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The Best Case Against the Resurrection

Tom Pennington • Matthew 28:11-15

  • 2019-04-21 AM
  • Sermons


Well, we've all gathered this morning to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ. And it's right that we should do so, not only because this is the anniversary of that resurrection, but because there is nothing more important to the Christian faith than this event of the resurrection. Jesus Himself made it so. You remember early in His ministry, it's recorded in John 2, the leaders of the nation came to Jesus, and they asked Him by what authority He taught and acted, and Jesus's only answer to them was the resurrection. He said, speaking of His body, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up." "That's my authority."

Jesus, in effect, was saying, "I stake My authority and the truthfulness of every claim that I make about Myself, every word that I teach the people, and every act that I perform, I stake it all on the resurrection."

He was essentially saying this: "If I am not raised from the dead at the end of my ministry as I am claiming, then don't believe a single claim I've made, don't believe anything I've taught, and reject all of those things that I have performed. Assume they are not of God but of the devil."

Paul makes exactly the same point in 1 Corinthians 15, where he writes this: "If Christ has not been raised then our preaching is vain, your faith is vain, we are false witnesses of God, your faith is worthless, you are still in your sins, and those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished." And then he adds this: "And we are of all men most to be pitied." The resurrection is the bedrock essential of the Christian faith.

Since the resurrection is so vital to the essence of our faith, it's no surprise that Satan has attacked it for these 2000 years. Some of the arguments that have come against the resurrection have been these. One of the more popular ones is that Jesus didn't really die. This is taught by the Koran, and by many others. He didn't really die; He just appeared to die, went into a swoon, and was somehow resurrected and somehow managed to get that stone moved, and came out and told everybody that He was in fact a resurrected body when He had not really died.

But of course, that patently contradicts one of the most clear and obvious testaments to His death, which was when a Roman soldier took a spear, and instead of making a little prick in His side, he thrust it up into His chest cavity, piercing the heart, and blood and water came out; witnesses to such a reality. He was certifiably dead.

Another one is that the women went to the wrong tomb that morning. They intended to go to the tomb where Jesus had been buried, but in the darkness they wandered to the wrong tomb and they found it empty because it had never been used; it was a tomb that was unused and empty. The problem with that is, it doesn't account for why Jesus appeared to so many people after the resurrection. If they went to the wrong tomb and His body was still buried, what happened with all those appearances?

Another common argument against the resurrection is that His enemies stole His body. Well, if His enemies stole it then why didn't they supply it? Why didn't they produce it when His disciples started claiming that He had been raised from the dead and put the whole thing to rest forever? Those objections are easily answered by the simple, answers I've just given and by many other explanations as well, that I'm not going to take the time to go through this morning.

But, I really want to step back, and I want you to ask this question as I do. What's the best case against the resurrection? What is the best case against the resurrection of Jesus Christ? What is the strongest arguments that the enemies of the Christian faith have against the reality of the resurrection that we celebrate this morning?

It's not new; in fact, it's actually the case that was made on the first resurrection Sunday just an hour or two after the event itself. It's recorded for us in Matthew 28, and I invite you to turn there with me this morning. I want to pick up just where we left off from our Scripture reading this morning, and that's in verse 11. Here's the best case against the resurrection:

Now while they were on their way, some of the guard came into the city and reported to the chief priests all that had happened. And when they had assembled with the elders and consulted together, they gave a large sum of money to the soldiers, and said, "You are to say, 'His disciples came by night and stole them away while we were asleep.' And if this should come to the governor's ears, we will win him over and keep you out of trouble." And they took the money and did as they had been instructed; and this story was widely spread among the Jews, and is to this day.

Now that is a fascinating account, and it's certainly one of the most unusual events that transpired on the Sunday of the resurrection. But the question that enters my mind is, why? Why does Matthew include it in his gospel when the other Gospel writers don't? And maybe more to the point, why does he make it the last paragraph before the Great Commission, and the end of his Gospel? Well, there are two clear reasons that sort of jump out at you. The first is, he includes it in order to answer the common first century Jewish argument against Jesus's resurrection; this is the argument that was circulated. And secondly, he includes it, I think, in order to prove the resurrection.

