Sermon: Rewards Instead of Punishment
Scripture: Matthew 28:11-15
In this week’s Easter lessons, we note the contrast between Jesus’ enemies and friends concerning the resurrection, and the price worth paying to be a witness to Christ.
Theme: A Bizarre Idea
Let me give another example of where unbelief is rewarded, this one more recent. A number of years ago, a British scholar by the name of Hugh Schonfield published a book with the title, The Passover Plot. That title really embraces the whole idea of the book, which was that Jesus of Nazareth was only a man, and he was aware of the Old Testament prophecies that concerned the Messiah. As he understood the prophecies, they predicted his death by crucifixion and a following resurrection. Therefore, in order to fulfill those prophecies, Jesus set out to manipulate people as well as events to bring these prophecies about.
Strangely enough, according to Schonfield, Jesus didn’t confide in his disciples. Instead, he told just a few people, including Joseph of Arimathea. The plot was this: Jesus would manipulate events in such a way during this Passover week that he would be crucified—that was easy enough to achieve considering the hatred of the religious leaders for him. But then these conspirators were to give him a drug that would enable him to feign death. This drug was administered on the sponge that was held up for him to drink while he was on the cross. And then, having feigned death, he would be taken down from the cross, placed in Joseph of Arimathea’s tomb at Joseph’s request to Pilate, and then be revived. Then, after he was revived, he would go forth and pretend that he had been resurrected from the dead.
The only difficulty with this plot, according to Schonfield, was that it failed. The reason it failed is that the soldier thrust his spear into Christ’s side unexpectedly. They hadn’t counted on that. Schonfield said that what seemed probable is that as those involved in the plot brought Jesus out of the tomb during the darkness of Saturday night, he regained consciousness temporarily but finally succumbed.
At this point, it was much too risky to take the body back to the tomb, replace the bandages left there, and roll the stone back over the opening—all with the idea of giving the impression that everything was as it had been when he was buried on Friday. So what they decided to do was to bury Jesus somewhere else, and leave the puzzle of the empty tomb. Schonfield explained the resurrection appearances as cases of mistaken identity.
Now, at the very least that’s a bizarre theory. It’s the kind of theory that is so bizarre that you would hardly expect it to be taken seriously. Indeed, it was not treated seriously by the scholarly community—even by men, strikingly enough, who don’t believe in the resurrection. The surprising thing is that it did, however, gain a great deal of attention in the secular press, and also, unfortunately, in many so-called Christian communities.
It was extravagantly praised by some who should have seen it for what it really was and rejected it. Harold Blake Walker, who was a Presbyterian pastor, wrote a complimentary review for the Chicago Tribune. He called the book “fascinating, lucidly written, carefully documented, a valuable addition.” A British publication said, “The Passover Plot may well be the most important book published in this decade.” Saturday Review wrote, “Sensational, bound to stir readers. For all the audacity of its central thesis, this book is always scholarly, buttressed with research.” William Barclay, the well-known author of the Daily Study Bible, called it “a book of enormous learning and erudition, meticulously documented. It demands to be read.” Daniel Pauling, the editor of the Christian Herald, said, “The author reveals himself as a more careful student of the New Testament than many Christians who read it devotionally.”
Here’s a case, which like so many others, shows us a man who proposes a theory to explain away the reality of the resurrection. And instead of being rebuffed or forgotten, as Schonfield and his book should have been, he is rewarded. It’s a case of rewards instead of punishments.
Review the basic argument of Schonfield’s The Passover Plot, and note the number of wrong ideas or assumptions.
Why do you think Schonfield’s book was so well received by clergy, biblical commentators, and others?
Reflection: Can you think of other ways people try to disprove Jesus’ resurrection?