Jesus: Properly Dead. Properly Alive Again.

Why Jesus is My Hero #22 of 52

I’m on camp this week, so I don’t have time to write a proper blog post. Here’s a copy and paste job of the talk I’m doing tonight.

How can we know that what Jesus said is true? How can we know that his life wasn’t just a waste?

Jesus makes some pretty big claims:

  • He’s said that we’ve all turned away from our heavenly Father and said to God “I wish you were dead”
  • And what could be bigger than his claim to be God? HUGE
  • And we saw this morning about how Jesus can forgive our sins – that we can have a restored relationship with God by trusting in the cross – that the no entry sign is torn in two

And I wonder how all that leaves you feeling about Jesus? Maybe you’re a bit doubtful – it sounds like a lot of big talk about some guy who lived a long time ago a long way away.

  • It really matters whether this is real or whether this is just make-believe, and perhaps to you right now it feels like it’s all just make believe?
  • If he died, how do we know his claims are true? How can we trust anything he said?
  • Maybe he was just a weak silly man who died on a cross

Well this evening I want to introduce someone who can help us answer all this. Let me introduce you to Mary from that passage we’ve just read – she’s a close friend of Jesus

  • She’d heard Jesus making these incredible claims up close
  • She’d really started to pin her hopes on him – he holds out the offer of restoring her broken relationship with God

And yet have a look down at v11: v11 “Mary stood outside the tomb crying.”

  • When we meet Mary, she’s in floods of tears

What’s gone wrong? Why is she crying?

  • Well, it’s been a traumatic weekend for Mary
  • She’s seen her dear friend Jesus – the one she’s invested so much of her hope in – she’s watched him be executed on a Roman cross and his body laid to rest in a cold tomb, and a great big stone rolled across the entrance.
  • He’d done and promised so many amazing things that it really seemed like he was God come to Earth. And now he was gone, just like any normal human being.
  • No doubt about it: Jesus was definitely dead.

Mary went to the tomb that day to try and pour special burial oils on Jesus’ body, but when she got there she didn’t find what she expected at all. Mary discovered that day three surprising facts.

  1. The Tomb Was Empty
  • Mary had seen Jesus buried, she knew which tomb she should go to
  • And now when she shows up at the tomb on the Sunday morning, the huge stone has somehow been rolled away, and the body is gone. Jesus’ body isn’t there.

An already traumatic weekend just became even more emotional for Mary, so we can hardly blame her for weeping outside the tomb. Where has the body gone?

Well Mary wasn’t alone outside the tomb. Have a look with me at v11:

“As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.” – you know something pretty unusual is going on when you meet two angels!

It carries on, “They asked her, ‘Woman, why are you crying?’ ‘They have taken my Lord away,’ she said, ‘and I don’t know where the have put him.”

And then she meets a third man who she doesn’t immediately recognise.

Read with me from v15: “‘Woman’, he said, ‘why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?’ Thinking he was the gardener, she said, ‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.'”

Poor Mary – she’s clearly utterly overwhelmed with grief at this point. “I’ll go and fetch him” she says – You can just picture this image of her going and finding Jesus’ body and trying to pick it up and carry it all by herself – she’s utterly overcome with grief because Jesus’ body is missing, the tomb is empty.

But then the gardener speaks one word which changes everything forever:

v16 “Jesus said to her, ‘Mary.'”

  • Suddenly there is instant recognition – this is no gardener, this is Jesus, her friend Jesus who was dead is now alive again and standing before her, talking to her.

And that’s the second surprising fact that Mary discovered that day:

  1. Jesus Was Alive Again

Her friend Jesus is standing in front of her alive and well.

  • She turns towards him and cries out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” which means Teacher.
  • From Jesus’ words in v17, it seems she throws her arms around him and clings on to him as though she never wants to let go ever again.

Just as Jesus was definitely dead a few hours previously, now he is definitely alive again

  • As Mary puts it in v18, as she runs off to tell the disciples the good news: “I have seen the Lord!” She’s seen it with her own eyes

There’s no doubt that a miracle has taken place unlike anything that’s been seen before:

  • Even in the unlikely event that Jesus had somehow managed to cling on to life after being crucified and having a spear thrust into his side, he’d not have had an ounce of strength left in him
  • Who knows how on earth he’d have managed to roll away the huge boulder blocking the mouth of the tomb – and bear in mind that by this point he’d not have eaten a thing since the Thursday night
  • But when he appears, there’s something glorious and powerful about this risen Jesus that people find utterly compelling and awe-inspiring. This isn’t some bruised and battered man who’s just crawled out from a grave where he’s wrongly been buried alive. 