You see, what could be stronger evidence of the reality of the resurrection then to show that the Romans and the Jewish leaders, both enemies of the Christian faith, were forced to admit that the resurrection actually happened? You see, this is not a throwaway paragraph with little significance. Instead, it is crucial to Matthew's defense of the person and work of Jesus Christ, because it's the conspiracy that proves the resurrection. Let's look at it together.

This passage begins by introducing us to some men we'll call the unwilling witnesses of the resurrection. Notice verse 11: "Now while they were on their way, some of the guard came into the city and reported to the chief priests all that had happened." The day before, on Saturday, the Jewish leaders had become increasingly concerned about Jesus's claims that He would rise from the dead. And so they approached Pilate, the governor of the Roman governor, with a solution, and they asked him to post a Roman guard to make sure that no one stole Jesus's body. In fact, go back to Matthew 27:62:

Now on the next day,…(that is, the day after the crucifixion, this would be Saturday)…, the day after the preparation, the chief priest and the Pharisees gathered together with Pilate, and said, "Sir, we remember that when He was still alive that deceiver said, 'After three days I am to rise again.' Therefore, give orders for the grave to be…(notice this)…made secure until the third day, otherwise His disciples might come and steal him away and say to the people, 'He has risen from the dead,' and the last deception…(that is, the resurrection)…will be worse than the first….(that is, His claims to be the Messiah). Pilate said to them, "You have a guard; go… (again, underscore this)…make it as secure as you know how." And they went and made the graves secure, and along with the guard they set a seal on the stone.

Now, some have argued that in verse 65, when Pilate says, "You have a guard…," he was telling the Jewish leaders to use their own temple guard, the temple police, but that cannot be true. These were Roman soldiers, and the reason for that, is the Greek word that is used for this group of men in chapter 28:12, is the same Greek word that was used of the Roman soldiers in the Praetorian back in 27:27. These are Roman soldiers. Pilate says, "Okay, I consent. I give you a guard. Take them and make the grave as secure as you can.

Now, with such a high profile corpse to guard, it's almost certain that Pilate assigned not the usual detail of four soldiers, but rather twelve. That was routine in important cases, because that allowed three of the soldiers to be on duty during each of the four watches of the night, while the other nine slept. So the guard arrives at the tomb, and of course the first order of business when they arrived at the tomb was to secure the grave. And that meant, initially, doing what any one of us would have done given that assignment. That meant rolling the stone away, confirming that Jesus's body was still there, and that it was, in fact, Jesus's body.

Then they roll the stone back and they seal it with a Roman seal to show that it's not to be disturbed, under penalty of the Roman government. Then they prepared a rotating guard, and everything went really well until early Sunday morning. We read it in chapter 28, beginning in verse 1:

Now after the Sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to look at the grave. And behold, a severe earthquake had occurred, for an angel of the Lord descend from heaven and came and rolled away the stone and sat upon it. And his appearance was like lightning, and his clothing as white as snow.

Now notice the reference to the "guards" in verse 4. These twelve Roman soldiers "shook for fear of" this angel "and became like dead men."

In verses 5-7, the angel then speaks to the women, and he tells the women to go to the disciples and tell the disciples that Jesus has risen. In verses 8-10, as the women are leaving the tomb to find the disciples as the angel had commanded, they run into Jesus Himself. And then He told them to continue with their mission, go tell the disciples that He's that he's been raised from the dead, and that He will meet them in Galilee. Now look at verse 11. "Now while they were on their way, some of the guard came into the city..." As the women ran to find the disciples to tell them that Jesus was alive, and planned to meet them in Galilee, at the very same time, "some of the guard came into the city."

