Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Approaching Easter

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You can always tell when we are approaching Easter. Each year there is a flurry of books, articles and seminars about the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, many of which are seeking to discredit the event. Newsweek often leads the parade.

This year's feature in Newsweek appears to support the idea of "Resurrection" but progresses to, "This story has strained the credulity of even the most devoted Believers."

Newsweek's feature takes the reader on a walk through silly things that have been said about Heaven and the Resurrection, focusing on a new book release about Heaven, noting its universality with suicide bombers who fantasize about dark eyed virgins, how reincarnation is gaining adherents, cremation and the Christian, and polls showing people don't believe in the Resurrection like they use to.

The conclusion of Newsweek's feature? "For my part, I don't buy it."

I do buy it. And so do hundreds of millions of Christians around the world.

The following was drawn from a number of sources. Consider this:

The Strength of the Evidence.

1. The large stone was moved, in spite of the Roman guards and seal.

Jesus' tomb was secured in three ways:

(a) A large stone was rolled against it. It was customary to roll big stones against tombs; the stones were generally too big to be moved by just a few men, so levers were used to move them. Some have estimated that the stone that sealed Jesus' tomb weighed 1-1/2 to 2 two tons (1,361-1,814 Kilograms), which is the approximate weight of a mid-size car.

(b) A Roman guard unit--which usually consisted of four soldiers--was stationed at the tomb. Roman guards were strictly disciplined fighting men held to the highest standards. Failure often required death by torturous and humiliating methods.

(c) The Roman seal was affixed to the stone that secured the tomb. The seal stood for the power and authority of the Roman Empire. Breaking the seal meant automatic execution by crucifixion upside down. Anyone trying to move the stone from the tomb's entrance would have broken the seal and thus incurred the wrath of Roman law.

On resurrection Sunday morning, the first thing that impressed the people who approached the tomb was that the large stone was moved. Certainly the entire guard unit would not have fallen asleep with torture and death as the consequences. But even if the guards did fall asleep, how could thieves have sneaked by the guards and moved the massive stone without waking them up?

2. The tomb was empty.

Jesus' tomb was near Jerusalem (John 19:42). Had the tomb not been empty, claims of the resurrection, which were first made in Jerusalem, could not have been maintained for even one hour-- people in Jerusalem could have gone to the tomb to check for themselves.

Both Jewish and Roman sources admit an empty tomb. Those resources range from Josephus to a compilation of fifth-century Jewish writings called the "Toledoth jeshu."

3. Jesus' burial wrappings were in the tomb.

The linen wrappings in the tomb amazed the disciples. Jesus had simply moved through the wrappings, apparently without a struggle, and laid the face cloth aside. Had Jesus' body been stolen, the thieves would not have taken the time to remove the wrappings or fold the face cloth.
4. There were many witnesses to Jesus' appearances.

In studying an event in history, it is important to know how many participants or eyewitnesses were still alive when reports about the event were published. If the number was substantial, the event can be regarded as fairly well established because the eyewitnesses could have refuted an inaccurate report. For instance, if several people witness a murder and the police report contains numerous lies, the eyewitnesses can refute it.

The apostle Paul wrote that Christ had been seen by more than 500 people at one time. What's more, most of the 500 were still alive when Paul was proclaiming the resurrection, so skeptics could simply question the eyewitnesses:

1 Cor 15:3-6: For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep.

5. New Testament accounts were circulated among people who were alive at the time of the resurrection.

Archaeological discoveries have confirmed that New Testament accounts of the resurrection were written within the lifetimes of people who were alive at the time of the resurrection. Those people could certainly have denied the accuracy of the Gospel writers' accounts.

6. The followers of Christ were persecuted and killed for proclaiming the resurrection.

Jesus' disciples fled when Jesus was arrested and taken away for trial prior to being crucified. They were apparently afraid that they would be imprisoned or killed for their association with Jesus. Peter even denied that he knew Jesus. After Jesus was crucified and buried, they remained in hiding, afraid and depressed, until Mary and others came to tell them that Jesus had risen from the dead. Why would these men who had displayed such cowardice risk their lives in going from city to city proclaiming the resurrection if they did not truly believe that Jesus had risen from the dead? They certainly gained nothing for doing so. The disciples did not receive wealth or prestige for preaching the resurrection; there were no material benefits whatsoever. In fact, they were beaten, stoned to death, thrown to lions, tortured, and crucified for their preaching.

Consider The weakness of the Arguments Against The Resurrection.

1. Maybe the women who reported the missing body had mistakenly gone to the wrong tomb.

This would mean that the disciples also went to wrong tomb.

