Jesus of Nazareth has been hanging on the cross for approximately three hours. Ever since he was nailed to the rough wood at around 9:00 am he has been suffering pain of the most intense kind. Aside from the actual nail wounds in his hands and feet, the seven-inch spikes have crushed the main nerves in his wrists and ankles. This is causing stabbing, burning pain to shoot up his limbs. The two criminals crucified with him are also writhing in agony, increasing the stress and chaos of the scene.
Before Jesus had even reached the cross, Roman soldiers had flogged him with a metal tipped whip until his back was laid open and oozing with blood. The soldiers had mocked him as they forced a crown of thorns onto his head, causing deep puncture wounds. Jesus had then been forced to carry the heavy crossbeam of the crucifix through the twisting streets of Jerusalem. Part of the way to the place of execution he stumbled, unable to carry the load any further. No doubt, he was in the advanced stages of what is medically called hypovolemic shock. The blood loss was robbing him of most of his strength, causing him raging thirst and the swelling of his tongue.
Now on the cross, Jesus’ most pressing problem was not the pain, the thirst, or the exhaustion, but the inability to breathe. In order to exhale or to speak, he would be forced to push himself up with his legs, causing an even greater degree of pain. Soon he would run out of strength in his legs and sag down until stopped by the spikes holding his wrists.
However, to this point, Jesus had suffered no more than many thousands of others whom the Romans had executed in this manner. Crucifixion was an unimaginably horrible way to die. The Romans knew this and used it as an object lesson for any who might wish to defy their rule. Then, about noon (what the New Testament calls the sixth hour of the day), what Jesus had dreaded in the Garden of Gethsemane came upon him. The real suffering took place in this three hour period from noon to 3:00, during which God the Father somehow put our sins upon him and judged him in the full fury of divine wrath.
Matthew, Mark and Luke record that a deep and eerie darkness spread over the land during this second three hour period. This event was much noted in the ancient world and was evidently discussed in various writings for years afterward. A Greek author named Phlegon, writing around 137 AD reports that in the 202nd Olympiad (that is, 33 AD) there was “….the greatest eclipse of the sun (ever recorded). It became night in the sixth hour of the day, so that the stars even appeared in the sky.” He further states that there was a great earthquake, felt as far north as the Black Sea coast of what is now Turkey.
A writer named Thallus, whose original work (around 52 AD) is now lost, was quoted by a later author named Julius Africanus, who wrote in AD 221. In reference to this unusual darkness of 33 AD, he says, “Thallus in the third book of his histories explains away the darkness as an eclipse of the sun—unreasonably as it seems to me.” The early church leader Tertullian (215 AD) says that this darkness was widely observed in such cities as Rome and Athens, and calls it “a cosmic event”.
What was the significance of these three hours of darkness, with its accompanying earthquake? Let me suggest several things:
It was the time of God’s judgment on the world’s sin. In essence, God the Father identified his Son Jesus with our sins, turned his back on him and caused him to suffer our judgment. The Bible has many references to God being full of light. If the presence of God the Father was removed from Jesus, it would explain the darkness.
It was the time of Satan’s short-lived triumph. Satan is described as the Prince of Darkness in the Scriptures. For three hours Satan could abuse and torture Jesus spiritually, mentally, emotionally and physically as he gloated over the apparent failure of God’s Kingdom. The concentration of evil into that focal point also explains the darkness.
The earthquake is explained in Matthew 27:51, where it tells us that along with the violent shaking of the earth, the curtain in the Jewish Temple (which separated the holy presence of God from sinners) was torn in two from top to bottom. Clearly the New Testament is teaching that complete and final atonement for sin had been made. To put it simply, that earthquake tore the curtain separating us from God. Now the way to God’s presence is open for any who come through faith in Christ’s atonement.
At 3:00 pm, just before the earthquake, Jesus raised himself on his mangled legs one final time to proclaim, “It is finished. Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” As the dust from the quake settled and the darkness dispersed, Jesus’ friends took his body from the cross and put it in a tomb donated by a wealthy follower. There it lay as night came. A day and another night came and went.
Then, at dawn on Sunday morning, Jesus rose from the dead in victory over sin and death. Light from the rising sun supplemented light from the heavenly messengers in confirmation that atonement was complete. The rule of darkness was broken. The Kingdom of light and peace and joy was assured.