Jesus, you remember, had been killed and buried just outside the city walls of Jerusalem. Now, "some of the guard," probably the commanding officers, left their fellow soldiers at the tomb and headed into the city to find the chief priests. Now, it makes perfect sense why they were first reporting to the chief priests. After all, it was to them, to those chief priests, that Pilate had assigned these soldiers, and it was under the authority of the chief priests that these soldiers served, and under their supervision, and so they go to meet the chief priests.

Perhaps, we don't know, but perhaps the rest of the soldiers stayed at their post and waited to be relieved. Verse 11, they "…reported to the chief priests…," (notice this), "…all that had happened." What had the guards seen? What had these 12 Roman soldiers witnessed?

Well, they were eye witnesses and could testify of certain things. First of all, on Saturday they could attest that Jesus was dead, and that His body was actually in that grave. They could testify that on Sunday morning they had experienced an earthquake, and they had seen two angels show up at the grave. They had watched these angels roll away the stone, and they were so overwhelmed with terror, verse 4, that they became temporarily paralyzed. They had likely heard the angels' interchange with the women in verses 5-7, and they had undoubtedly seen the empty tomb after the women left.

As far as we know, they didn't actually see the risen Christ, although that was certainly possible, but we're not told of that. But they were clearly witnesses of the empty tomb, and that a miraculous supernatural event had occurred that morning, at that tomb. And verse 11 says they reported all of this to the chief priest as first-hand witnesses. It's a really remarkable thing, that in God's providence, these seasoned Roman soldiers, undoubtedly irreligious pagan men, were the unwilling and, frankly, extremely unlikely witnesses of the resurrection.

Now secondly, Matthew unfolds for us the unconvincing conspiracy against the resurrection. The unconvincing conspiracy introduces us to the soldiers because they're going to be a part of this conspiracy. We find this conspiracy unfolded in verses 12-15.

But first of all, we meet the conspirators themselves in verse 12. "… And when they had assembled with the elders and consulted together…" Now, the pronoun "they" at the beginning of verse 12 refers back to the group in verse 11, called the chief priests. Who were the chief priests? Well, history tells us that this chief priest group consisted of three separate groups. First of all, there was the acting high priest; in this case, it was Caiaphas. Secondly, there were any surviving former high priests. We know that Caiaphas's father-in-law, Annas, was one of those men, and there were a couple of others in the first century who were surviving at this time.

A third part of this group called the chief priests were other ranking temple officials. In other words, these were the aristocrats; these were the blue bloods. These were the controlling power of the nation, and the soldiers went to them first. And that made sense, because it was this group who had spearheaded the request to Pilate to secure the tomb with a Roman guard. So, having seen all of this unfold, they come to report.

Now, once the chief priests were advised of this testimony, it says in verse 12 the chief priests called a meeting of the elders of the nation. This was the ruling body of Israel; it's also called the Sanhedrin. History tells us it consisted of 70 men plus one, the high priest. And you'll notice that the language here implies that this meeting was not some sort of informal discussion, but it was an officially convened session of the Sanhedrin to discuss the business of the nation, and there was only one item on the agenda: how to keep the truth of what they had just heard reported to them from being accepted by the Jewish people.

You see, they couldn't prevent the story from spreading; stories like this cannot be contained. This was going to be spread by Jesus's disciples. And of course a story like this, this kind of news, would spread like wildfire across the nation. What they had to do was some immediate damage control. How can we keep people from believing what we have just been told, happened?

Now, when you hear that, the question that should come to your mind is, why? Why would the religious leaders of the nation not want the truth to come out? Well, they had betrayed their hand about six weeks earlier. Six weeks earlier, Jesus had, for the first time in His ministry, "staged" a miracle. He had heard that his friend Lazarus was sick. Lazarus lived in Bethany, just two miles over the hill from Jerusalem. He'd heard that he was sick and Jesus stayed where He was, and allowed him to die. And then Jesus shows up, and Lazarus has been dead for a number of days, and Jesus raises him from the dead.

