Have you ever wondered why Christians assemble together on Sunday? After all, the special religious day each week for the Jews was Saturday, what they commonly called the Sabbath. Why do we emphasize Sunday? The answer to that is found in the New Testament. The church was established on a Sunday (cf. Acts 2:1; Lev. 23:15,16) and the Christians of the first century specifically gathered together on the first day of the week to partake of the Lord's Supper (cf. Acts 20:7). When a new week began, the disciples assembled together and partook of the Lord's Supper. They didn't do this just once a year or once a quarter--they met every Sunday, every first day of the week. They ate unleavened bread which represented Jesus' body that had been nailed to the cross and drank fruit of the vine which symbolized His shed blood. Members of Christ's church today still follow the example they set forth.
That makes sense Stephen, but why was Sunday chosen as the day to assemble and remember Jesus' death? The New Testament doesn't tell us the answer to that question, but many suspect it is because Sunday, the first day of the week, is the day in which Jesus was raised from the dead. It seems likely that Christians assembled on Sundays to partake of the Lord's Supper and also to celebrate the day in which death was overcome!
Followers of Jesus today need to assemble to commemorate the death of Christ, to celebrate His resurrection, and to be edified and encouraged by one another and God's word. These are precious privileges and also obligations for children of God. Millions of people place a special emphasis on a certain Sunday each Spring and call it Easter. To them, this Sunday is elevated above others since it is believed to be the one in which Jesus rose from the dead. The New Testament does not elevate one Sunday above all others, and that is why I do not treat "Easter" any differently than any other Sunday. All Sundays are special because Jesus rose from the dead on the first day of the week! All Sundays are special in that Christians are to partake of the Lord's Supper on that day every week. We should not just celebrate Jesus' resurrection on one particular Sunday each year. That is not what the early church did. Interestingly, if one studies the Greek New Testament, the word for "Easter" isn't even in the manuscripts! The celebration of "Easter" is just something men came up with hundreds of years after the fact. Please don't misunderstand me. I believe that every Sunday should be special--not just one Sunday in the Spring! Every Sunday should be a time to remember Jesus' death, burial, and resurrection. That's what we find in the New Testament, and that's what Christians should practice today.
With all that being said, since most people are especially mindful of Jesus' resurrection at this time of the year, I thought it would be beneficial to present two feature lessons on Jesus' resurrection. Be honest, do you really know, without a shadow of a doubt, that Jesus was raised from the dead? Is there evidence to support this belief or is it just wishful thinking? Can we prove that Jesus was brought back to life from the dead? Yes, we can and we will!
But how? None of us had the privilege of seeing Jesus personally after His resurrection. Thus, none of us can know from experience that Jesus was raised from the dead. However, that doesn't mean there isn't other evidence for us to consider! Acts 1:3 states that Jesus "presented Himself alive after His suffering by many infallible proofs." Infallible means incapable of error. Thus, to say that there is infallible proof of Jesus' resurrection means that there is no possible way one could be wrong about it--Jesus is alive! Let us ponder some of these infallible proofs at this time.
1. THE FACT OF THE EMPTY TOMB
It is an undeniable truth that Jesus was put into a tomb. At least four people witnessed the event: Joseph of Arimathea, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of Joses, and Nicodemus (cf. Mark 15:43-47; John 19:38-42). There were others who were hostile to the cause of Christ who acknowledged that the body was in the tomb (cf. Matt. 27:62ff). The chief priests and Pharisees requested that guards watch the tomb. Why would they guard a tomb if nothing was in it? Also, why would they seal the tomb if they didn't know for sure that Jesus' body was inside it?
Although the tomb was occupied late Friday, it was empty by Sunday morning! Many people saw that it was empty, including Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, Salome, Joanna, Peter, John, and the Roman guards (cf. Matt. 28; Mark 16; Luke 24; John 20). I believe it is very significant to note that no one ever denied that the tomb was empty on that Sunday morning; they merely tried to explain why it was empty. The disciples, since they had seen the risen Christ first hand, believed that Jesus was alive again. But, those who were unwilling to accept this truth quickly came up with a cover-up plan.
