The Resurrection and Meditation

by Bob Bradley

My purpose in this teaching is to prompt you to think very seriously and reflectively about the resurrection of Jesus, and then explore how we can have a stronger faith in the resurrection. First, I want us to look at the post-resurrection appearances of our Lord. Then I want to examine the role of meditation in building faith. None of the gospels gives us anything like a complete account of every appearance that Jesus made before His ascension. In the context of talking about Jesus’ appearances, John says that “there are also many other things that Jesus did, which if they were written one by one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.” Certainly, John is talking about the entire ministry of Jesus, but he is also saying that not all the post-resurrection appearances have been recorded.

Paul made the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus the foundation of his preaching, and yet we do not have any details about Jesus’ appearances in any of his recorded sermons. But some of these details are given in I Cor.15: 3-8, where Paul is correcting the error that the dead would not be raised to physical, bodily life. In fact, this reference to the appearances of Jesus was written in 56 A. D, earlier than any of the gospels were written. So here we have the first account of Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances in written form. Let’s read it:

For I delivered to you that which I also received, that Christ died for our sin according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again on the third day, according to the Scriptures, and that He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve,. After that He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present, but some are fallen asleep. After that He was seen by James, then by all the apostles. Then last of all He was seen by me also, as one born out of due time (NKJV).

Note that Paul does not mention the first appearance of Jesus, which was to Mary Magdalene, or the second, which was to the other women. He also omits the appearance on the walk to Emmaus, and the appearance to the eleven, including Thomas. John takes a whole chapter to tell us about Jesus’ appearance to seven disciples early in the morning at the Sea of Galilee. Paul says not a word about that event! But notice what he does tell us, that is recorded nowhere else! And notice how Paul develops a temporal sequence, with the repeated phrases “then,” and “after that.” After the appearance to the five hundred, He appeared to James, and this is almost certainly his younger brother James, who would become the leader of the church at Jerusalem. Jesus’ appearance to His “twelve” disciples has already been noted, so it wouldn’t make sense to single out James the brother of John again.

And notice what Paul says next: then (He was seen) by all the apostles.” The “apostles” here probably refers to the eleven, and it has already been noted that He appeared to the “twelve” (although Judas was dead, the eleven remaining disciples were referred to collectively as the “twelve.” So this reference to appearances to the apostles can only mean that He appeared to each of them individually, as He did to Peter and then to James. All of these appearances of Jesus took place before the ascension, and in each case Jesus appeared in His resurrection body. In other words, He was there in the presence of others in tangible, physical reality. It was not until after His ascension that Jesus reassumed the visible glory of the Godhead.

When the Lord appeared to Paul on the road to Damascus, we are told that Paul saw a great light and heard Jesus speaking to him. Neither of the accounts of this event in the book of Acts explicitly says that Paul saw the Lord Jesus. However, this account in I Corinthians is clear: Paul says “then last of all He was seen by me also.” I think we can assume that the light that blinded Paul was the glory of God that he saw radiating from the person of Jesus. In other words, Paul had a vision of Jesus in the fullness of His glory. When Paul begins this passage, he makes the listing of the appearances of Jesus a crucial part of his foundational teaching. Paul’s primary defense of the fact that Jesus is God Incarnate, the Messiah, comes from the prophetic Scriptures. But he was also quick to move on and say that He was seen by a lot of people, not just those who were closest to Him, and that most of those people were alive at the time Paul wrote the epistle.

Have you ever felt left out because you are not in that privileged circle of people who saw Him in His resurrected body? I will admit that sometimes I have felt that way. But we need to remember what Jesus said to Thomas, after Thomas felt His scars and blurted out “My Lord and my God.” Do you remember what Jesus said in response to Thomas? “Thomas, because you have seen me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

Now let me ask you this--was Jesus saying to Thomas, “Thomas, you should have believed without any evidence, just like all the other disciples and all the women”? That can’t be what Jesus meant, because all the other disciples and the women did not believe until they actually saw Him, and even then some of them had problems. The only exception was John, who believed when he saw the grave clothes--but even that was visual evidence. Who then are the blessed ones who have believed without visual evidence?

