As I prepare for a speaking engagement next week, I was looking in the Gospel of Matthew. I will be speaking on ‘Reach’ and what that means in light of the Great Commission. The beginning of chapter twenty-eight of Matthew records the events of Resurrection Sunday morning. When Mary Magdalene and the other Mary (possibly Jesus’ aunt) went to see the tomb. The Bible says there was an earthquake and an Angel of the Lord came and rolled back the stone at the opening of the tomb. The Roman guards who were charged with guarding the tomb were terrified and fainted, or “became like dead men.” (Matt 28:4) This is when the Angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.”
What strikes me this morning is what I read in the footnotes of this passage. This is something I honestly don’t think I ever thought about: The stone was not rolled away so Jesus could get out. The stone was rolled away so others could get in and see that Jesus was not there. As a young person, I just thought that the Angel rolled it back, Jesus gave a nod and a high five and he peaced out. Jesus defeated death, he couldn’t roll a heavy stone?
This whole story, this whole movement, hinges on one thing and that is the empty tomb. If Jesus did not rise from the dead, than all of this is foolish. But where is the body? If the Religious and political leaders wanted to make sure that this movement was quenched and dispersed, wouldn’t they want nothing more than to produce a body? The Roman attachment stationed at the tomb was charged with guarding the tomb with their lives. The Roman government had a zero tolerance policy for abandonment of post or failure of mission.
If Jesus had just fainted on the cross, and then came to in the tomb, there is no human way to move that stone. Also, the tomb was sealed by the Roman government. Even if some of Christ’s followers wanted to perpetrate a hoax, how? Do you honestly think that the Roman soldiers would have allowed that? John Piper writes about this. About the idea that the disciples took the body, he poses the question, “Could they have overcome the guards at the tomb? More important, would they have begun to preach with such authority that Jesus was raised, knowing that he was not? Would they have risked their lives and accepted beatings for something they knew was a fraud?”1
It seems clear to me that if the Resurrection was a hoax, Christianity as a whole would not exist. Surely the message of the Gospel would not have spread from the backwoods town of Galilee around the world and back again. The burden of proof is on those who deny Christ’s deity. Where is the body? The tomb is empty. Death has been defeated.
1 Taken from “Eight Reasons Why I Believe That Jesus Rose from the Dead” by John Piper. © Desiring God. Website: www.desiringGod.org