Let's open our Bibles this morning to Matthew chapter 28. I want to read for you verses 11 through 15, the text of our message as we look together to God's Word. Matthew 28 beginning at verse 11, we read: "Now when they were going, behold some of the guard came into the city and showed unto the chief priests all the things that were done. And when they were assembled with the elders and had taken counsel, they gave much money unto the soldiers saying, Say ye, His disciples came by night and stole Him away while we slept. And if this come to the governor's ears, we will persuade him and secure you. So they took the money and did as they were taught and this saying is commonly reported among the Jews until this day."
Now it is obvious that just a preliminary reading of that passage that it is all about a bribery, it is all about a lie regarding the resurrection of Jesus Christ. I like to call this particular portion which is included only in Matthew's gospel, "The Lie that Proves the Resurrection."
G.B. Hardy, a Canadian scientist some time ago, wrote a book. It was a book about destiny, it was a book about life, about philosophy. And it asked two very important questions. This scientist said, "I have only two questions to ask. One, has anyone ever defeated death? Two, did he make a way for me to do it also?" This scientist found the answer to his question in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. And he found the hope for his own resurrection in it as well.
Yes, someone did defeat death, Jesus Christ did. And yes, He made a way for you and I to defeat it as well. In fact, there is no hope of life after death, there is no hope of heaven, there is no hope of eternal blessing and joy without the resurrection of Christ.
Still in spite of the fact that the resurrection is the only hope of salvation for man, the only key to eternal life, the majority of people reject it. To reject the resurrection for whatever reason is to commit a kind of spiritual suicide. It is to forfeit all hope of a future life. It is to damn your own soul to an eternal hell without God. And in so doing, you not only lose the future but you lose the meaning and the value of the present. For if the future has no meaning, then how can the present have any meaning?
Furthermore, to deny the resurrection of Jesus Christ and therefore deny the hope of eternal life goes against the grain of the human heart. Solomon in Ecclesiastes 3:11 said, "God has set eternity in their heart." There's something inside man that reaches out for immortality, that reaches out for eternity, that is not satisfied with life only on a temporal level. The religions and philosophies and personal anticipations of the human race throughout all of history reflect this desire for immortality. And the resurrection of Jesus Christ becomes the key to that hope of eternal life for Jesus said, "Because I live, you shall live also. I am the resurrection and the life, he that believes in Me though he were dead, yet shall he live. And whosoever lives and believes in Me shall never die." And the Bible says, "If Christ did not rise, then no one has any hope. But if Christ be risen from the dead, then we have hope for future life."
But in spite of that, in spite of the fact that to deny the resurrection of Jesus Christ literally is committing spiritual suicide. Men continue to do that very thing. And not only irreligious men but even religious ones. Through the years there have been a myriad of explanations offered to explain away the truth of the resurrection. I want to suggest some of the theories to you.
First of all, and a somewhat common theory, is the "swoon theory." This is the theory that Christ never really died, that the reason He got out of the grave was because He was never really dead to begin with. Shock from the loss of blood on the cross and the wounds and all that went on sent Him into a semi- coma. And when they took Him off the cross and put Him in the tomb, the aroma of the spices and the coolness of the tomb revived Him. And when He came out of the grave, the disciples assumed that He was resurrected.
Now that theory doesn't work. In the first place, it wasn't even dreamed up until 1600 by a man named Vintorini(?). Furthermore all the records are emphatic, the early records, about the fact that Jesus was dead. The women who carefully wrapped His body in linen and anointed Him along with Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus with 75 pounds of spices, they must have known whether or not He was dead. That proximity to the body and that tender loving care offered to that body would have revealed any life that was there.
Furthermore, history will stand the test of scrutiny that the Romans knew when someone was dead. They were experts at execution. They were proficient at determining death. And when they came by and did not break Jesus' legs because He was already dead, it was because they knew that. And then they rammed a spear into His side and out came the blood and the water around the heart, again indicating that He was dead.
Furthermore, if this theory is true, it means that Jesus successfully survived severe beating and loss of blood, crucifixion and further loss of blood, the spear thrust into His side, again draining the blood out of His body through a gaping wound. He survived entombment with 75 pounds of spices on His already weakened body. He survived three days with no food or water. Woke up without any medical assistance having lost most of His blood, moved the stone, walked out and convinced everyone that He was fine and alive from the dead. Once He got outside, overpowered the Roman guard and then walked seven miles to Emmaus on feet that had been pierced with nails. Ridiculous...that's absurd.