The answer to that is simply--us. All of us for the past two thousand yeas who have believed in Jesus’ resurrection because we believe the testimony of Scripture. We cannot take credit for this faith, because it is birthed by God in our hearts--it is a work of grace. We do not believe because we are by nature sensitive, spiritual people--on the contrary, we believe because the Spirit of God causes us to cry out “God be merciful to me, a sinner!”

We read the story of Jesus walking to Emmaus with Cleopas and his friend, teaching them from the Scriptures, and we believe it. We read Psalm 16:10 which says “For you will not leave my soul in the grave, nor will you allow your Holy One to see corruption,” and we believe it. We read the hundreds of verses of prophetic Scriptures in the O.T. that point to Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection and we believe them.

And then we can move on to types of Christ, rather than direct prophecies. We read of the Passover ceremony, and the slain lamb whose blood is swabbed on the doors of each house. We read of the Tabernacle, and we see how each item in the Tabernacle speaks of the journey of the worshipper from sinful alienation to cleansing and then to worship. We read about the fresh loaf of bread put daily in the Holy Place, and we see Jesus the bread of life. We read about the candlestick, the Menorah, with its seven flames, and we see Jesus the light of the world. We read about the wonderful presence of the living God that is found behind the veil in the Holy of Holies, and then we see Jesus as the fulfillment of all these types--and we believe.

We need to remember that when the Apostle Peter refers to the incredible things he and James and John saw at the transfiguration, he concluded “we also have the prophetic word made more sure, which you do well to heed as a light that shines in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.” So Peter clearly implies that faith based on what the Spirit reveals to us from Scripture is definitely superior to faith based on experience, no matter how dramatic that experience may be.

Let’s talk for a couple of minutes about how the “day dawns and the morning star arises in your hearts.” Clearly, it is related to how we interact with Scripture. First of all, we need to read the Scriptures. We cannot deeply appreciate that which is unfamiliar to us. But even more important, we need to reflect on or meditate upon the Scriptures. New Age or Buddhist meditation involves blanking out the conscious mind by repeating a mindless mantra. Christian meditation is 180 degrees in the other direction: it consists of focusing the mind prayerfully on the Word of God and then asking the Holy Spirit to teach us and reveal truth to us. Truth is really only known by the unveiling of the Word under the instruction of the Holy Spirit. A case in point is the Pharisees, who knew the Word quite well but had no revelation of the Word by the Spirit, and thus were spiritually dead in the midst of great knowledge.

Let’s think for a minute about what Peter meant when he said “we have the prophetic word made more sure, which you do well to heed until the day dawns and the morning star arises in your hearts….” We need to remember that in Peter’s day copies of the Old Testament books were relatively rare and were highly treasured. Also, it is not likely that any of the four gospels were available at the time Peter wrote this epistle (A.D. 64). The churches had the facts of Jesus’ life communicated verbally by the apostles and teachers, and Paul’s early epistles were in existence, though not widely distributed. They may have had access, on some occasions, to copies of the O. T. books kept in the synagogues. But it is very clear that a lot of Scripture was memorized, and that the primary means of “heeding” the prophetic Scriptures was reflecting and meditating on passages which had been committed to memory.

The situation in the first century was similar to that of today’s believers who live in cultures where possessing a copy of the Word of God is a crime. The Dutch Bible smuggler, Brother Andrew, tells some touching stories about East European believers who treasured the Bible so highly that they would risk imprisonment to get handwritten copies of the Word to those who had none. Printed copies of the Word would be lovingly torn apart, a few pages at a time, and laboriously copied by hand. This process of circulating and copying would be repeated until each believer in the locale had a hand-written copy of the Word. And during the process of copying, much of the Word was memorized. If you have not read God’s Smuggler by Brother Andrew, you should put it near the top of your “to read” list.

The Old and New Testaments are remarkably unified in defining what we could call the spiritual fundamentals. In the New Testament, the most common word to describe the nature of man’s relationship to God is “faith.” In the Old Testament, the most common word to describe spiritual experience is “trust.” Although the two terms are virtually synonymous, trust describes faith in a personal context. You trust a person because you have faith in him. And, except at the most abstract and impersonal level, faith incorporates trust.

