Many today simply refuse to believe that Jesus rose from the dead that first Easter Sunday. But why do they refuse to believe?
Is it because of a lack of evidence? That may be what many claim as their excuse, but that is not the real reason. There were literally hundreds of witnesses of the resurrection of Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15:6). And, as the our text in the Gospel According to Matthew makes quite clear, not all of those witnesses were sympathetic to the cause; not all of them believed (the Roman soldiers, for example).
And such a stubborn refusal to believe in the resurrection of the Lord Jesus is nothing new. It is not (as is often thought) just the natural result or consequence of the modern scientific age in which we live. In fact, the reasons for not believing in His resurrection really have not changed all that much over the last 2,000 years, even if the excuses have. Many people today refuse to believe that the Lord Jesus rose from the dead because they presuppose that miracles are impossible. They refuse to believe that it could ever happen, so they refuse to believe that it did, in fact, happen.
There is nothing particularly modern or scientific about such a view or presupposition, is there? The same exact mindset has always been around. Way back in the first century the apostle Paul encountered some people in the city of Corinth who held to that exact same idea. In 1 Corinthians 15:12 he writes,
“Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?“
So having a materialistic worldview – that is, believing only in what you can see with your own eyes and touch with your own hands – is nothing new. It is as old as mankind since the Fall.
But it is ironic that, as will see from our text in Matthew’s Gospel, the very things that the enemies of the gospel did in order to try to prevent or suppress the truth of the resurrection of Jesus, ended up supplying us with some of the most remarkable proof or evidence for the truth of Christ’s bodily resurrection. Let’s just briefly look at a few of these things.
First, the stone. Now the person who rolled the stone into place was not an enemy, but a believer. Matthew 27:57 tells us that his name was Joseph of Arimathea, and that he was “a disciple of Jesus.” What did he do? Matthew 27:59-61 tells us that he wrapped the body of Jesus “in a clean linen shroud and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had cut in the rock. And he rolled a great stone to the entrance of the tomb and went away.” So the body of Jesus was entombed in solid rock. And it was secured by a huge stone.
How large or heavy was the stone? We do not know. We do know that it would have been extremely difficult to move once it was set in place. In the parallel account in Mark’s Gospel he includes a conversation between Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James while they were on their way to the tomb. In Mark 16:3 it says that “they were saying to one another, ‘Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?’” So it was too heavy for them to move. It probably would have taken a small army to move it once it was in place.
Next, the Roman seal. Matthew 27:62-66 tells us that the chief priests and Pharisees were so worried that the disciples might try to pull off a hoax and trick people into believing that Jesus had risen from the dead, that they went to Pilate and asked him to make the tomb as secure as possible. It is ironic that even though they did not believe, they seemed more mindful of the words of Jesus than even His disciples were at the moment. They remembered what He said and even acted on it!
How did Pilate make the tomb secure? The first thing that they did was seal the stone (Matthew 27:66). Now what does that mean? A seal wasn’t like some kind of first century Crazy Glue. It did not make the stone physically harder to move at all. What it did was give everyone a little something to think about. Think of it as crime scene tape on steroids. If you are caught breaking crime scene tape or disturbing a crime scene, you can be arrested. Back in Jesus’ day, if you dared to break a Roman seal, you were taking your life in your hands. To break it was to defy the authority of Rome.
How else did Pilate make the tomb secure? Soldiers. They set a “guard” at the tomb. As if the stone and the seal were not enough! So the tomb of Jesus Christ was secured in triplicate! It would really take some doing to get Jesus’ body out of that tomb, wouldn’t it?
Now this certainly wasn’t something that His disciples could even begin to pull off. And that is really the point, isn’t it? That was the exact purpose for doing what Pilate and the Pharisees did. The religious and political authorities conspired together to prevent any possibility that the followers of Jesus might perpetrate a hoax of any kind that might keep Christianity alive, even with a dead Messiah.
So the enemies of the gospel of Jesus unintentionally did us all a great service. They tried to prevent any possibility of a resurrection story, but all they ended up doing was providing us with some of the best evidence for the truth of the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ. Now, that was certainly not their intention – they meant it for evil, but the Lord made it all work out for good, didn’t He? Just like He always does.
Just like Satan thought that the Cross was his victory, but all he did was fulfill Genesis 3:15 in the process – he struck the heel of the Seed of the woman, but had his own head crushed in doing so. Just like in the book of Acts Satan and his seed tried to stop the gospel through persecuting the church, but all that ended up happening is that the Lord used it to spread the gospel – the disciples who were scattered preached the gospel of Jesus wherever they went (Acts 8:4). Saul tried to destroy the church, but he met the risen Christ on the Damascus Road and ended up preaching the faith that he once tried to destroy. The enemies of the gospel just can’t win no matter how hard they try – they just end up doing the Lord’s bidding.
So the evidence supports the truth of the resurrection. What are some of the lies that people have used in order to try to explain away the resurrection of Jesus?
Lie #1 – The “Swoon” Theory (Jesus wasn’t really dead?)
First, some people today claim that Jesus did not really die on the Cross (the “swoon” theory). This theory shows a complete lack of understanding of the brutal and fatal nature of crucifixion. People try to say that Jesus did not really die on the Cross, but the spear that pierced His side (John 19:31-37) says otherwise. The linen shroud that wrapped his entire body for burial says otherwise. His burial in a rock tomb says otherwise.
Lie #2 – The Wrong Tomb?
Some people say that everyone simply went to the wrong tomb. But the fact that the two Marys were there when Joseph first buried Jesus (Matthew 27:61) says otherwise. The Roman seal & guard that were placed there say otherwise. The fact that the enemies of Jesus did not simply go to the correct tomb and produce the body says otherwise.
Lie #3 – The Disciples Stole the Body?
And. Of course, some people still try to go with the original cover-up, don’t they? Ironically, the chief priests and Pharisees who were so worried about the disciples pulling off a hoax or “fraud” (Matthew 27:64) perpetrated their very own hoax or fraud in trying to bury the news of the resurrection. They told the soldiers to say that the disciples came & stole the body of Jesus while they slept (Matthew 28:13). But just like anyone breaking the Roman seal on the tomb would have been taking his life in his own hands, even so a Roman soldier who fell asleep while on watch was as well.
It was such a dangerous proposition for the soldiers that in order to get them to go along with their story the chief priests needed to 1.) pay them off with a large sum of money (v.12) and 2.) promise to smooth things over with the governor if their report made it all the way to his ears (v.14). But the skeptics would have us somehow believe that a whole group of these soldiers fell asleep on watch, that the disciples of Jesus (who up to now had not exactly shown themselves to the bravest souls) suddenly and inexplicably turned into seal team six and 1.) risked having to fight with soldiers, and 2.) were able to sneak up to the tomb by stealth, and roll the huge stone away while the soldiers slept, all for a lie.
What about you? Are you hiding behind the same old empty excuses that unbelievers that been using for centuries, or do you believe in the empty tomb? Do you know that Jesus died to pay for your sins and rose from the dead?