The First Prerequisite To Resurrection
Scripture: Matthew 27:57–66
The First Prerequisite To ResurrectionMatthew 27:57-66
Sunday, April 17, 2011
Pastor Randy Smith
"Hi, I think Jesus never died on the cross, he was put on the cross, nevetheless he was delivered from it unconscious but alive. His friends who endeavoured to save his life…manouvered events, in such ways [to make that happen]... Jesus' friends asked for the body of Jesus from the Pilate and when their request was [granted] by Pilate, they took him hurriedly to a tomb… They took him into a spacious tomb where he was laid and treatment of his injuries on cross was done there. When Jesus gained consciousness and strength enough for a journey they helped him to come out of the tomb… It is a case of resussication, in my opinion" (excerpted from an Internet letter).
This belief is as old as time. In technical terms it is called the "Swoon Theory." The "Swoon Theory" basically claims that Jesus was crucified but never really died on the cross. It argues then that He was taken down from the cross and laid in the tomb. After three days the coolness of the tomb revived Him. He managed to roll away the stone, come out of the tomb and appear to the disciples deceiving them into thinking He'd risen from the dead.
Why have people adamately argued for two thousand years that Jesus never really died? The answer is simple. The Resurrection is the cornerstone of our faith. Even Paul in 1 Corinthians 15 states that without the Resurrection everything we believe crumbles (1 Cor. 15:17). We must have a resurrection, for without it we deny the accuracy of the Scriptures and the accomplishment of Christ's work on the cross. The Resurrection is the crowning victory. The Resurrection places Christ above all other religious figures. And in order to have a resurrection something must happen first. Jesus had to die. So if one can prove that Jesus never died, one can discredit the Resurrection.
Today we will look at a passage that validates the actual death of Jesus Christ, but let's consider all we covered in the past three weeks as to what happened to Jesus thus far. Permit me to make this response to any who might find some attractiveness in the "Swoon Theory."
After an evening of physical punishment we'll tie you to a wooden post and beat you silly with a whip carrying metal pieces at the end of the thongs. After your organs are slashed open and you are a bloody mess, we'll nail you to a cross to suffocate for six hours. We'll thrust a Roman spear into your heart and watch the blood and water come flowing out. Then we'll leave you in a tomb for three days without water, food or medical help. Anybody want to undergo the experiment?
1. THE COURAGEOUS CHARACTER
So before we get to the Resurrection next week, let's see how Matthew validates our Lord's death this morning. Our first point - I'm calling Joseph of Arimathea the "Courageous Character."
According to Old Testament Scriptures (Dt. 21:22-23), dead bodies were not permitted to hang overnight in the land which God had given to the Israelites. In this case, it was especially important because Jesus was crucified on Friday and the next day was the Sabbath and the start of Passover (Jn. 19:31). And for the Jews, the next day began around 6:00 PM. Jesus and two others were put on the cross at 9:00 AM. They needed to be off by 6:00 PM.
Since crucifixion could last days, death in this case was hastened for these men at Calvary. A large wooden mallet was employed to shatter the legs of the victims. With the legs incapacitated, the individual could no longer press the body upward for air and the suffocating death would result much quicker.
We read in John 19, "So the soldiers came, and broke the legs of the first man and of the other who was crucified with Him; but coming to Jesus, when they saw that He was already dead, they did not break His legs. But one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and immediately blood and water came out" (Jn. 19:32-34).
The Romans preferred to keep the dead on the cross in full view until their bodies rotted away as a deterrent to the citizens. After that their bodies were desecrated in a pit to be burned or eaten by animals. Yet in some special cases they would permit a family member to take the executed victim and provide a more honorable burial.
The fact that Joseph of Arimathea asked for the body of Jesus is courageous. He was not a family member. Additionally he was a religious leader representing the people that blackmailed and humiliated Pilate to do what he tried to avoid (yet see Lk. 23:50-51). And furthermore he was asking for the body of one accused of rebellion to Rome. Gutsy move to approach Pilate in this manner.
