40 Days of Easter – Week 1

Empty-TombWeek 1:  Reality of the Resurrection 

Do you know what the top two holidays are in America? If the money that we spend is an indicator of the level at which we celebrate, our top two holidays are Christmas and Halloween! Something is not right about that.

I’m convinced that Easter doesn’t get the emphasis that it deserves. Christmas gets the 4 weeks of Advent leading up to it, and then 12 days with golden rings and lords a leapin. Lent gets 40 days for self-denial. Even Memorial Day and Labor Day get a long weekend! Yet we just take one Sunday to celebrate the power of a man who conquered death for all who will believe in Him? Over the next 8 weeks you can find a study right here on this website that includes a devotional, scripture readings and some vintage poetry.  Why not gather with a friend or two and go over this study together?  After all, Easter is our greatest day!

“Easter is about the wild delight of God’s creative power. . . at least we ought to shout Alleluias instead of murmuring them; we should light every candle in the building instead of only some; we should give every man, woman, child, cat and mouse in the place a candle to hold; we should have a real bonfire; and we should splash water about as we renew our baptism vows. It’s about the real Jesus coming out of the real tomb and getting God’s real new creation under way.                                                                                     

. . .Easter week itself ought not to be the time when all the clergy sigh with relief and go on holiday. It ought to be an eight day festival, with lots of alleluias and extra hymns and spectacular anthems. Is it any wonder people find it hard to believe in the resurrection of Jesus if we don’t throw our hats in the air? Is it any wonder we find it hard to live the resurrection if we don’t do it exuberantly in our liturgies? Is it any wonder the world doesn’t take much notice if Easter is celebrated as simply the one-day happy ending tacked on to forty days of fasting and gloom? It’s long overdue that we took a hard look at how we keep Easter in Church, at home, in our personal lives, right through the system.

. . .This is our greatest day. We should put the flags out.”

N.T. Wright: Surprised By Hope

Instead of emphasis, Easter has gotten a whole lot of explanation. It seems that from the first century to the present man has been doing intellectual cartwheels to explain (or explain away) Christ’s resurrection. What we can’t explain, we can’t contain. And therefore we are not in control. Here are some of the best human explanations of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

#1 Jesus didn’t die. He was drugged so that it just looked like He died. When His body was placed in the cool tomb, He came out of His stupor and appeared to have been raised.

Really? (As you read that word, say it to yourself with an incredulous draw.)

Rome was really good at killing people. They were the experts. And do you really believe that the disciples could be fooled by a beaten up, drugged up Messiah? And what about the sealed stone and Roman guards?

#2 Christ’s followers encountered someone else that looked like Jesus; maybe His half-brother James.

Really? (A little bit of a sarcastic tone works well too.)

Christ’s followers remained convinced that this imposter was Jesus for the whole 40 days? Nada.

#3 Christ only appeared to people that really loved Him. They just wanted Him to be alive. It was wishful thinking.

Really? (It helps if you press your lips together, lower your eyebrows and squint your eyes.)

What about Thomas? And then later, what about Saul who would become Paul? We all know about Thomas’ doubt and Saul was focused on killing Christians! Wishful thinking? Give me a break!

#4 What Christ’s followers saw was a vision of a past loved one. Many people see ghosts or spirits of people that they loved.

Really? (You are really getting the hang of this!)

The early followers of Jesus had language for seeing a ghost. Remember what they said when Jesus walked out to them on the water? Their response to seeing Jesus was not “We have seen a ghost.” It was “We have seen Jesus and He is risen from the dead!” That’s pretty clear.

#5 The disciples stole Jesus body and made the whole resurrection thing up.

Really? (This time add a great big “O come on!”)

First of all, how do you explain that the linen His body was wrapped in was still in the tomb? Did one of the disciples offer this idea before they took Him: “Hey, we should carry Him naked.” That’s not going to happen. And secondly, do you really believe that those eleven men could keep their story together for the rest of their lives?

If Jesus isn’t alive, how do you explain that there is no celebrated tomb?

If Jesus isn’t alive, how do you explain the sudden willingness to worship on the first day of the week? That was a work day for them. They got together to worship on Sunday before work in      the 1st century!

If Jesus isn’t alive, how do you explain that his followers were willing (and still are) to go to their death out of allegiance to this Man?

He is risen!

    He is risen indeed!

He is risen!

   He is risen indeed!

He is risen!

  He is risen indeed!

He not only has risen, He is the firstborn from the dead. Colossians 1:18: “And he (Jesus) is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have supremacy.”

Firstborn from among the dead, wait a minute. There were all kinds of people raised from the dead in the Bible: Both Elijah and Elisha raised someone, there’s the daughter of Jairus, the widow of Nain’s son and of course Lazarus. How can Jesus be the firstborn from among the dead?

Here’s the difference. They all died again! Jesus hasn’t and won’t. He died, descended into hell. Got the t-shirt and the keys from the devil, and now is alive forevermore. He has unlocked the dominion of death for all who love him. Notice, He is the firstborn, not the onlyborn from among the dead. There are more to come! Because He conquered death, we can too!

