Was Jesus’ Resurrection an Illusion or a Reality? – Part 2

While it is true that Jesus was dead when He was placed in the grave, it was also true that the grave couldn’t hold Jesus. After three days, Jesus resurrected from the grave. Matthew recounts Jesus’ resurrection for us. As we look at Matthews account we learn that:

The Resurrection of Jesus was a Reality (vs. Matt 27:60-66, 28:1-28)

While Christians believe and profess the resurrection of Jesus as a reality, there are some who object to the idea that Jesus resurrected from the grave. They say that Jesus’ resurrection was a hoax. It was all made up by the disciples who came and stole his body away. But that is far from the reality of what happened. And there are several clues in the text that prove that theory to be false.

A. The grave Jesus was placed into was like a maximum security prison.

Back in chapter 27 and verse 60, we learn that it was hewn from a single stone. In other words, this tomb was carved into the side of a massive rock. Which meant that there was no backdoor that the disciples could use to sneak Jesus out. There was one way in and one way out. That entrance and exit were guarded by Roman Soldiers. Look at the text starting in verse 62,

“The next day, that is, after the day of Preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate and said, “Sir, we remember how that impostor said, while he was still alive, ‘After three days I will rise.’ Therefore order the tomb to be made secure until the third day, lest his disciples go and steal him away and tell the people, ‘He has risen from the dead,’ and the last fraud will be worse than the first.” Pilate said to them, “You have a guard of soldiers. Go, make it as secure as you can.” So they went and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone and setting a guard.” (Mt 27:62–66)

Here we learn that the tomb was not only hewn from a single stone with no backdoor, but it was sealed with Pilate’s seal, which meant that stealing Jesus’ body would be a criminal offense.

Along with that warning, armed guards were placed at the entrance to the tomb. These were highly trained Roman soldiers, who weren’t lackadaisical about their jobs. Remember their lives were on the line so they would have fought anyone trying to steal Jesus body to the death. That tells us, then, that there was no way the disciples could have come and stolen Jesus’ body away.

The only entrance to the tomb was guarded by Roman soldiers. Though some of the disciples might have been burly guys, they were no match for these highly trained Roman Soldiers.

But as we continue into chapter 28, we see that they didn’t have to fight these soldiers to see Jesus again because Jesus resurrected from the grave. We know He resurrected because:

B. The two Mary’s saw the empty tomb and met the resurrected Jesus.

Look at the text starting in verse 1 of chapter 28 with me:

“Now after the Sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And behold, there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and behold, he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him. See, I have told you.” So they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples.” (Mt 28:1–8)

So we see first that the two Mary’s saw the Roman guards frozen in fear, the stone rolled back, and the empty grave. As they drew closer, the angel spoke to them and told them that Jesus had indeed risen. But He hadn’t disappeared. They would be able to see Him again. He was headed to Galilee, and they were to go and tell the disciples to meet Jesus there.

On their way to go tell the disciples to head to Galilee, they encountered the resurrected Jesus themselves.Look at the text starting in verse 9,

“And behold, Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came up and took hold of his feet and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.”” (Mt 28:9–10)

The two Mary, then, not only saw an empty tomb, but they also met the resurrected Jesus. And the Jesus they met wasn’t a ghost or a spirit. He was flesh and blood. We know that because they not only bowed before Him in worship, but they grabbed hold of Him when they did. The last time I checked you can’t grab hold of a spirit or a ghost. We have eyewitness testimony, then, that Jesus’ tomb was empty because He had resurrected from the dead.

I believe the eyewitness testimony Matthew presents us with heightens the reality of this account. You see, women in Matthew’s day weren’t given a voice in society. They had no real rights. They couldn’t even be witnesses at a trial because their testimony was thought to be suspect. While that was true, Matthew doesn’t let that influence his account of Jesus’ resurrection. He doesn’t change the story by substituting men in for the women. Instead, he tells it just like it happened. I believe that adds even more credibility to his account.

But these two women’s testimony isn’t the only evidence we have. We also see that:

C. The soldiers testified to the resurrection.

Look at verse 11 in chapter 28,

“While they were going, behold, some of the guard went into the city and told the chief priests all that had taken place.” (Mt 28:11)

So as the two Mary’s were going to tell the disciples what had happened, some of the guards went to the chief priests and told them what they experienced. While their conversation isn’t documented word for word, we can be sure that they testified to the resurrected Savior. They saw the angel come down, roll the stone away, and Jesus walked out of the grave. They saw the two Mary’s come. I’m sure they heard the conversation the two Mary’s had with the angel. So while we don’t have the exact details of the conversation they had with the chief priests, I’m fairly certain they relayed these details to them.

