More Than A Story

Posted: April 24, 2011 in Uncategorized

Resurrection Sunday 2011, “More Than a Story”

“The Easter Story.”  Often we’ll read the history of what happened on that 1st Resurrection Sunday, and we think of it as a nice story.  A part of our cultural mythology – nice as a part of the culture, but just a story, no more.  That’s the reason we can put Jesus side by side with the Easter Bunny – they’re both just “stories”; one just happens to be a bit more formal than the other.

NO!  It’s not just a story; it’s more than a story – this is absolute history.  The resurrection of Jesus Christ really happened!  And because it happened, Jesus is alive today & offers eternal life to all who believe.

The question is: how do we know this is history?  Where’s the proof that Jesus rose from the dead?  Surely if something this dramatic happened, and we’re expected to base our entire lives upon this fact, then we can KNOW it is a fact.  Right?  Yes!  There’s much proof that we can trust the Bible regarding the account of the resurrection.  What we have in the pages of the Bible is what was originally written down – we have more evidence for that fact than for any other book in all of antiquity.  (For comparison, there’s far more evidence in favor of the New Testament than for all of ancient Roman history when it comes to knowing that we have what was written down!) 

The bigger matter is: was what was written down true & how can we know?  Obviously scientific methods of experimentation aren’t too much help here.  After all, something can only be scientifically proven if they can be reproduced – and the resurrection of Jesus Christ is unique in history.  Nothing like that has ever happened & won’t happen again until Jesus calls His Church home.  But this is the problem that ALL historical events have – they can’t be “scientifically” proven…but they CAN be “historically” proven.  How do we piece together historical events?  We ask the eyewitnesses & look for corroborating evidence. [Civil War history…]  This is exactly what we see in the pages of the New Testament regarding the resurrection of Jesus Christ: the verifiable eyewitness accounts of those who knew that Jesus was risen from the dead.  We’ll look at 4 of them today…  (We’re going to read a lot of Scripture – let the words of the NT speak to you regarding the Risen Son of God!)

The Romans knew it, and ran.

  1. They put the power of the Roman empire at the tomb with their seal.  [Matthew 27:62–66]
    1. Note this was specifically done to head off deception before it took place.  This was a pre-emptive move against Jesus’ disciples, with the knowledge they wouldn’t dare attempt to steal Jesus’ body out of the tomb with the Romans there.  If the disciples had a motivation for stealing the body, they no longer had the means to do so.
    2. Note also that the guards were supposed to be there the entire three days.  The chief priests & Pharisees understood exactly what Jesus had meant when He prophesied that He would rise from the dead three days later.  Crowds of people had heard Jesus make the same claim, so the guards were to be there for three days.  If the disciples would later claim that Jesus rose on the 4th or 5th day (or whatever), the priests would have an argument against them as a false prophet.  Thus the guards were there the entire time of Jesus’ death.  They knew He was dead & there would be no chance of anyone taking His body during the crucial 3 days.
    3. How did they secure the tomb?  They “[sealed] the stone and [set] the guard.”  The Roman seal was the mark of the Roman government.  We see a similar practice today with the U.N.’s IEAA nuclear watchdog. [Sealed Iraq’s nuclear facilities under Hussein]  To break the seal was to incur the wrath of the Roman government…  The guard that was there wasn’t likely the 1-2 Roman soldiers we so often think about.  Some scholars think this was a minimum of 4 soldiers & upwards to a contingent of 10-30 (perhaps even 60) men.  Keep in mind that the soldiers were not prepared to keep Jesus from getting out of the tomb; they were preparing against the disciples’ theft.  This group of soldiers was more than capable of taking on the 11 disciples…
    4. They were shown to be powerless compared to God. [Matthew 28:1–4] 
      1. Understand that at this point, the Roman guards had not even seen Christ Jesus; this was their reaction to the angel.  The soldiers saw the messenger of God, and virtually fell over as dead.  The mightiest superpower in all the world was shown to be weak-kneed & powerless in comparison with the power of God that was demonstrated at the tomb.  What happened to them?  Scripture doesn’t specifically tell us, but we do know that some of them showed up in the city to report back to the priests what had happened.  Think about it: they certainly couldn’t do anything about the angel, but they didn’t even do anything to the women who had showed up at the tomb to minister to Jesus’ body!  Apparently, once they regained their senses after seeing the angel, they ran the other way.
      2. The reaction of the Romans is proof of the resurrection.  Not only in their bribe (which we’ll look at in a moment), but in their failure to guard the tomb.  A Roman soldier never took his responsibility lightly – and certainly not an entire group of guards.  To fail to guard the tomb against 12 fisherman untrained in warfare would have meant sure death for the soldiers.  The only way they could have failed in their task was for God to have raised Jesus from the dead.

