The Cosmic Conspiracy, Part 15
The night chill was still in the air as a few sleep deprived women, Jesus’ faithful followers who were committed to giving Jesus a proper burial, made their way to the tomb in the predawn darkness. The women were coming to embalm a had-been hope that Jesus was the long awaited Messiah. There was no conversation along the way as deep grieving and confusion consumed the voices of the companions. Upon arriving at the tomb, their mouths must have dropped open in horror. The scene that lay bear before them added insult to injury. There were no Roman guards, the huge stone that covered the entrance to the tomb was rolled away, and the body of Jesus was gone!
What could have happened? Did the Jesus-haters come in the night and steal the body in order to further desecrate the life of a man that some loathed with the hatred of hell? Who would do this? With wild eyes scanning the landscape for clues, one of the women spots what appears to be a gardener (some accounts portray a slightly different scenario, which would be consistent with eyewitness reports - but all arrive at the same conclusion). She pleads with the man to tell her what happened to Jesus. As she is trying to process this unexpected tragedy, a familiar, but somehow slightly foreign voice utters her name from behind her - “Mary.”
She spins around and in utter shock she falls to her knees and grabs the feet of Jesus. He is alive! He is radiantly, miraculously, alive. Jesus, I am sure, wanted to lovingly embrace her and go back with the women to greet the rest of the disciples that were grieving in despair. But, His mission is not over yet. He instructs the women to go back to the place where they all were staying and tell His disciples to meet Him back in Galilee. However, when the men heard the report, they spurned the women with insults of being overrun with female emotionalism and dissed their claim of this fanciful resurrection story.
Somewhere in the shadows, Satan, who is reeling from the sudden turn of events, is watching this scene unfold and is taking copious notes. He is still dumbfounded by the way Almighty God turned his conspiracy back on itself and imploded his plan to destroy the heir of the Throne. Satan has been stripped of his authority, but remained on the loose. Why wasn’t he cast into the eternal dungeon, or worse, obliterated from existence? Why was he allowed to roam free? This does not make sense. He may not have the authority over death with the power to enslave human hearts in the prison of sin any longer, but he still had his power of deception. He still had his demon armies. He still had access to humans. What was Jesus up to?
When Satan saw this scene unfold, perhaps the most glaring opening for attack on God’s plan for the overthrow of darkness was the resurrection itself. The event that had caused the catastrophic end to his authority over sin and death could now become the weak link in the chain to render these Jesus-followers completely ineffective in their witnessing to the world about their majestic Messiah. The resurrection happened in the predawn darkness. The tomb was outside the city in a graveyard of sorts, and there were no witnesses. Jesus repeatedly said that He would have to suffer, die, and He would resurrect on the third day. Apparently, none of His followers understood any of this, otherwise they would have been holding vigil around the tomb. The greatest event in human history was already filled with holes and sinking fast!
What about the Roman guard that was placed there to seal and protect the tomb from just such an event? The account states that there was a great earthquake and a large angel descended and rolled away the stone. When the soldiers saw this they fell to the ground in stupefied terror. When they revived and saw the empty tomb they knew that they soon may be lying in a tomb of their own, as execution was the punishment for dereliction of duty for a Roman soldier. They headed straightway to the Jewish leadership and relayed this fantastical story. The Jewish leaders wanting to discredit any perceived act of God in this made a deal with the Roman soldiers. If the soldiers would state that a band of Jesus followers came in the night, overpowered the small Roman guard, rolled away the stone, and took the body of Jesus, the Jewish leaders would back them up and save their necks. The result, a great cover up that still exists to this day!
Satan had the collusion of the Roman and Jewish governments to corroborate that the empty tomb and missing body was the work of Jesus’ band of insurrectionists, who were now treasonous enemies of Rome and Israel. Perfect! But what about the Jesus followers? Having the resurrection take place under cover of darkness with no witnesses is enough to cast more than reasonable doubt on its authenticity, but now God goes a step further into the realm of creating a fantasy by having two grief-stricken women be the originators of events of the accounts recorded in the Gospels. In first century Judaism, the testimony of a woman was not allowed in court. Women were viewed as incapable of being witnesses of the truth. No one would believe a woman! It seemed as though God was purposely making the resurrection impossible to believe.
Indeed, when the women ran back to the home where the huddling disciples were hiding out to relay the message of Jesus, the testimony of the women sounded like “nonsense” to them. They would not believe it. The women persisted, however, and Peter and John made haste to see if the tomb was empty, not to see a resurrected Jesus. When they got there they did see the scene the women described, but refused to believe that Jesus was alive. Somebody stole the body.
For Satan, this was the raw materials he needed to rebuild his cosmic conspiracy. He could still pull this off. He could continue to use the discrediting ability of secular reason and godless governmental cover ups, and the disbelieving tendency of religious minds to render the resurrection a myth or an allegory suitable for the benign practice of religion, but never as the foundation for a revolution. If the resurrection was going to be the hinge pin for the hope of the world, God had better have a better plan than the one that was unfolding.
