Aug 25, 2016
PART 3 OF 3
JESUS’ DEATH AND RESURRECTION
To me, the resurrection is absolutely everything. As someone has put it, it is not only the most important question of the Christian faith; it is the most important question of life. If Jesus rose from the dead, then we have to accept all that He said. If He didn’t rise from the dead, then we don’t need to worry about anything that He said. The central issue is not whether or not you like His teaching, but whether or not He rose from the dead. If the Resurrection took place then He is exactly who He claimed to be. If He didn’t, everything is futile, we are still in our sins, and we need to pack it up, go home, and wait for death to come.
Theologian R. C. Sproul puts it this way: “The claim of resurrection is vital to Christianity. If Christ has been raised from the dead by God, then He has the credentials and certification that no other religious leader possesses.”
A friend once asked me a hypothetical question, “What if I claim that I have also risen?” Well, I said, I would have to ask you to show me the place where you were buried, or since we are talking about modern times, your death certificate. Death, logically, precedes resurrection!
Time and again, Jesus had spoken about his death. He had specified that He would be betrayed, that he would be arrested, tortured, crucified and that He would rise again.
Bible scholar Wilbur Smith remarked about Jesus: “When He said that He himself would rise again from the dead, the third day after He was crucified, He said something that only a fool would dare say, if He expected longer the devotion of any disciples – unless He was sure He was going to rise. No founder of any world religion known to men ever dared say a thing like that.” No one has!
In other words, since Jesus had clearly told his disciples that he would rise again after his death, failure to keep that promise would expose him as a fraud. Dr. Ravi Zacharias (a Nambudiri Brahmin who came to Christ and one of the most prolific, world renowned Christian apologists) puts it this way, “Jesus could have easily said that He would rise spiritually. No one could have falsified this claim after His death. But, He said he would rise bodily. This was not a bold claim, it was a TRUTH claim.” In other words, when Jesus said He would rise, He was not making a metaphorical statement either.
Just as Jesus had predicted, Judas Iscariot, one of his own disciples betrayed Him. A sham of a trial was conducted by the Roman Governor Pontius Pilate. Jesus was convicted of treason and condemned to die, but not before He was subjected to horrendous torture. Then, on the hill of Calvary, the Roman executioners placed him on a wooden cross, slammed nails into his wrists and feet, and watched him die.
The Romans were ruthless in their efficiency and they made sure that those they crucified were dead. So a Roman guard pierced Jesus’ side and out flowed blood and water, a clear indication of His death. Jesus’ body was then taken down from the cross and buried in Joseph of Arimathea’s tomb. On the insistence of the Jewish leaders, Pilate ordered a 24-hour watch.
The Jewish leaders were afraid that Jesus’ men would steal the body and claim that He has risen. They did not know that all of Jesus’ disciples had gone into hiding, fearing for their own lives. It appeared that the purpose for which Jesus came to earth had all but perished with His death. All hope was crushed, and the Romans and the Jewish leaders had triumphed, or so it seemed.
It wasn’t the end, though. The movement that Jesus started regained an unstoppable momentum and is growing faster, if not by birth rate, but by the number of people who are accepting Christ as their Lord and Saviour. This is despite all that the oppressive governments have done over the centuries and even now to stop or crush Christianity. Jesus’ followers form the world’s largest religion. Someone has rightly said, nothing is as powerful as an idea whose time has come.
Following Jesus’ death, something extraordinary had happened, something that gave His cowardly disciples the fire and zeal to proclaim His message. Therefore, we have to know what happened after Jesus’ body was taken down from the cross and placed in the tomb. Let’s not forget, Caesar believed he was divine. He ruled Rome at the time and Jerusalem was under his rule. It was not exactly politically prudent to proclaim, “Jesus is Lord,” unless you had a death wish. Because a death sentence was meted out to whoever dared say that and this precisely what Jesus was accused of by the Jewish authorities. John 10:33 records, “The Jews answered him, ‘It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you but for blasphemy, because you, being a man, make yourself God.’”
Is it possible that they saw Jesus’ ghost? If they did, there were words to describe it: spirit, ghost, and apparition. And these only confirmed that the person was dead, not alive.
