(image courtesy ChristArt)
By Spencer D Gear
Funerals are generally not our favourite occasions, but they have a startling way of bringing us face to face with the facts. I attended one recently following the sudden death of a youngish friend. Around 50 years is “youngish” when one is in that region.
I was shocked by my friend’s unexpected departure from this life. At that time I was reading Philip Yancey’s penetrating book, The Jesus I Never Knew. Yancey reminded me of therapist, Rollo May’s, observation: “I was seized then by a moment of spiritual reality: what would it mean for our world if He (Jesus) had truly risen?”
This is what the women were told when they arrived at the tomb on Easter Sunday morning, “He has risen! He is not here” (Mark 16:6).
Easter holds the promise that death is not final. Death is reversible. But there are conditions.
The first Christians were overcome by the impact of Christ’s resurrection. The apostle Paul told the Corinthians, “And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith” (I Corinthians 15:14).
But how can we know for sure that it really happened? There are a number of convincing proofs (cf. Acts 1:3):
- Women were the first witnesses of the resurrection. This is hardly a story that a conspirator would invent among the Jews of first century A.D. Besides, the women were “afraid yet filled with joy”;
- Like many other things in Jesus’ life, his resurrection drew two responses. Those who believed were remade and went forth to change the world with courage. Others rejected the powerful evidence. Jesus predicted this: “If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.”
- On that first Easter Sunday there was no spectacle like angels singing the “Hallelujah Chorus” or kings from foreign lands bringing extravagant gifts.
- The circumstances were very ordinary — a private, personal meal; two men walking along the road to Emmaus; a woman weeping in the garden and some fishermen doing their job with nets at the lake. Quite unspectacular stuff!
Most remarkable of all was what happened to that snivelling, timid band of unpredictable followers. Of those 11 who deserted Jesus just before his death (one other callously betrayed him), they were turned into fearless evangelists who became ancient equivalents of Graham Staines. They went to martyrs’ graves faithfully proclaiming the resurrected Christ. Hardly evidence for a fake or myth!
But their message was more than just faith in Christ’s great personal comeback, but a hope of reversal of death for all who trust in Christ.
“The last enemy to be destroyed is death” (I Cor. 15:26) was how the apostle Paul put it. Christ’s great comeback guarantees the resurrection for “those who belong to him.” Therefore, I can have guaranteed hope at the death of a Christian believer. It is reversible when Christ comes again.
Jesus was at the grave of his friend Lazarus before he raised him from the dead. Jesus’ own words are: “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die” (John 11:25-26).
Some want to object
It is not unusual to get these kinds of comments in Christian discussions on the Internet:
Paul did not meet the resurrected Christ–he only ‘saw him in visions and dreams’. That’s probably because Christ was in heaven sitting at the right hand of God.
As for Mark’s gospel—well, it it is the earliest of the four canonical gospels–but it doesn’t prove Christ rose from the dead. Chapter 16 actually ends with the women fleeing from the tomb. However–an additional longer ending was added to the gospel which have several women go to his tomb and find it empty. However–in Luke’s gospel, two Mary’s see Jesus. And in John’s gospel–Mary Magdalene sees what she at first thinks is a gardener–who actually happens to be Jesus. In other words–all of these accounts contradict each other. If evidence does not corroborate then it is inadmissible.
This was my response:
I wouldn’t be so quick to wipe aside the evidence for Christ’s resurrection as “these accounts contradict each other”. Yes, they have some different details but I haven’t found the kinds of contradictions that you are indicating.
One of the most detailed examinations of Christ’s resurrection has been done in the recent research published as 817 pages by N. T. Wright. I have the book and have read large chunks of my own personal copy. Part of his conclusion towards the end of the book is:
The equivalent of the ‘mad scientist’ hypothesis in the resurrection debate would be the intricately designed hypotheses according to which anything and everything that pointed towards the resurrection (the gospel accounts, of course, in particular) is to be explained as the work of the early church expounding, legitimating and defending theological, exegetical and church-governmental conclusions reached on quite other grounds. The question which must be faced is whether the explanation of the data which the early Christians themselves gave, that Jesus really was risen from the dead, ‘explains the aggregate’ of the evidence better than these sophisticated scepticisms. My claim is that it does.
The claim can be stated once more in terms of necessary and sufficient conditions. The actual bodily resurrection of Jesus (not a mere resuscitation, but a transforming revivification) clearly provides sufficient condition of the tomb being empty and the ‘meetings’ taking place. Nobody is likely to doubt that. Once grant that Jesus really was raised, and all the pieces of the historical jigsaw puzzle of early Christianity fall into place. My claim is stronger: that the bodily resurrection of Jesus provides a necessary condition for these things; in other words, that no other explanation could or would do. All the efforts to find alternative explanations fail, and they were bound to do so.
British agnostic journalist, Frank Morison, set out to show that the resurrection was a gigantic myth. The evidence for Christ’s return from death overwhelmed him and he wrote a very different conclusion that has become a classic, Who Moved the Stone?
One fellow, M. Lepeaux, once started a religion that he hoped would improve on Christianity. He went to the great French diplomat-statesman, Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Perigord, and discussed the dismal situation with his friend, Talleyrand. “What would you suggest I do?” His friend was penetratingly perceptive: “I should recommend that you get yourself crucified, and then die, but be sure to rise again the third day”.
“If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins” (I Corinthians 15:17, ESV).
 Christian Forums.com, The Historical Jesus, ‘The resurrection is a historical problem’, Kirkhaven #22, available at: http://www.christianforums.com/t7237420-3/#post59225867 (Accessed 9 December 2011)
 Michael P. Green (Ed.), Illustrations for Biblical Preaching. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1982, No. 1138, p. 305.
Copyright © 2007 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 5 February 2017.