Gutsy move also when you consider the personal cost to Joseph's reputation. In asking for the body of Jesus he brought to an end many things in which he once held dear. Based upon the description of Joseph in the Scripture, we come to the conclusion that he enjoyed a privileged status. He was rich (Mt. 27:57). He was among the esteemed religious leaders in the land (Mk. 15:43). Yet for no earthly advantage Joseph was willing to put his life and reputation and finances on the line for Jesus Christ.
My friends, let's pause for a moment. Do you have that type of courage? When is the last time you have truly left your comfort zone for Jesus Christ? When is the last time you willingly chose Jesus over your reputation? When is the last time you didn't overly calculate a financial contribution for the Lord? When is the last time others in the church could point to you like they did Joseph as one who stuck his or her neck on the line and rose to the occasion for the glory of God? Listen, when the church of Jesus Christ chooses laziness and worldliness and fearfulness over the dedicated commitment that our Lord expects, we invalidate through our testimony the life transforming power of the cross. We display ourselves and not the greatness of our Savior.
It appears Joseph was not always the Joseph we read about this morning. In John's gospel we read that he was a "secret [disciple] for fear of the Jews" (Jn. 19:38). And even when he responded valiantly as in our passage, Mark adds that he "gathered up [the] courage" (Mk. 15:43). Someone once said, "True courage is not the absence of fear - but the willingness to proceed in spite of it." Maybe it's different for you, but I can't say I always have the courage to do the right thing. And when the opportunity arises, I am as good as the rest of you in finding a million excuses as to why the Lord is fine with my cowardly actions. Maybe it was conviction over his silence that led Joseph to this point, but whatever it was, Joseph matured, and Joseph was prepared to act and do the right thing when the situation arose. Oftentimes we are not this fortunate to plan out our response. In most cases standing up for Jesus happens on the spot furthering the need to always be in the Spirit for instant boldness and proper articulation.
When Joseph asked Pilate for the body of Jesus in verse 58, Mark adds in his gospel that Pilate was surprised that Jesus was already dead (Mk. 15:44). Pilate summoned a centurion who gave the official confirmation. Again further proof of our Lord's death.
Verses 59-60, "And Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, 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."
What a great testimony of Joseph's heart! His love for the Lord prompted him to take a courageous stand. Now his love for the Lord prompts him to provide for the Lord from his very best.
I have so much respect for people who are not afraid to take risks for Jesus. People who are not slaves to the opinion of men. People who fear the Lord more than they fear maintaining their reputation. People who not only care to know the truth but then are willing to take a stand for it. People who quit the personal whining and wanting of selfish existence and fix their eyes totally on Jesus. Though often mocked by the world, God advances His kingdom on the backs of these choice individuals. And they are the ones as this account testifies who are highlighted in God's chronicles and who truly find the deepest satisfaction by functioning in the way for which they were created and redeemed.
We've learned a lot about the sacrifice of Jesus the past three weeks. Is it asking too much if the One we call our Lord asks His disciples to follow the example He set for us? He was the sinless One who bore incredible reproach for our sakes. Do we learn anything about God's economy when we gaze upon the ridiculed, nail-pierced, uncompromising, faithful-until-the-end Man on the cross? He was a King willing to be a servant. We are too often servants who simply want to be kings.
At this point we can be certain. Jesus Christ was definitely dead. And how well this account lines up with the prophecy from Isaiah 53: "His grave was assigned with wicked men, yet He was with a rich man in His death" (Isa. 53:9a).
2. THE WATCHFUL WOMEN
Second, also there at the grave were two women. In verses 55 and 56 we learned that Jesus had several women who ministered to His needs. And now during a time when the disciples fled in fear, we find two of these ladies, according to verse 61, "sitting" right there "opposite the grave." Again, another courageous position as mourning for the executed was not permitted under Roman law.
