Today we celebrate the greatest event in the history of mankind: the resurrection of Christ. Nothing has ever happened that influences the destiny of mankind like that one event. Alexander’s defeat of the Persians changed the course of Western civilization. It was a significant turning point in human history prophesied in the book of Daniel. The defeat of the Spanish armada in 1588 shifted the balance of power in Europe and put England in a prominent position. The success of D-day in World War II meant the ultimate defeat of Hitler and the end of his plans for world domination. There are key events in world history there were monumental. But none of that compares to the resurrection of Jesus.
The resurrection of Jesus marked the ultimate end of Satan’s dominance in the world. It sealed his fate even though finalizing that defeat would take thousands of years. If Jesus had not been resurrected from the dead, all hope for humanity would be lost. The resurrection validated the Father’s acceptance of Christ’s sacrifice for sin. It opened the way of salvation for you and me and for all who will receive it. It made a way of escape from the cruel bondage of Satan. It reversed the defeat of the first Adam and replaced it with the victory of the last Adam. “Now thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ” (2 Cor. 2:14). In 1 Corinthians 15:14 Paul wrote, “. . . if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain” (1 Cor. 15:14).i But he knew Christ is risen. He saw him on the road to Damascus. Paul was not preaching a theory. He was preaching a reality that he knew by personal experience.
Have you met the risen Christ? Your encounter with him was probably not as dramatic as Paul’s. Paul had a special call as a apostle. But a genuine encounter with the risen Christ will change the course of anyone’s life. It will not be just an addendum to life. It will become central to everything in your life. It will turn you from a course of self-will to a pursuit of God’s will. Have you met the Master? Have you met Jesus? He extends the invitation to whosoever will: to come to him and receive eternal life.ii His resurrection guarantees his ability to give you eternal life. He lives in eternal life, and he now holds the keys to life and death. He alone has that authority.
There is salvation in no other name but the name of Jesus.iii The resurrection of Jesus distinguishes him from all the counterfeits. Death continues to hold Mohammad in its grip. Joseph Smith’s words were not validated by a resurrection. Buddha did not come out of the grave. Jesus is risen from the dead! This is our battle cry. This is our assurance of victory.
“Now this I say, brethren, [1 Cor. 15:50] that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does corruption inherit incorruption. 51 Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed — 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. 53 For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. 54 So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory.’ 55 ‘O Death,
where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory?’ 56 The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 15:50-57).
I do not declare to you a religion. I declare to you a Savior who is risen from the dead. I declare to you a conqueror who has defeated sin, Satan, and death itself. I declare to you the only way of salvation approved by God.
I want to tell you his story this morning.
THE BIG DISRUPTION
It begins with a disruption. It begins with God the Son stepping into the course of human history—born in a barn at Bethlehem—growing up in obscurity—revealing the Father through his words and life. That revelation was disruptive for those who encountered him.
When Christ comes it is always disruptive. It always confronts the selfish agenda of carnal people. And we are all carnal by nature. Every child of Adam is self-absorbed, intent on pursuing selfish goals and objectives. The natural man works and maneuvers to position himself for advantage. He manipulates people and circumstances so that he gets what he wants. He builds a nest egg because money is power. He pursues positions of power and influence so that he can adjust his world according to his own wishes. And he resists anything that might disrupt the world he has arranged for himself.
When Jesus came to Israel during his first Advent, he encountered people like that. The priests and Pharisees had the outward appearance of righteousness. That served their selfish purposes well. That gave them the recognition and provision they wanted. They had built their little world exactly as planned. The motivation behind it all was self-centered, self-promoting, and self-exalting. It looked godly on the outside, but the internal motivations behind it were corrupt. They gave, but it was to be seen of men. It was the purchase price they willingly paid for the admiration they got. That was the reward they wanted, and that was the reward they got. Jesus described them as “whitewashed tombs-- beautiful on the outside but filled on the inside with dead people's bones and all sorts of impurity” (Matt. 23:27, NLT). They had conspired with one another to build and maintain their own little Tower of Babel.
Jesus entered their world unexpectedly. It disturbed their comfort zone. It challenged their selfishness. It exposed them for what they really were. And that disruption forced a decision! Would they respond in humility and acknowledge their hypocrisy? Or would they rise up in pride and resist the disruption? Would they love darkness? Or would they embrace the light that had come to them? Would they continue in their evil ways? Or would they humble themselves and repent?
When Jesus comes into any life it is a disruption. When Jesus encountered the woman at the well, it confronted her lifestyle. When Jesus met Paul on the road to Damascus, it disrupted his agenda. When the scribes and Pharisees encountered Jesus, it confronted their self-centered lives. It demanded repentance and surrender.
Any so-called salvation that avoids that is not salvation at all. Jesus never comes to simply reinforce and support our selfish lifestyle. He comes to change us from a self-centered rebel to a God-centered servant—from a creature consumed with self-love to a lover of God and others.
