"[After the Roman soldiers who had been at Jesus' tomb and witnessed an angel announce Jesus' resurrection to several disciples, they went to Jewish religious authorities. They presumably did so in hopes that they could protect them from the wrath of Roman governor Pilate.] ...the religious leaders...came up with a plan: They took a large sum of money and gave it to the soldiers, bribing them to say, 'His disciples came in the night and stole the body while we were sleeping...The soldiers took the bribe and did as they were told..." (Matthew 28:12-13, 15, The Message)
Conspiracies always break down.
The lie that Jesus hadn't risen but that His body had been stolen, cooked up by the priests, who knew from the soldiers' testimony that Jesus had risen from the dead, couldn't be sustained. Conspiracies never can be. Someone always cracks. Someone always lets the cat out of the bag. So, it is with this conspiracy designed to suppress the truth that Jesus Christ had risen, hatched on the first Easter Sunday.
But the conspirators' lie contrasts with the message of the angel who met several of Jesus female followers earlier that day and the message of Jesus' resurrection carried from the tomb by those women. It wasn't a lie designed to keep people out of trouble. It was a truth that was bound to get anyone who believed and bore witness to it in trouble.
In spite of threats, persecution, ridicule, and the murder of believers though, none of the early Christian disciples "cracked."
Elsewhere in the New Testament, the apostle Paul, himself once a skeptic and later a witness of the risen Jesus, says that more than 500 disciples saw Jesus after His resurrection. None, that we know of, ever changed their story under pressure.
That's pretty remarkable when you consider that they had all pretty much fled from their fellow Jews and their Roman overlords or had stayed at a distance when Jesus was arrested, tried, and executed.
How to explain this sudden and sustained courage in the face of disdain and death threats?
It's this. They weren't in on a conspiracy to trick the world into believing that Jesus rose. There wouldn't have been anything in it for them--no power, no prestige, no wealth--to incite them to engage them in such a conspiracy anyway.
The powers of that time and place--the first century Judean equivalents of Church and State--and public opinion were against them and against their Messiah, Who by His refusal to fight and His acceptance of death, had offended some and disappointed others.
On the first Easter, a conspiracy was hatched. It's been exposed. It was the conspiracy of some power-hungry religious leaders threatened by the Savior of the world and some Roman soldiers.
On the first Easter, Christ rose and the evidence--in the courageous witness with nothing to gain by proclaiming Christ risen and in the lives of billions still being changed daily by following Christ--says that it really happened.
Help me today, Lord, to never turn tail and run, but to lift up the risen Jesus. Amen
[Blogger Mark Daniels is the pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church, Centerville, Ohio.]