Cornerstone EPC Sunday morning
Franklin, NC 28734 April 11, 2021
“The Official Ruse at the Resurrection”
Last week we confessed the incontrovertible fact that Jesus rose from the tomb. Yet some—both in our day and in every day back to the morning of Jesus’ resurrection—try to controvert this fact. We have one such example today. Let’s give our attention once again to the reading and preaching of God’s Word in this place. May He bless our souls in these moments, and may what we hear today do us much good—both today and long after this day is done.
(HERE READ THE TEXT)
As our text opens, everyone who was there has left—or is leaving. Jesus has left, of course, because He is risen. The women, with fear and great joy intermingled, have left in order to announce Jesus’ resurrection and to tell His disciples to go to Galilee—for they will see Him there. Some of the guards also went from the tomb site—and it is their tale, and the reaction to it, that concerns us today.
Some of the guards came unto the chief priests to tell all that happened. They felt the earthquake reported in Matthew 28:2. They saw the angel of the Lord descend from Heaven, roll the stone away, and sit on it. At least this much they reported. No doubt they recall trembling and being like dead men—though, assuredly, they would be unlikely to confess it and would like very much to forget it. Did they heard the angel’s words to the women, and did they report this if they heard? Moreover, did they see the risen Jesus leave the tomb, and did they report this if they saw? The guards, likely with a view to their highest hope of self-preservation, come to the chief priests and tell them all that happened.
The chief priests, upon hearing this report, take counsel with the elders and devise a ruse. They bribe the soldiers with a sufficient (probably large, Greek ikanos [ikanoV]) amount of money to act and to speak consistent with the ruse, and they provide them the talking point—the party line: His disciples stole the body in the night while we slept. The conferees assure the guards that they will satisfy Pilate and keep them out of trouble, should this news reach him. The passage closes with Matthew’s Spirit-led editorial comment: This story has been spread among the Jews to this day (ca. late A. D. 60s).
The refutation of the ruse is simple. The primary refutation is this: Jesus rose from the dead, as declared in Scripture. Should this be too much for some to embrace at first, consider these secondary reasons why this ruse is implausible. First, stealing Jesus’ body would require daring, but the disciples do not have it. The Apostle John reports that on the first day of the week, the door of the room where Jesus’ disciples gathered was locked for fear of the Jews (John 20:19). Second, stealing Jesus’ body would require strength: strength to overpower battle-hardened guards, strength to move the heavy, sealed stone, and strength to carry Jesus’ body somewhere else. Likely the disciples do not have sufficient strength and skill to accomplish this. Consider also this tertiary, or third-level, reason why this ruse cannot be believed: Dereliction of duty, for a Roman soldier, was a capital offense; he would pay for his blunder with his life. Hence, no Roman soldier, ordinarily, would admit to sleeping on duty. Moreover, if they slept, how knew they what happened, in order to declare it to the chief priests? This stolen-body ruse at Jesus’ resurrection must be jettisoned in favor of the truth—that Jesus rose from the dead, just as He said.
There are other widely circulated stories about the Resurrection, to be sure. Consider, for example, the so-called wrong-tomb theory, which asserts that those coming to the tomb on the first day of the week simply arrived at the wrong tomb—and, on this evidence, believed that Jesus rose. Here is the refutation: The Jewish and Roman leadership, or Joseph of Arimathea, whose tomb Jesus borrowed for less than forty-eight hours, simply would correct the error by taking the women, disciples, etc., to the correct tomb. This didn’t happen, because those coming to the tomb on the first day of the week found the correct, empty tomb.
Another theory, the so-called swoon theory, claims that Jesus did not really die, but fainted—and was thought dead. Once entombed, He revived and exited the tomb. Here is the refutation of this theory. Jesus was dead. The Apostle John tells us, in John 19:31-37, that the guards, after bringing Jesus’ body down from the cross, pierced His side with a sword—possibly a fatal wound in itself if Jesus be not dead already. John 19:34 tells us, when the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side, blood and water emerged—consistent with the separation at physical death of blood cells from the fluids carrying them. Jesus was dead, no doubt. Moreover, even if Jesus merely swooned, how likely was He to escape the tomb after having had no food for more than forty-eight hours and after having been beaten to a pulp? No doubt Jesus died, and no doubt Jesus rose from the dead. This theory must be discarded.
Still others advance the so-called mass hallucination theory, which states that Jesus did not really rise, but His followers thought they saw him in intermittent, mass hallucinations. We refute this theory by noting that hallucinations are unique to each hallucinator. In other words, two people who hallucinate do not (or, at best, very rarely) experience identical hallucinations. Hence, the odds of more than five hundred people seeing a single hallucination—and that at one instant—is long to the vanishing point. It is much easier by far to believe the Gospel claim that Jesus rose.
We arrive now at our inescapable conclusion: Jesus is risen from the dead—victorious over death, the grave, sin, and hell. By virtue of our union with Him, by faith, we have abundant (cf., e. g., the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, etc., Galatians 5:22-23), eternal life. More than this, we have power from on high for life and ministry in His Name. Hence, be evermore glad that you have received Him by faith—or, if the case applies, place your trust in Jesus this day (yea, this very moment) as Savior from your sins and as Lord of your life. Then enjoy Him and glorify Him forever—just like the rest of us who have found ourselves safe forevermore in Him.
 See Josh McDowell, Evidence That Demands a Verdict (Orlando, FL: Campus Crusade for Christ, 1972), for excellent statement and evaluation of each of these theories. My debt to this source, on this topic, is incalculable.