Date: 20 Nov 2022
Speaker: Ps Luwin Wong
Sermon Text: Luke 23:50–24:53
The popular atheist Richard Dawkins was once asked, “What happens if you die and come face to face with God?” He replied, “In the unlikely event that I met God after I died, I would say to him, “Why did you take such great pains to conceal yourself and to hide away from us? Why have you hidden yourself so well?”
I suppose the assumption here, is that if God existed, we should see more of sign of his presence, we should witness more evidence of his activity, we should experience more divine intervention in this world.
Like what? Perhaps he should have prevented COVID-19. It killed a lot of people, it caused a lot of pain, it created a lot of suffering. But why stop with COVID-19, how about measles, and smallpox and AIDS? Should God have prevented them as well?
What about cancer from smoking? What about liver failure from alcohol abuse? What about diabetes from overconsumption of sugar? Does he prevent all these diseases as well? Does he fundamentally alter the human genome just so that we can eat and smoke and drink without consequences to our health?
That is somehow a godly thing to do? To separate our action from consequences?
Perhaps he should have prevented the war in Ukraine. Families torn apart, children dead on the streets, reports of torture and abuse and rape in the occupied territories. If God existed, surely he intervenes and prevents that? Should he also prevent WWII and the holocaust, the Vietnam war, the American civil war? If so, why stop at the prevention of macro-conflicts? Why not put a stop to micro-aggression too?
By the same principle, shouldn’t God also prevent families squabbling, spouses arguing, children rebelling? And how? Does he make it such that we as human beings never think mean thoughts, never say mean words, and never do mean things, and never experience anger and hatred, and pride and selfishness? Does he fundamentally alter human nature so that we never commit evil against each other?
That does not sound so much like intervention in this world, as much as it is a call for the reinvention of the world. A New Creation, if you will.
But say God does both things, and there’s no more sickness and no more human evil in this world. Do human beings die? Does death remain a reality in such a world? If so, can you imagine the pain and grief at every funeral, because everyone who dies is a healthy and perfect person. And in even in such an idyllic existence, death stands as constant siren, ringing out “So what? What’s the point?”
So what if this world is perfect? It is devoid of ultimate meaning because it all comes to an end. Nothing stands. It’s like building a sandcastle in by the sea, it can be the most brilliant, most pristine castle imaginable, but it will be swallowed by the inevitable tide of death, and when it recedes, it will be as though nothing ever existed. “So what? What’s the point of it all?”
Perhaps Dawkins desire was more modest. Perhaps when he said that God had so hidden himself, all he wanted was for God let us know he’s there. How though? By a writing in the sky saying “I, God, exist?” Even if he did that, how would it help? Who exists? Thor, Odin, Dagon, Baal? Who exists precisely? What God is this that exists, what he is like, what does he want, how do we know? If is God interested in human beings, then it’s insufficient simply to inform us of his existence. He has revealed himself to us personally, he has to display for us his character, he has to teach us his ways, he has to show us a way to rightly relate to him.
What I’m suggesting is that Richard Dawkins ought to read the Gospel of Luke, and especially the passage we are turning to this morning. Because in the gospel, we encounter a God who neither took great pains to conceal himself nor hide away from us.
On the contrary, we find a God who has taken great pains to deal with the problem of human evil, who has stepped into our world to reveal himself to us, and has died on the cross and rose again from the grave to defeat once and for all that great enemy of humanity – death itself.
If the gospel, the good news recorded for us by Luke in this gospel is true, then it changes everything. Things cannot be the same before and after hearing the gospel of Jesus Christ. Because a worldview in which God is absent and death is present is completely different to a world in which God is present and death is defeated.
I will propose three ways in which the good news of Jesus’ the death, resurrection, and ascension changes the lives of everyone.
First, it brings us from death into life.
Now there was a man named Joseph, from the Jewish town of Arimathea. He was a member of the council, a good and righteous man, who had not consented to their decision and action; and he was looking for the kingdom of God. This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then he took it down and wrapped it in a linen shroud and laid him in a tomb cut in stone, where no one had ever yet been laid. It was the day of Preparation, and the Sabbath was beginning. The women who had come with him from Galilee followed and saw the tomb and how his body was laid.
