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Sunday, 16 April 2017

Resurrection Day.

It was, if memory serves me well, the late David Jenkins who, as Bishop of Durham, made a statement about the Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth being nothing more than a story about a load of old bones! (If it was someone else, I apologise to the late Bishop!). Of course, he certainly knows the truth now!

Today is Resurrection Day. There is, of course a sense in which, for the true disciple of Jesus, every day is Resurrection Day. We who seek to follow Him do not confine our thinking of His resurrection to one day in the year. It is, of course, the central teaching of the Christian faith. Paul wrote to the early believers in Corinth that "If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all men most to be pitied. But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep." (15:17-20).

So is there any real evidence for the resurrection of Jesus - or is the whole story just a load of old bones. Sadly, there are many, even within the ranks of the Christian clergy, who seem to think so! However, if we approach the question reasonably, and logically, we find that there is ample evidence to support the claim. Let's look at some of the attempts to explain the resurrection away as less than it was.

1. Jesus didn't die, but merely swooned. He then revived in the cool of the tomb, and made His way out, convincing His disciples that He had risen from the dead.
    Those who advocate this scenario have totally ignored a number of facts. The first, and most obvious is that crucifixion was a means of executing the death penalty. The whole point of the exercise was that the victim would die - as surely as if beheaded. People simply did not survive crucifixion. Secondly, the Roman soldiers were men who knew a dead body when they saw one. All of them, and particularly the centurion in charge of the execution squad, were battle-hardened men who had killed others, and seen comrades fall dead beside them. However, when Pilate, the Roman Procurator, was asked for permission to take the body down, he insisted that a check be made that Jesus was well and truly dead. Anyone who believes that Roman soldiers would send back a false report needs to do some studying in history! The, again, there is an eye-witness account that, when the soldiers started to break the legs of the three victims - in order to hasten their demise - they discovered that Jesus was already dead. Hammering at the knees to break them was not easy with the object being above head height. So they contented themselves, as a precaution, with one of them stabbing his spear into the body of Jesus - upwards, and at an angle. This means that the heart would have been pierced. The eye-witness records that "...  at once there came out blood and water." (John 19:34). Now this was not two substances flowing beside one another like a Mr Softee two-flavoured ice-cream. It was, according to modern pathologists, a clear serum that contained clots of blood - and that is incontrovertible proof that the body is dead!

But let's give the sceptic the benefit of the doubt. Let's imagine that, having already endured hours of questioning, and being pushed around; being flogged by a Roman soldier with a whip of multiple thongs that had bits of bone and metal tied into them; having His head pierced with the long, hard thorns of the mock crown forced down on it by the Roman soldiers; and having carried the horizontal beam of the cross to the extent that the soldiers - who were not renowned for having any excess of "the milk of human kindness" - realised that He was physically unable to carry it any further, and hauled a man from the watching crowd to carry it for Him; He was then tied and nailed to the cross and left there, naked, subject to the verbal abuse of His enemies. The rough wood of the cross would have caused agonising pain against a back already lacerated by the whipping. His body would have sagged. This would have constricted His breathing. He would try to raise His body by pushing with His feet (the reason why the breaking of legs speeded up the dying process), and the pain from the nailed feet would have shot through His body. The blood would have risen in His throat, choking Him. Eventually (according to this far-out suggestion!) He faints. The soldiers are fooled; the body is taken down from the cross - and wrapped in sheets with spices - before being laid in the tomb. We must now assume that Jesus revived; managed to extricate Himself from the binding; rolled the heavy stone away - from inside the tomb (requiring it to be moved with just His hands on the inner surface); walk away, naked, without the Roman guard noticing anything amiss; find some suitable clothing; make His way to where the disciples were in hiding; and convince them that He had arisen from the dead! As one might say in certain parts of Scotland: "Aye, right!"

2. It wasn't Jesus Who hung on the cross; that one of the disciples took His place so that He could appear as if He had risen from the dead (the usual Islamic explanation)! 
   This requires a number of factors to come together.  Jesus was not some non-entity.  He was well known to the authorities.  Accordingly, His ‘substitute’ would have had to be identical in build and appearance.  This man would also have to be one of the disciple band.  However, at this stage, the number of followers was relatively small, and most of them would have been known by others.  Certainly, if there had been a ‘double’ that man would already have been marked out.  Such a man would also have had to agree to take the punishment and death that was ahead.  People at that time were all too aware of what crucifixion involved – let alone the previous flogging and other suffering – and it would have been an unusual man who would have volunteered to take another's place.  Finally, there is the matter of the empty tomb – one aspect of the record that appears never to have been seriously questioned!  Where was the body of this amazing ‘substitute’ going to be hidden while Jesus went around claiming to have risen from the dead?  No, once again, the proposed ‘solution’ requires a greater leap of faith than does accepting the Biblical claim.

