In their effort to debunk the Resurrection, the Jewish authorities adopted the strategy of maligning Jesus' disciples. They portrayed them as petty conspirators who committed theft and fraud in furtherance of their cause. But what kind of men were the disciples?
Despite their faults, they were devoutly religious men. All had forsaken home and livelihood to follow Jesus, a teacher of high ethical principles. A few had formerly espoused the severe disciplines of John the Baptist. They were not a gang of thieves. Criminal conduct would have been totally out of character.
What purpose could have lured the disciples into a conspiracy to fake the Resurrection? From the beginning, the church was devoted to communal life and worship, never to any purpose that might have spawned cynical deceptions. The apostles did not seek or acquire wealth. Nor did they seek or acquire political power.
A liar normally abandons his lie as soon as it fails to accomplish its original selfish purposes, or as soon as it puts him in jeopardy. But from the first, the apostles of Christ knew that to preach the Resurrection was dangerous. Not only were they challenging the entrenched power of the Pharisees and Sadducees; they were exalting a man whom these religious leaders had put to death. The apostles had every reason to expect that they would pay dearly for their impudence, and indeed they did. According to tradition, every one except John was martyred. Yet, the terrors of torture and death could not wring from the apostles any confession that they had fabricated the Resurrection. Their unshakable witness to the Resurrection proves that they themselves believed in it to the very depths of their souls.
The news that Jesus had conquered death was historical dynamite. Within forty years after the Crucifixion, the church took root throughout the Roman world, and within two hundred years, Christianity began to challenge official paganism for supremacy. Although unaided by the sword and frequently opposed by official persecution, propagation of the new faith was accomplished at a speed with few historical parallels. Surely, it would be strange if the amazing growth of the church had no impetus at the beginning except the shameful death of its founder.
In fact, the growth of the church sprang from the actual resurrection of Christ from the dead. Today, at the beginning of the third millennium after Christ, the church worldwide is no longer growing. Instead of growing, it is faltering. Why? Because we have lost the zeal of the early church. Despite greater obstacles than we face, they went forth boldly to preach the gospel to all nations. That was the mission Jesus had given them. But the efforts of the modern church to reach the world near at hand and the world far away have become feeble. God help us if we do not recover a passion to proclaim the risen Christ.
© 2007, 2012 Stanley Edgar Rickard (Ed Rickard, the author). All rights reserved. If you would like to use this reading in an Easter program, see terms and conditions of use.