The Resurrection! If you asked four eyewitnesses to describe truthfully the same event, it would probably surprise you how different their stories were from one another. The same is true of the Resurrection accounts of the four gospel writers. Consult a ‘harmony of gospels’ and see these accounts when laid out side by side. Matthews starts the most dramatically with a second massive earthquake (the first had occurred at the moment Jesus died) caused by an angel descending from heaven, rolling away that stone in front of the tomb and sitting on it. Subtle! The guards shook with fear – unsurprisingly – and made no attempt to resist. If you think about it, this event, and all the others that follow are nothing to do with the Resurrection itself – which had happened silently much earlier and under cover of darkness. What we read about here is the way that God revealed the FACT of the resurrection to those witnesses that he had chosen. The stone was to let US look in, NOT to let Jesus get out!
Different groups of women had visited the tomb at different times of day and night and they all worried about the nearly impossible task of rolling back the stone that stood in front of the hole in the rock. Why did they want to do that? In order to anoint the dead body of Jesus with spices and ointments – as an act of worship and respect. Recall the account of Mary and Martha, where Mary had done that a week or so earlier – the only one of the women to manage to prepare him for burial.
Nicodemus and Joseph had already done the job of embalming, prior to putting Jesus’ body in the tomb straight after the crucifixion, but difficulties with communication between the different hidden groups of disciples meant that the women did not know that. Arriving at the tomb they meet an angel, a young man dressed in white, and two men dressed in white – depending which gospel you read – but all these descriptions are reconcilable with one another if you are not too stereotypical over the appearance of angels. The unanimous message of the ‘messengers’ was that “He is Risen!”
The women relayed the message to the hiding apostles and Peter and John ran to the tomb to see for themselves what had been described. Linen bandages that had ‘collapsed’ because of the lack of a body within them, and a head cloth a little further off. It must have had all the signs of a butterfly’s chrysalis that had been discarded – burial cloths with no-one to bury! Grave robbers could not have left the scene as the apostles found it – so this was miraculous! Both Peter and John were gob-smacked and realized the significance of what had happened, remembering also what Jesus had predicted about this week. So, they saw and believed!
EXODUS 15 and 16
On the far shore, Israel has an impromptu beach party, praising and worshiping the Lord for rescuing them yet again. “Who among the gods is like you, Lord? Who is like you – majestic in holiness, awesome in glory, working wonders?”.
A few days later, water played a part in a different problem: there wasn’t any to drink. Following instructions, Moses did a small miracle, and suddenly it was on tap. And then they came to Elim, a vast oasis with 12 springs and 70 giant palm trees – surely there is something symbolic in those numbers! The Lord’s provision is sometimes miraculous – to get us out of a real problem – and sometimes more ‘providential’, leading us to exactly what we need in the normal course of life. Both kinds of provision are equally important – and both ultimately come from his hands.
Two and a half million people in a desert have certain basic needs that become more urgent with every passing hour: food and water, protection from hostile forces, and (less obviously) a need for orderly arrangements for living and co-existing. Exodus Chapters 16-18 describe how these needs were met, either directly by God, or through his servant Moses.
First food: where do you get enough to supply the daily needs of that vast number of families? Typically, panic and grumbling set in and their false memories evoked images of vast banquets enjoyed by them in Egypt (which would surely be an unusual way to treat slaves!). They forgot about the God of Miracles in their midst. His solution was to rain down a form of bread every morning and some meat in the evening; this entirely miraculous provision appeared as regular as clockwork (except that the clock did not operate on Saturdays!) and imposed a much-needed rhythm to their lives. Each day provided enough bread for itself alone (“Give us this day, our daily bread”) and only on Fridays were they expected to gather Saturday’s quota too, which came with supernatural preservative in it. When, millennia later, Jesus claimed: “I am the bread of life”, he was dusting down an old visual aid that could not be forgotten. These people trusted the Lord for their physical provision, and he kept them physically alive for an entire generation; by trusting in Jesus, we get to live forever!