True spiritual experience in the Old Testament (as opposed to the legalism and self-righteousness of the Pharisees) was simple, and available to all. It began with the recognition of sin accompanied by heartfelt repentance (for example, Psalm 32). It was based on a clear doctrine of atonement, defined as the death of an innocent animal as a covering for sin. But the heart of Old Testament religious practice was based on a personal reverence for the law of God.

We are not talking about slavish legalism, but about personal trust in a gracious, forgiving God which led the trusting Israelite to deeply respect the law of God. You cannot respect what you do not know, and thus Deuteronomy chapters 6 and 8 spell out God’s expectations for His people…. And these words which I command you this day shall be in your heart (Deut. 6:6). The commandments of God reveal the heart and character of God. There is no legalism here, but only a tender appeal to know the heart of God through reflection upon and obedience to His commandments. The rest of chapters 6 and 8 deal with God’s expectations about how His people will humble themselves to honor his Word in their hearts and in their behavior. Joshua 1:8 calls Joshua (and all God’s people) to constant meditation on the Word (Book of the Law) — This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate in it day and night….

Meditation on the Word (law) of God is a constant theme throughout the Old Testament. It was not by accident that Psalm 1 was placed at the beginning of the Hebrew hymnal. What is the key to the righteous man’s behavior? His delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law he meditates day and night. No legalist ever delighted in the law of the Lord, but the righteous man does, cause he understands the wonderful principle of Psalm 130: 3, 4: “If You, Lord, should mark iniquities, who could stand? But there is forgiveness with You, that you may be feared.” The righteous man of Psalm 1 delights in the law of God because he has experienced the forgiveness of his serious sins--his iniquities. He now loves God and delights in God’s law. And his love for God, and his submission to God, are reflected in the fact that he meditates day and night on God’s law. The word translated “meditate” literally means “ponders by talking to himself” or “mutters.” It is related to the word that describes a sheep or cow chewing the cud. In other words, the meditating man regurgitates the Word and “chews” on it until it is ready for assimilation.

The word meditate or meditates occurs thirteen times in the book of Psalms, and five times in Psalm 119. All of us are familiar with Psalm 119:11: Your word I have hidden in my heart, that I might not sin against you. So the word hidden in the heart protects us from sin. Proceeding through Psalm 119, we find that the word does the following things: helps us to see wondrous things (v. 18); removes from us the way of lying (v. 29); protects us from covetousness and looking at worthless things (vs. 36, 37); gives life in affliction (v. 36); brings the tender mercies of God (v.77); delivers from affliction and preserves life (v. 92, 93); gives understanding (v. 104); gives direction (v.105); gives protection (v. 114); gives light (revelation) (v.130); delivers from trouble and anguish (v. 143); and gives great peace (v. 165). In other words, through meditation and reflection on His word, God accomplishes His purposes in us.

I close this message with one final observation. God wants to make the resurrection of His Son an item of personal revelation to your heart, so you can say, without presumption, God has revealed the resurrection of Jesus to my heart. I am not suggesting that you seek an experience apart from the illumination of the Word of God. In II Peter, as noted earlier, we find a gentle caution against relying on an experience. Peter does not say You, too, should seek a mountain-top experience, but rather says We also have the prophetic word made more sure. He is clearly talking about the prophecies of Scripture (II Peter 1: 19-21). So the way to a revelation of the resurrection is not through seeking an experience, but through reflecting upon the prophetic Scriptures. The Holy Spirit will show you the reality of the resurrection in such a way that you will be able to say with Peter, the day has dawned and the morning star has risen in my heart.

If someone were to ask you for ten prophetic references to the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, could you give them without consulting a study Bible? Five? Or would you have to say, Well, I think Isaiah 53 is one of them, but beyond that, I’m not sure… Can you, without guilt, receive a pastoral exhortation to be diligent to show yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth (II Tim. 2:15)? And finally, Meditate on these things; give yourself entirely to them, that your progress may be evident to all.

Your companion in Biblical meditation,

Pastor Bob
 
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