As we think about the resurrection this morning I want to remind you of a portion of Scripture in the tenth chapter of Romans. Paul has laid out in the book of Romans the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, which is the way of salvation, the only way to be delivered from sin and death and judgment and hell. And Paul says this in the tenth chapter of Romans, “The word of faith which we are preaching,” in verse 8, he was preaching a message about faith, about believing. And what was it that you needed to believe? Verse 9 says, “that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” That is a very straightforward statement. The message of faith is this: “If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved,” saved from sin, saved from judgment, saved from eternal punishment.
So, essential to salvation is belief in the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. And if you believe that He rose from the dead, it’s a very small step to confess Him as Lord, because only the one who is life can conquer death. The Father has declared that Jesus is Lord, and every knee must bow to Him. Nothing is more important then than believing in the resurrection. It assumes the death of Christ, but it is essential to salvation to believe not only that He died and paid the penalty for our sins, but that He rose from the dead, which was the Father validating His sacrifice for our sins. And because the resurrection is so essential to salvation it has always been under attack by the enemy of our souls. Throughout the life of the church, throughout history since the resurrection, it has been denied. Attacks on the resurrection go on all the time. They seem to get ramped up a little bit around this time of year as documentaries and television programs call the resurrection into question or flatly deny it.
There are many attempts at explaining away the resurrection, I’ll give you just a few. These are popular ones that people purport in books at a quote-unquote “scholarly level.” The first one is the swoon theory, and that basically says that Jesus did not die on the cross. Because He didn’t die, He didn’t rise. They thought He was dead, but He really wasn’t dead. Shock sent Him into a coma, and everybody assumed He was dead, so they put Him in the tomb. But it was nice and cool in the tomb, and it smelled good because of the spices. The coolness of the tomb, whatever reviving capacity the spices had brought Him back to consciousness, and He walked out of the tomb, and the disciples assumed that He had risen; but He had never died.
That theory doesn’t work. All the early records are emphatic about His death; He was dead. Nails in His feet, nail in His hands, crown of thorns on His head, a spear in His side; the Romans soldiers were by trade executioners, and they said they did not need to break His legs, which would have sped up His death, because He was already dead. They knew death. He was taken down, He was wrapped, He was placed in a tomb; everyone gave testimony that He was dead.
Everybody knew the proficiency of Roman executioners. Beyond that, it’s impossible to believe that Jesus successfully survived severe beating, crucifixion, the agonies of blood loss, a spear thrust into His side, entombment with 75 pounds of spices wrapped around His body, and by the third day lying in the tomb with no food or water woke up without any help, having lost most of His blood, moved the stone, walked out, convinced people He was alive. By the way, overcame the Roman guards, and then walked seven miles to Emmaus on feet torn apart by nails. Ridiculous.
Another theory has been offered, it’s called the no burial theory. He was dead, but they never put Him in the tomb. The reason He wasn’t there when they showed up was because He never was there. He was actually thrown in the pit with the criminals down by Gehenna, which was the Jerusalem city dump where they put executed criminals. He wasn’t there on Sunday because He wasn’t there on Friday or Saturday either. That theory doesn’t work, because why would the leaders seal the tomb? Don’t you’d think they’d take a peek in and see if somebody was there? And why would they set a guard? And why would they invent the story that the body was stolen? If they threw it in a dump they could go get it.
Another theory is the hallucination theory, and that basically says that all of His appearances weren’t real, they were hallucinations. Everybody wanted to see Jesus alive so badly, at least all of His disciples, that they sort of wished themselves into a hallucination that He was alive. This theory doesn’t work. How do you build the church on a hallucination? How do you make it last? And how can five hundred people in Galilee have exactly the same hallucination at exactly the same time? And furthermore, the disciples did not expect the resurrection; they were sad and full of doubt. They were in no condition pathologically to invent a kind of mental attitude that could launch itself into some kind of imaginary vision.
