March 27, 2016 Second Reformed Church
What happened that first Easter morning?
If Jesus physically rose from the dead, then Christianity is true, Jesus is the Savior, and we shall be raised from the dead in our physical bodies to eternal life.
If Jesus did not physically rise from the dead, then, ...
Paul put it this way:
"Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied" (1 Corinthians 15:12-19, ESV).
If Jesus did not physically rise from the dead, then Christianity is a lie, we have blasphemed against God, and we are damned in our sins.
Our Scripture this morning tells us that there is, indeed, Good News, and there is also a conspiracy afoot.
First, we see that the women went to the tomb to finish embalming Jesus.
"Now after the Sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb."
Jesus' body had been released for burial shortly before the start of the Sabbath, so they had to quickly bury Him without all of the burial preparations being made, since it is illegal to work on the Sabbath. So, after the Sabbath day, the women -- an unknown number of women -- the Gospels name about six -- the two Marys here being representative of the group that went -- gathered their supplies and went to finish embalming Jesus.
And some have argued that they simply went to the wrong tomb. They had been tired and upset when Jesus was placed in the tomb, and when they returned, they found an empty tomb, because it was not the tomb Jesus was laid in.
But does that make sense?
Yes, they were tired and upset when they went to the tomb, but there were at least six of them, were they all confused about where the tomb was? They had spent time there, sitting by the tomb, watching the men put Jesus into it -- a new tomb, a tomb belonging to a rich follower of Jesus, the tomb where their beloved Lord had been laid -- where they would want to return and mourn. And, it was the only tomb that had a large Roman guard posted at it.
They went to the correct tomb.
Second, an angel came with an earthquake to open the tomb and show the women that Jesus had physically risen.
"And behold, there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men."
As the women arrived at the tomb where Jesus had been laid -- the one with all the Roman guards -- an angel of the Lord came from heaven with an earthquake, rolled the stone away from the tomb and sat on it.
The guards had stood watch over night. The tomb had not been opened. The angel came to open the tomb to show them that Jesus -- including His physical body -- was gone.
The angel shown with blinding holy light, and the Roman guards were so afraid that all of them -- to a man -- fainted with fear.
Third, the angel told the women that he had Good News and to not be afraid.
"But the angel said to the women, 'Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and behold, he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him. See, I have told you.' So they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples."
The angel was seated on the stone, the men were all passed out on the ground, and the women stood there, as the angel told them not to be afraid -- because angels -- and the reason they come -- are naturally fearful to humans. As we look at the appearances of angels in the Scripture, they almost always begin their message with, "Do not be afraid."
So the women shored themselves up to hear the angel. And he told them the Good News -- "I know you have come to finish embalming Jesus, but He has physically risen from the dead, just as He said He would. I've opened the tomb so you can see -- take a quick look in -- He is not here -- He is going to meet you in Galilee."
Hearing this Good News -- Jesus is really, truly, physically alive -- risen from the dead -- the women ran away from the tomb with fear -- "What is happening?" -- and joy -- "Jesus, our Lord, is alive!" -- and they ran to tell the men who were in hiding in the Upper Room.
Fourth, Jesus met them on the way to assure them.
"And behold, Jesus met them and said, 'Greetings!' And they came up and took hold of his feet and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, 'Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.'"
Jesus had mercy on the women and sought to assure them and comfort them, so He appeared to them as they made their way back to the men. And the women ran up to Him, and fell at His feet and clung to His feet -- His real, living, physical feet -- this was no ghost -- and they worshipped Him. They understood and believed and worshipped Jesus as God in the flesh -- the promised Savior.
And after this joyous reunion, Jesus told them to comfort the men -- to tell them all that had happened -- that Jesus called them "brothers" -- they were reconcilled to Him -- Jesus forgave their desertion and fear and denial of Who He is -- and He confirmed the message that He would meet them all in Galilee.
And the women went and told the men the Good News of Jesus' physical Resurrection.
The women told them that the tomb was empty.
The women told them that the entire Roman guard passed out at the coming of the angel with an earthquake.
The women told them that the angel met them there and told them that Jesus is alive.
