But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared. 2 And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3 but when they went in they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus.
4 While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men stood by them in dazzling apparel. 5 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? 6 He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, 7 that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.”
8 And they remembered his words, 9 and returning from the tomb they told all these things to the eleven and to all the rest. 10 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, 11 but these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. 12 But Peter rose and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; and he went home marveling at what had happened.
Now about a month ago, there was a survey conducted in Great Britain about how many people believed in the resurrection of Jesus. They polled about 2,000 British adults, and according to their numbers, they say that a quarter of the self-identifying Christians do not believe the resurrection happened. The headline said: “Resurrection did not happen, say quarter of Christians.”
And I think a headline like this is meant to shock us. It’s meant to spark debate, or to at the very least it’s meant to get a lot of web traffic for the BBC — this is supposed to be “unbelievable.” It’s “outrageous.” It’s a contradiction in terms. How in the world can so many so-called “Christians” not believe in the resurrection?
It Seemed an “Idle Tale”
But then we read Luke 24, and we find out that right in the middle of all the action taking place on that first Easter morning, when Mary and the other ladies tell the apostles that the tomb is empty and Jesus is risen, Luke tells us, verse 11, “but these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.”
And Luke is clear about who he’s talking about here. This is not an anonymous group of self-identifying disciples that he’s polled. These are the eleven apostles. These are the men who have walked shoulder to shoulder with Jesus for three years. These are the men who heard all of Jesus’s teaching — they even heard Jesus say himself that he would rise again. These are the men who saw all of Jesus’s miracles — they even saw him bring Lazarus back from the dead. But here these men are, with the resurrection news right in front of their faces, and they think it’s a fairy tale. They don’t believe Jesus is alive. Except for Peter.
Peter, we’re told, when hearing the news, bolted out of the room, ran to the tomb, went inside, saw it was empty, and then “went home marveling at what had happened.” And a little later, if you know the story, Jesus ended up appearing to all of the disciples, and of course then they believed. Jesus was right there with them and they knew then that Jesus really is raised from the dead. He really is the Lord of all. And so the apostles started spreading that message, and it changed the entire world. We see this in the book of Acts, which is the second New Testament book that Luke wrote (he wrote the Gospel of Luke and then he wrote Acts).
Why Mention the Unbelief?
But before we get to Acts, we still have this scene in Luke 24, this slice of time, when 10 of the 11 apostles did not believe the resurrection. Could you imagine the headline for that? — “Resurrection did not happen, say 91% of the apostles.” This is crazy.
And of course things change here pretty quickly; Jesus changes their minds — in fact, to be an apostle, we see in Acts, is to be a “witness to [the] resurrection” (1:22). But still my question is: Why does Luke give us this info in Chapter 24? Why does Luke tell us that the apostles initially stumbled over the resurrection?
I think that’s a question worth asking, and as I’ve been thinking about it, there are probably a few different answers. One is simply that Luke is a historian and because this is what really happened, he is going to include it. That’s what good historians do.
A second reason might be that Luke means to show us how confident he is in the resurrection. He’s so sure the resurrection happened, he doesn’t mind saying that at first it was literally unbelievable. That’s how secure he is that Jesus is alive — he doesn’t mind throwing 10 apostles under the bus. He just knows it really happened. Jesus is alive.
And then maybe another reason — and I’m trying to wrestle deeply here with Luke and his audience and what he’s up to — but maybe another reason to include this scene of “apostolic unbelief” in Luke 24 is to tell us, his readers, that the resurrection pretty much lands on everyone the same way at first. That whether you’re an apostle or not an apostle, whether you’re in the first century or the 21st century, the knee-jerk human response to the resurrection is to find it unbelievable . . . but — (and this is important) — our knee-jerk human response doesn’t have to be our final verdict.
Or actually, a better way to say that is: our knee-jerk unbelief to the resurrection, though understandable, should not be our final verdict.
Because the resurrection really happened. Jesus really is raised from the dead. Luke believed that; the apostles believed that; and the way Luke testifies to the resurrection is by showing us what the apostles said and how the apostles lived in the book of Acts.
Which means that Luke’s main argument for the resurrection is the difference it makes, not the data that supports it — and there was data. Luke could have went straight data here. The apostle Paul mentions data in 1 Corinthians 15 — he says that Jesus appeared to 500 people at one time, and most of them are still alive, and you can go ask them about it (Paul says that). There is data.
And as far as how it goes today, if you want to investigate the resurrection there are some really good books out there that make historical, legitimate arguments in support that it really happened. You can go read these books, and if you do you’ll probably be surprised by what you find — there are more logical reasons to believe the resurrection than not believe it.
But this morning we’re looking at Luke, and what Luke does, instead of giving us a list of arguments for the resurrection, he shows us how it changes things. Luke shows us what the resurrection means. He shows us why it matters. He shows us the difference it makes. And we can see this all throughout the book of Acts (really throughout the whole New Testament), but this morning I want to just mention two examples from Luke in the book of Acts. So this is just a two-point sermon, straight and simple.
