HE IS RISEN!
ATTACKING THE FOUNDATION OF THE CHRISTIAN FAITH
In the 18th century two men at Oxford University in England set out to attack the foundation of the Christian faith. Lord George Lyttleton set out to prove that Saul of Tarsus had not converted to Christianity, while Dr. Gilbert West determined to prove that Jesus Christ had never risen from the dead.
They went their separate ways to do their research. Some years later they met to discuss their findings and discovered that each had come to the opposite conclusion from the one he had set out to prove. Together they wrote a book entitled Observations on the History and Evidences of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Many years later Dr. George Morrison, a British lawyer and journalist, decided to write a book proving that Jesus did not rise from the dead. While doing research in Palestine, he was converted to the Christian faith. He returned to Britain to write what has become one of the classic works in defense of the Resurrection of Jesus called Who Moved the Stone?
THE EVIDENCE FOR THE REALITY OF JESUS' RESURRECTION
What caused these men to change their minds? The evidence for the reality of Jesus' Resurrection.
The evidence of the Resurrection of Jesus can be divided into two sets of facts: Events that took place before Jesus was raised from the dead and those that followed the Resurrection of Jesus.
Some have suggested that Jesus did not die on the cross, so there was no Resurrection. To believe this is to ignore or deny the suffering Jesus endured before He was crucified. We read that after Jesus was falsely arrested and charged, He suffered through sleepless nights and mock trials. Pilate, seeking to placate the Jewish leaders, had Him flogged with a cat-o-'nine-tails, in which were embedded pieces of bone and metal, until the flesh was torn from His back. A crown of thorns was pushed onto His head, and He was made to bear His cross from Pilate's hall to Calvary. Weakened by loss of blood and the agony and suffering, He fell and someone else had to carry the cross for Him.
WHAT HAPPENED AT CALVARY?
At Calvary, He was laid upon the cross and nails were driven through His hands and feet. He suffered and died the kind of agonizing, humiliating death that was reserved by the Romans for slaves and criminals-a death so horrifying that roman citizens feared to talk about it. To deny that Jesus died is to completely ignore the facts of His suffering.
When the Roman soldiers came to inspect Christ's body, these experts at crucifixion recognized that He was already dead. Had He still been alive, they would not have allowed Him to be taken down from the cross.
The friends of the Lord Jesus prepared Him for burial. Surely if they had seen signs of life, they would have tried to restore Him to health. There can be no question that Jesus suffered and died.
Often those who were crucified were buried in some public place, but Jesus was laid in the private tomb of Joseph of Arimathea. Across the tomb was rolled a stone weighing between a ton and a ton and a half.
The enemies of Jesus remembered that He had said He would rise from the dead. (It is interesting that His enemies seemed to remember Jesus' words better than His disciples.) They were so concerned that the disciples might steal the body that they asked Pilate for a guard to watch the tomb, which was also sealed with a cord-a testimony to the authority of Rome.
A DIVINE IRONY
Here is a kind of divine irony. God left the guarding of the tomb in the hands of the enemies of Jesus. It was as though he said, "Go ahead. Guard the tomb. Seal it with all of your authority. Put Roman soldiers, expertly trained in the art of self-defense, around it. Later they will bear unwitting testimony to t he fact that Jesus rose from the dead."
While the enemies were busy sealing and guarding the tomb, the disciples were fearful and in total disarray. They were disappointed, dejected and in despair. There is possibly no greater evidence for the fact that Jesus rose again than the change that took place just a few days later in the lives of those fearful men and women who were transformed from cowards into courageous defenders of Christ.
What are the post-Resurrection facts that give clear testimony that Jesus Christ rose from the dead? First is the empty tomb. Interestingly, no one denied that the tomb was empty. The enemies tried to explain it away and the amazed disciples couldn't understand why it was empty. But neither of them disputed the fact that the tomb was indeed empty.
If the tomb had not been empty, the disciples could never have preached the Gospel in the hostile environment of Jerusalem. They were preaching to those who had recently been instrumental in handing Jesus over to the Roman authorities to be crucified.
