In 2009, the inaugural gathering of The Festival of Dangerous Ideas took place at the Sydney Opera House in Sydney, Australia. The Festival is an opportunity for some of the world’s greatest thinkers to come together and discuss their ideas. Topics can cover almost anything under the sun. Recent topics have included the economy, artificial intelligence, climate change, cybersexism, addiction, sugar, and the list goes on.
The opening address in 2009 was given by Christopher Hitchens, the famous British atheist who wrote books like “God Is Not Great” and who spoke around the world pounding the pulpit of atheism before his death in 2011. Mr. Hitchens opened The Festival of Dangerous Ideas in 2009 with the topic, “Religion Poisons Everything.” It was a scathing attack full of mockery and cynicism against anyone who has faith.
Let’s fast forward to 2011 where a panel of thinkers discussed various ideas and took questions from the audience. The final question of the evening was, “Which so called dangerous idea do you each think would have the greatest potential to change the world for the better if it was implemented?” The first panelist said she would need a minute to think about it. The next panelist, Dan Savage said, “Population control. I’m pro-choice. I think women should have control of their bodies. Sometimes in my darker moments I think I’m anti-choice. I think abortion should be mandatory for about 30 years.” Germaine Greer, one of the leading voices of second wave feminism said, “I’m always in the same place. The most dangerous idea, the one that terrifies us the most is freedom, to actually be free. It is the essential bottom line if you want to be a moral individual. We must be free to make choices and that includes making mistakes.” Then Peter Hitchens, the brother of Christopher Hitchens was asked to share his thoughts. Peter, like his brother Christopher, had been an outspoken atheist for many years, but then, as an adult, he announced that he had become a follower of Jesus. Peter answered the question concerning the most dangerous idea that could revolutionize the world if it was implemented by saying, “The most dangerous idea in human history and philosophy remains the belief that Jesus Christ was the Son of God and rose from the dead. That is the most dangerous idea you will ever encounter.” The moderator didn’t understand so he asked, “Why dangerous?” Peter said, “Because it alters the whole of human behavior and all our responsibilities. It turns the universe from a meaningless chaos into a designed place in which there is justice and there is hope and, therefore, we all have a duty to discover the nature of that justice and work towards that hope. It alters us all. If we reject it, it alters us all as well. It is incredibly dangerous. It’s why so many people turn against it.” And of course people snickered. One of the panelist made a comment that brought out even more snickers.
Nothing has really changed has it? Whenever the topic of Jesus’ resurrection comes up there are snickers, someone rolls their eyes, and if it is not stated outright, then it is surely thought, “Surely you don’t still believe in fairy tales?!” Well, let’s take a look at our Scripture for this morning and see if there is any reason for us to believe Jesus’ resurrection is anything more than a fairy tale. Turn with me to John 20:1-18 and let’s read together.
1 Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. 2 So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!” 3 So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. 4 Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5 He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. 6 Then Simon Peter, who was behind him, arrived and went into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, 7 as well as the burial cloth that had been around Jesus’ head. The cloth was folded up by itself, separate from the linen. 8 Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. 9 (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.) 10 Then the disciples went back to their homes, 11 but Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb 12 and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot. 13 They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?” “They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” 14 At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus. 15 “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.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher). 17 Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet returned to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'” 18 Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her. (John 20:1-18 NIVO)
Some will try to tell us that the story of the resurrection was never meant to be taken as fact, as history. It’s a beautiful Disney-like story of overcoming all odds, of rising from the ashes to see another day. Those same people will argue that the ancient people of biblical times were much more prone to believe in gods, miracles, and the like, but the truth is that there were snickers in the first century when the topic of Jesus’ resurrection came up just like in our day. Turn with me to Acts 17:28-32 and let’s read together what happened when the Apostle Paul spoke about Jesus’ resurrection to the leading philosophers of his day at the Areopagus in Athens.
28 ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’ 29 “Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone– an image made by man’s design and skill. 30 In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. 31 For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead.” 32 When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some of them sneered, but others said, “We want to hear you again on this subject.” (Acts 17:28-32 NIVO)
In the very first verse of John 20 we are told that early in the morning, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to Jesus’ tomb. You need to know that some have pointed out the authors of the Gospels say different things about who went to the tomb. John says Mary Magdalene went to the tomb. Matthew says it was Mary Magdalene and the “other Mary.” Mark tells us it was Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome. Luke 24:10 says it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and “the others” who came back and told the disciples what they had discovered. And the skeptic says, “Yes! We’ve got them don’t we? It can’t be true! They can’t even get their stories straight!” Hold your horses. There are slight differences aren’t there? John is the most different in his telling of who went to the tomb early on that Sunday morning, but if you take a look at John’s account again you might notice something. Read verse 2 with me again.
