If anyone ever lived in a day when people were blind to the meaning of life, it is today. That is one explanation for our culture’s inclination toward the many self-destructive activities that are prevalent in our world. The other reason, of course, is they are blinded by sin and have not found their purpose for living through Christ.
Recognizing that this is the kind of world in which we live, the message of Easter takes on new meaning. Only the Risen Christ can take the meaninglessness and despair out of our daily existence. It is only in Christ that we find the true meaning of life.
Too often Christians focus their attention on the benefits of Christ after death, and they underestimate the benefits of being a Christian now, here in this life. For me, it wasn’t until I settled eternity in my heart that this life began to make any sense. The Gospel clarifies everything.
The Foundation of the Gospel
“That Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures”
That is the Gospel.
Sometimes we stop short of giving the complete definition by simply saying that Jesus Christ died on the cross. Christ’s death is mentioned in the New Testament 175 times, so it is an essential part of the Gospel. But there is more to it. The Gospel is also about the burial of Jesus Christ.
One of the Old Testament sacrifices illustrated how sins were taken away. They would ceremoniously place their sins upon a goat. Then the goat—the scapegoat—would be sent into the wilderness never to be seen again.
This ceremony portrayed the people’s sins being removed. The burial of Jesus Christ illustrates the same truth. When He took our sins on His body and was buried, He carried our sins away, so we never have to face them again.
Unfortunately, many people who preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ stop right there—Jesus died and was buried. But the miracle of Easter is this:
This is the Gospel.
This is the foundation of Christianity.
The Christian Gospel rests on the truth of Jesus Christ and His resurrection. In 1 Corinthians 15:14, Paul puts it this way: “And if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty.” Without the Resurrection, there is no reason to attend church! The foundation of the Gospel is predicated on Jesus Christ’s victory over sin and over death.
The Proof of the Resurrection—Missing Soldiers
The Gospels—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John—all record the events of our Lord’s resurrection from the grave. It’s a familiar story. Quite often we jump ahead in the Resurrection story to all the witnesses who saw Jesus Christ alive after He had come out of the grave. And we rightly use that evidence to teach the truth that Jesus Christ rose from the grave.
But let’s begin before He was ever seen by anyone. Why? Because there are several critical things that happened on the first Easter that caused the disciples and the women to believe in the supernatural Resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Mary and her friends knew the Roman authorities had dispatched soldiers to guard the tomb day and night because they feared that some of His followers would steal His body and then claim He had risen from the grave. It’s no wonder they were startled to find the tomb unguarded.
Some skeptics have suggested that the Roman soldiers simply became tired and took a break. But consider this: If a Roman soldier failed to do his duty, the punishment would be death. He would be taken into the public square and burned alive.
So why did they leave? Because something supernatural happened. The earth shook, and an angel of the Lord rolled the stone away from the grave. The grave was open, and Jesus was no longer there. Fearing for their lives, the guards fled into the city. These elite soldiers were more fearful of the risen Lord than the reprisal of Rome.
In fact, Matthew 28 details the interactions between the soldiers who had fled and the chief priests. The priests didn’t want the soldiers to admit that something supernatural had happened at Jesus’ tomb, so they paid them off. The evidence for the Resurrection was overwhelming—the death penalty could not be warranted. Instead, the soldiers were bribed to remain silent about Christ’s resurrection.
The Proof of the Resurrection—The Seal and the Stone
After finding the tomb unguarded, the women discovered its seal was broken. To keep anyone from tampering with a tomb, the Romans would place a seal across it. According to Roman law, anyone who broke a Roman seal would be hung upside down.
Next, the women noticed the stone had been rolled away. There are four places in the New Testament where it says the stone was rolled away. One of the original Greek words means to “incline up a slope.” Roman tombs were sealed by carving a great hole out of the rock that would be the burial chamber. A groove would be created in front of the grave, and a huge stone would be secured in the groove, up an incline. When the grave was ready, the deceased was placed inside the tomb, the stone was released to roll down and cover the mouth of the tomb.
When Mary and the disciples came to the tomb that day, they could not understand the scene. According to the text, the stone was rolled back up the incline, away from the mouth of the tomb, and the tomb was wide open.
In fact, John’s account tells us the stone was not only rolled up an incline, it was standing in a place by itself. The estimated weight of the stone that covered the tomb is between one and two tons. Yet the stone that had sealed Jesus’s tomb was set apart from the tomb—as if it had been picked up and moved.
When the Jewish authorities came to examine the tomb and saw the stone sitting far off, they knew the Roman soldiers couldn’t have moved it. The stone moved in a manner that was humanly impossible. And so, they bribed the soldiers not to tell anybody.
