“But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead.” 1 Corinthians 15:20a
Italian astronomer Galileo perfected the telescope and discovered the fact that planet earth was not the center of the universe. This was at a time when it was widely believed that earth was the center of the cosmos and that the sun and planets rotated around us. Naturally, when Galileo began to publicize his findings he met with opposition and disbelief. “Just consider the evidence,” Galileo cried. “Study the facts and decide for yourself!” He said. Galileo was particularly interested in proving his theory to a certain teacher so he invited him over for supper and afterward gave him the opportunity to look through the telescope. “Here,” he said. “Just take a look through the tube and see for yourself.” The professor refused saying, “I cannot afford to look. I have based my whole life on the Aristotelian philosophy and I can’t afford to change now!” The teacher left as Galileo cried out to him, “But the truth, what about the truth?”
Many of us today are like that frightened professor. We have based our lives on what we think is true about the universe, and we are afraid to change. We are afraid to “look through the tube” and examine the hard evidence firsthand. So we spend our lives darting about like scared little rabbits afraid that we will suddenly encounter real truth and be forced to make a decision.
Nowhere do I find man more afraid to examine the evidence than in the area of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. People are willing to dismiss it with a joke or two. They are willing to call it a myth on the basis of a few pat arguments some agnostic teacher gave them years ago. But few are willing to “look through the tube” and examine the hard evidence firsthand. This is what I propose that we do together this morning. Let’s “look through the tube” at the resurrection.
The Empty Tomb
First let us examine the empty tomb. The Bible says in Luke 24:3, “But when they went in they did not find the body.” The tomb was empty. Yes, the stone slab was there. The thick scent of burial spices was in the air. But there was no body. Jesus’ corpse was gone. Only the grave clothes were there. And they were strangely empty. The windings still held the form of a body, but they were collapsed like a cocoon that has released its butterfly. They were empty like a glove that has had a hand removed. (John 20:6-7) Where was the body of Jesus?
There have been many theories explaining the empty tomb. At first the disciples thought the authorities had taken it. In John 20:2 Mary Magdalene complains, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” Many historians have argued that the Roman or Jewish authorities removed the body for safe keeping. If this is true why had the body never been found? And why did the authorities fail to produce the body when the story of the resurrection was sweeping the country? Christians were claiming Christ was risen from the dead after an unjust death. They were blaming Jewish authorities for His murder. And they were saying God has gloriously raised Christ as proof He was the real Messiah. Their message stirred up the public and undermined both Roman and Jewish authority. Surely if public officials had the body they would have publicized it to refute the Christian claims. All they would have had to do is publically display the bloated, disfigured body of Christ and Christians would have become a laughing-stock. Yet no body was ever produced.
Another theory of the empty tomb is that the disciples moved the body. If this is true why did they preach the resurrection? Were they doing it as a cruel joke? Was it a deliberate lie? If they indeed stole the body and fabricated the resurrection story we must marvel at their administration. The disciples sure must have been good actors. Again and again in Scripture we are told of their disbelief. Their behavior convinces one that the last thing they expected was a resurrection. When the women first reported the resurrection to them the Bible says, “These words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them” (Luke 24:11). Not only must we marvel at their acting ability, we must also marvel at their knack for drawing others into the hoax. The Bible says there were at least five hundred persons willing to testify that they had seen the resurrected Christ in person (1 Cor. 15:6). And, finally, if this theory is true, we must marvel at the willingness of Christians to work, suffer and die for what they knew was a lie. Certainly we can say that the evidence does not seem to substantiate this explanation!
Another theory explaining the empty grave is that one popularized in the book, The Passover Plot. This theory says that Christ did not really die on the cross. He only “swooned” and went into a coma. Thinking he was dead, they buried him in the tomb whereupon the cool air and rest revived him. This theory can be immediately discredited. First of all, Christ had been up all night. He had been beaten, lashed with a whip, and forced to carry a heavy cross through the city streets. Nails had been driven into both His hands and feet and He had hung upon a cross bleeding for around six hours. A soldier had thrust a spear deep into His side. Men have died from far less wounds. And it must be pointed out that this wasn’t the first crucifixion the soldiers had performed. They were professionals at their work. And they knew how to tell if a man was dead. There was no fooling them!