There's a second theory that we could look at, that's the "no-burial theory." This is another theory that's been offered by those who deny the resurrection. It's the no-burial theory that says Christ was never put in the tomb so obviously He wasn't there on Sunday. Since He wasn't there Friday or Saturday, we don't expect Him on Sunday. They thought He would be in the tomb and that's why they thought He had left the tomb. But the truth was, He was thrown in a pile in a pit with a lot of other criminals.
This theory doesn't work either because there's no evidence to indicate that that happened. The testimony is all contrary to that. Furthermore, why did the Jewish leaders then seal the tomb? And why did they post a Roman guard? If the body was thrown in a pile, they could have easily disproved the resurrection by going back to whatever pit that was and bringing the body and saying, "Here it is." Why not just produce the body? No, the no-burial theory doesn't work.
The third and somewhat common theory is the "hallucination theory," that everybody who thought they say Jesus after His dead hallucinated. It was a pathological problem. They thought they saw Jesus because they wanted to see Him so badly. I can remember reading that when I was in seminary. The argument that these people had such an anticipation of resurrection that they were so excited about Jesus rising that they actually projected their own hallucinations because of this strong desire.
Well, this theory doesn't work either. How could the church be built on hallucination? How could 500 people up in Galilee have the same hallucination at the same time? And since they didn't even believe or expect a resurrection, where was this strong desire that created the pathology that brought them to hallucinate? The New Testament is clear that they had no anticipation of the resurrection.
And furthermore, we ask the question: if this was all it was, just a hallucination, then where was the body? Where was the body? I mean, all of these theories have to answer the question: where was the body? Show us the body.
then there is the "telepathy theory" that's been suggested by some, that there was no physical resurrection but God sent back mental images. He sent back mental pictures by some divine slide projector and put them on the minds of people so they would think He was alive.
That theory doesn't work either, it makes God a deceiver. It founds Christianity on deceit. It makes liars out of the Apostles. And it must have been a telepathic movie because it ran for seven miles, from Jerusalem to Emmaus. It also held a conversation with the people and even ate with them. It's absurd.
Furthermore the disciples at first didn't even recognize Jesus, could it be that God's projector was out of focus? And again you've got to go back to the same problem, where's the body? If this is just telepathy, if this is just hallucination, where's the body? If He was just thrown on a pile of criminals or in a pit somewhere, where's the body? Then produce it. You can easily discredit the resurrection.
Then there is fifthly what I suppose you could call the "seance theory." And that is that a medium conjured upon the spirit of the dead Jesus by occult power and that in a demonic way this occultic seance took place in which the dead Jesus made an appearance.
How is it they could touch Him? How is it that they could hold on to His feet? How is it that He could eat? And where was the body? Why is the tomb empty if this is nothing more than simply some projection of a medium spirit?
Further, there is another theory that's been propounded and that's the "mistaken identity theory." This one says that somebody impersonated Jesus, that somebody tried to dress and look like Jesus to falsify the resurrection by impersonation. The problem with that is He must have crucified Himself to produce the scars in His hands. He must have stabbed a spear into His side to produce the scar that was. That's a rather high price to pay to falsify something.
And how do you explain the post-resurrection miracles if this is just an impostor? How can you explain walking through walls? How can you explain the controlling the fish in the sea, creating a meal, appearing and vanishing at will, ascending to heaven in full view of the Apostles? No impersonation can do that.
And furthermore, the disciples knew Jesus too well to be fooled. And then we ask the same question, where was the body? Where was the body?
Renan, the French atheist, has debunked the resurrection of Jesus Christ saying that it was based on the testimony of one eccentric delirious frightened woman named Mary Magdalene who had seven demons and was hysterical to the point of insanity.
Did he forget the 500 plus other witnesses? Did he forget the ten separate appearances recorded in the gospel record of Christ after His resurrection? And I'll ask him the same question, where is the body? Where is the body? Why is the tomb empty? I mean, if the Jews could have produced the body, they could have stopped all apostolic preaching of the cross and resurrection.
It's a real problem for any theory that denies the resurrection to come up with happened to the body. That's why G.D. Yarnold(?) in his book Risen Indeedsuggests that the body of Jesus in three days in the tomb evaporated into gases.