Not only do we find that the tomb was empty, but Jesus began to appear again on the scene. He came to Mary Magdalene, to the women returning from the tomb, to Peter, to the disciples on the way to Emmaus, to the apostles when Thomas was absent, and later to the apostles when Thomas was present. He also appeared by the Lake of Tiberius and to a multitude of 500 or more believers on the Galilean mountain, to James and to the eleven.
ATTEMPTS TO EXPLAIN AWAY THE EMPTY TOMB
There are still those who would seek to explain away the empty tomb, the Resurrection, and the appearances of Jesus Christ. What have they suggested? The earliest theory was that the disciples had stolen the body. Besides the other problems involved, the idea that they would do this is contrary to the psychology and ethics of the followers of Jesus. We do not find the disciples expecting a resurrection. They were not in a state of mind to take on the authority of Rome and the wrath of the Jewish leadership. They were fearful; they were hiding. To them, everything had come to an end. To suggest that they were plotting and carrying out such a daring feat is to ignore the state of their minds at that time.
PLINY THE YOUNGER
It was also contrary to their ethics. The early church called for honesty, integrity, love, righteousness, holiness and truth. Pliny the Younger, a Roman official writing to the Emperor in A.D. 112, says of the early Christians, "they bind themselves by an oath not for any criminal purpose, but to abstain from theft, robbery, adultery, to commit no breach of trust, and not to deny deposit when called upon to restore it." Pliny was not a Christian but he recognized the integrity of the followers of Jesus. The idea, therefore, that they would steal the body and perpetrate a lie is contrary to the principles they held to be true and by which they lived.
CHRISTIAN ETHICS AND RESURRECTION
Stealing the body was also contrary to their witness. They were not prepared to bear testimony to something they knew to be false. They received no gain from their testimony. They were scoffed at and made fun of; they were beaten, scourged and thrown to the lions; they were used to illuminate the emperor's dinner parties. It cost many of them everything-their lives, the lives of their children and the lives of their friends. One might die for what he considers to be true even though it is not, but he will not die for that which he knows to be a hoax.
A SCANDAL FOR THE GREEK AND ROMAN
To say that God had come in the flesh and died on the cross was absolutely anathema to the Greek and Roman world. Crucifixion was a scandal. The Roman citizen would not even care to contemplate crucifixion, it was so horrible. And yet these disciples went out boldly proclaiming that Jesus Christ, crucified, was the risen Lord and God.
Others have said that, obviously, the disciples could not have stolen the body, but probably the authorities moved in. If that were the case, then a strange silence surrounds the whole account. When the disciples began to testify to the Resurrection, there was a simple solution by which the leaders could have brought the whole Christian testimony to an end. All they needed to do was present the body of Jesus or take the people to the tomb in which He was laid.
WOMEN AND GRIEF
Some have suggested that the women, overcome by grief, went to the wrong tomb. But again, to believe such is to believe contrary to the facts. Most of the men did not follow Jesus to the cross, but the women did. They were overcome with grief, but they still had courage. The gospels tell us they watched the place where Jesus was laid. They knew where He was buried.
But let's assume that they were overcome with grief and sent to the wrong tomb. In that case, when the women came back and told peter and John and the other disciples that Jesus was risen, surely they would have corrected their error. But we read that Peter and John ran back to the tomb where Jesus had been laid and were convinced that He was not there.
NONE OF THE THEORIES HOLD WATER
Let's go even further and allow an even greater benefit of the doubt. Suppose John and Peter and the others were mistaken. Surely the authorities knew where the tomb was. After all, they had sealed it and set a guard around it. It is hardly likely that the Roman and the Jewish leaders didn't know which was the correct tomb. But assuming that even they were mistaken, surely Joseph of Arimathea knew where his tomb was.