Also we are told that the body of Jesus was wrapped in approximately one hundred pounds of linen cloth and spices (John 19:39). If He wasn’t really dead He would have had to free Himself from His heavy mummy-like wrappings, take time to carefully rewrap them, and then roll a huge stone away from the tomb, a stone so heavy three women wondered how they themselves could ever move it. Next, He would have to sneak by the guards and on wounded feet and for the next forty days appear to hundreds of people as a risen, healthy, triumphant Savior. Then He would have to fake His glorious ascension. To a rational mind such a theory is foolishness!
The theory that best explains the empty tomb is the Biblical faith. The disciples did not steal the body and lie about it. The authorities did not remove the body and keep quiet about it. Nor did Jesus revive from a coma and free Himself. All evidence seems to point to a fourth party. God Himself came in His power and resurrected His Son Jesus Christ. This explains how a wounded and disfigured body could come again to life and appear for over a month to hundreds of unbelieving people and convince them of His triumph. It explains why the authorities were so helpless to challenge the Christian message. It explains best why the disciples were willing to suffer and die for the gospel.
Yes, we’ve “looked through the tube” at the evidence of the empty grave. And the evidence demands the verdict pronounced in the text. “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead.” However, the empty tomb and the grave clothes are not the only bits of evidence to be examined. Let us consider also the evidence of the guards.
Christ again and again predicted His death and resurrection in Jerusalem (Mt. 12:40, 16:21, 20:17-19, 26:24). The Jewish authorities knew this, so after His crucifixion they went to Pilate, the Roman governor, and said, “Sir, we remember how that impostor said, while he was still alive, ‘After three days I will rise again.’ Therefore order the sepulcher to be made secure until the third day, lest His disciples go and steal Him away, and tell the people, ‘He has risen from the dead,’ and the last fraud will be worse than the first” (Mt. 27:63-64). The Bible then goes on to tell us how a guard of soldiers was provided to seal the tomb of Jesus and safeguard it against any tampering. This means that there were strong, alert people at the tomb of Jesus around the clock. It means that trained security guards stood by to prevent any mischief. Now, with this in mind, how did the tomb get empty?
Some historians argue that the soldiers fell asleep at their posts, and during that time the disciples snuck in and stole the body of Jesus. They point out that this was the story the Roman and Jewish authorities publicized at the time. However this theory has several weaknesses. This would mean that not one but all of the guards would have had to sleep soundly while three or four disciples crept into the garden, quietly rolled a huge stone away from the lip of the tomb, unwound yards of grave clothes from the body, took the time to carefully rewind the bandages into their original shape, then quietly crept from the garden carrying the body of Jesus. All of this would have taken at least a half-hour to an hour. And it would have required some noise in handling the stone and some light inside the tomb itself. And I remind you that there were trained, alert soldiers guarding the tomb. The penalty for a Roman soldier sleeping on duty was death. So this theory seems far fetched too. It takes more faith to believe the disciples could have pulled off such a caper under the very noses of the guards than it does to believe in the resurrection! It takes more faith to believe the early church was founded, suffered, and died for a deceitful hoax than it does to believe in a risen Savior!
Again the evidence that seems the most plausible is the biblical account. A Roman guard of soldiers was dispatched to guard the tomb (Mt. 27:63-66). About sunrise Sunday morning a great earthquake shook the garden and an angel of the Lord rolled away the great stone (Mt. 28:1-2). The guards were fearful and “became like dead men” (Mt. 28:4). The resurrection then took place and the soldiers, coming to themselves, went into town to tell the story of what had happened. The Jewish authorities were unhappy with their account. It seemed to evidence a real resurrection! So they bribed the guards to lie and say that while they slept the disciples stole the body of Christ. Then to keep the soldiers from being put to death for “sleeping,” they promised to justify them with the governor (Mt. 28:11-15).
This view harmonizes best with human nature. It also harmonizes best with God’s nature. Remember how at the time of the resurrection the soldiers “became like dead men”? (Mt. 28:4). This is a typical human response when God is near and active. The disciples themselves were once groggy with sleep on the Mountain of Transfiguration (Lk. 9:32) and in the Garden of Gethsemane (Lk. 22:45). Jacob was sleepy at Bethel when he had the dream of a ladder to heaven (Gen. 28). And Ezekiel also fell on his face at the presence of God in a vision (Ez. 1:28). Furthermore, the biblical account of the resurrection speaks of an earthquake (Mt. 28:1-2). Now, an earthquake is another typical biblical sign of God’s mighty presence. In Ezekiel 1-2 an earthquake accompanies God’s action. Jesus Himself predicted earthquakes as a sign of His return presence on earth (Mt. 24:7). So again, as with the empty tomb, here with the guards we find evidence that demands a verdict. The theory that is the most natural is the Biblical point of view. The text sums it up. “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead.”