In the twenty first century, we look at everything through the scientific scope. But, it is our arrogance to think that people who lived two thousand years ago did not know that dead people remain dead. They knew it as much as we do today; but, it is precisely because of this knowledge that an experience with a resurrected person had shaken them up completely.
In a New York Times article, Peter Steinfels cites the startling events that occurred three days after Jesus’ death: “Shortly after Jesus was executed, his followers were suddenly galvanized from a baffled and cowering group into people whose message about a living Jesus and a coming kingdom, preached at the risk of their lives, eventually changed an empire. Something happened; but, exactly what?” That’s the question we have to answer with an investigation into the facts.
IS THE RESURRECTION PLAUSIBLE?
There are only five plausible explanations for Jesus’ alleged resurrection, as portrayed in the New Testament:
1. Jesus didn’t really die on the cross.
2. The “resurrection” was a conspiracy.
3. The disciples were hallucinating.
4. The account is legendary.
5. The death and resurrection actually happened.
Let’s walk through this and see which of these options is true. Let us see the entries of the non-Christian historians from around the time when Jesus lived. Three of these historians mentioned the death of Jesus.
- Lucian (c.120 -180 A.D.) referred to Jesus as a crucified sophist (philosopher).
- Josephus (c.37 – 100 A.D.) wrote, “At this time there appeared Jesus, a wise man, for he was a doer of amazing deeds. When Pilate condemned him to the cross, the leading men among us, having accused him, those who loved him did not cease to do so.”
- Tacitus (c. 56 – 120 A.D.) wrote, “Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty at the hands of our procurator, Pontius Pilate.”
Interesting, there is no historical account from Romans, or his chief detractors – the Jews – that dispute either Jesus’ death or his burial. Even Crossan, a skeptic of the resurrection, agrees that Jesus really lived and died. “That he was crucified is as sure as anything historical can ever be.” Jesus was clearly dead, “of that there was no doubt.”
No historian refutes that Jesus was dead. However, many have questioned how Jesus’ body disappeared from the tomb because this is not a natural phenomenon.
Dr. Frank Morison began research to prove that the resurrection was a myth or a hoax. He first looked at the empty tomb. This was a private tomb owned by a prominent member of the Sanhedrin Council. It was not one of the graves in a common cemetery. Furthermore, stealing the body would entail going past a small contingent of Roman guards (from 4 to 12 soldiers) and moving a stone that covered the tomb weighing 1.5 to 2 tons. A daunting task, especially when the very fear of death was running through the veins of Jesus’ disciples.
The very fact that the Jewish leaders accused the disciples of stealing Jesus’ body confirms one thing: the tomb was empty. If Jesus’ body was anywhere to be found, his enemies would have quickly exposed the resurrection as a fraud. Tom Anderson, former president of the California Trial Lawyers Association, summarizes the strength of this argument:
“With an event so well publicized, don’t you think that it’s reasonable that one historian, one eye witness, one antagonist would record for all time that he had seen Christ’s body? The silence of history is deafening when it comes to the testimony against the resurrection.”
So, with no body of evidence, and with a known tomb clearly empty, Morison accepted the evidence as solid that Jesus’ body had somehow disappeared from the tomb.
The stealing of Jesus’ body does not work well because one must then explain the several appearances of Jesus – in the flesh – after three days. The faith of Jesus’ disciples would not have been emboldened merely knowing that the tomb was empty. Something far more extraordinary had to take place for the disciples to come out proclaiming the message of salvation that Jesus had instructed them to give to mankind.
Some skeptics believe that the story of Jesus’ coming back from the dead started off as a legend and began to grow. On the surface this seems like a plausible scenario. But there are three major problems with that theory.
First, legends simply don’t develop while multiple eyewitnesses are alive to refute them and especially when the events are narrated within a short period of years. Second, legends develop by oral tradition and don’t come with contemporary historical documents that can be verified. Yet the Gospels were written within three decades of the resurrection. Third, the legend theory doesn’t adequately explain either the fact of the empty tomb or the historically verified conviction of the apostles that Jesus was alive.
Therefore, the legend theory doesn’t seem to hold up any better than other attempts to explain away this amazing claim. Furthermore, the resurrection account of Jesus Christ actually altered history, beginning with the Roman Empire. How could a legend make such an enormous historical impact within such a short time period?
