Matthew’s Gospel contains an often over-looked detail about Jesus’ resurrection. After describing the wonderful events of that first Easter morning, Matthew tells us how those who had orchestrated the crucifixion reacted when Jesus’ tomb was found empty. The religious leaders who had opposed Jesus and called for His death wanted to cover-up His resurrection, so they paid off the men who were supposed to be guarding the tomb and told them to lie about what had happened. They invented a story that Jesus’ disciples had stolen His body so the tomb would appear empty (Matthew 28:11-15).
As we celebrate Jesus’ resurrection, now almost 2,000 years after it happened, we live in a culture that refuses to believe. Many people today, like the religious leaders and Roman officials of the 1st Century, try to explain away the empty tomb and to silence Jesus’ followers with ridicule and false narratives about Jesus’ life, death and resurrection.
Maybe Jesus’ body was stolen. Maybe He didn’t really die on the cross. Maybe the whole story is just a myth. Maybe Christians have been lying about Jesus for 2,000 years.
The unbelieving world needs to deny the truth of the resurrection, otherwise they would have to bow down before Jesus in faith. They would have to admit the truth that Jesus died on the cross as the one perfect sacrifice that atones for our sins. They would have to acknowledge that His body was sealed inside the tomb on Friday afternoon and that on Sunday morning, by God’s mighty power and in fulfillment of Jesus’ own words, He rose from the dead, leaving behind the empty tomb and opening the way to eternal life for all who come to Him in faith.
We believe the Easter story is true. In fact, it is the centerpiece of our faith and the cornerstone of our relationship with God. We weren’t there to see the empty tomb or to touch the nail marks in our Risen Lord’s hands, but our faith in the truth of that story has changed our hearts and given us the wonderful hope of eternal life.
After 2,000 years, we may not have scientific proof of the resurrection, but we do have compelling confirmation of the Easter story that can help people overcome their doubt and join us in believing that Jesus has risen.
One piece of evidence of the resurrection flows from Matthew’s account of the cover-up perpetrated by Jesus’ opponents. Their attempts to mislead people in the days after Jesus rose turned out to be unconvincing. They couldn’t deny that the tomb was in fact empty, and historical documents outside of the Biblical record indicate that many people in Jerusalem and far beyond believed the story of Jesus rising from the dead. On the other hand, there is no historical evidence that the story invented by Jesus’ opponents was accepted by people of that generation.
Their lies went nowhere, but for Jesus’ followers, the resurrection was such a powerful event that their lives were deeply and forever changed. The disciples, along with hundreds of others, not only believed the Easter story, but they were so moved by it that they spent the rest of their lives telling Jesus’ story even in the face of violent persecution by those who vainly attempted to destroy the early church.
Perhaps the most persuasive proof of Jesus’ resurrection is the immediate and on-going transformation in the lives of Jesus’ followers. The women who first discovered the empty tomb, the disciples who had walked with Jesus for three years, and all the generations of believers since have experienced such profound spiritual renewal that nothing – not even persecution or death – can dissuade us from believing that Jesus died and rose again.