Then there’s the telepathy theory that says, “No, Jesus didn’t rise, but God sent back mental images, sort of a hologram so they would think He was alive. That doesn’t work, that makes God a deceiver. And that founds Christianity on deception, and makes liars out of the disciples who said they touched Him, and they walked with Him, and they ate with Him, and they talked with Him, and for forty days. And by the way, if it was some kind of telepathy it must have been a movie, because it lasted seven miles to Emmaus, and the movie sat down and ate with them. And by the way, at first when Jesus appeared to the disciples, they did not recognize Him. If God had sent some image of Him you would think God could at least make it look like Him so they would have recognized Him. God doesn’t do lying wonders.
And then there is a séance theory that a medium – that’s somebody who communicates with demons – conjured up the Spirit of the dead Jesus by occult power. That’s as absurd as the other ones because it doesn’t explain how the tomb was empty, and it doesn’t explain spending forty days with Jesus, and eating with Him, and walking with Him, and talking with Him, and touching Him.
And then there is the mistaken identity theory. This is interesting. Someone impersonated Jesus. They wanted that resurrection so badly that someone decided to play the role of Jesus, pounded some nails through His feet and hands. Pretty extreme or an impersonation. And how do you explain that this impersonator walked through the wall when the disciples were gathered that night after the resurrection? How do you explain that He disappeared and appeared here and there out of nowhere after His resurrection? And how do you explain that He ascended into heaven? An impersonator couldn’t do that. And by the way, the disciples did know Jesus well enough not to be fooled; when they got close enough to touch Him they surely would have known.
In a bizarre effort, Renan the celebrated French atheist tried to destroy the resurrection because he said it is based on the one testimony of an eccentric, delirious, frightened woman named Mary Magdalene who had seven demons and was hysterical to the point of insanity. Well, apart from the fact that that’s not true of Mary, even if you said that about Mary, how do you explain five hundred other eyewitnesses? And how do you explain all ten separate appearances of Jesus? And why was the tomb empty? And where was the body? If Jesus didn’t really rise, then why didn’t the Romans present the body if they had thrown it into the dump? Or why didn’t the Jews present it if they had done something with it? Well, G. D. Arnold wrote a book called Risen Indeed, a whole book in which he says, “The body of Jesus evaporated into gases in three days, that’s why they couldn’t find the body.” That’s a stupid statement. How do you turn it into an entire book?
But there is one lie that could work. The one lie that could work is the theft theory, that the body of Jesus was stolen to falsify the resurrection. Now who would do that? The Jews wouldn’t do it. They were afraid that the disciples would do just that.
Look at chapter 27 of Matthew, chapter 27, verse 62: “On the next day, after Jesus was buried, chief priests and the Pharisees gathered together with Pilate. All the leaders of Judaism, the Sanhedrin, come to Pilate, and they said to him, ‘Sir, we remember that when He was still alive that deceiver,’ – meaning Jesus – ‘said, “After three days I’m going to rise again.” Therefore, give orders for the grave to be made secure until the third day, otherwise His disciples may come and steal Him away and say to the people, “He has risen from the dead,” and the last deception will be worse than the first.’ Pilate said to them, ‘You have a guard; go, make it as secure as you know how.’ They went and made the grave secure, and along with the guard they set a seal on the stone.”
So the Jews wouldn’t have stolen the body because they wanted to make sure the disciples didn’t do it. The Romans wouldn’t have stolen the body; what would they gain by stealing the body? None of His enemies would have done that, because they wouldn’t have wanted to make an illusion that He actually had risen from the dead; that would not help their cause. So the only possibility is that the disciples stole the body; that’s all they had left. But the bigger question is, if they could, would they? And how would they? Well, we need to find out, because this is exactly the lie the Jews decided was the most convincing explanation to deny the resurrection.
