Monday, April 25, 2011

Sunrise...on the Third Day [Third-Day Stories]

Throughout the Bible, some of the greatest stories of redemption, restoration, and renewal are “Third-Day Stories.”  On the third day of Creation, God brings forth life on the earth (Gen. 1); on the third day God provides a ram for Abraham to sacrifice instead of his son (Gen. 22).  On the third day God heals King Hezekiah and gives him 15 more years; and on the third day of the month of Adar, the desecrated temple is prophetically restored (Ezra 6). After three days of fasting & prayer, a harem girl named Esther goes to the King and saves her people from destruction (Esther 4) and when Jonah was sweltering in the belly of the big fish, guess how many days he was there? Three days. Jesus turns bathwater into fine wine (John 2) on the third day of his public ministry and then, after being with him for three days, Jesus feed the multitudes with a few loaves of bread and some fish (Mark 8). But all the hope and life and power that these third-day stories hold find their fulfillment in the most awe-inspiring third-day story of all…the resurrection of Y'shua (Jesus) from the dead.

1 But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. 2 They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3 but when they went in, they did not find the body. 4 While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. 5 The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them,  “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. 6 Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, 7 that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again" (Luke 24: 1-7).

Dr. Luke tells us that two men in dazzling white appear to the women asking this question: “Why do you look for the living [one] among the dead?  He is not here he is risen.  Remember how he told you…that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners and be crucified and on the third day rise again?” (4-7). Now there are those who believe that Jesus’ story is a one day story; not a three day story; that Jesus’ story ended on Friday, not Sunday…

(i) There are those who still look for Y'shua (Jesus) “among the dead.” (Luke 24: 1-7).  Only Jesus' followers claim that their Teacher and Lord rose again bodily after being brutally tortured and put to death. The claim itself is unrivaled in its audacity.  There is no record of anyone ever surviving a Roman crucifixion… including Jesus.  Therefore it is reasonable that Mary and the other women came looking for him among the dead, to anoint his body with spices and complete the burial process. But if this is true, we still must explain a few things. 

We must explain the empty tomb -- a perplexing riddle for modern skeptics who still look for Jesus “among the dead.”  Some say the disciples hallucinated; which might be possible for one or two – but how about five hundred?  According to Paul, who was writing to the church in Corinth only 20 years after Jesus' death (AD 51-54),  the Risen Christ appeared to more than five hundred witnesses at one time “most of whom are still alive” – which is to say, if you don’t believe me, go ask them yourselves (1 Cor. 15). 

Others say that the disciples stole Jesus’ body and made up the pious story of his resurrection.  The problem is that nearly all of the disciples willingly faced execution by the Roman authorities for proclaiming Jesus as Lord, risen from the dead.  It’s hard to believe that under the strain of persecution and the threat of death, not one of them would have admitted that they lied.   

Today you can see first century tombs in the Jerusalem area that are like the one described here.  They are fitted with huge circular stone discs that are set in a transverse channel hollowed out of stone in front of a rectangular doorway. I’ve seen a tomb like this outside the Old City which matches the one described in Luke's gospel. Whether or not it is the tomb of Christ we cannot say. What we can say is that over the 300 years following Jesus’ death in which his movement was sometimes violently persecuted…his body was never found and those who testified to his resurrection were never silenced.

The other thing we must explain is hinted at in Luke 24: 1: “On the Sabbath [the women] rested according to the commandment.”  The women came on Sunday morning because they had been observing the Sabbath.  In other words, these were observant Jews; Jesus was a son of Israel; and his first disciples were Jewish, looking for the Messiah to establish the kingdom of God. 

Last Monday, I celebrated Passover with a wonderful Jewish family.  Together we drank the cup of Elijah which heralds the Messiah’s coming.  They drank to his first coming, and I to his return….and my hope is that both of us will come to truly know him and follow him before he does. But my point is that an observant Jewish family honors the Passover as Jesus did…and the Sabbath as these women did.  It would take a cataclysmic, world-altering event to change that practice…And yet for these women and the other disciples, a millennia long tradition was changed…and Sunday became their new Sabbath day.  What else explains that change but an event on the magnitude of the empty tomb and Jesus’ resurrection “three days after he died.”  Even so…

(ii) There are those who still assume that Easter is an “idle tale.” (Luke 24: 8-11).  
8 Then they remembered his words, 9 and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. 10 Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. 11 But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.

