Summary: The resurrection of Jesus 1. was physical. 2. is a mystery. 3. means hope.
I had an interesting conversation on the phone with my mother a few years ago. She told me she had been going to a Bible study at her church, led by her pastor, and he was saying that it was Jesus’ body that was raised from the dead. She has been in the church most of her life, but somehow that had never gotten through. She told me that she had always thought that it was Jesus’ spirit that was raised from the dead, and so she wanted to know if her pastor was telling her the right thing. I explained that not only was it right, it was a very important part of the Christian faith. I probably explained a little too much. I went into how the Greeks, whose thinking was dominant in that culture, believed that anything material, like the body, was bad, and that only spirit was good. And because that thinking was a dominate part of the culture of that day, many followers of Christ embraced the error of the Greeks and drifted into what we now consider heresy. Some of them started to believe that Jesus’ body could not have been raised, since the body was material and therefore evil. They began to believe that their own bodies were bad, and that caused all kinds of strange behavior, for some Christians began to think, “Well, my body is evil, so it doesn’t matter what I do with it.” This led to all kinds of sin, and certainly to a gross misunderstanding of God’s good creation and gifts. The biblical concept is that all the created material world is good and it belongs to God. Our bodies are a part of that good creation and will one day be raised, just as Christ’s body was.
So the first important point that we will consider today is: The resurrection of Jesus was physical. It was not just his spirit that floated out of that stone grave on the first Easter. The stone was rolled away and the body was nowhere to be seen. The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay” (Matthew 28:5-6). The women are on their way to tell the disciples that an angel had appeared to them and told them that Jesus had risen from the dead, when all of a sudden Jesus appeared to them. And when he did, they fell at his feet and worshiped him. This was not an apparition, but a body with feet. They recognized his physical appearance. But the Bible reports that the apostles, being typical bone-headed guys, “did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense” (Luke 24:11). The two followers of Jesus on the road to Emmaus would later say, “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” (Luke 24:22-23). It was not just that his spirit was alive, his body was alive as well. So when we say that Jesus is alive, we do not just mean that his influence still lives on in the world today.
This was a body that you could touch and feel; one that could eat and speak. When Jesus appeared to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, they did not recognize him immediately. But he sat down and ate with them, and the Bible says they went to where the disciples were and, “told what had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognized by them when he broke the bread” (Luke 24:35). As they were telling their experience to the other disciples, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” The Bible says, “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.’ 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 24:37-43). The disciples thought they were seeing a ghost, but Jesus’ resurrection body was very real.
Then you will remember the story of Thomas, the disciple known as “Doubting Thomas.” When the other disciples tell him that they have seen the risen Lord, he says to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it” (John 20:25). So Christ, in his great mercy and grace, appears to Thomas. The Bible says, “A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you!’ Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.’ Thomas said to him, ‘My Lord and my God!’ Then Jesus told him, ‘Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed’” (John 20:26-29). You can’t feel a ghost. You can’t put your finger into the wound of an apparition. Jesus’ body was a real, material body.