2. THE FIRST CENTURY COVER-UP
The Roman guards who were at the tomb saw the angel roll the stone back. One may assume they also saw that the body was gone. What else could they do except go and tell the Jewish authorities what had happened (cf. Matt. 28:11)? Listen to what happened next - "When they had assembled with the elders and consulted together they gave a large sum of money to the soldiers, saying, 'Tell them, "His disciples came at night and stole Him away while we slept'' And if this comes to the governor's ears, we will appease him and make you secure.' So they took the money and did as they were instructed; and this saying is commonly reported among the Jews until this day" (Matt. 28:12-15).
There was the cover-up. Instead of being honest and having a desire to know the truth, they would rather lie and deny everything. The Jewish leaders couldn't risk telling Pilate the truth because he might believe it and spoil their cover-up. If they told Pilate and he didn't believe them, then he would have had the soldiers slain for their failure to guard the tomb. If that happened then the Jewish authorities wouldn't have any "witnesses" to circulate this cover-up story. They felt like the best thing was to try to cover-up the truth and pay bribe money. Surely, this fact in and of itself is a testimony to the truth that Jesus was brought back to life--where else could soldiers get paid extra for "failing to do their job"? What a scandal!
So, there was a cover-up in the first century and there are those who still disbelieve today. This brings us to our third point--the one we will spend the most time developing.
3. THE MODERN DAY COVER-UP
Sadly, there are those today who do not believe the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus. But, as we have stated earlier, no one in the first century denied the fact that Jesus' tomb was empty on that Sunday morning (and only a fool centuries removed would allege otherwise). His body was definitely gone. But, what could have happened to it? There are several theories that men have proposed over the years. I view these theories as an attempt at a modern day cover-up of the truth. Let's consider some of them and expose their errors.
THE WRONG TOMB THEORY
Some will try to argue that the women who reported the body missing had mistakenly gone to the wrong tomb. Now, is that possible? Of course it is. But, how likely is it that the disciples who went to check up on the women's claim also went to the wrong tomb? Very unlikely, but still possible, I suppose. However, we can be certain that the Jewish authorities--those men who asked for Roman soldiers to be stationed at the tomb to prevent Jesus' body from being stolen--would not have been mistaken about the location. Nor would the Roman guards be mistaken, for they were there!
This theory is clearly invalid because if the resurrection claim was merely the result of a geographical mistake, then the Jewish authorities would have wasted no time in producing the body of Jesus from the proper tomb. If the disciples went to the wrong tomb, then the Jewish religious leaders would've still had the body and would have quickly quenched this rumor. However, the Jewish authorities didn't do this, which can only mean one thing: Jesus' disciples went to the correct tomb and His body was gone!
THE SWOON THEORY
This theory states that Jesus didn't die; He merely fainted from exhaustion and loss of blood. Everyone just thought He was dead, but later He revived in the tomb because of its cool air and His disciples thought it to be a resurrection. There are so many problems with this theory. First of all, it makes a mockery of the Roman soldiers. Are we expected to believe that trained executioners could not tell if Jesus was dead or not?! Let's be reasonable! Jesus had been beaten, scourged, and crucified--tortured to death, essentially. His back was certainly ripped to shreds, His wrists and feet had been pierced by large spikes, His side had been torn open, He had lost a tremendous amount of blood, and, to top things off, by the time Sunday morning came around, He hadn't had any food for three days! Now, even if we grant that Jesus somehow survived all that (and fooled the soldiers into thinking He was dead), how can anyone believe--even for a second--that someone in Jesus' condition could have mustered enough strength to quietly move a huge boulder, sneak by the soldiers, and somehow convince his disciples that He was a conqueror over death?
This theory is ridiculously impossible for so many reasons. The Romans were experts at crucifixion. They knew enough about death to be 100% positive that our Lord was dead, and that's why they didn't break His legs as they did to the two thieves (John 19:31ff). Jesus wasn't pretending to be dead. He planned to die and fulfill the Father's will. How could anyone pretend to be dead when a spear is thrust into his side? Jesus was certainly dead when His body was wrapped and placed in the tomb. The Jewish authorities were confident that He was dead also. They weren't worried about Him getting up and leaving, but they were concerned about the body being stolen. That's why they got some Roman soldiers to guard the tomb.
We will consider some more cover-up theories and conclude this study in our next feature lesson. Thank you for listening, and may the Lord bless you as you strive to do His will.