What did the chief priests do with that information? Did they admit that they were wrong? Did they believe and become Jesus’ disciples?Not hardly. Instead, they instituted a massive coverup. Look at verse 12,

“And when they had assembled with the elders and taken counsel, they gave a sufficient sum of money to the soldiers and said, “Tell people, ‘His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ And if this comes to the governor’s ears, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” So they took the money and did as they were directed. And this story has been spread among the Jews to this day.” (Mt 28:12–15)

So they came up with a story. One that at face value might be believable but when you dig in just a bit you find it’s not. You see, the soldiers would have slept in shifts if they slept at all. They were only going to be posted there for a couple of days. It’s hardly believable that they would have slept through the disciples moving a massive stone and taking a body out of an unfamiliar tomb in the dark. One of them was bound to wake up, even if they all did go to sleep. So their story is hardly believable, but it circulated and many believed it.

I think the willingness of people to believe such an unbelievable story gives further credence to the reality of the resurrection. It shows that people are willing to believe even the absurd if it means they don’t have to believe in and submit to Jesus as their Lord and Savior. So the fact that people would believe this impossible story is further evidence that the resurrection was a reality.

As we continue in the text, we that the two Mary’s and the soldiers weren’t the only ones who saw the resurrected Jesus. At the end of chapter 28,

D. Jesus’ disciples also encounter the resurrected Jesus

The end of chapter 28 pictures the disciples encounter with Jesus before He ascended into heaven. Meeting with them, He gave them a commission. He told them to take the good news of His life-saving death and resurrection to the world. And you know what? They did that. They went from Jerusalem to the end of the Roman world to tell people that Jesus was their Savior. That on the cross He suffered the punishment that we all deserve.

You see, as sinners, we deserve to be punished by God. But God loves us, so He makes a way for us to escape His wrath by sending Jesus to take our punishment for us. And when we believe that Jesus did suffer in our place, when we believe that He is our Savior, when repent or turn from our sin, from a life lived in rebellion to God, when we do that, we experience a saving relationship with Jesus. His death becomes our death; His resurrection becomes our resurrection. This is the gospel message that the disciples took the world, which is the same gospel we proclaim today.

The reason they spread the good news even though it cost them was that they were confronted with the reality of the resurrected Savior. You see, if Jesus hadn’t raised from the dead, and if they didn’t believe He was their Savior, it would have been ridiculous for them to spread this message because they would have suffered for no reason. But their suffering wasn’t in vain because Jesus is the resurrected Savior.

So we see, then, that Jesus’ body wasn’t stolen from the tomb by His disciples as the Jews and many others claim. Instead, He walked out as a resurrected Savior. The two Mary’s, the Soldiers, and the Disciples all testify to that fact.

Next Time

Next time we will look at how we should respond when confronted with the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus.

Question for Reflection

  1. Do you believe Jesus resurrected from the grave?


Post adapted from my sermon: Was Jesus’ Resurrection an Illusion or a Reality?


Was Jesus’ Resurrection an Illusion or a Reality? – Part 1

I’m sure some of you have heard of David Copperfield. According to Forbes magazine, he’s one of the most commercially successful magicians of our time. What makes him so successful is his ability to make his illusions appear real. I remember watching one of his shows where he made the Statue of Liberty disappear. I remember wondering how did he do that because it seemed so real. And so does everything else he does in his show, which is why he’s successful and famous.

While David Copperfield is really good at what he does, we know he’s just an illusionist. Just like we know that David Copperfield is an illusionist, many wonder if Jesus was one too. I say that because there are many who think Jesus’ resurrection wasn’t a reality but an illusion.

But is that true? Was Jesus’ resurrection just an illusion or was it a reality? 

I’m going to offer you several proofs over the next several posts that I believe tell us that Jesus’ resurrection was a reality and not just an illusion. We are going to start with the death and burial of Jesus. As we do, we see that

The Death and Burial of Jesus was a Reality (vs. Matt 27)

Swoon Theory

I start here because there are some who would go so far as to say that Jesus didn’t really die on the cross. Instead, they claim He just passed out. Since he wasn’t dead, He was able to walk out of the grave. After meeting with His disciples and recovering from His injuries, He lived out His life in relative obscurity in a play to fool everyone that He had resurrected from the grave and ascended into heaven. This is known as the Swoon Theory.

Now, to me, that theory sounds absurd. It’s fraught with all kinds of holes as we will see in a minute. But it comes back up in discussions surrounding Jesus’ resurrection from time to time, especially around Easter. For that reason, we need to start with the death and burial of Jesus so that we will know that Jesus really was dead when He was placed in the grave.