2 So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!” (John 20:2 NIVO)
Did you notice it? If Mary Magdalene was the only one who went to the tomb then why did she come back and tell Peter and John, “we don’t know where they have put him!” Who is “we?” Could it be that John had no desire to give an exhaustive list of everyone at the tomb, but instead wanted to focus on the one who would prove to be the primary witness of Jesus’ resurrection? I think so.
Since we are talking about Mary Magdalene we need to recognize that Mary is one of the greatest evidences for the truth of the resurrection of Jesus. You might wonder why I would say that? All of the Gospel writers list Mary Magdalene as a first witness to the resurrection. If the story were made up, the authors of the Gospels would have made sure men were the first witnesses since no woman’s testimony was admissible in a court of law. One of the most staunch adversaries of Christianity in the second century was a Greek philosopher named Celsus. One of his most stridently convincing points for his readers against the resurrection of Jesus was Mary Magdalene. His argument was that the whole death and resurrection story was a dream fiction or the over active imagination of an “hysterical female.” Celsus was making it clear to his readers, the veracity of a man rising from the dead rests squarely on the shoulders of a woman, and who can believe a woman? Not only was Mary Magdalene a woman, but she was a woman who had had issues. We learn about this in Luke 8:1-3. Luke writes,
1 After this, Jesus traveled about from one town and village to another, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. The Twelve were with him, 2 and also some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases: Mary (called Magdalene) from whom seven demons had come out; 3 Joanna the wife of Cuza, the manager of Herod’s household; Susanna; and many others. These women were helping to support them out of their own means. (Luke 8:1-3 NIVO)
We have several lawyers here in our church. I’m certain that when you go looking for witnesses you want to find people who have integrity, credibility, someone whose character will not be questioned on the witness stand. The early opponents of Christianity looked at Mary and rolled their eyes. What’s interesting is that’s the same reaction she got from the disciples when they first heard her report. Turn with me to Luke 24:10 and I’ll show you.
10 It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the apostles. 11 But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense. (Luke 24:10-11 NIVO)
Yet, isn’t it interesting? God is Sovereign and in His Sovereignty He chose Mary Magdalene, a woman living in a patriarchal society, a woman who at one time in her life had to wrestle with seven demons, and she was His choice to be the first witness to the empty tomb and the resurrected Jesus. Paul wrote,
27 But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 28 He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things– and the things that are not– to nullify the things that are, 29 so that no one may boast before him. (1 Corinthians 1:27-29 NIVO)
There’s something else that’s really important for us to notice before we leave here this morning. I want us to go back to the beginning of our Scripture for this morning. In verse 1 we are told Mary went to the tomb and “saw” that the stone had been removed from the entrance. The Greek word for “saw” is the most common word for seeing, it’s the word, “?????” (blepo), and it means “to see or to look at.” Then we are told Mary ran to the tell Peter and John. The two men ran to the tomb. John outran Peter. He looked into the tomb and saw the strips of linen lying there, but he didn’t go in. The Greek word for “looked” is the same word used for when Mary saw the stone had been moved. Slow-footed Peter finally made it to the tomb and in Peter’s bull-in-a-china-closet way he barged right into the tomb. We are told Peter “saw” the strips of linen lying there as well as the burial cloth that had been around Jesus’ head (John 20:6-7). Peter saw something more than Mary or John had seen and we know this because of the word John uses to describe Peter’s “seeing.” The Greek word “??????” (theoreo) means, “to view attentively, to survey, and to discern.” We get our word “theory” and “theorize” from this Greek word. Peter examined the evidence and as he examined the evidence he was thinking. What was Peter thinking? He had to have thought about Lazarus. Remember when Jesus called Lazarus from the grave after he had been dead for four days? In John 11:44 we learned that Lazarus’ hands and feet were still wrapped in linen strips and his face was wrapped with cloth. Peter saw that the linen strips, the 75 pounds worth of spices used by Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus to pack around Jesus, and the head cloth were still there. He took it all in.
Could it have been grave robbers? Grave robbing must have been fairly common because just a few years later, in 41 A.D., Emperor Claudius issued an edict making grave robbing a capital offense. Peter had a hard time believing it was the work of grave robbers because they would have never left the expensive spices and grave clothes. Grave robbers wouldn’t have taken the time to unwrap Jesus’ body before carrying Him out of the tomb. Peter was thinking about all of this. I’m sure that when John entered the tomb Peter had to have pointed this out to him. Then we read, “Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed.” (John 20:8 NIVO)
Peter and John let the empty tomb, but Mary and the other women stayed behind. She had been outside of the tomb, but after Peter and John left, Mary looked inside. She saw two angels in white seated where Jesus’ body had been. They asked, “Why are you crying?” Mary Magdalene, with her eyes full of tears said, “They have taken my Lord away and I don’t know where they have put him.” Then she turned around and there He was. Like Cleopas and his friend on the road to Emmaus, Mary didn’t recognize Jesus. Jesus asked, “Why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?” Mary thought Jesus was the gardener, the tender of the garden. She said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.” Jesus said, “Mary.” Her eyes were opened and Mary Magdalene saw Jesus, her eyes were opened, she said, “Rabboni!” Mary went back and told the other disciples. John writes,
18 Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her. (John 20:18 NIVO)
Peter and John had seen the evidence of the empty tomb, but Mary Magdalene had seen Jesus. What happened after Easter morning, after the discovery of the empty tomb, and after Mary Magdalene saw Jesus alive is the greatest transformation of human lives ever known.