Let us pass on now to a third bit of evidence as we study the proof for or against the resurrection. Let us “look through the tube” at the behavior of the disciples.
Jerusalem had been anything but impressed with the way the disciples had behaved during the arrest and trial of the Nazarene. They had certainly not been courageous. In fact, they had run for their lives. Peter was so scared he denied three times even knowing Christ. Then after Jesus’ death the little band of disciples had hid themselves behind locked doors “for fear of the Jews” (Jn. 20:19). Yet after Easter morning we find these same ineffective and frightened men preaching openly in the same city that had crucified Jesus. And they were doing so with no fear of anyone. Their steady, personal convictions sound like a bell ringing in page after page of the New Testament. “That which we have heard with our own ears, seen with our own eyes, handled with our own hands, declare we unto you” (1 John 1). And of what were they so sure? That Jesus Christ is alive! Not that His influence lived on in their hearts. Not that He had “spiritually” resurrected as some are trying to say today. By the resurrection they meant that at a certain garden tomb belonging to Joseph of Arimathea there had Easter morning come an earthquake, a quickening of God’s mighty power, and the body of Jesus Christ returned again to life. He rose from the cold stone slab, stood at the entrance of the tomb and walked into the dewy garden alive forevermore.
This was the personal belief that had changed the weak disciples into bold apostles. They had witnessed firsthand the resurrected Lord. Peter was convinced. So was James and John. Mary believed. Even doubting Thomas came to believe. And each of them gave their lives to Christ as men and women have done now through twenty centuries of Christian witness.
I am sure you will agree that men do not give their lives to a lie. It takes a great conviction to change men so drastically. Men do not persist in a hoax to be crucified upside down as Peter was. They do not convert to a delusion to have their heads chopped off as St. Paul did. Nor do they live their lives on shallow evidence to be stoned to death as was Stephen. It takes evidence, hard proof, to work such a change in the lives of men. And the proof was there, for not a few, but thousands from every walk of life believed.
Your Verdict Please!
So here we have “looked through the tube.” We have studied some of the evidence concerning the resurrection. And I tell you that in such a brief sermon we only begin to glimpse a few of the many proofs that verify the resurrection. There is more, much more, for the inquiring, honest mind that will make the effort. You don’t have to commit intellectual suicide to believe in the actual bodily resurrection of Jesus. The proof is all there! “Look through the tube!”
A young Moslem intellectual converted to Christianity. One of his friends asked him why he did this. “Aren’t all religions alike?” His friend said. “Won’t one religion get you there as good as the next?” He said. The new Christian convert answered with another question. He said, “If you were walking down a road in life and it came to a fork and there were several men there giving you directions and all of them were dead except one, which would you listen to?” His friend said, “To the one who is alive, of course!” “That’s why I am a Christian,” He said. “Buddha is dead. You can find his grave. Mohammed is dead. I can show you his bones. But Jesus Christ is alive! He has no tomb! He can live in your heart and make all His promises come true!”
And to each of you who have considered the evidence of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection, I would say that you too stand at the fork of the road. All kinds of people are there to give you advice today. But only one man is alive. He is Jesus Christ. And the evidence for Him demands a verdict. That verdict you must each pronounce in your own hearts. Why not render your verdict today? Why not believe? Doubting Thomas “looked through the tube” and cried out, “My Lord and my God!” (Jn. 20:28). Peter responded by saying, “Master, thou knowest that I love you” (Jn. 21:15-17). And the apostle Paul responded with faith proclaiming, “If you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved” (Ro. 10:9). Yes, here is evidence: an empty tomb, guards behaving strangely, changed lives, and this evidence demands a verdict. What is your verdict?
“But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead!”
We thank Thee, O God, that in Christ our lives do not end in the he graveyard. We thank Thee that Thou hast made it possible for us to believe in Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection and thus live forever with Thee. We believe, O God. Roll away the great stones from our spiritual tombs and give us new life today. We believe in Christ’s name. Amen.