An Easter Surprise

The disciples were expecting Jesus to conquer the Romans and install Himself as King. To their minds, the Messiah would be the conquering King. The predictions by Jesus of His death were not heeded. When He did die, they were totally unprepared.
—Don Stewart1

A condensed version of this article is available here.

As Pastor and author Don Stewart affirms in the above quote, the disciples saw Jesus as a conquering Messiah who would rescue Israel from the Romans. Their hopes were dashed after they saw Jesus arrested, tried, beaten, crucified, and buried. It was over. Jesus was dead.

No disrespect is intended here, I assure you. In describing the certainty of Jesus’ death, it seems appropriate to borrow from Charles Dickens. “Yes, Jesus was dead. Dead as a door-nail. There was no doubt whatever about that!”

Descent from the Cross by Peter Paul Rubens

Jesus’ followers, however, were in for a huge Easter surprise! Jesus had died on a Passover Friday. Following the Passover, early on Sunday morning, Mary Magdalene made her way to Jesus’ burial cave and found it empty. Right away she went to Peter and John and told them someone or a group of people — “they” — had removed Jesus body, and she didn’t know where they’d put it.

20 Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene went to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. Then she ran and came to Simon Peter, and to the other disciple, whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken away the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid Him” (John 20:1-2).

Doubtlessly curious, the two disciples went to the tomb themselves to see if they could figure out what had happened. What they would see would change their lives forever!

Peter therefore went out, and the other disciple, and were going to the tomb. So they both ran together, and the other disciple outran Peter and came to the tomb first. And he, stooping down and looking in, saw the linen cloths lying there; yet he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb; and he saw the linen cloths lying there, and the handkerchief that had been around His head, not lying with the linen cloths, but folded together in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who came to the tomb first, went in also; and he saw and believed. For as yet they did not know the Scripture, that He must rise again from the dead. 10 Then the disciples went away again to their own homes (John 20:3-10).

John’s account rings with simplicity, and at the same time, authenticity. Here is an eyewitness simply relating what he actually had experienced. Peter and John started to make their way to the burial site. In their excitement and curiosity, they “ran together,” but soon John outran Peter, so he was the first to arrive. John, “stooping down and looking in,” saw Jesus’ grave clothes but didn’t venture in. Peter then arrived and went in. Inside, Peter “saw the linen cloths lying there, and the handkerchief that had been around his head.” The “handkerchief”—the “cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head” (NIV)—was separate from the rest of the linen cloths, “folded together in a place by itself.” At this point, John also entered, and “saw and believed.” Peter and John did not yet fully understand all that had occurred; verse 9 tells us that “as yet they did not know the Scripture, that He must rise again from the dead.” Even so, this was a pivotal moment for these two close followers of Jesus in terms of their understanding and in terms of their commitment to the One who had taught and mentored them for three years.

Knowing About Burial Preparations Helps Us Understand What Peter and John Saw

Let’s rewind in our minds the events of the previous few days to Friday afternoon when Jesus’ body was prepared for burial. John 19:38-42 says that after Jesus had died on the cross and had been confirmed dead,

Joseph of Arimathea, being a disciple of Jesus, but secretly, for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus; and Pilate gave him permission. So he came and took the body of Jesus. 39 And Nicodemus, who at first came to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pounds. 40 Then they took the body of Jesus, and bound it in strips of linen with the spices, as the custom of the Jews is to bury. 41 Now in the place where He was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid. 42 So there they laid Jesus, because of the Jews’ Preparation Day, for the tomb was nearby.

According to Jewish custom of that day, no less than two persons were needed to prepare a body for burial. The body was washed thoroughly with lukewarm water. Those involved in the preparation made sure the mouth of the corpse was covered so that none of the water would get inside.2

After they had washed the body, those working on it prepared the burial spices. In Jesus’ case, probably 75 to 100 pounds of aromatic spices were used; we see in verse 39 that Nicodemus had brought with him “a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pounds.” Myrrh, a gummy substance, was blended together with the spices and aloes—fragrant wood that had been pounded into dust particles. The preparers then wrapped the body in linen cloths that women had sewn together without using a knot a single time. A minimum of three linen garments had to be used.3

