During this time of year we celebrate the resurrection of our Lord Jesus. All too often though we do it with Easter eggs, chocolate bunnies, and outrageous bonnets. Those of us, who really know the meaning of this glorious time, appreciate the true meaning and all the love that went into it. But do even we, really know the extent of detail involved. This month I would like us to look at the resurrection from a critical point of view. Perhaps this will better prepare us to share the wonder of this time with others.
In talking to skeptics the first thing they will ask is, did he really rise from the dead? When what they should be asking is did he really die. After all this is what he really came to do for us. Die on the cross for our sins. If he didnít do that, then we have no need to talk to others about him anyway. We will look at three specific questions. One, could he have survived? Two, was it faked by Jesus and the apostles? Three, could he have simply fainted or passed out and been revived later?
Could He have survived?
To answer this we must look at the night just before the crucifixion. The night of trials. Jesus had just finished the Passover meal with his Apostles, in which he instituted the Last Supper memorial. If you read the gospel accounts, especially John's gospel. You will see that Jesus spent a lot of time preparing the disciples for his death and departure. In Jesus' mind there was no doubt he was about to die. He even exposes the one who would betray Him. It was a long talk He had with them in order to prepare them and to ask His Father for support and to watch over them. By the time he leaves for the Garden of Gethsemane he is very tired. He crosses the Kidron brook on the way. Josephus, the Hebrew historian tells us that at Passover time this brook runs red with the blood of the lambs sacrificed and killed for the Passover meal in the Temple. It is estimated that tens if not hundreds of thousands of lambs are killed each year for this ritual. The sight of this blood could only more vividly remind Jesus was He was about to suffer.
When He reaches the garden, He goes off to pray taking James, John and Peter along. As he prays for the Father to remove the cup He is about to drink. We are told his sweat was like "as if blood". What could cause such a phenomena as this? Researcher's today tell us that on rare occasions, one can sweat blood or excrete blood due to extreme anxiety or stress. You can read all the details, but for this study we must move along quickly. He is arrested and brought to Annas, the legitimate High Priest. It was at Annas's house that they actually brought Him. It is also there that Peter denies Jesus three times. At this house Annas questions Jesus about his disciples and His ministry. At one point a guard standing by, not liking the answer Jesus gave strikes Him. He is then sent to Caiaphas, the politically appointed High Priest for questioning. Luke 23:63 tells us that the men who were holding Him were mocking and beating Him. All this was of course illegal according to God's law for a trial.
As day breaks, the council gathers which only proves that all were not invited to last nights fun and games at Jesus' expense. Once gathered they question Him as to whether He is the Christ, the son of God. They needed a crime in which to punish Him. The earlier questioning had only exposed their treachery as they could not even get the bribed witnesses to agree. In answer to their question Jesus tells them that "from now on you will see me sitting at the right hand of God". They ask again "are you the son of God then"? Jesus replies "Yes I am". Luke 22:70 With this they bring Him before Pilate. At Pilates He is questioned and after finding no guilt, but not wanting to anger the Jews he has Jesus beaten (flogged). Interestingly, the Jews by law are not to exceed forty lashes, the Romans however, had no such law. We are not told how many stripes Jesus received. The Roman Tool for this task was similar to a cat and nine tails, with led or bone embedded in the straps to better rip the flesh. We are told that all too often, the flesh was ripped so deeply as to expose the innards of the victim. Later a crown of thorns is placed on His head and He is beaten about the head with a rod, which is later given to Him as a mock scepter. A purple robe (probably a wall curtain) was placed on Him as a mock robe. With his back exposed as previously stated the pain must have been extreme. We are told that after some time it is then ripped of and his garments are replaced. Ever remove a Band-Aid from a cut that has clotted. Multiply that by a hundred times or more. If as modern science tells us He was close to death in the Garden, then what is keeping Him up at this point? LOVE.
The cross is then placed on this back, so exposed by the whip of an uncaring soldier and He is made to carry it to the hill Golgotha. Simon did help with task, but this is no consolation for the pain. This same back is now laid on this roughly hune cross and he is fastened to it by nails (spikes). As he is lifted up and the cross dropped into it's hole and crashes with a thud, His back is forced against the rough wood. There He hangs for six hours. Arms stretched outward and lungs collapsed by the pressure and filling with liquid.
When Joseph of Aramathia asks Pilate for the body, soldiers are sent to make sure Jesus is dead. These men were professionals; they knew death when they saw it. They saw much in their day. The first thief is still alive so they break his shins with a club to speed up the process. Likewise with the second thief. But Jesus, according to the soldier is already dead. To make sure the soldier thrusts a lance into His side. The scripture says that "immediately the flow of blood and water issues out". Modern pathologists, of whom the gospel writers were not, tell us that this is a sign of sure death. The separation of the blood from the plasma. The soldier was satisfied and the body was released. Remember had the soldier made a mistake, his life would be required of him.