How do we know Jesus was really dead?

A. Pilate would have made sure Jesus was dead 

Matthew 27 recounts the arrest, trial, death, and burial of Jesus. If we skip to the end of the trial, we learn that Pilate thought Jesus was innocent. That the accusations against Him were nothing more than trumped up charges levied against an innocent man by a jealous and offended Jewish leadership.
Pilate saw this. Not wanting to condemn an innocent man to death, he gave the people a choice between letting Jesus or Barabbas go. He thought the people would certainly choose Jesus because Barabbas was a notorious criminal and it seemed obvious that Jesus was innocent. But the Jewish leaders stirred the people up so that they chose Barabbas over Jesus, And when Pilate asked what he should do with Jesus, they called for Him to be crucified. I think it’s safe to say that Pilate’s plan had backfired, but, as we learn in verse 24, he didn’t want to risk a riot so he gave in to their request.

I bring that backstory up because after Jesus’ death Joseph of Arimathea went to Pilate in verse 58 and asked for Jesus’ body so that he might give Him a proper burial. Pilate conceded and handed Jesus’ body over.

Now, knowing the back story, there was no way that Pilate would have done that if Jesus were still alive.If he did, he would have had a mess on his hands.
Certainly, a riot would have occurred. And most likely he would have been removed from his position as governor. While Pilate knew Jesus was innocent, he wasn’t willing to risk his position and all the privileges that came with it just to save Him. You can be sure, then, that when Pilate handed Him over Jesus was dead.

But Pilate wasn’t the only one who had a vested interest in making sure that Jesus was dead, the Soldiers did as well.

B. Roman Soldiers handled Jesus

You see, in Rome, a soldier’s life was at stake every time he guarded a criminal. If they escaped, he most likely would be killed. This is why John tells us in his gospel that the soldiers ran a spear into Jesus’ heart before taking Him down off the cross. They wanted to make sure he was dead. Even after removing Him from the cross, they would have inspected his body.

All that to say, then, that when Joseph of Arimathea received Jesus, He was dead. Both Pilate and the Soldiers would have made sure of that.

But their examination isn’t all we have to go on, we also know that:

C. Joseph of Arimathea handled Jesus. 

He cleaned Him, prepared Him for burial, and placed Him in the tomb.

And then,

D. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were present at Jesus’ burial.

They witnessed Him being placed in the tomb and the stone being rolled in front.If Jesus were alive, this group would have realized that and kept Him from the grave. But Jesus’ wasn’t alive. He was dead. We know that because a number of people either made sure that He was dead or handled Him after His death.

Next Time

While it is true that Jesus was dead when He was placed in the grave, it was also true that the grave couldn’t hold Jesus. Next time we will look at the proofs that tell us Jesus resurrected from the grave.

Question for Reflection

  1. Do you believe Jesus was really dead when He was placed in the grave?


Post adapted from my sermon: Was Jesus’ Resurrection an Illusion or a Reality?

In what ways does Jesus provide us with a whole new way of life?

Christmas is a time to celebrate God’s gift to us. He gave us His Son who is the Lord and Savior of this world. As our Lord and Savior, He provides us with a whole new way of life.

In what way does Jesus provide us with a whole new way of life?

(1) Jesus provides hope.

In Luke 2, we learned that Jesus is the Savior, the Messiah, the King of this world. If we are honest, a Savior is what we are all looking for and want someone or something to save us because we know the world in which we live is broken. You only have to open the newspaper or turn on the nightly news to know that’s true.

At the core of that brokenness is our sin. Sin is more than just breaking the rules, sin is an all-out rebellion against God. Because we have sinned against God, we deserve for God to punish us for rebelling against Him. There is nothing we can do to escape God’s punishment, which means that apart from Jesus we don’t have any hope for the future.

Jesus, however, gives us hope because He takes our punishment for us. In doing so, He repairs our relationship with the Father so that we no longer live under the threat of God’s wrath being poured out on us.

Along with saving us from the Father’s wrath, Jesus also saves us from sin and promises us life eternal in a completely different world. A world that isn’t broken, but is perfect.

So, in Jesus, we experience hope. In Him, we have something to look forward to. And that hope is life changing.

(2) Jesus provides us with the ability to pursue forgiveness

Say I went over to your house with my kids. Right now, they are really into playing superheroes. When they play superhero’s, they run all over the house like crazy, chasing one another and sometimes knocking into furniture. Say one of them knocked your lamp over and it broke. Instead of making me pay for the lamp, you said, “Don’t worry about it. I’ll take care of it.” Not only would that be extremely nice of you, but you would be absorbing the cost of that lamp because you would be replacing that lam with your own money.

