance of an act of piety show that the women had no expectation of an immediate resurrection of Jesus.” Surprise, surprise!
Verse 3-4: “And they were saying to one another, ‘who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?’ And looking up, they saw that the stone had been rolled back- it was very large.”
Again, very similar to Matthew’s account however there is no mention of an earthquake.
Verse 5-7: “And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe, and they were alarmed. And he said to them, ‘Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; He is not here. See the place where they laid Him. But go tell His disciples and Peter that He is going before you to Galilee. There you will see Him, just as He told you.’”
In Mark’s account, the angel is not seated on the rock but appears as a young man inside the tomb (after the women had entered). He says virtually the same thing as the angel in Matthew’s account. Mark’s account has no mention of the guards and only briefly describes the angel’s clothing as white.
Verse 8: “And they went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”
Again, we have the theme of fear (trembling) and joy (astonishment). They quickly fled to go and tell the disciples as what happened in Matthew’s account.
***The third gospel is Luke’s and Luke being a physician was very thorough in his investigation of the historical accounts surrounding Jesus. Obviously, he recorded what he gathered on the resurrection. Luke wrote largely to a Greek audience and therefore, the Gentiles. The account is found in Luke 24:1-11
Verse 1-4: “But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared. And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men stood by them in dazzling apparel.”
I have read skeptics hone in on the angel appearances in Matthew and Mark. One angel was on the rock. The other angel was in the tomb. And here in Luke, the account is that there were two angels at the site of the empty tomb. No mention of an earthquake like there was in Matthew but the clothing choice of the angels is mentioned as “dazzling” which seems to fit the lightning description made in Matthew.
Verse 5- 7: “And as they were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, ‘Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how He told you, while He was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.’”
I love that responsive question: Why do you seek the living among the dead?” A similar saying as the other gospels. The angel consistently tells the women and the disciples to meet Him in Galilee.
Verse 8-11: “And they remembered His words, and returning from the tomb they told all these things to the eleven and to all the rest. Now it was Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James and the other women with them who told these things to the apostles, but these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.”
The women testify and proclaim the empty tomb to the eleven disciples (obviously at this point minus Judas Iscariot). There were other followers of Jesus wondering about the next steps as is evidenced in “the rest”. The characters who visited the tomb are identified again as Mary Magadelene, Mary the Mother of James, and in Luke’s Gospel, we see Joanna. She is exclusively mentioned in Luke’s gospel, previously in Luke 8:2-3. She was the wife of Chuza who was a steward to Herod Antipas. She had been cured by Jesus of evil spirits and infirmities. She is now mentioned as a witness to the resurrection.
There is a mention of other women which would include Salome (mentioned in the Gospel of Mark) and probably others.
In classic fashion, the men disciples did not believe the women and thought this was all an idle tale. In this culture, as we know, women basically had no rights. They were not trusted as court witnesses. This was an extremely patriarchal society and the male disciples completely dismissed, at first, the true accounts that the women were trying to tell them about. They had a perspective that was given to them as they grew up and lived in this culture. This perspective almost cost them being a witness to the most extraordinary event in human history. The eternal can show up in unexpected times and places.
***Let’s go to the Gospel of John. This Gospel was the latest written perhaps in the 90s AD. This was after the Roman General Titus leveled the city of Jerusalem destroying the temple and lead to a massive diaspora of the Jewish people. A scattering. The account is found in John 20:1-10.
Verse 1-2 “Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, ‘they have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.”
In this account, only Mary Magdalene is mentioned and she sees the stone rolled away and immediately goes back and tells Simon Peter and John.
Verse 3-4 “So Peter went out with the other disciple, and they were going toward the tomb. Both of them were running together but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first.”
Of course, John is going to brag about beating Peter in a sprint to the tomb here, right?
Verse 5-7: “And stooping to look in, he saw the linen cloths lying there but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen clothes lying there and the face cloth, which had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen cloths but folded up in a place by itself.”
Surprising to see walking into a tomb. Jesus, after rising from the grave, had done his laundry.
Verse 8-9: “Then the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that He must rise from the dead. Then the disciples went back to their homes.”
