The story is told of a Sunday School teacher who had just finished telling her third graders about how Jesus was crucified and placed in a tomb with a great stone sealing off the only way in or out. Then, wanting to share the excitement of the resurrection, and the surprise of Easter morning, she asked: “And what do you think were Jesus’ first words when he came bursting out of that tomb alive.” A hand shot up into the air from the rear of the classroom. It belonged to a excited little girl. Leaping out of her chair she shouted out excitedly, “I know, I know, I know.” “Good,” said the teacher, “Tell us.” Extending her arms high in the air she sang out: “TA – DA!”
And then there is another story that a father told of driving his five-year-old son past a local cemetery. As they drove by his son noticed a large pile of dirt beside a newly excavated grave plot and the boy pointed at it excitedly and said: “Look, Dad, one got out!”
That is the story of Easter isn’t it? One got out! It’s funny because we know that one cannot really get out. And because coming back to life after being dead seems so improbable there have been all kinds of theories trying to explain the resurrection of Jesus in terms that leave out what seems impossible. For example there was a book that came out some years ago called the Passover Plot. In this book the author proposes that Jesus took a drug that simulates death and then with the help of some confederates he sneaks out of the tomb and fakes his resurrection. Ta-da, Christianity is born. This version conveniently overlooks the scourging, the beatings, and the spear being thrust into his lung and puncturing his heart. Another version of the same theme is that Jesus simply fainted while he was on the cross and people thought he was dead. He was buried and then in the coolness of the tomb he revived and managed to unwrap himself and push away the two ton rock, scare the soldiers and then stagger off. Later he began appearing to his disciples and he convinced them that he had died and rose again. This version ignores the same sort of issues the first one did. The crux of these different theories turns on whether or not Jesus really died. Did he die or was he simply faking it?
First that he did really die can be attested by the different witnesses that we have. In the accounts told to us, Jesus was beaten, scourged, crucified, and pierced with a spear. Prophetic writings tell us that he was beaten so badly that he was practically unrecognizable. The Jews had a law that one could only receive 39 lashes. The Romans, and they were the ones carrying out this sentence, had no such restriction. Jesus had been scourged. The Romans used a leather strap with metal pieces tied to the tips as a scourge. This would literally rip the skin and flesh down to the bones. Jesus was also beaten with rods around the head and shoulders. The soldiers grabbed chunks of his beard and yanked them out as well. The fact is that Jesus was so beaten up that he was too weak from blood loss and or head concussion to then carry his cross all the way to Golgotha. After all this he was hung on a cross. The cross as an instrument of torture would easily kill even a strong man who had not been whipped and beaten which in fact Jesus had already been. Then finally Jesus was stabbed in the side with a spear. This would have gone under the rib cage slicing internal organs along with the lung and possibly the heart. The effect of the spear piercing was that blood and water came out of Jesus’ side. Medical people tell us that blood and water together are symptoms of a ruptured heart. Jesus apparently had died before being pierced in the side by the centurion. Further if he was not really dead at this point, the soldiers who crucified him and removed him from the cross would have recognized it. And then Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus who washed his body and wrapped the body in grave clothes would have recognized it as well. So the fact is that Jesus really did die upon the cross. He was not faking his own death.
That the tomb was empty is also a fact. The women on Easter morning came to the place where they had seen the body of Jesus being laid on Friday evening. John and Peter raced to the same tomb that same Sunday morning. If it were possible to bring out the body of Jesus as proof that he did not rise from the dead, the Jewish Sanhedrin would have happily done this. But the fact is that they never bring up anything about the tomb or the body. They avoid discussing it altogether. The only time we have any discussion of it is when the guards come to tell them about the earthquake and the angels and at that point the Jewish leadership pay the guards to say that they, the guards, had fallen asleep and while they slept, the disciples came to steal the body. (As if anyone knows who is doing what when they are asleep.) But later when the religious authorities are talking with the disciples they don’t mention the stealing of Jesus’ body at all. There were no pointless accusations of the disciples having stolen the body because the authorities know the disciples had not.
Jesus really died. The tomb in which he had been laid was really empty. And then Jesus was seen after his resurrection. He was seen by not just one person, someone who perhaps was hallucinating, no, he was seen by many people. He was seen by groups of people, groups of 2, 3, 10, 11, in fact, one time he was seen by over five hundred at once. He had a real body too. He wasn’t a ghost, though his disciples thought at first he perhaps was a ghost. But then he ate and breathed on them, his wounds from the cross were visible and touchable; he could pick up things. He seemed different than before, yet he was recognizable—he was still Jesus.
Jesus died. Three days afterward, the tomb was empty. Then people began to see Jesus again. And then the disciples became different men. These eleven men changed. They were transformed. When Jesus was arrested and then killed these eleven men were frightened, depressed, and disillusioned. But after they saw the resurrected Christ they became courageous, excited, and very focused men; in fact, men through whom the entire world was turned upside down. They were witnesses to having seen a dead man come back to life. They believed and they understood. Further these men were willing to die rather than say Jesus had not risen from the dead.
One got out is in fact the story of Easter. And the one that did get out was Jesus.
And so what, how does that have anything, even if it is true, how does that have anything to do with my life today? As it turns out, it matters quite a bit. If God raised Jesus from the dead, then God was validating everything Jesus taught us. Jesus in his teachings has the answers to mankind’s ultimate questions about life and existence, like ‘Why are we here? What is going to happen to me when I die?’ According to Scripture we have been given a choice about our lives, we can turn to him and follow his instructions on how to live our lives and then actually find life itself and even eternal life after this one is over. Or we can choose to continue to live our lives our own way, ignore his teachings, and pretend it doesn’t really matter that much and hope for the best when we die. But Jesus calls this choice foolishness because this person is not planning for eternity; he or she is pretending that death will never come.
Scripture teaches us that God so loved humanity that Jesus was willing to come and endure the torture of cross so that we could come to him and experience real life. Because of what Jesus did we now have a choice and we can follow Jesus. Because he is the one who did get out, he got out of his grave on that first Easter morning. Alleluia Christ is risen!