Thursday 9 August

Sam Allberry is speaking at the New Horizon evening celebrations from Monday to Thursday this week. Sam is a pastor and writer based in Maidenhead, UK, and a global speaker for Ravi Zacharias International Ministries. He is an editor and a writer for The Gospel Coalition and the author of a number books including Why Bother with Church? and the bestselling Is God Anti-Gay?  Here is a summary of his message from Thursday evening.

Reading from Mark 16: 1- 8

Around 2,000 years ago, the Romans killed the leader of a popular Jewish movement. He was believed by some to be the long-awaited Messiah . He had a significant following. He died in 135AD. His was a huge movement and yet today he is pretty much unknown. His name was Ben Kosiba.

In the centuries before that, the Romans excuted another Jewish leader. And His name you have heard of. What began as a very small movement in an obscure part of the Roman empire spread across that whole empire until his symbol was inscribed on the shields of the empire. Given that there were dozens of other leaders, why have we heard of this one leader?

The answer is: RESURRECTION. The conviction of those who followed Jesus at the time and of those who follow Him now is that we are not following a dead leader but a risen Saviour!. Yes, He really did die.   And, yes, He really did rise from the dead. He is alive today and we really can know Him.  As we come to this account, I want us to look at two questions.

Did it actually happen?

This question is vital. If Jesus was not raised, it is not the case that we have a detail of history a bit wrong. If Jesus was not raised, then go home and forget the whole thing. If He did not rise from the dead, we don’t need to adjust our faith, we need to abandon it.

1 Corinthians 15:14  – our preaching is in vain and your faith is futile.

It is possible to believe something sincerely that is utterly pointless. If Jesus is not alive, ours is futile faith and our sins cannot be forgive.

Are we the most pathetic group of people in society? If Jesus is still lying in a grave outside of Jerusalem, then the answer to that question is “Yes”… but if He has been raised…

Mark presents us with three significant evidences for the resurrection of Jesus.

The empty tomb

V1 The women were on the way to anoint the body. They were headed there early on the Sunday morning. I’m sure they were experiencing deep emotions. There would have been enormous grief.  We also see that they had some concern, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” These stones that were rolled in front of tombs were pretty big.

As they arrive, they are hit with a succession of surprises: Firstly, the stone is not there. That is a good surprise but it is also unsettling. Why has the stone been moved? The second surprise is v5 – they saw a young man sitting in the tomb. We know from the other accounts that this is an angel. That is going to freak you out!

He says, “Do not be alarmed.” And then says something very alarming. “Jesus has risen. He is not here!” It is early in the morning. Their heads must have been spinning. This is overwhelming.

But they are given an instruction. See the place where they laid Him. You need to look and see that the body of Jesus is no longer here. The angel had rolled away the stone, not to let Jesus out but to show them that the tomb is empty.

There is an empty tomb. It is a fact of history and we need to look at it. The women had seen where Jesus was laid. They had the right tomb. The body had not been stolen. If the Roman or Jewish authorities knew where the body was, they would have been delighted to produce it. The tomb it empty because Jesus is risen. There is no other compelling explanation. How else do you account for the empty tomb?

The witnesses

The first people to hear news of the resurrection are these three ladies (Mark names them). These were eye witness accounts and Mark tells people clearly who it was who had witnessed these events. These ladies had watched when Jesus died. They saw Him put into the tomb and they were here at the resurrection. The fact that they were women is massive. Women were held in low regard at this time. In Greek, Jewish or Roman courts the testimony of a woman didn’t count. It was not admissible.

One writer said that the most compelling argument against Christianity was that the witnesses were women.

But if Mark, and the other Gospel writers, were making this up, they would not have put women as the first witnesses, unless this is how it happened.

It was unexpected

No one was expecting Jesus to rise again even though Jesus had predicted it. They either had not understood Him, hadn’t heard it or just didn’t believe it. These women were expecting to anoint a body.

And think about the other disciples. Where were they? They were not outside the tomb waiting for Jesus to emerge with party poppers and a welcome back banner. Not a single one of them thought about His words. They were hiding in a locked room terrified of the authorities.