Eyewitness accounts indicate that Jesus appeared to his disciples several times and even ate with them. Later he appeared to more than 500 followers. Legal scholar John Warwick Montgomery stated, “In 56 A.D. the Apostle Paul wrote that over 500 people had seen the risen Jesus and that most of them were still alive (1 Corinthians 15:6ff.). It passes the bounds of credibility that the early Christians could have manufactured such a tale and then preached it among those who might easily have refuted it simply by producing the body of Jesus.”
Bible scholar Norman Geisler agrees, “If the Resurrection had not occurred, why would the Apostle Paul give such a list of supposed eyewitnesses? He would immediately lose all credibility with his Corinthian readers by lying so blatantly.”
Apostle Paul, whose name was Saul, was none other than the one who persecuted and oversaw the killing of the early Christians; he was a citizen of Rome. Riding a horse on one of his missions to find more Christians to put to the sword, Saul was struck by a heavenly light as he approached Damascus. He fell from his horse and heard a voice asking him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” Saul asked, “Who are you, Lord?” He received a response, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.” From oppressor, Saul became a proclaimer of the risen Christ.
Apostle Peter told a crowd in Caesarea why he and the other disciples were so convinced Jesus was alive. “We apostles are witnesses of all he did throughout Israel and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by crucifying him, but God raised him to life three days later. We were those who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead” (Acts 10:39-41).
British Bible scholar Michael Green remarked, “The appearances of Jesus are as well authenticated as anything in antiquity. There can be no rational doubt that they occurred.”
WHO DIES FOR A KNOWN LIE?
As if the eyewitness reports were not enough to challenge Morison’s skepticism, he was also baffled by the disciples’ behavior. A fact of history that has stumped historians, psychologists, and skeptics alike is that these 11 former cowards were suddenly willing to suffer humiliation, torture, and death. All of Jesus’ apostles were slain as martyrs, except one. Would they have done so much for a lie, if they had taken his body?
To be a willing martyr for a known lie is insanity. As Paul Little wrote, “Men will die for what they believe to be true, though it may actually be false. They do not, however, die for what they know is a lie.” Jesus’ disciples behaved in a manner consistent with a genuine belief that their leader was alive.
No one has adequately explained why the disciples would have been willing to die for a known lie. But even if they all conspired to lie about Jesus’ resurrection, how could they have kept the conspiracy going for decades without at least one of them selling out for money or position? Moreland wrote, “Those who lie for personal gain do not stick together very long, especially when hardship decreases the benefits.”
Charles “Chuck” Colson’s story of conversion is probably one of the greatest in modern history. Colson was labeled evil for his role as “hit man,” when he served as special Counsel to President Richard Nixon from 1969 to 1973. He was embroiled in the infamous Watergate Scandal and served time in a federal prison after he pleaded guilty in 1974 to obstruction of justice. President Nixon himself was implicated and resigned.
Colson came to Christ through his own experience. He was once asked if he believed Jesus really rose from the dead. This is what he had to say, “I know the resurrection is a fact, and Watergate proved it to me. How? Because 12 men testified they had seen Jesus rise from the dead, and then they proclaimed that truth for 40 years, never once denying it. Everyone was beaten, tortured, stoned and put in prison. They would not have endured that if it weren’t true. Watergate embroiled 12 of the most powerful men in the world – and they couldn’t keep a lie for three weeks. You’re telling me 12 apostles could keep a lie for 40 years? It is absolutely impossible.”
Christians believe that God wants to have an intimate relationship with people and those who have experienced his love will tell you what a powerful experience it is. Colson had been touched to such an extent that he devoted his entire life after accepting Christ and worked amongst prisoners. His outreach eventually led to his receiving the prestigious Templeton Prize in 1993, donating the $1 million prize to Prison Fellowship.
Simon Greenleaf (1783-1853) was and still is known as the greatest expert in judicial testimony ever. This American attorney wrote a book called, “Testimony of the Evangelists” in which he recounts the hundreds of eye-witness accounts of Jesus’ life, His ministry, His death, and His resurrection. He views these recorded testimonies in the New Testament as lines of evidence that would hold up in a court of law even today. This is important because there is no statute of limitations on murder. Part of Greenleaf’s evidence included the thousands and thousands of martyrdoms, the global spread of Christianity, and a persistent-through-persecution faith that millions of believers have died for as proof that this God-man and His ministry was no fake. As has been stated, many people would live for a lie, but few would be willing to die for one, yet millions over the years have died for a faith that they believe in to the uttermost.