 

The Jewish leadership (Sanhedrin: Sadducees, priests, Pharisees) knew it, and in fear they closed their eyes, shut their ears, and pretended it never happened.

  1. First, they tried to cover it up.  [Matthew 28:11–15]  Objection: “Well, how do we know the priests & soldiers were lying & not the disciples?”  Easy…
    1. The disciples didn’t have any reason to lie.  What would they gain?  Persecution, hardship, excommunication from the Jewish community, and death.  Not a very strong incentive!
    2. The priests had every reason to lie.  They had seen with their own eyes how the people had rallied to Jesus & shouted His praises on Palm Sunday (a week prior).  Of course they were able to turn the opinion of the crowd, but what would be their reaction when they learned Jesus was risen from the dead?  Thousands would follow Him (and they did, at Pentecost!).
    3. The soldiers had every reason to accept a bribe.  In failing in their task, they faced severe punishment.  If they really had fallen asleep, they faced a death sentence.  The only way they could possibly go back would be with enough money to make it worth their while.  For the soldiers to have been left alive at all is proof they didn’t fall asleep at the tomb.
    4. Second, they tried to ignore it.  They had tried lying about it & that didn’t work, so then they just tried to get people to stop talking about it.  [Acts 4:1–4,13-17]   Obviously, the miracle that they referred to was the healing of the lame man, but the message they were trying to stop was the news of Jesus being raised from the dead.
      1. Question: why is Jesus being raised from the dead such a big deal?  Because it’s the declaration that He is the Son of God! (Rom 1:4)  It’s the assurance from God to the world that Jesus is the one ordained by God to judge the world (Acts 17:31).  It’s to declare that mankind can only be saved by confessing Jesus as Lord & believing that God has raised Him from the dead (Rom 10:9).  The resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ is the very declaration that He is indeed Lord & that there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved (Acts 4:12).
      2. The bottom line?  They needed to get the disciples to stop talking about Jesus’ resurrection because it got in the way of their legalistic authority over the people.  If Jesus is indeed the Risen Lord, that means salvation is available to ALL who come to Him by faith. (It’s available to you too!)
      3. The Jewish leadership denial of the resurrection is actually proof of the resurrection.  They had the temple guard at their command, and the ear of the Roman governor.  To have searched out the body of Jesus would have been a relatively easy task, if a dead body had existed.  Not once did they produce any proof of a lie from the disciples, nor did they attempt to argue with them about it (or argue with over 500 witnesses that had also seen Jesus).  Instead, they just passed over the resurrection as something they could try to ignore.
        1. The resurrection of Jesus Christ cannot be ignored!  It MUST be dealt with.  Perhaps you choose to reject Jesus in spite of the proof of the resurrection; perhaps you come to faith & surrender your life to Jesus as Lord – but ignoring the resurrection simply isn’t an option.  We must choose whether to accept the fact or reject it.

 

The disciples were told, but most of them did not believe at first. 