The Gospels and the first chapter of the book of Acts chronicle the last weeks of Jesus’ ministry on Earth. After His resurrection He sent word through the women for His disciples to meet Him back in Galilee, the backwater, podunk region of Judea where nothing significant should ever happen. If Jesus wanted to start His dynasty on the earth He should have marched right into the halls of the Sanhedrin and cleaned house. Instead, to Satan’s delight, He was going right back to where he started with His little band of nobodies. The accounts state that Jesus appeared to His disciples on and off for a period of 40 days and He was giving them final instructions on how the mop-up operation of His Kingdom would continue after He ascended back into Heaven.
At His first appearance, the team of frightened and confused disciples were hiding out somewhere in the shadows of Jerusalem trying to figure out what to do next. Jesus walks right through the walls of the house where the disciples were waiting. This was His grand entry. After an initial greeting of, “Peace be with you,” His first words were not of comfort and joy, but a stern rebuke for their lack of belief in all that He had taught them about the crucifixion. As unbelievable as all this seemed to be, Jesus was alive, not a ghost, not a figment of their imagination, standing in their midst as evidence of the truth of His words. Seeing was now believing. Except for one of Jesus’ disciples, Thomas, who for some reason was not there at this first appearing.
When Thomas returns, the other 10 men are wild-eyed and brimming over with an unbelievable tale of Jesus’ appearance. As Thomas listened, I am sure that a war was going on in his heart: “I want to believe this because I really want Jesus to be alive, but Jesus was dead for 3 days, and dead people don’t just walk out of their own tombs.” Thomas saw Jesus bring dead people back to life. Thomas saw Lazarus, dead 4 days, come back to life. Why was this so hard to believe? If Jesus could command life back into dead bodies, why couldn’t Jesus call life back into His own body?
In the throes of this inner conflict Thomas blurts out, “Unless I put my fingers in the holes of his hands, and put my hand into the gaping wound in His side, I will not believe.” But why was this so hard for Thomas? He had the vague references to the resurrection from Jesus’ teachings swirling in his mind. He had the testimony of the women who were the first eyewitnesses. He had the evidence of an empty tomb that he could go to and see for himself it was empty. Now, he had the testimony of 10 of his closest friends, and he still could not make the leap into belief. What was the real issue going on in Thomas’ heart and mind?
Eight days later, Jesus again suddenly appears in the room where the disciples were staying, now in Galilee where He instructed them to meet Him in the first place, and this time Thomas was with them. Jesus’ piercing gaze shifts to Thomas who is probably frozen in fear, and invites Thomas to experience everything that he said that he needed in order to believe that Jesus was alive. With tentative apprehension, Thomas reaches out and touches a living body, not a cold corpse. In astonishment, Thomas cries out, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus didn’t jump into a happy dance now that Thomas finally believed, but in Kingly authority, laid the foundation for the expansion of His Kingdom by stating, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
If Satan was looking for a weakness in humanity to exploit that he could use to resurrect his cosmic conspiracy, Thomas’ response to his companions regarding the resurrection of Jesus would be the focal point. If the resurrection never really took place, as was being purported by both the Jewish and Roman governments, then the testimony of these 11 men regarding the resurrection would be the only thing standing in the way of debunking the foundation of all that Christianity stands on.
Years later, the Apostle Paul stated plainly, “If there is no resurrection, then our preaching is in vain.” In other words, if the resurrection of Jesus never took place, Christianity and its claims could be reduced to the life history of a good man, a prophet, a miracle worker, who did live in history but also died in history leaving behind a philosophy of living that contained truth, but was devoid of the power to claim to be THE TRUTH. Jesus’ audacious claims about His identity, His authority, and His power to grant eternal life all hinged on His claim that He would resurrect from the dead. If Jesus’ tomb was empty because of a body-snatchers’ work, then Jesus’ claims were as empty as His tomb. The mission and ministry of Jesus could be turned into a myth in one fell swoop. This could be very easy, indeed.
Satan must have been delirious with the potential of what was happening. Unless Jesus was going to personally appear to every person who would hear the message of the Gospel to prove that He did resurrect from the dead, the scene with Thomas and his companions would be repeated billions of times over. Human history has proven that people refuse to fully believe claims that cannot be empirically proven. Logic looms over faith as the specter of reason and science silences the unprovable with its facts and figures. Unless we can see and touch, unless we have undeniable facts, unless we have irrefutable evidence that something is true, we simply will not believe.
Jesus told Thomas, “be not unbelieving, but believe…” Jesus is leaving the success of His commission hanging on the choice of people to BELIEVE in something that cannot be proven to the satisfaction of humanity’s need for proof. Jesus is defining the entry point into His Kingdom. Jesus taught about it during His earthly ministry and now He was requiring it from His disciples as He was about to enter His Heavenly ministry. Jesus was giving a name to what we now call Christianity. Jesus was defining His ministry on the earth without His physical presence as, The Faith. Having Faith in the testimony of Jesus as presented through these 11 men would be the make or break point for the Kingdom moving any farther than the room where these men sat listening to the King present His plan. Faith would now be the assurance of things hoped for and the evidence of things unseen (Heb. 11:1).
We have yet to look at the third great event that happened as a result of the crucifixion. There were many other things that Jesus told His disciples that they did not understand. If faith was the entry point into the Kingdom, what was about to come to Earth after Jesus ascended would become the epicenter of the dominion of the Kingdom on the planet. If the resurrection rocked Jerusalem, this next event would rock the world.
So stay tuned, and tune in...
by Pastor Jim Anan