In these verses, Luke lays out for us two details: (1) Jesus’ body was buried (2) The location of his tomb was widely known.
Jesus body lay in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea who was a prominent person in Jewish society – he was a member of Sanhedrin, the high court of Israel. And he asked for the body of Jesus from none other that Pontius Pilate himself. Now these people are not obscure characters, these details are easily verifiable, as was the location of Jesus’ tomb.
But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared. And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men stood by them in dazzling apparel. 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? He is not here, but has risen.
Here one more detail is added – the tomb was discovered empty.
(1) Jesus’ body was buried,
(2) The location of his tomb was widely known
(3) And the tomb was subsequently discovered to be empty by the followers of Jesus.
Now, how best to make sense of these details?
One theory is that the followers of Jesus’ lied about the empty tomb.
But think about it. The apostles couldn’t simply make up the claim that Jesus’ tomb was empty, because if was a lie, all the authorities had to do was to go to the tomb roll away the stone to the entrance and point to the body where it lay. It was easily verifiable.
Another suggestion is that they went to the wrong tomb. This beggars belief because people knew where the tomb was, especially the women who discovered the empty tomb, because they had followed Joseph of Arimathea and saw the tomb and how his body was laid.
The explanation that Luke offers for the empty tomb is given by the angels who appeared to the women at the tomb. They said, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen”. In other words, a tomb is where dead people are, the reason Jesus is not in the tomb is because he is not dead, but alive. He has risen. That’s the reason. The tomb is empty because Jesus has resurrected.
And they rose that same hour and returned to Jerusalem. And they found the eleven and those who were with them gathered together, saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!” Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he was known to them in the breaking of the bread.
And then this resurrected Jesus makes himself known to two disciples who were travelling on the road from Jerusalem to Emmaus, and when they encountered the risen Jesus, the turned around and walked back to Jerusalem to inform the other disciples that they had seen the risen Christ. But to their surprise, before they could announce their startling news, the apostles who were gathered tells them that Peter has seen the risen Jesus.
As they were talking about these things, Jesus himself stood among them, and said to them, “Peace to you!” But they were startled and frightened and thought they saw a spirit. And he said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. And while they still disbelieved for joy and were marveling, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate before them.
Here again are two details about the resurrection from these verses. (1) The risen Jesus Christ was encountered by different disciples, in different places, at different times, encounter (2) This risen Jesus has flesh and bones and is able to consume physical food.
One theory to explain the reports of post-mortem appearances of Jesus was that the disciples, in their grief and pain and confusion, experienced visions or hallucinations of Jesus Christ after his death.
The problem with the theory is that Jesus appears to two disciples, and to Peter, and then to a large group consisting of the 11 apostles and other disciples with them. If he only appeared privately to individuals, perhaps we can chalk it up to grief induced hallucinations. But for two men walking on the road seeing the same vision, and then for a larger group in a room all hallucinating the same thing, is really stretching our known understanding of how hallucinations work.
Such vivid, unexpected and repeated mass hallucinations are arguably just as incredible or believable as a literal resurrection itself. Plus, if the risen Jesus is simply a product of the disciples’ imagination, then surely his body still lays in the tomb. But we already know its empty.
But let’s take a step back. Perhaps we are misunderstanding Luke altogether, as liberal Christians have suggested. When the New Testament authors write about the resurrection of Jesus. They are not talking about a literal bodily resurrection. They simply mean that Jesus although dead, has come alive on Easter morning, in the sense that disciples have stopped grieving and have decided to carry on his teaching and his values in their lives.
In that sense, Jesus is alive because his disciples continue to make his presence felt in the world. “You ask me how I know he lives; he lives within my heart.” – that sort of idea, you see?
But would such a risen Jesus, have flesh and bones for the apostles to examine and touch, would a metaphorically resurrected Jesus be able to consume grilled fish? No, Luke is speaking about a bodily resurrection.