Now all of those lies leave a lot to be desired. And if you're going to deny the resurrection, there's really only one theory that you ought to adopt and that's the one these Jews adopted in Matthew 28. That's the "theft theory" that says the disciples came and stole His body. Now obviously if the body isn't there, they knew you've got to explain why the body isn't there. If you can't find the body, you've got to explain that. The best explanation is somebody came and took the body. If the body didn't leave on its own because it never was raised from the dead, then somebody had to take it. That's the only one that makes any sense because it's the only one that really explains the removal of the body.
Now obviously you start with that theory and then you say, "Well, okay, who took it?" Well the Jews wouldn't take it because why would they falsify a resurrection? The Romans wouldn't take it because they weren't even interested in the issue. It must have been the friends of Jesus. So this theory says the disciples came and stole His body. And, frankly, of all the lies that they had at their disposal, I suppose they could have come up with one or the other of these theories I've just mentioned, but none of them adequately explains what happened to the body. They came up with the one that is for them the most believable, the disciples came and stole the body.
Now Matthew includes this here. And at first we might say, "Well, why do you do that, Matthew? Here we are at the climax of the gospel. Christ has risen from the dead. Why end on a negative note? Why bring in this ridiculous lie about the body being stolen? Why not give us the testimony of the eye witnesses? Why don't we hear like we hear in John's gospel, Thomas saying `My Lord and My God?' Why don't we get an affirmation here? Why do you approach it like this?"
And Matthew's answer to us would be two-fold. Number one, to demonstrate that the apostasy of Israel was full and final. And that they denied the resurrection just like they denied everything else and that nation was to be set aside. Secondly, it is the testimony of the enemies of Jesus that is the greatest testimony as to the reality of His resurrection. We would expect that His friends would attest to His resurrection. But the unexpected incident of His enemies attesting to it is a marked and significant proof of the resurrection.
So Matthew then, in the most unique way, brings in this incident of the lie about the resurrection of Christ. Now the narrative is rich and it's a compelling apologetic or defense for the resurrection. Let's begin with the plot itself...the plot itself...verse 11 down to the first part of verse 15.
Now keep in mind that the Jewish leaders were always trying to get rid of Jesus. I mean, it started as far back as His birth when Herod slaughtered all of the babies in the area around the time of the birth of Christ to try to eliminate this threat to his throne. They were forever trying to get rid of Jesus. They used mass murder to try to kill Him as a child. They used curses and accusations that He was demonic to try to discredit His ministry. They used betrayal to capture Him. They used injustice to sentence Him to death. They used blackmail to get Him executed. They used force to keep His body in the grave. And now they use bribery to try to spread a lie about His resurrection. Frankly, all of these efforts proved utterly useless and only demonstrated the apostasy and unbelief of the people.
Now as we approach the text, a little bit of background. Remember the scene. Jesus has been placed in the garden tomb. It is the morning of the third day. Friday He was buried. He was there all day Saturday. Now it is in the morning of Sunday, around dawn. A group of women come. There is an earthquake as they approach. When they get there, there is the stone rolled away, lying on the ground. Sitting on the stone is a blazing flaming angel in white garments sent from God. He has descended and caused the earthquake. Christ has been released out of the grave. He is alive. That announcement is made to the women. They check the tomb out. It is true. They begin to leave that place in Matthew's gospel and as they move along the road they are met by the risen Christ who speaks with them.
Now meanwhile, remember what happened to the soldiers? Verse 4, "When they saw the angel, for fear of him the guards did shake and became as dead men." Now I want you to remember this. The guards, the Roman guards saw the angel. It was their fear of that holy angel that caused them to faint and to go unconscious. They experienced the earthquake. They experienced the moving of the stone. They experienced the arrival of this heavenly messenger and it put them out. It was too fearful for them to even remain conscious. They went literally unconscious at the sight of this holy angel. So they have experienced this.
The women then have come and gone. And they're on their way to tell the disciples when we come to verse 11. "Now when they were going..." Stop at that point. "They" refers to the women. Back in verse 10 Jesus said to those women, "Stop being afraid, go tell My brethren that they go into Galilee and there they shall see Me." So go tell the disciples that I'll meet them in Galilee. Now the women are going and as they are moving out, behold a startling thing, some of the guard came into the city. Now we don't know precisely when the guard came to and got up and came into the city. But it was at the time when the women were going. So the women are moving, they're going to go to find the disciples to tell them that Jesus is alive, the tomb is empty and we have seen Him and held Him by the feet and worshiped Him. And they go to tell the disciples.
