Summary: When Jesus died, no one expected Him to rise from the dead. But if you don't believe Jesus is coming back from the dead, what do you do with a dead Jesus?

OPEN: Back when I was in High School, I had a poem by John Donne on a poster on my wall that looked like parchment paper. It was cool, and the words sounded impressive. The last few words of the poem read this way: “Each man's death diminishes me, for I am involved in mankind. Therefore, send not to know for whom THE BELL TOLLS, it tolls for thee.

Now, I loved that poem. It sounded so eloquent and profound, but I didn’t really know what a lot of it meant, especially the part about “tolling a bell.”

I’ve since found out that there’s a difference between “ringing” a bell and “tolling” a bell. When you ring a bell, the clapper hits the INSIDE of the bell and gives a loud and sweet sound. But when you TOLL a bell, you hit the OUTSIDE of the bell with a hammer and the sound is somewhat somber and sorrowful. Tolling a bell is what some churches (even today) do when a person has died. The bell is tolled once for every year the deceased had lived.


What I found intriguing about our text is that everyone in this part of the story believed Jesus was dead, and that – once they buried Him – He wouldn’t rise from the dead. The Jews, Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea, and the Roman soldiers - they all believed Jesus was dead and He was not coming back.

That thought raised the question in my mind: What do you with Jesus, if you don’t believe He’s coming back? What do you do with a dead Jesus?

Well, the Jewish leaders wanted Him dead and gone. The sooner He was buried… the better. We’re told that the Jews (probably the High Priest & Sanhedrin) had asked that the legs of those on the cross should be broken and the dead be taken away. The Jewish leaders had no concerns that He would ever rise from the dead because they didn’t believe anyone would come back from the dead. You see, the High Priest and majority of the Sanhedrin were part of a sect called the Sadducees. The Sadducees didn’t believe God could do much of anything, including raising people from the dead. In other words, they believed NO ONE was coming back from the dead. In fact, they furiously opposed that idea! (see Acts 23:6-10)

And they’re not the only ones who’ve ever fought against that doctrine. A few years ago, Newsweek magazine writer named Lisa Miller (March 25th - April 5th , 2010 - on blog) wrote this: “This story (of Christ’s resurrection) has strained the credulity of even the most devoted believer. For, truly, it’s unbelievable… Resurrection presented credibility problems from the outset (Sadducees). Resurrection may be unbelievable, but belief in a traditional heaven requires it. For my part, I don’t buy it.”

ILLUS: In 1804, Thomas Jefferson wrote his own version of the New Testament. And on the dust jacket of that book he wrote that he had: “set out to edit the Gospels in order to uncover the essence of true religion in the simple story of the Life of Jesus. Jefferson was convinced that the authentic message of Jesus could be found only by extracting from the Gospels Jesus’ message of absolute love and service, rather than the miracle of the Annunciation, Virgin Birth, or even the resurrection.” It’s not surprising, then, that the last sentence in the “Gospel According to Jefferson” reads: “There they laid Jesus. And rolled a great stone to the door of the sepulcher, and departed.”

As far as Lisa Miller & Thomas Jefferson were concerned - Jesus was STILL in the grave. But it wasn’t enough for them to just believe that. They had to convince you of what they … didn’t believe. They’d become just like the High Priest and Sanhedrin of Jesus’ day. They became missionaries AGAINST Jesus. They deliberately set out to destroy any belief that Jesus would ever rise from the dead. And they’re not the only ones who’ve done this.

You’ll find missionaries who oppose Jesus posing as “experts” on TV channels like “The History Channel” and “PBS”. They write books, they post videos on YouTube, and they aggressively oppose a RISEN Jesus. And if you’re not careful, these “teachers” and “experts” can seriously damage your faith.

I think that’s what happened to Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea. John 19:39 tells us that “Nicodemus, who earlier had come to Jesus by night” and John 19:38 explains that “Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews.”

These men were followers of Jesus, but they were afraid of what their friends would say if they found out. When you spend your time with people who ridicule your faith, sometimes it’s hard to hang on to what you believe.

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