Some have wondered how it is that Jesus died so quickly? After all the thieves were still alive. I am amazed He lasted as long as He did. Remember. The thieves had not gone through the trials and the stress of the world's sins on their backs. They had not been beaten and mocked. No soldier opened their backs with the whip or tore their heads with thorns and beat them with rods. Anyone, who honestly looks at the account of the last twelve hours can only conclude, this man was indeed dead. The miracle was that He lasted so long.
Could Jesus have faked His own death?
Frankly I find this to be the least credible of all the challenges to Jesus' death and resurrection. There are just too many variables. First, who would go so far as to die in such a horrible way to gain a following? Even if one were so deranged as to accomplish this, he would not enjoy the fruits of his labor. Second, you would have to deal with the Roman factor. What soldier is going to risk his life for a Jew, so he can have a following? Was Pontius Pilate involved as well? What of His mother, and John and the women who prepared the body. Could they, would they all be involved in such a fanatical hoax? What if something went wrong? What if the soldier thrust his lance too deeply? Why did blood and water emerge from the wound? You can not fake that, nor did they have the knowledge to do so. This is just not a credible argument.
Could Jesus have just fainted or passed out
This at least have some credit, although not much. Again you have to deal with the issue of blood and water from the lance wound. You also have to deal with the credibility of the soldiers involved. Remember these were hardened and experienced soldiers who had witnessed death many times before. But, for argument sake, let's assume he fainted. That somehow he survived the torture of the previous night and morning. That his back wounds from the scourging were not as bad as all tests have shown they would have been. That the carrying of the cross and being nailed to it was somehow not as bad as we could imagine. That the soldiers lance did not puncture any vital organs. That he did not lose as much blood as one would think in this situation or that the lungs miraculously stayed open and breathing in spite of the extreme pressure from hanging on the cross. Let's assume all that for a moment.
The scriptures tell us that they removed the body at Joseph of Aramathia's request for burial in his own tomb. That the body was washed and prepared for burial according to Jewish custom. He was wrapped in linen cloths with about one hundred pounds of spices. Very aromatic spices I might add. This was to preserve the body and prevent and stench. He is then placed in a carved out tomb from solid rock and a large stone placed in front of it. Now we are to assume that some how in the next day or so. He was revived enough to loosen the wrappings from around his body, even though the arms were wrapped tightly against his sides. Add to this that the spices were of a gummy substance, almost like glue. The cold of the tomb that night in His state would have killed him by itself. Yet we are to believe he frees Himself from the wrap and moves the large stone and sneaks away. It would take more faith to believe that then the fact of His resurrection. Jesus was unmistakable dead. There is simply no way he could have survived. Period. So he is risen, right?
In light of all the evidence, one can only deduct that Jesus was without a doubt dead, when placed in the tomb. So where did the body go? Well the skeptics have answers for that as well. The first we have covered in the last chapter. That he was not dead and so, walked away from the tomb Himself. Of course if you believe he could have survived after all the evidence. Then you have to conclude he was strong enough to move the stone away and that the soldiers just let Him walk away. At risk to their own lives. Roman law states that if a prisoner escapes the soldier in charge is to complete his sentence or be killed. Yeah, I could see the soldiers doing that.
The second and more plausible is that the disciples stole the body in order to fake His resurrection and gain a place in the new religion as His main men. Again you have the problem with the soldiers. These men were not going to let this happen, plain and simple. Maybe they fell asleep, you may ask. Well that was punishable by death as well. One would also have to believe that over a dozen (the usual number of a Roman guard was between 12 and 18) well trained, Jew hating soldiers fell asleep at the same time and heard nothing.
The disciple could have overtaken the guards and stole the body. Are we talking about the same guys that fled when Jesus was arrested? The same ones, save for John, that didn't even show up at the crucifixion. The same ones we see hiding in the upper room for days afterwards. I think not. But let's assume somehow courage got the best of them. Galilians, fishermen, a tax collector simple country folk. Somehow were able to overtake a Roman guard with two swords and clubs. Lets look at this Roman soldier again. He is a fighting and killing machine. The best trained and equipped soldier of his time. A double-edged sword hangs at his side. A dagger, possibly two tucked into his belt. A seven foot lance and two foot by five foot shield. Full body armor made of brass and leather. There is just no possible way these men could pull something of this magnitude off. After they overtake the guard we are to believe they were able to roll away the stone, get the body out and hide it and the guards tell their commander they did not know what happened. Can you believe that?
