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4.16.17                                 Easter Sunday               - Matthew 28:11-15ESV

 

GOOD NEWS VS FAKE NEWS

 

We hear a lot about “fake news” these days.  The president accuses the media of making up stories that aren’t true, but passing them off as legitimate news.  Reporters supposedly have a narrative that they want to maintain regardless of the true story.  I don’t know about that, but I would submit to you that fake news has been around for a long time.  In fact, one of the first reports of the resurrection of Jesus could be called “fake news.” 

 

Matthew tells us that the Jewish leaders, who had condemned Jesus to death, went to Pontius Pilate and requested that a guard be posted at the tomb of Jesus to make sure the disciples didn’t steal His body and then claim Jesus rose from the dead as He had predicted.  Fed up, Pilate tells them, “you have a guard, go and make the tomb as secure as you can.”  So as we read in the gospel lesson today, that’s why there were guards there when the angel came and rolled back the stone during an earthquake in the early morning hours that day.  Paralyzed in shock, apparently they were still there when the women arrived to hear the good news that Jesus had risen.  Then as these ladies were running to tell the disciples, Jesus, alive and well, meets them along the way and they fall at His feet in a worshipful embrace.  He tells them to report to His “brothers” that He’s coming to see them too. 

 

Now, the logistics are a bit unclear here, but the next thing Matthew records for us is this (vs 11-15): “While they were going, behold, some of the guard went into the city and told the chief priests all that had taken place.  And when they had assembled with the elders and taken counsel, they gave a sufficient sum of money to the soldiers and said, ‘Tell people, his disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep.  And if this comes to the governor’s ears, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.’  So they took the money and did as they were directed.  And this story has been spread among the Jews to this day.”

 

Did you hear the “fake news story”?   Basically, they were bribed to tell a lie, as ridiculous as it sounded.  By the way, it’s very likely that the guard was comprised of temple security personnel, not Roman soldiers, which would explain why they reported to the religious authorities.  That’s why Pilate told the chief priests, “you have a guard,” in other words, “use them to guard the tomb of a dead man, I’m not wasting my men on your paranoid fears.”  But notice how Matthew sums it up: “This story has been spread among the Jews to this day.”  We don’t know for sure when Matthew wrote his gospel, but conservative scholars would place it before 70 AD when Jerusalem was destroyed by Roman legions.  That would mean that the fake news story was still circulating some 40 years later. 

 

And of course, it’s still out there.  Jesus didn’t rise from the dead, that’s impossible.  Either someone moved His corpse and hid it someplace else or He didn’t really die, He just was unconscious and revived later on, or someone else was crucified in His place like an unknown twin brother.  I won’t take the time to debunk all these alternative theories, but you’ve heard them before.  Lee Strobel’s “The Case for Christ” does a great job refuting them in his new movie based on his popular book.  If you get a chance, check it out. 

 

But let’s think about the difference between the good news versus the fake news.  First, Christianity is a historical faith, that is, it’s based on historical events.  At its core we find not just a good idea, a good philosophy, or even a good person.  Although Jesus and His teachings are all of that, the central truth of the gospel is good news, in fact, that’s what gospel means.  News is supposed to be the accurate re-telling of an actual event.  The event that defines our faith is the resurrection of Jesus.  And it played out like any good, real news story should.

 

The first people to report the event were the women who discovered the empty tomb.  Immediately, like good reporters breaking a story they ran to report that news to others.  The first hearers of this good news didn’t accept such outlandish claims on hearsay.  They ran to confirm the facts by seeing the evidence for themselves.  Why?  Because the Christian faith is event-based, so it matters that the reported events really happened. 

 

Then, according to reports from all four Gospels, Acts, and 1st Corinthians, Jesus was seen in the flesh on at least a dozen occasions by multiple persons, including friendly apostles, but also skeptical people like Thomas, like His half-brother James, random disciples walking on the road, and hundreds of people at the same time.  They witnessed and reported that He ate food, touched people and did things only a real person in a real body can do.  Peter preached a public sermon that Jesus had risen from the dead just 50 days after the fact.  If someone wanted to prove otherwise, all they had to do was go to the tomb and view the body.  Ironically, the fake news story inadvertently substantiated the real news story that the tomb was empty. 

 

So why would they do that, why make up this story?  Well, it’s standard operating procedure in politics.  Deny, delay, deflect – if you can’t disprove the truth, muddy the waters with other stories.  It’s been going on for a long time.  That’s how the serpent tempted Eve.  By taking what God really said and twisting it just enough to make her doubt reality.  And it’s how the resurrection was discredited within hours of its occurrence. 

 

If the gospel ever loses its power in a church or a culture, it won’t be because someone offers a better idea or a smarter philosophy.   The only time the gospel is in danger of losing its impact is when people drift away from its central truth.  For example, when the resurrection becomes just a metaphor for new life like springtime, instead of a real time and space event, then Jesus is stripped of His uniqueness and with that, His ability to change lives.  As Paul reminds us: “If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.” (1 Corinthians 15:14)

 

As Christians, our stories matter, real stories of real lives transformed by the power of the resurrected Christ are the most powerful witness we have to influence a world that’s hungry, not for a new idea, a new fad, a new toy, but for real truth, real hope, and really good news.  So tell your story, as big and bold as you can.

 

Do you know where the world’s largest high definition digital billboard is?  Right, in Times Square, New York.  It spans a city block and is visible from anywhere in that famous intersection.  It can be seen clearly night or day 24/7.  Advertisers project that 2 million people watch its messages every week.  And at the so-called “crossroads of the world,” the Times Square billboard could reach people from most every nation on this planet. 

 

Martin Luther in his sermon for Easter in 1532 said: “The words, Christ is risen from the dead, we should blazon and inscribe with letters so large that just one letter would be as large as a steeple, as heaven and earth, so that we would see and hear, know and think of nothing but this article.”  Luther could not have imagined a high definition digital billboard in Times Square, but on whatever scale possible he would say, shout to the world that Jesus Christ is risen from the dead.  Dear ones, this is great news, not fake news, because this is a matter of life and death.  Christ is risen. He is risen indeed.  Alleluia.  Amen.