In 2012 my dear Mom passed away. My wife and sister and I went through her things in preparation for taking care of her estate. We discovered that Mom had quite a collection of jewelry. Most of it was costume jewelry. She never spent a lot of money on herself. But even though we were skeptical, we thought it would be smart to have a pile of jewelry checked out by an expert, just in case there was something valuable in there.
So we got a lunch sized paper bag and filled it up with jewelry and took it to a guy who said he would help us determine if there were any valuable items there. (For Video of presentation, visit: https://mail.google.com/mail/u/0/#inbox/162b06b3e9e12b1a?projector=1)
The man sorted through the pile, smiling kindly. We were trying to read his face. It said, “Costume. Costume. Costume.”
Then he smiled a little more broadly and held up a wispy necklace with a tiny charm at the bottom. He said, “This little piece is going to be worth more than all the other pieces combined. It’s real gold.
He tested it for purity and weighed it. And sure enough, it was worth several hundred dollars, far more than all the plastic bobbles in the bag.
I was skeptical that he’d find anything of value. But still, it made sense to check it out. It seemed like the rational thing to do. I’m glad we did.
Let me propose a hypothetical situation to you. What would YOU do if something like this happened to you? Let’s say that you receive an official looking letter in the mail. It’s from a law firm. It looks official. You didn’t get this via email. It’s got a real stamp so it’s not bulk mail. It’s got an actual return address. The paper stock looks expensive.
The letter says that you had a great uncle who lived in another state. You had never met this great uncle and in fact, you weren’t aware that he existed.
This letter says that your alleged great uncle had left you a significant amount of money in his will, and that he, unfortunately, had passed away recently.
And you look at the amount he has allegedly left you. You’re stunned. It’s several million dollars. You’d still be skeptical, wouldn’t you?
But you’d look into it. Wouldn’t you? It seems like the rational thing to do.
The resurrection is kind of like that.
There’s just too much to gain if it turns out to be true. This isn’t just a one-time lump sum of money coming to you to be used up in this life. And it’s not some vague, pie-in-the-sky romantic notion of floating around playing a harp on a cloud kind of afterlife.
The resurrection offers you a brand new, permanent body, one that won’t wear out. If the resurrection is true, then you’d be free not only from physical pain, but also from relational pain and from conflict that can cause anxiety and grief. If the resurrection of Jesus is actually real then you’d be given freedom from all the things that can make life really difficult here on earth. And what’s more you would get a life in the presence of a God who wanted you to have all the best of what a loving Father could give to his children.
As skeptical as you might be, you’d have to at least look into it, wouldn’t you?
There’s probably no better place to start looking into the resurrection than this passage: John 20:1-18.
Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance.
So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said,
“They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”
So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. Both were running but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first.
He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in.
Then Simon Peter came along behind him and went straight into the tomb.
He saw the strips of linen lying there, as well as the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head.
The cloth was still lying in its place, separate from the linen. Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside.
He saw and believed.
(They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.)
Then the disciples went back to where they were staying.
Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying.
As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head, and the other at the foot.
They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?”
“They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.”
At this she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she didn’t realize it was Jesus.
He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?”
Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.”
Jesus said to her, “Mary.”
She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabonni!” (which means, “Teacher”).
Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”
Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!”
And she told them that he had said these things to her.
I’d like us to see just one thing in this passage:
The resurrection of Jesus is actually quite rational.
Eye witnesses saw, reasoned, and believed. First Mary. Then Peter. Then the other disciple. (It’s almost unanimously agreed that “the other disciple” was John, the author himself, who was just too humble to refer to himself by name.)
John gets there first but doesn’t go in. Peter catches up and goes right in. He sees with his own eyes that what Mary had told them was true. Jesus’ body was not there.
Then the other disciple (John), goes in. He sees…and believes.
Peter “sees.” The word for sees is, “theoreo,” (we get the word “theorize”) He sees something and wants to find out what it is he is seeing. What does it mean? How can I determine which theory is true?
Peter’s response is rational.
He examines the evidence. He thinks about it. He tries to determine what the facts mean.
Why the linen and spices still left there? Why the face cloth folded? This isn’t the work of grave robbers.
If the disciples had taken it, they wouldn’t have left the cloth. They wouldn’t shame their Lord by taking him away without any covering.
Peter and John were rationalizing. They were thinking. They were problem solving.
Many people think the way to place faith in Jesus is irrational. Blind faith. “It doesn’t make sense, but I’m taking the leap anyway.” But we see rationality taking place in the actual events of the resurrection.
It took a lot of evidence for the disciples to “believe.”
