sermon

Rising above Tales!

Rev. Dr. John J. Lolla, Jr.

April 21, 2019

Text: Luke 24:13-14, O.T.: Isaiah 65:17-25, N.T.: Luke 24:1-12

                That first Easter morning, the 11 Apostles’ reaction to Mary Magedelene, Joanna, Jesus’ mother Mary’s was disbelief. The women reported Jesus’ resurrection. Jesus’ Apostles said they were fabricating a tale.

Later that day, on the Emmaus Road, two disciples were discussing the women’s report about Jesus rising from the dead. Luke’s Gospel gives us little description of their conversation in verse 14. But verses 22-25 suggest they still did not believe the women. They had no evidence to verify the women’s tale.

What is consistently stated in the Easter story is the reaction by Jesus’ remaining chosen 11 to His resurrection was utter disbelief.

The Gospel of John describes Thomas as a disbeliever.

Mark’s Gospel says the Apostles did not believe Mary Magdelene’s report of Jesus’ resurrection after she returned from the empty tomb. When two disciples returned from a walk in the country where they met the resurrected Jesus, the rest of the Apostles didn’t believe their story. Jesus scolded them for their lack of faith and stubbornness.

Matthew’s Gospel records the Apostles’ disbelief that Jesus was raised from the dead. It happens after the Apostles returned to Galilee from Jerusalem and literally saw the resurrected Jesus. Doubt is a universal reaction to Jesus’ resurrection that is not covered up by Christianity.

Christianity’s honesty about doubting Jesus’ resurrection is an inherent part of our faith. We recognize Jesus’ resurrection lies beyond the realm of reason. We know it’s difficult to accept. We admit that Easter seems to be an idle tale.

Disbelievers claim Easter is a legend that justifies the Christian myth about Jesus being God’s Son. This is especially a problem for scientific people.

In a world of scientific measurement, Jesus’ resurrection is not verifiable by ordinary standards. The resurrection can’t be measured, quantified, or repeated under clinical conditions. It’s impossible to have scientific certainty that it happened. No scientific experiment can replicate Jesus’ resurrection.

Neither can any of us go back and experience what the Apostles of Jesus experienced. Our claims about the resurrection are accepted by faith.

The Apostle Paul claims the resurrected Jesus can only be approached by faith – not by reason.

But saying Easter is only acceptable by faith does not dismiss Jesus’ resurrection.

Jesus Christ’s resurrection began a new literary genre within Judaism that’s called Christian hagiography. Hagiography is biographical writings about saints and church leaders who performed miracles.   Prior to Easter, Judaism had no writings that attributed to humans the power to perform miracles. The development of this unique form of writing inside Judaism has no reasonable explanation – other than something extraordinary happened to the doubting Apostles that led them to know Jesus is the Messiah.

Judaism may have had messianic pretenders.   But the Messiah from Old Testament prophetic writings was not a miracle worker. The Messiah is described as a political leader who casts out Judah’s oppressors.

Jewish Scriptures separated human abilities from God’s power. Israel’s kings were not miracle workers in the Jewish Scriptures. They were ordinary men who were chosen by God to lead His people.

Judaism attributes miracles to God alone. Jewish stories about miracles describe work only God performs. Judaism’s standard of measurement for miracles was history – the experience of the Jewish people with God’s activity on earth. Judaism’s integrity did not rely on tales to know God.

The Exodus, the crossing of the Red Sea, the fall of Jericho, miraculous victories against the Canaanites and the Philistines in times of war, were events in Jewish history. Jews knew they weren’t responsible for these miracles.

The record of these miraculous historical events forms the Jewish Scriptures. Judaism had much at stake in accurately describing events as God’s work. Their faith in one, benevolent God originated from the fact of these events. The accuracy of the stories was critical for Jewish faith.

The continuing Jewish experience with miraculous events verifies their faith in God’s benevolence today. The 1948 recreation of the State of Israel is another miracle for Jews. These amazing events were beyond human control.   Without them, Jews have no reason to believe there’s only one God who has chosen them to be His people. These miraculous events happened, so they believe in God.

Archaeologists have spent the last 200 years uncovering artifacts that verify events described in the Bible. Archaeological findings have uncovered more and more of the Bible’s historical roots.

People and places that skeptical scholars claimed were Jewish legends and tales are emerging as historical people and places.   Recently Bethlehem was verified by an archaeological find as existing during the time of King David.

