by Derrick G. Jeter
The story of the crucifixion plods along, like a death march. It is exact and exacting, just like the act of crucifixion itself. Clocks could be set by it: nine o’clock Jesus was crucified; twelve o’clock the sky grew dark; three o’clock Jesus died. The story of the resurrection, however, is a jumble of comings and goings, of women and disciples and guards and angels . . . and Jesus. It is a ball of twine, twisted and tangled.
But there is one constant thread through this hurried and passionate story: Jesus is alive!
The soldiers and the scribes laughed and scoffed at the King of the Jews who had died a criminal’s death. Satan and the hellish horde laughed in victorious joy. Finally, evil had triumphed over good. God had died! Yet the laughter of evil men and evil’s lord would not last long. God would get the last laugh. That’s what the resurrection is—the laughter of heaven, a hilarious joke on evil and death.
On the first day of the week, on that Sunday following the death of Jesus, just like the first day of creation when God’s breath spoke and light pierced the darkness, so the Light of the World pierced the darkness of death. Sometime in the eerie blackness of a pre-light dawn, when death seemed to hold the Creator in it’s icy grip, the Son of God filled His lungs with earth’s air once again and walked out of death’s dark tomb. And in that moment, when the Crucified crushed the hellish chains of death, the earth cried out in triumph and applause!
An earthquake shook the ground—not in violence and revolt as it had earlier at the death of Jesus, but in praise and worship. And an angel of the living Lord flew from heaven, rolled away the stone and cast it aside—not for Jesus to escape the grave, He was already out, but to let us in so we might gaze in wonder and praise!
The angel victoriously sat on the stone, his glorious appearance—like a spotlight dispelling the darkness—frightened the guards and they fainted away, lying on the ground like dead men, in front of the living Man’s grave. [Matthew 28:2–4]
In the darkness, away from the tomb, despondent and grieving women—Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, Salome, Joanna, and other women—were preparing the remaining linen wrappings and burial spices, intending to finish wrapping Jesus’s body. Proceeding to the grave they wondered, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?” (Mark 16:2). [Matthew 28:1; Mark 16:1–3; Luke 24:1; John 20:1] Oh, if they only knew! But very shortly they will. Just as the sun was rising above the horizon the women reached Golgotha and the tombs there. Approaching the grave which had held Jesus, they found the stone tossed aside, the guards lying unconscious here and there—scattered about. [Mark 16:4; Luke 24:3; John 20:1]
Seeing the open grave, Mary Magdalene immediate concluded that someone had stolen Jesus’s body. She dropped her wrappings and spices, and ran back through the city gate to find Peter and John. [John 20:2] The other women, however, decided to investigate. They inched closer to the dark opening, peered inside, and then entered. Mary was right, the body of Jesus was gone, but the wrappings that were hurriedly applied late Friday afternoon remained. Curious. Then suddenly, the women realized that two angels appeared behind them—one sitting on the enormous grave-stone and the other standing nearby. “Do not be amazed,” one of the angels said to the women. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who has been crucified. [But] why do you seek the living One among the dead? He is not here; behold here is the place where they laid Him. But He is risen! Remember how He spoke to you while He was still in Galilee, saying that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again” (Mark 16:5–6; Luke 24:5–7). And in an instant, that memory flooded into their minds. [Matthew 28:5–6; Luke 24:3–4, 8] The angels instructed the women to quickly return to the city and tell Jesus’s disciples that He was alive. But the women were too frightened and bewildered to speak, and so left the tomb and remained quiet. [Matthew 28:7; Mark 16:7–8]
Meanwhile, Mary Magdalene had found Peter and John and breathlessly announced: “They have taken away the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid Him” (John 20:2). Immediately Peter and John began running to the grave, to see for themselves; and Mary followed behind. John, being younger, out ran Peter and reached the tomb first. [John 20:3–4]
Stooping and looking in, [John] saw the linen wrappings lying there; but he did not go in. And so Simon Peter also came, following [John], and entered the tomb; and he saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the face-cloth which had been on [Jesus’s] head, not lying with the linen wrappings, but rolled up in a place by itself (John 20:5–7).
As John recounted the scene at the tomb he used three distinct Greek words to describe how he and Peter “saw” what they saw. When John arrived and peered in he used the word blepo—he noticed something odd but the implications of what he saw didn’t register in his mind. Peter, on the other hand, ran into the tomb, looked at the linen wrappings and studied them. Here John used the word theoreo, from where we get the word theory. Peter was trying to comprehend what he saw. And what he saw was very unusual. The grave clothes were undisturbed and looked just as they did when they were wrapped about Jesus’s corpse, only there was no body. The wrappings were a hardened shell, like that of a bug which it had shed—you could distinctly make out the size and shape of the body that once inhabited it. The face cloth, or napkin, was wrapped in a ball, as if it once was tied around a round object, but the head was no longer there.
Then John, “who had first come to the tomb . . . entered, and he saw and believed” (John 20:8). Here John used the word eidon (from oida), which means to perceive with understanding. He got it! Jesus had bested death—He had risen and passed right through the grave clothes. He was alive!