What evidence do we have just in this passage we’re looking at today?
A 2nd Century Greek skeptic and philosopher named Celsus attacked Christianity. He wrote that the resurrection couldn’t be believed and here’s why: “How can anyone expect rational men to listen to the testimony of a hysterical female?”
Back then women were simply not taken seriously. Their status was low and they would not be credible witnesses. And yet, here we see, in the eyewitness account of the empty tomb, the witness from a woman!
Why leave that part in if women weren’t taken seriously? Because it was true. It really happened. It’s part of the evidence. And not just in John’s gospel. All four gospels include the fact that the first witnesses to the empty tomb were women.
If you were writing fiction, if you were trying to write a “propaganda” brochure aimed at selling the idea of a risen Jesus and an empty tomb, you would NEVER include the first witnesses as women. So the fact that Mary was the first to see and report to the disciples validates that this really happened. Otherwise, they never would have included this as fact. And all four of the gospels include it.
Second evidence: Paul’s words in 1 Cor. Many witnesses. Paul the Apostle wrote only about 20 years after these original events in a public document (a letter written to people in the city of Corinth) and he said that there were hundreds of people who saw the risen Christ. Hundreds! (See 1 Cor. 15:6) One time more than 500 people saw him at the same time.
This is important because there had been pretenders to “Messiahship” before and after Jesus the Christ. But each time someone claimed to be “the one” who would throw off the yoke of their oppressors, they would lead an uprising and they would be killed.
When they died, people would say, “Uh oh. Oops. Well, this one wasn’t the one.”
But with Jesus, hundreds of people saw him AFTER he had come to life again after having been buried. That’s why these eyewitness accounts are so important to the early believers.
Third evidence: Many people changed overnight. Suddenly people started worshipping a man who had claimed to be God. That had never happened before. They believed in a resurrection of one man in the middle of history and not a mass resurrection at the end of history, reserved for all the righteous people, the way they had before Jesus was resurrected. Simon Peter, who had acted like a coward after Jesus’ arrest, preached boldly on the Day of Pentecost (50 days after the Passover).
People put their lives on the line and many became martyrs for their faith in Jesus. This is all evidence – rational evidence – for a Risen Jesus.
The resurrection is rational. It promises so much that it’s worth looking into.
If you start to get curious enough to really explore what Jesus has to say, then you’ll explore it. If not, you’ll continue to walk away and you’ll harden your heart.
Jesus didn’t try to argue everything. He simply lived the truth and then said, “Let those who have ears, hear.” And then He proved what he said was true, by rising again.
So let me do what Jesus did. Let me just simply put it out there for you. Believe it or don’t believe it. It’s your decision. Let those who have ears, listen.
That’s the gospel. Jesus died for your sins. He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. He was buried. He rose on the third day. He fulfilled all the Scriptures that had pointed ahead in history to his atoning work on the cross.
That’s how the sin price got paid.
Someone had to pay for sin. Jesus did. And he died for YOUR sin. That’s the simple truth.
Believe it or don’t believe it. That’s your choice.
See and believe. (Or not) It’s your choice.
Like the disciple who looked into the empty tomb, “we have seen and we believe.”
Joy and I, thanks to the generous gift of a trip to Israel from this amazing congregation, just spent a little over a week walking in places where the events we’re talking about today really happened.
Toward the end of our amazing tour, we looked at two possible places where Jesus could have been buried. In one place (the place with the oldest tradition), The Roman Emperor Constantine’s mother Helena, known to many believers of different traditions as “St. Helen,” wanted to commemorate the places where Jesus had died and was buried.
She had a large cathedral built over those two places. It took ten years to build this amazing cathedral. Helena didn’t live long enough to see its completion. It was dedicated in the year 335 A.D.
Here are a couple of pictures from this cathedral. It’s called The Church of the Holy Sepulchre. It’s in the Christian quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem.
People come from all over the world to stand in line for hours just to touch the places where they think Jesus died and where he was buried.
We then went to another place where it is thought it’s quite possible that Jesus was actually crucified and then where he was buried.
This second place would have been located just outside the city walls (it would have been necessary for a crucifixion to take place outside the walls).
Golgotha (the place of the skull) was located just outside the old walls (near the northwest side of the city), and very near the roadway, which is where Romans crucified criminals, because they wanted to create fear in the people walking by those who were being killed.
The tomb we visited is very near the hill called “the place of the skull” and is close enough that Joseph of Arimathea. The garden tomb area is owned by a trust established to preserve this historic place, and to provide places for people to contemplate the events we are talking about today.
