Devotional Reading: 1 Corinthians 15:12-20. Background Scripture: Hosea 6:1-3; Luke 24:1-12.
It was only 115 days ago that we were celebrating Christmas and the Incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ. Five days ago was Good Friday and we relived the darkest day in the history of our faith. But, as I said in December, “Christmas and Easter are part of the same story, the same faith. Without the birth of Jesus there would have been no Easter. Without Easter, Christmas wouldn’t matter.”
If the story had ended on Good Friday, the life and death of Jesus would be just another tragedy of human history. But Good Friday isn’t the end of the good news of Jesus Christ and really, neither is Easter! The celebration of Jesus’ triumph turns tragedy into triumph – and not only for him, but for us, too! Actually, Easter is a two-part reality: (1) Christ is risen! Alleluia! (2) And so will be raised by the grace of God! Alleluia!
OK, that’s the Good News of Jesus Christ and now some commentary on the news.
First, some people are bothered by the lack of congruence in the four gospel depictions of Easter.
There are some similarities: They all agree this happened on the first day of the week. They all speak of the empty tomb: Matthew 28:1-10; Mark16:1-8; Luke 24:1- 11. But Matthew lists only Mary Magdalene and “the other Mary,” while Mark speaks of a Mary who is the mother of James and Salome. Luke doesn’t give any names. John names only Mary Magdalene. Matthew tells us of “a great earthquake,” but the others do not. Mark and John tell us that the stone has been rolled away. Matthew tells us “an angel of the Lord descended from heaven,” while Mark says they encountered “a young man sitting on the right side,” and Luke speaks of “two men…in dazzling apparel.” John’s visitors to the tomb include Mary Magdalene, Simon Peter and “the other disciple” who outran Peter. Some heard thunder
The differences multiply: in Luke 24:36-49 the resurrected Lord appears to be flesh and blood, and in John 20:17 Jesus tells Mary Magdalene, ”Do not hold me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father….” In verse 19 of that same chapter of John, although “the doors being shut where the disciples were, Jesus came and stood among them….” In Luke’s account of his appearance on the road to Emmaus, he was unrecognized until he broke bread: “And their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he vanished out of their sight” (Lk. 24:29,30.)
But instead of finding these conflicting and confusing differences of experiencing the resurrected Jesus, I conclude that they are more convincing by their differences, because that is the way it is with things of God’s spirit. In John 12:27-30, Jesus says: “Father, glorify thy name…. The crowd standing by heard it and said that it had thundered.” Others said, “An Angel has spoken to him.” In another appearance in Matthew 28:16-20, meeting with his disciples in Galilee “on the mountain to which Jesus had directed them,” some of them “worshipped him, but some doubted.”
Our problem is that we want religious encounters to be experienced and explained in the same words that we use. But things of the Spirit defy being “nailed down” because of individual differences and God’s varied and different means of reaching us. Sixty-four years ago on a high-speed trolley from the 69th Street Station in Philadelphia to Norristown, PA, I had a spiritual experience that changed my life, but to this day I cannot nail it down and make it conform to a doctrine or article of faith. God is not limited in the ways and means he can use to get our attention and communicate with us. Explaining the spirit
Our problem is that we want everyone to experience and explain God in the same way (preferably the way we know) and doubt those encounters that do not conform. This is a kind of blasphemy against God, because we are limiting the ways and means of his revelation. Moses never told the Israelites that they would have to find God in a “burning bush” as he did. Jesus got his marching orders in a 40-day sojourn in the wilderness, but apparently his disciples did not repeat this experience. Many of us live by the axiom: “Seeing is believing,” but, as Helen Keller and my assistant pastor, Jimmy Mohn, demonstrated, one can receive God’s message without “seeing.”
If you can fully explain the Incarnation and give an analysis of the resurrection, you haven’t experienced either of them. They are ineffable, beyond words, and dependant on evidence, but not proof. Paul, writing I Corinthians 15, says: “…he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me” (15:5-8). That is all that any of us can ask: that in some way – not necessarily someone else’s way – he will “appear also to me.”
Maybe you want to ask, “But why has he not appeared to me in any way?” I like the way Philip Yancey puts it: “I believe in the Resurrection primarily because I have gotten to know God…. Because of Easter, I can hope that the tears we shed, the blows we receive, the emotional pain, the heartache over lost friends and loved ones, all these will become memories, like Jesus’ scars. Scars never completely go away, but neither do they hurt any longer. We will have re-created bodies, a re-created heaven and earth. We will have a new start, an Easter start.” (Philip Yancey, The Jesus I Never Knew, Zondervan, 1995)