“So what?” you ask. Here’s the point. It is your choice whether to remain in the darkness or come into the light. John 3:19 speaks of those who refuse Christ’s light, preferring the darkness because their deeds are evil. Colossians 1:13 describes those who have put their faith in Jesus as being transferred from darkness into light. Jesus has paid for your sins and made eternal life available. Now the choice is yours: to go your own way, or to follow him!
People sometimes ask, “Does the Bible speak to issues that make a practical difference in my life? So what if it deals with the big questions, such as, ‘Does God exist?’ or ‘Is there life after death?’ What about daily living kinds of questions? Does the Bible have anything at all to say about those? A fair question. How about these issues?
What is the key to personal happiness and fulfillment? See Ecclesiastes 3:9-14, Philippians 4:11-13, etc.
What is real success and how can I achieve it? See 2 Timothy 4:7-8, Ecclesiastes 5:18-19, Romans 5:1-2, etc.
How should I regard money and possessions? Matthew 6:19-21, 1 Timothy 6:6-10, etc.
How can I make lasting relationships? Proverbs 17:17, 27:17, John 13:34, etc.
What can I do to build a strong marriage and family? Colossians 3:18-21, Proverbs 22:6, Exodus 20:12, etc.
How can God be fair if sometimes people suffer deeply? Romans 5:3-5, Psalm 145:17, the book of Job, etc.
Is there really only one true way to know God? John 14:6, Acts 4:10-12, etc.
These and scores of other questions have their answers in the Bible. But don’t take my word for it: I challenge you to seek out the answers for yourself. Don’t just accept the word of anyone. You must be satisfied yourself. And remember: the Bible does you no good unless you read it!
In the last several decades it seems as though there has been an effort on the part of some in our society to discredit Christianity. Followers of Jesus Christ are sometimes portrayed as bigoted, narrow-minded and hypocritical. It is insinuated that sincere believers are either willful relics of the Dark Ages or simply ignorant folks who have yet to get with the more enlightened modern times.
To be fair, there are cases in which the shoe does fit. No doubt, the isolated instances of hypocrisy or ignorance have been exploited to the maximum by Christianity’s detractors. It is absurd to suggest, however, that this ridiculous caricature of Christianity represents reality. I should know: I once believed it myself. It was a major turning point in my life to realize how twisted that picture often is.
So, I refuse to be ashamed of being a Christian. In these times when believers are often sneered at, there is a great temptation to take a low key approach to one’s faith. I refuse to be intimidated by this scorn. Here’s why:
I am a follower of Jesus Christ, the noblest person who ever lived. The Bible says that he is God the Son made into a human being. It also says that someday Jesus will return as judge of the earth, and that all authority both on earth and in heaven has been given to him even now. How could I be ashamed of being identified with him?
The Bible is God’s communication to us through various chosen servants. Through the years it has been vindicated against its critics many times. This is true archeologically, prophetically, textually and, not the least, in the powerful way it diagnoses human need and changes lives through its good news.
Christians are often wonderful people to associate with. Yes, there are hypocrites, backward folks and even phonies, but many, many believers are just quality people. Studies have shown that serious Christians are, in general, hard working, honest, less self-centered and more likely to have a strong family life. I have personally experienced true friendship as well as constructive criticism among those who identify themselves with Christ’s name.
Christianity has stood the test of time. The pages of history are littered with the wrecks of fads, trends and movements. The Christian Church in its various forms has proven amazingly adaptable to the ravages of the past 2,000 years and singularly difficult to suppress over time.
Finally, I am a better person for having committed my life to Christ many years ago. Following him has made me wiser, more realistic about myself, and able to survive the inevitable ups and downs of life in much better shape than I might have otherwise.
What about you? Are you a bit shy of being labeled a “religious fanatic” because of your association with Christ? Or perhaps it is this very type of fear that has deterred you from even investigating Jesus at all. Don’t be intimidated. There is no better way of spending your life than to follow him.
There are many differences between the three main branches of Christianity (Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy and the various types of Protestants). However, as streams within the overall Christian tradition, they are akin in certain basic beliefs. These primary tenets of faith include:
The Bible is inspired and authoritative.
God exists as the eternal Trinity.
Creation: The Cosmos was created in a state of completion, but is now fallen into a state of futility due to sin.
Human Nature: People are specially made in God’s image, but are fallen through sin into separation from God and the degeneration caused by sin.
