Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | April 3, 2010

I Serve a Risen Savior

   In his letter to the church at Corinth, Paul summed up the essence of the Good News in this statement: “For I delivered to you as of first importance that which I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.” The death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ are three events that forever changed the course of human history. Together, these events comprise the greatest event in human history.

Christ Died for Our Sins | Paul stated, “Christ died for our sins according to the Scripture” (1 Cor. 15:3). “Christ died” — that’s history! “Christ died for our sins” — that was necessary! “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures” — that’s accuracy! The death of Christ was “according to the Scriptures.” Throughout the New Testament, the apostles appealed to two areas of Christ’s life to establish His Messiahship — the resurrection of Jesus Christ and fulfilled Messianic prophecy. The Old Testament contains numerous references to the coming Messiah. All the sacrifices point to Him and all the prophets speak of Him. The references to Christ in the Old Testament are specific in regard to His birth, life, death, and resurrection (Acts 2:22-32). All of these prophecies and references were fulfilled in the Person of Jesus Christ and solidly confirm His credentials as Messiah.

Christ was Buried | After Jesus died on the cross, “He was buried” (1 Cor. 15:4). First, consider where Christ was buried. Eight hundred years before the death of Jesus, Isaiah prophesied that the Messiah would be buried in a rich man’s tomb (see Isaiah 53:9). According to Matthew 27:57-60, on the evening of Christ’s death, a rich man from Arimathea named Joseph “gathered up courage” (see Mark 15:42-43) and asked Pilate for the body of Jesus.

Second, consider how Christ was buried. After Joseph was granted permission to take the body of Jesus, he was joined by Nicodemus who helped him prepare Jesus’ body for burial according to the Jewish customs of the day (John 19:38-40). Joseph and Nicodemus took linen wrappings (strips of linen cloth about a foot wide) and wrapped the body of Jesus from the ankles to the shoulders. According to John 20:7, the head of Christ was wrapped with a separate piece of cloth [see also John 11:44]. This fact argues against the Shroud of Turin being the burial cloth of Christ. When John and Peter arrived at the empty tomb, they noticed “the face-cloth, which had been on His head, not lying with the linen wrappings, but rolled up in a place by itself” (John 19:4-8).

Third, consider what was done after Christ was buried. Once Christ’s body was placed in the tomb, a large stone was rolled into place, tightly covering the entrance to the tomb.  The chief priests and Pharisees went to Pilate and asked that the tomb be secured until the third day because they remembered that Christ had said, “After three days I am to rise again” (Matt. 27:62-66). Pilate wanted no more trouble so he gave the Jews a Roman Guard. Matthew 27:66 states that “along with the guard they set a Roman seal on the stone.” This was an extra precautionary measure that was taken to prevent anyone from tampering with the contents of the tomb. Breaking or violating the Roman seal was a serious offense, bringing upon the law-breaker the weight of Roman law. Mgr. E. Le Camus commented, “Never had a criminal given so much worry after his execution. Never had a crucified man been granted the honor of being guarded by a squad of soldiers.”

Christ was Raised | After Christ died and was buried, “He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:4). Something happened on the third day that changed the course of human history from B.C. (Before Christ) to A.D. (Anno Domini – “the year of our Lord”) — something so dramatic that it completely changed eleven men’s lives so that all but one died a martyr’s death. That something was an empty tomb that a fifteen minute walk from the center of Jerusalem could have either confirmed or disproved. Consider the following facts about the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

First, the Roman seal was broken. The seal that had been stretched across the face of the stone and represented the power and authority of the Roman Empire was broken! Who would be brave (or foolish) enough to break the Roman seal. Certainly not the Roman soldiers who knew the penalty of such a crime, and certainly not the disciples who had displayed signs of cowardice and hidden themselves (see Mark 14:50). Only John was present at the crucifixion.

Second, the tomb was empty. Christianity had its beginnings in the one city in the entire world where it could have been forever stopped had the tomb not been empty. The Jews, the Romans, and the followers of Jesus all knew that the tomb was empty.  The only questions worth arguing about were why the tomb was empty and what its emptiness proved.

Third, the large stone covering the entrance of the tomb was moved. Mark 16:4 recorded that the stone “was extremely large” (Mark 16:4). It’s not likely that the cowardly disciples rolled it away, especially with the presence of a Roman Guard. And, it would also have been impossible for a man to push it away from the inside as suggested by the proponents of the “Swoon Theory” who say that Jesus did not die on the cross but merely fainted.

Fourth, something happened on that first Easter morning that frightened away the Roman guards (Matt. 28:4). After the stone had been rolled away and the Roman Seal broken, the guards fled to the chief priests and reported to them what had happened. The chief priests then bribed them to say that the disciples had stolen the body and assured them that should the event come to the governor’s attention, they would keep the soldiers out of trouble (see Matthew 28:11-15).

Fifth, the grave-clothes were still in the tomb. When Peter and John arrived at the tomb, they saw the linen wrappings lying there with the face-cloth rolled up in a place by itself (see John 19:4-8). The first thing that struck Peter and John was not the empty tomb, but rather the empty linen wrappings. The linen wrappings were undisturbed. They were lying in the tomb like an empty cocoon. The body had vanished from within the linen wrappings.

Sixth, consider the post-resurrection appearances of Christ. According to 1 Corinthians 15, Jesus appeared to many people after His resurrection — friends and foes alike. He appeared to Mary Magdalene and the other women, Peter, the Emmaus disciples, to over 500 people at one time, to James, Stephen, Paul, and John (while on Patmos). In 1 Corinthians 15:6, Paul inserted the little phrase “most of whom remain until now.” The majority of those who saw Christ after His resurrection were still alive and available for questioning.

Finally, consider that it was the women who saw Jesus first. This is an authenticating feature of the resurrection because, according to the Jewish principle of legal evidence, women were invalid witnesses and did not have the right to give testimony in a court of law. If the resurrection accounts had been contrived, then the fabricators of the account would not have included women in the story, at least not as the first witnesses.

Thus, Christ was “raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.” The resurrection confirms that Jesus is exactly who He claimed to be — the Son of God who came to make a way for man to be reconciled to God. The empty tomb is the silent witness to the resurrection of Christ which has never been refuted. The Romans and Jews could not produce the body of Christ or explain where it went. Those who suggest that the disciples stole the body cannot explain how these cowardly men, who fled when Jesus was crucified, could have mustered the courage to fight off a Roman Guard and steal the body. In addition, they cannot explain why such men would then devote their entire lives to a lie and then die a martyr’s death for that lie. When it comes to the resurrection the burden of unbelief is far greater than the burden of belief. The difficulties of belief may be great, but the absurdities of unbelief are greater. In the words of the great hymn, “I serve a risen Savior, He’s in the world today, I know that He is living, whatever men may say.”

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