Let’s look at verse 2, Matthew 28: “Behold, a severe earthquake had occurred, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled away the stone and sat upon it. And his appearance was like lightning, and his clothing as white as snow. The guards shook for fear of him and became like dead men.” Now one thing is very clear: this was supernatural. A severe earthquake, an angel of the Lord descended from heaven, his appearance is like blazing lightning, his clothing is shining blazing white like snow. The angel came from heaven, hit the earth and created an earthquake, rolled away the massive stone that was rolled across the entrance to the cave, sat on it. The guards saw this, shook for fear of him and became like dead men, so afraid they literally went unconscious. That’s what actually happened. That’s the truth.
The guards then when they finally awoke, and surely took a look inside to see that He was not there, verse 11 says, “The guard came into the city and reported to the chief priests all that had happened.” That sets up a big problem. A supernatural event occurred, an angel of the Lord appeared, an earthquake, the angel rolls the stone away; so terrifying is this heavenly being that the soldiers fall into a dead coma, find the tomb empty, and come to tell the chief priests exactly what happened.
This poses the problem. The only reasonable explanation is there was an earthquake, there was an angel, he rolled the stone away, Jesus left the tomb. But they can’t let that stand, so they have to fabricate a lie. So in verse 12 we read, “And when they had assembled with the elders and consulted together, they gave a large sum of money to the soldiers, and said, ‘You are to say, “His disciples came by night, stole Him away while we were asleep.” And if this should come to the governor’s ears, we will win him over and keep you out of trouble.’ And they took the money and did as they had been instructed; and this story was widely spread among the Jews, and is to this day.”
This is the lie that proves the resurrection. The narrative presents a rich convincing apologetic for the reality of the resurrection. Let’s look at the plot, okay.
The Jews had tried to get rid of Jesus since He first arrived. They tried when He was just a young child to get rid of Him by pulling off a mass murder of all the male children in the Bethlehem area. They pronounced curses on Him. They ascribed Him to Satan and demonic power in efforts to discredit Him. They paid off a betrayer to put Him in a position to be captured. They used injustice to sentence Him, false witnesses to tell lies about Him, blackmail against Pilate to get Him executed. They used force to keep His body in the tomb, and now they’re going to use bribery to silence the eyewitnesses of this event, the soldiers. And all of these efforts are manifestly on the surface deceptive.
So let’s look at the plot. We pick it up in verse 11 as the guard comes into the city, just backing up. The women who had met Jesus, verse 9, He was there; they greeted one another. And then verse 9 says they actually took hold of His feet – He was alive, He was physical – and they worshiped Him. And then they were told in verse 10 to go tell the disciples. So they’re on the way to the disciples.
They’re on their way, verse 11 says. Meanwhile, while they’re trying to find the disciples, some of the guard come into the city and report to the chief priests all that had happened. That means that the first people to hear about the resurrection from the original eyewitnesses were in the Sanhedrin, they were the Jewish leaders; they heard it even before the disciples heard it. The women were still trying to find the disciples to tell them.
Now they went to the chief priests. You say, “But wait a minute. These are Roman soldiers, their commander is Pilate. Why don’t they go to Pilate?” Because Pilate had essentially – go back to chapter 27, verse 65 – said, “You have a guard; go, make it as secure as you know how.” So he delegated that Roman guard to the leaders of Judaism and said, “You’re in charge.” They went, made the grave secure, and along with the guard they set a seal on the stone. So really it was a delegated enterprise now in the hands of the Jewish leaders. So the guard knew that, and when they had that experience they went not to Pilate, but to those Jewish leaders who were responsible for putting them there to tell them what happened.
Verse 11 says basically they told them the truth. They reported exactly what happened: earthquake, angel, stone rolled away, angel sitting on the stone, blazing light, coma. So the Sanhedrin now knows that that happened and the tomb is empty. It was the third day, crucial day, when Jesus said He would rise. So they are the first to hear the news, and they have to do something about it.
