Summary: Which of the four possible responses to the resurrection will I make - deny it, be distracted from it, be deceived about it or delight in it?
Thank you so much for joining us this morning for our annual Resurrection Sunday Sunrise Service. Every year as we approach the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus, I always enjoy going back and reading the Biblical accounts of all the activity that was going on in connection with the only historical event that we can truly claim changed the course of history forever. Like many of you, I’ve read those accounts so many times that I am absolutely convinced of the historical fact of the resurrection. In fact, my guess is that most of you probably wouldn’t be here this morning if you weren’t one of the 80% of Americans that believe that Jesus did rise from the dead early on that Sunday morning nearly 2,000 years ago.
But what has convinced me of the truth of the resurrection is not necessarily the eyewitness accounts of those who were there, it is not the other historical accounts of that era that confirm it, it is not even the abundant scientific evidence that supports the fact that Jesus did indeed die on that cross, was buried and rose from the dead. What really convinces me of the reality of the resurrection is how it completely transformed the lives of those who experienced the resurrection firsthand.
Charles Colson, was a former aide to President Richard Nixon during the Watergate scandal. He served time in prison for his involvement in the cover-up. In March 2002, he wrote these words in his Breakpoint commentary:
Watergate involved a conspiracy to cover up, perpetuated by the closest aids to the President of the United States—the most powerful men in America, who were intensely loyal to their president. But one of them, John Dean, turned states evidence, that is, testified against Nixon, as he put it, "to save his own skin"—and he did so only two weeks after informing the president about what was really going on—two weeks! The real cover-up, the lie, could only be held together for two weeks, and then everybody else jumped ship in order to save themselves. Now, the fact is that all that those around the President were facing was embarrassment, maybe prison. Nobody’s life was at stake.
But what about the disciples? Twelve powerless men, peasants really, were facing not just embarrassment or political disgrace, but beatings, stonings, execution. Every single one of the disciples insisted, to their dying breaths, that they had physically seen Jesus bodily raised from the dead.
Don’t you think that one of those apostles would have cracked before being beheaded or stoned? That one of them would have made a deal with the authorities? None did.
You see, men will give their lives for something they believe to be true—they will never give their lives for something they know to be false.
So each Easter, when I begin to develop my message, I really like to focus on the lives of those who experienced the resurrection firsthand and see how it supernaturally impacted their lives. Two years ago, I focused on Mary, and how when Jesus appeared to her in the garden and spoke her name, it required her to respond to the resurrection. Last year, I looked at how the resurrection provided the power to completely transform the life of Peter from an impetuous loudmouth to one of the pillars of the early church.
This year I’m going to take a little wider focus and contrast how several different people and groups of people responded to the resurrection. I’m convinced that these various responses provide us with a very good picture of how people still respond to the resurrection today. And as we take a brief look at each of these responses, I want to encourage you to think about where you fit among these four groups.
I’m going to begin reading this morning in Matthew 27, as we pick up with the account of the activities that took place the morning after the crucifixion.
The next day, the one after Preparation Day, the chief priests and the Pharisees went to Pilate. "Sir," they said, "we remember that while he was still alive that deceiver said, ’After three days I will rise again.’ So give the order for the tomb to be made secure until the third day. Otherwise, his disciples may come and steal the body and tell the people that he has been raised from the dead. This last deception will be worse than the first." "Take a guard," Pilate answered. "Go, make the tomb as secure as you know how." So they went and made the tomb secure by putting a seal on the stone and posting the guard.
Matthew 27:62-66 (NIV)
The first response we’re going to look at this morning is the reaction of the religious leaders who had been instrumental in the crucifixion of Jesus. They represent my first possible response to the resurrection: