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Matthew

The Resurrection

Matthew 27:57--28:20

Lesson audio

We take our last look at Matthew for that most important of events, the Resurrection. The Scripture is long, but it tells the drama clearly.

Mat 27:57-66 NASB When it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who himself had also become a disciple of Jesus. (58) This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then Pilate ordered it to be given to him. (59) And Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, (60) and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn out in the rock; and he rolled a large stone against the entrance of the tomb and went away. (61) And Mary Magdalene was there, and the other Mary, sitting opposite the grave. (62) Now on the next day, the day after the preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered together with Pilate, (63) and said, "Sir, we remember that when He was still alive that deceiver said, 'After three days I am to rise again.' (64) "Therefore, give orders for the grave to be made secure until the third day, otherwise His disciples may come and steal Him away and say to the people, 'He has risen from the dead,' and the last deception will be worse than the first." (65) Pilate said to them, "You have a guard; go, make it as secure as you know how." (66) And they went and made the grave secure, and along with the guard they set a seal on the stone.

Mat 28:1-20 NASB Now after the Sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to look at the grave. (2) And behold, a severe earthquake had occurred, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled away the stone and sat upon it. (3) And his appearance was like lightning, and his clothing as white as snow. (4) The guards shook for fear of him and became like dead men. (5) The angel said to the women, "Do not be afraid; for I know that you are looking for Jesus who has been crucified. (6) "He is not here, for He has risen, just as He said. Come, see the place where He was lying. (7) "Go quickly and tell His disciples that He has risen from the dead; and behold, He is going ahead of you into Galilee, there you will see Him; behold, I have told you." (8) And they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy and ran to report it to His disciples. (9) And behold, Jesus met them and greeted them. And they came up and took hold of His feet and worshiped Him. (10) Then Jesus *said to them, "Do not be afraid; go and take word to My brethren to leave for Galilee, and there they will see Me." (11) Now while they were on their way, some of the guard came into the city and reported to the chief priests all that had happened. (12) And when they had assembled with the elders and consulted together, they gave a large sum of money to the soldiers, (13) and said, "You are to say, 'His disciples came by night and stole Him away while we were asleep.' (14) "And if this should come to the governor's ears, we will win him over and keep you out of trouble." (15) And they took the money and did as they had been instructed; and this story was widely spread among the Jews, and is to this day. (16) But the eleven disciples proceeded to Galilee, to the mountain which Jesus had designated. (17) When they saw Him, they worshiped Him; but some were doubtful. (18) And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. (19) "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, (20) teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age."

Christian View and World’s View

One thing our ancestors – heathen or Christian – understood much more clearly that we do today is the importance of the Resurrection. Here’s Paul’s explanation of it:

1Co 15:14-19 NASB and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain. (15) Moreover we are even found to be false witnesses of God, because we testified against God that He raised Christ, whom He did not raise, if in fact the dead are not raised. (16) For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised; (17) and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. (18) Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. (19) If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied.

That pretty much tells the logic of it. The church today faces an interesting dichotomy unknown to the early church:

  • The common place phrase in the early church was “He is risen.” It implies a present-tense Christ, One who is with us always.
  • Today, the phrase would be “Christ rose.” It is a subtle difference, but important. Today much of the church sees the Resurrection as of historical interest only.

You see the distinction, or course. We will speak a bit more later on “living in the Resurrection”; but to the orthodox Christian He is risen indeed.

There is one other reason we consider the Resurrection of supreme importance. It means that the promise of our resurrection is made by the same Power which raised Christ from the dead. It ain’t bragging if you can do it.

The world’s reply

Three main reactions have arisen concerning the Resurrection.

  • Myth or legend. Usually delivered in respectful tones by liberal heretics, this says that Jesus was, well, who knows what He was? But certainly not what He claimed. The “Jesus Seminar” so beloved by the press is an example of this view.
  • Easter faith. While denying that they really know, these heretics tell us that the Resurrection itself is not important (which means they can deny it and consider that trivial) as long as we have “Easter faith.” A form of godliness but denying the power thereof. It’s difficult to pin down except at Easter – when it’s a genuine feel-good sermon for those who show up once a year.
  • Scientific explanation. These folks hold that there must be some scientific explanation for the accounts of the New Testament. Interestingly, they don’t usually quibble over the accuracy of the documents – just what can be read between the lines. Their theories will be considered in the next section.

Five theories for the Resurrection

There are five major theories to interpret the evidence of the Scripture.

Swoon theory

In this theory, it is held that Christ did not die on the cross – he merely passed out, was taken for dead, and in the cool of the tomb came to. This seems to meet all the facts, and therefore is viewed as inoffensive to Christians. But there are certain objections to it:

  • Surviving a crucifixion. The Roman army was not in the habit of allowing victims of a crucifixion to survive it – for the simple reason that the soldier would be crucified if he did. It’s in their interest to make sure. Which they did.
  • Blood and water[1]. John tells us that he saw blood and water coming from Christ’s side. There is only one way to have this: the lungs have collapsed. That’s the usual way crucifixion ends – the victim is actually asphyxiated. No lungs, no air, no life.
  • Moving the stone. If Christ swooned, how does a man in that condition roll away the stone? How did he get past the guards?
  • Where did He go? It is the principle objection. There is absolutely no evidence whatever that He was in that body after the Crucifixion. So where did He go from there? Why didn’t He go back and put it to the Pharisees?

