The Power of the Resurrection in the Bible

resurrection_iconThese words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James and the other women with them tell the rest of the disciples that they had found the tomb empty, and that an angel had told them that the Son of man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and on the third day rise, but the story seemed to the disciples an idle tale, and they did not believe them.

I wonder what Jesus would have said about that if He had been there? Actually, I’d be willing to bet He would have said exactly what He said to the Sadducees when they asked Him about the resurrection just a few days earlier. The Sadducees were Jews who didn’t believe in an afterlife, and they tried to get Jesus to admit that it was an impossible idea; you can read about it in Matthew 22 or Mark 12. And Jesus tells them, you know neither the scriptures nor the power of God. I bet that’s what He would have said to the apostles who thought the women’s story was an idle tale: you know neither the scriptures nor the power of God. I think this because later in this same chapter of Luke, He is speaking about the resurrection to a couple of other disciples, not the ones who thought it was an idle tale but two others, and in vv 45f Luke tells us that 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.’ It is in the Bible, it is written, that the Messiah would rise from the dead on the third day. So anyone who thinks that the report of the resurrection is an idle tale knows neither the scriptures nor the power of God! And in a semester when we’ve been looking at the whole Bible, its major parts and its major themes, we’re bound to ask—I hope it was your first thought when you heard the verse—where is it written that the Messiah would rise from the dead on the third day?

Before I mention any specific passages, I want to say something about how Jesus expects us to read the Scriptures, because it’s not always just a matter of looking stuff up. When the question arises, what does the Bible say about this or that, we want it to be quick and easy: ‘it says quote the Messiah will rise from the dead on the third day unquote of course, Lithuanians 3.16.’ Sometimes it is that simple; when Satan tells Jesus to throw Himself off the pinnacle of the Temple to prove He’s the Son of God, Jesus gives him that sort of answer: ‘the Bible says, You shall not tempt the Lord your God, Deuteronomy 6.16.’ But more often Jesus’s references to the teaching of Scripture take some pretty hard thinking about the Bible, and He clearly expects anyone who wants to know the truth about the things of God to search into it pretty deeply. The New Testament uses two different words for the English word ‘know’ as in ‘know something’: one means ‘know as a fact’, the other literally means ‘see’, but also ‘understand’, just in English—‘now I see!’ When Jesus says you know neither the scriptures nor the power of God, He is using the latter, and He goes on to say as for the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was said to you by God, ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not God of the dead, but of the living. That’s how you can know there is an afterlife, and that there will be a resurrection, by thinking about the meaning of the dozens of verse in which God is referred to as the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. By thinking about it until you see, until you understand. This is important, because He could have given a much simpler answer, as He did to Satan. He could have said, on the third day [the Lord] will raise us up, that we may live before him, Hosea 6.2. That’s it, done and dusted. A no-brainer. But when He’s speaking not to Satan, but to God’s people, He doesn’t just want them to know, He wants them to understand. It’s the principle of Psalm 111.2: Great are the works of the Lord; they are studied by all who delight in them. Studied, thought about, worked at. And if we want to grow in our faith, we don’t want the no-brainer answer, we want the brainy answer, the answer that comes from careful thought, the answer worthy of a Pitt student, right? Hail to Pitt!

So let me describe two kinds of passage that show it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead. Two kinds, because actually those poor apostles did believe in resurrection. They weren’t Sadducees. The Sadducees were probably a minority by the time of Jesus, and a bit old-fashioned. Remember how when Jesus tells Martha that Lazarus, her brother who had just died, will rise again, she says I know that, he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day, John 11.24. ‘Everybody knows that’, she implies, because there are many Bible passages, Old Testament passages, that suggest that resurrection is possible when you think about them, when you understand them properly. There’s the Hosea passage I already mentioned, there’s Job 19.25ff, traditionally read at funerals to comfort the bereaved, I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after [I have been] destroyed… I shall see God for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. There’s Daniel’s prophecy, many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. My personal favourite, though, is the vision of the prophet Ezekiel, in which Ezekiel sees a field full of dead bodies, and God tells him prophesy, son of man, and say to the wind, Thus says the Lord God; Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live. So I prophesied as he commanded me, says Ezekiel, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood up upon their feet, an exceeding great army. Then he said unto me, Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel… Therefore… say unto them, Thus says the Lord God; Behold, O my people, I will open your graves, and cause you to come up out of your graves, and bring you into the land of Israel. And you shall know that I am the Lord. I love that one, because visions like that are not only the Scriptures, but the power of God right in front of your eyes!