No, Jesus was definitely dead – too many people saw that and testified to that for there to be any doubt.

And now Jesus is definitely alive again.

* He is risen – resurrected.

And this isn’t just some fairy story or a metaphor. The people writing this down for us want us to understand this as historical fact – something that really happened

  • Like we heard in the interview, he was seen by many many people after his resurrection
  • There were too many of them to just be imagining it. And it wasn’t just wishful thinking – Mary and the disciples were as sceptical as anybody
  • The man Jesus who lived in human history was definitely dead, and the many, many eye witnesses assure us that a few days later he was definitely alive again.

  • This is utterly unique
  • There’s never been anything like it either before or since
  • A few people claim to have had near-death experiences – but they all died eventually
  • Jesus’ resurrection was unlike anything else – it’s way more significant than the Pirates of the Caribbean and their Fountain of Youth – Jesus didn’t just get an extra 50 years added to his life:
  • Jesus defeated death – he rose from the dead, never to die again

We know all too well that dead people don’t come back to life

  • That’s what makes death so painful – its permanence
  • And for every other religion in the world, the person who founded it has long since passed away
  • A Muslim can’t have a relationship with Muhammed – he’s dead
  • A Buddhist can’t have a relationship with Bhudda – he’s dead
  • The fact that Mary met Jesus alive again, risen from the dead – it sets him completely apart from everyone else – he’s in another league altogether. He’s unlike anyone who’s ever come before or since
  • All the facts, all the eye witnesses, point to the fact that Jesus is alive – death was not the end for Jesus. He’s not dead – he’s ALIVE

And if this is true, then it’s a fact that has profound implications

The fact that dead people don’t come alive again is precisely what makes Jesus’ resurrection so important:

3. Jesus Is Everything He Says He Is – that’s the final thing Mary discovered that day

Jesus defeated death and proved that everything he said about himself was true.

[Illustration: Captain Barbosa actor in another film, Shine, about pianist who has a mental breakdown.

Looks all shabby in his raincoat, muttering under his breath, cigarette hanging from his mouth.

Fantastic scene where he wanders into a posh restaurant clutching piles of sheet music, sits down at the piano – says he knows how to play. Everything laughs – he’s clearly mentally ill, looks like a weak silly man.

Then he breaks out into this amazing virtuoso performance of the Flight of the Bumblebee, hands running up and down the keys, an incredible performance – and everyone is utterly speechless, jaws hanging open. He’s everything he said he was – nobody could believe it until they saw it with their own eyes.]

It means his death on the cross really was enough for us to be forgiven.

  • Look down at v17 again, and see how Jesus calls the disciples now his “brothers”: “Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am returning to my Father and your Father.'”
  • Jesus’ death has broken down the barriers between them and God now, so now they have the amazing privilege of being able to call God their Father. “my Father and YOUR Father.” – we can be accepted because he was rejected
  • They’re Jesus’ brothers now.

Do you see how incredible this is?

  • If we trust in him, we don’t need to fear being shut out from the presence of God like we deserve for turning our backs on God.
  • It means we can be friends with our Father again because of what Jesus has done

It doesn’t mean we won’t still die one day.

  • But Jesus’ resurrection means we can know for certain that the cross worked – the no entry sign is gone
  • It’s not all make believe after all – we can be with God

What could be more wonderful news than that? There’s hope even in the face of death!

This is the most amazing moment in history, that proves that sinners like the disciples, like you and me, can be brought into God’s family.

Do you see that Jesus’ death and resurrection means that we can be part of God’s family now?

  • What an amazing promise, and one that we can be absolutely confident of

So how can we know that what Jesus said is true? How can we know that his life wasn’t just a waste?

  • Jesus was really dead, and now Jesus is really alive – nothing can stand in his way.
  • Jesus is Everything he says he is

Telling It Like It Is

Why Jesus is My Hero #21

It takes a certain amount of guts to face up to the truth sometimes, and especially to say it to people’s faces when you know it’s not what they want to hear. When I look at the person of Jesus, it’s often his straight talking honesty that attracts me to him – and it’s certainly one of the things that made the authorities hate him more than anything else.