John believed in the resurrected Christ. All that they had witnessed and the testimony they had heard that day lead John to believe that his best friend had indeed conquered the grave. The gospel puts in the detail that they still were not connecting the dots that Jesus had predicted His rising again and that this was a part of God’s plan. They had a different perspective on who and what the Messiah was supposed to do.
As we have seen, the gospel writers while being consistent about talking about the resurrection of Jesus and being accurate about what the angels said to the women and the fact that women were the first to go to the tomb of Christ, there are some differences in their perspectives. Which women actually went to the tomb? What time did they go (John says it was still dark outside and the other gospels say there was light as it was dawn)? Was there an earthquake (mentioned in Matthew but not the other gospels)?
There are ways to reconcile these differences. When John talks about Mary Magdalene going to the tomb, it doesn’t say ONLY Mary Magdalene went. Perhaps that was the only woman that John could confirm while Luke and Mark confirmed Joanna and Salome respectively and Luke even says “other women” went to the tomb as well. Dawn can obviously go from dark to being light outside. The earthquake explains the tomb being shook and the stone rolled away as is what happens in all 4 gospels.
It is good to try and investigate the accounts to reconcile them into a historical master account. The thing we have to remember though is this whole perspective thing. Former Pastor Brent Rood had a great analogy one time. Imagine you are at a football game (if you are at a football game, you are obviously rooting hard for the Seahawks to win) and at this football game, you are sitting behind the field goal posts. Meanwhile, you have a friend that is sitting in the front row on the 50 yard line. You also have another friend who is sitting in the nose bleed seats way up in the 300 level.
What happens with these different perspectives and these different vantage points? You all see the same game. You all bear witness to what happens on the field…an obvious Seahawk victory. However, from the diverse places that you sit in Century Link Stadium, you all see different things -OR- you may miss other things about the game because of where you are sitting. Your friends on the 50 yard line in the front row may actually be able to hear the players talking to each other where you and your other friends sitting higher up would not be able too.
Different perspectives and different vantage points. The gospel writers had different vantage points when they wrote. Yet they all testified to the resurrection of Jesus and a lot of the details line up across the accounts.
Perspective. All of us in this room have perspectives on the resurrection- Easter. If your life is like mine, during your life- perhaps your perspective has shifted. Mine shifted from not knowing about the resurrection or even that the resurrection of Christ is what Easter was about to fully believing in the resurrection of Jesus.
With the different perspectives that may be in this room…what if you are holding onto a perspective that causes you to miss Jesus? Kendrick Lamar, according to his song, missed Jesus at a gas station. The disciples almost missed Jesus because their perspective on the testimony of the women coming back from the tomb is that these women were engaging in idle talk.
Let’s face it. If a guy rose from the grave, this changes everything. If we believe that God did this roughly two thousand years ago, everything about our existence, our viewpoints of reality…literally everything is changed.
Death is humanity’s great foe. People have called death the equalizer. Whether you are rich or poor or what ethnicity or race you belong too, in the end, death comes for us all. If a person from history has not just cheated death but actually conquered the grave, this is something that really, really matters. And if this resurrection that we celebrate on one of our best days as Christians- Easter Sunday- occurred, we should definitely be interested in the other things that this man Jesus taught and asked for us to do as His disciples.
The entirety of the Christian faith rests on this event. Jesus being gone from the tomb on Sunday morning when the women came to anoint his body with spices and were gloriously and fearfully surprised. This matters because the event of the resurrection is one of the massive building blocks that our faith is built upon.
Thesis: Trusting in a perspective that believes Jesus rose from the grave has the power to change every aspect of our lives.
We struggle with believing in the resurrection for many reasons.
- Our experiences in life. When someone passes away, they are gone. My Uncle Bob was the last close family member that we lost to cancer in 2012. He hasn’t come back. Most, if not all of us, have felt the sting of losing family and friends to our old foe the grave. In life and from our perspective, the grave always seems to win. We don’t know when it is going to take us or the people close to us. We fear death. We live in anxiety often of our great foe. We have never seen someone in our lives come back from the threshold of death. Its hard to believe in a resurrection when our perspective has included these tragic events in our lives.