These are two ways that the resurrection changes things, and this goes for everyone:
- The Resurrection puts a fork in your road.
- What you do at the fork is personal.
Let’s start here with the first one.
1. The Resurrection Puts a Fork in Your Road (Acts 2:14–41)
This example is from Acts Chapter 2. It’s the first sermon in the book of Acts — Peter is preaching on the day of Pentecost, which was an amazing day. This was the day when Jesus poured out the Holy Spirit on his disciples; and they started speaking in tongues; and ancient prophecy was being fulfilled, and a lot of joy was in the air — some of the bystanders even thought they had been drinking. And so a crowd forms, and then Peter stands up to preach.
And the sermon he preaches is loaded with the Old Testament Scriptures — he gives three solid quotes from the Old Testament — and then the center of the sermon, the heart of the sermon, is the resurrection of Jesus. I’m not going to read the whole thing to you, but even if you were to just glance at it, you’ll see that the resurrection is central. He mentions it three explicit times. Peter says,
Verses 23–24: “this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.”
In verse 31, Peter says of King David that when he wrote Psalm 16 that “he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption.”
Verse 32: “This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses.”
And then Peter, in verse 36, lands the sermon by connecting some important dots. See, the thing with the resurrection was not just that Jesus was dead and then was alive, but it’s that everything about who Jesus claimed to be, and everything that Jesus said, was instantly vindicated.
Think about this: if Jesus had not been raised from the dead, then we would not have any good reason to believe that anything he said was true — because he said he would rise but ends up dying like everybody else (so he’s just a liar). But, if Jesus is raised from the dead, then we better pay attention to what he said! We better pay attention to who he claimed to be — because he has defeated death! No one else is like him. The apostle Paul, in Romans 1, says that the resurrection was when Jesus was “declared to be the Son of God in power.” Which means vindication. The resurrection means that Jesus is who he said he was.
Or here’s another way to put it. At the beginning of the Gospels, Jesus is baptized, and that was the start of his earthly ministry — and at the baptism of Jesus, God the Father speaks from heaven and says, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matt. 3:17). And then three years later, here, at the resurrection of Jesus, it’s like God the Father looks down and says, “I told you so.”
The resurrection means that what the Father has said about Jesus, and what Jesus has claimed for himself, is confirmed. Jesus is the eternal Son of God, fully God and fully man. He is the promised Messiah that the Hebrew Scriptures talk about. He is the King who has come. He is the Lord of all. He is the Savior of all the ends of the earth.
And Peter makes this connection in his sermon. In verse 36, because of the resurrection, Peter says:
“Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.”
And I love the way Eugene Peterson explains this verse. He paraphrases verse 36, “There’s no longer room for doubt — God made him Master and Messiah.”
Cut to the Heart
And the weight of what Peter says here is reflected in how the crowd responds. Verse 37 says that:
“When they heard [what Peter said] they were cut to the heart [that’s the literal phrase: they were cut, or pierced, to the heart] and [they] said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”
And this is the part I really want us to see. Because it’s here that a fork is formed in the road for these listeners.
In this moment, the deep rumblings of their souls, and the complexities of their lives, and all the things that swirl in the minds of people just trying to make it in this world — in this moment all of that is hushed when they are confronted with the reality of the risen Christ.
And they have a choice. They will either embrace the good news of Jesus and receive the forgiveness and life that he offers, or they will reject it. They will either say Yes or they will say No, but they can’t say Undecided. They can’t unhear what they just heard. This man Jesus has been raised from the dead. The Son of God is alive, and he is offering grace to you. He is extending mercy to you. He will forgive your sins and free you from everything from which you could not be freed from by the law of Moses or any other savior. And there’s no getting out of this offer now. The Resurrection of Jesus has put a fork in our road. We either go one way or we go another. We either say Yes or we say No. That’s what’s happening here.
And whichever of those we do it’s personal. This is the second and last point.
2. What you do at the fork is personal. (Acts 9)
And the point here is really just the simple reminder that when people share the message of Jesus, like Peter has done, they are not merely passing along ideas, but they are introducing a person. The gospel message is historical content about events that happened (we are talking about things) — but ultimately the gospel message is about the real, living person, Jesus Christ, and whatever it is you do with the message, you are doing with him. That’s what I mean by the fork in the road is personal.
With Jesus, it’s always personal. We see this in the book of Acts in Chapter 9. . . .This is when Paul is converted. Early on in the book of Acts, Paul was persecuting Christians. He was a zealous Pharisee who was traveling around the Middle East “ravaging the church” (that’s the words used in Acts 8). But then in Acts 9, on his way to Damascus to persecute more Christians, Jesus appears to him and says, verse 4:
“Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?”
And [Paul says back], “Who are you, Lord?”