The biblical explanation for the following details: (1) The empty tomb of Jesus (2) The post-mortem appearances of Jesus (3) The physical attributes of Jesus
Is that Jesus Christ was literally and bodily resurrected by God on that first Easter morning.
God has not hidden himself you see. He has made himself known in the life, the death and the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
But modern minds remain skeptical. We trust in the scientific method, we pride ourselves on our reliance on empirical evidence as the means to knowledge. What are we, peasants and farmers and fishermen living 2000 years ago who are illiterate and unscientific and readily susceptible to believe in every fairytale like the Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.
We have progressed leaps and bounds in our knowledge of biology. We know better now; we know that dead people remain dead. So, surely you can’t expect us today to believe in something as incredible as a resurrection?
Here’s the thing though, the modern thinker isn’t the only skeptic of the resurrection. The very disciples of Jesus Christ were skeptical too. They were the original skeptics, because they may not know a whole lot about biology, but they knew enough to know that dead people remained dead. They don’t just come back to life.
It’s almost embarrassing to see how skeptical and slow to believe the disciples were in the resurrection of Jesus. But Luke records it for us, not because it’s flattering, but because he’s trying to be a reliable historian.
Then they returned and prepared spices and ointments.
But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared. And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men stood by them in dazzling apparel. 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?
The women who discovered the empty tomb on Easter morning, when there for a specific reason, not to be the first to greet the risen Jesus, but to anoint his corpse with spices and ointments. The Jews did not practice embalming, so as act of honoring the dead, they would wrap a corpse with a lot of spices and perfumes to counteract the unpleasant odor of decomposition.
In other words, they went there, on the third day of his burial, fully expecting to see the dead, unrisen body of Jesus in the tomb. Because they knew that the dead remain dead. They do not rise from the grave. They simply intended to honor the dead.
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, but these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.
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.
And when the angels informed the women that Jesus had risen, they went to report the news to the apostles, Jesus’ closest companions, the very men were chosen by Jesus and lived with him and heard his teaching daily for three years.
What was their response to the women? They said, “Obviously his tomb was empty, he told us he would rise after three days, what else were you expecting? You mean you went there thinking you would see his decomposing corpse?”
That was not their response. Rather “these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.”
The apostles unanimously thought that the women were making stuff up when they spoke of the resurrection. Why? Because even back then, these fishermen knew enough to know that the dead remained dead. They do not rise from the grave.
Peter then ran to the tomb, and saw for himself that it was empty. He saw the linen cloths by themselves; and he went home marveling at what had happened. Why was he marveling? Because he still wasn’t believing. He still couldn’t find the explanation for the empty tomb.
And then we come to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. These two men were part of the group who heard the women’s testimony when they came back from the tomb. And as they walked, they were talking about what had occurred. And Jesus came alongside them to ask them what they were discussing.
And he said to them, “What is this conversation that you are holding with each other as you walk?” And they stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, named Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?” And he said to them, “What things?” And they said to him, “Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him.
These men were sad. They were sad because they did not believe what the women said about the resurrection of Jesus. Let’s read on.
But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things happened. Moreover, some women of our company amazed us. They were at the tomb early in the morning, and when they did not find his body, they came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see.”
“We had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel”. But they were sad because their hope was not fulfilled in Jesus Christ. He was not the one to redeem Israel because he is dead. He was crucified. And they did not believe in the women’s report. To them, as to us, the dead remain dead. They do not rise from the grave.
And then these two men recognized that it was the risen Jesus who had been speaking with them. And they returned to Jerusalem to inform the others about it.
As they were talking about these things, Jesus himself stood among them, and said to them, “Peace to you!” But they were startled and frightened and thought they saw a spirit. And he said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts?
See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. And while they still disbelieved for joy and were marveling, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?”
So, at this point, the disciples had received three separate and independent testimonies about the risen Jesus. (1) From the women (2) From Peter (3) And from the two disciples on the road to Emmaus.
