The Search for Jesus – Apr. 18, 2021

One Sunday morning, a pastor announced to his congregation, “Next week I plan to preach on the sin of lying. In preparation for that message, I’m asking you all to read Mark Chapter 17 this week.”

The following Sunday, he stood up to preach and asked, “How many of you took the time to read Mark 17 this week?” Nearly every hand went up. The minister smiled and replied,

“That’s very good”, he said, “except Mark only has 16 chapters.”

US News Health did a poll in 2009 with Psychology Today on why we lie and why we believe the lies of others. They say, by the age of four, 90% of children have learned the concept of lying. Based on studies performed in the recent past, it is estimated that 60% of adults cannot have a 10-minute conversation without lying at least once. Within those ten-minutes, an average of 3 lies were told.

When asked, who do we lie to the most, they found; we lie to our Parents – 86% of the time, Friends – 75% of the time, Siblings – 73% of the time, and our Spouses – 69% of the time. They say we lie about everyday events, we lie on resumes, we lie to our doctor or dentist, to our boss, and to our pastor.

The common reasons we lie are; to save face, to shift blame, to avoid confrontation, to get our way, to be nice, and because lying makes us feel better about ourselves. They say that because we tend to lie so often, we are also prone to believe lies told to us. Sometimes living in denial or believing what we want to hear is easier than hearing the truth.

Ever since Americans got plugged into the internet, we now live in the information age. Just about anything you want to know ‘is at your fingertips or voice command’ on your computer or phone. In fact, psychiatrists call this the age of information overload. There is so much information and social media output, they say, it is sometimes hard to find the truth.

Our former president called this information ‘Fake News’. In the past, we called it propaganda, hoaxes or disinformation, entertainment news or yellow journalism. This meant the information was exaggerated, tainted, or just outright lies. Many people call this kind of information conspiracy theories today.

Things were not much different in Jesus’ day. The Bible repeatedly warns followers about believing in false prophets. Matthew 7:15-16 reads, “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them.”

In Jesus’ day, people separated themselves out by faith and by where they lived. For instance, you might classify yourself as a Jew, Gentile, Greek, Samaritan, or a Pagan. Likewise, you may be a Pharisee, Sadducee, Essene, or a Zealot. Just to name a few. People expected the Zealots and fanatics to mislead them, but never the Teachers of the Law. But never say never.

Matthews Gospel tells us that just past the Sabbath, on the third day, early in the morning, heaven came down and rocked our world. ‘There was a violent earthquake, when an angel of the Lord came down and rolled back the stone at Jesus’ tomb and sat on it. His appearance was like lightening, and his clothes were white as snow.

‘The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men.’ (Matthew 28:2-4) This may indicate that they were so frightened, they passed out or lay quietly on the ground. When the women arrived, the angel said,

“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 to Galilee. There you will see him. This is my message for you.” (Matthew 28:5-7)

After the angel disappeared and the women left, the guards awoke and made their plans. They knew they had a problem. So, at the same time the women were running to tell the disciples the good news, some of the guards headed to the city. Some may have remained at the tomb or gone home because they were frightened, scripture is unclear. But the ones who went to town, immediately went to the chief priests to report everything that had happened. (Matthew 28:11)

Looking back to Matthew Chapter 27, we see why the guards were by the tomb. The chief priests and the Pharisees went to Pilate and asked him to place a guard by the tomb to keep the disciples from stealing the body. Pilate responded, “Take a guard and go make the tomb as secure as you know how.”

So, they went and secured the tomb and even placed an official seal on the stone. If anyone broke this seal, except the guardsmen, they would be subject to death. This was not a punishment that could inflict on an angel!

After the chief priests heard what happened, they called a meeting of the Sanhedrin. No one went to check out the tomb to check the validity of what was reported, they believed the guards. That is because a Roman Sentry was a highly reliable group of elite soldiers. There were 16 to 30 fully armored and well-trained soldiers in a Sentry.

They were skilled at torture and cold enough to gamble over a dying man’s clothes in front of his family. In fact, if they slept on the job or failed to keep their watch, they would face crucifixion themselves. So, if they were frightened, then what they said, must be true.

The soldiers waited for the ruling of the Sanhedrin quietly. It wasn’t in their best interest yet to report back to Pilate. If he determined they failed in their duty, they would surely pay with their lives. They were hoping for a better outcome.

The Sanhedrin had a decision to make. When the news got out that the tomb was empty, some would believe in the resurrection of Jesus. But it was something they could not hide. They had no choice but to acknowledge the empty tomb, but they needed to find some way ‘to shut down the talk of resurrection’ that the women were sharing.

The first choice was easy. Women were not considered reliable witnesses, so what they said, would likely be dismissed. The next part was more difficult. Scholars throughout the years have tried to re-imagine their discussion and gain insight into their choices.

Theory 1: Somehow Jesus must have survived the crucifixion; this is sometimes called the Swoon Theory. It goes, Jesus lost so much blood that he appeared dead but survived, only to wake up later. The problem with that theory is multi-faceted. How would Jesus get out of a sealed tomb? That also meant, that the Roman Guards failed to kill Jesus, not likely. In fact, ludicrous.

