Summary: God proves the gospel by the resurrection.
I am intrigued by the two meanings of the word, “passion.” It is derived from a word meaning, “suffering,” which you may recognize in the word, “compassion,” to suffer along with another. Thus the passion of Christ refers to his crucifixion, his suffering for the sins of his people.
Passion also means intense emotion. And on the cross, the intense love of God for his people caused Jesus to take the punishment for God’s pure and intense hatred of sin. Love and hate – the two great passions brought together in the passion of Christ.
Of course, world history points to many passionate men. Is the person and message of Jesus different? Jesus’ love held him to the cross, but was that merely a deep emotion, or did it spring from a greater source? To answer that, we must hear of a Sunday morning 2000 years ago.
[Read John 20.1-18. Pray.]
The Apostle Paul insists that the resurrection is central to Christianity. 1Corinthians 15.14-19: “And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain…and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.”
Love carried Christ to the cross, but the moral influence of a mere model of love is of minimal value. A dead savior offers no redemption; the crucifixion without the resurrection grants no forgiveness. But the Bible insists that this Jesus – crucified, dead, and buried – rose from the dead! Furthermore, this is the best news anyone could ever hear.
James Campbell and his brother Alexander immigrated to America in the 1850s. James settled in Charleston where he worked as a drayman and clerk; Alexander lived in New York and worked as a stonemason. On June 10, 1862, Alexander wrote to his wife about James: “We are not far from each other now…. This was a war that there never was the like of before – Brother against Brother.” At the Battle of Sucessionville, they actually engaged one another, though neither was killed. When The Charleston Courier reported the story of these two young men on opposite sides of the line, they called it, “another illustration of the deplorable consequences of this fratricidal war.”
But both men lived through the civil war, and after the news of the war’s end was published, they were reunited and remained good friends as well as blood brothers until James died in 1907. Alexander lived another two years.
Note this: before news of Lee’s surrender in 1865, James and Alexander were trying to kill one another; afterward, they were brothers. The right news changes lives, behavior, thoughts and hearts. The resurrection of Jesus is that kind of news: life-changing truth which demands at least three responses from us today.
1. We Must Accept the Resurrection Because It Is True (John 20.1-10)
Peter and John run to the tomb after Mary’s report of a missing body. John arrives first and stoops to peer in the short doorway. Peter plunges into the cave, so John then follows. They see something surprising: the burial cloths.
God provides many evidences of the resurrection: the testimonies of his apostles, the reports of hundreds of eyewitnesses, the changed character of the disciples, the manuscripts which offer many proofs of their historicity and reliability. We could also study how these accounts have marks of first-hand truth – a lack of fabricated uniformity and the willingness of the writers to admit their own foibles and failings. But let’s pay special attention, today, to the evidence of the “not-quite-empty” tomb.
Verse 5 says that John “saw the linen cloths.” Greek has several words for “seeing”; this is the most general one – John simply saw. Verse 6 tells us that Peter also “saw,” but here is a different word. More than mere observation, this includes comprehension or understanding. John saw the cloths; Peter somehow perceived they meant something. Then John enters the tomb, and (the end of verse 8) “saw and believed.” This is a third word for “see,” and can include the idea of experiencing what is observed. Here is an example: when John the Baptist preached before the coming of Jesus, he said that he was preparing the way for the Lord so that all flesh shall see the salvation of God. The word, “see,” is more than observe with the eyes; it includes the idea of experience. That happened to John; he saw and believed – he got it, in other words! But what precisely did John see that made him believe the resurrection? At least two things.
First, he saw the “linen cloths.” Bodies were prepared for burial first by coating them with sticky spices (including myrrh) then wrapping them tightly in cloths. The result was a virtually glued wrapping, similar to the way golf balls used to be constructed. That is why, when Jesus resurrected people, the first thing friends would do is begin to remove the grave cloths. It was like unwrapping a package sealed with sticky duct tape. John sees that and realizes that no one stole the body. A thief would not spend an hour in the middle of the night unwrapping a decaying corpse so that he could carry it naked from the tomb! He would grab and run, like a purse snatcher.