Others have recognized that none of these theories hold water, so they have suggested that Jesus did not die on the cross at all but only swooned. The Romans, expert though they were in putting people to death, was somehow mistaken in this instance. According to this theory, the disciples prepared the body of Jesus for burial, winding Him tightly with the burial cloths, spices and embalming fluids and put Him into the tomb, not realizing that He was still alive. In the darkness and cold dampness, Jesus revived. In spite of having suffered beatings and crucifixion, He somehow managed to wriggle out of the grave clothes, push away the stone, overcome the Roman guard, and then walk many miles, appearing to the disciples and convincing them that He indeed was risen from the dead. To believe this demands greater credulity than to believe the testimony of the Resurrection.
HOW TO EXPLAIN THE FACT OF JESUS' APPEARNCES?
There is a further problem in denying Christ's Resurrection - how to explain the fact of Jesus' appearances to the disciples. It has been suggested that the disciples experienced hallucinations. They imagined they saw Jesus but in reality He was not there. Hallucinations, however, generally occur in people who are vividly imaginative and nervous in makeup. It is possible there were such among the disciples, but it doesn't seem that Peter and Thomas were such.
HALLUCINATIONS, PSYCHIC APPEARANCES?
Hallucinations are extremely subject and individual. Not two people have exactly the same experience. However, we find that Jesus appeared to large and small groups.
Generally, psychic appearances occur over a long period of time with some regularity. But Jesus' appearances were over a period of forty days and then they ended abruptly.
There is another law governing hallucinations. In order to have an experience like this, one must so intensely want to believe that he projects something that really isn't there and attaches reality to his imagination. We find the exact opposite is true in the case of the disciples. Mary saw Jesus and thought He was the gardener. She didn't see the gardener and think it was Jesus. On the way to Emmaus, Jesus walked with two of the disciples who were dejected and disappointed, and they didn't recognize Him. He talked to them, and as He broke bread with them, they recognized Him.
The disciples were not anticipating the Resurrection. When Jesus came to them. He rebuked them for their unbelief. Had they believed in Jesus, they would have been at the tomb on Resurrection morning waiting for Him to rise.
These were not hallucinations. These were real experiences. Peter says, "We have not followed cunningly devised myths. We were eyewitnesses." John says, "We touched Him, we spoke with Him, we ate with Him after the Resurrection."
THE ONLY REASONABLE CONCLUSION
The only reasonable conclusion that any honest person can come to is this: When we consider the facts objectively, we must acknowledge that Jesus Christ rose from the dead. This is confirmed to us when we move from the fact of the Resurrection to faith in the risen Lord and experience the inner witness of the Holy Spirit that we have been born of God, that the risen Lord Jesus lives within our spirits, and we have fellowship with Him.
WHAT IS THE RELEVANCE OF RESURRECTION TODAY?
What is the importance of the Resurrection for us today, almost two thousand years later? Without it, all of life is meaningless. Shakespeare said, "Life is a tale told by an idiot full of sound and fury and signifying nothing." Someone else suggested, "Life is an interval between two oblivions." If there is no resurrection from the dead, life is a dead-end street, and nothing that we do matters or has any moral value. But the Resurrection of Jesus changes everything because it touches and gives meaning to all of life.
You may not be a follower of Christ. Does the Resurrection have any significance for you? Yes, For the non-Christian, the Resurrection is significant because the Bible tells us that it is appointed unto man once to die and after that the judgment. This means that some day those who do not trust in the risen Lord will stand before Him to be judged for their unwillingness to surrender their lives to Him and for the selfishness of living in opposition to Him.
Because Jesus is risen everything we do matters. Each moment of life is significant. The Resurrection is like the sun that dispels the darkness and brings light everywhere. It brings meaning into every moment. Whether it is the brushing of our teeth, the making of a meal, the pounding of a nail, or the driving of a car, everything matters because all of life moves toward the great goal of our lives: eternal, unbroken fellowship with our Father and with His Son, the Lord Jesus. The truth is, whether or not we believe in the Resurrection, we are inexorably drawn forward throughout time to an encounter with the one who has risen from the dead.
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