Beginning at the feet and moving toward the head, the preparers wrapped the body in the linen cloths, placing the myrrh and spices between the folds as they worked. They wrapped the body in this fashion from the feet to the armpits; then, with the deceased’s arms placed alongside the wrapped torso, preparers enveloped the arms in the linen and spices as well. They continued this process all the way up to the neck. For the head, they used an additional, separate cloth. What was the total weight of the encasement for an adult? Typically, about 117 to 120 pounds.4

Encasement is an appropriate word to use here, because that’s just what it was. The myrrh and spices placed between the linen cloths hardened. The grave clothes, therefore, did not consist of loose material but became a shell snugly surrounding the deceased individual.5

Back to the Tomb

Now, return to the tomb in your mind. Do you now see why Peter and John were blown away? What an Easter surprise this was! These disciples didn’t see the linen material that had enveloped Jesus’ body wadded up into a heap or otherwise loosely placed. Nor did they see the grave clothes neatly folded and resting where Jesus’ body had been situated after it was brought into the tomb; although, as the Scripture indicates, the headpiece was “folded together in a place by itself.” The “linen cloths lying there”—the grave clothes that had surrounded Jesus’ body—now were an empty shell made of linen and hardened myrrh.6

Here was proof positive that no one had taken Jesus’ body. Had anyone or any group of people stolen it, they would have had to carry out the grave clothes with it! Otherwise, they would have had to cut open the encasement and pry the body loose—something they would have had neither the time nor the resources to do.

The hollow encasement lay there, intact. No rips, tears, or cuts! Even though Peter and John didn’t yet understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead, they knew that something supernatural had happened.

John testified that he “saw and believed.” No wonder!

The Miraculous Catch of Fish by Duccio This portrays a post-resurrection appearance of Jesus to His disciples. See John 21:1-14

And this was just the beginning. As Luke later would write, Jesus “also presented Himself alive after His suffering by many infallible proofs, being seen by them [the apostles] during forty days and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God.”

Jesus is risen, indeed!

 

Copyright © 2018 by B. Nathaniel Sullivan. All rights reserved.

Note: The content of this article is available in two separate articles (also written by B. Nathaniel Sullivan) at www.sundayschoolzone.com (here and here).

Notes:

1Don Stewart, You Be the Judge, (San Bernardino, CA: Here’s Life Publishers, 1983), 71.

2Josh and Sean McDowell, Evidence for the Resurrection, (Ventura, CA: Regal, 2009), 174.

3,4,5McDowell and McDowell, 175

6McDowell and McDowell, 194.

Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture has been taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

The Scripture passage marked NIV has been taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

 

Transformed!

Note: Scripture quotations in this post are from the New King James Version. An edition of this article that uses the New Living Translation is available here.

Jesus didn’t come to make bad people good but to make dead people live!
Ravi Zacharias

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.
—the apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 5:17

“I was a bad lot,” a new believer told a preacher when recounting the place from which Christ had rescued him. “I drank. I pawned the furniture. I knocked my wife about. And now life is real life, and splendidly worthwhile.”

The preacher asked the man about how he was getting along with the men with whom he used to drink and carouse. That very day they had ridiculed him, telling him he surely didn’t believe the story that Jesus had turned water into wine (see John 2:1-11).

Since he was a new Christian, this man apparently hadn’t yet heard the story of Jesus’ miracle at the wedding in Cana—but that didn’t stop him from affirming the miracle he knew Christ had performed in his own life. Here’s what he told his friends: “I know nothing about water and wine, but I know this: that in my house Christ has turned beer into furniture; and that is a good enough miracle for me!”

That man and millions of others whose lives have been changed by Jesus Christ through the years provide substantive evidence that Jesus was who claimed to be—God in the flesh—and that His death was substitutionary, paying sin’s penalty for everyone who would come to Him in faith. Even more specifically, their transformed lives also testify to the historical reality that Jesus rose from the dead. It’s true that for the inquirer, investigating the events surrounding Jesus’ death and reported resurrection are essential to determining just how likely it is that He returned to life—but other aspects of the resurrection are important as well. Today I want to examine evidence beyond eyewitness accounts associated with the resurrection: the transformed life of one of Jesus’ well-known followers—a fisherman named Peter.