And as they're going into the city looking for the disciples, the guard is going as well. And it says that some of them, not all of them, there may have been a dozen or more of them...very likely a dozen of them, perhaps more. "Some of them go to make a report to the chief priests and show them all the things that were done." Now we don't know why some and not all, maybe some of them wanted to stay back by the grave. Maybe some of them were too frightened because they were afraid to expose the fact that they had lost the body they were supposed to be guarding and therefore would lose their lives because Roman law said that if a soldier fails in his duty, he pays with his life. Whatever the reason, just some of them went. And they had a duty they felt to report back to the chief priests.
You say, "Why didn't they report to the Roman commander Pilate?" Because Pilate had delegated them into the care of the chief priests. Go back to verse 62 of chapter 27. "The next day that followed the day of the preparation--that's Friday--the chief priests and Pharisees came together to Pilate. They said, Sir, we remember that that deceiver said, While He was yet alive after three days I will rise again. Command therefore that the sepulcher be made sure until the third day, lest His disciples come by night and steal Him away and say to the people, He's risen from the dead." And the last error, that is what happens at His resurrection, will be worse than the first...what happened at His entry into the city.
"Pilate said to them, You have a guard, go your way, make it as secure as you can. They went, made the sepulcher sure, sealing the stone and setting a guard." Now what happened here is the Jews went and said, "We want a guard." Pilate said, "Here is a guard." So in a sense the Jews then took charge. They set the guard. They instructed the guard, "Be careful, He said He's going to rise the third day. Be alert that His disciples don't come and steal the body on that third day." So they would have been very alert at this particular time on the third day, anticipating that this is in fact the time which was most critical in order to keep their guard alert. So when the women are going to the disciples, the soldiers are going back to the chief priests who are really the authority over them by delegation to report what had happened.
And I want you to notice in verse 11 it says, "They showed unto the chief priests all the things that had happened...all the things that had happened." They described the earthquake. They described the rolling of the stone. They described the arrival of a blazing angel sitting on the stone. They described the empty tomb. It all happened and they described it all.
Now we might assume that the leaders would say, "It is a resurrection." I mean, they didn't say to them, "The disciples came and stole the body." They knew better than that. What happened was an earthquake, an angel descending who rolls the stone away, sits on the stone and the tomb is empty. The disciples didn't come and steal the body, they knew that. They knew it was a supernatural event. And it may have been that factually and historically they understood that Jesus rose from the dead. They certainly knew He was dead. And so, they told that to the Jewish leaders. I believe that the Jewish leaders then were the first to hear about the resurrection in the sense that even before the disciples heard, they heard. But they didn't believe. They had said back in chapter 27 verse 42, "Let Him now come down from the cross and we will believe Him." They said we'll believe if He comes down from the cross. And here is something even greater, He came out of the grave but they didn't believe, they didn't even investigate. They didn't even go to find out. They didn't say, "Well, maybe it's true. Maybe He is the Messiah. Maybe He is alive. Maybe we ought to check it out." Not at all. They were so resistant and so blind and so sinful and so self-willed and so locked in to their own religious belief that they would not even investigate the truth that was reported to them by the soldiers. They refused to believe. The God of this world has blinded their minds, 2 Corinthians 4:4 says.
The news brought shock. The news brought fear. But it did not bring repentance and it did not bring faith. They were without excuse. They were informed about the resurrection. They didn't question it. They didn't question those soldiers' validity. They didn't even investigate it. All they did instantaneously was say, "We can't let this get out. We've got to stop it. Whether it's a real one or not, we have to stop it. We're not interested in it. We're only interested in preventing people from hearing about it."
So, verse 12 says, "And when they were assembled with the elders," that by the way is a phrase used frequently by Matthew and every time it's used it speaks of an official meeting of the Sanhedrin. So the Sanhedrin, which was the ruling body of elders in Israel, was convened officially...immediately, to deal with the fact that something supernatural had happened at the grave, an earthquake, an angel, the tomb was empty, the body was gone. The disciples had not stolen it. The soldiers would have reported that clearly. They've got to answer this problem. If they allow the people to think Jesus is alive, they're going to have a worse situation than they've ever had. The whole city, the whole nation will go after this resurrected Christ. So they've got to lie about the resurrection.
