My Life Group lesson for March 27, 2016, using Lifeway's "Explore the Bible" commentary as a guide ...
What significant days in our lifetimes do you remember vividly?
Some might include the Challenger explosion in 1986, or the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2011.
Our parents and grandparents would remember include VE Day (May 8, 1945); John F. Kennedy’s assassination (Nov. 22, 1963);
Question - How many of you remember where you were when you received the news about one or more of these events?
Our Bible study today will focus on the greatest news of all, the most significant event in human history.
As we celebrate Easter today, we will look back at the events of that magnificent day, but we will also look into the present and celebrate the hope that we have because of Jesus Christ’s resurrection.
UNDERSTAND THE CONTEXT
Acts 2:14-46; Luke 23:1—24:51
*** We've spent the past few weeks studying the book of Acts, which is written by Luke (a companion of Paul). We discussed Jesus' ascension, Pentecost and the early church.
*** For Easter we'll look at Luke's Gospel, and the resurrection. It’s only the central focus of our entire salvation.
*** I know many of you have been going to church since birth, so you've heard and read about the resurrection quite a bit. But studying the Word and the context opens your eyes to new things every time.
AN EMPTY TOMB (Luke 24:1-3)
1 On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, they came to the tomb, bringing the spices they had prepared. 2 They found the stone rolled away from the tomb. 3 They went in but did not find the body of the Lord Jesus.
*** The women come for Jesus.
--- The first day of the week was Sunday. Jesus was crucified on Friday and buried that same day so that it would be done before the Sabbath (which was Saturday).
--- The women watched Jesus die on the cross, saw him carried away and buried. In their grief they wanted to add their spices as a gift of love.
--- It was the normal thing to do. But God had other plans. Instead they were the first to hear the news of His resurrection!
*** Who were the women present at the empty tomb?
--- Matthew 27:56 - Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of Zebedee’s sons.
--- Mark 16:1 – When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so they could go and anoint Him.
--- Luke 24:10 – Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them were telling the apostles these things.
--- John - Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. (v. 2 she says "we don't know where they put Him," so there were more.)
Mary Magdalene was from Magdala, a town on the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee. Mary became a follower of Jesus after He cast out seven demons that tormented her (Luke 8:2). Joanna was as “the wife of Chuza, Herod’s steward” (Luke 8:3). She was one of many Galilean followers who provided monetary and material support to Jesus during His ministry. The second Mary was the mother of James. Luke added that other women were also present.
*** The stone was rolled away.
--- Jews preferred burial above ground in caves or tombs cut of rock. The body would have been on a slab of rock. Stones were kept in front of the entrance to keep animals and scavengers away. (After deterioration, the bones would be collected and stored in an ossuary (a container often made of stone) elsewhere in the burial chamber.)
--- So picture the scene: It’s just before dawn, this group of women come to what is essentially a graveyard, and think they’re witnessing a crime. Somebody stole the body of Jesus!
--- This is a FACT. Once this became known, everyone conceded that yes, the tomb was empty. Jesus’ disciples would declare Jesus was resurrected, and the unbelieving religious authorities would claim His body was stolen (Matt. 28:13).
--- If the enemies of the church wanted to stop Christianity in its infancy, producing the body of Jesus was all that would have been necessary. They could not, and the empty tomb provided evidence to affirm the declaration of Peter and the early disciples.
*** Question - How would a news reporter have described the scene that morning? How might you have responded if you had read a news story about this event?
FULL DISCLOSURE (Luke 24:4-8)
4 While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men stood by them in dazzling clothes. 5 So the women were terrified and bowed down to the ground. “Why are you looking for the living among the dead?” asked the men. 6 “He is not here, but He has been resurrected! Remember how He spoke to you when He was still in Galilee, 7 saying, ‘The Son of Man must be betrayed into the hands of sinful men, be crucified, and rise on the third day’?” 8 And they remembered His words.
*** Angels among us.
--- While the women scratched their heads, suddenly there were two angels among them.
Angels are important messengers in Luke’s Gospel. They appeared to Zechariah and predicted the birth of John the Baptist (1:13) and to Mary concerning the birth of Jesus (1:35). Angels appeared to the shepherds to announce the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem (2:10).