How did the scribes and Pharisees respond to the disruption Jesus brought into their lives? They tenaciously resisted it. They plotted to do away with it. They decided to keep their selfish world and reject Jesus’s offer of salvation. Opportunity knocked, and they refused to answer the door.
John 11:47-48 gives us insight on their thinking. “Then the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered a council [the Sanhedrin] and said, ‘What shall we do? For this Man works many signs. If we let Him alone like this, everyone will believe in Him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and nation.’” In other words, we have got it good; we have arranged things just the way we want them. But the presence of Jesus is challenging all that. If we acknowledge him, we might lose it all. We might lose our place of privilege and comfort. That was their thinking, and that is the thinking of multitudes who reject Christ. It’s not an intellectual issue. It’s a moral choice. It’s a choice to stay in control, rather than surrendering control to the Lord.
That is the central issue we all face: who’s in charge of my life.? Do I stay in charge and try to use God for my own purposes? Or do I surrender my life to Christ and do whatever he tells me to do? Jesus put it this way Mark 8:35: “For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel's will save it.” We sometimes sing the old hymn, “I Surrender All.” That’s what it means to follow Christ. It’s more than joining a church. It’s more than accepting a religion. It’s a surrender of all our selfish goals and agenda. The reward to doing that is beyond description. But its something that must happen in our hearts.
In the verse prior to Mark 8:34 Jesus said, “Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.” Self-denial is paradoxical. When we deny our own desires and agenda, we enter into a life with God that gives us the most satisfying course possible. Its not always easy, but it is always fulfilling. The scribes and Pharisees in our story doomed themselves to eternal damnation by their decision. They traded eternal glory for short-term pleasure.
Jesus asked this probing question that confronts anyone hearing the gospel: “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? 37 Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?” Nothing is more important than your eternal destiny. No pleasure, no personal advantage or comfort, is worth losing your soul over it. But that’s what these scribes and Pharisees did in our story. Instead of receiving the words of life from Jesus, they plotted his murder. They demanded his crucifixion. They did that to do away with his influence. They thought they had won when Jesus died on the cross. Even the demons who were involved thought it was a victory. I suspect there was celebration in both camps when Jesus was put away in the tomb. That’s the end of that, they thought. The crucifixion was the priests and Pharisee’s response to Jesus and the disturbance he brought their way. As fare as they were concerned, the death of Jesus was the end of the matter.
But on the third day, there came a big surprise for everybody.
THE BIG SURPRISE
The enemies of Christ got a big surprise. Jesus had said that he would rise from the dead on the third day, but the Jewish leaders did not believe him. They understood the prediction. To keep the disciples from stealing Jesus’s body and claiming he rose from the dead, they posted soldiers at the tomb, and to make it even more secure they rolled a huge stone at the door (Matt. 27:62-66). They thought they had everything under control.
But Matt 28:1-7 tells us what happened next: “Now after the Sabbath, as the first day of the week began to dawn, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to see the tomb. 2 And behold, there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat on it. 3 His countenance was like lightning, and his clothing as white as snow. 4 And the guards shook for fear of him, and became like dead men. 5 But the angel answered and said to the women, ‘Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. 6 He is not here; for He is risen, as He said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay. 7 And go quickly and tell His disciples that He is risen from the dead. . . .”
Given the seriousness of the matter, the soldiers selected to guard the tomb were probably seasoned and elite. As soldiers they were trained to be courageous. Yet they fainted like women. The sight of the angel caused them to shake with fear, “and become like dead men.”
What did the priests and Pharisees do when the empty tomb was reported to them? Did they finally realize they had been wrong and repent? No, their hearts were so hardened that they paid the soldiers to lie about the matter. Mathew 28:11-15 tells us about that.
“Now while they [Mary Magdalene and the other women] were going, behold, some of the guard came into the city and reported to the chief priests all the things that had happened. 12 When they had assembled with the elders and consulted together, they gave a large sum of money to the soldiers, 13 saying, ‘Tell them, 'His disciples came at night and stole Him away while we slept.' 14 And if this comes to the governor's ears, we will appease him and make you secure.’ 15 So they took the money and did as they were instructed; and this saying is commonly reported among the Jews until this day.”
You have heard the saying, “A hard nut to crack.” That’s a good description of a heart that has resisted God over and over. It becomes so hardened that even a miracle cannot persuade the person. These leaders had become so set in their opposition to Jesus that even the first-hand testimony of Jesus’s resurrection did not move them. Jesus had prophesied that he would rise the third day. The Sanhedrin knew that. That’s why they stationed the soldiers at the grave to make sure nothing happened that would confirm it. The soldiers were there and saw the angel. They were so terrorized by the experience that they fainted. Their report to the Sanhedrin was another opportunity for those leaders to repent. Did they repent? No, they hardened themselves even more. They bribed the soldiers to spread a lie about what happened. Verse 12 says, “they gave a large sum of money to the soldiers.”