2) Some people doubt the resurrection because they may doubt the history of the evidence. Maybe some of the differences in the 4 gospel accounts causes people to question. Nothing wrong with questions by the way. When I found out that I would have the opportunity to speak on Easter, I knew that I did not want to do an apologetics sermon where I try to prove the resurrection to you using history and Scripture and all that stuff. I think those messages, which seem commonplace in the modern church, our valuable but I just wanted to do something different. While some people care about evidence and all that good stuff, I have the feeling that for most people, the evidence doesn’t matter. We choose how to see the world. Each of us. And the perspective that we take on colors how we see the evidence. I can read to you the entirety of NT Wright’s “The Resurrection of the Son of God” which I’m reading right now. That would take a long time because it is a door stop and none of you want to listen to me for that long. Not necessarily self-depreciation. Just a reality. I wouldn’t want to listen to me for that long. Even if someone was presented with all the evidence and reasoning and everything else, we see and believe what we want to believe. Same thing with the resurrection. For some people though, the questions are definitely a stumbling block.
Charles Colson said about the resurrection: “I know the resurrection is a fact, and Watergate proved it to me. How? Because 12 men testified they had seen Jesus raised from the dead then they proclaimed that truth for 40 years, never once denying it. Every one was beaten, tortured, stoned and put in prison. They would not have endured that if it weren’t true. Watergate embroiled 12 of the most powerful men in the world- and they couldn’t keep a lie for three weeks. You’re telling me 12 apostles could keep a lie for 40 years? Absolutely impossible!”
3) When we have been around the church for a long time, the doctrine of the resurrection becomes stale. We have heard and read about the resurrection before. We have read theology books about the rising of Christ from the grave. We have read the Josh McDowell “Evidence that Demands a Verdict” book series. In this case, we would say that we technically believe in the resurrection but it is just a statement of faith on a church website or a talking point in our own individual lives. The very act of Jesus that shows all of His power to save, redeem and conquer gets neutered and robbed of its immense power. We go through the motions of Christian faith rather then live in the power of what Jesus has done for us.
There are many other perspectives of the resurrection as well and a massive amount of points on the spectrum that people could possibly believe in. There are a lot of views out there but the ultimate view that matters is God’s. God rose Jesus from the grave because Jesus was worthy. He had been tempted like we have, was found without sin, died on that horrible cross, and then God triumphantly raised Him from the grave. Jesus Himself was God come in human flesh.
We should not have a perspective on the resurrection that makes this most important event of human history a mere theological talking point. Jesus’ rising from the grave is the source of our triumph.
-Jesus has defeated our most ancient enemy- death. The hope that is offered in Jesus is eternal life in Him. The grave therefore is not the end of our individual stories. If we trust in Jesus, we can be with Him after we die. If we trust in Jesus, and other loved ones (whether family or friends has trusted in Jesus) who have passed away…we have the God-given promise that we will see them again in a renewed and restored Kingdom of God. The grave is not the end because of Jesus.
-Many have criticized Christianity as essentially “fire insurance”. We come to Jesus and we wait around to be fully redeemed in His Kingdom. Upon knowing the truth of Christ, we look forward to being out of this world and in another place. With some of the preaching that happens, this is an earned criticism but it is not Christianity. Jesus is looking to redeem us right now. Today is the day of salvation. The resurrection as the power of God renews our minds and our spirits. This is a picture of what baptism is. Without Christ, our spirit is dead. We trust Christ, go into the water (signifying our sins being washed away) and come out of the water as a new person, a new creation. We become a representative of God’s Kingdom in the here and now; transformed to live His values in our lives alongside our family , friends and communities that we associate with.
Someone that is dead coming back to the life is one of the cornerstone’s of the Christian faith. Anyone can come to Jesus, confess their sins, confess Jesus as their Lord and Savior and believe in their heart that God raised Jesus from the dead (See Romans 10) and be saved. It does not matter what you have done in the past or even what perspective you have had in the past. You can surrender yourself to God’s perspective, Jesus’ work in rising from the grave and the baptism of hope that comes as a result.