Take Mark chapter 7, for instance. Jesus is in a dispute with the Pharisees, who are feeling all smug and morally superior because they’ve spotted that Jesus’ disciples were eating without properly washing their hands, according to their customs – they were defiled! Like he so often did, Jesus completely turns their complaint on its head and uses it to show the Pharisees how it’s actually they who are defiled, and not just superficially in the way they meant it, but deep down on the inside, rotten to the core. Their strict adherence to all of these customs and traditions, though in the guise of seeking to honour God, was actually a sign of how far they were from God:

“‘Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written,
“This people honours me with their lips,
but their heart is far from me;
in vain do they worship me,
teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.”
You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.'”
(Mark 7:6-8)

By taking their human tradition (which is all the thing about hand washing ever was) and elevating it to the standard of a commandment of God, they were actually putting themselves in the place of God and showing just how little they knew of him. In fact, the situation was so bad that they would sometimes use their own traditions as an excuse for not obeying genuine commandments of God: take, for example, their tradition of “Corban” – the idea of dedicating their resources to God, even if that meant failing in their financial responsibilities towards their parents. It looks so very godly and holy on the outside (“I’m fulling devoted to God!”) and yet it simply wasn’t what God wanted from them (which was to get on and honour their parents).

No holds barred, Jesus then lets loose on the Pharisees with both barrels:

“Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him, since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled? (Thus he declared all foods clean.) And he said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”

The food we eat and the things we touch can’t truly defile us – Jesus rather graphically explains how they ultimately pass straight through and, literally translated, into the latrine. Nice. We don’t need external influences to make us ungodly – it’s all right there in our hearts already. The filth that comes out shows that it’s our hearts themselves that are like latrines – all the gross, ugly stuff like our pride and our lying lips and our sexually impure thoughts, that’s what defiles us, and no quick wash of the hands before dinner is going to sort out a mess like that. We need a saviour.

Most people would prefer to suppress a truth like that. It’s far easier and nicer to pretend that we’re all lovely and fine and get on with washing our hands and pretending that that made us terribly godly and righteous before God. But Jesus is gutsy enough to tell the truth, even though it hardly makes him popular with the Pharisees.

A few verses later he does it again: he calls a seemingly fairly godly Syro-phoenician woman a dog – not a very pleasant derogatory term for a Gentile. But with the eyes of faith that woman agrees with Jesus and owns the label: she recognises that as a Gentile she is owed nothing by God – she’s not even worthy to gather up the crumbs from under God’s table. But she knows that it’s worth doing anything she can to get those little scraps of grace from off the floor, if Jesus is willing – and in so doing she discovers the wonders of God’s grace. We have no rights when it comes to expecting good things from God – what could we possibly offer him when our hearts are like latrines pumping out filth? Yet if we accept that fact – if we own up to being dogs, utterly on the outside and deserving nothing – then we are in the perfect place to find God’s grace.

Admitting the truth can be painful. Speaking the truth can make you unpopular. But it’s absolutely the only starting point if you want to discover the riches of relationship with God. That’s why Jesus is my hero.

Praying Through the Lord’s Prayer With PrayerMate

There are many different schemes people find helpful for organising their daily prayer times: perhaps you’ve heard of STOP: Sorry, Thankyou, Others, Please; or maybe you prefer ACTS: Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication. But at the end of the day, what could be a better way to pray than to use the prayer that Jesus himself taught us – the Lord’s prayer? As Luke 11:2-4 has it:

hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.
Give us each day our daily bread,
and forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us.
And lead us not into temptation.”

This is a great outline for our prayer time, and it really helps line up our priorities with God’s priorities: notice how out of six lines, the full first half are focussed entirely on God, before it turns to us and our needs.

