This morning is Easter Sunday. Today we recognize and remember the most important event in all of human history - the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Just as God had promised since the creation of the world, Jesus our Saviour came to this earth and gave His life as the sacrifice for sins. On the cross He bore the penalty that we deserved - the full wrath of God, and there He died for our sins. After His death, the Lord was buried in a borrowed tomb. But death could not hold Him, and just as He’d foretold, three days later Jesus rose from the grave!
Over the past two weeks, we have briefly reviewed the 6 different physical resurrections recorded in the Bible that took place prior to Jesus’ crucifixion. If you were with us for those messages, perhaps you remember these miraculous events. They are listed below:
The Widow of Zarephath’s Son The Widow of Nain’s Son
The Shunammite Woman’s Son Jairus’ Daughter
The Hastily Buried Man Lazarus of Bethany
Today we will focus on the resurrections that occurred in the days following the death of Jesus Christ on the cross. Did you notice that I said resurrections - plural? While most people have heard the story of Jesus’ resurrection, many are not aware of the many others that took place around the same time. These two resurrection events will be the topic of this message.
Before we begin… let’s take a brief look ahead. Next week we will study about 2 additional instances in which a person was raised from the dead during the early years of the New Testament church. Then, two weeks from today we will conclude this short sermon series with a discussion of the future resurrections of the righteous and the unrighteous. These promise to be enlightening messages, but for now let’s turn our attention to the crucifixion and glorious resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Jesus arrived in Jerusalem on the Sunday before Passover. He was welcomed by the people of the city as He rode in on the back of a donkey. Over the next few days, He preached and taught the crowds of people who gathered in the temple. He confronted and rebuked the chief priests and Pharisees, who were already secretly plotting to kill Him. On the evening of the Passover, Jesus and His disciples met in an upper room to observe the Passover Meal. Following the supper, Jesus went out to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray.
Later that night a band of men armed with clubs and swords came to arrest Jesus. They had been sent by the chief priests and elders, and were led by Judas Iscariot - the disciple who betrayed the Lord for 30 pieces of silver. After His arrest, these men took Jesus to the home of the high priest. Throughout the remainder of the night and into the early morning Jesus underwent 6 separate trials - each one a travesty of justice. Finally, the Roman governor Pilate sentenced Jesus to death by crucifixion. After being scourged, Jesus was forced to carry His own cross to Calvary. There He was crucified between two common criminals. After about 6 hours on the cross, Jesus cried out with a loud shout and then died.
I. CERTAIN OLD TESTAMENT SAINTS - Matthew 27:50-53
At the exact moment of Jesus’ death, the earth began to shake and rocks began to split open. The veil of the temple, separating the Holy of Holies from the Holy Place, was torn in two from top to bottom. But something else happened… something strange and less well known. The tombs of many Old Testament saints were opened. In other words, the entrances of numerous caves, tombs, and/or sepulchres were unblocked. Inside these graves laid the bodies of Old Testament believers, some who had been dead for hundreds of or even a few thousand years.
These tombs remained open for a few days, during the period when Jesus himself was buried. But following the resurrection of Jesus, many of these Old Testament saints - not all - were raised to life and actually went into the city of Jerusalem. There they were seen by many people. The Bible does not elaborate on how long these risen saints lingered in the city. My guess is that they ascended into Heaven sometime following Jesus’ ascension, seeing that He is the called the first fruits. Jesus led the righteous who had been waiting in Abraham’s Bosom to the present Heaven, meaning that He must have preceded these saints in their arrival there.
The physical resurrection of some of the Old Testament saints is a precursor to the physical resurrection of all believers that will occur sometime in the future. We will focus on this more during the final sermon in this series. While the tombs were opened on the day the crucifixion, it appears that these saints did not actually come back to life until after Jesus rose from the grave. Most of the resurrection accounts found in the Bible deal with a single person, but this event includes an unknown number of believers who all rose from the dead simultaneously. Amazing!
II. JESUS CHRIST - Matthew 28:1-8, Mark 16:1-8, Luke 24:1-9, John 20:1-18
Following His death, and the aforementioned earthquake, some of Jesus’ followers were granted permission to bury His body. His lifeless corpse was taken down from the cross and given to them. These disciples hurriedly wrapped His body in linen clothes and placed Him in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea. This had to be done in a rush, because it was already late afternoon and the Sabbath day began at sunset. Jews were not allowed to do any work on the Sabbath. Out of necessity Jesus was entombed quickly, and the ladies who’d helped wrap His body that evening planned to come back after the Sabbath to complete their preparations more thoroughly.
Fearing that Jesus’ disciples might move His body and claim that Jesus had arisen, the next morning the chief priests and Pharisees convinced the Romans to place guards at the tomb. Furthermore, they had the stone in front of the tomb sealed to ensure that no one could come out or get in. Meanwhile, somewhere in the city Jesus’ heartbroken disciples huddled together distraught and mourning the loss of their Lord. The Sabbath day came and went.
Early on the morning of the next day - the first day of the new week, the women took spices and headed back to the tomb where Jesus laid. They fully intended to finish Jesus’ burial preparations just as they’d planned two days earlier. They had no idea that the tomb had been sealed shut and was being protected by armed soldiers. If they had known this, they probably would not have gone at all. Yet, when they arrived something miraculous had taken place. They found the stone was rolled away from the entrance, and the tomb empty. The guards had already fled. An angel appeared to them and explained that Jesus had risen from the dead, just as He’d promised.
Following the resurrection, there were multiple instances in which Jesus appeared to His followers. The exact number of these appearances is disputed by scholars, but suffice it to say that there were several. Over the course of the 40 days after the resurrection, the risen Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene, the other women, a couple of disciples on the road to Emmaus, Peter and the apostles (more than once), His brother James, and large crowds of disciples numbering up to 500 people. All of these men and women became eyewitnesses of the physical and literal resurrection of Jesus Christ!
The resurrection of Jesus and the resurrections of several Old Testaments saints immediately thereafter are the seventh and eighth Biblical examples in our “Risen from the Dead” sermon series. However, the resurrection of Jesus is unlike all of the others that we’ve studied previously or will study in the coming weeks.
Jesus did not die of natural causes like sickness or old age. In fact, not even His executioners were able to take His life. Jesus voluntarily gave it as a sacrifice to pay for mankind’s sin. It is correct to say that our sin killed Jesus. Whatsmore… Jesus was not raised in order to go on living on the earth like other men. It wasn’t to offer Him a second chance at life. Rather, His resurrection accomplished complete victory of sin and the grave. The resurrection of Jesus makes the salvation of man possible!
Unfortunately, most Christians today tend to place more emphasis on the cross than on the empty tomb, but not so in the New Testament. The early church knew full well that the crucifixion alone was powerless to save apart from the resurrection. Salvation involves both a death to one’s old self and a resurrection to new life. This is made possible only through the miraculous work of Christ - His death and resurrection.