And now Jesus himself stood among them. And what was their response, “You are here! We have heard so much about you. We have been waiting to see you, the risen Christ, for ourselves”.
No. This was their response. They were startled and frightened and thought they saw a spirit. In other words, after all that, they still did not believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
If you today, hearing about the Resurrection of Jesus Christ are skeptical about it, rest assured, so where the disciples of Jesus 2000 years ago. It is hard to believe in the resurrection because we all know what happens when people die. They stay dead. They do not rise.
And Jesus had to prove to them that he was no apparition, he has no phantom, he was no spirit. He is the risen Christ. So he showed his flesh and bones, his hands and his feet. And their response? They still disbelieved for joy and were marvelling.
Jesus’ physical presence in their very midst, before their very eyes, were insufficient to quell their disbelieve in the Resurrection.
But at conclusion of the gospel, we see this:
And they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple blessing God.
Luke records that they worshipped him. These are Jewish men and women. Their first and foremost commandment is to worship God and God alone, and no one besides God. And they worshipped Jesus. Because these skeptics became convinced that the buried Jesus is the risen Lord.
How did they move from skepticism to worship? How did they move from disbelief to believe?
The answer, in a word, is the Word.
Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.”
And they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb they told all these things to the eleven and to all the rest.
It’s the remembrance of Jesus’ words that persuaded the women to report the news of the resurrection to the apostles.
And he said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?”
And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.
They said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?”
It’s the opening up of the Scriptures to two disciples on the road to Emmaus, that caused their hearts to burn opened their eyes to behold the risen Jesus.
Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.”
Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead
Jesus showing his disciples his flesh and blood, his hands and his feet did not convince them of his resurrection. They still disbelieved.
So Jesus opened their minds to understand the Scriptures.
And then they believed and they worshipped him as Lord at his Ascension.
How does one move from skepticism to worship, how does one move from disbelief to belief, how does an atheist become a Christian?
You offer them the classic philosophical arguments for the existence of God – the ontological argument, the cosmological argument, the moral argument, and you persuade them with these arguments.
You ask them to examine the historical evidence for the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
You ask them to read the Case for Christ by the skeptic turned believer, Lee Strobel, or the plethora of other books on Christian apologetics.
You can do all that if you like, and sometimes you should, but you should do no less and you can do no better than follow in the steps of Jesus and open to them the Scriptures.
The truth is contained in the Gospel, the power is found in the Word. Christian apologetics has its place in evangelism. But do not be mistaken, the goal of our apologetic endeavor is not to argue a non-believer into the kingdom, but to earn the right to open up the bible to them that they might behold within its pages, the risen King Jesus.
The Scriptures. The Gospel. The Word is what moves us from unbelief to worship.
Which brings us to our final point.
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.
And they rose that same hour and returned to Jerusalem. And they found the eleven and those who were with them gathered together… Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he was known to them in the breaking of the bread.
A natural and necessary outcome of a true encounter with the risen Jesus is the proclamation of the news that Jesus has risen. The witnesses of the risen Christ are witnesses for the risen Christ.
The resurrection moves us from witnesses to witnessing.
Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”
The idea that God has concealed and hidden himself from humanity is fake news. The good news is that God has made himself known in the life, death, resurrection and ascension of the Lord Jesus Christ. The good news is that he wants be known. And he has commissioned everyone who through faith has encountered the risen Jesus in the gospel to bear witness for the gospel to the ends of the earth.
The good news, my Hermon family, is not essentially the good news that you will get into the kingdom. It is the good news of the king – the Lord Jesus Christ. He is Lord of all.
The resurrection is God’s pledge that there is eternal life in his kingdom, where there is only death in this world. It is the promise of righteous existence under the rule of King Jesus, in fulfillment of the hope and longing of every human heart, everywhere on this earth.
It changes everything. We are burdened by a glorious purpose. To make King Jesus known. To proclaim repentance for the forgiveness of sins in his name to all nations. To bear witness to Jesus Christ, our Risen Lord and merciful Saviour.