Written by Peter Blanch
The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here! He has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay.”
Christmas and Easter are inextricably linked. Not just because there are angels at both events, but because Jesus’ birth, death and resurrection are all part of God’s rescue plan. The words above – spoken by an angel to the women who first came to Jesus’ tomb on the Sunday morning – are the first claim that Jesus Christ was resurrected (raised to life) from the dead. What a claim! This claim of Jesus’ resurrection does one of two things for the story of Jesus life and death. If the claim is false, if the resurrection is phoney, then the gospel accounts of the rest of Jesus’ life lose all credibility. On the other hand however, if the claim of the resurrection is true, then … Wow! Jesus is far far more important than we could ever have imagined.
So did Jesus rise from the dead?
For centuries, quite a number of people have tried to paint the whole resurrection of Jesus as something absurd. They say it is ridiculous: “dead people do not come back to life, so Jesus can’t possibly have been raised from the dead.” The logic of this argument is to say that because we have never seen a resurrection, we can rule it out as a possibility. At first this may seem like good logic but there is a problem with it – just because we have never seen something doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist or can’t happen. For centuries people in England had not seen black swans. The fact that they had only ever seen white swans does not establish that black swans don’t exist. In fact they did exist. The same is true for Jesus’ resurrection. Just because we have not seen anyone resurrected in our experience does not mean that Jesus’ resurrection is impossible. You can’t rule out Jesus’ resurrection by mere logic. We need to weigh up the evidence.
The questions remain:
- Is there good evidence to support Jesus’ resurrection?
- Is this evidence strong enough to contradict our expectation that resurrections don’t happen?
The most crucial piece of historical evidence is that the tomb was found empty. The obvious question is “how did the tomb become empty?” Some people have suggested that perhaps when Jesus was crucified on the cross, he didn’t actually die but simply fell unconscious – and after his burial he recovered in the tomb. According to this explanation, having just come out of unconsciousness, Jesus unwrapped his own burial clothes, was well enough by himself to roll away the huge bolder that blocked the entrance to his tomb, walked then for a couple of kilometres, showed himself to his friends and was able to convince them that God had powerfully raised him from the dead to a new life. This is a theory that is now considered a embarrassment by many modern scholars. The more we’ve learnt about Roman execution, the more impossible it is that Jesus “got better’ in the tomb, let alone that he was able to convince his friends that he was powerfully alive.
A second suggestion is that Jesus’ followers simply went to the wrong tomb on the Sunday morning. This theory suggests that Christianity is based on a couple of people losing their way in the early morning trying to find the right tomb. It faces the very serious problem that sooner or later someone would have checked again. Jesus’ tomb was owned by one of the prominent politicians at the time and so would easily located. If the followers went to the wrong tomb they would have easily discovered their mistake.
A third explanation is that the disciples stole the body and later claimed that Jesus was alive. This is perhaps the oldest way of dismissing the resurrection of Jesus – the Jewish leaders even used this theory against the christians in the years immediately after Jesus death and resurrection. It is a claim that would make sense if the disciples became rich and famous from their fabricated lie – but this is not the case. In fact quite the opposite. The disciples were considered heretics and traitors because of their claim for Jesus resurrection! Despite the hardships their claim brought into their lives, the disciples were unwavering in their assertion of Jesus being raised back to life from the dead. If Jesus’ resurrection was a fabricated lie – then it is one thing to live a few years maintaining a lie, but when your own life is at stake, very few people will die for what they know to be a lie. Yet we know that quite a number of the disciples were killed because they refused to back away from their claim that Jesus was raised from the dead. Plenty of people throughout history have suffered and died for beliefs they did not know were wrong, but who on earth would willingly die for something they knew was a lie?
All the evidence when reasonably considered points to a true resurrection of Jesus from the dead.
And if Jesus has indeed been raised from the dead then we can’t ignore this truth. It truly is something that demands our attention and a response. The response God expects from us is for all humans to stop ignoring him, to turn back to him and seek forgiveness.
This is why God sent Jesus into the world – to offer us this forgiveness and restored relationship. If you are someone who wants to look more deeply into these truths, fill out a welcome card and post it in the red toolbox on the back table today.