Now on the next day, the day after the preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered together with Pilate, and said, "Sir, we remember that when He was still alive that deceiver said, 'After three days I am to rise again.' "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." Pilate said to them, "You have a guard; go make it as secure as you know how." And they went and made the grave secure, and along with the guard they set a seal on the stone. Now after the Sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to look at the grave. And behold, a severe earthquake had occurred, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled away the stone and sat upon it. And his appearance was like lightning, and his clothing as white as snow. The guards shook for fear of him and became like dead men. The angel said to the women, "Do not be afraid; for I know that you are looking for Jesus who has been crucified. He is not here, for He has risen, just as He said. Come, see the place where He was lying. Go quickly and tell His disciples that He has risen from the dead; and behold, He is going ahead of you into Galilee, there you will see Him; behold, I have told you. And they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy and ran to report it to His disciples. And behold, Jesus met them and greeted them. And they came up and took hold of His feet and worshiped Him. Then Jesus said to them, "Do not be afraid; go and take word to My brethren to leave for Galilee, and there they will see Me." Now while they were on their way, some of the guard came into the city and reported to the chief priests all that had happened. And when they had assembled with the elders and consulted together, they gave a large sum of money to the soldiers, and said, "You are to say, 'His disciples came by night and stole Him away while we were asleep.' And if this should come to the governor's ears, we will win him over and keep you out of trouble." And they took the money and did as they had been instructed; and this story was widely spread among the Jews, and is to this day.
- Matthew 27:62-28:15
Although this passage announces the glorious resurrection of Jesus according to prophecy and according to His own teaching on the matter - the story is also about the guards at the tomb. It begins with their posting at the burial site and ends with their being bribed to be quiet.
If you read too quickly you will miss their involvement in the matter and their incredible response to this great event. These were Roman soldiers on loan to the Jewish leaders in order to guard Jesus' tomb against looters or fanatic disciples who would try to steal the body. A Roman guard was usually made up of about 12 men. While they were guarding the tomb they experienced the earthquake and saw the bright angel roll the stone away. They were deathly frightened to the point where they were immobilized. Once they regained their composure they went to the city and reported what they saw to the priests. They were on loan to the Jewish authorities and so had to report that their mission had failed and why it had failed. They agree to a cover-up when offered money, and the priests create a story where Jesus' body is stolen by His disciples while they slept.
Now my point in all of this is that these men were aware of the fact that:
- Jesus was dead - they saw the execution and knew a dead body when they saw one.
- They actually saw the angel and the rolling away of the stone.
- They experienced the earth trembling.
- They realized that the tomb was empty.
- They knew that no one had come to overpower them and steal the body.
- They witnessed the Jewish leaders desperately try to cover this up.
And yet, with all these experiences, all of this evidence, and all of these irrefutable eye-witnessed events they still didn't believe! My question is "What does it take to believe in the "Resurrection"?"
Well, one might say that these are soldiers, hard men, killers, and pagans - what do you expect? But there were others who, in the face of a mountain of evidence, did not believe as well. For example:
- The Jewish Priests didn't believe. In John 11, John describes the miracle where Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead after being in the tomb four days! When the priests are told about this from several eyewitnesses their reaction was to plot to kill both Jesus and Lazarus - even though they acknowledged that Jesus had actually performed this miracle. What more could one offer these people in order to get them to believe? The soldiers told them and they ignored it.
- Judas didn't believe. In Mark 6, Jesus sends out the twelve Apostles to preach and heal and cast out demons. Judas was among the ones doing these signs. He also witnessed Jesus' miracles and Jesus' teaching, but in the end he didn't believe - he even betrayed the Lord!
- The Apostles didn't believe. Less we be too hard on Judas, we read in both Matthew and Mark that after Jesus' resurrection there were still some apostles who doubted. Imagine, Jesus has actually risen from the dead and appeared to them and some were still doubtful.
The level of disbelief and hardness of heart displayed despite the evidence, the witness, and the appearances of the risen Christ was incredible when you read about it in these few accounts. If people rejected all of this, my question is, "Why?" What does it take to believe in the resurrection of Christ? What does a person have to have to bring him to the point where he accepts this event as true? I believe the actual witnessing of the event is a strong element, but for this experience to bring one to belief there has to be some other factors present without which even witnessing the resurrection itself is not enough.