Now, if you don’t know, you need to know there have been a few other so-called Jewish Messiahs who came onto the scene both before and after Jesus. Before Jesus there was Simon of Peraea who was a slave of Herod the Great and rebelled against the Romans. Josephus tells us Simon put a diadem on his head and some of his followers believed he was the Messiah. The Roman soldiers overtook Simon and his followers and cut off his head in in 4 B.C. Have you met any of Simon’s followers recently? How about hospitals or soup kitchens bearing his name? There were a few others like Athronges, Judas the Galilean, and Theudas, but their stories all end the same way.
The most well-known so-called Messiah following Jesus was Simon bar Kokhba who led a revolt against Rome about 132-135 A.D. He was held to be the Messiah by Rabbi Akiva who used Scripture to back up his claim. Simon bar Kokhba founded a short-lived Jewish state, but he was killed by the Romans in 135 A.D. and his followers were scattered. There were other lesser known supposed Messiahs following bar Kokhba, but as soon as they died their followers were scattered and nothing more ever happened.
How different was the outcome of the death of Jesus the Messiah? First of all, unlike all of the other hopefuls, Jesus rose from the dead. He was seen by His followers. When Jesus’ followers were scattered because of persecution they carried the message of their risen Savior to all of the world. The resurrection of Jesus became the bedrock of their message in every place they visited. Peter, who had denied he even knew Jesus, later visited the home of a Gentile named Cornelius and he told the house full of people who had gathered there,
39 “We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a tree, 40 but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen. 41 He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen– by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 42 He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead. (Acts 10:39-42 NIVO)
Paul, who had been the staunchest opponent of those early followers of Jesus, later became one of them. All of the passion and energy he had put into opposing the cause of Jesus was suddenly redirected into a passion to share the message of Jesus with everyone. He wrote to the church in Corinth.
13 If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. (1 Corinthians 15:13-14 NIVO)
Peter Hitchens is absolutely right. The most dangerous idea in the history of the world is the resurrection because if Jesus is alive, if the grave was truly empty, not because of grave robbers, but because of the power of God then everything has changed. Tim Keller wrote,
If Jesus rose from the dead, then you have to accept all that he said; if he didn’t rise from the dead, then why worry about any of what he said? The issue on which everything hangs is not whether or not you like his teaching but whether or not he rose from the dead. (Tim Keller, Reason For God.)
How about you? What do you see? You’ve all heard the story of Jesus throughout your life, but have you truly seen Him for who He is? Is the resurrection a feel good story, a fable, a myth which holds powerful symbolic meaning for you, but it all stops there. If so, my friend I want to encourage you to open your eyes, look intently into the story, observe the evidence like Peter and John, and come to know Jesus as the living Savior who will change everything from the way you live your life to the way you face death, and everything else in between.
The wonderful Bible teacher, N.T. Wright wrote an 800 page book called, “The Resurrection of the Son of God.” It’s one thing to write a book, but it’s an altogether different thing to live in the light of the resurrection in a broken and tear-filled world. In 2011, Dr. Wright lost his father whom he loved very much. Dr. Wright conducted his own father’s funeral and about one year later he spoke about how the resurrection of Jesus altered his understanding of his father’s death. He said,
To be honest, if I didn’t believe in the resurrection the funeral would have meant one thing for me, because I do believe in the resurrection, the funeral meant something totally and utterly different. Though of course it was hugely sad to be saying goodbye to my great father who I am really grateful for. I have a sense of saying, ‘good night,’ and ‘see you in the morning.’ I don’t know when the morning will be. So for me, the resurrection is a very personal thing. When the moment of bereavement happens, when the moment of grief comes, yes it is horrible, yes it is very nasty, and yes I miss him very sorely, but, but there is hope because there is a future in God’s new world. (N.T. Wright)
Jesus’ resurrection is history, there is more than enough evidence for you and me to believe. Jesus’ resurrection also has incredible implications for life and death. Won’t you surrender your life to the living Savior this very morning?
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
June 4, 2017