  1. They dismissed the women as deluded. [Luke 24:9-11] 
    1. Keep in mind that Jesus had repeatedly told the disciples that He would suffer & rise from the dead. (Lk 9:22, 17:25, etc.)  If anyone had any reason to at the very least hope in the testimony of the women on Sunday morning, the disciples did!  Yet they didn’t believe the women…even worse, they blew them off as engaging in emotional, wishful thinking.  IOW, not only did they not believe the ladies; they patronized them & treated them as children. … Goes to show the extent of the lack of faith of most of the disciples at this point.  They didn’t even have a glimmer of hope that the women might be telling the truth.  In their minds, Jesus was dead, and hope was crushed.
    2. Understand this: if Jesus DID remain dead, we’d have every right to be as depressed as the disciples were that day.  We’d have no hope & no reason to trust anything about Jesus at all.  We’d still be in our sins, un-forgiven & outside of the grace of God, without any hope of ever being saved at all. People sometimes get the idea that we can believe all the sort of “regular” stuff about Jesus & deny all of the supernatural…especially the resurrection.  Why not just take Jesus’ ethical & moral teaching about how to live life & chuck all of the miracles & the idea about Him rising from the dead?  Because without the resurrection, Jesus is either a liar or a lunatic!  As Paul writes to the Corinthians, “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable.” (1 Cor 15:19)  The disciples were depressed because all of their hopes in Christ as the Son of God had been dashed – and without a resurrection, their hopes had every right to BE dashed.

                                                              i.      Yet there WAS a resurrection; they just didn’t believe it!

  1. They denied the testimony of 2 witnesses that saw Jesus on the road to Emmaus. Mark 16:12-13 “(12) After that, He appeared in another form to two of them as they walked and went into the country. (13) And they went and told it to the rest, but they did not believe them either.”  More details given in Luke… [Luke 24:28–35]
    1. So not only did the disciples ignore the testimony of the women who had gone to the tomb, they didn’t even believe the witness of two of their own number who had talked with Jesus for hours & even broken bread with Him.  This goes to show the extent of their skepticism.  Keep in mind that the agreement of 2-3 witnesses were considered solid proof in legal matters.  By this point, the disciples ignore the testimony of a handful of women & don’t believe the testimony of 2-3 of their own number.  What would have been enough in a courtroom setting still wasn’t good enough for the disciples.
    2. The case has been building & building for the disciples to believe, yet they don’t.  Why?  Is it that they couldn’t believe, or that they wouldn’t believe?  Scripture doesn’t tell us – though we know they later came to faith, so it would seem that they knew it was possible for Almighty God to do the impossible.  In light of the vast miracles they had already seen Jesus perform, it seems most likely that their problem was one of their will; not a problem of the truth.  We see this most dramatically illustrated in Thomas…
    3. Thomas even denied the witness of the 11, wanting to have physical proof. [John 20:24-29]
      1. Skepticism & doubt reach its highest levels with “Doubting” Thomas.  By this point, the rest of the disciples had already seen the Risen Christ – Thomas happened to be out at the time of the appearance.  For a full week after Jesus’ resurrection, Thomas stubbornly persisted in unbelief until he saw Jesus standing right before his eyes, offering the proof that Thomas had demanded.

                                                              i.      His demand alone is amazing!  How can the creation demand anything at all from its Creator?  Yet that’s exactly what Thomas did & what many modern skeptics do today.  …

  1. Understand that despite Thomas’ lack of belief, the facts had not changed.  Jesus did not suddenly rise from the dead the moment Thomas believed; Jesus had been risen from the dead all along.  Sometimes our culture gets the idea that our faith is what makes something real.  I.e. “I’m glad that’s true for you, but it’s not true for me.  It won’t be true for me unless I believe.”  That’s just not the case!  Truth is truth simply because it’s truth; not because of our choice to believe.  For 8 days Jesus had been risen from the dead, and for 8 days Thomas continued to wallow in unbelief & grief.  Can you imagine the joy of the rest of the disciples & the utter misery of Thomas the whole time?  But the problem wasn’t the fact of Jesus’ resurrection; the problem was Thomas’ willingness to believe the fact.

                                                              i.      The fact of the resurrection is true – are you willing to believe?

  1. Notice the complete change in Thomas the moment he actually saw Jesus.  Jesus had offered His hand & side, but there’s not even any mention of Thomas approaching Him.  Instead, Thomas simply cries out (most likely falling to his knees), proclaiming that Jesus is Lord & God.

                                                              i.      What’s your reaction to the resurrection?  Are you among those whom Jesus called “blessed” – or are you still waiting for the Creator to meet the demands of skeptical creation?  The proof is already there; the problem is with the will to believe.