Those aristocrats, the chief priests we just talked about, they were Sadducees. Sadducees had several distinctive theological positions. One of those positions was that there is no resurrection. This doesn't work really well with what happened over the hill in Bethany. And so, they made a decision. Go to John 11. This would have been probably in February, somewhere in that time frame before Easter. And here was the decision they made, another official council meeting, John 11:47, this is right after the resurrection of Lazarus:

Therefore the chief priest and the Pharisees convened a council, and were saying, "What are we doing? For this man is performing many signs. If we let him go on like this, all men will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place…," (our position), "…and our nation."

That's what drove these men. They had made this decision six weeks before. Now go back to Matthew 28. In light of that decision, in light of the motives that drove them, this hastily called meeting of the Sanhedrin on the Sunday morning of the resurrection came very quickly to an official decision.

And that brings us to the conspiracy. We've seen the conspirators. Now let's watch the conspiracy unfold here. It consisted of three simple parts. First of all, the first part of the conspiracy was to pay off the guards with a large bribe. Verse 12, "they gave a large sum of money to the soldiers…" Literally, the Greek text says "they gave a sufficient money." Again, there were probably 12 soldiers, and so their silence wasn't going to come cheap. It's interesting the word for 'money' here in our text is, in the Greek text, literally 'silver coins.' You remember they'd given 30 of these silver coins to Judas just four days earlier, to get the location where they could find Jesus alone, and now they're doing it again. Here's some more silver coins to purchase our place, to keep our nation.

Now, we understand the motives of the Sanhedrin, we just saw them. But why would the Roman soldiers go along with this plan? Well, I think you can understand that these soldiers found themselves on the horns of a dilemma, because they had failed in their assigned duty. They had to go along with this ill-conceived plan, because if they didn't, the Jewish leaders could go to Pilate and could complain about their failure to protect the body of Jesus. If that had happened, likely these soldiers would've been court martialed. In the first century, that would have meant, at the very least, they would have had to run the gauntlet and found themselves physically maimed and marred for life, and most likely, it meant their execution. So they couldn't go that direction. They couldn't simply ignore this, and let the Jewish leaders go to Pilate.

On the other hand, they had a reasonable way forward, because if they went along with this scheme, they had a chance of being protected, and they would receive a large sum of money; large enough to make this plan attractive. "Maybe we can just survive the rest of our time, and we can sneak off to some distant part of the empire, and live out our lives in peace and wealth. And besides, I didn't care about this issue, it was a Jewish matter." And so you can see then, for both the Jewish leaders, and the Roman soldiers, this plan had huge benefits; this made sense.

The second action step in this conspiracy was not only to pay off the soldiers, but to propagate the lie of a stolen body. Verse 13; and the council said, "You are to say, 'His disciples came by night and stole Him away while we were asleep.'"

Now they are creating, here, a conspiracy theory. And this makes perfect sense, because people love conspiracy theories. If you ever been down to Dallas to the Sixth Floor Museum there's this huge display, I think it's of some nine separate conspiracy theories about how President Kennedy was killed. The beauty of that is, there are people who make their entire career writing and lecturing about their favorite conspiracy theory. And the great thing about a conspiracy theory is you don't have to prove it; you just have to raise doubts, and it takes on a life of its own.

Ironically, the Sanhedrin here is engaging in a conspiracy to create a conspiracy. Look at what they wanted these Roman guards to do again verse 13. "You are to say, 'His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep.'" Now, don't miss the irony of that. We read just a moment ago, from the end of chapter 27. It's ironic that the council is now so desperate, in light of what they've been told by the soldiers, that they are going to spread the very story they put the soldiers there to prevent. This is how bad things have gotten in those few hours that morning.

And the idea here is not just that these soldiers would reply this way if they were asked what happened. Instead, they were to actively spread this story. They were to make the rounds to CNN, and Fox News, and the Jerusalem Post, and tell their story. And the goal wasn't to answer questions. The goal was, rather, simply to plant serious doubt. This is the first century version of "fake news". This is what the Russians have perfected in our day.

The third part of the plan was to protect the soldiers from any consequences. Verse 14: "And if this should come to the governor's ears, we will win him over and keep you out of trouble."

