Everyone has a story that they may not appreciate being told. One would not want the particular story being told because the story is embarrassing to them. Most everyone has some embarrassing story in their life. For instance, I missed a step walking down the staircase of my porch and tripped. Before I checked to see if I was okay, I looked around to see if anyone witnessed my not-so-graceful fall. Isn’t it amazing how much we are concerned about looking good to others?
In the gospels, there are embarrassing stories that are presented concerning the events surrounding the disciples. These embarrassing stories hold great historical impact. Craig Evans writes,
Embarrassment: This criterion is easily misunderstood. All it means is that material that potentially would have created awkwardness or embarrassment for the early church is not likely something that a Christian invented sometime after Easter. ‘Embarrassing’ sayings and actions are those that are known to reach back to the ministry of Jesus, and therefore, like it or not, they cannot be deleted from the Jesus data bank (Evans 2006, 49).
I enjoy lists. David Letterman has his top-10 list. We will present a top-5 list. Let us now examine a top-5 list of embarrassing details concerning the Easter story.
Embarrassing Detail # 5: Ignorance–The Disciples’ Ignorance Concerning the Scriptures
Several times in the Easter story, the disciples (the first proclaimers of the resurrection story) were presented as being somewhat dense concerning the things of God. For instance, Luke records,
Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high (Luke 24:45-49).
It would not be wise for someone promoting a story to present themselves as ignorant concerning the Scriptures, especially if the truths are based in the Scriptures. This embarrassing element promotes the authenticity of the Easter story.
Embarrassing Detail #4: Doubt–The Disciples Struggled to Believe that Jesus Had Really Risen
The gospel writers present another embarrassing trait: the disciples doubted that Jesus had risen. Matthew writes, “Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted” (Matthew 28:16-17). John records the doubts of Thomas, the most famous doubter. But, it should be remembered that Thomas’ doubts subsided after seeing the risen Jesus. As a matter of fact, Thomas is said to have died “a martyr’s death on a mountain now called Mount Thomas in Mylopur, a suburb of Madras. His death was accomplished by piercing with a lance. A shrine erected by the Portuguese marks the sacred site” (McBirnie 2004, 124-125). While embarrassing, it is of enormous significance that none of the early Christian leaders denied having seen the risen Jesus. They were convinced as Jesus “presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God” (Acts 1:3).
Embarrassing Detail #3: Burial–The Disciples Could Not Give Jesus a Proper Burial…Joseph of Arimathea Did
There is another embarrassing detail recorded by John.
After these things Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus, and Pilate gave him permission. So he came and took away his body. Nicodemus also, who earlier had come to Jesus by night, came bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds in weight. So they took the body of Jesus and bound it in linen cloths with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews. Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid. So because of the Jewish day of Preparation, since the tomb was close at hand, they laid Jesus there (John 19:38-42).
Jesus had been condemned by the Sanhedrin. It appears that Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea, secret disciples of Jesus and members of the Sanhedrin, were probably not in attendance when Jesus was condemned. Even though they were secret disciples, the high priest probably only gathered enough to condemn Jesus and gathered the high priest’s closest constituents. Here is the embarrassing point: the disciples were unable to give Jesus a decent burial. Those from the very council that had condemned Jesus were the individuals who were able to grant Jesus a proper burial.
Embarrassing Detail #2: Cowardice–The Disciples were Cowards…Except the Women
There is an extremely embarrassing truth presented in the Bible concerning the male disciples. Mark records,
But one of those who stood by drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his ear. And Jesus said to them, “Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs to capture me? Day after day I was with you in the temple teaching, and you did not seize me. But let the Scriptures be fulfilled.” And they all left him and fled (Mark 14:47-50).
The male disciples fled when Jesus was taken by the guard. However, the same is not true concerning another group of disciples…the women. Mark also records,
There were also women looking on from a distance, among whom were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome. When he was in Galilee, they followed him and ministered to him, and there were also many other women who came up with him to Jerusalem (Mark 15:40-41).
Now wait! We are speaking about a patriarchal society in which women were not valued very highly. Women held more worth in Judaist culture than in Greco-Roman culture. In the Greco-Roman culture, women were valued only slightly higher than a piece of cattle. Even in Jewish culture, the testimony of two women was necessary to validate something as true. A male testimony was held valid even if there was only one present. The early Christian men confessed that they had run in terror while the women stood strong…a most embarrassing detail for men of the first-century.
And the most embarrassing detail concerning Easter…
Embarrassing Detail #1: Worst First Eye-Witness–A Woman Was the First to See Jesus Risen from the Dead
Who was the first person to see Jesus alive from the dead? It was a most unlikely person. John gives us the details.
But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb. And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to him in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’ ” Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”—and that he had said these things to her (John 20:11-18).
A woman was the first to see Jesus alive from the dead? Wait…wasn’t the testimony of one woman held in question in the first-century? Yet, this woman was chosen to be the first to see Jesus alive from the dead. Mary…a woman who perhaps held some form of past (Luke 8:2). Yet, this woman was the first to see Jesus alive from the dead. This was an incredible embarrassment for the church. However, it…like the rest of the embarrassing points…was presented in the gospels because it was true.
All Scripture, unless otherwise noted, comes from the English Standard Version. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001.
Evans, Craig A. Fabricating Jesus: How Modern Scholars Distort the Gospels. Downers Grove: IVP, 2006.
McBirnie, William Steuart. The Search for the Twelve Apostles, Revised Edition. Carol Stream: Tyndale, 2004.