Jesus Christ is the Messiah of Israel and the Son of God. He is the Second Person of the eternal Trinity. Jesus is both fully God and fully man.
The Atonement: Jesus’ death paid the penalty for human sin and opened the way to restore people to God. His resurrection validates the Father’s acceptance of his atonement.
Human Response: Faith toward God (specifically in Jesus) is what God requires for people to receive forgiveness and new life. Faith is a deep level of trusting, which results in actions which show its reality.
The Church: All who have faith in Christ are part of the Body of Christ, which is manifested in local bodies of believers, known as churches.
Holy Living: Faith shows itself in new desires which, honor God accompanied by a new power for living. The old sinful desires and tendencies can still operate, but no longer have complete control.
Death and Eternity: Death is the natural result of being separated from the Living God. Eternity follows physical death and seals a person in a state of faith or unbelief. Eternal life or eternal condemnation await everyone.
The Future: The present age will end with a catastrophic clash between the Kingdom of God and the world-system. Jesus will return to rule. The Cosmos will be remade to exclude evil.
How to give a ceremonial prayer in a pluralistic setting
First of all, understand the context. If the event is purely secular (non-religious) or is an interfaith gathering, it may be best to use a more generic prayer format rather than a prayer-style and vocabulary which not everyone can relate to. As much as some believers are concerned about compromising their position, remember that a ceremony as a whole belongs to all those who participate. Imagine what it would be like to attend an event which was very important to you and someone from another faith group was asked to pray. If that person gave a prayer which seemed exclusive or was spoken in a manner which was difficult to follow, you might very well feel as though your experience was diminished.
Secondly, don’t be afraid to be who you are. If you have been invited to pray, then do your best to represent your tradition or faith community well. Make sure that you speak to God on behalf of the entire group in the very best way you can.
Ask God for what is appropriate, given the occasion, and then simply stop. A rambling or repetitious prayer soon becomes offensive. Be very careful to abide by whatever time restraints have been put upon you.
In your prayer, avoid the temptation to assume control of the event simply because you believe that you have an insight into religious truth which others do not. Most people can spot this kind of attitude within seconds.
Make sure you pray in a voice that is slow and loud enough to be heard by everyone present. On the other hand most people dislike a preachy or ranting tone in prayer.
Praying in Jesus’ name can be done even in an interfaith gathering. I have found that as long as I say, “I pray in Jesus’ name” without presuming to speak for everyone, (We pray in Jesus’ name) most folks are willing to give me the benefit of the doubt. On the other hand there is nothing necessarily compromising in ending a prayer with a simple “Amen” (It is actually biblical).
Finally, be genuine. Far better than simply mouthing eloquent words, aim at true communication with God. There is nothing wrong with writing out your prayer beforehand. This will prevent saying something silly or unclear. If you read your prayer, put your heart and mind into the words you are saying. Remember, you are asking God’s blessing on the gathering in some way. That alone is enough to take the assignment very seriously.
Here is a sample of an invocation I gave at a secular graduation for one of the institutions where is serve as an adjunct instructor:
“God in heaven—It is our privilege to invite you here as the guest of honor on this __________________ (occasion). It is our request that you would bless this graduating class, but more than that– and of first importance– we desire that you would be here with us this evening (morning, afternoon).
Among other things, O God, you are the Creator of the human mind, which you modeled in some fashion after your own great mind. Though we acknowledge that your thoughts are infinitely higher and more profound than ours, we glory in the notion that we may, on our own level, think some of your thoughts after you in this place. Thank you for the precious gifts of knowledge and discovery.
I ask on behalf of those gathered here that you would indeed bless each of these graduates. Give them the grace to make a difference for the good wherever they may find themselves in the years ahead.
- For those who will pursue further education, grant not only the knowledge they will need in their chosen fields, but also wisdom to apply that knowledge to life as it really is.
- For those who will be going directly into the workforce, give a sense of what is right and good and appropriate in the often-confusing issues they will face.
- For those in military service, may they draw courage and strength from you. May they serve our country and all of humanity with integrity and honor.
- For all of these graduates and the families of which they are a part, we ask that they may make a significant contribution to the general welfare of society. May they especially be a blessing to those whose lives they personally touch.
And now, may you be pleased with what is done here this evening (morning, afternoon). Thank you for your presence.
It is in the name above all others that I pray, Amen.”
