Matthew 28:1-10 : Easter Day 2005
Get someone/a child to run with a helium pig balloon
Did you see that? A flying pig!
How many people here saw a flying pig? (Repeat run if necessary)
Get children to count how many admit to seeing it.
Do you know that some people think we are a bit odd. That believing in Jesus rising from the dead is like believing in pigs flying.
How many people do you think would convince a court that something had happened? Normally at least two witnesses.
In one of Paul's letters, I Corinthians (15), he refers to over 500 people who saw the risen Jesus. This letter was written about fifteen years after the resurrection happened, and most of the witnesses were still alive. This is just one of many reasons why we can be confident that, on that first Easter Sunday, Jesus did rise from the dead.
The adults will be looking at more evidence when we look at this again in a few moments.
A man was arrested in Melbourne Australia for running down the street naked. The Police dropped the charges against him when they discovered he was running away from the mortuary where he had just been pronounced dead. (Guardian May 1997)
Some people would have been shocked to see naked man running down street, even more so if they had seen him get up off a mortuary slab !
Is this what happened to Jesus? As Christians we need to know the answer to the question,
Is the resurrection true ? If it is not true then the whole of the Christian faith falls apart.
Different theories have been put forward.
1) Jesus wasn't really dead, he had been unconscious on the cross and recovered in the cool of the tomb.
Firstly, Jesus did die on the cross. Soldiers were professional executioners, they didn't break Jesus legs because they knew a dead man when they saw one. They would have been executed if they had not killed him. When they put a sword in his side John records blood and water coming out. We now know that this separation occurs in someone who is dead.
If this wasn't enough, how did he in a weakened state get out of the heavy cloths and spices, roll the stone away, and sneak past the guards without being noticed? Then how did he convince the disciples that he had conquered death rather than escaped it ? How did he manage to appear and disappear at will if he still had his, now rather weakened human body ? Jesus was not resuscitated. He had been raised from the dead and the disciples preached resurrection, not resuscitation!.
2) Hallucinations. Yet 1 Cor. 15 tells of the risen Jesus appearing to over 500 people at the same time. Couldn't be hallucination, this happens to individuals.
3) The disciples thought that the spirit of Jesus lived on in their hearts and lives.
Typical 'liberal' stance because they cannot accept that such a thing can happen !
Yet, if this was so why did they proclaim that Jesus had defeated death and record stories of having a breakfast of fish with them ? Would a skeptic like Thomas have believed such a thing?
4) The Romans and/or the Jewish leaders had the body.
If they did, and the disciples started to claim that Jesus had risen, then all they had to do was to produce it. Relegating Jesus to the role of another failed revolutionary who would be soon forgotten. But they didn't. They couldn't.
5) The disciples had the body.
To get this they would have had to get past the guards who would face the death penalty if the body was stolen. Yet when we read of the disciples we discover that they didn't expect the resurrection. They didn't really understand Jesus' teaching about this until after it had happened. The resurrection and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit transformed them from frightened people hiding from the authorities to bold spokesmen who would face death for their belief in the risen Jesus.
Why would they die for a lie ? And, if it was a lie why would they make up a story that the risen Jesus was first seen by a woman ? In that culture a woman's testimony was not accepted in court because they were second class citizens. So who would invent such an account ?
6) Jesus rose from death and received a new, resurrection body.
There is further evidence for this:
a) The disciples
After the crucifixion and before the resurrection Jesus followers were afraid of the Roman authorities, disappointed and frustrated that he had not been the Messiah they had expected, and dispirited, so some of them even returned to their former homes and jobs. They were bereaved, after leaving their homes and families, following Jesus for three years, and getting to know him everything was gone.
They were surprised to find that Jesus had risen from the dead. They did not expect it. No-one was waiting by the tomb that first Easter Sunday expecting to meet with the risen Jesus. Mary thought he was a gardener!
Once they had met the risen Lord Jesus and been empowered by His Spirit they were progressed to being fearless. Proclaiming to the authorities that although they had killed Jesus God had raised him from death. They were excited about being part of God's plan to save the world and so they lived and spread the good news. They had joy, confidence, a certain hope. Their relationship with him had been restored, never to be broken again. All but one of them died for their belief in the resurrection, confident that they were destined for eternal life. Why would they do this if it were not true?
b) The first witnesses
Matthew records that the empty tomb was discovered by three women. This adds more authenticity to the resurrection accounts because the testimony of women was not accepted in this culture. If the resurrection accounts had been falsified no-one in their right mind would have had women as the first witnesses of the empty tomb.
c) The Scriptures
1 Corinthians 15:3b, Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures. 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.
Paul may have had in mind passages such as:
9 Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will rest secure, 10 because you will not abandon me to the grave, nor will you let your Holy One see decay.
11 You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.
5 But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. 6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. 7 He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth. 8 By oppression and judgment he was taken away. And who can speak of his descendants? For he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was stricken. 9 He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth. 10 Yet it was the LORD's will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the LORD makes his life a guilt offering, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the LORD will prosper in his hand. 11 After the suffering of his soul, he will see the light of life and be satisfied; by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities.
Many events involving the birth and death of Jesus were foretold in the Old Testament hundreds of years before they took place. Jesus had no control over the fulfilment of many of them. For example where he would be born, that he would be buried in the tomb of a rich man, verse 9 above.
The life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus and the coming of the Holy Spirit were God's plan to save people trapped by sin and death. A plan devised before creation, revealed in the Bible.
d) History and experience
Jesus is alive and for nearly two thousand years millions of people have claimed to have a personal relationship with the risen Jesus. Not only that, he gives his power to his followers by His Spirit. This gives them freedom from sin and fear of death, joy, hope, the motivation to live for God. Many of the revolutionary changes for good in society are due to the work of Christians throughout history.
e) God gives life
Many people believe in a creator God. We affirm this in the Creed. Job said, 1:21, "The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away;"
God has the power to create, to give life. Therefore, why should someone not believe that he was able to transform the battered lifeless body of Christ into a new, perfect resurrection body?
We, too will receive resurrection bodies like his. 1 John 3:2 Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.
Jesus came to ordinary folk. They were fallible human beings like us. With moments of fear, uncertainty, hopelessness, disappointment, frustration, stupidity, tiredness, lack of faith, and so on. But through the resurrection God transformed them, and, through their witness he has transformed the world.
This Easter God calls us once again to turn away from our old way of life where we rely on ourselves and the world. To turn to the Lord Jesus in his resurrection power. He can give new life to us and, because he is alive, we can know him as our friend, our Lord and our Saviour. We can be confident that our relationship with him will never be broken, and look to the final resurrection when all Christina, living and dead, will be united in glory with one another and with their Lord.