Know Why You DON’T Believe
This Sunday, millions of people around the world will gather in churches and homes to celebrate the central event of their Christian faith: the resurrection of Jesus Christ. And millions of people won’t. I have been in both groups. If you find yourself in the latter group this time of year, I would like to challenge you to ask yourself the simple question, “Why?” “Why don’t I believe?” As was true in my case, I find that many men and women who don’t believe, don’t know why they don’t. To help you answer the bigger question, let me pose three smaller ones for you to consider.
QUESTION #1: How do you explain the empty tomb? It is possible to build a case for both the historic existence of Jesus and his crucifixion under Pontius Pilate from ancient histories, without even invoking the Bible. But when it comes to the details surrounding his burial, the gospel accounts are critical. They tell us that the body of Jesus was released to Joseph of Arimathea, a wealthy member of the Jewish Sanhedrin, and secret believer in Jesus.
Joseph had a new tomb that had never been used before. If you travel to Israel today, you can still see what such a tomb looked like. They were carved out of solid stone. Inside, a place was created to lay the body of the one who had died. The body was wrapped in linen strips, with each layer of the shroud being laced with aromatic spices. Some scholars believe that as the gummy spices dried, they not only helped preserve the body, but would form something like a cocoon around the body.
The tomb would then be sealed with a massive stone. The normal stone would weigh between one and two tons. The tombs were built with a graded trough in front where the stone was placed and rolled down to cover the tomb opening. Under normal circumstances, the tomb of Jesus would have been sealed and the burial would be complete. But the burial of Jesus was not performed under normal circumstances.
The Jewish leaders remembered that Jesus proclaimed he would rise on the third day. They went to the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, and asked him to secure the tomb so that the followers of Jesus would not come and steal the body to fake his resurrection. Pilate responded by sending a Roman guard and having the tomb “sealed” with a Roman seal. Getting past a Roman guard was virtually impossible, and breaking a Roman seal without authority was punishable by death.
Consider the above scenario compared to what Mary Magdalene and her friends found when they came to the tomb of Jesus that first Easter Sunday:
The seal was broken. The stone was moved. The guard had fled (an offense punishable by death!) The tomb was empty. Mary rushed back to tell the other disciples that the body was gone. Peter and John rushed to the tomb. Looking in they discovered the tomb was NOT empty. The GRAVECLOTHES were empty! John writes that when he went in the tomb and saw the empty graveclothes “he believed”! How do you explain the empty tomb?
QUESTION #2: How do you explain the eyewitness testimony? Add to the empty tomb the fact that Jesus began to show up! He first appeared to Mary Magdalene. Then to two men on the road to the nearby village of Emmaus. Then to ten of the eleven disciples in the Upper Room – without Thomas. Then to the eleven again with Thomas. Then to his brother James. Then to a group of 500 in Galilee. Finally, he appeared to the hostile Saul of Tarsus on the road to Damascus. Luke records that these appearances took place over a 40-day period and that they were “convincing”. Many of those who were eyewitnesses became leaders in the early church. How do you explain these appearances?
QUESTION #3 – How do you explain the disciples’ transformed lives? It was these eyewitness encounters that led to the radical change that we see in the lives of the disciples and multitudes of others. Before the resurrection, Peter was so terrified of the Roman and Jewish authorities that he denied Jesus three times. The other disciples fled when Jesus was arrested. They all were hiding in the Upper Room after the crucifixion. But something happened to transform them. Forty days after the resurrection, on the day of the Jewish feast of Pentecost, Peter stood in the middle of Jerusalem and proclaimed fearlessly that “You killed him (Jesus), but God raised him from the dead…and we are witnesses!”
Eventually, ten of the twelve, plus the Apostle Paul, would die martyr’s deaths for this proclamation. These men were willing to die horrendous deaths: crucifixion, flaying (skinned alive), stoning, and torture, for claiming that they saw Jesus risen and alive. How do you explain the transformed lives of the disciples?
These questions might not give you sufficient reason to believe. But if you chose not to believe, make sure you know why!
(To hear more about this subject, come join us Easter, 10:30 a.m., Highline Community Church, 6160 S. Wabash Way, Greenwood Village, CO 80111 or join us live stream at www.highlinecc.org)