I hope this has been helpful. Michael Bogart
The chart below represents a comparison of certain popular English Bible versions. The chart is listed in the following categories:Bible Version; Year Completed; Group of Origin and Reading Level (approximate).
CEV (Contemporary English Version) 1991 American Bible Society 5.4
KJV (Authorized or “King James” Version) 1611 Anglican / Puritan 12.0
LB (The Living Bible) 1971 Evangelical 8.3
MES (The Message) 2002 Evangelical 5.0
NAB (New American Bible) 1970 Roman Catholic 6.6
NASB (New American Standard Bible) 1971 Evangelical 11.7
NIV (New International Version) 1979 Evangelical 7.8
NKJV (New King James Version) 1982 Evangelical 8.0
NLT (New Living Translation) 1996 Evangelical 6.4
NRSV (New Revised Standard Version) 1990 Mainline (gender neutral) 8.1
PHL (J.B. Phillips Translation) 1963 Anglican 4.0
RSV (Revised Standard Version) 1952 Mainline 10.0
During the second half of the Twentieth Century, society and culture in North America and Europe made a dramatic ideological shift in the direction from which it considered religion and religious expression. This shift involved a movement away from a Christian consensus to make room for a spectrum of religious practices and viewpoints. This change in perspective developed out of a growing religious tolerance, which began with the skeptical and often anti-religious Eighteenth Century Enlightenment. The trend resulted in a culture-wide suspicion of religious devotion and a desire to make equalize the religious playing field so that all religions could compete for followers without society showing favoritism. This concept would come to be known as religious pluralism.
As time went on, the commitment to pluralism raised a very practical question: How can society allow for a wide variety of competing religions without becoming fragmented or degenerating into religious warfare? Western Culture answered that question by using a combination of the following approaches:
Secularization of Society. This is the idea that religion should remain a private and individualistic affair within a non-religious culture. Secularism is the position that public life must be as free as possible from dominance (or even significant input) by religious ideologies or groups. In a secular society, people may practice religion as long as it does not significantly impact others or the culture as a whole. A secular culture, therefore, will be driven by humanistic ideals as defined by whatever group happens to gain power.
Celebration of Diversity. All religions are seen as more or less equal in essence and value, differing only in points of theology and philosophy. The thinking goes that since the main value of religion lies, not in providing eternal truth, but in keeping citizens moral and cooperative, religion can be used by the reigning culture to achieve its greater purposes of progress and order. The diverse elements within the various religious traditions are celebrated much as ethnic cultural differences are celebrated within the larger culture.
Enculturalization of Religion. Traditional religious beliefs and practices are modified or discarded in an effort to conform to and harmonize with the overall values of society. Whereas religion has often taken a prophetic role in critiquing culture, enculturated religion tends to affirm and offer spiritual explanations for the values of society. Much of the “modernizing” movement in religion during the past century has taken this position.
Using a combination of these approaches, Western culture has been able to replace the influence of traditional Christianity in society and accommodate religious pluralism. The challenge for the traditional element of the Christian Church is to remain distinctively Christian and biblical, while engaging culture in meaningful dialog and relevant ministry.
Given this position, two obvious errors present themselves.
The first is to remain so committed to tradition (sometimes under the guise of biblical truth) that any possibility of meaningful interaction with society is forfeited. Some would argue that the Amish have taken this road. The second possible error is to attempt to stay relevant to the evolving culture and slowly (and perhaps with the intention of gaining a hearing within the culture) to sacrifice vital truths and compromise on key issues. One could cite numerous examples of this fallacy.
Perhaps this is the key issue of the Christian Church of our age (or any age): To remain faithful to Jesus Christ and his gospel of grace, while at the same time being relevantly prophetic. May God grant us wisdom to see the opportunities he sends our way and the courage to face our times!
One of the earliest heresies to arise in the Christian church was Gnosticism (nahs-tih-sism). The term “gnosticism” is derived from the Greek word gnosis (knowledge) because their central teaching was that they possessed secret knowledge available only to those in their circles. Although little is known about Gnostic origins, it seems clear that the category of beliefs called Gnosticism was a collection of teachings gathered from several sources, including concepts related to Hinduism and Buddhism, elements of Greek philosophy and even teachings similar to Jewish Kabalah.
