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Bodies of Evidence 02 - Death . . . Defeated!

Bodies of Evidence 02 - Death . . . Defeated!

Series: Topic: Easter
Ref: Matthew 27:50–54


Death Defeated!

Matthew 27:50-54

Several years ago, a university student was becoming tired of the college life.  He was on a hunt for happiness and meaning.  He even went to church a couple of times, but found religion unsatisfying.  He ran for student leadership positions but was disappointed by how quickly the glamour wore off.  He tried the party circuit, but woke up on Mondays more empty than before.

One day he noticed a group of students reading the Bible and he became intrigued by the radiance of one of the young ladies.  He asked her a reason for it.  She looked him straight in the eye, smiled and said, “Jesus Christ.”  “Oh, for heaven’s sake,” he groaned, “don’t give me that garbage about religion.”

She replied, “I didn’t say anything about religion; I said, ‘Jesus Christ.’”

The students then invited him to join their study, and later on they challenged him to intellectually examine the claims of Jesus Christ and the evidence supporting Christianity.  He accepted their challenge, and after much study and research, came to place his faith in this Lord Jesus Christ.

His research became the foundation for a book he would later write entitled, “Evidence that Demands a Verdict. 

He once responded to a reporter with these words, “I was not able to explain away an event in history – the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”

Edited/Robert J. Morgan, Nelson’s Complete Book of Illustrations (Thomas Nelson, 2000), p. 250

What do a myriad of authors and witnesses say?  Separated by time and distance?  Is there evidence that Jesus Christ in fact has power over the grave?

In this series, Bodies of Evidence, we began at the funerals of others.  We uncovered the evidence of Christ’s deity over death.

We watched at the raising of Jairus’ daughter from the dead; we slipped into the funeral procession of a young man, mourned and missed by his mother, now a destitute widow.

With resurrection power and a simple command ‘to arise’, corpses came back to life.

They became literal bodies of evidence.

Obviously, the chief exhibit – the primary body of evidence is the resurrected Christ – and today I invite your attention to the Gospel by Matthew.

This gospel preceded by many years the recently discovered gospel of Judas – a typical 2nd century Gnostic writing that denies the deity of Christ an plays up the company of people surrounding Jesus – whether it’s Mary Magdalene or Judas.  In this particular writing called the Gospel of Judas, Judas was actually the close friend of Jesus who secretly planned, along with Jesus, the betrayal of Jesus.  Evidently, Jesus needed Judas’ help – and in this gospel Judas ends up the hero – not the villain.  And Christ becomes a conniving man intent on building his following.

This past week, I was asked by the News and Observer to give a quote on this discovery.  I wrote back something about those who believe the Gnostic Gospel of Judas over the Gospels of Matthew Mark and Luke has that privilege; but with their privilege come eternal risk. 

I went on to write that, if I am wrong, and the gospel of Judas is correct, I have nothing to lose – my eternal destiny is not going to be any different than whatever it’s going to be.  But if those who believe the gospel of Judas are wrong, they have everything to lose.  Why?  Because the biblical record indicates that Judas was not the hero but a demonically inspired traitor who ended up in hell, which is where his followers will also end up forever.

From what I understand, my quote didn’t make the cut.

Listen, original, eye-witness accounts are delivered to us, written over the course of several years, by several different authors, some separated by thousands of years, but all agreeing on the truth of Christ’s deity – His prophetic fulfillments, His sinless life, His authenticating miracles, His claim, His crucifixion, His resurrection and His ascension.

The chief evidence his Christ’s power over death.

Let’s uncover some more bodies of evidence.

Matthew 27:50.  And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up His spirit.

We have to stop here for a moment or two.

Can you imagine this miracle – one of several bound up in this crucifixion scene.

This is the temple which Herod built – later destroyed in AD 70 and, as of today, the temple hasn’t been rebuilt.

The temple of Herod was the center piece in Jerusalem.  It was the temple which Jesus entered and cleaned out, using a whip.

At the time indicated by Matthew, the priests would have been busy in the outer court and the Holy place where the showbread, the candelabra and other items were kept – signifying some spiritual truth.

The most impressive sight would have been the veil.  This veil separated everyone from the Holy of Holies – a room where the ark was kept with it’s lid of gold.  Once a year, the High priest would go behind the veil and sprinkle blood of an innocent animal on top of the ark – called the Mercy seat – signifying sacrifice for the nation’s sins.

People were so fearful of the High Priest not making it out alive that they had a rope tied to his ankle with which they could pull out his carcass should God be angry and not accept the offering.

