We have just come through commemorating the day Jesus rose from the dead. In the previous article in this series, it was said that the resurrection is “the ultimate defense or apologetic” for the Christian. And well it should be. For St. Paul says, And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. … And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.1 So the linchpin holding together our Christian faith—and our eternal salvation—is the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
The Resurrection. No one has ever foretold his own death and resurrection and then done it—except Jesus. When we are mocked for believing such an outrageous thing, how do we defend what we believe? Three types of evidence defend our belief in Christ’s resurrection.
The empty tomb – The skeptic may counter that many times a grave has been opened only to discover that it is empty. But the empty tomb of Jesus was far different. It was a specific tomb, never used before, and its owner, Joseph of Arimathea, was not only well-known, but was also a member of the Sanhedrin.2 No one got confused about the tomb. Special arrangements were made for a seal to be placed on the stone door of the tomb. Guards were posted.3 Normally, when a body goes missing from a tomb, an extensive effort is made to find the body. Surely we would expect this to have happened in this case. The execution had been so public. Pilate had been worried about a rebellion if Jesus were not crucified. The leaders of the people would want to be sure Jesus was dead. They feared what the missing body might signify to Jesus’ followers. They could not neglect this “missing body” without further investigation. Nonetheless, the Gospel accounts make no mention of any follow-up to this story that the body was stolen. The empty tomb is a part of the reason we give for our belief in Jesus’ resurrection.
The testimony of the disciples – No human was present when the lifeless body of Jesus was restored to life. But the Gospels record numerous accounts of people who saw Jesus alive again. His body had not been stolen. It had not simply disappeared without explanation. Jesus was alive again! And he appeared to his followers. He appeared to some women. Take note that the testimony of women was not highly regarded in Jewish courts of the time; perhaps it was even inadmissible. No one wanting to invent a story of a resurrection would begin by mentioning the appearance of Jesus to a woman, whose testimony would be unconvincing to many. He appeared to the disciples on Easter Sunday.4 These were people who had despaired and could not, would not, believe Jesus was alive. It was not as though they were experiencing a vision invented out of a desire to see Jesus. Their experience was real, not some vision of hopeful wishes. He walked with and talked to disciples while they traveled to Emmaus.5 He ate with them. This was no apparition. It was real. He appeared to Thomas, who touched the hands and side of Jesus—physically touched him!6 He appeared to 500 people at one time, people who could be contacted to see if their stories held together or if their testimony would break down as did the testimony of the false witnesses who testified against Jesus.7 They would testify to what they had seen and experienced. On the road to Damascus, he appeared to Saul (the apostle Paul), who saw Jesus as his enemy and then recognized him as the resurrected Jesus and his savior.8 Others with Saul heard the voice and saw, but did not comprehend what was happening. The eyewitness testimony of all these people is recorded for us in the Scriptures—testimony upon which we rely in defending our belief in Christ’s resurrection.
Its impact on the lives of Jesus’ followers – Many followers of religious leaders will live and die for their leader. They simply believe what the leader tells the followers, whether they have been given solid evidence from the leader or not. But if Jesus did not rise from the dead, if his followers knew they were telling lies and he had not risen from the dead, would they give up everything, suffer what they suffered, and die for someone they knew to be dead while they preached a lie about his being alive? Not likely. Conversely, having seen him alive, having touched him, heard him, eaten with him, they would give up everything for him. And that is what we see. Their lives were changed. Paul was no longer a persecutor, but rather the one persecuted. Peter was no longer the fear-filled denier, but rather the bold, ready-to-die confessor. Thomas the doubter, convinced that Christ rose from the dead, carried the message of the resurrected Christ to far reaches of the earth. One thing they knew: if Jesus had conquered death, their resurrection was as certain as his, whenever it might come. Drastic life changes like this could only happen not because of some conspiracy to which they agreed, but because the resurrection of Jesus was the truth.
The ultimate sign for the skeptic or unbeliever – There are some who will consider this evidence and want to learn more. There are some who will never believe. No miracle would be enough. God speaking to them would be dismissed with human “logic.” What will be the ultimate proof that Jesus will provide so people know he is who he says he is? To all of them, Jesus says: “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth”9 The resurrection? It is the guarantee of Jesus’ victory over sin, death, and the devil. It is the guarantee of our resurrection, our restoration, our reception into heaven itself. Believe it. Cherish it. Defend it.
The apologetic of who Christ is and his resurrection from the dead – these are both based upon the testimony recorded in the Bible. That brings to the forefront the subject of next issue’s installment…
Part 4: The Reliability of the Testaments, New and Old
Reverend Thomas Heyn
Western Koshkonong Lutheran Church
Cottage Grove, WI
* Administrator, ELS Board for World Outreach
11 Corinthians 15:14, 17
2Matthew 27:57–60; John 19:40, 41
4Mark 16:14; Luke 24:36ff
71 Corinthians 15:6
9Matthew 12:39, 40; see also Matthew 16:4 and Luke 11:29, 30