Occasionally when people talk about Easter, they say the stone was miraculously rolled away so that Jesus could get out. But that was not the reason. The stone was rolled away so that people could look in. Jesus didn’t need the stone to be rolled away. He rose from the grave without ever changing the configuration of His grave clothes. And if He was able to strip off the restraints of His grave clothes without changing their form, He could also move past the stone in front of the grave without touching it.
The stone was rolled away so that Mary and the others would be able to see further evidence of the Risen Lord.
The Proof of the Resurrection: The Empty Sepulcher
The soldiers were gone. The seal was broken. The stone was moved away. And the sepulcher was empty. This is the obvious fact of the Resurrection. When the disciples saw the empty tomb, they immediately ran back to the city of Jerusalem and began to preach this truth. Here is something to note about this event: The news of the empty sepulcher could be validated by anybody in the city who would take a fifteen-minute walk to the tomb and look for themselves. It instantly validated Christ’s resurrection. There is not one shred of evidence to the contrary.
The Proof of the Resurrection: The Shroud Was Intact but Empty
Of all these things, the most phenomenal demonstration of Christ’s resurrection was the shroud in which He was buried. It was intact, but unoccupied. When they buried someone in Jesus’ day, each part of the body was wrapped independently—the arms and legs, torso, and even the head. Once that was completed, they wrapped the entire body. This complicated process created a complete burial garment.
When the women looked inside the tomb, they couldn’t believe it. The wrappings that had covered Jesus in His burial were laying in the tomb, except Jesus was not in them. John and Peter came to investigate, and they found the same thing.
The Scripture says the napkin that surrounded His head or that which wrapped His head was in a place by itself, just exactly where it would be in proximity to the body.
This had to be an overwhelming sight because it was evidence that Jesus had risen without disturbing the clothing, and He had walked out of that grave alive. This sight forever changed the lives of Jesus’ disciples.
Finding Hope in an Empty Tomb
Before finding the empty tomb, the disciples were depressed, discouraged, and completely without hope. Then on the third day, Jesus conquered the grave. Not only was He resurrected, but their hopes were resurrected as well. As Christians, we, too, can face feelings of despair and uncertainty with unshakeable hope in the Resurrection.
When we place our trust in Him, we claim victory over death. That is why when Christians die, there is sorrow, but it is not a sorrow without hope. Even in sorrow, there is hope—a certainty that death is not the end.
The only way I know to have hope in this life is to settle life in the future. When I became a Christian, two things happened in my life.
First, I no longer feared dying. I wasn’t anxious to die, but I didn’t fear it anymore. I didn’t worry that I would wake up in a strange place. I had absolute certainty that when I died, I was going to stand before God and be with Him forever. You may think that is a presumptuous statement, but it’s not. It is based upon the fact that the One who overcame the grave is now living in my heart, and He is my Savior. He has promised me that if I submit to Him, I will receive eternal life with Him.
Second, when I received Christ as a teenager, my life began to make sense. When I knew my eternal destination was settled, I discovered this life had a tremendous importance that I never understood before. I began to live my life with eternity in view. I began to have the desire for my life to count beyond the humdrum of each day. I began to live my life with purpose and with meaning.
There is no one who is beyond the reach of our loving God who sent His Son to die on the cross, to be buried, and to rise from the grave. If you will put your trust in the One who came out of the grave on that first Easter Sunday, you will never have to ask the question again, “Is that all there is?”
Bible Study Questions
Read 1 Corinthians 15. List the people who saw Jesus after His resurrection.
Why is the Resurrection so important to the Gospel?
Read Matthew 27:62-66. How would you answer someone who claims the guards were negligent?
Read Matthew 28:1-4. Who moved the stone?
How does Matthew describe the one who moved the stone? What does the guards’ reaction tell you about him?
Jesus’ resurrection defied the Roman Empire. What does that tell you about His authority over modern government?
Read Matthew 28:11-15. Have you ever found yourself more concerned about saving face than being right? Spend some time in prayer, asking God to help you value His truth above all else.
The apostles, who were fishermen and tax collectors by trade, ran away in the Garden of Gethsemane, denied knowing Jesus, and hid after His death. What is different about their behavior after the Resurrection?
In your mind, what is the strongest evidence for the Resurrection?
How do baptism and communion reflect the Resurrection?
How would you reply to someone who said, “Prove to me that Jesus rose from the dead?” Include Scripture in your response.
If someone asked you to describe a Christian, what would you say?
What is our responsibility to the Resurrection message, according to Matthew 28:16-20; Mark 16:12-20; and Acts 1:4-8?
Think about your family, coworkers, neighbors and friends. With whom could you share the Good News of Christ’s resurrection?