Perhaps the best way of explaining the basic Gnostic premise is to see it as a response to the problem posed by the existence of evil in a universe presided over by a perfect Deity. The Gnostic answer to this dilemma attempted to show how the Cosmos could be corrupt in a way which excuses the Deity from any responsibility. Their solution was to teach that the original Deity generated lesser deities, called aeons, each a bit less perfect than the one before. The thirtieth in this line made the flawed material universe (according to the Gnostics this was the spiritual meaning of the New Testament’s teaching that Jesus was thirty years old when he began to preach). Gnostics used this basic premise to explain how people can know and desire good things and yet have evil passions and motives.
Until recently most of what was known about Gnosticism was obtained from the quotations of the Church Fathers, but in 1945 the discovery of a Gnostic library at Nag Hammadi in Egypt, provided firsthand evidence of their beliefs. The main ideas in Gnostic thinking include the following:
· A dualistic Cosmos in which two great opposing forces are in constant conflict: spirit versus matter, good versus evil, light versus darkness, knowledge versus ignorance.
· This conflict is driven by two opposing forces: a perfect and pure original Deity and a lesser, imperfect being usually called the Demiurge, who created the material world.
· The original Deity is unknowable and has little or nothing to do with what happens in the Cosmos.
· Although the human body, as a part of the material world is corrupt, a divine spark was placed in at least some humans, which can be awakened and united with the divine.
· Revealers have been sent to show the way back to the divine, one of which was Christ.
· Salvation is attained through knowledge of one’s true self and of the true character of the universe. It is achieved when a person overcomes the barriers of delusion and ignorance and finds union with God.
Like many others, people with Gnostic views were drawn to the Christian message. Some of them sought to reinterpret the gospel using Gnostic concepts. They taught that the doctrines taught by the mainstream churches were not exactly wrong, so much as incomplete. The gospel the Apostles preached to the masses was as close to the truth as common people could ever come. However, for specially gifted people with a more spiritually-oriented nature the Gnostics had the full truth.
One group taught that Christ was one of the semi-divine aeons (perhaps the Demiurge himself) who took over the body of Jesus of Nazareth at his baptism, animated his ministry and then left before His crucifixion and death.
Another group was the Docetists (from the Greek word dokew meaning to seem). They taught that as one of these aeons, Jesus Christ did not really have a physical body, but only “seemed” to have one so he could relate to people. From their belief that the true God and his Messiah were forever separate from anything material, they taught that Jesus was not physically born, was never hungry or tired, and did not really suffer or die, but merely appeared to do these things.
All Gnostics believed that since Christ belonged entirely to the spiritual realm, the point of the gospel message could not be that he experienced a true physical death and resurrection to atone for sins. What saved a person was his secret teaching, veiled in ordinary words spoken to the crowds, but whose coded inner meanings were known to specially initiated followers.
So “Gnostic Christianity” claimed to be Christianity with a distinct advantage. For people desiring to be superior, they promised a superior Christianity. The belief that spiritual people did not really belong to the material world resulted in some Gnostic groups seeking to withdraw into a kind of monastic lifestyle. Others took the opposite approach, believing that moral laws did not apply to them and that spiritual people were not responsible for what they did with their bodies. Thus they could live any way they pleased without fear of discipline or judgment.
Full-blown Gnosticism did not appear until the Second Century AD. However, the basic concepts were already emerging during the First Century and were vigorously opposed by the infant Church. For example, 1 John 4:2 stresses the necessity of acknowledging that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh (rather than as merely a being of spirit). Paul warns Timothy in 1 Timothy 6:20 against what is falsely called knowledge, etc.
Gnostic ideas are still very much a factor in the Twenty-first Century. In our day we also must deal with questions posed by the existence of evil. The fact that many of the errors of Gnosticism are still dangers is seen in the claims of some cultic groups to have secret knowledge or extra scripture revealed only through their leaders. Many groups reject the biblical teaching that Christ was both fully God and fully human. At its core, the appeal of Gnosticism is its ego-centric drive, shown in the Serpent’s tempting words for people to “become like God, knowing good and evil.”
From time to time, various magazines and television channels tackle the perennial question, “Who is God?”. Much space is devoted to personal views of a cross-section of people concerning who, or what, God might be. Well-known personalities are interviewed as well as other lesser-known people from around the world, including professed Christians of different varieties, Muslims, Hindus, Jews, Mormons, agnostics and free thinkers.
As a student of world religion and Christian leader I find such inquiries to be intensely fascinating because they give us the pulse of what people are thinking in our wider world. For example, a Hindu beggar from Benares, India, reverences a variety of deities and wonders why he has been stricken with leprosy. He suggests that it may be because he is being punished by Brahma for bad karma in previous lives.