It really can’t be denied. Look, the resurrection of Lazarus couldn’t be denied, everybody in Jerusalem was talking about it. The miracles that were going on in the name of Jesus were impossible to deny. You read this in the fourth chapter of the book of Acts. This is the Jewish Council speaking, saying, Acts 4:16, “What shall we do with these men? For the fact that a noteworthy miracle has taken place through them is apparent to all who live in Jerusalem, and we cannot deny it,” and they’re just talking about Peter and John healing a lame man. The whole place knows that happened, everybody knows Lazarus was raised from the dead. “What are we going to do when this miracle gets out?” They have to come up with a plan.
So it’s a pretty simple plan. They’re going to bribe the soldiers, verse 12, “They assembled with the elders,” – that’s the Sanhedrin the official supreme court of Israel – 70 men plus the high priests – “they consulted together,” – and that word, by the way, has a formal idea of passing a resolution. They took a vote, the passed the resolution, and they gave a large sum of money to the soldiers and told them to lie and they would make sure that that didn’t get them in trouble.
So three parts, right? First, bribe the soldiers to lie, large sum of money, arguria. It is the word for money. It’s silver money. They gave thirty pieces of silver for Judas to betray Jesus, that was the price of a slave. They’re going to have to give a lot more money now. There may have been as many as a dozen or more of the guard. They’ve got to have a lot more money to pay these guys off, to bribe them.
And then the second thing is, for the bribe they demand that they spread the lie, that they become evangelists for the lie, verse 13, “You are to say, ‘His disciples came by night and stole Him away while we were asleep.’” The grave was empty. This is the only possible way they could explain that is that the body was stolen. If they didn’t say the body was stolen, then they would have had to find the body and declare that He was dead, and it would have ended everything. They had no body, and the tomb was empty; only the theft accounts for the missing body. So the soldiers become the preachers of the anti-resurrection message. But the theory is as ridiculous as all the other theories, and we’re going to be able to see that.
So first of all, they bribe the soldiers, then they told them to go spread the lie, and then, thirdly, verse 14, “If this should come to the governor’s ears, we will win him over and keep you out of trouble.” Look, they could be court martialed, put in prison, or even executed for failing in their duty. So the leaders, the Jewish leaders say, “Don’t worry about Pilate, we’ll take care of Pilate in such a way as to persuade him and keep you out of trouble.”
Now how could they exercise such control over Pilate? Well, they owned Pilate, they owned him, they had owned him for years. Every wrong thing he had done while he was the governor of the land of Israel they had reported to Rome, and time and time again his foolishness had cost him confidence on the part of Caesar. In fact, they finally got him to crucify Jesus even though he said He’s an innocent man by saying, “If you don’t do it, we’ll tell Caesar.” They blackmailed him there and they will do it again. They own him. So the soldiers, they’re going to keep them out of trouble.
Verse 15, “They took the money and did as had been instructed,” literally did as they were taught, didaskō. The plot is established, the lie is now in motion. That leads from the plot to the propagation in verse 15: “And this story was widely spread among the Jews, and is to this day.” They knew the truth, they paid men off to lie for money and protection. Soldiers had been there, they had experienced the supernatural reality. Certainly they had looked inside when they came to their senses, there was no body. A supernatural event and no body; they left it at that when they reported it. But they succumbed to the Jews’ treachery, so that verse 15, second half, “This logos, this word, this message, this story was widely spread” – or commonly reported – “among the Jews, and is to this day.”
This is the common view up to 60 AD when Matthew writes the gospel. Twenty-five plus years later, this is still the word on the street: “The disciples stole His body.” You’re thirty years away, which means if that’s still the story that the disciples were the real liars, right, and they kept that lie up for thirty years, and they actually kept lying for another thirty years until the last one died in the nineties. The death of Christ is in the early thirties, Matthew’s around sixty, John doesn’t die till ninety, and sixty years they’re still keeping up the lie that He arose, and they’re doing such a great job with it, they’re all dying as martyrs.