The same is true with Christianity’s claims about Jesus’ resurrection.

In the last 25 years, an ossuary was discovered in Jerusalem with “Caiaphas” inscribed on it. An ossuary is a stone burial box. Another ossuary was discovered with the inscription “James, the son of Joseph, brother of Jesus.”

Both validate Christian Scriptures. Yet law suits debating their authenticity have been filed that has torn apart the world of biblical archaeology.

The result is even archaeology can only go so far to verify the Bible. Its evidence, like all scientific evidence, is disputable. Scientific debate can leave a reasonable person certain that factual evidence is no more than an idle tale.

But there are ways to have the certainty about Easter as the Apostles who experienced Jesus’ resurrection.

I.

First, the fact that the Apostles did NOT believe the women’s report is critical for us to know that Easter is not an idle tale. The skepticism reported in every Gospel about the Apostles means the Apostles were just has hard to convince that Jesus was resurrected as any of us living in an age of science.

The Apostles were trained as Jews to attribute the miraculous only to God. Their training led them to conclude the resurrection was an idle tale. Despite living with Jesus for three years and seeing Him raise Lazarus and Jairus’ daughter from the dead, they had no clue that He would be raised from the dead. They had no reason to believe from their experience with Jesus that He would raise Himself. In fact, He didn’t raise Himself. The Father raised the Son.

Further, what they saw Friday defied Jesus being alive. The execution Jesus underwent made it impossible for Him to walk. Jesus’ condition made breathing impossible for Him. The Apostles knew it was impossible for Jesus to be alive.

They were convinced the women were telling a tale.

Even after the Apostles saw Jesus, Matthew reports some of them still doubted what they had seen.

The honesty of the Gospel reports about the Apostles’ original disbelief is vital for understanding the magnitude of what they later did and what it means for our certainty about Easter. Their disbelief can’t explain how the Apostles became courageous proclaimers of Jesus’ resurrection. The Apostles later behavior indicates something incredible happened to change their minds.

II.

Second, the Book of Acts reports a development that is also described by other writers from the same era. Each of the Apostles, with the exception of John, was martyred because he claimed Jesus was raised from the dead.

Every Apostle but John died at the hands of disbelievers, although he too suffered for his claim about Jesus’ resurrection. The Book of Acts records James the brother of John is killed by Herod Agrippa. Stephen is martyred.

Beyond the Bible, other writers state Peter and Paul were martyred in Rome; Andrew and Luke the Evangelist died in Greece; Matthew the Evangelist in Ethiopia; Thomas in India; Simon the Zealot in Syria; Nathaniel in Armenia; Phillip died at Heriopolis, Turkey; Barnabas on Cyprus; Mark the Evangelist died in Alexandria, Egypt. Each of their martyrdoms was as horrible as Jesus’.

Every one of the Apostles and Evangelists could have recanted. They died in different locations at different times. Any of them could have renounced the story of Easter and none of the rest would have known. Each had been a doubter originally. Each had thought the Easter story was an idle tale.

Their martyrdoms say something quite different.

Their doubts had become certainty. They were so certain that Jesus was resurrected that they staked their lives upon that fact.

III.

Third, the Apostles were courageous despite the world’s disbelief. The Apostles fearlessness before horrible torture, suffering, ad death, is unexplainable without Jesus’ resurrection. The willingness of Jesus’ followers to submit to social degradation, hardship and mocking isn’t explainable without something incredible giving them confidence that what they were saying was the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help me God.

The training Jews were given by God’s directive in the Ten Commandments to tell the truth, prepared them to take this stand for Jesus. They had seen Him after His crucifixion. If they had denied it, they would have borne false witness before God.

The Biblical standard of evidence requires more than one witness to make a claim in a Jewish court.   It was met by the women and the men who testified in the court of public opinion that Jesus was raised from the dead.

Jesus’ resurrection rises above tales and legends. Jesus’ resurrection defies scientific explanation. Jesus’ resurrection rises above an imaginative story.

The resurrection’s indisputability lies in its rock-ribbed defense by the Apostles – mere mortals who at first, didn’t believe it was true.

They not only heard about the resurrection, they experienced Jesus’ appearance after death. Not once, but several times to remove all doubt. Jesus’ resurrection is the rock upon which they stood without one bit of disbelief.

Jesus’ resurrection is the rock upon which we stand. It is the foundation of our confidence in God’s power over death. It is the world’s only hope! Amen.

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