They call then an official meeting. The second phrase "and had taken counsel" is also a formal phrase used in Matthew 12:14, Matthew 22:15. It's used also in Matthew 27 twice...once in verse 1 and once in verse 7. Every time it's used it has to do with a formal resolution. What this means is there was an official convening of the Sanhedrin and they made or passed a formal resolution regarding what they were going to do with this information about Jesus not being in the tomb.
The resolution is a three-part resolution. We'll see it as we look at the text. First of all, it says in verse 12, "When they had made the resolution, they gave much arguria," that's silver money, "unto the soldiers." They had bought Judas for 30 pieces of silver, now they have to give much money. If there are a dozen guards or however there might have been, they're going to have to multiply that. And it may have been that they even had to give more than just 30 per person. They gave a great amount of money, but they were willing to pay any price to lie about the resurrection. They could not let the people think that Jesus had risen from the dead or the people would never follow them but only Jesus.
So they paid a high price for the lie. So the first part of the resolution was to give money to the soldiers as bribery, as bribery.
The second part of the resolution in verse 13, "Saying...along with the money, here was the reason for the money...Say ye His disciples came by night and stole Him away while we slept." Now they knew that wasn't true. That's not what they reported. But they are bribed to lie. They are told to tell a lie about the resurrection. The grave was empty. This is the only theory that's going to make any sense...the disciples came and stole His body. All the other lying theories would leave the question about the body. This one will cover that.
So, the soldiers became preachers of the anti-gospel for the sake of money. They were crass. They were materialistic. They were self-indulgent. The theory was a lie, they knew it was lie. But they were willing for money to say what the Jews wanted them to say.
But there was a third part of the resolution and a very important one if you happen to be a Roman soldier. Verse 14, "And if this...this message, this account that you were sleeping and the disciples stole the body...come to the governor's ears...that is to Pilate's ears...we will...literally in the Greek...satisfy him and make you without anxiety." That's what those two terms mean.
In other words, the soldiers were afraid that if Pilate heard this message that the disciples stole the body while we slept, that they would be court-martialed and lose their lives. So the Sanhedrin then had to make a provision to protect the Roman soldiers who were going to be the preachers of this lie. So they said we will go to Pilate and satisfy him. In other words, we will simply say, in effect, you gave us this guard, you dispatched them into our care, we are satisfied with what they did. While they were under our charge or command, under our delegated authority, we're satisfied. And we'll tell him that we're satisfied with you and thus will satisfy him. We'll plead your cause so that you're not court-martialed. And therefore we'll provide you to be secure, or literally the Greek word is "to make you without anxiety." Rest easy, we'll plead your cause if the message gets to Pilate.
So, those were the three resolutions. Bribe the soldiers, tell them to preach that the disciples stole the body, and cover the soldiers if they get in trouble with Pilate. Now that is a planned resolution voted on and passed in the Sanhedrin. And what it tells us and what Matthew intends it to tell us is that the apostasy of the nation of Israel was final. Here their Messiah has risen from the dead and they are not the least bit interested in affirming whether or not it is true. They know a supernatural event occurred because an angel was there and an earthquake was there and the phenomena that occurred communicates that. They are not interested in investigating that. They don't want to know anything about that. They are obstinate in their apostasy and they willfully reject Christ no matter what the evidence is. And therein lies Matthew's final testimony to the apostasy of Israel. The greatest miracle Jesus ever performed was His own resurrection from the dead and they are utterly uninterested in doing anything with that miracle except disproving it and denying it and lying about it.
The soldiers' response is indicated in verse 15. "So they took the money." They took the money. "And did as they were taught," didasko. As they had been instructed, that's exactly what they did. They went out and proclaimed. And even to this day the prevalent anti-resurrection theory is the "theft theory" that the disciples stole His body.
Now that leads us to the second point, the propagation in verse 15. First of all, the soldiers did as they were taught. They propagated this lie. And Matthew then adds this interesting footnotes, "And this saying, or this logos, this word, this message that the disciples stole the body while the soldiers slept, is commonly reported among the Jews until this day." Matthew is writing about 30 years later, somewhere around 63 A.D. And he is saying at this very time 30 years later, this is the dominant theory circulating among the Jews that the disciples stole the body.
