A Futile Way to Explain Away … the Truth
   For the past several Sundays, we have been studying the Gospel of Matthew’s account of the Passion Week. This Resurrection Sunday, we stayed with Matthew’s narrative regarding our Lord’s rising from the dead. As God’s Spirit would have it, Matthew deals with the absence of Jesus’ corpse in the tomb from the perspective of the unsaved, … the unbeliever. Let’s look at our text;
   Matt.28:11-15 – <Would not it have been humorous to see these terrified guards try to explain to their ‘bosses’ the earthquake and the radiant angel that “…came down from heaven, … rolled back the stone and sat on it …” (28:5), … only to watch that truth ‘dim’ at the appearance of “… a large sum of money… (v.12)? Timeless …>
   Naturally, the first question should be, ‘…why are guards (plural) standing watch over a sealed tomb?’ The answer is found in 27:62-64 … and when I first read these verses, I sensed a question arise in my spirit: ‘…how is it that the enemies of Jesus took His words more seriously than did His disciples and followers?’
   The fact that the Pharisees and religious rulers actually remembered that Jesus said He would rise from the dead on the third day is amazing in itself. Jesus indeed made this claim multiple times (Matt.16:21; 17:22,23; 20:17-19; 26:59-61; Jhn.2:18-22). The Pharisees not only recalled Jesus’ words, but calculated that this would be the way they could expose His deception. Jesus would be proved a liar … and not the Son of God/ Messiah … if His body was still in the tomb on the fourth day. The enemies of Christ surmised that, in order to keep ‘that deceiver’s’ ruse going, Jesus’ disciples would have to make His corpse disappear and then proclaim that He was alive again, ‘… just as He said’. “This last deception will be worse ( … for them …) than the first” (v.64), the chief priests and Pharisees correctly stated.
    Pilate, by this time, must be wondering why the Man the religious rulers watched be crucified is still living ‘rent free’ in their heads. Probably with frustration in his voice (‘What more do you guys want me to do?!? He’s dead, isn’t He?!?’), Pilate approved the guard and sealing of the tomb.
   Now while the Pharisees and Co. were taking Jesus’ words seriously, determined to prove Him a fraud, … what are Jesus’ followers and students doing with His words, “… (I) must be killed and on the third day be raised to life” (Matt.16:21)? Let’s look at Mark 16:1-8, … and note what they are doing. The women are going to the sepluchre with “spices … to anoint Jesus’ body…”( i.e. finish the embalming process). They wonder who will roll away the stone that sealed the tomb, observing that the disciples were not to be found. Does this sound like a group of followers that were putting their faith in Jesus’ ‘rising-on-the-third-day’ claims? If not, why is it that the folk, who left everything to serve Jesus, have become so faithless concerning Jesus’ word at this point in time?
   Actually, the answer is simple. The One Who claimed to be “…the Way, the Truth, and the Life …”, was dead … and they were lost, … hopeless, …and without direction. The women were doing what women do when a loved one dies. The men were secluded away because they promoted this ‘crucified Man’s’ plan, … and not only feared the same sentence would befall them, but they probably were wondering what they were to do for the remainder of their lives. The One they thought was their eternal King was gone. <Indeed, what would we all do/ feel if we were convinced this day that this ‘Jesus stuff’ was a hoax?? If Jesus is our ‘All in all’, our life would come crashing down as theirs did so long ago if what we believed was proved a lie …>
   Jesus talked of what His followers are going through just a few nights before. Look at John 15:1-8where Jesus teaches us a truth that remains valid throughout the ages, but from a different perspective. In this text, Jesus tells the branches (believers) to remain/ abide in the vine (Jesus) in order to ” bear much fruit”. In fact, without remaining attached to the vine, “…you (we) can do nothing” (v.5b). Well the same fate awaits the branches if the vine is removed and the branches are left on the ground; the branches can do nothing without the vine. Jesus allowed God’s enemies to snuff out His Life, and in doing so, snuffed out the Life, hopes, and dreams of His followers. They literally could ‘do nothing’, much less concoct a plan to steal Jesus’ body and declare that He had risen when they knew He hadn’t. These disciples were experiencing the Great Disappointment
   …until Sunday morning, … the third day.
   (Matt.28:2-10; Luke 24:19-24) HE IS RISEN!!! Pay close attention to the reactions and emotions of those who believed in Jesus; the women who received the angel’s message were “… afraid yet filled with joy…”(28:8) (the guards experienced fear and trembling (v.4)); then the women experienced an awe that led to worship when they saw their risen Lord (v.9). The men said they were “amazed” at the report of the empty tomb and the angel (Luke 24:22 – the Grk. word translated amazed literally means ‘to be driven out of one’s senses’). It appears the last thing any of these followers of Jesus expected was for His pre-crucifixion Words to come true; ‘I will arise on the third day!’ Even knowing His Word did those followers no good (even the devil knows the Word); they needed Him … alive! That is the main reason He gave us this promise in Matt.18:20“…where two or three come together in My name, there am I with them.” Oh, dearest saints, we NEED Him to be in our midst every time we come together! Without Him, we are the Laodicean church; … ” …(we) can do nothing…”.
   I will close with a summation of the four main explanations of why the unsaved world believes the resurrection of Jesus is a hoax:
   1) The Swooning Theory – This theory states the Jesus didn’t die, He just ‘fainted’. So after they took His tortured and pierced body down, wrapped it in yards of linen, and sealed it in a tomb, … somehow Jesus, within three days time, managed to awaken, recover enough to unwrap Himself, crawl over to the huge sealed stone and push it up and out of the way. He then staggered out by the guards unnoticed and found His way back to His followers where there nursed Him back to health. <This explanation requires more faith than it does to believe in the resurrection …>
   2) The Hallucination Theory – This theory asks us to believe that Jesus’ followers wanted so much to believe that He would rise from the dead … that they actually imagined seeing Jesus alive; … both individually and corporately. Indeed, this scenario would have led the disciples to be sitting outside the tomb on Sunday morning, anticipating His arrival … which they were not. This flawed theory also leaves Jesus body in the tomb.
   3) The Body Was Stolen By Jesus’ Enemies –  This theory falls apart on the fourth day after the crucifixion of Jesus. At that point, the Pharisees should have showed the body of Jesus to the masses and had the Jesus’ Movement die right there and then. They never did, … nor could they. This leaves the world with only one theory against the Resurrection that could be viable. ..
   4) The Body Was Stolen By Jesus’ Disciples – With this theory, the tomb would be empty. But this explanation asks us to believe several other extraordinary suppositions: A) The 11 disciples secretly agreed to this scheme ‘on the fly’; B) They would have to steal Jesus’ body while the tomb was being guarded; C) They had to make up stories about Jesus meeting and eating with them in various places; D) God would poor out His Holy Spirit on these liars at Pentecost; E) The Holy Spirit would heal people through these frauds; and F) all but one of these liars would endure torture and martyrdom for a fabricated story. Honestly, ‘F)’ is the one that sealed the fact of the resurrection for me. All the ‘scheming’ disciples would have had to do to stop their torture and murder would be to ‘…tell the truth about this Jesus …’
   … and THAT they did! They truthfully confessed, in the face of death, that this Jesus, Whom they saw crucified, was alive and well! They could not deny what they saw … and the veracity of their confession is witnessed to by their death.
   No, my friends,  … Jesus didn’t survive His crucifixion … His followers didn’t succumb to mass hallucinations … and there was no body for anyone to steal, … for He Is Risen!! He Is Risen, Indeed! Alleluia!
   Stay close to Him as you walk this ‘pilgrims’ path’ toward ‘home’