A California woman was raised in an Orthodox synagogue but says she can’t connect with God or with being Jewish anymore. The idea of God as she has understood it simply doesn’t connect in her life experience. A British biologist views God as the “ultimate reality” and believes that the destiny of individuals is to be absorbed into this supreme truth.
A Columbian hit man describes life as a dark experience in which God makes each person pay for the evil they commit. Yet he goes on to say , “God pardons everyone who seeks him, so pretty much you can do what you want.”
A Presbyterian minister defends his gay lifestyle by saying, “God loves you just the way you are”. He blames strong feelings against homosexuals on traditional religion.
A Palestinian sheikh views Allah as a vengeful God, and boasts of his willingness to die in holy war.
These views of God are indeed fascinating. Yet even so, they ought to prod our thinking a bit. Given the fact that people have an almost endless variety of opinions about what God is, it certainly does not follow that every opinion is equally valid. We Americans cherish our religious freedom. However, simply because people are free under the law to practice religion as conscience may dictate, this does not mean that all religions are equally true, or even equally beneficial.
This brings up the question, “How can we sort through the menu of religious ideas and recognize the truth when we stumble across it?” The Bible’s answer to this is simply that the whole question of religious opinion is irrelevant. It is not what we think about God that really matters, but what God has revealed about Himself to us that counts.
To this many people say, “Wait!” Who says the Bible’s portrayal of God is any better than the views of an Indian peasant or a Hollywood producer?” This is an excellent question. If what the Bible says about God is simply just another human opinion, then Christianity (and the ancient religion of Israel for that matter) crumbles like a house with no foundation.
So let’s narrow the field a bit. The Bible does not belong alongside the religious opinions of ordinary people simply because the Bible claims to be divinely inspired. It claims to be God’s word as revealed through the prophets and apostles. There is a quantum difference between what your neighbor thinks about God, and an ancient and widely revered document that claims divine inspiration.
What about the other books which share this claim? Many Christians answer this by pointing to the need to simply have faith in the Bible. While it is true that faith is necessary, it would be wrong to assume that there is no evidence for the Bible’s final authority. Consider these bits of evidence for the Bible’s unique inspiration: the amazing unity of its message, though written over a span of roughly 1500 years through more than 40 human authors; its triumph time and again over those who actively sought its destruction; the dozens of literally fulfilled prophecies; the impact it has had on millions of lives.
Also consider the historical fact of the physical resurrection of Jesus Christ. I understand that many people consider this to be a matter for faith as well. This is true, but not without some evidence. A major piece of this evidence is the ease with which those who wished to stop the rumor could have disproved it by opening the grave and displaying the body. They didn’t. Why would hundreds die willingly, knowing that the resurrection which they claimed to witness was a lie? Indeed, the Resurrection is the foundational fact on which the Christian gospel was and still is based.
So there is compelling evidence for the authority of the Bible in what it says about God. It proclaims Him to be the Eternal One: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It shows Him to be holy, yet also merciful in sending His Son Jesus to die for our sins. It invites us to know Him through Christ and become His children. This, and much more God has revealed. Why settle for mere opinions?
From time to time talk shows, articles in popular magazines, blogs and columns in newspapers feature the subject of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. These types of things often cite experts who claim that the evidence of history denies that Jesus’ resurrection took place. Using various arguments the culture and history of the times, they argue that Jesus of Nazareth (if he even existed) stayed dead after the crucifixion and that his remains lie in some obscure tomb somewhere in the vicinity of Jerusalem.
While some may dismiss this assertion as merely one point of view in a scholarly debate, actually issues of enormous weight are highlighted by the interaction over the reality of the resurrection of Jesus. For one thing, on the answer to this question hangs the entire Christian faith. If it is true as these scholars claim that Jesus Christ never rose from the dead, then the central tenets of Christianity are proven to be nothing more than wishful thinking. The teachings of Jesus, cherished for a couple of thousand years, are outdated and idealistic, and the hopes of millions of believers are misplaced for personal resurrection when Jesus returns.
Other religions can survive the deaths of their founders. Buddhism admits that the Buddha is dead and gone without being threatened in the least because it is built around the man’s teachings, not the man himself. Muslims are not disturbed that Muhammad died in 632 AD because it is the legacy of the prophet which is important, not the man.