According to John 19:38, when this man named Joseph (a respected member of the Jewish council, and a wealthy man) heard that Jesus had died, he, “asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus, and Pilate gave him permission.”
Joseph immediately purchased a linen shroud (Mark 15:46) and proceeded to Golgotha to take the body of Jesus down from the cross. There, according to John 19:39-40, Joseph and Nicodemus (another member of the Ruling Council and a Pharisee) took the body and bound it in linen cloths with the spices that Nicodemus had bought. (This was a hasty burial, done quickly before the sun set since the Sabbath (Shabbat) was about to start.
Everything about the garden tomb felt much more like what we would expect to experience when visiting the site where Jesus was buried.
We simply don’t know for sure, since we don’t know what the place looked like before they built a huge cathedral over the places of the cross and the tomb. But what we do know is that we don’t worship a holy site or a holy cross or a holy tomb. We worship a living God and a risen Savior, because in both places, the tomb was empty!
The Testimony of Irit Doron
At the garden tomb, we gathered (about 40 of us) on some benches under a shady place set aside for groups to contemplate what we had just witnessed. We shared communion together and thought about the body of Christ that had been broken for us. We drank the wine representing his blood that had been shed for our sins.
And then several people shared their testimonies. The first to share was our local guide, Irit Doron.
Irit told us about how she had been raised a Jew in Jerusalem. Irit’s family was what she described as a “secular Jewish family,” and she wasn’t a believer in Jesus.
She became a tour guide (since she spoke the local languages and knew the area well) and then she got married and had a son. And all this time she was taking people around to these places that people considered “holy” telling people about historic events that had been commemorated for centuries, giving lots of details about the history of Israel. But to Irit, it was all just part of her job.
Then she said she found herself divorced. She went back to guiding to make a living and to provide for her son. And she found herself in a situation when she needed answers.
She said she got to a point when she just cried out to God (no fireworks, no audible voice). And she said that she simply knew deep in her heart that Jesus was in fact Messiah, the one he had claimed to be, and the he would be the Lord of her life.
She’s away from her home congregation many weekends because of her tour schedule, but when she is back home in Tel Aviv, she attends a Messianic Jewish congregation where there are about 100 others who have chosen to believe and to follow Jesus.
Irit said that she felt God was giving her a new life’s mission: To help people to walk in Jesus’ steps.
God saves by grace and he saved Irit. He gave her his grace graciously. She experienced the same thing Mary from Magdala experienced, gentle grace from a loving, risen Jesus.
Jesus didn’t say to Mary, “It’s ME. Don’t you recognize me?” He said, “Mary.” His gentleness and grace are so evident. And he still offers that grace and gentleness to all who would see and believe today.
The way we “find ourselves” is to know that someone we really respect respects us. Someone we really value values us. Someone whose opinion really matters has a high opinion of us. Someone we really love, loves us back. That’s what Jesus does for Mary. That’s what he did for Irit.
That’s what he wants to do for you.
What does the “don’t cling to me” mean? It means that Mary can’t hold onto Jesus the way she currently knows him. She needs to let him go so he can go to be with the Father (join the Triune Godhead) and then he will be available to her in a way that he can’t in a physical form. He can be with Mary forever, and at all times. He will no longer be limited by time and space. And he is available to all of us if we see and believe. His Holy Spirit affirms our relationship with him. He reveals all truth. He comforts us. He is part of our lives in a way that he couldn’t be if he were still limited by being in the form of a human being.
There is so much to gain by believing in the resurrection. Don’t you think you should at least look into it? Wouldn’t that be a rational thing to do?
I hope (and pray) that you will look into it and that you’ll see and believe.
Behold the empty tomb. Let those who have ears to hear, listen.
If you look into the resurrection (and there are rational reasons to do so), and if you do believe it, then you’ll do what millions of others have done. You’ll act on that belief.
You’ll tell someone about your change of heart (or change of mind). You’ll get really curious and you’ll start reading more about Jesus. You’ll start talking with other people who made the choice to get to know Jesus better. And you’ll start gaining the understanding that what Jesus did for us is not induct us into some religious club. He established a way for us to reconnect with the God who was estranged from us because of our sin and unbelief.
He reveals himself to us. We can’t reach to Him. He reaches to us.
If you decide that this truth about Jesus dying for your sins is important and personal, then I’ll simply ask you to tell someone you know who would be pleasantly shocked by the decision you are making to get to know Jesus and to follow Him.
If this applies to you today, I’ll encourage you to tell someone you know about your decision to believe in Jesus, and to follow Him.