Matthew is driving his point home. Here we have two eyewitnesses to the physical death and burial of Jesus. What I also find significant in this account is that Matthew uses two ladies as his chief eyewitnesses.
A regular criticism of the Bible is that it is only a book written by men who collectively fabricated the story about Jesus' resurrection. Several reasons make this statement untrue, but one of them is right here in this report. The Jews during these days placed little value on the testimony of women. Don't you think that if the Bible were a human attempt to convince the world of something that the male writers at that time would have used male witnesses?
This example is seen throughout the Scriptures. I know if Peter had any input I'm sure there are several personal reports about him that would not have made it past his editing. How do you think he felt when he preached to the early church and said something that the congregation found offensive? I'm sure that on several occasions someone stood up and said, "Well, at least Jesus never called me the devil!" I mean, if the apostles fictitiously wrote the Bible, why did they paint themselves in such a horrible light? Why would they be cowering in fear behind locked doors and describe the only ones who came to Jesus after His death were a one-time Jewish leader and two insignificant women?
3. THE LANGUISHING LEADERS
The final testimony Matthew provides declaring the certainty of Jesus' death is most convincing.
The Jewish religious leaders are still having a tough time with Jesus Christ. Even though they got Him executed as they wanted and now were certain of His death, they feared one more thing that could make matters even worse. They knew on several occasions that Jesus predicted He would return from the dead (read Mt. 16:21; 17:9; 20:19 also 12:40). Their minds came to an obvious conclusion. "Hey, what if the disciples come and steal away the body of Jesus and convince the people that He resurrected? His following will be greater than it was in the past!" Or as verse 64 put it in their own words, "The last deception will be worse than the first."
Let's see how this is unpacked in Scripture: Verses 62-63, "Now on the next day, the day after the preparation [Friday was the day of preparation as no work could be done on the Sabbath so the "day after" here is Sabbath Saturday], the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered together with Pilate, and said, 'Sir, we remember that when He was still alive that deceiver [what contempt!] said, 'After three days I am to rise again.''"
Here is their request, verse 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."
There it is. The question is not over His death, but rather the prospect that Jesus' disciples fake a resurrection. I also know they weren't even concerned about a true resurrection since the "chief priests" (verse 62) were the Sadducees and the Sadducees didn't even believe in a resurrection (Mt. 22:23; Ac. 23:8)! And as far as the disciples went, a resurrection was the furthest thing from their minds. A dying Messiah didn't fit into their expectations. They thought it was all over. Their concern was not stealing the body of Jesus, but rather keeping themselves alive! Even after three days, John tells us "the doors were shut where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews" (Jn. 20:19).
This is a simple power struggle. Jesus was gaining the Jewish leaders' followers. He was growing in popularity. Since the leaders would not submit to Him, they needed to eliminate Him. And now that He was eliminated (in their minds) they wanted to make sure that He stayed that way!
In verse 65 Pilate responds, "You have a guard; go, make it as secure as you know how." Verse 66, "And they went and made the grave secure, and along with the guard they set a seal on the stone."
So when it is all said and done, soldiers (plural - Mt. 28:4) are planted around the tomb of Jesus. A Roman seal is placed on the tomb. In other words, to break into the tomb would force you to break the seal incurring great consequences. And of course, according to verse 60, "a large stone" blocked the "entrance of the tomb." The grave was made as secure as possible. God providentially set up the situation to remove all doubt. Nobody was coming out, and nobody was going in - so the world thought!
Now we know the outcome, for no force in the world could prevent the fulfillment of our Lord's predictions, but the Jewish leaders in their attempts to prevent a false resurrection actually helped further the validity of a true resurrection. Their plan backfired. God used their wicked attempts to further His glorious purposes and make the evidence for the resurrection even greater.
The world waited. What would become of Jesus and His movement? I think of Psalm 2:4, "He who sits in the heavens laughs, the Lord scoffs at them."