Now the penalty for Roman soldiers, as I just told you a moment ago, for sleeping on their watch, was severe; it was often execution. So the soldiers going along with this plan were taking a significant risk, and the leaders of the nation of Israel understood that. And so they're going to mitigate that. And so the council assured them that they would take whatever steps necessary if these soldiers were ever brought to trial. In fact, I love the way it's put. Look at verse 14, "We will win him over." You know what that means? That's a really polite way to say, "We'll give him whatever amount of money we have to give him to buy your justice," quote, unquote.

Now, that was the conspiracy. The next verse explains the aftermath of that. The results of that conspiracy, verse 15: "And they took the money and did as they had been instructed: and this story was widely spread among the Jews, and is to this day."

The soldiers followed through on their agreement; they kept their end of the bargain. They made the rounds, they told the story, and the plot was extremely effective. Notice, it was "widely spread" and, Matthew says, "to this day." Matthew wrote his Gospel probably some 30 years after the resurrection. And he says, even 30 years later, this lie is still being circulated. But it didn't stop there. It was the case against the resurrection for the first few centuries of the Christian church.

In fact, in the second century there was a debate between a Christian apologist named Justin Martyr, and a Jewish apologist named Tryphon. And in that debate, Justin Martyr, the Christian apologist, (again, second century), said this: "You Jews selected men and sent them into all the world, proclaiming that a certain atheistic and lawless sect had arisen from one Jesus, a Galilean deceiver, whom we crucified. But His disciples stole Him by night from the tomb, and deceived men by saying that He has risen from the dead, and ascended into heaven," end quote.

This was the story that was circulated widely, and effectively, not only in the days of the New Testament church, but even into the second century and beyond. This was the case against the resurrection, and it was all the result of the conspiracy hatched by the leaders of the nation, on the morning of Jesus's resurrection.

So we've seen the unwilling witnesses, and the unconvincing conspiracy. Thirdly, I want us to consider three unchanging conclusions from the Easter conspiracy. There are serious and important conclusions we can arrive at from this story, and here's where we get to the application of this to you and me today. Let's look at it together.

The first conclusion that we can arrive at from this account, is the certainty of Jesus's resurrection. This conspiracy simply cannot be true for a number of reasons, and because of that, it only underscores the certainty of the resurrection. Let me give you some reasons that this cannot be true, this conspiracy that was hatched.

First of all, it overestimates the disciples; seriously overestimates the disciples. I mean, remember the story here. None of the disciples, except for one, John the Apostle, even had the courage to stay at the crucifixion site with the women; only one. The rest of them all ran, they fled; they were hiding out of fear.

How much less would they be willing to arrange a bold theft of Jesus's body under the noses of 12 Roman soldiers? One author put it this way: "If the disciples did not protect Jesus while He was alive, surely they would not have risked their lives to rob His tomb after His death." Oh, by the way, grave robbing was a capital offense; it gets you executed.

This doesn't fit; this doesn't make sense. This is illogical; it's irrational, this conspiracy, because there's no way in the world these disciples, who fled from the garden and left Jesus alone (only two followed Him, and Peter quickly denied Him and left) only John stayed with Him through the whole ordeal, with the women. There is no way, no way those who wouldn't stand with Him, and defend Him in His life are going to go steal His body under the threat of death from a bunch of Roman soldiers.

There's a second obvious reason that this conspiracy can't be true, and that is, the discipline of the Roman army. The discipline of Roman soldiers makes this cover-up highly unlikely. Now think about this; for this conspiracy, for the story that's hatched here to be true, it meant that all of the soldiers, all 12 of them, had to be asleep when the resurrection happened, when the earthquake happened, when the stone was moved, all of those things. They all had to be asleep; because if even one was awake, then they could have awakened the others, and as I said, sleeping on your watch was a serious matter. In fact, history records the account of one Roman soldier who committed suicide, because he allowed a body to be stolen from a cross that he was supposed to be guarding.