Also, the Jewish authorities and the Roman guards were not mistaken about the location of the tomb. If the women and the disciples had gone to the wrong tomb, the Jewish and Roman authorities would have immediately produced the body of Jesus from the proper tomb in order to stop the rumor of the resurrection.

2. Maybe those who claimed to have seen the risen Jesus were hallucinating.

It's difficult to imagine that more than 500 people had the same illusion or hallucination. Here again, the Jewish and Roman authorities could have produced the body to squelch the rumor.

3. Maybe Jesus swooned.

The swoon theory is that Jesus didn't die, but merely fainted from exhaustion and loss of blood. Everyone thought He was dead. When He later resuscitated, the disciples thought that He had risen from the dead.

It contradicts medical science to believe that Jesus could have survived the crucifixion, let alone survived another two days in the tomb, removed the large stone, overpowered the Roman guards, and then convinced His followers that He had conquered death and the grave.

4. Maybe Jesus' body was stolen.

Who would have stolen the body?

As mentioned above, Jesus' disciples fled in fear when Jesus was arrested and taken away for trial prior to being crucified, and then they stayed in hiding until hearing of the resurrection. Why would these men, who had displayed such cowardice and depression, risk their lives trying to overpower the Roman guards and steel Jesus' body? And why would they have wanted to? There was nothing for them to gain by stealing the body. They were persecuted, tortured, and eventually killed for preaching the resurrection, so there was no motive for them to fabricate a lie.

What's more, even if the disciples would have wanted to maintain a conspiracy, they would not have been able.

Every conceivable method was used by Roman and Jewish officials to stop them from talking. Self-preservation would have eventually won over the disciples' commitment to a conspiracy. If the resurrection were a concocted hoax, the disciples would have testified against one another before succumbing to beatings or the death penalty. Think about America's Watergate: The Nixon administration, the most powerful group of men in the world at the time, could not maintain a conspiracy for even a few weeks. They buckled under pressure and chose self-preservation over maintaining a lie to save their leader.

Consider also that the Romans must not have believed that the disciples stole Jesus' body--had the officials believed it, they would have killed them for breaking the Roman seal.

Theft of Jesus' body by Jewish or Roman authorities doesn't make sense either. If the authorities had the body in their possession or knew where it was, they could have produced the body of Jesus and put an end to Christianity. But they didn't.

There were those in the days of Christ's Resurrection who were as intent on discrediting it as there are today. The opposition could have killed the early Christian movement if they would have just produced a body. The Resurrection stood the test then and it stands the test now.

Approaching Easter is an important spiritual time for any individual. Our thoughts are turned to death and sacrifice on Good Friday and to Resurrection or newness of life, on Sunday morning. A new beginning resulting from the death and Resurrection of the Son of God.

A friend of mine, Randy Alcorn, has written what I believe is the most definitive book available on the topic of Heaven. It is a bestseller. He spent more than 20 years in research before writing it. I strongly recommend you buy it and have it in your home. It is a source of information and great comfort and inspiration.
Heaven by Randy Alcorn.

As we approach Easter, I strongly encourage you to take a few moments and think about it and read what some leading evangelical leaders have written on the subject.

While much has been written, I am giving you a link to and 11 essays about Easter that include : The Reality of Salvation: He Rose; Radical Effects of the Resurrection; Jesus Christ's Resurrection: The Exclamation Point; How Firm a Foundation! The Resurrected Lord Jesus Christ; The Day Death Died; Eight Reasons Why I Believe That Jesus Rose From The Dead; History's Greatest Event---The Resurrection of Jesus Christ; The Resurrection of Jesus Christ and the Reality of the Gospel; A world without Easter; Don't Forget The Resurrection and Jesus' Resurrection: Miracle or Myth.

As we approach Easter, at the end of the day, what will ultimately matter is what you personally believe. Not the mountain of evidence supporting the Resurrection or the arguments against its authenticity.

The evidence of the Resurrection is overwhelming, however it is a simple step of faith that transforms lives, turns hopelessness into hope, fear into peace and confusion into purpose. It's called being "born again" or "saved" or "becoming a person of faith."

According to Scripture, if we simply pray a prayer of faith acknowledging that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, that he died and was resurrected from the dead and ask Him to forgive our sins and live in us our lives will be transformed by the same power that raised Christ from the dead.

A new life. A new beginning. A new relationship with the most defining personality in the history of the human race. A personality so impacting that even time was divided according to "before Christ" and "after Christ". Your life has or can be impacted in a similar way.

As we approach Easter, rejoice, He is Risen.

God bless you.

Gary Randall
Faith & Freedom

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