Is the Resurrection of Jesus an Idle Tale?

By Mark D. Roberts

April 18, 2022

Following Jesus Today

Scripture – Luke 24:1-12 (NRSV)

But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, [some women followers of Jesus] came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in, they did not find the body. While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.” Then they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened.


When some of the women who followed Jesus returned from his tomb, announcing to the other disciples the good news of the resurrection, those who heard their announcement considered it an “idle tale” (Luke 24:11). Though we can understand why Jesus’s disciples had a hard time believing that he actually rose from the dead, we can also explain why it’s reasonable to believe that the resurrection really happened. Yet, even then, we need the Spirit of God to help us move from rational affirmation to wholehearted trust in Jesus as the risen Savior and Lord.

Today’s devotion is part of the series Following Jesus Today.


On several occasions, Jesus predicted both his death and resurrection. In Luke 9:22, for example, he said that the “Son of Man,” a title Jesus used in reference to himself, would suffer, be killed, “and on the third day be raised.” Similarly, in Luke 18:33, Jesus talked about the Son of Man being flogged and killed, and that “on the third day he will rise again.” It’s likely, of course, that Jesus said things like this more times than are recorded in Luke.

But nobody believed him, not even his closest followers. At least that’s what we learn from Luke 24. On Easter Sunday morning, the women who had been faithful followers of Jesus went to his tomb, intending to anoint his body with various spices. They were shocked to find the tomb empty and terrified when two angels appeared to them with the news that Jesus had been raised from the dead. The angels even reminded the women how Jesus had predicted that “the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again” (Luke 24:7). This seems to have convinced the women of the truth of the resurrection because they passed along this good news to the other disciples.

But, even with a reminder of what Jesus had predicted, the others did not believe the testimony of the women. Rather, “these words seemed to them an idle tale” (Luke 24:11). “Idle tale” is a slightly sanitized translation of the Greek word lēros, which, according to the standard lexicon, means “that which is totally devoid of anything worthwhile.” The NIV says that the women’s testimony “seemed to them like nonsense.” The Message puts it this way: “But the apostles didn’t believe a word of it, thought they were making it all up.”

Now, I’ve heard plenty of sermons that criticize the disbelieving disciples. I may well have preached one at some point. There’s no doubt that the disciples don’t come across very well in this story. Not only were they rejecting the testimony of women they knew well and should have believed, but, even more strikingly, they were rejecting Jesus’s own prediction of his resurrection.

I would like to offer a word in defense of the disciples, however. Their expectations were not unreasonable, after all. They knew that dead people didn’t come back to life. They weren’t the kind of people to be caught up in hysteria or wishful thinking. Even though Jesus had talked about rising from the dead, that notion just didn’t make sense to his followers. They may have been disbelieving, but they weren’t crazy to expect something other than a genuine resurrection.

Moreover, the disciples had just experienced the heartbreaking horror of the torture and crucifixion of Jesus, whom they loved dearly and expected to usher in the kingdom of God in ways that made sense to them. The events of Good Friday destroyed their faith and hope. Good Friday devastated their hearts. In their grief, they were not about to be fooled by stories of things that just don’t happen. They weren’t about to be taken in by idle tales, if you will. They were defending their hearts against even more devastation.

There have been times in my life when I have struggled to believe that Jesus rose from the dead. Perhaps you can relate. Like the first disciples of Jesus, I knew that people who die stay dead. I worried that the stories in the Gospels were made up by well-meaning but deceived followers of Jesus. Yet as I studied the historical accounts from the first century A.D., and as I put them to the best historical tests I could imagine, I found myself becoming convinced that the account of Jesus’s resurrection was not an idle tale, but rather an accurate representation of something that was truly unique, truly miraculous, truly historical, and truly world-changing. (If you’re looking for some helpful discussions of the case for the resurrection of Jesus, I’ve gathered several helpful resources on the resurrection here.)

Yes, in the end, the resurrection of Jesus is not something we can prove in a lab. History doesn’t work that way, especially when it comes to a unique and miraculous event. So, like the first disciples of Jesus, at some point, we have to decide whether to believe that Jesus rose or not. The historical evidence helps, to be sure. But all of us need the help of the Holy Spirit, who enables us to move beyond mere affirmation of historical probabilities to the place where we can wholeheartedly affirm, with the earliest Christians, Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed!


Do you ever wonder if the accounts of Jesus’s resurrection are really believable? If so, what do you do with your questions? If not, why not?

What do you find to be one of the strongest points in the case for the resurrection of Jesus?

How does the resurrection make a difference in your life, even today?


Read one of the short online articles in Resources on the Resurrection. One features Tim Keller, the other N. T. Wright.


Lord Jesus, today we continue to celebrate your resurrection. Though there is much we don’t understand, we do not consider the accounts of your resurrection to be an idle tale. No, Lord, we believe you truly rose from the dead, thus defeating the power of death.

I pray today for those who struggle to affirm the resurrection. Help them to think clearly and deeply. Give them a fresh perspective. Most of all, Lord, may your Spirit help them not only to believe the facts, but also to put their trust fully in you.

All praise be to you, Jesus, our risen Lord and Savior! Amen.

Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the High Calling archive, hosted by the Theology of Work Project. Reflection on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: God’s Resurrection Power for Us!

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Mark D. Roberts

Senior Strategist

Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders,...

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