Remember how he spoke to you when he was still in Galilee, saying, ‘It is necessary that the Son of Man be betrayed into the hands of sinful men, be crucified, and rise on the third day’?” And they remembered his words (24:6b-8 CSB).
The historical authenticity of the resurrection of Jesus Christ is crucial to the Christian faith. Let us make no mistake. It does matter what we believe about the resurrection of Christ. Consider 1 Corinthians 15:14, 19. This Resurrection Sunday, let’s examine Luke’s account of this historical event. As we read the Four Gospels, we can discern that each one is a genuine account. No attempt has been made to smooth out the details. People told what they saw, and Matthew, Mark, Luke and John recorded their testimony.
The twenty-third chapter of Luke’s Gospel ends on a somber note. Jesus died, was buried, and then his followers rest on the Sabbath. Death and bondage fill the air. But then comes Sunday and a new age begins! Let us worship with our minds as Luke presents three important facts that filled that Sunday morning.
There was doubt concerning the resurrection of Jesus. Look at the identity of those who doubted. We might expect that Luke would record the unbelief of Christ’s opponents. But he does not. Instead, we hear of the unbelief of his followers!
- The women doubted (24:1). Their love and loyalty to Jesus is commendable, but not their unbelief. You can be sincere, but wrong. The women went to anoint a dead body (observe the spices), and not to greet a risen Savior on his triumph over death. They had death, not life, on their minds.
- The apostles doubted (24:11). None of them made an early trip to the tomb in order to see if Jesus had risen, as he said. They were sure that he was dead and gone. They continued to doubt, after others claimed he was raised. You can almost hear them talking among themselves, “What crazy women… Old wives tales!”
People commonly whitewash the failures of founders of movements. “Look at what great people they were!” The Bible does not do that. When God tells us about the greatest day in history, he openly discloses the failure of his people.
Consider the significance of their unbelief. Christ’s followers were not under a delusion. Such people seek something to fuel their false hopes. These people had abandoned hope. Their King, Teacher, and Friend was dead and that was all they would believe. The disciples were not ready to believe anything. They were skeptics. They dismissed testimony with a wave of the hand. They required irrefutable proof to change their minds. We sometimes marvel at the faith of Paul: that he was turned from persecutor to apostle. But the change of mind of these people was also remarkable. What about you? Have you had a change of mind about Christ’s resurrection?
There was evidence for the resurrection of Jesus. Some people play games with words. They say that no one actually saw Jesus rise from the dead, and therefore it is a non-historical event. Such people are too clever by half. Suppose we have a corpse of a man before us, but no one saw him die. The corpse is proof that the man is dead, regardless of whether or not anyone saw him die. We would not say that his death was not a historical event, because no one witnessed it. Beware of deceivers! Instead, in a few words, Luke presents two lines of evidence for Christ’s resurrection.
First, there is the evidence of the empty tomb. A theft did not take place by the disciples. The Roman guard was there to prevent any such theft (Matthew 27:62-66). Besides, people do not venture everything and die for a known lie. Nor did his enemies steal Christ’s body. They would have produced the body of Jesus and destroyed Christianity in its infancy. A swoon did not occur. Jesus clearly had died. Skilled executioners pronounced him dead (Mark 15:44-45), and there was the spear thrust (John 19:34) that showed clear evidence that he had died. In addition, Jesus showed himself to his followers as Lord of life, and not as someone barely alive.
Second, there was the evidence of the empty grave clothes (24:12; cf. John 20:5-8). Consider the manner of burial (cf. John 11:44; 19:38-40). His body had been wound in strips of cloth with spices intermingled in them. The empty grave clothes provide witness that Christ’s body was not stolen (why would they take a mangled body and leave the strips of cloth that were wound around him. Also, Jesus Christ was raised as no one had ever been raised before him (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:20-23; Colossians 1:18; John 20:19).
Those who oppose Jesus Christ have a major problem. Here is evidence that will stand the test in a court of law. The tomb where Jesus had been buried and which the Roman government guarded to prevent theft was empty, except for one thing. Inside that tomb were empty grave clothes. What group of fearful men or women is going to overpower trained guards whose life depends on preserving their watch? And if they could do that, would they unwind the grave clothes from the body, reform them to look like a body had disappeared, and carry off a mangled corpse? The idea is absurd. You have one good alternative at this point. Bow before the Risen Christ and confess that he is Lord.
There was testimony concerning the resurrection.
The angels testified (24:5-6). Their words convey a mild rebuke. Notice how they frame this rebuke. They do not ask why they seek the “risen” but the “living”. Do you look for the living in a cemetery? Consider Revelation 1:18. Every believer should realize that he or she is accountable to the living Lord Jesus Christ (John 5:24-27). Their words provided an explanation at the same time. He has risen! Death, that ancient foe of mankind, made its ultimate mistake. It met its Master!
Christ’s own words testified (24:7 cf. 9:22). His words spoke of divine necessity (cf. Acts 2:23; 4:28). His words had foretold the key events that had happened: his suffering, his death by crucifixion, and his resurrection. This should teach us the importance of knowing and understanding Christ’s words (Mark 1:15; Matthew 7:13-14; 9:37-38; John 14:3). They provide a framework for understanding life.
The women testified (24:8-10). Then they remembered Christ’s words (NIV). Suddenly, God the Holy Spirit helped them comprehend what Jesus had told them. For this reason, they went and spread the message of what they had seen and heard. Compare 24:22-23. All believers should provide a similar testimony.
Then they remembered Christ’s words. What about you? Do you know in your heart that Christ has been raised from the dead? How is the knowledge of Christ’s resurrection changing your life?
Grace and peace