Peter was quite sincere in his devotion to Christ, but he frequently inserted his foot in his mouth. Peter’s impulsiveness and fickleness may actually sometimes remind us of ourselves!

  • In Matthew 14:22-33, while he did have enough faith to venture out from the boat and walk on the water toward Jesus, Peter became afraid and began to sink “when he saw that the wind was boisterous.” Jesus rescued Peter and then gently challenged him with the words “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”
  • In Matthew 16:13-23, the Lord asked his closest followers “Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?” After they reported what the people were saying, Jesus asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter rightly answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus commended him for his answer, telling him, that “flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.” This was truly awesome, but just a short time later, when the Lord explained how He would be persecuted, killed, and raised to life again, Peter rebuked Him: “Far be it from You, Lord; this shall not happen to You!” Jesus responded by rebuking Peter and the sinister, evil source from which Peter’s idea had come: “Get behind Me, Satan! You are an offense to Me, for you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men.”
  • In Matthew 17:1-8, when Jesus was transfigured before Peter, James, and John, Jesus’ “face shown like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the light. And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, talking with Him. Then Peter answered and said to Jesus, ‘Lord, it is good for us to be here; if You wish, let us make here three tabernacles: one for You, one for Moses, and One for Elijah.’”
  • In the upper room, on the occasion of the Passover celebration, Jesus washed His disciples’ feet (see John 13:1-20). When the Lord approached Peter to wash his feet, Peter said,

6 “Lord, are You washing my feet?”

7 Jesus answered and said to him, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but you will know after this.”

8 Peter said to Him, “You shall never wash my feet!”

Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me.”

9 Simon Peter said to Him, “Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head!”

  • In this same upper room on the very same evening, Jesus warned his closest followers they would desert Him (see 26:31-35). Peter denied it outright, saying,

33 “Even if all are made to stumble because of You, I will never be made to stumble.”

34 Jesus said to him, “Assuredly, I say to you that this night, before the rooster crows, you will deny Me three times.”

35 Peter said to Him, “Even if I have to die with You, I will not deny You!”

And so said all the disciples.

How brash can a man be? Peter would learn the hard way. Jesus was arrested and placed on trial, and Peter followed to see what would happen. Waiting in the high priest’s courtyard, the fisherman was asked three times about having been with Jesus, and he denied it strongly each time, even swearing the second and third times. Then the rooster crowed, and “Peter remembered the word of Jesus who had said to him, ‘Before the rooster crows, you will deny Me three times.’ So he went out and wept bitterly” (see Matt. 26:57-58,69-75).

06_Peter_Denies_Jesus_1920

Jesus was right about the other disciples, too. Earlier, at the time of the Lord’s arrest, “all the disciples forsook Him and fled” (26:56).

Peter, and the rest of Jesus’ disciples as well, were extremely unlikely to become leaders who would change the world. Yet after His resurrection Jesus said to them, “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8).

Just how could Peter, as fickle as he was, along with the other cowardly followers of Christ, boldly witness to the world? We see the twofold answer in (1) the fact that Jesus indicated to His followers they would be his witnesses after the Holy Spirit had come upon them, and (2) in the fact that Jesus made this statement after He had been raised from the dead. These two events were transformational.

Significantly, in one of Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances to Peter, the Lord gently challenged him by giving him three opportunities to tell Him that he loved Him. It was the same number of times Peter had denied the Lord. Jesus also directed him three times, “Feed My lambs.…Tend My sheep.…Feed My sheep.” Furthermore, Jesus told him, “Follow Me.”  (see John 21:15-19).

01_Jesus_Questions_Peter_1920

Despite Peter’s failures, the Lord wasn’t through with this man who by nature was outspoken and impulsive. In fact, God would use him to shake the world. Contrast the old Peter to the new.

  • At Pentecost, a mere fifty days after Jesus’ resurrection, Peter preached the sermon that marked the birth of the church. His sermon is recorded in Acts 2:14-39. In it, the fisherman-turned-preacher declared,

22 “Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a Man attested by God to you by miracles, wonders, and signs which God did through Him in your midst, as you yourselves also know— 23 Him, being delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God, you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death; 24 whom God raised up, having loosed the pains of death, because it was not possible that He should be held by it.