Not only did all of them have to be asleep, but they all had to stay asleep, while a bunch of bungling disciples show up at the tomb, roll the stone away, get inside, get the body of Christ, bring it out, and walk away with that body, all while all twelve Roman soldiers slept. This is illogical. This makes no sense, doesn't pass the smell test.

But the one point that makes this story unbelievable and an obvious cover up (and it's one I think you understand), if they were all asleep, you know where I'm going with this, there was no way for them to know who stole the body, or that it was stolen. I mean, can you imagine, you know, the investigative reporter from the Jerusalem Post shows up to interview one of these guys and says, "Okay." He says, "Let me get this straight." He says, "You're saying that you were all assigned to guard the tomb. The tomb was sealed, and at night, His disciples came and stole the body. But you were all asleep the entire time?"

"Yep; that's my story and I'm sticking to it." That's ridiculous.

So ironically, one of the primary conclusions that we can draw from this account, is the certainty of the resurrection. Their plan to guard the tomb backfired. Unwittingly, the chief priests provided irrefutable proof of the resurrection. How? They arranged twelve disinterested eyewitnesses, and then they hatched a cover up to undermine the resurrection, which did exactly the opposite. It's the lie that proves the resurrection. Why? Because their conspiracy, their story, proves that Jesus's tomb was empty. It shows that no one in the first century, not even Jesus's enemies, ever argued that the tomb of Jesus was still occupied.

And if the tomb was empty, there were only two possibilities. Either someone stole the body, or Jesus rose from the dead. If His enemies had stolen His body they would have produced it to show that He was still dead. And so, when you think about an empty tomb, the very best case that they could muster against the resurrection was that His disciples stole it. And oh, by the way, that's still the best case against the resurrection. And it's a ridiculous one, so easily debunked.

What's the point? Christian, your faith and my faith, it is ultimately built on the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and God, in His goodness, has provided you with overwhelming evidence of the reality of the resurrection. You weren't there, but there were plenty who were. There were plenty of witnesses to and evidence of the reality of this. There are the Old Testament prophecies that said He wouldn't allow the Messiah to experience decay; that He would die, but that He would see his offspring, Isaiah 53. There's Jesus's own predictions that He would rise from the dead. There's the empty tomb itself, which was, and is, a powerful apologetic for the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

There were appearances to more than 500 of His disciples, 500 at one time. There were 12 Roman soldiers. Think about this; there were 12 Roman soldiers who knew that Jesus was dead. They knew that He'd been buried, that His body was in that grave. They had seen the angels. They knew the tomb was empty, and here's the key, they knew no one had stolen the body. The Sanhedrin knew the same thing. Their best case against the resurrection was that the disciples stole the body from the Roman guard that they had put in place to prevent it.

Christian, your hope and your trust in Jesus Christ - in all that He claimed, in all that He taught, in all that He did, in all that He promised you - your hope and trust is secure. He is risen.

There is a second lesson in this amazing account, and it's the inadequacy of miraculous evidence. You see, these events happened on Sunday, but two days before, on Friday, while Jesus hung for those six hours on the cross, these same leaders said something else to Jesus. Here's what they said to Jesus on Friday: "Come down from the cross, and we will believe. Show us a sufficient miracle, and we will follow you."

Now they've heard about Jesus's resurrection from firsthand witnesses, and they have believed the basic facts. Notice, they didn't go to the grave to see for themselves. They didn't doubt the soldiers report. They believed that something supernatural had happened, but they still refused to bow their wills to Jesus their Messiah. You see, their problem wasn't an intellectual problem. Their problem was a moral problem. Jesus described it this way; "He says it's the attitude by which a person says, "We will not have this Man to rule over us." That was the real issue.

Maybe you're here this morning and you're not a follower of Jesus Christ, and you know you're not a follower of Jesus Christ. You've come with friends, and family, whatever it might be. We're so glad you've come, and I don't mean this, in any way, to be harsh toward you, but I just want you to think about this for a moment. Maybe you've convinced yourself that your problem with Christ and Christianity is intellectual. "If I could truly be convinced, then I would believe."