That veil signified that God was not accessible.  It signified separation from the average person and a holy God.

And as Christ yielded up his spirit, that veil began to rip – from the top, all the way to the bottom – opening up the Holy of Holies as if to say, this restricted place is now an open invitation to all – because of the death of the final Lamb of God!

But imagine the sound of that ripping veil.

You need to know that this veil was made with strands of blue, purple and scarlet, interwoven into a white linen fabric.  Formed into the fabric were thousands of cherubim or angels.  They were the guardians of God’s holiness as they chanted about His throne, Holy, Holy, Holy.

William Hendrickson, New Testament Commentary: Matthew (Baker Books, 1973), p. 974

According to Josephus, the first century Jewish Historian, along with other records of Herod’s temple, we know the veil hung 60 feet from top to bottom. If you can imagine it – the ceiling in here is 30 feet up – double that – and you have the height of the veil. 

Josephus said the fabric was as thick as the palm of your hand.

And it ripped from the top – where the hand of God could reach  without scaffolding – and his unseen hand ripped it from the top to the bottom.

It signified that Judaism was now replaced.  The priesthood was nullified as our only Mediator and High Priest gives to us the right to enter within the veil and come boldly before the throne of God. (Hebrews 10:19-25)

No more sacrifice . . . no more separation . . . no more fear . . . no more ropes around ankles . . .

What did the Jewish leaders do about it?  What did the temple priest do about this veil, now torn in two?  They evidently sewed it back up and continued on as if nothing had happened.

But this veil was an exhibit of evidence that something miraculous was connected with the death of Christ.

And it is no wonder that the Book of Acts records that many priests would leave the now defunct temple system and enter the church of Jesus Christ where a company of royal priests now speak directly to God, and confess their sins directly to God and commune and worship directly with God – no more veil!

Now look back at Matthew’s account; 51.  And behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom, and the earth shook; and the rocks were split. . .

This is another exhibit of God’s power related to Christ’s death.

When Moses saw the glory of God on Mount Sinai, the whole mountain shook (Exodus 19:18). 

In First Kings, when God visited Elijah, the text says “that a great and strong win was rending the mountains and breaking in pieces the rocks before the Lord.” (I Kings 19:11)

In Psalm 18 and 77, David sang of the earth’s shaking and trembling when the Lord became angry with mankind.

Jeremiah spoke of the righteous anger of God revealed by thunder and earthquakes.

God the Father was actually giving the world a foretaste of what He will do when one day He will shake the earth in judgment at the coming of the King of Kings, as described in the Book of Revelation.

Adapted from John MacArthur, Matthew: Volume 3 (Moody Press, 1999), p. 274

Now notice the most startling exhibit of all:  52.  And the tombs were opened; and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised;  53.  And coming out of the tombs after His resurrection they entered the holy city and appeared to many.  

Here is a company of bodies – having already been buried, now appearing, evidently in their glorified state.

This was not a mystical, spiritual resurrection of ghosts – note the specific mention of bodies in verse 52.

Who were they?  They were the hagioi – Matthew says – the holy ones.  A word used of Old and New Testament believers.

Daniel wrote of these holy ones who will receive the kingdom and possess the kingdom forever. (Daniel 7:18)

Matthew says their tombs were opened – and then after the resurrection of Christ, they also arose from the dead and entered the city of Jerusalem.

People often ask me, what was Christ doing after His death on the cross.

We’re not given many details, but we do know that while His physical body lay in the tomb, but His spirit was very much alive – in fact already reunited with the Father.  The last words He uttered were recorded in Luke’s gospel where the triumphant Christ literally shouts, “Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit.” (Luke 23:46)

His body sleeps, as it were – an empty shell.  But Jesus Christ is more alive than ever.

And here’s one thing Jesus Christ was doing.  The tombs of Old Testament saints are opened to signify that the promised resurrection was now occurring. 

What I believe we have here is the fulfillment of Psalm 68:18, repeated in Ephesians 4 where Christ descended into the depths of the earth and led the Old Testament saints – out of Paradise – the holding place – and took them to heaven.  That is – almost all of them!

Colossians 2 also implies that Christ announced his victory to the condemned host of fallen angels.

But here, evidently, a select few among the deceased Old Testament believers who were awaiting the Messiah, were given their glorified bodies, reunited with their spirits and, according to Matthew’s account, they came out of their graves after Christ was resurrected and entered Jerusalem.

The language can be taken to mean they came out of their tombs and then on Sunday entered Jerusalem; or their tombs were opened and then they were raised from the dead on Sunday.