Luke says it was the disciples – not those who condemned Jesus to death, or even his Roman executioners, who first used the words, “idle tale” to describe the rumor that Jesus had risen.  Dr. Luke, the physician, uses the Greek medical term lhroV (leiros) here, referring to the incoherent babbling of someone in a delirium.  The notion that Jesus could defeat death seemed incredible even to those who had followed him. 

Beyond this, the testimony about the empty tomb was coming to them from three women… and in the first century the testimony of women was not admissible in the law court.  A woman’s testimony (sorry ladies) could always be discounted as nothing more than“an idle tale.”  But that’s exactly what gives this whole account the ring of truth! If I were Dr. Luke, and I was trying to “make up” a story about Jesus’ resurrection that would sound credible to first century ears, I would not have included the testimony of women. A far better explanation is that it really happened this way, and that Luke’s integrity demanded that this fact be included. Three women are named in this passage (Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Mary the mother of James).  The gospels are unanimous in their testimony that these and other women were among Jesus' most faithful followers...standing by him at the cross, and hearing first the good news of the resurrection.  Luke was determined to honor that witness...even if some first century men scoffed.

I want to emphasize again that it was Jesus’ own disciples who discounted the women’s testimony as an “idle tale.”  Doubt is not something that other people outside the church struggle with… doubt is something that we struggle with right here.  Let’s be honest, when we’re tempted with some sin, a lie, an illicit relationship, a silly prejudice, that’s the time that a Risen Jesus is most inconvenient.  That’s when we’d like to keep him “among the dead,” and discount his power as nothing more than an “idle tale."  But the flip side of this is also true: that if Jesus is alive, everything he told us is true as well… that when he said, “Love one another…” he was speaking the truth of God; that when he said, “Your sins are forgiven,” he was revealing the grace of God; that when he said, “I am the resurrection and the life…” he was declaring the power of God over sin, evil, and death.

Today, I invite you to stop looking for Jesus among the dead.  I want to challenge you to consider Easter as something that is truly more than an idle tale; I want to invite you to stand among Y'shua's amazed and awestruck followers, because...

(iii) There are those today who will testify, “The Lord has risen indeed!” (Luke 24: 33-34) 12 But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened….  33 [Later that day, two other men who saw Jesus on the road to Emmaus] returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together.  34 They were saying, "The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!"

We read in v. 12  that after the women announced what they had heard, Peter got up, ran to the tomb, and looked in for himself; and then went home amazed.  Now we read in v. 34 that when two others who meet Jesus on the road to Emmaus [[the second half of the Easter Story that we will look at next week]] return to tell the others– they hear from the eleven disciples these words: “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon Peter!” This has to be one of the great un-told Third-Day Stories in the New Testament… because we’re not given the details anywhere in the gospels.    

This un-told story reminds me that not everything which our Risen Lord accomplished was written down.  John himself writes, “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples which are not written in this book.  But these are written that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name” (John 20: 30). John reminds me that there will be un-told stories, Third-Day Stories, right up to the present day, stories of those who will come to know the Risen Lord personally. One of the reasons I am a follower of Y'shua today.  One of the reasons that I am a Third-Day Believer, is that I have seen so many lives touched in simple and astounding ways, including my own, by the grace and power of the Risen Messiah.  

When I look around the sanctuary on a Sunday morning, I see intelligent skeptics who themselves came to a living faith in the Savior; I see men and women whose families have been restored by Jesus. I see bodies that were touched with God’s healing power. I also see tremendous courage in the face of the most difficult and discouraging circumstances.  I see amazing gifts of compassion and love that only Jesus could have inspired.  I see sinners like me who have been touched forever by the mercy and forgiveness of the Risen Lord.  I see a community of men and women, boys and girls from more than fifteen different nations…people from every walk of life, economic situation, political affiliation, educational and ethnic background and I ask myself.  What could possibly unite us?  Only Y'shua, Jesus…and what he did on the Third Day!

The faithful women who came at the crack of dawn to the empty tomb, along with Peter, challenge me to get up and go look for myself…to make an honest inquiry, to ask the Lord to reveal himself to me in a way that I can understand.  As we do, he promises us that our stories will not end in despair.  They will not end without hope.  They will not end without mercy or forgiveness.  They will not end on Friday…but at sunrise on the Third Day, Resurrection Day…the Day that has no end.

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