READ : Luke 24:26-27
“Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself.
Luke 24:26-27 RSV
If anything is clear from what happened on that first Easter morning, it’s this: the followers of Jesus were all taken by surprise. Listen to this account. I’m reading from Luke, chapter 24, beginning at verse 1:
But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they [that is, the women] went to the tomb, taking the spices which they had prepared. And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in they did not find the body. While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men stood by them in dazzling apparel; and as they were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and on the third day rise.” And they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. Now it was Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James and the other women with them who told this to the apostles; but these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.
Think about that. The women were headed for the tomb bringing spices to anoint Jesus’ body. They were obviously not expecting a miracle. Further, when they found the grave empty, they were perplexed. It had made no sense to them. They couldn’t figure out what had happened. Then, when they went running to tell the news to the eleven, not one of the disciples believed their report. The resurrection of Jesus was the last thing in the world they were expecting. In fact, when they saw the evidence for it, they couldn’t take it in. When they were told of it, they shrugged in disbelief.
We get the same impression from the two men walking on the Emmaus road. They told an inquiring traveler all about what had happened to Jesus. They related the news that the women had come back saying that He was alive. They knew that the tomb had been found empty. But that did not scatter the gloom in which they walked. Listen to these wistful, poignant words, “We had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.” We had hoped.
Later when Jesus Himself, risen from the dead, appeared to His gathered followers, they were “startled and frightened.” They “supposed that they saw a spirit.” They couldn’t accept the testimony of their own senses. It seemed altogether too good to be true. Even after He had spoken to them and revealed Himself to them, Luke tells us that they still “disbelieved for joy and wondered.” We can hardly imagine a company of people so totally unprepared for what took place. Their common reaction was total surprise.
But notice, they were told by the heavenly messengers and by Jesus Himself that they should not have been surprised. Two radiant figures near the tomb asked the women, “Why do you seek the living among the dead?” In other words, “Haven’t you caught on yet?” Why does the empty sepulchre seem strange to you? Don’t you realize that He’s alive? Why are you looking for the living Lord here in the haunts of the dead?
Then came a word of mild rebuke: “Remember how he told you while he was still in Galilee that the Son of man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.” This had been Jesus’ clear teaching. How could they forget something He had taught so clearly, something as tremendous, something as amazing as this? How could that have escaped their minds? Jesus had clearly foretold what would happen to Him.
Later, on the Emmaus road, after His followers have poured out their tale of confusion and lament, Jesus brings them up short. “Oh foolish men, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken.” It was not only Jesus’ word they should have remembered; it was the testimony of the Old Testament. The prophetic Scriptures should have convinced them that Christ would suffer these things and enter into His glory. They were foolish not to expect it, slow of heart not to believe it. In the promises of the prophets and from the lips of the Lord, they had been notified. Why were they so surprised?
WHY IT HAD TO BE SO
Still another message came that day from the angels and from Jesus. Not only had these events been foretold; they were necessary. Notice how many times that is stressed in this one chapter of Luke’s gospel. Listen for the intriguing word must. Verse 7: The angels to the women, “the Son of man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.” Jesus, to the men on the Emmaus road, “Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into His glory?” And then the risen one to all his gathered followers: “These are my words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the law of Moses and the prophets and the psalms must be fulfilled.” It must be. It has to happen. These things will surely take place. What is that all about? Why were the events of Good Friday and Easter morning necessary?
First, as Jesus put it, the Scriptures cannot be broken. Wha our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that made us whole, and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” Did you notice that? The LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. Then this staggering thought: “Yet it was the will of the Lord to bruise him. He has put him to grief.”
Ponder this for a minute. Why did the crucifixion of Jesus happen? A number of answers come to mind. It was the cruel envy of the religious authorities. Or it was the treachery of Judas. Or it was the bloodthirsty mob that screamed for His death. Or it was the self serving of Pilate or the cruelty of the soldiers. All of those answers clearly have the ring of truth. It was because of these and yes, because of the guilt and estrangement of our whole race that He died there. But even that doesn’t tell the full story. The Lord has laid on Jesus the iniquity of us all. It was the will of the Lord to bruise Him.
Here we shake our heads in wonder. We take off our shoes, as it were, standing on holy ground. Strangely, marvelously, God at work in the crucifixion. His enemies may have congratulated themselves. The hosts of hell may have thought they were in control. But behind the scenes was the Lord of all. Malignant demons and sinful people did their worst, acting according to their own motives and character. But God was at work too, revealing His heart, working out His baffling designs of love. Jesus, the sinless One, had to die as He did so that we, guilty and lost, could be forgiven and become God’s children.
What about the resurrection? Why was that necessary? I can’t imagine a better answer than what Paul gives in 1 Corinthians 15. Listen to him as he peers into a dark abyss and tells us what it would be like if there had been no Easter morning. “If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified of God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised. If Christ has not been raised your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all men most to be pitied.”
Do you grasp what the apostle is saying here? If Christ is not risen, our witness to the world is tragically false. We are misrepresenting God. It means also the emptiness of our faith. If Jesus is not risen and reigning, faith has no content. Believers are like children on the nursery floor, grasping at sunbeams. It means also the failure of redemption. Without a risen Savior, we’re still in our sins. If God had not confirmed the sacrifice of Jesus by raising Him from the dead, what assurance could we have that our sins are gone, that He had borne them away and won for us pardon and peace?
It means also the collapse of hope. If Christ has not been raised, what about all the people who have died believing in Him? Paul puts it straight. They have perished. Christ risen is the one pledge of a bright future for us. Take that away and hope dies also.
Is the resurrection of Jesus necessary? Indeed. The rising of Jesus is not an optional addendum to the faith. It’s the heart of it. As the New Testament writers see it, no resurrection of Jesus, no Christianity at all. No Easter, no hope.
Understand, friends, when I call these events necessary, I’m not talking about some relentless fate, some blind necessity. I’m talking about the will of our heavenly Father, His will to save us. The scriptures are saying that these things must happen for the Father’s gracious heart to be satisfied and for us, His wayward children to be saved. The necessity is nothing more or less than the yearning constraint of God’s love for His people.
Paul asked once as he bore his witness before King Agrippa, “Why is it thought incredible by any of you that God raises the dead?” Yes, why? Admittedly, if that should be claimed of any other person in history, some skepticism would be in order. But not, it seems to me, in the case of Jesus of Nazareth. Remember, He said that He would rise.
In the February winter Olympics, Alberto Tomba once again displayed his talents in slalom skiing. He is the hero of his fellow Italians because, as someone put it, “Tomba says that he will win and he does win. No one else in Italy does that.” Tomba made good on his pledge in one race but had to settle for a silver medal in another. If we can believe the boastings of a proven athlete, how much more a pledge from the Lord of truth.
The prophets also said that He would rise. Further, there is no other satisfying explanation for the empty tomb. The disciples, to their great amazement, actually saw Him risen from the dead. They were so convinced that they proclaimed Him as risen and were willing to seal that testimony with their blood. People don’t ordinarily die for a lie, do they? Then there’s the staggering affects of His risen life across the centuries of time and in all the nations of the world. It happened, friends. Jesus rose again.
It had to happen. Only so could people like you and me be forgiven and have new life. Only so could we become the children of God, receive His life-giving Spirit and have a hope beyond death. It was necessary.
And for you and me, there’s one more necessity, that we believe in this Jesus as the crucified and risen Savior. Only in Him is eternal life. Only as we receive Him by faith are we transformed. And as He told Nicodemus long ago, that must happen if we are to enter the kingdom of God or even to see it. Listen to His word: “You must be born again.”