The matter is so difficult that its backers often go to the second theory: a grand conspiracy.

Conspiracy theory

It is very hard to have a conspiracy composed of so many witnesses. But it’s not very hard to propose one. The method is simple: steal the body and announce the Resurrection. It’s a little difficult to see why a mortal Jesus would want to participate, but wave that aside. The theory has other problems.

  • No one confessed. Not one of the disciples or early followers ever recanted his testimony that He is risen. They had plenty of opportunity and motivation to do so. Their enemies had the power to find such a one, and every motivation to do so. No one ever recanted, even in the face of a horrible death.
  • These guys? Come on people, what kind of people does it take to run a successful conspiracy? A bunch of hick fishermen? The Pharisees – they could run a conspiracy. But this bunch?
  • 500 eyewitnesses. There were over 500 witnesses who saw the resurrected Christ. That’s a large number of conspirators – which usually means the conspiracy is a short one.
  • Why didn’t the Jews produce the body? This is the most damaging argument of all. If there is no resurrection, how do the disciples gain possession of the body? If the Jews still had the body, why didn’t they produce it?
Hallucination theory

The idea in this one is that we have some sort of hallucination – everybody went out and got high some mushrooms, and this is the result (your theory here.) But this theory has a few holes, too:

  • That many witnesses? All those people were hallucinating?
  • That many appearances? For the next forty days?
  • What about Thomas? Here’s a man, at least, whose first reaction is that this just can’t be. Was he the only one who got in on the hallucination last?
  • Hallucinations don’t eat breakfast. Which Christ did.
  • Where’s the body? Again, all the Jews had to do was produce the body of Jesus, and this theory would have vanished.
The myth theory

This theory holds that none of this happened – or some little, but we’re not sure – and that later on the myth took hold. This has its little difficulty too.

  • Style of the Gospels. We know how myths were written in that time period.
  • Little time. We know that the undisputed date of Paul’s letters is before AD 65 (the year in which he was fed to the lions.). That doesn’t allow much time for such a myth to take hold.
  • The two layer theory. The lower layer has a man named Jesus doing good things and speaking wisely. The upper layer has this man mythologized into the Savior. Problem? There is absolutely no physical evidence for the lower layer.
  • The women. If you’re going to create a myth, you don’t have the first piece of evidence depend upon women. At that time, a woman’s word was very, very suspect. If you’re going to write a myth, you need a heroic disciple here – not a bunch of depressed women.
  • Peter tells us that this is not so. See 2nd Peter 1:16. So we’re back to the conspiracy theory again.

He is Risen

The fifth theory is the logical one: He is Risen.

Life in the Resurrection

I have often encouraged my students to live in the power of the Resurrection. What do we mean by that?

Regeneration

The Christian is regenerated – born again. We should act like it, then.

  • Our first step is in baptism. We are buried with Christ – a symbolic sharing of the death, and then the Resurrection. We are “born again” – raised from the dead.
  • This action puts His Spirit – the Holy Spirit – within us.[2] With a different Spirit, we are changed – reborn.
  • Therefore, with His Spirit, we walk in the light.[3] If any man is in Christ, he is a new creature.

Our actions should speak loudly in this. Christ’s resurrection means our regeneration.

The point of the preaching

We preach Christ crucified, risen and coming again.

  • We preach that this is the fulfillment of prophecy, God’s plan from the beginning.[4]
  • We preach that Christ is the way, the truth and the life – and that no one comes to God the Father except through Him. This alone makes our telling of the Gospel important to those who will hear it.
  • We preach that He is coming again to judge the living and the dead. And there are a fair number who ought to be apprised of that.

Preaching the Gospel is not about us, though it strengthens the faith. It’s about those who haven’t heard the Word.

Death, where is your sting?

One key characteristic of the Christian who walks in the power of the Resurrection is this: He no longer fears death – but sees it as homecoming. No fear?

  • Abraham was willing to sacrifice his only son to God – because he knew that God holds power over life and death, and could raise Isaac from the dead.[5]
  • We know that we will be raised from the dead, too.[6] Death is not permanent for us.
  • At the resurrection, we will receive from our Father the generous rewards He has promised.[7]
  • Most of all, we know this: to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.[8]

O grave, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting? We live in the power of the Resurrection, and you have no power over us.


[1] John 19:31-33

[2] Romans 8:10-11

[3] 1 John 1:7

[4] Acts 2:22-37

[5] Hebrews 11:17-19

[6] John 6:39-40

[7] Luke 14:12-14

[8] 2nd Corinthians 5:4-9

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