The women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. (Matthew 28:8)
We have arrived at Holy Week, and I would like to share with you three minimal facts that confirm the truth of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Minimal facts are regarded as historically accurate, having passed the standard historical criteria, and agreed upon by a broad spectrum of scholars—including skeptics—who have written on the Resurrection from 1975 to the present. Dr. Gary Habermas, Distinguished Research Professor of Apologetics and Philosophy at Liberty University, has stated that most of these minimal facts are confirmed by ten or more historical considerations each.
Today we will focus on what is called “embarrassing” evidence for the Resurrection — evidence that, on first blush, would seem to diminish the force of the story and undermine its credibility, thus embarrassing those who argue for the truth of the Resurrection.
The Witness of the Women
To understand the power of this embarrassing piece of evidence, we must journey back in time to the first century. Women who lived in the first century were looked down upon by men as second-class citizens, and their testimony was considered untrustworthy. In our contemporary culture, what I am saying here doesn’t compute; but in the ancient world, it was an unfortunate fact of life. Women were not allowed to give testimony as public witnesses or public spokesmen, but they could testify in domestic and family matters. Also women were never counted among the men. You may remember that in the gospel accounts of Jesus feeding the 5,000, the story only records the 5,000 men, without giving any account of the women or children who surely were there (see, for example, Matthew 14:21).
I say all that to say this: If the gospel writers had been fabricating the story of the Resurrection, it is extremely unlikely that they would have used women as witnesses to the resurrection of the Christ; they would have picked a respected group of men, not women, to attest the the truth of the risen Savior.
After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb. There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.'” . . . So the woman hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them, “Greetings,” he said. (Matthew 28:1-8)
Why do we read of these “second-class citizens,” who were not allowed to give testimony in a court of law, as the first ones to see the risen Jesus? Because it is true! No one would make up a story that would be both embarrassing and counter-productive. In fact, it must have been hard for the gospel writers to write it this way. After hearing the report from the women, here is what they had to say: “Their words seemed . . . like nonsense” (Luke 24:11). Surely, the gospel writers would much have rather said it was Peter, James, and John who first saw the empty tomb and the risen Lord. This would have been a far more credible account for the first-century audience to accept. But it would not have been the truth. So we read exactly what God had planned in providing a powerful proof for the resurrection in the witness of the women.
A second-century critic of Christianity, Greek Philosopher Celsus, mocked and ridiculed the witness of the women, saying Mary Magdalene was a “hysterical female . . . deluded by sorcery.” If you were going to make up the story of the resurrection to get anyone to believe it, you would never use the witness of the women. But God did use it to encourage you and strengthen your faith.
E. M. Blaiklock, Professor of Classics at Auckland University, wrote this:
I claim to be an historian. My approach to Classics is historical. And I tell you that the evidence for the life, the death, and the resurrection of Christ is better authenticated than most of the facts of ancient history.
On Wednesday and Friday, we will look at enemy attestation as our second powerful proof of the resurrection.
This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!