This time of year is called Easter. I understand that Christians celebrate Easter as a remembrance of Jesus rising from the dead after having been put to death by crucifixion. Is this real? Is this true? It seems impossible to me.
~ A Questioner
You are not alone in your questions. Frank Morison was such a man. He was not a church going man. He was a skeptic, a well-educated British attorney, a man interested in logic and facts. Frank’s thinking had been shaped by intellectuals who denied the possibility of miracles. He was influenced by Oxford Professor Matthew Arnold, biologist Thomas Huxley, and the German critics of his day. By-the-way, Huxley was a disciple of Charles Darwin.
Morison decided to prove the resurrection of Jesus did not happen. His plan was to use archeology, the documents of history, and the Bible to make his case. So he applied his prodigious talents to the task.
After considerable research, Frank Morison ended up writing a book titled Who Moved the Stone? That book turned out to be a defense of the resurrection of Christ. In the preface of his book Morison wrote about the intellectual struggles he went through:
“This study is in some ways so unusual and provocative that the writer thinks it desirable to state here very briefly how the book came to take its present form.
In one sense it could have taken no other, for it is essentially a confession, the inner story of a man who originally set out to write one kind of book and found himself compelled by the sheer force of circumstances to write quite another.
It is not that the facts themselves altered, for they are recorded imperishably in the monuments and in the pages of human history. But the interpretation to be put upon the facts underwent a change. Somehow the perspective shifted—not suddenly, as in a flash of insight or inspiration, but slowly, almost imperceptibly, by the very stubbornness of the facts them-selves.
The book as it was originally planned was left high and dry… The writer discovered one day that not only could he no longer write the book as he had once conceived it, but that he would not if he could.” – Frank Morison, Who Moved the Stone? (London, Faber and Faber Ltd., 1944).
If you find yourself like Frank Morison, skeptical of the miracles of the Bible, not sure what to believe, then I urge you to consider the facts of Easter. First is the fact of Jesus’ death. This is important because there are some people who say that Jesus didn’t actually die on the cross. Some say that He simply passed out and went into a coma. Then, when He was placed in the tomb, that cool, dark place revived Him. What is the evidence showing that Jesus literally died?
For one thing, the executioner and his death squad said so. Look at Matt. 27:54, “When the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified, and exclaimed, ‘Surely He was the Son of God!’” Notice the word “was.” It is past tense; a completed fact. These men had seen death many times. When they said that a man was dead, it was so.
Then we know from the Gospel of John that the Roman executioners broke the legs of the other two men that were crucified that day to speed up their deaths. “But when they came to Jesus and found that He was already dead, they did not break His legs. Instead, one of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water” (John 19:33-34). There was an escape of watery fluid from the sac surrounding the heart and blood from the heart itself. Some believe that if Jesus wasn’t killed by the crucifixion, then He was killed by the spear when it went through the rib cage into His heart.
Also, the body of Jesus was carefully entombed. Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for Jesus’ body. Matt. 27:59-60 tells us that, “Joseph took the body, wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, and placed it in his own new tomb that he had cut out of the rock. He rolled a big stone in front of the entrance to the tomb and went away.” Jewish burial customs were such that the body would be washed and straightened. It would then be wrapped in strips of cloth (called swaddlings) and spices of a gummy consistency would be placed in the folds. The arms would be crossed on chest like a mummy. The spices served as a preservative and as glue to hold the strips of linen together. A square piece of cloth was wrapped around the head and tied under the chin to keep the lower jaw from sagging. If His friends had found one sign of life they would not have buried Him.
Second, the body of Jesus was buried. Tombs in those days were carved out of limestone on the side of a hill. The circular stone that was rolled in front of the tomb to keep out grave robbers and wild animals weighed 1 ton or more. The grave was also sealed. Matt. 27:62-66, “The next day…the chief priests and the Pharisees went to Pilate. ‘Sir,’ they said, ‘we remember that while he was still alive that deceiver said, “After three days I will rise again.” So give the order for the tomb to be made secure until the third day. Otherwise, his disciples may come and steal the body and tell the people that he has been raised from the dead. This last deception will be worse than the first.’ ‘Take a guard,’ Pilate answered. ‘Go, make the tomb as secure as you know how.’ So they went and made the tomb secure by putting a seal on the stone and posting the guard.”
The tomb was sealed by stretching a cord across the stone. Both ends of the cord were anchored with clay that was imprinted by the signet ring of Rome. The Jews wanted Jesus’ body to stay buried. A Roman guard unit was 4 to 16 fighting men motivated and highly trained. If one of them fell asleep the others would set his clothes on fire. So, friend or enemy could not come and take Jesus’ body out of that grave.
And then, the tomb was empty. Arnold Toynbee said, “You find the body of that Jew and Christianity crumbles.”
Several explanations for the empty tomb have been offered:
- Jesus passed out and revived. The problem with this is the evidence of certain death through execution. Besides, how could a man who had gone through scourging and crucifixion move a stone that weighed at least a ton?
- Kidnappers took the body. There are two problems with this. For one thing, Jesus’ enemies didn’t want this to happen. Later, the silence of the critic was as eloquent as the testimony of the disciples. Also, Jesus’ friends could not have taken the body. How would they have gotten past the guards? Later, why did they die for a lie?
The story that Jesus’ disciples came and stole His body was told, however. Look at Matt. 28:11-15, “…some of the guards went into the city and reported to the chief priests everything that had happened. When the chief priests had met with the elders and devised a plan, they gave the soldiers a large sum of money, telling them, ‘You are to say, “His disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep.” If this report gets to the governor, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.’ So the soldiers took the money and did as they were instructed. And this story has been widely circulated among the Jews to this very day.”
- Gas theory. Proponents of the gas theory say that the body disintegrated through normal processes and evaporated into gases. An unknown person wisely commented, “Decay would have begun in three days’ time but would certainly not have reached the stage of complete chemical dissolution. To assume that the body of Jesus evaporated into gases within three days after death is to project a miracle as great as the resurrection itself.”
- Resurrection. The Bible records several occasions when Jesus met with His followers after He had been raised from the dead.
• Women – Matt. 28:8-10
• Peter – 1 Cor. 15:5; Luke 24:34
• Two on the road to Emmaeus – Luke 24:13-35
• Apostles assembled – Luke 24:36-43
• Thomas – John 20:24-29
• 500 followers – 1 Cor. 15:6
• James – 1 Cor. 15:7
• Paul – 1 Cor. 15:7
• Disciples on the sea shore – John 21:1-14
• Ascension – Acts 1:7-9
Let’s consider one of those resurrection appearances for a moment. One of Jesus’ closest followers was Thomas. He was one of the 12 disciples. Thomas was skeptical of the resurrection. The Gospel of John 20:25-29 records Thomas’ story. Speaking to the other disciples he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it.” A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” 28 Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
The resurrection of Christ really happened. May you find the peace that comes following Jesus as millions have done through the centuries.
~ Pastor Chris