I personally believe that they were immediately raised from the dead and then, on Sunday, entered Jerusalem.

Well, what were they doing for 3 days?  I believe that many of them were traveling to Jerusalem from all over Israel – and other parts of the Middle East – so they’d be there to testify on Sunday.

Matthew also implies in his choice of words that these resurrected saints didn’t stay around very long – at the end of verse 53 it says they only appeared to many.  Evidently they ascended soon after – perhaps with the Lord at His ascension. 

But they appeared to many. This is the language of the risen Christ who made several appearances after His resurrection.

Matthew’s words also imply that these saints would have been known – perhaps even recognized.  We can safely suggest that these bodies of evidence would have been significant only because they would have been known by all to have died in faith to God.

These were some of the hero’s of ancient Israel who had believed in the coming Messiah.

Some perhaps had been dead for centuries . . . some perhaps as recently as the month before.

Suddenly they are in Jerusalem!

Can you imagine these bodies of evidence?

This past weekend my sons decided to surprise everyone by coming home for Easter.  I was the only one who knew – mainly to make sure the alarm wasn’t set.  They arrived at around 3 in the morning on Friday.  We had decided they’d go on to bed and surprise everyone in the morning.   On Friday morning, Marsha got up and decided to do some work upstairs getting packages ready to be mailed – she was still in her pajamas. 

Now I knew that she would not want to be seen in her pajamas by our sons’ friend – in fact, I didn’t want her to be seen in her pajamas by our son’s friend.  So I snuck upstairs and woke the guys up and said, “Let’s go ahead and surprise your mother . . . then she can get dressed before your friend wakes up.”  So I walked into the bonus room and said, “Honey, I’ve got two more packages that need to be mailed.”  She turned around, saw her sons standing in the doorway; her eyes got really wide – her hands flew to her mouth and tears filled her eyes . . . she hugged and squeezed them . . . I don’t think they deserved all that. 

What a wonderful surprise.  What a blessing to have them back.

But can you imagine this.  Imagine some mother and father burying they’re son or daughter.  An accident . . . a tragedy . . . a coffin . . . a funeral . . . the flowers are still fresh at the graveside.  And one morning you son appears at the doorway.

The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ guarantees our own glorious resurrection.

Death is not the end . . . it is only the beginning.

After our own Lord rose from the dead he made a number of appearances – His own body, the chief exhibit of His power over the grave.

17 times in scripture our Lord made an appearance;

  1. The first to Mary Magdalene as she remained by the tomb and was ordered to go and tell the disciples (John 20:11-17);
  2. The second appearance was to the other women who were also returning to the tomb (Matthew 28:9-10);
  3. The third was to Peter in the afternoon on that resurrection Sunday (Luke 24:34);
  4. Christ appeared, fourth, to the two disciples who were walking in utter despondency and defeat toward Emmaus (Mark 16:12);
  5. Then Christ appeared to the 10 disciples while Thomas in unbelief was absent (Luke 24:36-43);
  6. Next to the 11 disciples a week after his resurrection and this time Thomas was there, delivering that statement of worship, “My Lord and my God.” (John 20:26-29)
  7. The 7th appearance was to seven of His disciples on the seashore, where the Lord reinstated Peter to the ministry (John 21:1-23)
  8. Then the Lord appeared to 500 people and the Apostle Paul recounted how significant this appearance was (I Corinthians 15:6);
  9. Next, our Lord appeared to James, His own half-brother, the son of Mary and Joseph.  James had not believed the claims of Christ, but now, after the events of the crucifixion and resurrection, not to mention a personal visit from Christ, he believed and became the leading elder in the church at Jerusalem as well as the author of the New Testament book of James (John 7:3-5; I Corinthians 15:7; Acts 1:14; Galatians 1:19);
  10. the tenth appearance was to the eleven disciples on the mountain in Galilee where He gave them the Great Commission to preach the gospel (Matthew 28:16-20);
  11. The final appearance was at his ascension from the Mount of Olives (Luke 24:44-53).

Following His ascension the Lord appeared:

13. at Stephen’s death (Acts 7:55, 56)

14. to Paul on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:3-6)

15. to Paul again in Arabia (Acts 26;17)

16. to Paul in the Temple (Acts 22:17-21)

17. and again to Paul while he was in prison in Caesarea (Acts 23:11)

No wonder one author called the resurrection appearances of Jesus Christ the Constitution, Bill of Rights and Declaration of Independence of the Christian faith.