What it Takes to Believe in the Resurrection
1. Belief in God - Hebrews 11:6
The resurrection is just something that goes "bump in the night", an unexplained phenomenon for those who have no faith in God. The guards didn't really believe in God to begin with and so this event was simply frightening to them. For the Roman pagan, God was no stronger than the sun or the earth. Perhaps as strong as the emperor - but even the emperor could not raise men from the dead. Their gods were too small to do this and so their reaction was confusion and fear.
To believe that supernatural things can happen (like resurrection) we must believe in a supernatural being that can make things like this happen. One look around the heavens and the earth; one examination of the birth and development of a human being reveals to us a Creator who gives life and creates it in a beautiful and complex way - a Creator that is beyond human strength and wisdom, a supernatural being. We cannot believe in the resurrection unless we first believe in the One who can make the resurrection happen. The Hebrew writer says that those who believe in God are rewarded. As a matter of fact he says that their belief in Him is based on the hope that He will reward them for this belief. The reward that comes for searching for the God we know our conscience and our eyes tell us is out there, is that He allows us to find Him. The great gift is that He is out there just like we suspected He was all along. So in order to believe in the resurrection, we first have to believe in the God who can make resurrection happen.
2. Hear the Gospel
The soldiers didn't believe because they were pagans; they had no desire to find or believe in the true God or what He had to say to them. When the event happened, they had no frame of reference, no way to put it into context and so they simply ran away frightened. The priests didn't believe the resurrection because when they did hear the gospel, the good news of Jesus, they rejected Him as a troublemaker and threat to their positions.
- They heard, but didn't understand.
- They knew the details and even the actual events, but didn't see how it affected them. They didn't realize the significance of the event.
Paul says that, "Faith comes from hearing, and hearing the word of Christ", Romans 10:17. The word "hearing" doesn't just mean the deciphering of words, but understanding and responding to the words. It is like when your earthly father said to you, "Did you hear what I just said?" as a way to make sure you were paying attention to him.
Without the message of the gospel to explain the significance of Jesus' resurrection; without the gospel to announce that this resurrection:
- Proves Jesus' divinity - Romans 1:14
- Proves that He has power over death - Romans 8:11
- Proves that sin has been destroyed once and for all - Romans 4:25
- Proves that this is the first of many resurrections, including our own - I Corinthians 15:20
Without the gospel revealing the significance and power of the resurrection, the witness of it becomes something frightening or threatening to one's normal view of life. The priests, the Pharisees, and the soldiers had heard the words, but they had not "heard" them in such a way as to accept them into their hearts so that the resurrection would be a joyful and confirming thing and not a disturbing event to be dealt with, or scoffed at. Therefore, we need to believe in God, hear the gospel, and have...
3. A Desire for Right
"And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the light; for their deeds were evil."
- John 3:15
Jesus is the epitome of right, of moral purity, of truth, of goodness and mercy, as well as knowledge, power, and comfort. Anyone remotely looking for any of these things earnestly will find Jesus Christ in the process. You don't go looking for the resurrection, you go looking for God and when you find Jesus you find God and the resurrection is proof of that. The Pharisees, priests, and soldiers were not looking for right, true, pure, or good. They searched for power, pleasure, and profit and preferred remaining in the darker regions of the world - even when they recognized that a bright and shining light was very close to them - it only presented a threat to their way of living. How many times have you shown your child or someone else the easy and safe way to do something only to have them deliberately choose some other solution that you've warned won't work - but they do it anyway! A horse that isn't thirsty will not drink, even if you lead it to the water. People will not believe the resurrection if they do not thirst for the things that the resurrection produces, even if they see it with their own eyes.
On Easter Sunday the world takes note of the fact that Christians give special attention to an event that took place two thousand years ago - the resurrection from the dead of God's Son. Newscasters mention it with a cold sober expression. Governments and schools will shut down operations to commemorate the day. Advertisers will fill the airwaves with programs and events built around the theme of the resurrection or "renewal". And yet I ask you, with all of the hoopla, why does it not change a thing? If it's all true...
- Why don't the newscasters reverently bow their heads and thank God?
- Why don't the nations lay down their arms and accept Jesus as divine head?
- Why doesn't the media follow the news of Jesus' resurrection with a call to repent, confess His name, and be baptized?
It takes more than a holiday, or a special church service to get people to believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ - it even takes more than actually seeing it happen.
- It requires a basic faith in a God who can accomplish such a thing.
- It takes the knowledge of Christ and His word.
- It takes a desire for right.
When these things are in place, a person is able to believe in the resurrection, able to see it as the proof of God's love, forgiveness, and offer of eternal life.