The women told them that they met Jesus on the way back and they touched Him and worshipped Him and He confirmed that they should all meet in Galilee.
And some people argue that the disciples came during the night and stole Jesus' body to make it look like He had physically risen from the dead -- that this was all a plot to gain power over the chief priests.
But, is there something we remember about first century courts and witnesses that make this claim -- in the light of the Gospels -- untenable?
Who witnessed the empty tomb?
Who witnessed the Roman guard passing out?
Who witnessed the angel and his message?
Who witnessed Jesus on the road and touched Him and worshipped Him?
Who was not considered a reliable witness in first century courts?
If this had been a plot of the disciples to steal the body and pretend that He had risen, they never would have cast the women as the only witnesses to these events, because their testimony would not have been accepted.
Therefore, it makes sense to believe that what the women witnessed and testified to is true. We know women are just as good as being witnesses as men, but they did not allow the testimony of women in court. So, the only reason women would be the only testimony to the Resurrection, would be that it is true. It would have been insane to base a plot on the testimony of women in that time and culture.
Now, when the Roman guards recovered from their faint, they had a problem: the tomb was open and Jesus was gone. If they went and told Pontius Pilate, he probably would have had them killed. So, they went to the chef priests to see what they would say.
"While they were going, behold, some of the guard went into the city and told the chief priests all that had taken place. And when they had assembled with the elders and taken counsel, they gave a sufficient sum of money to the soldiers and said, 'Tell people, "His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep." And if this comes to the governor's ears, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.' So they took the money and did as they were directed. And this story has been spread among the Jews to this day."
The Roman guards went to the chief priests and told them that at the break of dawn, the women had come to finish embalming Jesus for burial. "And suddenly there was an earthquake, and an angel came and rolled away the stone from the tomb, and we saw it was empty. And then we looked at the angel, himself, and were overcome by the radiance of his glory, and we all passed out. And when we awoke, the tomb was open, Jesus was nowhere to be seen, and the angel and the women were gone. So, we thought to come to you to find out what to do."
The chief priests took counsel with the elders and devised a conspiracy whereby they would deny the truth that they had just received: they bribed the guards to say that the disciples snuck past the Roman guards, who had all fallen asleep, silently moved the stone from the tomb and stole Jesus' body, and the chief priests and the elders promised that they would run interference with Pilate, so they would not be punished by Rome.
And Matthew tells us that -- at the time of the writing of his Gospel -- within forty years of the Resurrection -- the official story was that the disciples stole Jesus' body to make it look like He had physically risen from the dead.
Now, why would Matthew include this conspiracy?
Consider: the New Testament identifies over five hundred people who were still living who were witnesses to Jesus being physically resurrected and alive. If the disciples stole Jesus' body and somehow convinced over five hundred people to lie about Jesus being alive, do we seriously believe that every single one of them would be willing to endure persecution, torture, and death to not recant their story? Does it sound reasonable that they could find five hundred people to endure suffering and death to cover up the theft of Jesus' body?
Do you think you could get five hundred people to die to protect a lie you told?
What really happened that first Easter morning?
Did Jesus really physically rise from the dead?
The fact that the Gospels have a group of women being the witnesses to the Resurrection and that the official story was that the disciples stole the body, yet they were all willing to die for the claim that Jesus really did physically rise from the dead are profound reasons to believe that Jesus did physically rise from the dead.
So, I put the question to you: Do you believe that Jesus physically rose from the dead? Do you repent of your sins and submit to Him as your God and Savior?
If you do, Easter is a day of Good News, indeed! Jesus is alive. Our salvation is secure. We shall be raised in our physical bodies and spend an eternity of joy with Jesus and all those who have believed.
If you don't believe, what is your reason for not believing? This is a question of eternal life or death. Are you sure?
Let us pray:
Almighty God, we rejoice and believe that You raised Jesus from the dead and provided evidence of this Good News. We rejoice that You have made salvation for us through Your Son and applied it to us by God the Holy Spirit. Convince us and assure us of Your Truth and help us to speak this truth in love to others. For it is in Jesus' Name we pray, Amen.