What I need for you to understand is, like this group of men in the first century, your problem is not intellectual. It's not that you just don't have enough evidence. Jesus told a story in Luke 16 about a rich man who died and found himself in hell. And in the story Jesus told, this rich man asked if God would allow a beggar who he knew during life (a man by the name of Lazarus) if God would allow Lazarus to be raised from the dead, and sent to warn his brothers. And this rich man's reasoning in Hell was like this: if they witnessed a miracle like a resurrection, they would believe.

Have you ever thought that? Like, if I could have been there, and seen the resurrection, then, well maybe then I would believe. Here's how Jesus had Abraham respond in that story. This is Luke 16:31: "If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets...," in other words, if they won't listen to the Scripture, "…they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead." You see, even a miracle won't persuade people to believe. That's because people don't reject Christ and His gospel because of an intellectual problem, it's a moral one.

It's the problem He himself identified in John 3:20. He described Himself as the Light of the world, and then He said this: "…everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed."

Understand, if you're here this morning and you think, "You know, if only I could see a miracle; if I could have been there, and seen the resurrection, then I would have believed." Jesus's word to you is, "No, you wouldn't." You would have been just like the soldiers, because a miracle won't convince you if you're not willing to have this Man to rule over you.

A third lesson in this text is the inadequacy of historical faith. Theologians speak of a kind of faith called historical faith. It is an intellectual agreement, an affirmation of the truths of Christianity. There are a lot of people in North Texas, there are a lot of people in our country, who have historical faith; but understand this, that kind of faith isn't saving faith. It doesn't save anybody. In fact, both groups of men in Matthew 28, in the account we've studied together, believed in the historical reality of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The soldiers were eyewitnesses; the Sanhedrin heard their first-hand testimony, and there's every indication in this story that they all believe something supernatural had happened there that morning. But believing the facts didn't make them Christians. They were not true disciples of Jesus Christ.

Now, this is still very much a problem today. According to a recent survey by LifeWay Research in conjunction with Ligonier ministries, 97 percent of those who self-identify as evangelical Christians believe in the resurrection of Jesus. But, (and here's the shocker), 59 percent who say they are not born-again evangelicals in our country believe the biblical account of Jesus's resurrection. You see, that underscores the fact that you can believe in the resurrection and the other basic facts of the Christian gospel, and not be a real Christian. You can believe the earliest creed of the church recorded in 1 Corinthians 15, "…that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried...," meaning that He really, truly died.

You can believe that "…He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures…" and there in 1 Corinthians 15, that He appeared to many. You can believe all of that. You can believe that the way a person comes to benefit from the life and death of Jesus Christ is to repent and believe in Him. You can believe all of those things to be true, and yet not be a Jesus-follower. In fact, James tells us that the demons believe all of that, and will be eternally damned.

So what distinguishes a true Christian from someone who just believes the facts? What is the difference between historical faith in Jesus, like that of the soldiers and the Sanhedrin, versus true saving faith?

I want you to see Jesus answer that question. Turn to John's Gospel, John 20. Here's how you know if yours is historical faith that won't save you, any more than it saved the soldiers or saved the Sanhedrin, or whether it's the real deal. John 20:30: "Therefore…," (this is the reason John wrote his Gospel, he kind of summarizes it here), he says, "Therefore many other signs Jesus also performed in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book."

Now keep your finger there but go over the last verse of John's gospel, John 21:25. He says: "And there are also many other things which Jesus did, which if they were written in detail, I suppose that even the world itself would not contain the books that would be written." Now go back to John 20:30. He says, "Look, there are a lot of things Jesus did that I haven't written in my my gospel," verse 31, "But these have been written…"

"Here's why I wrote," John says. "…So that you…," individually, "…may believe that Jesus is the Christ…," the 'Christos', the Greek word 'Christos'. It's the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew 'Messiah', HaMashiach. That Jesus of Nazareth, the historical person, is the Messiah, the Promised One, and that He is "…the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name."

