For this week following Easter Sunday it would profit us immensely to focus on a number of Jesus’ post resurrection appearances.
- EASTER SUNDAY – READ LUKE 24:1-12
Thomas Jefferson, though a great American statesman, could not accept the miraculous elements in scripture. Because of his bias he edited his own version of the bible in which all references to miracles were carefully deleted. Jefferson closes his gospel account with these words; “there laid they Jesus and rolled a great stone at the mouth of the sepulchre and departed.” This is unthinkable. Michael Ramsay the former Anglican Archbishop once said; “for the first disciples the gospel without the resurrection was not merely a gospel without its final chapter – it was no gospel at all.” Our text records how a group of women were the first witnesses to the resurrected Christ. Mary Magdalene was a Galilean, probably from the town of Magdala (on the west bank of the Sea of Galilee). Jesus delivered her from seven demons (Luke 8:2; Mark 16:9). Then there was Joanna. Her husband was Chuza, the household manager or steward of King Herod Antipas (Luke 8:3). They were accompanied by Mary the mother of James. In Mark 16 we are told that Salome accompanied them. If you compare Matthew 27:56 and Mark 15:40 it would appear that she was Zebedee’s wife and the mother of James and John.
- THE AUTHENTICITY OF THE FIRST RESURRECTION ENCOUNTER
Any unbiased person who reads the description of the first witnesses to Jesus’ resurrection will be forced to appreciate its authenticity. People like Thomas Jefferson who believe the gospel account ended with Jesus’ burial insist that the resurrection accounts are pure fabrication. They will adamantly declare that the description of the resurrection is the biggest lie ever foisted on humanity. The problem with this is that the description smacks of authenticity. Let me give you three reasons why I say this.
a) Firstly, throughout the gospel accounts Jesus carefully prepared his disciples
for his resurrection. In Mark’s gospel Jesus deliberately drew their attention three times to what lay in store for him in Jerusalem. A cross awaited him and not an earthly crown. We see this in Mark 8:31; 9:31. In Mark 10:30-34 Jesus said; they will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles, who will mock him and spit on him, flog him and kill him. Three days later he will rise. If the disciples had fabricated the resurrection story, how do you think they would have written it? Surely they would have put themselves in the spotlight and the record would have gone something like this; “Hey, it’s the third day. Remember what Jesus said about rising on that day. Perhaps we should go and have a look at the tomb.” But nobody says that! In fact no-one is expecting a resurrection at all! In vrs 1-3 the ladies took spices to go and anoint Jesus’ body. They were not expecting a risen Christ but a still dead Christ.
b) In Mark 14:28 when Jesus predicted Peter’s denial he went on to say but after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee. Mark recorded Peter’s account of his time with Jesus. If the disciples had decided to dream up the resurrection using their own fertile imagination where do we expect Peter to be? Since Jesus had told him that he was going to Galilee we do not expect Peter to have been sitting behind locked doors in Jerusalem. We expect him to be in Galilee!!
c) Thirdly, and perhaps most compellingly of all – if the disciples had merely
invented the resurrection accounts they would never, never have made women the first witnesses of the resurrection. To our 21st century minds that may not seem remarkable but in the first century world it surely was. Women were not only treated as second class citizens but perhaps more significantly were not permitted to give testimony in a court of law. Celsus, the second-century critic of Christianity, mocked the idea of Mary Magdalene as an alleged resurrection witness, referring to her as a “hysterical female . . . deluded by . . . sorcery.” Do you see what this means? If the apostles were simply making up the story of the resurrection they would never have had the women as the first witnesses. They would have put Peter, James or John there at the tomb. But notice the prominence given in our reading today to a little band of women. In Luke 24:10 we are told that Mary Magdalene, Joanna and Mary the mother of James and other women who were the first to go to the tomb and find it empty and have angels give the explanation “He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee. The angel basically quotes what Jesus had said in Luke 9:22. Notice the prominence given to this little band of women. It radiates with authenticity.