For them, Jesus’ death had been game over.  No one in the first century was pre-disposed to seeing people coming back from the dead. They did not believe in resurrections. You don’t have to have modern insight to know that dead people stay dead. The resurrection wasn’t made up. None of them thought this was going to happen. But it did!

The message of Christianity is so counter-intuitive. I spent some time living in America and I had to get used to driving on the wrong side of the road. Every time I turned around a corner or needed to make a signal, I put the wipers on.

The Gospel seems the wrong way round. In fact, what happens to the disciples is one of the most compelling evidences for the resurrection. This terrified group of people was transformed. Peter who had denied Jesus to a servant girl, a few weeks later was preaching boldly to the very people who had called for Jesus to be killed. They really did believe that Jesus was alive.

Does it matter?

Lots of odd things have happened in history. If Jesus did rise from the dead, what difference does it make?   The resurrection of Jesus gives us two things: forgiveness and a future.

Forgiveness

“Go tell His disciples and Peter that He is going before them to Galilee.” Tell them that this has happened and tell them to meet up in Galilee.  These disciples had not been doing well.  They didn’t really believe Jesus. They got the wrong end of every stick that was going. They were also the same ones who had deserted Him. The moment things started getting tense, they fled. Peter flatly denied Jesus three times. Every one of them had failed as disciples of Jesus.

And yet the invitation is to come and join Him. The message to these failed disciples is not that they have to grovel, and if they are very lucky, Jesus might just let one of them carry His bags. No, the disciples, these failures, are invited to come and re-join Jesus.

Peter is mentioned by name. His had been the biggest screw up.  You can imagine if Peter had not been named, he would have thought, it must mean the others, not me. The message is that Peter is still a disciple. That is a real word of grace.

What we find when we come back to Jesus is restoration and forgiveness. We have all failed Jesus and yet all of us have forgiveness extended to us. None of us have been the people God made us to be or the disciples He called us to be.

The message of the resurrection is that because Jesus died and rose again, even the biggest of failures are invited back.

Even the worst kind of failure is forgive because Jesus died and rose. We can come back to Him. This message changed the world.

Whatever the dimensions of the mess in your life, however great the sin is and has been, your sin is not bigger than Jesus’ grace.

His resurrection means that you are exactly the kind of person He wants on His team.

A Future

There is a future for those who follow Jesus. Galilee had special significance. It wasn’t just about going back to Galilee to reminisce about the early days. There was a particular promise that had been made.

At the beginning of Isaiah 9, we hear the promise of a child that was going to usher in the God’s kingdom. This is going to be an invasion of light and life and peace. This kingdom is going to be for the nations and He is going to use His disciples to share the news. Jesus has risen, so the immediate future is MISSION. As forgiven and restored disciples, Jesus wants us to join His project. Jesus gives us (idiots) the dignity of being involved in His work.

The new thing that God has done for Jesus’ physical body, the resurrection, is the great signpost to the what the future ultimately holds for all of us who follow Jesus. We believe that Jesus rose again and we believe in the resurrection of the dead because of Jesus’ resurrection. This broken world is not the only physical world we are going to experience. Your broken body is not the only body you are going to experience. The resurrection releases us from having to live for this world.

I read an article about “Instagram Envy” – the nature of social media is that you tend to share the best moments. The cumulative effect of seeing these constant highlights is to make people feel inadequate and insecure (Fear of Missing Out). The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the answer and antidote to FOMO. It releases us from the pressure to experience everything on earth. You don’t need a bucket list. You don’t need books of things to see before you die. Because death is not going to be the end. Your future is not some random floating experience on a cloud wearing a nightie.

Our citizenship is in heaven. We are waiting for Him to transform our lowly bodies to be like His glorious body.  Death is not the end.

George Herbert said, “Death used to be an executioner but the resurrection has made him just a gardener.  The resurrection of Jesus means you don’t bury a Christian, you just plant them!”

Did it happen? Absolutely! You cannot account for everything that has happened since other than the face of the empty tomb and a risen Saviour.

Does it matter? More than anything else! We have forgiveness and a future for us now and into eternity. That is why people haven’t heard of Ben Kosiba and even those who don’t believe in Him have heard of Jesus Christ.