He says, "I've written so that you might believe these things are true about Him, and that rightly believing, you might have life in His name."

Now, my temptation then, is to say, "Okay John, I get that, but what does that kind of faith look like? How do I know if mine is real saving faith, versus the historical faith of the soldiers, or the Sanhedrin, and so many people across our country and across our area? How do I know?"

Well, John tells us in the story immediately before. Go back to verse 26. "After eight days...," that is, eight days after the resurrection. So now we're on the following Sunday. "After eight days, His disciples were again inside." That is, the upper room. And this time, Thomas was with them. Before, on the day of the resurrection, Jesus showed up and all of them were there, except of course Judas is dead at this point, and Thomas wasn't there, but now Thomas is there, verse 26.

Thomas had said, "By the way, look I know you guys think you've seen the risen Christ. I'm not believing it unless I see Him, and touch Him, and I see the scars, and I know it's Him." Thomas was with them, verse 26. "…Jesus came, the doors having been shut, and stood in their midst and said, 'Peace be with you.'" Verse 27: "Then He said to Thomas…," now watch what Jesus says to Thomas, "…Reach here with your finger, and see my hands; and reach here your hand and put it into My side…," and then notice this, "…do not be unbelieving…," that's where you've been Thomas, "…but be believing."

"I want you to believe."

Notice verse 29. After Thomas's response, "Jesus said to him, 'Because you have seen Me, have you believed?'" Or we could say it this way, "Because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed." You see, in verse 27, He says "I want you to believe," and in verse 29 he says, "You have believed." What happened? Verse 28: "Thomas answered and said to Him, 'My Lord and my God!'" Here is saving faith.

Thomas says two things to Jesus, two Greek words. He says, "My Lord" - my Kurios, my Master, – and my Theos, "my God." That's true saving faith.

It's not enough to believe that Jesus is all He claimed. It's not enough to believe the facts of the Christian faith. It's not enough to believe Jesus is the One who can save, that He died and that He was raised from the dead, and that He ascended to the Father, and that He is God and that He is Man. It's not enough to believe those things.

You have to come to Jesus like Thomas did, and say, "My Master and my God!" If you've never done that, if you've never come to Jesus and humbled yourself, turning from your sin, and said, "From this day forward, Jesus, You are my master, and I am Your slave." If you have never come to Jesus like that, then yours is not true saving faith, and as you sit here this morning, your faith is no better than that of the soldiers. It's no better than that of the Sanhedrin. And if you die as you are, you will be separated from the God who made you, forever. I plead with you this morning, understand, this is the faith that saves.

Jesus said, "I want you to be believing," and then He says, "You have believed, because you have said my Kurios and my Theos." And if you will do that even this morning, then Jesus will say "You have believed, and therefore you have eternal life." Let's pray together.

Father, thank You for this magnificent passage that we've studied together this morning. Thank You for the reality of the resurrection, and thank You that this conspiracy is the very best case that can be made against it.

Father, we are so grateful that our Lord is risen indeed. I pray for those of us who are in Christ, that You would only strengthen and confirm our faith, as a result of our study together this morning. Lord assure us of all of the realities that flow out of that; that Jesus is everything He claimed, that our sins have been forgiven in Him, that we have eternal life, that we will one day stand in Your presence, perfect, wearing the righteousness of Jesus Christ.

Father, for those who may have come this morning who are not Christians, I pray You would use this passage. Lord, those who know they aren't Christians, who came in knowing that, and had somehow convinced themselves that if only they could see a miracle they would believe, oh help them to see that's not true. Help them to believe the Scripture; and Father, for those who came in thinking they were Christians because they affirmed the facts of the Christian faith, because they're here on Easter, Lord help them to see that their faith may, in fact, be no better than the soldiers' or the Sanhedrin's, and may they, with Thomas, even today cry out, "My Kurios, and my God!" We pray in Jesus's name, Amen.