  1. Some of you might be thinking, “So this doesn’t exactly sound like an iron-clad case for the resurrection!”  You’d be wrong.  J  That even the disciples initially had a tough time believing the resurrection is proof to the fact that Jesus is risen from the dead.  They went from a place of being frightened & timid & unbelieving to a place where they were willing to publicly proclaim the resurrection of Christ & be tortured & killed for His name.  What could possibly cause someone to do that if they thought it was all a lie?  It HAD to have been the truth!  If it was a lie, they were the ones who would have known it was a lie – not even they believed it at first.  Their testimony changed because what they knew of the facts changed: Jesus really DID rise from the dead!

 

Did anyone believe just out of faith?  Yes!  The women (and John – Jn 20:8)

  1. They were in shock, for sure!  [John 20:1–2]  Mark 16:8 “(8) So they went out quickly and fled from the tomb, for they trembled and were amazed. And they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”[]
    1. Simply because someone has faith doesn’t mean that they don’t have any questions.  The women who showed up at the tomb only to see it open & empty with an angel sitting there surely had a bunch of questions!  Yet to have faith is to trust the truth of God in spite of our questions.  The concept of “faith” in the NT is absolutely linked with “belief”…just variations upon the same root word in Greek.  When we have faith in God, it means that we are believing Him – we trust that God will do everything that God said He would do, and that He is everything that He says that He is.  There may be questions that we have along the way & things that occur that are tough to understand, but when our faith is in Christ, we can trust Christ in spite of those circumstances.
    2. Perhaps you’re at the point where you want to believe, but you’ve just got some questions that make it tough.  Understand this: the questions will be there whether you come to faith in Christ or not.  The real issue is simply this: do you trust God?  God has already revealed Himself to every one of us.  Through creation – through the Scriptures (conviction of the Spirit) – through prophecy fulfilled – through the person of Jesus Christ (His death & resurrection).  Knowing that God has been revealed, what will it take for you to believe?
    3. They saw the empty tomb & heard the angel & went to go get the disciples. [Matthew 28:5–8]
      1. Objection: “But where is the faith demonstrated by the women at the tomb?”  Their running to the disciples IS the demonstration of their faith!  Note that although they feared (understandably so – it would have been terrifying to see the angel), they were filled with “great joy.”  What possible reason would the women have to rejoice other than faith in the resurrection?  They had gone to a graveyard to continue to prepare a dead body for burial – yet they ran out with utter joy & astonishment!  Understand that at this point, it seems that Jesus had not yet personally appeared to any of them (though He was about to do so).  They believed on the basis of the empty tomb & the angel’s testimony.
      2. Such a contrast with that of the disciples!  The disciples (demonstrated ably through Thomas) had a complete lack of faith in the face of so much more evidence than what the women initially had.
      3. The women’s testimony is proof of the Resurrection.  Culturally, a woman’s testimony was rarely accepted.  For all 4 gospels to show that the women were the 1stto see the Risen Jesus was basically to say, “I know this is tough to believe, but we’ve got to be truthful to the way it happened.”  If they were faking the account, there’s no way they would have relied on the testimony of women.  Instead, they would have invented some sort of story that would have made it easier for people at the time to believe.  Yet what they show is that Jesus’ resurrection from the dead was a verifiable fact with iron-clad proof, and that they dare not tamper with the evidence.  If a skeptic was to doubt the account on the testimony of the women, the fault was theirs; Jesus had given far more proof than necessary.
        1. Also shows the value that God gives to womankind.  The Son of God came through a virgin birth – women were the most faithful to stay at Jesus’ side during the crucifixion – women were the 1st ones at the tomb for the resurrection – women were the 1st evangelists back to the disciples.

 

Conclusion:

What will it take for you to believe?  The Romans just ran away…  The Pharisees denied it, even though they knew the truth…  Even the disciples who knew Jesus best had hardened their hearts until they stood before Jesus face-to-face…  The women heard the good news & believed!  The resurrection of Jesus Christ isn’t some sort of fanciful story – it’s not some sort of Christian well-wishing mythology – it’s real history that has real impact to this very day.  If Jesus rose from the dead that Sunday morning, it means that Jesus is still alive today!  This is the reason to celebrate this day.  Whether you call it “Easter,” “Pascha,” “Passover,” or “Resurrection Sunday,” this day is all about the resurrection & victory of Jesus Christ – THE pivotal point in history, bar none.  History & experience proves that it happened…do you believe?

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