3. The disciples stole the Body of Jesus, and then went about with these wild stories of His alleged appearances.  
   This does have, at first sight, a measure of feasibility that is missing from the previous suggestions, and is the story which the Roman guards were bribed to repeat.  They were even assured that they would not suffer the usual penalty for having ‘lost’ a prisoner (their own deaths) as the chief priests would square things up with the governor! (Matt.28:11–15).
Certainly, it could be argued that the disciples had a motive for so doing (although, remembering that they were scared for their own lives, such an action seems unlikely).  But any police officer will assure us that, in investigating a crime, motive alone is insufficient.  So, we must also ask about opportunity.  How could the disciples have got past the guard and remove the body – and done so without disturbing the grave–clothes in any way?  And is it reasonable to expect that a group of people, whose morale was completely gone, who were shattered and frightened, who were locked away for fear of the Jews(John 20:19)would have made such an attempt in any case?

4. The authorities – Roman and/or Jewish – removed the body to a different location in order to ensure that the tomb did not become a focus point for other dissidents!  
   This theory certainly deals with some of the difficulties involved in suggesting that the disciples stole the body. There would have been no problem with the guards, and the authorities could have arranged for the safe disposal of the body.  However, if that had been what happened one must ask why, when the reports of the resurrection started to circulate, they did not simply produce the body and parade it around Jerusalem!  Such a simple action would have stopped the spread of the Christian Church right at the beginning.  The irrefutable fact that they didn't do so, is evidence enough that they had not removed the body!

5. The disciples were hallucinating when they claimed that they saw the risen Lord. 
    Could it be that the disciples were simply "seeing things"? An hallucination may be defined as a false or distorted sensory experience that appears to be a real perception. Such sensory impressions are generated by the mind rather than by any external stimuli, and may be seen, heard, felt, and even smelled or tasted.  Normally, there are two pre–requisites:
            (a) an inward desire, the climax of a long period of wishful thinking;
            (b) outward circumstances encouraging the experience.
However, in this case, there was no wishful thinking.  Indeed, the exact opposite was the case.  We read that “... some doubted.” (Matt 28:17)“... He appeared to the eleven themselves as they sat at table; and He upbraided them for their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they had not believed ...” (Mark 16:14)they were “... slow of heart to believe ...” (Luke 24:25); they were, as already noted, hiding behind shut doors “... for fear of the Jews ...” (John 20:19).

We might also note that the very psychological make-up of the disciples varied from the blustering of Peter to the cynicism of Thomas. 

The outward circumstances were also varied!  It appears that Jesus was seen, not only in the Upper Room but also while they were working, walking, and even trying to forget it all!  And while clinicians inform us that no two people will perceive the same hallucination simultaneously, we find that more than five hundred individuals claimed to have seen the risen Saviour at the same time! (see I Cor.15:6).

6. The disciples concocted the whole story!
    This, of course, still doesn't explain the empty tomb; the complete absence of a dead, and wrapped-up, body.  Nor does it explain why these same disciples suffered unspeakable torture, and why many of them died, for what they would have known to have been a deceitful lie.  

So, we are left with only one reasonable conclusion - that the resurrection of the Christ is proved as well as any historical fact has ever been proved. That only leaves one issue - you need to ask yourself the question, put to the crowd by Pontius Pilate: "... what shall I do with Jesus Who is called Christ?” (Matt.27:22). Read these words from Albert B. Simpson (1843-1919):

"Jesus is standing in Pilate’s hall, Friendless, forsaken, betrayed by all;        Hearken! what meaneth the sudden call? What will you do with Jesus?

What will you do with Jesus? Neutral you cannot be;                                   Some day your heart will be asking, “What will He do with me?" 

Jesus is standing on trial still; you can be false to Him if you will;                 You can be faithful through good or ill: What will you do with Jesus?

Will you evade him as Pilate tried? Or will you choose Him, whate’er betide?         
Vainly you struggle from Him to hide: What will you do with Jesus?

Will you, like Peter, your Lord deny? Or will you scorn from His foes to fly,   Daring for Jesus to live or die? What will you do with Jesus?

Let the last words of the song be your personal response:

“Jesus, I give Thee my heart today! Jesus, I’ll follow Thee all the way,         Gladly obeying Thee!" will you say: “This I will do with Jesus!"

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