  • In Acts 3, Peter and John created a controversy by being used of God to heal a man who never had been able to walk. After the man had been healed, these spokesmen of God used the occasion to credit Jesus publicly for the healing. Peter boldly asserted,

12 “Men of Israel, why do you marvel at this? Or why look so intently at us, as though by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk? 13 The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of our fathers, glorified His Servant Jesus, whom you delivered up and denied in the presence of Pilate, when he was determined to let Him go. 14 But you denied the Holy One and the Just, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, 15 and killed the Prince of life, whom God raised from the dead, of which we are witnesses. 16 And His name, through faith in His name, has made this man strong, whom you see and know. Yes, the faith which comes through Him has given him this perfect soundness in the presence of you all.

  • The healing and the public preaching greatly displeased the Jewish leaders: “Now as they spoke to the people, the priests, the captain of the temple, and the Sadducees came upon them, being greatly disturbed that they taught the people and preached in Jesus the resurrection from the dead” (Acts 4:1-2). They arrested Peter and John and asked them how they healed the man. Full of the Holy Spirit, Peter proclaimed it should be

10 “known to you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead, by Him this man stands here before you whole. 11 This is the ‘stone which was rejected by you builders, which as become the chief cornerstone. 12 Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” (vv. 10-12).

Significantly, when the Jewish leaders “saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated and untrained men, they marveled. And they realized that they had been with Jesus” (v. 13). They warned the apostles not to preach or teach Jesus any more, but they were undeterred. We can summarize their response this way: “We can’t help it! We have to talk about what we have seen and heard!” (see vv. 14-22).

  • In Acts 5:17-32, the apostles were arrested again and imprisoned by the Jewish leaders. An angel freed them and told them to preach the truth of Christ at the temple, and they obeyed. The Jews put them on trial once again. The high priest told them,

28 “Did we not strictly command you not to teach in this name? And look, you have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine, and intend to bring this Man’s blood on us!”

29 But Peter and the other apostles answered and said: “We ought to obey God rather than men. 30 The God of our fathers raised up Jesus whom you murdered by hanging on a tree. 31 Him God has exalted to His right hand to be Prince and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. 32 And we are His witnesses to these things, and so also is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey Him.”

This doesn’t sound at all like the man who, just a few weeks before, had been too embarrassed to admit he had been with Jesus, does it? Later, in writing to the Corinthian believers, the apostle Paul would explain what had happened to Peter—and to himself as well.

3 For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He was seen by Cephas [Peter], then by the twelve. 6 After that He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep. 7 After that He was seen by James, then by all the apostles. 8 Then last of all He was seen by me also, as by one born out of due time.

9 For I am the least of the apostles, who am not worthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain; but I labored more abundantly than they all, yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me. 11 Therefore, whether it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed (1 Cor. 15:3-11, emphasis added).

We see that Peter never got over Jesus’ resurrection. It was years later, near the end of his life, when, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Peter wrote these words (1 Peter 1:17-21) to persecuted believers.

17 And if you call on the Father, who without partiality judges according to each one’s work, conduct yourselves throughout the time of your stay here in fear; 18 knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot. 20 He indeed was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you 21 who through Him believe in God, who raised Him from the dead and gave Him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.

Indeed, Peter was a different man after Jesus rose from the dead—and the stark difference between the former man and the new man provides strong evidence Jesus really was raised. Having been transformed by Jesus’ return to life, Peter let it be known that he could not take credit for the changes that had taken place. Like a turtle on a fence post, he didn’t get where he was on his own.

Peter is not alone, for countless lives have been transformed by the resurrected Christ. Are you among those Jesus has brought from death to life? If you aren’t yet, you can become such a person today. What more appropriate time could there be than Easter to allow Christ to make you a new person?  If you a believer already, then make sure your life testifies to Christ’s resurrection as a sure fact of history.

After all, if Christ was powerful enough to come back from the dead, then He easily can turn water into wine—and beer into furniture!

 

Copyright © 2016 by B. Nathaniel Sullivan. All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture has been taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

photo credits: www.lumoproject.com