THE HISTORICITY OF JESUS
Scholar Gary Habermas has written that five historical facts about Christ have never been disputed as being true about Jesus Christ: His earthly life as a man, His ministry on earth, His crucifixion, His death, and His resurrection by the hundreds of eye witnesses who saw Him after His resurrection (Luke 24, Mark 16, John 20, Matt 28, Act 1:3-4, 2:31-32, 9:3, 17, I Cor 15:4-8, 9:1, II Peter 1:16, etc.). Perhaps the most famous of all Jewish Historians, Flavius Josephus, who was not a believer, wrote Jewish historical annals for the Roman Empire. He also wrote about Jesus Christ, including His widely testified life after death in the Antiquities of the Jews.
GOD IS IN OUR CONSCIENCE
Can the conscience completely block out any notion of God? When Mao burned one of the largest seminaries in China in 1966, he declared that with it God was being evicted from China and Christianity would never return to the land. Today, China has the fastest growing church in the world. Some estimates place the figure close to a 100 million. Estimates also indicate that in the next 40 years or so, China will become the largest Christian nation in the world, overtaking USA.
Leaders like Stalin erased the name of God from every book, believing that by obliterating the mention of God, it would remove God from people’s lives forever. How does one erase what resides in the conscience? Today, approximately 83% of Russians are Christians. Similar proliferation is being witnessed in other Eastern European countries that were once communist. It is evident that even during the toughest of times the communist regimes could not keep God out of people’s lives.
It seems that for ultimate solace, the conscience always needs God. God is part of our DNA. Evidence points out that in every culture, including the farthest corners of the earth, people worship some kind of god because deep down they know there is a superior, powerful, intelligence out there. The Holy Bible says, “Eternity is written in our hearts.”
COMING TO TERMS WITH DOUBTS
As one philosopher has said, we struggle with doubts on three levels – intellectual, emotional and will. Intellectually, all doubts can be cleared about God because there is more than sufficient scientific evidence to point out that the universe and everything in it could not have come about by random chance – it is far, far, too complex for that. Intellectually, there is sufficient historic evidence that Christ lived, died and was resurrected.
We struggle with emotional doubts especially when we lose a loved one, or when we see so much evil in the world. But, all we have to do is look to Jesus. With all the miracles he performed, he was only served abuses, extreme torture and an ignominious death on the cross. The death on the cross was nothing less than a state-invented method of terrorizing anyone who crossed paths with the Roman Empire. And that is why they made it as brutal as possible. With all this, Jesus still loved the world and that is why He cried out to God – in his human state – to forgive his tormentors. Can there be a greater act of love than this? I am certain there isn’t any.
The most difficult one to overcome is our own will. Once you are up there with success and money and power, you don’t want any superior moral being “interfering” with your life. Or, the pain you suffered stops you from believing that there is a God who cares.
THE REAL DECEPTIONS
Mysticism is simply that: mysticism. You can shroud yourself into believing a thousand different truths, but it leads you to more questions, leaving you empty in the end. In some philosophies, they will tell you that there are many truths. They will also tell you that the only thing that separates you from becoming God is in not believing that you are God.
Then they will take you through different paths where you become God, like yoga, meditation, etc. Ganja also gives you a high and you feel free and ascetics are often found smoking it, but at some point you have to come to mother Earth. I have nothing against the first two. Yoga can increase your flexibility and, therefore, your health, while with meditation you can train to calm your mind. In fact, I practice both and I find them refreshing. When I meditate, I use what is taught in the Holy Bible – to meditate on God’s word and His wonderful works. Yes, it is in the Holy Bible. Meditation is not exclusive to any culture. If anyone tells you that only a guru can give you a specific mantra which you are to recite repeatedly in meditation, he is taking you for a ride that will cost you money.
For me it is too hard to digest that you awaken some snake that is coiled inside you to reach your God potential when you do yoga. You are either God, or you are not. If you are not, it is utterly irrational to think you can become one. I also think it is asking human beings to take a huge leap of faith. Because human beings’ innate desire is to seek God, some deceivers will not mind trying anything, including promising you that his meditation will take you to some 7th level of consciousness. Pointless, if you still have to return to the reality of life. If we are God, then logically there should have been no misery. The truth is we are not.