When it comes to Christianity, however, everything stands or falls upon the claim that Jesus of Nazareth is the Son of God. His physical resurrection from the dead has always been the prime verification of that central doctrine. Therefore, no resurrection means no Christianity. It’s that simple. Yet if the resurrection is a fact of history, then the reverse is also true: all Jesus’ claims are shown to be true as well, leaving the world to deal with him, not merely as a teacher, but as God become man.
The Church’s proclamation that Jesus is Lord, and that people must humbly submit it his lordship in their lives, is a very logical conclusion if his resurrection is factual. Perhaps that explains why for twenty centuries some have earnestly attempted to explain away the very strong evidence for the resurrection. Consider the powerful facts which the early church presented to substantiate their announcement that Jesus is alive:
First is the evidence of the women. According to the gospel accounts, a group of women who had been followers of Jesus had observed his hasty burial on Friday afternoon. Early on Sunday morning, after the Sabbath was over, they went to the tomb to finish preparing the body for final burial. As they walked to the tomb, they seemed to have no inkling that their beloved rabbi would rise form the dead. Upon arrival they found the stone, which had sealed the tomb and which weighed several tons, cast aside from the entrance. The guard placed there under Roman orders was in shock and the tomb itself was empty. Mary and the others were completely bewildered by what they encountered and could only conclude that perhaps someone had removed Jesus’ body without telling them. They then encountered angels who told them Jesus was risen. They were told to inform the disciples of this fact. On their way to do so, these women were the first to actually see and touch the risen Christ.
The evidence of the disciples confirms that of the women. They did not have a clue to the resurrection either. So when this news was relayed to them, they dismissed it in the very same way many critics of the resurrection dismiss it today: as hysteria. Peter and John decided to see the situation at the tomb and so they ran the short distance to investigate. Like the women, they saw the stone removed, the Roman guard dispersed and tomb empty. Peter actually went inside and found the linen bands which the body had been wrapped in still in place and glued with the spices—but empty of the body. This still did not convince these men that Jesus was alive. It was not until later that Jesus appeared to them and demonstrated the reality of his physical life by eating food and allowing them to touch him.
How about the evidence of the soldiers who had guarded the tomb against the eventuality that Jesus’ followers might fake a resurrection by stealing the body? They left the tomb unguarded after less than 36 hours and reported to the Sanhedrin (the Jewish leadership council) that there had been an earthquake and that the tomb was open and empty. According to the gospel accounts, these men were bribed by the Sanhedrin to spread the story that the disciples had succeeded in stealing the body.
Though it has been popular among critics of the gospel accounts, this story falls apart under examination. It simply boggles the mind that the disciples, who were clearly terrified for their own lives, could overcome a detachment of experienced soldiers, enter a sealed tomb, remove the body—carefully re-wrapping the burial cloths and leaving them in place. They were then able to successfully conceal the body elsewhere without anyone getting injured or killed in the process—- and all this so that they could fake a resurrection they didn’t believe in! Yet the story of the theft of Jesus’ body was evidently the best explanation that could be invented on the spur of the moment. The enemies of Jesus could not deny that the tomb in question was where Jesus had been buried or that it was now empty.
Consider this as well: the early church preached the resurrection of Jesus in the weeks and years following these events in the very place where they occurred. There were many people still alive who testified to having actually seen and touched the risen Jesus. The empty tomb was a matter of public knowledge. It could be verified by anyone who wished to do so. If the body had been removed and hidden, surely someone would have observed it. The soldiers or other eyewitnesses could have tipped off the opponents of the gospel to the hiding place and the body could have been produced as evidence against the rumor of the resurrection. No body was ever found, which is hard to imagine given the very public and sensational nature of these events. Unless of course —the resurrection really happened. Tens of thousands living around Jerusalem in the years following these events rendered their verdict by believing in Jesus and paying the high price of that belief.
Finally, for those who still harbor doubts, consider the evidence of subsequent history. What is the explanation for the millions of people whose lives have been changed by the power of a risen Christ? Wishful thinking? Pure indoctrination? How about the cheerful martyrdom of the very men and women who supposedly faked a resurrection they knew never happened or the almost inconceivable survival and spread of the early church under extreme persecution?
It would seem, then, that the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus is extremely compelling. In view of such strong evidence, the sarcasm and ridicule of certain skeptics today is a small price for us to pay to side with the truth.