Jesus Christ - On The Third Day He Rose from the Dead
Sunday, February 1, 2009 -
“We believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth: And in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord; who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, Suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried; He descended into hades; the third day He rose again from the dead; He ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of God, the Father Almighty; from thence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead. We believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic church, the communion of the saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen”
The focus of today’s teaching is the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, God the Son, from the dead. The creed makes clear the fact that Jesus really died. Think about it. Jesus, God the Son, was absolutely dead. He wasn’t just sort of dead. If you have loved ones who have passed away, remember that Jesus died just like that. The creed piles up words to emphasize the stone cold reality of Jesus’ death. The creed doesn’t just speak of Jesus as having “passed away” the way we speak in hallowed, hushed, religious terms. The creed sacrifices subtlety for the sake of powerful emphasis. The hammer falls three times in repetition: He was crucified, dead, and buried. Jesus was totally, completely dead - as dead as anyone has ever been.
Then the creed tells us that He rose from the dead on the third day. We’ve become so accustomed to celebrating Easter that we aren’t shocked by this stunning turn of events. But the news was totally shocking (as it should have been) for the first disciples. Death was then as it is now. You didn’t go to the grave to bury someone expecting to eat fish with them three days later. The Resurrection stunned the first disciples.
It was only later on that the Apostle Paul formulated his classic statement of faith and assurance on both the event and the significance of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead: 1 Corinthians 15:12-19 - "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 this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.”
Years ago, a rather prominent preacher and his wife were discussing the beauty of the Easter season. The wife was a rather emotional sort and was moved by the music, and the love and joy of the season. As the camera zoomed in on her tear stained face, she tilted her head to the side and said to her husband, "At this time of year, everything seems to be coming to life. It feels so wonderful to be a Christian, I'd believe all of this even if it weren't true!"And the audience applauded.
Paul would not tolerate such delusional thinking. The resurrection of Jesus either happened or it didn't. Christianity either stood on fact or it didn't. And if it didn't stand on fact, it fell entirely. It was either empty tomb or empty promise.
People have always recognized that the resurrection of Jesus was the fulcrum on which the Christian faith pivoted. For that reason, critics have always had different explanations for the empty tomb. Even Christianity's enemies recognize the need to do something with the empty tomb. It's evidence that just won't go away.
1) "THE WOMEN CAME TO THE WRONG TOMB" - It would certainly be an easy mistake. The Bible says they came very early in the morning. It was still quite dark. And after all these women were overcome with grief. They had been crying. They probably hadn't had much sleep. Certainly they would have liked to believe Jesus was still alive. They were grasping at straws. They simply jumped to the conclusion that Jesus rose from the dead.
But there are still some questions we need to ask: Did the angels go to the wrong tomb? Was it too dark for them? And how about later on - was there nobody who could find the right tomb? Not even Joseph of Arimathea - the owner of the tomb? Couldn’t he find the right tomb? What about the thirty roman soldiers that Matthew says were posted at the tomb? Were they standing at the wrong tomb too?
2) "JESUS DIDN'T REALLY DIE" - He suffered on the cross, came close to death, but later on, in the coolness of the tomb, he revived, regained His strength, and convinced people He actually rose from the dead.
Say what you want about the Romans - they were not beginners at execution. They knew what they were doing. The Bible makes it very clear that Jesus actually died. The soldiers made certain that He died. They double checked.
Sometimes it amazes me the lengths to which people will go to escape the resurrection of Jesus. This theory is harder to accept than the biblical account. Who could honestly believe that Jesus was almost beaten to death - that after all that loss of blood, with no medical attention, with no nourishment or help, that after being woo weak to carry His own cross, He broke loose from the grave clothes, shoved the stone out of the mouth of the grave, fought off an entire regiment of Roman soldiers, and then convinced the world that He was risen from the dead?
Dear one, believe that if you want. But don't tell me that I have great faith to believe in the resurrection. I take my hat off to you! You have unbelievable faith! More than I could even muster. It's easier to believe God's Word.
3) "THE OWNER OF THE GRAVE - JOSEPH OF ARIMATHEA - CAME AND MOVED THE BODY TO A DIFFERENT SITE" - After all, it was his grave. Perhaps he changed his mind. He was a rather timid follower of Jesus. Perhaps he decided he wanted that grave back for his own use. He simply moved it. He could probably get permission. And then in the hysteria of the moment, people thought Jesus had actually risen from the dead.
But why didn't the soldiers know Joseph came back to the tomb. When pressed about why the grave was found empty while they were guarding it, they came up with an entirely different explanation: Matthew 28:11-15 - "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.”
If Joseph had moved the body, it would have been the greatest news in the world to the soldiers (who faced severe punishment for failure on duty) and they would have gladly told the world. Clearly, something else must have happened.
By the way, Matthew doesn't even take the time to mention the obvious. If the soldiers were sleeping, how would they know who stole the body?
We’ll look at three more false explanations next week.