The soldiers knew the truth. The Jewish leaders had every reason to know the truth. The soldiers had been there. They'd experienced the phenomena to some degree yet they were not believers. Quite the contrary. They become preachers of the anti-gospel. And maybe God had a purpose for that. One writer has said, "Not on historical faith but only on the faith of the heart rests the salvation of the world." In other words, God is not going to send out messengers to preach the resurrection who don't believe in the Christ of the resurrection. It's almost as if He sets these soldiers aside and makes them preachers of an anti-gospel lest they become preachers of a true resurrection who don't even believe in it. God in His eternal wisdom permitted that those guardians of the grave who might have been able to spread the historical faith in the world allowed themselves to become victimized by this monstrous lie and the resurrection of the Son of God would only be preached and attested to by those whose hearts were committed to the risen Christ.
And they were successful at what they did. It was the common knowledge 30 years later when Matthew wrote...and you can even go further into say the year 114 to 165. In those years there was a man living by the name of Justin Martyr, one of the early church fathers. And he writes that this was still among the Jews the most common opinion. He writes this at that time, "You Jews selected men and sent them into all the world proclaiming that a certain atheistic and lawless sect has arisen from one Jesus, a Galilean deceiver whom we crucified, but His disciples stole Him by night from the tomb and deceived men by saying that He is risen from the dead and ascended into heaven." So even when you get half way into the second century, this is the commonly reported view among the Jews, that the disciples stole the body. And the lie's still around. It's still around today. There are people who still believe this.
The narrative of the lie is then completed in verse 15. But if we stop here we're going to miss the point because we have to talk about why it's here. What is the point? It's not just a negative way to end this gospel. It's not just a fill-in space. It's not just to make us think badly of those Jewish leaders. Why is it here? It is here, beloved, because it is a monumental and convincing proof of the reality of the resurrection. It does the very opposite of what it was intended to do. It is evidence supplied not by the friends of Jesus but by His enemies. Listen, it would be one thing for us and it is wonderful to do that, to accept the testimony of His friends as to the truth of His resurrection. But how much more convincing to accept the unwilling testimony of His enemies who in intending to hide the truth did nothing but expose it?
Now if we looked at His friends, for example, we'd see a lot of evidence. We read Matthew, Mark, Luke, John and they tell us about the physical resurrection, they tell us about the stone being moved. They tell us about the grave clothes lying in perfect order. They tell us about the earthquake. They tell us about the testimony of holy angels. They tell us about ten separate appearances of Jesus after His resurrection. First He appears to Mary Magdalene, then to the women, then to Peter, then to two on the road to Emmaus, then to twelve in the upper room, then eight days later to the disciples again in the upper room. Actually there were only eleven there, the...actually ten the first time, Thomas was gone and, of course, Judas too. So He appeared to ten, then to the eleven eight days later, then the seventh appearance to seven disciples in Galilee recorded in John 21, an eighth appearance to the 500 in Galilee, then to James and finally to the eleven on the Mount of Olives as He ascended into heaven. Ten separate appearances, we look at that, we look at all the testimony of His friends and His disciples and we say that's convincing testimony about the resurrection. And it is. Well over 500 witnesses. Well over ten separate appearances. There are others that we don't even know about. So much so that Acts 1 says there were many infallible truths by which Jesus affirmed His resurrection. I mean, let's face it, it's pretty convincing that the disciples all believe in the resurrection who at one time didn't even expect a resurrection. They were so soon convinced that there was never a single doubt in the mind of any Apostle. It wasn't...it wasn't nine to two, or seven to four, or six to five in voting for the resurrection. They were unanimous and unwavering. And they declared it without hesitation for the rest of their lives and they died for it, the majority of them. And this is amazing because they didn't even expect Jesus to rise.
In Luke 24:11 it says when the women came and told them Jesus was alive, their words seem to them as idle tales for as yet, John 20 verse 9 says, they knew not the Scripture that He must rise again from the dead. They weren't anticipating a resurrection. That's why they were moaning and groaning in sadness. Now what transformed them from cowards who never believed in a resurrection to heroes who fully believed in it?
Furthermore, how is it that a group of men who ran in fear from the Jewish leaders when Jesus was taken captive run in courage right to the Jewish leaders to proclaim to them the resurrection? And when the Jewish leaders in Acts 4 tell them to stop doing it, they tell them they can't stop because God told them to do it and they will obey God rather than men. So what changed them? Their prejudices were not in favor of the resurrection. Yet soon after the resurrection they're ready to die for it. And remember this, they had access to all the evidence. They could check it all out. Something has changed. They were running in fear and denying Jesus and Peter is a coward. And then you see he on the day of Pentecost, he's preaching before thousands of people and telling the whole population that you crucified the Lord of glory, you killed the Prince of life and indicting them all.
