First United Methodist Church
Sunday, April 26, 2015
Some might wonder what all the fuss is about when it comes to Easter. What difference does it make if Jesus rose from the dead? In my opinion it makes all the difference in the world. If Christ did not rise, then thousands of believers have died as martyrs for a hoax, and countless others, myself included, have placed all our hope in a lie. If he did rise, however, then he is still present and can offer peace and possibility to troubled, hurting lives. Many scholars - among them the apostle Paul, Augustine, Sir Isaac Newton and C.S. Lewis–believed in the resurrection. Author Rusty Wright, in Jesus’ Resurrection, Fact or Fiction (2015: Probe Ministries), invites us to consider four pieces of evidence:
1. The explosive growth of Christianity as a movement. Within weeks after Jesus was crucified, a movement arose which, by the later admission of its enemies, “upset the world.” What happened to ignite this movement after its leader had been executed? Something big.
2. The changed lives of Jesus’ followers. After Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion, most his followers fled in fear. Peter denied Jesus three times. Yet later on, ten out of the eleven Disciples (Judas committed suicide) were martyred for their faith. According to traditions, Peter was crucified upside down; Thomas was skewered; John was boiled in oil but survived. What turned these cowards into heroes? Each believed he had seen Jesus alive again.
3. The empty tomb. Jesus’ corpse was removed from the cross, wrapped in cloth, and placed in a solid-rock tomb. A one-and-a-half to two-ton stone was rolled into a slightly depressed groove to seal the tomb’s entrance. A special forces-like unit of Roman soldiers guarded the grave. Sunday morning, the stone was found rolled away, the body was gone but the grave clothes were still in place. What happened?
Did Christ’s friends steal the body? Perhaps one of the women sweet-talked the guards while the others moved the stone and tiptoed off with the body. Or maybe Peter (remember his bravery?) or Thomas (Doubting Thomas) overpowered the guards, stole the body, then fabricated–and died for–a resurrection myth.These theories are ridiculous. The guarding soldiers were too powerful, the stone was too heavy, and the disciples were too spineless to attempt such a feat.
Did Christ’s enemies steal the body? If Romans or Jewish religious leaders had the body, surely they would have exposed it so Christianity would die out. They didn’t, and it didn’t.
The “Swoon Theory” supposes that Jesus didn’t really die but was only unconscious. The expert Roman executioners merely thought he was dead. After a few days in the tomb without food or medicine, the cool air revived him. Then he burst from the 100 pounds of wrappings, rolled away the stone with his nail-pierced hands, scared the daylights out of the Roman soldiers, walked miles on wounded feet and convinced his Disciples he’d been raised from the dead. This one is harder for me to believe than the resurrection itself.
4. The appearances of the risen Christ. For 40 days after his death, many different people said they saw Jesus alive. Witnesses included a woman, a shrewd tax collector, several fishermen and over 500 people at once. These claims provide further eyewitness testimony for the resurrection.
In my opinion, all the attempts to explain away the evidence fail and ultimately point to one conclusion: Christ is risen. I look forward to celebrating that reality with you on Easter morning!
Peace and love,