Theory 2: The Romans took the body and dumped it somewhere in a ditch. After a crucifixion, the Romans often left a body on the cross to rot. If they took it down, they might through it in a lime pit to rot but that was treatment left for the worst of the worst. Remember, the Romans had no argument with Jesus. They had no reason to steal his body. And certainly, no reason to lie about it.

Theory 3: The Mistaken Identity. This theory claimed that someone who looked like Jesus impersonated him after the burial. This still cannot explain the scars in his hands and side or his mysterious appearances. The truth is, the disciples were just as shocked as others at Jesus resurrection and they certainly wouldn’t be willing to die for a lie.

Theory 4: Mass Hallucination. This theory says, after the burial, the disciples and others just imagined they saw Jesus. But how could so many, 500 plus people all hallucinate at one time? In fact, the disciples never really believed in the resurrection until they saw Jesus raised. This was not something they would have or could have imagined.

But that still doesn’t explain the stone rolled away, the broken seal at the tomb or the missing body. Many scholars believe that the soldiers that were left behind were searching for Jesus’ body. It was the only thing that would save them. Yet, to this day, it has never been found. And it is still a point of humiliation for many.

The final theory was that the disciples stole the body of Jesus. In many ways, this was their best option. They had already set the plan in motion by asking for guards to watch the tomb. So, they went ahead and created a 3-part plan. First, they would bribe the guards to say they fell asleep and claim the disciples came and took the body. Maybe they could add that they were somehow drugged.

Second, the guards must agree to tell the lie. The grave was empty, and they had no other way of explaining it than a real resurrection and no one wanted that. It threatened the authority and reputation of both the Romans and the Teachers of the Law.

Third, since the soldiers were in their care, Pilate would follow their lead. So, they agreed to report that the soldiers did their job and that they were satisfied with the outcome. There would be no need to say anything to the Roman leaders about what really happened. Of course, something this major was bound to be found out.

Matthew 28:15 says, “The soldiers took the money and did as they were instructed. And this story has been widely circulated among the Jews to this vary day.” That is with the understanding that Matthew’s Gospel was written about 30 years after the fact.

But the disciples were never arrested, because there was no evidence that tied them to the missing body. There was no trial and as far as we know, no consequences for the Roman Guard. Just a lingering mystery, where did Jesus’ body go?

Jewish writers like Justin, outside the Bible mention the missing body. In the lost Gospel of Peter, found many years later, he records that the Roman soldiers were told to keep quiet for fear of death by Pilate or for fear of stoning by the Jewish people. They had no choice but to remain quiet, they were between a rock and a hard place, so to speak.

All but one of the disciples, after the resurrection, were martyred. 

They were tortured and killed but still swore to the end that Jesus was resurrected. They preached with conviction and complete confidence, something they could not do if what they were saying was false.

Throughout the years, many who did not believe in the resurrection have tried to disprove it. At least 11 famous journalists and often agnostics or atheists did research, and in the end came to believe in Jesus and the resurrection because of their findings. Including: Frank Morison, Jobe Martin, Josh McDowell and Lee Strobel.

Now, I want to make this completely clear; to be a Christian, you must believe in the resurrection of Jesus. There is no leeway here. It is the most important component of the Gospel; it is the main event. In fact, it is the greatest event in human history. His death on the cross was not the end of His Journey. It would mean nothing if He had not risen. The resurrection completes the story, that is, until he comes back again for the 2nd coming.

As Paul writes to the church at Corinth, “For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised. If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile, and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have died in Christ have perished. If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.

“But, in fact, Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died or fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man.” (1 Corinthians 15:16-21)

The disciples never pulled any punches, they gave us the ugly truth about their own betrayal and the death of Jesus. They told us how the women arrived first at the tomb. They even described their own disbelief. They had nothing to gain and everything to lose if they were promoting a lie. Yet their lives and deaths testified to what they witnessed and believed, a resurrected Jesus!

Augustine once said, “When regard for the truth has been broken down or even slightly weakened, all things will remain doubtful.” He was 100 percent correct. When we say, there is no absolute truth, we can make anything true. That is the age we live in today. It’s not far from Pilate’s question, “What is truth?” (John 18:38)

The truth is God created and man sinned. Man floundered and Jesus came to our rescue. His life is a testament to what God’s original plan was meant to entail. We were meant to live in harmony and peace with God and one another. As Rev. Fredrick Buechner once wrote, “Resurrection means, the worst thing is never the last thing.”

No other faith has a resurrection and a living Lord. No other faith has the promise of eternal life. No other faith has promises kept, prophecy fulfilled and a solid record to prove it. No other faith has forgiveness of sin, not by works, but by grace. No other faith has an empty grave and witnesses to a resurrection. That is because, they do not have Jesus, God incarnate. Truly God and Truly man. They do not have the power of the Holy Spirit that binds us together.

Don’t believe it? I dare you to research it for yourself. Others have, and they have found the truth. Jesus Christ IS Lord! And no lie will ever change that! On this truth, I stand.

Let’s Pray,…

 “And all God’s People said, Amen”