The disciples believed in resurrection; they believed in what is called the general resurrection at the last day, the one Martha was talking about, when everyone will be raised and come face to face with God; what they didn’t understand was that there might be an individual resurrection for someone before the last day. That’s why they thought the women’s story was an idle tale. But if they had thought about Scripture as much as Jesus had, they might have been less dismissive of the women’s story. There are three examples of individual resurrections in the Old Testament that they should have been familiar with; I mentioned two of them when I talked about Elijah and Elisha a couple of weeks ago. Both those prophets raised children from the dead. Elisha was involved in the third of these resurrections, too; a dead man was being buried when suddenly a band of marauders appeared on the horizon, and the burial party finished the burial in a hurry by putting the dead man in Elisha’s own grave, and when the dead man touched Elisha’s dead body, he was miraculously restored to life. And both Elijah and Elisha were specifically connected with messianic prophecy—remember Peter’s vision of Moses, Elijah and Jesus together, and Jesus’s comparison of Himself to Elijah and Elisha in Luke 4. But one of the clearest prophecies of the Messiah, and one which Jesus linked specifically to Himself, is the prophecy of the suffering Messiah in Isaiah. This seems to be most naturally interpreted as fore-shadowing a resurrection of the Messiah Himself: after the passages that most clearly prophesy His passion—He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is dumb, so he opened not his mouth… And they made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth. Yet it was the will of the Lord to bruise him; He has put him to grief comes when he makes himself an offering for sin, he shall see his offspring, he shall prolong his days; the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand; he shall see the fruit of the travail of his soul and be satisfied. The Messiah’s sacrifice of Himself for sin will lead to life, not death, for the Messiah Himself as well as for His people. Another passage is mentioned by Peter, in his preaching after Jesus’s resurrection; Psalm 16.10, For thou wilt not leave my soul in hell; neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption, very likely a passage shown the disciples by Jesus Himself.

But the passage to which Jesus Himself seems to refer most explicitly is the story of Jonah in the belly of the whale, a story that many consider merely an amusing Bible story for children rather than one of the foundational passages for Christ’s passion, death and resurrection. But Jesus explicitly links it to His own resurrection: when some of the religious teachers suggest that Jesus is leading the people astray, and are rebuked by Him, they ask Him for a sign that proves He is of God. He replies no sign shall be given [you] except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the whale, so will the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. And then He will emerge from the grave just as surely as Jonah emerged from the whale. And when we follow Jesus’s lead and look in Jonah for clues about Jesus, we see that Jesus is like Jonah in other respects, too: Jonah offered himself up to death for the sake of the sailors on his ship—in the middle of a storm that threatened to capsize the ship and drown them all, He said to them, ‘Take me up and throw me into the sea; then the sea will quiet down for you’. And so it was; Jonah’s death, or what they assumed would be his death, was life for the sailors on the ship, just as Jesus’s death is life for sinful humanity. In the belly of the whale, Jonah cried out I am cast out from Thy presence just as on the cross Jesus cried out My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me? Jonah even describes what happened to himself in terms of death and resurrection: I went down to the land whose bars closed upon me for ever; yet thou didst bring up my life from the Pit, O Lord my God. Jonah was just a man, and a sinful man, and the comparison can’t be pressed too far, but it’s Jesus Who draws it, and in terms that justify His comment, Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead.

And just as the resurrection of Jesus has echoes in advance that reach far back into the Old Testament, so it re-echoes into the New Testament, promising us that it is not just a miraculous event in the life of Christ, but destined to be a cold hard fact in the life of everyone who puts their faith in Him. If we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his, Rom 6.5. If we know him and the power of his resurrection, [we] may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that if possible [we] may attain the resurrection from the dead, Phil 3.9ff. It is what entitles us to the assurance of salvation, Baptism…is an appeal to God for a clear conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, I Peter 3.21.

It is the theme of the whole Bible, and the key to all that God has been trying to do for us since our first disobedience separated us from Him. By his great mercy we have been born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, I Peter 1.3.

And finally it has proved the most effective way of being His witnesses, as He called us to be. The gospel of God, (Which he had promised afore by his prophets in the holy scriptures,) says Paul, is that his Son Jesus Christ our Lord… was made of the seed of David according to the flesh; And declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead. Romans 1.1–4. When people ask you why you look to Jesus for meaning in this life and for perfect happiness in eternal life, tell them it’s because He rose from the dead. There’s no other religious figure about whom that can be said. Only Jesus, and those others through whom God was at work so that we would not dismiss it as an idle tale. There never has been another, and there never will be, until the general resurrection. And on that day, too, on that day most of all, be ready to confess that your hope is in Jesus Christ, God made man, crucified, buried and risen for the salvation of the world.

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