What should you do when you are having a conversation and somebody says something that sounds impossible? Should you believe everything that everybody says? No! People say things that aren't true all the time. It's not that they are necessarily lying; oftentimes they say things that they think are true or they want to be true. But that doesn't make them true. If you are going to believe something that sounds impossible, you demand evidence.
Today we are celebrating Easter Sunday. Why do we celebrate Easter? It is the day that Jesus rose from the dead! But wait… That sounds impossible. You've never seen anybody rise from the dead. Should you believe that Jesus rose from the dead just because somebody told you that Jesus rose from the dead? Or will you demand evidence?
You might expect that a Christian pastor would tell you that you shouldn't need evidence that Jesus rose from the dead. After all, the Bible says that he did. Shouldn't that be enough? Or you might think that I will say that you don't need evidence. You just gotta believe. But honestly, I won't blame you if you ask for evidence. I wouldn't believe it if there weren't any evidence, either.
We know with 100 percent certainty that Jesus' dead body was placed in a tomb, but three days later, that same tomb was empty. Nobody was better at executing people than Roman soldiers. They executed Jesus by nailing him to a cross, and they did not let anybody take him off of that cross until he was good and dead. But after he was dead, he was buried in a tomb that was cut out of rock. A stone was
rolled in front of the opening to that rock, and it was sealed shut. Guards were posted outside that tomb, because the Jewish leaders were afraid that Jesus' disciples would come and steal his body. They had nothing to be afraid of there; the disciples were afraid of the Jewish leaders and were in hiding.
But in spite of the stone and the seal and the guard, the tomb was empty on Sunday morning. I don't say that with 100 percent certainty just because the Bible says that. I say that because it is an indisputable fact of history. Even if you don't believe a word of what the Bible says, you would have to agree that there are people called Christians. And there have been Christians for nearly 2000 years. And they were called Christians because they believed in a man who was called "Christ." And from the very beginning, these Christians claimed that Christ rose from the dead. And there were enemies of the Christians who opposed them. Are we in agreement so far?
If Jesus Christ had never existed or if he had never been crucified, these enemies could have disproved the Christians simply by pointing out these facts, and nobody would have believed in him. But they never made that claim, because they agreed that Jesus had lived and died just as they said. And if Jesus Christ's tomb had not been empty on Easter Sunday, the enemies could have disproved the Christians simply by showing people the tomb with his body in it. But they didn't do that, because even they agreed that his body wasn't there. Even without the Bible we know with 100 percent certainty that Jesus' tomb was empty on Easter Sunday.
The disagreement between the first Christians and their enemies wasn't whether the tomb was empty. It was why the tomb was empty. The enemies claimed that his disciples stole his body. But that's impossible. They spent the rest of their lives preaching that Jesus rose from the dead, even though they were killed and tortured because of this message. They could never have done that if they knew it was all a lie. But what if somebody else stole Jesus' body, and the disciples thought that meant Jesus had risen from the dead? That's impossible, too, because those same disciples said that the fact the tomb was empty didn't convince them that Jesus was alive. They didn't believe it until they saw him themselves. So it's also not possible that they were simply at the wrong tomb.
It's also not possible that they were hallucinating when they thought they saw Jesus, because there were many people who saw him, touched him, and ate with him on multiple occasions, including the twelve apostles, the women who followed him, another 500 people at one time, and a couple of people who didn't believe in him: his brother James, who became a leader in the church and a persecutor named Saul, who became the apostle Paul. All of these people were willing to give their lives for their testimony that they saw Jesus with their own eyes.
So even if you don't believe what the Bible says, there is clear evidence that Jesus rose from the dead. It sounds impossible, so we are tempted to ignore the evidence and deny his resurrection. But if we have heard the evidence and in spite of the evidence we refuse to believe that Jesus rose from the dead, then we insist that we don't want his death to pay for our sins, we refuse to be saved from death,
and we reject his gift of eternal life.
But the evidence shows that Jesus has risen from the dead. And if he has, then we should probably listen to what he invites us to believe. He has given us the Bible as a reliable record of his life and teaching. The gospel of Matthew, chapter 28 tells us what God says happened that first Easter morning. The account records a conversation that wasn't just unexpected, but seemed impossible. Actually, there were two conversations that day that seemed impossible to a group of women.
If you were looking to hold a conversation, you probably wouldn't go to a cemetery. My grandma used to call the cemetery "silent city." There are a lot of people there, but they don't talk. Even the people who are above ground there tend to speak in hushed voices. So to go to the cemetery and find someone who wants to talk to you would be unexpected. On the morning of the first Easter Sunday, the women who went to the tomb of Jesus weren't expecting to hold any conversations. They might whisper to each other of their sadness that Jesus was dead. But they went to look at the tomb of Jesus, not to talk to anybody.
When they arrived at the tomb, they didn't see what they had expected. An angel had come down from heaven, rolled the stone away, and was sitting on it. The armed guards who were there to keep anybody from stealing Jesus' body had fainted. The tomb was empty.
This angel was waiting for the women and wanted to have a conversation with them. What he told them was completely unexpected. “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.”
It may not sound like much of a conversation. The women didn't say anything to the angel. You can picture them standing there with their jaws hanging open in shock. But they did respond by running to tell the disciples, just as the angel told them to do. They ran with both fear and great joy. This was their response to the angel's message.
But as they were running, they unexpectedly met someone else. Jesus himself spoke to them. “Greetings,” he said. Their response to his word was complete faith. They held on to his feet, so you know they weren't just hallucinating, and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.” They responded in faith by doing exactly as he asked.
The angel said, "Go quickly and tell his disciples…" Jesus said, "Go and tell my brothers…" These women were the messengers who first told Jesus' apostles that he was alive! Over the next two Sundays, we’ll hear messages spoken by Jesus' two most famous apostles, Peter and Paul. Peter didn't believe in the resurrection right away. Paul didn't believe in it for three more years. But Jesus changed their minds by appearing to them and changed their hearts with his good news. And his resurrection became the center of their lives and messages.
It was the good news that brought the women to believe. And it was the good news that brought the disciples to believe. But that good news wasn't without evidence. If there hadn't been any evidence that the good news was true, then it wouldn't have been good news, and they never would have believed it. But it was true, and it is still true today. Even if we have doubted this truth before, we can live in complete faith now and for the rest of our lives. It is good news for you and me that Jesus has risen from the dead, because that means he is truly God, his death has paid for all of our sins, we are saved from death, and he will raise us from the dead to receive his gift of eternal life. Believe that Jesus had a conversation with the women who thought he was dead. And believe the good news that Jesus speaks to you. Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed! Alleluia!