Saturday, April 23, 2011

Easter - not just good news but good proof!

I’ve been reading the Gospels recently, and it keeps occurring to me how odd it is that, for the most part, the Jewish people completely missed their Messiah. It’s especially strange because God had been telling them for centuries that a savior was coming. And to make sure they didn’t miss Him, God taught them hundreds of details about His life and person.

But still they missed Him.

So, I began to wonder, how are we Gentiles supposed to recognize Him as the Savior promised for so long?

As far as I can tell, there are only two sermons in the New Testament specifically addressed to Gentiles who knew nothing about the Jewish messianic hope.

The first is in Acts chapter 10 (34~43). The second is in Acts chapter 17 (22~31). Here’s the text of the second.

So Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus, said: “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you ... The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”

Both sermons have two elements in common:

1 - The proclamation that the LORD (the God of the Jews) is really the God of the whole earth, and He has appointed a savior for all people.

2 - Even if the Jews missed, and the Gentiles didn’t know, the other signs, just one really really big sign was more than enough. Jesus Christ was proved to be who He said He was (the Son of God and Savior) by the His resurrection from the dead.

Paul repeats this last fact in his letter to the Romans when he says that Jesus was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead.

So, the Resurrection - the event that Christians all over the world celebrate tomorrow - is the key. To put it simply, if Easter is true, Christianity is true. If Easter is false, Christianity is worthless, pathetic, and empty.

The question is, other than unreliable feelings, is there any way to know it’s true?

Logically speaking, the answer is yes.

Here’s why.

The Resurrection as the Ultimate Miracle

The resurrection of Jesus acquires such decisive meaning, not merely because someone or anyone has been raised from the dead, but because it is Jesus of Nazareth, whose execution was instigated by the Jews because he had blasphemed against God. If this man was raised from the dead, then that plainly means that the God whom he had supposedly blasphemed has committed himself to him. . . . The resurrection can only be understood as the divine vindication of the man whom the Jews had rejected as a blasphemer. (Woflhart Pannenberg)

There are three main branches of evidence supporting the actual historical truth of the Resurrection of Christ.

Branch #1 – The account

The Gospel accounts are accurate descriptions of what actually happened - not what the writers wished had happened.

There are a multitude of reasons to accept the Gospels as accurate historical accounts, but for today I’ll focus on just one: Unless the Gospels tell the real story, the writers were fools.

In a contrived story the empty tomb would definitely not have been discovered by women. In ancient Israel, women were not considered credible witnesses, and the fact that no men were around when the empty tomb was found made the story immediately suspect.

Branch #2 – The empty tomb

The fact that the tomb was empty proves the Resurrection happened. Why?

1. There was definitely no body in the place where Jesus had been laid.

Remember, the story of the empty tomb was first told in Jerusalem very soon after the Crucifixion.

How could the story of Resurrection have been told in that place at that time if the tomb had not actually been empty? The location of the tomb was known to all (it belonged to a member of the “Senate”) and any enemy of Christianity would have simply gone and looked. Any body in there would have proven the lie, and it would have ended there.

But, there are no records that anyone ever contested the fact.

So, the tomb must have been empty.

2. How did it get empty? (This is the key!)

Only 5 alternate explanations are possible:
  1. The Conspiracy Hypothesis (aka, Theft Theory) says that someone (i.e., the Disciples) stole the body. But, think about it. A theft would have been meaningless. Most people would die for their sincere beliefs, but who would die for something they knew was a lie (and almost all of those early disciples were murdered claiming the Resurrection was true)? Also, if the Jewish leaders really believed they stole the body, why weren’t the disciples arrested? Add to this the fact that the tomb was guarded by 10~30 highly-trained soldiers (who knew they would die if they failed in their charge), and this theory falls apart.
  1. The Wrong Tomb Hypothesis says the women (remember - females were pretty ditzy back then!) simply went to the wrong tomb (which was empty) and everyone was too excited to notice. But wouldn’t someone have gone back later once they realized it? And if they did, wouldn’t they have found the body? To believe this you must believe it’s possible that no one ever realized the mistake.
  1. The Displaced Body Hypothesis says that after the crucifixion Jesus was buried by Joseph of Arimathea in his own tomb, but this was only a temporary setup. The body was then moved to the criminal cemetery as soon as the Sabbath was over. (In other words, they lost track of it.) But, the criminal graveyard was only 50~600 yards from the Crucifixion site, so why would Joseph defile his own family’s tomb with a criminal just to move it one day later?
  1. The Hallucination Theory speaks for itself. Simple, pathetic self-delusion caused it all. But so many people? And, again, why wasn’t it disputed and proved false?
  1. The Apparent Death Hypothesis (aka, Swoon Theory) suggests that Jesus didn’t really die. The gist of this theory is that Jesus just lost consciousness. Later, when He recovered, He simply got up and walked out of the tomb.
But there are a lot of reasons to mark this idea as impossible:
  • He hung on the cross from 9:00 to just before sunset - and that’s not something you recover from in a few hours
  • He could not possibly have survived the extremely heavy blood loss from the flogging, the crown of thorns, and nails pounded through His hands & feet
  • A flow of blood & water from one’s side (after being stabbed with a spear) is a certain sign of death
  • Experienced Roman guards examined him and were confident to testify to Pilate that He was definitely dead before they removed Him from the Cross. A mistake like that would have meant the guard’s death
  • Jesus was immediately wrapped in a hundred pounds of linen and spices - foot-wide linen bandages from armpits to ankles with gummy spice paste between the layers that acted as a glue. In such a state He certainly could not have unbound himself, moved the heavy stone from the tomb mouth, overcome all the guards and traveled on pierced feet through the city. Nor would a person in such a state have gone very far without being noticed by anyone.
It’s also important to note that the Resurrection is attested to by multiple very early independent sources, and even the enemies of Christianity acknowledged the resurrection occurred.

Branch #3 – The post resurrection appearances

Over 500 people claim to have seen Jesus alive after the Resurrection on at least 12 different occasions. To give you some courtroom drama-style context, this means that it would take over 129 hours to hear just 15 minutes of testimony from each person who saw Jesus after He was raised.

That volume of testimony is hard to simply disregard. And just in case some were inclined to try, the Apostle Paul encouraged anyone who doubted to go talk to those witnesses.

Happy Easter Eve, everyone.
May we all be blessed with newness of life!