The Point of Christianity

christian-easter-backgrounds

The only reason for the existence of the Christian faith is the reality of one event: the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Without it, Christianity takes its place alongside all the philosophies of the world. The resurrection of Christ is what sets the Christian faith apart from Hinduism, Buddhism, Scientology, and any other religion you can think of. The resurrection is so vital a doctrine that, as one writer noted,

We cannot make too much of the death of Christ, but we can make too little of the resurrection of Christ.

On the importance of the resurrection, the great apostle wrote:

And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. (1 Corinthians 15:14 NIV)

But not everybody thinks the resurrection is so great. Celcus, a Roman living and writing in the second century, wasn’t exactly impressed with the Christian faith or with it’s Founder. Here’s what he thought:

While he was alive he did not help himself, but after death he rose again and showed the marks of his punishment and how his hand had been pierced. But who says this? A hysterical female and perhaps some other one of those who were deluded by the same sorcery, who either dreamt in a certain state of mind and through wishful thinking had a hallucination due to some mistaken notion…or which is more likely, wanted to impress others by telling this fantastic tale.

The truth is, the church of Jesus Christ is very good at celebrating the birth of our Lord, and even commemorating His death. Unfortunately, we don’t make nearly enough of His resurrection, usually reserving that topic for Easter. We should take notice of the sermons recorded for us in the New Testament, because they all have the resurrection of Jesus Christ as their theme.

John 20 is “the resurrection chapter” in John’s Gospel.

An empty tomb: ultimate evidence, John 20:1 – 9

John begins his account of the resurrection with words that have resonated throughout the Christian centuries:

Early Sunday morning, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and found that the stone was rolled aside from the entrance. (John 20:1 TLB, see also Mark 16:1, 2)

Westcott made an interesting observation of how John recorded our Lord’s Passion versus His resurrection.

[John’s account of] the passion is the history of the descent of selfishness to apostasy, his history of the Resurrection is the history of the elevation of love into absolute faith.

Just so. As the Christian greeting cards say today:

It wasn’t the nails that held Jesus to the Cross, it was love.

Given the truthfulness of that statement, it was highly appropriate that John, the disciple Jesus loved, would make sure his readers knew that it was Mary Magdalene who discovered the empty tomb. She had been forgiven so much and her love for her Lord was legendary. You’ll remember that she was the woman from whom Jesus had driven out no less than seven demons. She was eternally grateful to Him for setting her free, and she would be the first person to discover He had been set free from the bonds of death. Yet she had no idea what had happened to Jesus. The idea of a resurrection wasn’t something she’d consider. Why would she? It’s not an everyday occurrence!

Something else to consider: At this time in history, women were truly without rights, legal or otherwise. They didn’t even have standing in a court of law. When John wrote his gospel, many years after the events chronicled in it, he had no problem writing the truth that it was a woman, and a scandalous one at that, who saw the empty tomb first.

When John, then Peter, reached the tomb, he looked in but did not enter. They were understandably filled with confusion and alarm. Like Mary Magdalene, any notion that Jesus had risen from the dead hadn’t entered their minds. However, it didn’t take them long to come to the right conclusion!

Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. (John 20:8 NIV)

John is writing about himself here – he sometimes referred to himself in the third person. His moment of belief came in one decisive moment; the moment he saw the folded-up grave cloths. John needed no convincing; faith came immediately.

There’s an interesting play-on-words taking place in the original language that is missed in the English translation. There are no less than three different Greek words used in this passage translated as “seeing,” or something similar depending on what translation you are reading from. In verse 5, when John “bent over and looked in,” the word means to perceive and understand. John took a while to try to understand what it was he was looking at. Then in verse 6, when Peter went into the tomb and “he saw,” which is the Greek word theaomai, from which we get our word “theatre.” Peter stared at the grave cloths, but more like a spectator. Then in verse 8, John entered the tomb and “he saw and believed.” This time, the word “saw” means to know for certain. He knew and he believed before he saw the risen Christ.

Charles Spurgeon, never at a loss for words, noted this:

You are not asked to trust in a dead Jesus, but in One who, though He died for our sins, has risen for our justification.

Verse 9 gives us a bit of an insight into the mental state of the disciples. We sometimes get the idea that these men, eleven of the twelve at any rate, were super-saints. But in some ways, they were a kind of dull group:

They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead. (John 20:8 NIV)

This is not an unimportant verse for us to simply skip over so as to get on with the good part of the story. It teaches us something, that if we take it to heart, will help us to understand ourselves better and those lost souls we are witnessing to. These men had walked with and talked with Jesus for some three years. He had hinted at His death and eventual resurrection on a number of occasions but they didn’t get it. Not only that, John says that these men, good Jews all, didn’t even grasp their own Scriptures on the subject! Perhaps John had in mind Psalm 16:10 when he wrote what he did:

For you will not leave me among the dead; you will not allow your beloved one to rot in the grave.  (TLB)

So, the next time you kick yourself for coming to an understanding of a verse or passage of Scripture only after the umpteenth time you’ve read it, studied it, or heard a sermon on it, remember John and his pals! Even with the help of the Savior, there were some things their minds just didn’t get until they were illumined by the Holy Spirit.