That’s exactly what Jesus did for us except on an infinitely greater scale. He absorbed the cost, not of a broken lamp, but of the eternal punishment we deserve.

The remarkable thing is that He purposely came to provide us with forgiveness. You see, Jesus didn’t just happen to forgive because it was convenient for Him, or He was in the right place at the right time. Instead, He actually pursued us in an effort to repair our relationship.

For those of us who have experienced Jesus’ forgiveness, we should be willing and motivated to forgive others. We should even pursue others as Jesus pursued us, desiring a restored relationship as He did.

While forgiveness is costly and requires some vulnerability on our part. It’s something we should be willing to extend to others because it has been extended to us. Being willing to forgive is necessary if we expect to have any sort of deep and lasting relationship with others because inevitable a situation is going to arise where someone is going to sin against us and we are going to have to extend forgiveness. And that’s inevitable because we are all sinners.

But as you probably know sinners, forgiveness doesn’t come easy, which is why we need Jesus. We need Him to change our lives so that we are not only forgiven but can pursue forgiveness.

(3) Jesus provides us with the ability to deal with suffering. 

Reading some of the recent headlines, I’m sure at some point you’ve wondered why God continues to allow suffering in this world. Especially seeing all the suffering that has come about as the result of hurricanes, forest fires, and earthquakes. Along with natural disasters, we’ve also seen others suffer at the hands of ungodly people who have used and abused them. Reading about and seeing all this suffering, it’s natural for us to ask why. Why does God allow it to continue? It’s a common question. I wish I could tell you exactly why God allows everything to happen that happens, but I can’t.

While I can’t give you a definitive answer to why God allows suffering, what I can tell you is that God is not ambivalent about human suffering. He has and is doing something about it. Christmas is proof. As one author says,

“The gift of Christmas gives you a resource — a comfort and consolation — for dealing with suffering, because in it we see God’s willingness to enter this world of suffering to suffer with us and for us.” [1]

Knowing that God Himself has suffered on our behalf should help us to face suffering.

(4) Jesus pushes us to care for others physical needs

When Jesus was born, the eternal spiritual God became a man. Not in an illusory way, but in a real physical way. He didn’t just appear as a man; He was actually a man. That’s unique because most other world religions either believe the physical is bad and something to cast off, that God would never stoop to the level of a man, or that He would never willingly experience physical need. But Jesus did. As such, He knows what it means to be poor, to be a refugee, to face persecution, to hunger and thirst, to be beaten, to be falsely accused and ultimately be condemned to an unjust death. He knows what it’s like to face all those things. Since Jesus faced those things we know that God not only cares about our spiritual need, but He also cares about our physical.

We not only see evidence of that in His but throughout His ministry.He healed the broken, fed the hungry, spoke up for the oppressed and misled. He did all those things and more. He did them because He cares about our physical needs.

As His people, we should care about these things as well. Christmas, then, should be a reminder that we are to work for social justice, to speak up for those who can’t speak for themselves, to continue to minister to the broken, the poor, and the hungry.

(5) Jesus allows us to reconnect with those we despise

Let me just say that no one is off the hook on this one. Sure, you might not be prejudice toward another race, but that doesn’t mean you don’t despise someone. For all of us, at least to some degree, there is someone we look down on, are snobbish towards. Someone we look at and say, “They are the problem with this world.”

But Christmas is the end of us thinking that we are better than someone else. That’s because Christmas tells us that we aren’t good enough. Jesus came to us instead of vice versa. His coming tells us that there is nothing we can do to get ourselves into heaven. We might be able to get into the best school, secure the best job, live in the best neighborhood, and rub elbows with the most connected people in town, but we still aren’t good enough to get ourselves into heaven. Jesus’ coming proves that.

So rather than thinking that we are better than someone else, rather than despising others, we need to recognize that they are just like us — sinners who are desperately in need of a Savior.


Thankfully that Savior has come. In coming, He provides us with a whole new way of life. One that:(1) Provides hope, (2) That gives us the ability to pursue forgiveness and (3) face suffering. (4) One that pushes us to care for others physical needs and (5) to reconnect with those we despise.

In all those ways and more, Jesus provides us with a whole new way of life. A way of life that wouldn’t be possible without the gift of Jesus. And that’s because He changes us from the inside out. He changes us through and through. He is a revolutionary gift that makes a revolutionary impact on our lives.

Question for Reflection

  1. Do you recognize the revolutionary impact Jesus can have on a life?



[1]  Tim Keller, The Gifts of Christmas, in Come Thou Long Expected Jesus, pg 39.