Some of you will remember the Watergate lie and the comment about those twelve men who were involved in Watergate, that they couldn’t keep a lie for three weeks. Are we to believe that these guys kept up a lie for sixty years and died as martyrs along the way for a lie? Justin Martyr who lived in the second century says in his conversation with a Jew, the famous ancient document, “You the Jews selected men and sent them into all the world proclaiming that a certain atheistic and lawless sect had 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 has risen from the dead and ascended into heaven.”
The absurd and blasphemous medieval Jewish legend became called Toledot Yeshu. It lasted even into the middle ages, this idea that the disciples had stole the body. It’s still around two thousand years later. And oh, by the way, this is the final Jewish insult on Messiah, this is the last one, this is the final exclamation point to their apostacy: He is rejected as one who died, did not rise, and His body was stolen. So the narrative about the lie is complete.
But what’s the point? Why am I taking you through this? Doesn’t this seem like kind of a negative way to end this glorious gospel of Christ written by Matthew? Wouldn’t have been better if he’d just given all the positive reasons for the resurrection? This seems negative; and I guess, in a sense, it is. But in actuality, evidence from enemies is much more powerful than evidence from friends. There was a lot of just plain physical evidence: tomb was empty, stone was rolled away, grave clothes are lying there undisturbed, which meant He just came through them and out.
And then there were those ten appearances that are recorded in the Gospel. First, He did appear to Mary Magdalene, then to the women, and then to Peter, and then to the two on the road to Emmaus, and then to the eleven on Sunday evening, and then the eleven again the week later, then seven of them in Galilee, then five hundred in Galilee, then James, then eleven on the Mount of Olives as He ascended into heaven. And oh, by the way, between His resurrection and ascension, He spend forty days, according to Acts 1, with His disciples speaking the things concerning the kingdom, and made Himself known to them, Acts 1:3 says, by many infallible proofs. So if you’re looking for the positive evidence, it’s there.
And the positive evidence is the only explanation for the disciples’ faith. They had full faith in the reality of the resurrection. They were so convinced, there’s never a single doubt. None of them is ever expressing a single doubt, never recorded anywhere in the New Testament. They were unanimous, collectively unanimous about the resurrection; so were all other believers; and bold enough to proclaim it even in the face of the people who tried to lie about it. They even professed the resurrection to the very Sanhedrin that made up the lie.
And by the way, they did not expect Jesus to rise, so there wasn’t the right kind of pathology for them to invent that. Luke 24:11, the words of the women to them that Jesus was alive seemed like idle tales they said. John 20 says they knew not the Scripture that He must rise again from the dead. Thomas wouldn’t even believe though the others said He’d been there.
The point is that all their prejudices were not in favor of inventing a resurrection. How is it that they went from doubting that to dying for it? How powerful was the reality of the resurrection to produce such a strong and unwavering faith, and then preaching it right at the people who lied, preaching it right at the very authorities they once were hiding from? They boldly confronted the same leaders from whom they once ran in fear, and they did it so frequently that it was said they filled Jerusalem with this teaching. Thousands and thousands and thousands of people began to believe. Maybe by the time you’re four or five chapters into Acts there’s as many as twenty thousand people who believe in the resurrection of Christ.
By what power were these confused and cowardly and simple, poor preachers transformed to change the world? They were not eloquent, they were not educated, they were not brilliant; they were not orators, they were not masters of argument, purveyors of logic. The power was their faith, and their faith was in a reality, a fact against what they even expected. They knew He was alive and they were willing to die for that reality. And then, by the way, they had every opportunity to validate the resurrection by those many infallible truths over those forty days being with Jesus, they were absolutely convinced. Positive testimony works very well, but it’s the testimony of the enemies who try to cover this up that validated most dramatically. So follow the flow.