--- The women needed divine revelation to understand the resurrection.
--- The women are afraid, as is everyone else in the Bible when angels appear.
But they had also been courageous. While the disciples were in hiding, the women didn't know what they'd see when they arrived, with soldiers supposed to be there, and how they would roll the stone away to anoint Jesus' body.
--- The angels make it clear when they ask “why are you looking for the living among the dead” that Jesus wasn’t dead.
--- They reminded the women that Jesus had predicted He would be delivered into the hands of sinful men (Luke 9:44), crucified (9:22), and would rise on the third day (9:22).
More and more, Jesus' followers came to see that He wasn't caught up in circumstances out of His control, but knew exactly what had to happen and submitted to God's plan for salvation.
--- It’s easy for us to be critical of the women and question why they didn’t remember or believe Jesus’ words concerning His resurrection. We are all guilty of forgetting (or ignoring) Jesus’ words to us.
The women came to the tomb with the task of anointing a decaying body, and they left praising God and telling others of the risen Savior.
*** Question - What would have frightened you most: the disrupted tomb, the men in white, or the missing body of Jesus?
COMPLETE AMAZEMENT (Luke 24:9-12)
9 Returning from the tomb, they reported all these things to the Eleven and to all the rest. 10 Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them were telling the apostles these things. 11 But these words seemed like nonsense to them, and they did not believe the women. 12 Peter, however, got up and ran to the tomb. When he stooped to look in, he saw only the linen cloths. So he went home, amazed at what had happened.
*** The women returned but were not believed at first.
--- It was now the apostles' turn to be amazed.
--- The women high-tailed it back to where the disciples had been staying to tell them the good news.
--- We think nothing today of the gender of these first witnesses. In the first century A.D., however, women were considered by some to be unreliable witnesses. The Bible contains no such prejudice against the reliable testimony of women. God’s Word honors them, and their testimony will always be remembered as the foundation for the proclamation of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
*** Jesus’ most intimate followers doubted.
--- There’s not a single “I told you so” from the bunch.
--- These guys had been with Jesus for three years, supposedly heard most of what He said, but still weren't anticipating the resurrection. None of the disciples or Jesus’ followers understood or believed the prophecies He made about His resurrection.
--- Doubts are often present in the lives of believers. We have to remember that we do not always understand God or what He is doing.
--- Like the man in Mark 9:24, it is okay to cry out, “I do believe! Help my unbelief.”
*** Peter: The ancient Usain Bolt.
--- Peter sprinted like an Olympic champion to the tomb, where he saw the cloths folded neatly on the rock slab.
--- Three days earlier Peter denied being a disciple of Christ. But 50 days after the resurrection, Peter would stand before the crowds in Jerusalem and proclaim Jesus had risen from the dead. (Acts 2:14-36)
--- Jesus commended those who would believe in the resurrection by faith in the testimony of others (John 20:29). More than 3,000 people believed based on Peter’s testimony at Pentecost, and they became the first of multitudes who have believed that Jesus died for their sins, was buried, and rose again on the third day.
*** Question - How did the empty tomb change the lives of the people present that Sunday? How should our lives similarly change as believers?
The resurrection isn't just a tacked-on feel-good ending to the story of Jesus, like movie directors do for bigger audiences.
The story is the same as all four Gospels share four core evidence of the resurrection: 1) The empty tomb; 2) Angelic messengers; 3) Women as the first witnesses; 4) Unbelief of the apostles.
The central focus of the story remains the same. Romans 10:9-10 makes it clear that to be saved you have to believe in your heart that God raised Jesus from the dead, and confess it with your mouth.
We as Christians are all witnesses of Jesus’ saving grace through His work on the cross that day.
Salvation is offered freely to all who accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour, in whom we are redeemed.
*** Believers today are faced with similar decisions as those in the early church. How do you respond when you hear that Jesus lives?
*** The responsibility and privilege of every believer who has received Jesus Christ as Savior is to tell others.
*** As C. S. Lewis famously argued, a person can either respond by declaring that Jesus is a liar, a lunatic, or the Lord of the universe. If Jesus rose from the dead, it changes everything, including the purpose and trajectory of your life. Moreover, the church exists to point people to the Risen Jesus who is Lord over all.