How can they be cowards one moment and bold confrontive preachers the next? By what power were they transformed? It wasn't the power of their speech. They were not eloquent, educated, brilliant, strong orators, masters of eloquence and logic, they were not charmers, they were not persuasive, they were poor simple illiterate some of them, what made a difference? The reality of the resurrection did. They believed it. And they had access to the evidence to prove it. They had a compelling faith...a powerful faith that caused them to die for the resurrection truth.
So, the testimony of His friends is very convincing...very convincing because they were so very convinced against their own thoughts. But the testimony of His enemies, follow this, is even more astounding because it's so unexpected. Now follow this reasoning and you'll understand the reason this text is here. It was impossible for them to deny, that is for the Jews and the Roman soldiers, to deny that Christ had by some supernatural means left the grave, they couldn't deny that. They saw it. They could not deny that He left by some supernatural means. I mean, if He hadn't left and He was still there, they would have produced His body and said the thing is a hoax, folks, you see, here's His body. They couldn't deny it. The tomb was empty. The earthquake, the angel, the whole thing.
All right, it was impossible then to come up with any other explanation than the one they invented. If they were going to deny the supernatural resurrection, they had no other choice but to explain that if the body wasn't there, somebody took it. That's all they have left. It's the only way to explain the empty tomb. So they come up with this explanation.
But follow this. It is impossible to believe their explanation. It is absolutely impossible to believe it. You say why. Well, let me think it through with you. First of all, remember that these are cowards, basically, these disciples. And when the soldiers came into the garden to capture Jesus, Jesus had predicted at that time that all the disciples would forsake Him and flee, right? That had been predicted in the Old Testament prophets as well. You'll all desert Me, He said...you'll all run away, you'll all be offended, is the term used. And sure enough, when they came into the garden there was Jesus with His disciples. Here comes this entourage of chief priests and religious dignitaries and Roman soldiers sent for assistance. They come into the garden. The Lord speaks His name and they all fall down. And the disciples sort of feel like they're in a good situation, a little bit invincible. Peter takes a sword, he's ready to fight. The Lord's beside him, he feels secure. The Lord tells him after he struck the ear from one of the men that's there to put his sword away. He puts the ear back on the man and allows Himself to be taken captive. And as soon as He allows Himself to be taken captive, they...they enter into a state of panic and they just run to hide. They're afraid. They don't want to confront this group. They're afraid of them. They have too much power, they could lose their lives.
When Peter is confronted a little later in the courtyard by the fire on several occasions, he denies Jesus Christ, he denies knowing Him, he denies following Him. Now the question I want to ask is if the disciples came and stole the body, how in the world did they get the courage to come when they knew there would be a Roman guard there or when they got there they saw that there was a Roman guard? How are we going to believe that these cowardly men who would not stand to defend or stand along side the living Christ whose power they had just seen displayed against those men, how are we to believe that they would now take their stand without the living Christ against the same people they were afraid of with Him? It's absurd. I mean, they were basically huddling somewhere in fear. They weren't about to come out against the Roman army. Peter, the boldest and strongest and most courageous of them, at least verbally, denied Jesus Christ even to a little girl.
You say, "Well, maybe they bribed the soldiers." With what? With what? They bribed the soldiers, the Jews did, and they had to give them much money. The disciples didn't have anything. They had nothing with which to bribe.
Furthermore, you say they were sneaky. They occupied the soldiers over here, and another group of them went in and got the body. Oh? They did it in a sneaky way as fast as they could, is that it? Then why in the world did they unwrap all the grave clothes and lay them all out very carefully in the grave? They would have picked up that body and run as fast as they could. And tell me, by the way, how it was that they were able to roll the stone away without the Romans noticing.
Furthermore, they didn't believe in a resurrection so why are they there falsifying one? Furthermore, why in the world would they want to go out and die for a resurrection hoax that they themselves knew was a hoax? No, it's impossible to believe this explanation.
Furthermore, it is impossible to believe that all the Roman soldiers were asleep. I mean, your basic Roman soldier knew better than that. You say, "Yeah, but it was a long night." Well, you don't understand, the night was divided into four watches. A watch would be no more than three hours at the most and no less than two. It could be two and a half, could be closer to two, could be close to three. That's not a long period of time for a Roman soldier to stay awake...and then he gets his time to sleep and another soldier or two or three or four or five stay awake while the others sleep. They rotated their watches. It's impossible to believe that they all fell asleep at the same time.