Personal appearances of Jesus after His death, John 20:10 – 16

You can’t keep a good Savior down for long! Herbert Smith put it aptly:

It wasn’t a tomb at all – it was a room for a transient. Jesus just stopped there a night or two on His way back to glory.

Three days after His death, Jesus rose from the dead and visited some of His friends.

Our Lord’s first appearance was to Mary. In all, there were eleven appearances of Jesus before His ascension, but this was the first. Why did He appear first to Mary Magdalene? Proverbs 8:17 tells us this:

I love all who love me. Those who search for me shall surely find me. (TLB)

She may have loved Jesus genuinely, but that love wasn’t enough for her to recognize Him when He appeared to her.

She glanced over her shoulder and saw someone standing behind her. It was Jesus, but she didn’t recognize him! (John 20:14 TLB)

Here’s another incident that should make us stop and think. Why were the folded grave cloths enough proof for John that Jesus has risen from the dead, but not for Mary? She initially saw exactly what John saw but while he achieved believing faith, she did not. God never deals with two people the same way. He treats all people as individuals, respecting their temperaments and their level of faith, or lack thereof.

Mary, while she didn’t have faith, did have love. But love wasn’t enough for her to achieve the same level of faith John did. Unbelief is blind, love notwithstanding. There are a great many people who have sentimental feelings for Jesus and what He did for them, especially around Easter. Who isn’t moved by the Easter story? But sentimentality does not equal faith. Mary had a strong love and a sentimental attachment to Jesus but she didn’t have faith – yet. She wept because she loved Him, and because she didn’t have believing faith.

“Why are you crying?” he asked her. “Whom are you looking for?”

She thought he was the gardener. “Sir,” she said, “if you have taken him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will go and get him.” (John 20:15 TLB)

William Barclay’s observations are insightful on this verse.

The simple and poignant fact is that she could not recognize Him through her tears. She could not take her eyes off the tomb, and she had her back to Jesus. She insisted on facing in the wrong direction.

He’s absolutely right about that! Read verse 16 –

Mary!” Jesus said. She turned toward him. “Master!” she exclaimed.

Most Bible scholars make much of the fact when Jesus spoke her name, Mary believed. Barclay makes the valid point that she recognized Jesus when she got her eyes off the empty tomb and put them where they belonged: on the Man who was no longer IN the tomb.

How many people “love” Jesus but miss out on His presence because they are looking away from Him instead of at Him? It’s a dangerous thing to misinterpret your feelings for faith. It’s dangerous because it causes you to miss out, not only on our Lord’s presence, but all things that come with His presence: a sense of peace, contentment, meaning in your life, and so on. Blinded by feelings and emotions may actually feel good for a while, but that kind of experience is shallow and leaves you spiritually cold. Which explains why there are so many shallow, cold Christians these days.

At that moment of recognition, Mary called Jesus by an interesting name: Rabboni. Why did she use that title? Historically, “rabboni” was a title rarely used of men and never used in addressing them. That word was primarily used to address Yahweh. Believing faith had finally dawned in Mary. She knew that Jesus Christ had not just risen from the dead, but that He was, in fact, God Himself.

When Mary recognized Jesus, she grabbed onto Him.

“Don’t touch me,” he cautioned, “for I haven’t yet ascended to the Father. But go find my brothers and tell them that I ascend to my Father and your Father, my God and your God.” (John 20:17 TLB)

It’s not that Jesus didn’t want to be touched – He encouraged Thomas to do the very thing Mary was doing! Mary, finding out her Lord and Savior was alive, wanted to stay in His presence; she didn’t want Him to leave her and she didn’t want to leave Him. Problem was, that wasn’t what Jesus wanted her to do. He had a job for her to do: take the good news of His resurrection to others.

That begs yet another question: Why didn’t He just appear to them in person? Well, actually He did, so why the urgency for Mary to take the good news to the others? Christians are not saved to just get them into heaven or to sit in a pew on Sundays. We have a job to do as surely as those first disciples of Christ did. In a way, what Jesus wanted Mary to do represented a kind of pre-Great Commission commission.

There they met him and worshiped him—but some of them weren’t sure it really was Jesus! He told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and earth. Therefore go and make disciples in all the nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and then teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you; and be sure of this—that I am with you always, even to the end of the world.” (Matthew 28:17 – 20 TLB)

We all have a the same job to do, as Mary and as the disciples. It’s great to feel warm and comfortable in His presence. But there comes a time when we have to step out to share our faith with others.

The story of Easter is truly the greatest story ever told.  It speaks of a God who went to greatest extreme to show His love for lost souls.  It speaks of a Savior who gave all for all.  It speaks of a love to strong, the grave could not contain it.  The power that raised Jesus Christ from the dead is still at work today, changing the hearts of anybody who puts their faith and trust in the Cross.

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