Adapted from H. L. Wilmington, Wilmington’s Guide to the Bible (Tyndale House, 1988), p. 628

What bodies of evidence we have for our faith.

Return to the scene in Jerusalem on that first resurrection Sunday.

Can you imagine these Old Testament bodies of evidence . . . along with the Lord, providing evidence that the resurrection of all of humanity will one day occur by Christ’s command.

Don’t miss this; there is a coming resurrection for both believer and unbeliever.  Some raised to judgment and eternal torment and others to an eternal heaven.

Ladies and Gentlemen, the question is not “Will you live forever – the question is, “Where will you live forever?”

If I am wrong about all of this, my eternal destiny will remain unchanged.  But if you have refused to give your life to Jesus Christ and you are wrong, you are headed for an everlasting hell . . . don’t wait another day to accept our Lord as your own living Savior.

Imagine what these Old Testament saints could have said?  Imagine the introductions to great, great, great grandsons and  grand-daughters.

Imagine the reunions . . . the astonishment . . . the joy . . . the wonder . . . the tears . . . the shrieks . . . the faintings . . .

Who were these chosen bodies of evidence?  Who were these hero’s of the faith, handpicked by the Savior to announce His victory over death.

We’re not told, but I can imagine a few choice witnesses.

Imagine one of them who had already climbed mount Calvary with his son Isaac . . . Abraham was promised a coming lamb.  He would say to all who could hear him – the Lamb of God has indeed come.  God kept His promise – He did indeed provide the Lamb!”

What if one of the OT saints was Joseph . . . he could have testified “I was the favored son of my father, rejected by my brethren; but I rose to save my people from famine and certain death.  Jesus Christ is the favored, unique son of God – He has been rejected by His brethren, but He is the only one who can save you from everlasting death.”

Imagine Boaz coming back – the kinsman redeemer of Ruth – I can hear him saying, “I rescued my bride and saved her for myself; I was but an illustration of the great Kinsman Redeemer who has now come to gather His own bride.”

Then here comes Job saying, “I know that my Redeemer lives; I know that my Redeemer lives; I know that my Redeemer lives.”

Imagine David himself coming back into Jerusalem saying, “This Christ was the one I sang of . . . He will one day sit upon my throne in His kingdom – there will one day be a new city called Jerusalem – and it will never pass away.”

Imagine the stir caused by Nehemiah, the great builder and reformer of old Jerusalem.  “Listen . . . Jerusalem will be leveled in judgment – the important thing is not your temple or your city – Build your life on Jesus Christ – He is the everlasting corner stone.”


Then here comes Isaiah walking into Jerusalem saying, “Jesus Christ was indeed the suffering Savior – the Man of sorrows whom I said would be pierced through for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquities – follow Him – He is the Prince of Peace!”

And here comes John the Baptist – recognized by everybody – dead only for a short time.  And I am convinced his message would have simply been, “I told you so . . . He was the Lamb of God who came to take away the sin of the world.”

If I were able to choose the bodies of evidence, I would have chosen these.

I would have chosen two more.

I can just seem them now – husband and wife entering the city.  Oh, what they could have said . . . “My name is Adam – and this is my wife, Eve.  It was because of us that sin entered the world; our rebellion against our Creator brought suffering and death into this world . . . the toil of work, the corruption of human hearts, the pain of childbirth – it started because of us.  But we were forgiven and given a promise – A second Adam was coming; a new race would begin by faith in the Messiah . . . we are here to tell you that He came.  He was temporarily bruised on the cross, but he crushed the power of sin and death forever.  We’re here to tell you that He is alive today.

Oh what bodies of evidence these would make.

But there remains to this day, more bodies of evidence . . . the living saint . . . you and me who carry about the risen Savior in our bodies – temples of Holy God . . . and we are on our way to heaven.  And we bear witness – it’s all true – Jesus Christ is alive.

It’s all true! 

He is the way, the truth and the life!  If you don’t know the way – don’t leave this campus . . . I will be ready and waiting with others, to pray with you and settle your eternal destination and answer the question.

Remember, the question is not, “Will you live forever; the question is, “Where will you live forever.”  Settle that question today – forever.

David and musicians enter here

And say with the rest of us, by faith in the Savior:

He is risen – He is risen indeed!

Do you believe it? He is risen – He is risen indeed!

Will you shout it?  He is risen – He is risen indeed!

Now let’s stand and put that declaration into song . . . the words that these witnesses would have been saying over and over again on that first resurrection Sunday. 

Christ the Lord is risen today!

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