  1. Father – perhaps the most exciting line of the whole prayer, it begins with a reminder of who we’re praying to, and how we are to relate to him. He’s not some distant God begrudgingly listening to our prayers; we don’t have to try and twist his arm to make him grant our petitions. He’s our loving heavenly Father who delights to hear from his children – what a privilege it is to pray to him!
  2. Hallowed be your name – the whole purpose of our prayers and our lives is to bring glory to God’s name, to see him honoured and recognised for who he is. It’s a great rebuke to us when we’re caught up in our own little worlds with our own concerns – it’s not really about us at all. What a fantastic reminder to lift our eyes to the bigger reason behind it all.
  3. Your kingdom come – our greatest desire should be to see God’s rule established as people come to acknowledge him as their king and increasingly give their lives over to him. As we pray for his kingdom to come, we’re asking that he is honoured both in our own lives and in the lives of those around us.
  4. Give us each day our daily bread – as we ask God to provide our daily bread, we’re reminded that we depend on him for all our needs. It’s easy to take it for granted that there’ll be food on our table each day, but the truth is that without God sustaining us and protecting us day by day and even hour by hour, we’d have nothing. It’s only right that we should acknowledge this before God.
  5. Forgive us our sins – it’s vitally important in the battle against sin that we make a point of confessing our failings before God on a regular basis. Confession helps us to realign our radar – training our hearts to hate our sin instead of harbouring it and allowing it to take root. Jesus also encourages us to think about ways in which we need to forgive others, expressing our thankfulness for the way God has forgiven us.
  6. Lead us not into temptation – if we’re to have any hope in the battle against sin, we need God’s help. If God wasn’t working behind the scenes to keep us out of the way of temptation, who knows how much worse off we would be? It shames me to think of many examples of times when I’ve sinfully set my heart to do something I know I shouldn’t, only to be prevented from carrying out the act by God’s providential arrangement of circumstances. I imagine that there are many more examples of times when I’ve not even been aware of God working to lead me out of temptation’s way.

If you’re a user of my PrayerMate prayer app for the iPhone or iPod touch, you could easily set it up to help you shape your prayers around the Lord’s prayer each day. Here’s one way you might do it:

  1. Create a new “Lord’s Prayer” category – under the settings menu, hit “Add Category” and name it “The Lord’s Prayer”
  2. Show six items per session – under the settings page for your new category, set the “Items per session” slider to six, so that each day you will see each of the main elements of the prayer.
  3. Enter each line as a separate subject – you can now enter each line of the prayer as a separate subject under your new “Lord’s Prayer” category. So you would have one subject titled “Father”, perhaps with a few details to remind you what it’s all about, such as “Praise God that he allows us to call him Father. Thank him for the privilege of being his child.”; you would then have another subject titled “Hallowed be your name”, with the details outlining some of the implications of this; then another subject titled “Your kingdom come”, and so on.
  4. Make sure this categories will show up each day – if you want to prayer through all six lines of the prayer, you’ll need to make sure that either a) you’ve turned the global item limit OFF (under the ‘Advanced Settings’ page) so that every category always appears each day, or b) you’ve “pinned” your new “Lord’s Prayer” category, telling PrayerMate that you want it to prioritise items from this category, even if there are items you prayed for less recently in other categories.

You could just as easily set up PrayerMate to use the STOP or ACTS prayer schemes as well.


If you give this a try, do use the ‘feedback’ button within PrayerMate to let me know how you get on!

The Peoples Plot In Vain

Why Jesus is My Hero #20 of 52

Raging Bull

As a Christian, it’s easy to feel as though you’re part of the ridiculed minority. It doesn’t require much ingenuity to mock the gospel, and many people love to make the most of the opportunity.

This has always been the experience of Christians. It started with the crucifixion of Jesus himself, and his early disciples didn’t have it any better in the book of Acts. But those early Christians had a confidence that enabled them to keep speaking openly about Jesus even when it landed them in prison. An early episode in the book of Acts, in chapter 4:25-26, shows them quoting from Psalm 2:

“Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain?
The kings of the earth set themselves,

and the rulers take counsel together,
against the Lord and against his anointed, saying,
‘Let us burst their bonds apart
and cast away their cords from us.'”

Jesus is the Lord’s “Anointed one” – the Messiah, God’s king. And people hate that – they hate the fact that he has the right to tell them how to act and how to think. It goes completely against the grain of our society – “nobody tells me what to do!” And so they killed Jesus, and they arrested his disciples, and still today they persecute Christians who dare to call people to follow Him.

But what is God’s response?

“He who sits in the heavens laughs;
the Lord holds them in derision.
Then he will speak to them in his wrath,
and terrify them in his fury, saying,
‘As for me, I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill.'”