It’s impossible for the guards to deny that Jesus was not in the tomb, and that it happened with some supernatural, miraculous event. If He was still there in the grave after whatever happened happened, they wouldn’t have come to the chief priests. It was impossible for them to deny a supernatural event left the grave empty. It was also impossible to give any other explanation than the one they gave. They told what they experienced: earthquake, angel, blazing light, coma, wake up, empty tomb.
It’s also impossible to believe the Jewish explanation that the disciples stole the body. How did they do that? They had fled when Jesus was arrested. They had denied Him. They were fearful. The boldest of them, Peter who was their leader, denied Him at least six times in three separate locations. All of them were full of fear in the garden and fled. How did they all come together again and create some kind of gorilla group that attacked the Roman guard.
Well you say, “Well they didn’t attack them, maybe they bribed the Roman guard.” With what? They had nothing. And then if they did overpower the Roman guard, which is ludicrous to think about, why did they remove the grave clothes and fold them neatly in place? Don’t you think they would have been in a big hurry? And by the way, how did they remove the stone? And they didn’t believe in a resurrection.
And here’s the worst part of their account: if the Roman soldiers were asleep, how do they know what happened? That’s the stupidest of all, verse 13, “You are to say, ‘His disciples came by night and stole Him away while we were asleep.’” If it were the truth that the disciples had stole His body, they wouldn’t bribe people, they would just say, “Tell them the truth.”
It’s ludicrous to propose that all the guards were asleep. There were four watches in the night and each guard would – or two or three at a time would take a two to three-hour shift. They were professional at this. They knew the penalty for falling asleep. You can’t have both. We were asleep, and the disciples came and stole the body while we were asleep doesn’t work on the face of it; it offends our reason and our logic. But that’s the lie that was spread.
And yes, Jesus did rise from the dead. And yes, an angel did come, shake the earth, roll the stone, terrified the Roman soldiers into a coma, and Jesus came out of the grave. It’s the only explanation. Disciples who didn’t even expect a resurrection don’t all of a sudden believe in one they fabricated and then die as martyrs for that fabrication. And you don’t get two thousand years of the Christian confidence in the resurrection of Jesus Christ from a lie. He rose from the dead, and the cover up makes it all the more obvious.
And verse 16 says, “The eleven disciples” – of course, Judas is not there anymore – “proceeded to Galilee, to the mountain which Jesus had designated. When they saw Him, they worshiped Him; but some were doubtful.” Even then, though they had seen Him the night of the resurrection and a week later, and now they see Him in Galilee, there are some of them who are trying to figure this out because it’s so contrary to what they expected.
Then He gives the Great Commission and says, “Go into all the world and preach crucified and risen Christ to all the nations. That’s your commission.” Jesus did rise, and it matters. “If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved.”
“Death cannot keep its prey,” – says the song – “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 o’er the dark domain, and He lives forever with His saints to reign. He arose! He arose! Hallelujah! Christ arose!” That the fact, and that is to be believed for salvation. Join me in prayer.
Our hearts are full this morning, Lord, with the realities of divine truth. The Word of God is so powerful, so clear, so penetrating, it makes the case in an arguable way that our Lord Jesus rose. We thank You, Father, for validating His death on the cross as the satisfaction for the sins of His people by raising Him from the dead. We thank You, blessed Lord, for exhibiting the power of resurrection. We thank You, Holy Spirit, for the role that You played as well in that resurrection, the whole Trinity involved in raising Christ from the dead. And because He lives, we shall live also, we who are in Him. We died in Him, we rise in Him, we live in Him. We thank You for the reality of His resurrection, we believe it with all our hearts; and because He rose from the dead, because He conquered death and sin, we do confess Him as Lord. And that is salvation.
Ah, Lord, I pray that You will touch hearts here this morning who have not confessed Jesus as Lord, nor believed that You raised Him from the dead, but that they will see maybe for the first time, maybe more clearly than before, that salvation from sin and death and eternal hell comes only through confessing Jesus as Lord and believing in His resurrection. Grant faith and salvation in His name we pray. Amen.
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