Those soldiers were no better than the priests and Pharisees. Verse 15 says, “So they took the money and did as they were instructed. . . .” Sadly, many people make that kind of decision in life. “So they took the money.” When faced with a decision to do the right thing or get more money, the epitaph is often stated: “So they took the money.”
Do you remember the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus? In hell the rich man asked Abraham to send him to his five brothers to testify to them so they wouldn’t end up in hell. Luke 16:29-31 gives us Abraham’s reply: “Abraham said to him, 'They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.' 30 And he said, 'No, father Abraham; but if one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.' 31 But he said to him, 'If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead.’”
Miracles can get people’s attention. The miracle at Jesus’s tomb got the soldiers’ attention. But that alone did not change the heart. They still chose not to repent. The testimony of Jesus’s resurrection got the Sanhedrin’s attention. But they did not choose to repent. Instead, they chose to continue resisting the truth.
Resisting God is s slippery slope. It hardens the heart. It puts the person on a course that is harder to reverse than was first thought. I have sat with people who knew they would die within a few hours. To my surprise they would not repent. They could not change their own rebellious attitude at that eleventh hour. One of Satan’s most deceptive lies is to persuade a person to resist the Holy Spirit with the assumption that they can turn that around latter on. Sometimes God mercifully enables that. I have seen that happen. But God is under no obligation to do that. “Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation” (2 Cor. 6:1). These leaders and these soldiers are reminders of how slippery the slope of rebellion can be. The surprise of Jesus’s resurrection came their way, but they resisted even that.
Jesus’s resurrection was a big surprise even to his friends as well. He had told the disciples that he would rise the third day. But in the chaos and spin of everything that was happening, it was lost in their thinking. They were told what would happen, but they did not comprehend it. Think of the comfort and strength that fact would have brought them during Jesus’s trial. They all forsook Jesus. The promise of the resurrection was not established in their hearts in a way that it fortified them for that trial. It was only after Jesus’s resurrection that they remembered the promise.
John explained this in his gospel. When Jesus drove the money changers out of the temple in John 2, the Jewish leaders asked him “What right do you have to do these things?” (NLT). Then they demanded, “If you have this authority from God, show us a miraculous sign to prove it.” The NIV states their demand to Jesus this way: “What miraculous sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?” (John 2:18). Jesus answered, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jewish leaders thought he was talking about Herod’s temple and replied, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will You raise it up in three days?”iv If they had humbly inquired instead of arguing with Jesus, they might have benefited from the conversation. But they were not seeking truth; they were seeking to win an argument.
John 2:21-22 gives us this clarification: “But He was speaking of the temple of His body. 22 Therefore, when He had risen from the dead, His disciples remembered that He had said this to them; and they believed the Scripture and the word which Jesus had said.” After Jesus rose from the dead, they were able to look back on this and make sense of it.
The New Testament records some of the responses of Jesus’s followers to his resurrection. We know Mary Magdalen was surprised because she initially thought he was the gardener (John 20:15). When the other disciples told Thomas that they had seen the Lord, his response was, “Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.” He was obviously not expecting Jesus to rise from the dead. When Jesus appeared to him, he did believe. But the resurrection was a surprise even to the disciples. It was an unhappy surprise for the unbelieving Sanhedrin who persisted in their unbelief anyway. It was a joyous surprise for the sincere followers of Jesus.
There is another surprise coming! Jesus has told us about it just as he had prophesied his resurrection to the disciples. Many hear the promise but don’t really grasp its significance. The signs of the times point to it, but most people are not aware of what those signs mean. The big surprise that is coming is Christ’s return. We are warned to stay spiritually awake and alert because it will catch most people unprepared.v We have spent several weeks studying the promise of his return. Hopefully we are prepared regardless of when it occurs and exactly how it occurs. This same Jesus who rose from the dead three days after his crucifixion will return in like manner according to Acts 1:11. It won’t just be a spiritual coming. He will return in his glorified body in the same way he ascended. And at his coming he will give us a resurrected body like his. That is the blessed hope. That is what we are looking forward to. That is what we’re preparing for. Amen?
i All Scripture quotes, unless indicated otherwise, are from the New King James Version.
ii Cf. John 3:16.
iii Cf. Matt. 16:19; Rev. 1:18; Acts 4:12.
iv These Pharisees could have made a strong exegetical argument for understanding Jesus’s words in this way. Herod’s temple was the context in which this conversation was happening. Jesus’s physical body had not been mentioned. A rigid, exegetical method could easily support their interpretation. But their interpretation was wrong! Regardless of the logic in their minds, their hearts were not in line with God. We need sound exegesis, but we also need to be yielded and sensitive to the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 2:14).
v Cf. Luke 21:34-36.