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Summary: Easter Sunday - Part 5 (The final sermon) of a series based on Mel Gibson’s film "The Passion of the Christ." Portions of this sermon were derived from sermons given by Sermon Central designed with the same intent.

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“Experience Eternal Life”

John 20:1-18

Introduction: It was the night of October 31st, 1936. Halloween night. A group of men and women sat with their hands joined at a round table. They awaited the message – the same message they had hoped to receive for the past 10 Halloweens. But the message did not come.

Finally, one woman rose from the table and announced to the others – and to a listening radio audience – “Houdini did not come through. My last hope is gone. I do not believe that Houdini can come back to me, or to anyone… The Houdini Shrine has burned for ten years. I now, reverently… turn out the light. It is finished. Good night, Harry!”

The woman was Bess Houdini, wife of the famed magician and escape artist. And this was the last séance she would participate in to try to contact her dead husband. Houdini was known as “The Man No Jail Could Hold.” But he couldn’t escape from death.

This morning we’re finishing our series inspired by Gibson’s film The Passion of the Christ. Do you remember how the movie ends? Jesus dies. The screen fades to black. You think the credits are going to roll, but an image flashes back on the screen. It is Jesus – resurrected, flawless, and glorious. He has escaped death. He’s back and He’s alive!

Is this something we should really believe? Did Jesus really rise from the dead or is it just a Hollywood ending? Is there any evidence or is this just a matter of faith? And, what does the resurrection of Jesus mean for us today?

Resurrection: True or False

There are, of course, a lot of people who don’t believe, who don’t think Jesus really rose from the dead. In an attempt to debunk the resurrection over the years several theories have been developed. Let’s begin by looking at three of these theories that try to explain away the resurrection.

Stolen Body. The first theory says that Jesus’ body was stolen. Now we know the Romans wouldn’t have taken the body – they wanted Jesus dead. The Jewish leaders wouldn’t have taken the body – they wanted Him to stay dead. Skeptics believe that Jesus’ disciples stole the body.

The Gospel of Matthew tells us that this theory was concocted by the Jewish religious leaders and spread by the Romans. Here’s what the Gospel of Matthew says in chapter 28:12-15: “When the chief priests had met with the elders and devised a plan they gave the soldiers a large sum of money, telling them, “You are to say, ‘His disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ If this report gets to the governor, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” So the soldiers took the money and did as they were instructed.”

But there are some problems with this theory. The disciples had nothing to gain and everything to lose by stealing Jesus’ body. Why would they want to live a life of deprivation and suffering and then be tortured to death for a lie? Besides, the disciples were confused and didn’t understand that he was going to die, let alone that he was to be raised. They never anticipated a resurrection. And if they had stolen his body then how do you explain the fact that this group of men who had scattered and hid in fear suddenly became bold, outspoken preachers, most of whom were brutally killed because they were preaching that Jesus was alive? People will sometimes die for what they think is true, but they won’t die for what they know is a lie.

The greatest problem with the theory that the disciples stole the body is that there were over 500 witnesses that Jesus appeared to after his resurrection. I was in court a few weeks ago as a witness and the other side had 11 witnesses! It took forever for all of them to be examined and cross examined. Can you imagine 500 witnesses? If we were to hold a trial to determine the facts concerning the resurrection, and if we were to call the witnesses to the stand and examine them each for only 15 minutes, if we went around the clock without a break, how long do you think we’d be here? – 128 hours! That’s 5 days straight!

The evidence seems to indicate that it’s impossible that Jesus’ body was stolen.

Jesus Never Really Died. The other leading theory among skeptics is that Jesus never really died. In fact, that’s what many Muslims are taught. It’s called the “swoon theory” – Jesus fainted or took a drug that made him appear to die, and then the cool air of the tomb revived him. If you saw the movie The Passion of the Christ you already how impossible this theory is. Jesus was tied to a post and beaten at least 39 times – and probably more – with a whip that had jagged bones and balls of lead woven into it. Undoubtedly, Jesus was in serious to critical condition even before the crucifixion began. And the crucifixion was a horrific form of torture and execution by itself. It was so bad that a new word was coined to describe it – the word “excruciating,” which is Latin for “out of the cross.”

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