The Apostolic Church of the first three Centuries did not celebrate Christmas or Easter. These modern-day festivals only came into official existence in 350 AD and 325 AD respectively. However, the early church did better than that: they lived in the power of the Incarnation 365 days per year, and they preached the truth of Jesus’ Resurrection daily.
Luke’s gospel gives an account of the discovery of Jesus’ empty tomb. Each of the other gospels gives a varied narrative from a different perspective, all of them adding detail and meaning to the fact that his body was not there! The multiplicity of witnesses adds strength to the testimony of the Resurrection – in rather the same way that today, after a controversial incident at a football match, the TV will show replays of the same event from four or more camera angles.
The Sabbaths (plural?) were over – one was the Special Sabbath at the beginning of the Feast of Unleavened Bread (twinned with the Passover) and the other was the regular weekly Sabbath, from our Friday 6pm until Saturday 6pm – historically they may or may not have been on the same day that year. During the non-Sabbath hours of the period between Jesus’s death and the early hours of Sunday morning, the women had prepared spices to anoint his body for burial. Too late!
Matthew’s gospel informs us that an angel had rolled away the great stone from the tomb, scaring away the soldiers of the Jewish Temple Guard in the process. So, the women, or one of the parties of women, arrived to discover no soldiers, no stone in place, and no body. Two ‘men’ in gleaming clothes (angels in disguise) reassured them that all was better than well – and that the Living One was no longer to be found among the dead… as He himself had told them in advance several times.
Here follows a series of episodes where the male disciples score rather badly in the ‘faith’ section! They disbelieved the women and most seemed not to believe the evidence of their eyes. They were convinced that the tomb was empty and maybe wondered who had taken the body, but the strips of linen left lying by themselves was a baffling clue.
Seen from a historical perspective, the absence of that body was likely to be attributable to one of three causes: (1) The disciples stole it and hid it; (2) The Jewish or Roman authorities removed it and hid it; or (3) Jesus was genuinely resurrected from death.
- It is implausible for a group of men who later all suffered severe persecution and some, death, because of their testimony to the Resurrection; why would they put themselves through all that for a lie?
- It is implausible for the Roman or Jewish Authorities who were desperate to show that Jesus wasn’t the Messiah; producing his body at a key moment would have killed Christianity stone dead!
- Therefore, Resurrection, although miraculous – and for many, hard to believe – remains the only plausible explanation.
Later on, the Apostles did find faith – not because of any of the above logic, but because they met the risen Jesus – equipped with a Resurrection body – on several occasions. He proved that he was himself by simple acts such as the eating of some fish and the evidence of his scarred hands and feet. The disciples at the supper in Emmaus probably realised that their guest was the Lord when he broke bread for them, and they caught a glimpse of those same hands and wrists. Jesus also opened their minds to understand the Scriptures and – with hindsight – the references to Jesus’ death and resurrection contained in them.
Finally Jesus departed from them at the Mount of Olives and into heaven, having first given them instructions to wait for the Holy Spirit to empower them at Pentecost. This is the end of Luke’s gospel, but the beginning of Jesus’ life on earth Part Two. The departing Jesus (into Heaven) was indeed to be replaced by the Spirit of God at Pentecost, giving permanent power from Heaven to his Church! The gospel would ‘ripple’ from Jerusalem out to the whole world!
Therefore, Part Two (the Book of Acts) is to follow at a later date!