Deception, quote mining and quoting out of context, are the favourite weapons of some modern philosophers. Even accomplished writers like Deepak Chopra, will tell you that every cell has a conscience. There you are; it sounds so fascinating. And the way Chopra presents it sounds like he is making a truth statement.
CAN GOD SATISFY MAN’S QUEST?
Here is a conversation between Jesus and Philip, one of his disciples, that throws a lot of light on how difficult it is to satisfy human beings even if God were to come in person.
This is from John 14:8-11: Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.”
Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; OR AT LEAST BELIEVE ON THE EVIDENCE OF THE WORKS THEMSELVES.” Wow!
There are so many things we tell our children that we will do for them of which they have no evidence, except to take our words on faith. How happy we feel though when our children tell us, okay dad or okay mom, and wait for us to fulfill that promise.
WHY DID JESUS HAVE TO DIE?
If ransom is demanded and has to be paid in blood for the freedom of a loved one, someone supremely selfless must offer himself, otherwise the loved one will die.
Fr. Maximilian Kolbe, a Polish priest, offered himself and died in place of another prisoner who had escaped from one of the German’s death camps located in Auschwitz, Poland. When the camp commandant randomly picked a prisoner to die in place for the one who had escaped, he begged for mercy. The unflinching commandant made a devil’s offer: a life for a life - someone would have to take the chosen prisoner’s place. (Few survived those ghastly death camps and one of them was the prisoner whose place Fr. Kolbe had taken. Miraculously, Fr. Kolbe’s sacrifice was not in vain.)
When it comes to a price for a place in eternity, it is insurmountably high. Money cannot buy it, offerings in houses of worship cannot buy it, nor can acts of charitable works, because every man and woman is a sinner at the core – none are spotless. Good works count, but it is really surprising that people think heaven can be purchased that way. Amazingly, the ultimate source of Grace, the Lord Jesus Christ, offers it to a believing, repentant heart.
The only payment for a soul’s freedom has to be paid in blood. Since sin cannot free sin, only someone sinless can free mankind from sin. Since no man is sinless, only God - who is sinless – possesses the qualification to free man from sin. In giving His life unconditionally, Jesus – the true incarnation of Love – epitomized love by becoming man, taking on our sins, and spilled His blood to cleanse us, so that we can be in His presence in heaven forever.
As Jesus was hanging on the cross, one of the dying thieves begged Him, "Jesus, remember me when You come into Your kingdom!" Jesus made a promise to the repentant thief, "Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise." Luke 23:43
Whenever Jesus wanted people to be extra attentive, He would add “truly” for emphasis. The Holy Bible records 76 times the word “truly” before Jesus continued with what He wanted to say. By adding emphasis to His promise to the thief, Jesus assured him at that moment, and He assures us today, that He has the authority and the power over life, death and a new life with Him.
Jesus has placed Himself on the highest pinnacle of compassion by giving His life for His crown creation - man. It is one of the greatest mysteries of God’s love, but one that took place in recorded history. Now all we have to do is accept it on faith. Jesus said, "If you had faith like a mustard seed, you would say to this mulberry tree, 'Be uprooted and be planted in the sea'; and it would obey you.” Jesus does not demand pool-sized faith. The journey to Him can begin by taking very small steps!
BUILDING THE BRIDGE
A wise person has said, “The longest distance is from the mind to the heart.” For God, it is important that we build the bridge between the heart and mind. In so many debates I have watched, the same evidence is presented and while one accepts it, the other does not.
We may follow something purely on the basis of faith, but when life throws a lot of pain and suffering, it is then that “reasonable faith” can come to the rescue. Having said that, without faith we can never satisfy God because there are mysteries that the human mind can never fully grapple, but it is undeniable that a sound foundation for faith can be built upon sound reasoning.
St. Peter says, “But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the REASON for the hope that you have.” In 1 Peter 3:15
The only God who meets belief through reasoning and evidence is Jesus Christ. No other PERSON IN HISTORY has claimed divinity and no one can stand the test unless it’s the Truth. In the end, only TRUTH WILL PREVAIL.
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