Furthermore, for a Roman soldier to fall asleep on duty and lose the cause for which he had been enlisted was to pay with his life. Now they knew the price was too high to fall asleep. It's absurd. It is impossible to believe. It's also impossible to believe that the Jews would have bribed the soldiers to tell the truth. It's so interesting that it says they gave them much money and said just tell everyone the disciples stole His body. The fact that they gave them money tells us very clearly this is bribery. And the bribery has to do with telling a lie. You don't bribe people to tell the truth.
But most ridiculous of all, it is absurd what they say. Go back to verse 13. "Say this, His disciples came by night and stole Him away while we slept." Now think about that. Oh, I see. You know what happened while you were sleeping. Is that it? While you were asleep, you saw the disciples come and steal the body, did you? You can't have it both ways. No, that's the folly of it. If you were asleep, you don't know what happened. The whole explanation is self-condemned.
What Matthew is showing us is any...anything but the resurrection is an absurdity. It offends our reason. It offends our logic. It offends the facts. And thus does Matthew prove the resurrection by the lie. Men had to be paid to say the disciples stole the body. It's a lie for which bribery was necessary. They had to say an absurdity. We know the disciples came and stole the body while we were asleep which is an absolute contradiction...makes no sense.
The simple testimony of Scripture and the complex testimony of Scripture is that Jesus rose from the dead and Matthew is telling us here that you can take the testimony of His friends or you can take the testimony of His enemies and you're going to come up with the very same conclusion. And he includes the testimony of His enemies, as I said, for two reasons. Reason number one, it shows us the depth and the totality of the apostasy of Israel. And secondly, it is the most convincing evidence.
Simon Greenleaf, a Harvard professor of law, some years ago wrote, "All that Christianity asks of men is that they would be consistent with themselves, that they would treat its evidences as they treat the evidence of other things and that they would try to judge its actors and witnesses as they deal with their fellow men when testifying to human affairs and actions in human tribunals. The result would be an undoubting conviction of their integrity, ability and truth," end quote.
And as I said last time, it is the assessment of those who study the resurrection that there is no other historical event that is as truly and thoroughly attested to as the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. The Lord arose. The folly of this hopeless explanation only demonstrates the reality of the resurrection. And because He lives, He gives life to all who believe in Him.
In Romans chapter 10 there are two great verses that bring this right down to our own lives. In Romans 10 verse 9 it says that, "If thou shalt confess with thy mouth Jesus as Lord, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised Him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart men believeth unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation." Salvation is equal to eternal life. Salvation is equal to deliverance from sin. Salvation is equal to hope. Salvation determines our eternal destiny in the presence of God in the glories of heaven forever. And salvation belongs to those who believe in the resurrection and who confess Jesus as Lord by that resurrection and therefore identify themselves with Him.
How do you respond to the resurrection? Well, as I said in the very beginning, there are many who explain it away and in doing that they commit spiritual suicide. They slay all of their hope as well as the meaning of life now. And then there are those who believe. And they do not believe as wishful thinking. They do not believe as if it were against the facts. They believe because the facts are so clear and the evidence so strong. And in believing, they receive eternal life. That's the message of the Christian gospel that in Christ who died and rose again there is life. The hymn writer said, "Death cannot keep its prey, Jesus my Savior, He tore the bars away. Jesus my Lord, up from the grave He arose with a mighty triumph o'er His foes. He arose a victor from the dark domain, and He lives forever with His saints to reign. He arose, He arose, Halleluiah, Christ arose." Let's bow in prayer.
We who love You, Lord, are resurrection people who have already by faith in Christ received resurrection life. And we bless You for that and for the affirmation that has come to our hearts this day as we have looked at this marvelous passage. We see the folly of men trying to discredit the divine miracle of the resurrection and all they wind up doing is affirming its truthfulness. O God, I pray that every person within the hearing of this message will come to faith in the risen Christ and not commit spiritual suicide, not live a life of no hope but that they will know there is one who has defeated death, Jesus Christ, and He has made a way for them to do it also. We want to know life abundant, life eternal. We want to conquer death in Christ and live forever in the glory of Your presence and we know that that is ours when believing in the resurrection we confess Jesus as Lord and Savior. May it be, O God, that that is the prayer of hearts here this day for Christ's sake. Amen.