And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.”
And one of the things that stands out here, right away, is how Jesus has solidarity with his people. Paul was dragging men and women off to prison — he was persecuting people like us — but Jesus says, “Why are you persecuting me?” Which means, in Paul’s mistreating the people of Jesus, Paul had been mistreating Jesus. That’s clear here. But I think it says even more.
I think what Jesus does here gives us a category about the connection that Jesus has with everything that has to do with him. Okay, we know that this is a God-entranced world — “The heavens declare the glory of God, the sky above proclaims his handiwork!” (Psalm 19) — God made this world and it’s infused with his reality.
But also, because Jesus has come, and because he’s been raised from the dead, and because the message of his gospel is going forth, I think we can also say that this is a Jesus-entranced world. Remember it was Jesus himself who told us that when we give the hungry something to eat or the thirsty something to drink or when we welcome the stranger — when we do these things to the least of these — we are doing these things to him (Matt. 25:35–40). Jesus says that. Now what does that mean?
Well, it means at the very least, that Jesus is not some distant idea that’s disconnected from what we do in this life.
Jesus is a real person, and that means that the things that have to do with him are personal.
When he hear about Jesus and we talk about Jesus, we are hearing and talking about Jesus the person, and because of his resurrection, it means that whatever we do with what we hear or say, we are doing with him.
In the Room
It’s kind of like the difference between how we talk about people when they’re not around versus how we talk about people when they’re in the room.
Quick question for you — show of hands — how many of you have talked about other people when they are not around?
I don’t mean that it has to be anything negative. [A lot of times we think talking about people when they’re not around is negative. I don’t mean anything bad.] I just mean, how many of us have talked about someone when they are not standing beside us? All of us have. We do it all the time.
And here’s the thing with that kind of talk: in those situations when the person is not around we can tend to speak more broadly. (And again, I don’t mean anything bad.) We just tend to make more general statements. If the topic of conversation isn’t there, we don’t feel as much pressure when it comes to getting the details right or when it comes to what that person might think about what we’re saying. Their absence or distance allows us to be a little looser.
However, if the person we’re talking about is there, everything changes. Because then what we’re saying becomes an actual affirmation or denial of the facts as this person knows them to be firsthand. And so the whole dynamic gets adjusted, and we will instead defer to this person, and be more careful about what we say. Basically the conversation becomes personal, and the whole thing now has to happen on their terms, not ours. [You get what I mean?]
Well, that’s kind of like what the resurrection has done when we talk about Jesus.
When we hear the message of the gospel — that Jesus died for our sins and is risen from the dead — we come to a fork in the road, and when we ask (like in Acts 2) Brothers, what shall we do?, we’re really asking, “Brothers, what shall we do about him?” Because he’s in the room. He’s standing right there. He’s looking right at me.
And like with the apostles at first, our knee-jerk human response is to not believe it’s true. The apostles did that. We do that. But also, like with the apostles, Jesus shows up again. With the apostles he did it in person, but with us he does it every time we hear the good news. Jesus shows up again, right in front of us, in the message of the gospel.
The Message of the Gospel
The Lord Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, the one who is begotten from the Father before all ages; Jesus who is God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God; Jesus who is begotten, not made, who is of the same essence as the Father; Jesus through whom all things were made, for us and our salvation he came down from heaven.
He was made incarnate by the Holy Spirit and the virgin Mary — he became human like us. And he was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate. He suffered, he died, and he was buried. And then on the third day he rose again, in accordance with the Scriptures, and he ascended to heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father, and he will come again to judge the living and the dead. His kingdom will never end.
And by his death and resurrection Jesus accomplished our salvation, and he extends that salvation to us right now, and if we turn from our sins and put our faith in him, he will save us.
When we put our faith in Jesus, we are united to him, and all the blessings that are his become ours. By faith in Jesus — in Jesus,
- God declares us righteous, which means we have nothing to prove;
- in Jesus God forgives us completely, which means we have nothing to hide;
- in Jesus God loves us eternally, which means we have nothing to fear.
Jesus is our salvation, and he offers himself to us in this moment — fork in the road.
Jesus, we know that you are at work through your Holy Spirit every time your gospel is spoken — and we need you to be at work like that. We need you, Jesus, to do in our hearts what we could never do ourselves, and so we ask you and we praise you. We praise you, Lord Jesus, that Easter is not just about you being no longer dead, but it’s about you being alive and active and present in every moment of our lives. By your Spirit, Jesus, you are alive and active and here with us this morning. Thank you, Jesus. Glorify your name, we ask, by giving the gift of faith — and call some of us to yourself right now.
Lord Jesus, we rejoice in your salvation, and we rejoice with those this morning who have come to be baptized. Thank you for the symbol of baptism and for how it shows us a picture of what it means to be united with you by faith. Bless now, Jesus, this baptism, and the baptized, in your name. Amen.