Peter and John were stunned. They turned and walked away from the empty tomb in wonderment to return to their homes and spread the good news that Jesus had been raised from the dead. But did they not see Mary approach as they turned to leave? Why didn’t they assure her that Jesus’s body hadn’t been stolen—that He was alive? For Mary stood outside the tomb weeping. [Luke 24:12; John 20:10–11] From inside the rock grave two angels heard Mary’s cry. They asked her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” Mary, not recognizing them as angels, told them that someone had stolen the body of her beloved Lord and hid it somewhere. And as she turned to walk away, standing in front of her was the risen Jesus. “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” He asked (John 20:12–15). “Supposing Him to be the gardener, she said to Him, ‘Sir, if you have carried Him away, tell me where you have laid Him, and I will take Him away.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Mary!’” (John 20:15–16). [Mark 16:9]
In that one word, in that knowledge of who she was, Mary’s eyes were opened and she knew who He was, and she cried out “Teacher!” (John 20:16). With abandon and joy she threw herself around His neck. Jesus, in tenderness, Jesus pulled her away and told Mary to find His disciples and tell them that He was risen. [John 20:17] Running as fast as her legs would carry her, Mary joyfully returned to the city and the place where the disciples were hiding. The other women, though, were still unsure of what to make of the empty tomb when suddenly they met someone who removed all fear, confusion, and doubt—they met the risen Lord! And Jesus repeated the angel’s instructions: go tell the disciples the good news. [Matthew 28:8–10]
While the women and Mary rushed to find the disciples, to tell them they’d had seen the risen Jesus, the guards suddenly woke from their stupor. Some of them immediately reported to the chief priest what had happened in the pre-dawn darkness. The Jewish leaders paid the guards off and quickly devise a cover story: they were to say that Jesus’s disciples snuck to the tomb undercover of darkness and stole the body while the guards slept. [Matthew 28:11–15]
The women found the eleven disciples, along with Mary Magdalene, and reported that Jesus was alive. The disciples didn’t believe them, thinking the women were in a hysterical fit [Luke 24:9–11] But Peter believed, he had seen the empty grave clothes and the living Lord had appeared to him alone sometime during that glorious morning. [1 Corinthians 15:5]
That afternoon, on the dusty road leading away from Jerusalem to the village of Emmaus two disappointed disciples—two disciples who couldn’t believe such an outlandish story the women told—had an encounter of their own with the risen Jesus. [Mark 16:12–13; Luke 24:13–32]
As soon as the two disciples on the Emmaus road realized that Jesus was very much alive they wasted no time in turning around and rushing back to Jerusalem. There, in the Upper Room, where just a few nights before, Jesus and the disciples had shared their last meal together, these two men confirmed the women’s story as true—Jesus was very much alive! [Luke 24:33–35]
No sooner had these two disciples told their story to the other eight—Thomas had left sometime after the women’s testimony, but before the two Emmaus disciples returned—when suddenly they heard a familiar voice: “Peace be with you.” Thinking Him a ghost, Jesus asked: “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? See My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself; touch Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have” (Luke 24:36–39). Jesus then filled them with the Holy Spirit and commissioned them; and then they all sat down and had a fish dinner. [Luke 24:40–43; John 20:19–23]
Later that evening, but after Jesus had departed, Thomas came back to the Upper Room. The Ten tried to convince Thomas that Jesus was alive, but he refused to believe: “Unless I see in His hands the imprint of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe” (John 20:24–25).
The Following Sunday
A week later, while all eleven disciples, including Thomas, were in the house, Jesus miraculous appeared in their midst: “Shalom!” He greeted them. Then turning to Thomas: “Reach here with your finger, and see My hands; and reach here your hand and put it into My side; and do not be unbelieving, but believing.” And Thomas, with great faith and humility, made the greatest confession of all: “My Lord and my God!” And Jesus said to him, “Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed” (John 20:26–29).
The Following 32 Days
Over the course of the next month Jesus would appear many more times. He appeared to seven disciples by the Sea of Galilee and performed a miracle of fish [John 21:1–14]; to 500 (including the Eleven) at a mountain in Galilee [Matthew 28:16–20; Mark 16:15–18; 1 Corinthians 15:6]; to His half-brother James [1 Corinthians 15:7]; to His disciples again in Jerusalem [Luke 24:44–49; Acts 1:3–8]; and on the Mount of Olives where He ascended into heaven while the disciples watched in wonder. [Mark 16:19–20; Luke 24:50–53; Acts 1:9–12]
“Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” (1 Corinthians 15:54–55).
Jesus said, “Behold, I am making all things new” (Revelation 21:5). On that day of days, when death died, He remade the world anew—for sinful humanity would no longer have to live and die under the burden of fear and shame and guilt and hopelessness and doubt. For those who who believe, though they’ve not seen Him, have found their lives transformed through His resurrection. Have you forgotten? Then this is your time to remember once again how He has changed your life and give life abundantly. Have you never known? Then this is your time to believe. Jesus makes all things new; His resurrection transforms shame and guilt into forgiveness and acceptance, hopelessness into triumph, fear into courage, and doubt into assurance. It can all be yours—newness of life through simple faith—believing that Jesus died on a cruel cross and has removed your sins, and has gloriously risen from a gave to give you eternal righteousness. Won’t you believe, though you cannot see Him? How blessed your life will be, if you simply believe.