The religious leaders, who had everything to gain by spreading the word that the body was stolen, bribed the guard and probably their commander into telling everyone they fell asleep. Not that they were overtaken by the disciples. No charges were ever brought against the disciples even though they were in plain sight fifty days later and could have been arrested. Even after the church started to grow we have no evidence that any effort was ever made to find the body or ascertain its whereabouts. It was simply laid to rest. As I stated earlier, it would take more faith to believe these stories then to believe that he truly rose from the dead "as he said". We are told in Matthew 28 that after an earthquake an angel descends and rolls away the stone and is sitting on it. We are then told that the soldiers fell down as dead men. How do you explain that to your commander? You don't you look for the first chance to lie about it.
Eye witness news
The women go to the tomb on Sunday morning to finish the preparation of the body they could not finish due to the approaching Sabbath. If we take all the gospel accounts into effect we have a couple of different thing occurring according to the different points of view of the writers. Both Mary's we are told from Matthew 28 again, encounter an angel. After an earthquake and the angel rolls away the stone he is sitting on it. He tells the women not to be afraid, for I know you are looking for Jesus who has been crucified. He is not here for He is risen, just as He said, come see the place where He was lying. Go quickly and tell His disciples that He is risen from the dead; and behold He is going before you into Galilee, there you will see Him; behold I have told you. They quickly went to tell the disciples with great joy. We are told that Jesus met them there.
Mark 16 adds that besides Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James, that Salome was with them. As they get to the tomb wondering who will move the stone for them they see it has already been moved. And entering the tomb they see a young man sitting there. The angel tells the pretty much the same thing as in Matthew and emphasizes here "see where he was laid" again. Luke 24 tells us there were two men standing in dazzling apparel. Again they are told to tell the disciples that "He is risen, as He said". John's gospel has Mary going to the tomb alone and finding it empty, runs back and tells Peter and John. They all come running back and there Mary sees who she thinks is the gardener, but in reality is Jesus. After talking with Jesus for a short while she goes and tells the disciples she has seen Him alive.
Some have found fault with the four accounts and their differences. I however have found comfort in them. Had they been exact, one could imagine a conspiracy. But these men recorded their accounts as it effected them personally. The important fact that all four record is that He is risen. And three record the angel or angels saying see here where he was lying. There must have been something more important here than just an empty place where the body was.
John 20 says that when Mary had told them about the empty tomb, Peter and John ran to the tomb to see for themselves. Now John being the younger outran Peter. When he got to the tomb however he stopped and did not go it. Peter on the other hand, when he arrived ran right in and there they saw something interesting. It says that the wrappings were there but that the face cloth which was on the head of Jesus was not there. It was rolled up and lying in another place. The grammar indicates that the wrappings were lying there (exactly as they were before). This gives the impression that the wrapping were still wrapped up. As they had been around our saviors body, the shape may have even been the same only the body was gone. And the face cloth being neatly rolled up and in another place is also interesting. John tells us that as soon as he saw this "he believed".
Jesus appeared to the disciple in the upper room twice. Once with and once without Thomas present. He appeared on the road to the two men on the way to Emmais. He appeared to some disciples on the beach and ate with them and to more than five hundred at one time. This was not done in secret. This was not just to the apostles. It was to His beloved and faithful believers. The same believers who after seeing, believed and after believing were willing to die for that belief.
Why we celebrate
Simply put, it should have been you that night of trials. It should have been you on the pavement before Pilate. It should have been you carrying that cross on a bruised back. And it should have been you that was nailed to the cross and died for your own sins. Yes it should have been you. But praise God, it wasn't. It was Jesus. God become man, out of a love so deep we can not comprehend its depth, stepped in to take your place. That is cause for celebration, is it not? This is cause for praise, is it not? Yes it is, but it is also cause for unquestioning obedience as well. We have much to celebrate, but we have much responsibility as well. To whom much is given, much is required. Can you think of anyone who has ever given you as much? I can not.
What is it that could make Stephan smile at heaven as he was being stoned? What could turn a killer and persecutor of the church into its strongest promoter? What could traditionally make one who once denied him, gladly go to the cross himself? What could make an arena full of Christian's burst into song and hymns while surrounded by hungry lions? And what could make a hardened criminal publicly renounce his former life style and publicly accept Jesus as his Lord and Savior. Only one answer fits all these circumstances. The risen Christ! Yes we celebrate the Easter season with a joy the world can not understand. Not with eggs, or bunnies, or funny hats. We celebrate with the shout; "HE IS RISEN, JUST AS HE SAID".