The very thought of a puny human attempting to defy God’s authority is enough to have him chortling – a deep belly laugh. Do they honestly think they can get away with it? God gets on with his business undeterred: he will see his King enthroned on Zion, his holy hill. Nothing can stand in his way – certainly not a tiny creature like a human being.

The disciples in Acts knew as much: when they quote this Psalm, they speak of how the very act of defiance by the people, the crucifixion of Jesus by “Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel” – the very act of trying to get rid of Jesus for good was in fact the thing “that God’s hand and God’s plan had predestined to take place”. In trying to defy God, all they managed to do was to bring his purposes to fruition. They fell right into his hands.

No wonder God laughs. His purposes will always stand, his King Jesus will be seen by all as Lord and Judge one day, and no amount of raging and plotting by the peoples of earth can stop him. That’s why Jesus is my hero.

Re: The best way to stop your child becoming an athiest – a Christian Response

I came across something desperately sad this morning and felt compelled to write a response. It was David M’s cynical (atheistic?) answer to the question “What is the best way to stop your child from becoming an athiest?” (sic) and assuming that it reflects the respondent’s view of what Christianity is, it was truly tragic. Below is my own answer, adapted directly from the original.

Begin by educating them, expose them to critical thinking, logic and science. Teach them how to think and the history of thinking, to show its immense value and also its limitations. Talk to them about important contributors to science like James Maxwell, people whose Christian faith was the whole reason they believed science was worth studying in the first place – because they trusted in a God of order and a world of reproducible results. Make them read the great Christian thinkers of the past and the present, people like Jonathan Edwards, Jim Packer, Don Carson. Show them that Christianity can be intellectually credible and stands up to scrutiny.

Encourage curiosity about how the world works. Show them that the Bible has things to say about every aspect of life – use everyday experiences as an opportunity to encourage meditation about God and his word.

Make them hold their own natural bodies and functions in high esteem. Show them that they can admit that they are small and weak, but that despite all that, they are of supreme worth in the eyes of their Creator and He longs to redeem them from their failings – they don’t need to fix themselves before He’ll love them. Tell them everything enjoyable is given by God for their good, and that when it’s used rightly and kept in its proper place it can be even more fun. God invented sex! God invented good wine! In fact, the Bible’s description of heaven is a great banquet with the best food and drink, at a wedding.

Ensure that they respect everyone and anyone as individuals made in the image of their Creator, and therefore born to be in relationship with Him – it doesn’t matter what their skin color, nationality, political opinion or even their creed, they are still precious to God and therefore worthy of your respect. Even when their differences might tempt you to be afraid of them and think them less than human – teach them that Jesus came to seek and save the lost, and it was for such as them that he died. Teach your child to love them enough to long for them to come to know their Creator and be the people they were made to be.

Teach them to laugh at themselves and not take themselves too seriously. Teach them to respect their church leaders, but also not to believe everything they’re told. Encourage them to keep going back to the Bible for answers, but also to ask questions of the Bible – who wrote it? can I trust them? is it reliable? what is the manuscript evidence for it? These are all vitally important questions, and finding the answers can only strengthen their faith. From an early age, teach them to identify superstition – received wisdom that has no basis in fact. And teach them that there is such a thing as error – a false view of the world can be dangerous and crippling. Teach them the whole Bible, Old Testament and New Testament – show them that there is no contradiction between them, and that the God of grace and love who sent Jesus is the same God who will judge and punish sin. Teach them to weap over those who will be lost, just as God himself does not delight in the death of the wicked – but also to rejoice in God’s justice, and that there will be an end to sin and wrongdoing. It will be a good lesson that sometimes the truth is hard to swallow, but it’s far better than living a lie.

Instruct them and discipline them so that they know you care – but don’t be too severe. Import to constantly question for themselves – to think for themselves – to live for themselves – to want to own this faith for themselves, and not just because their parents believed it – but knowing that the Christian faith is built on solid foundations: encourage them to keep coming back to the person of Jesus, his life, death and resurrection, whenever they get lost. Either he did rise from the dead or he didn’t – and if he did then it’s really worth trusting him.

And one more thing – though I wouldn’t want to overemphasize this – try to make sure they can spell, use correct grammar, and understand basic English words. It is actually spelt “atheist” and not “athiest”. God is a God who speaks, and language matters – though he won’t love you any less if you struggle with it.

There are no tricks, but by God’s grace, they’ll come to know and love the Saviour you so cherish yourself.