So we have a message to the Muslim soldier who believes he can sacrifice his life for the cause, go straight to heaven and be in the company of 40 virgins.

We have a message to the Hindu student who lives her life managing karma in hope of advancing just one stage in the next life.

We have a message for the Buddhist mother who hopes to lose her identity in the formless great beyond like a drop of water in the ocean.

We have a message for the secular humanist businessman who believes “ashes to ashes, dust to dust.” Period. It is over when it is over.

We have a message for the new age university professor who believes that when we die we are in the sun, in the wind and in the rain.

And we have a message for crazy American Christians who still don’t get it. You don’t need to put trinkets into the coffin of your loved ones. They won’t need their false teeth or spare glasses. I read that one grieving widow put two cans of the spray adhesive that her husband needed to secure his toupee into his coffin before his cremation. . .

Did you read that? Cans of adhesive spray. . .Before his cremation. . .

Apparently, the explosion bent the furnace door!

We have a message and it is important for us to hit the bulls-eye of that message. Here again are some words by N.T. Wright:

“Despite a thousand Easter Hymns and a million Easter sermons, the resurrection narratives in the gospels never, ever say anything like, ‘Jesus is raised therefore there is life after death,’ let alone, ‘Jesus is raised therefore we shall go to heaven when we die.’ Not even, in a more authentic first-century Christian way, do they say, ‘Jesus is raised, therefore we shall be raised from the dead after the sleep of death.’ No. Insofar as the event is interpreted, Easter has a very this-worldly, present age meaning: Jesus is raised, so he is the Messiah, and therefore he is the world’s true Lord; Jesus is raised so God’s new creation has begun—and we, his followers, have a job to do! Jesus is raised, so we must act as his heralds, announcing his lordship to the entire world, making his kingdom come on earth as in heaven.”

If we get the message right, we will get the right outcome. Look at the change in the lives of Christ’s followers after the 40 days between Christ’s resurrection and His ascension.

“While he was blessing them,

he left them and was taken up into heaven.

Then they worshipped him and

returned to Jerusalem with great joy.

And they stayed continually at the temple,

praising God.” Luke 24:51-53

The 40 days began with confusion, offense, doubt and despair. But it ended with worship, joy and praise. This is what the resurrection of Jesus can do for you.

Bible Study

As you study the following passages, keep your pen handy. Ask the Lord to speak to you while you read. Think about how the Lord wants to minister to you, and then think about how He wants to minister through you. Be creative. Write a song based on the scripture.

Matthew 28     Mark 16     Luke 24     Acts 1

Vintage Poetry – “One Day” – Wilbur Chapman 1908

V. 1  One day when heaven was filled with His praises,

One day when sin was as black as could be,

Jesus came forth to be born of a virgin—

Dwelt amongst men, my example is He!

(chorus)

Living He loved me; dying He saved me;

Buried He carried my sins far away!

Rising He justified freely forever;

One day He’s coming—Oh, glorious day!

V. 2  One day they led Him up Calvary’s mountain,

One day they nailed Him to die on the tree;

Suffering anguish, despised and rejected;

Bearing our sins, my Redeemer is He!

V. 3  One day they left Him alone in the garden,

One day He rested from suffering free;

Angels came down o’er His tomb to keep vigil;

Hope of the hopeless, my Savior is He!

V. 4  One day the grave could conceal Him no longer,

One day the stone rolled away from the door;

Then He arose, over death He had conquered;

Now is ascended, my Lord evermore!

V. 5  One day the trumpet will sound for His coming,

One day the skies with His glories will shine;

Wonderful day, my beloved ones bringing;

Glorious Savior, this Jesus is mine!

(chorus)  Living He loved me; dying He saved me;

Buried He carried my sins far away!

Rising He justified freely forever;

One day He’s coming—Oh, glorious day!

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About Rich Stevenson

Rich is the Executive Director of The Malachi Network (www.malachinetwork.org), a ministry focused on making the name of the LORD great among the nations. This network serves young leaders in missions and church planting. Prior to his present ministry, Rich pastored in Southern New Jersey, planted a church in Wilmore, KY, established a network of churches, served as an adjunct professor at Asbury College and was a senior leader at The International House of Prayer in Kansas City, MO as well as The International House of Prayer in Atlanta, GA. Rich is the author of two books: Secrets of the Spiritual Life—10 Lessons from the One Thing Passages (Baker Books, 2003) A Voice from Home—The Words You Long to Hear from Your Father (WaterBrook Press, 2005) He graduated from Asbury College in 1984 with a BA degree in Philosophy of Religion and Asbury Theological Seminary in 1987 with a Master of Divinity degree. In 2010, Rich received an honorary Doctor of Divinity degree from Union Biblical Seminary in Yangon, Myanmar. Rich has been married to Tania since 1982 and they have been blessed by amazing children: Zachary and his wife Meghan, Jacob and his wife Lena, Jessica and Corrie Emma.
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