Arguments for Easter: The Resurrection is a sign of hope: In the first article in our series for Holy Week, The Rev Clive Calver, General Director of the Evangelical Alliance UK, weighs up the veracity of the Gospel story of Christ's death.
Thursday 31 March 1994
Try announcing to friends a deep reverence for the healing power of crystals and you will likely as not arouse eager questioning. But reveal a conviction that the historic person of Jesus Christ was raised physically from the dead as part of God's plan to rescue human beings from their wrongdoing and modern eyes will roll at the primitive nature of your utterance. 'And I thought he was intelligent,' they might whisper.
The tragedy is that pastimes like astrology, which have no scientific basis, should be seen to compete at all with the story of the Resurrection. For there is no contest. The evidence for physical resurrection is greater than for historical events which we never question.
Of course no one at this distance can prove with 100 per cent certainty that Jesus rose from the dead. But there are forceful historical reasons for claiming that he did. So strong is the testimony that the Resurrection is either the most evil and callous sham in history or it is the most marvellous certainty which demands a verdict from each of us.
To deny that the Jesus of the New Testament rose physically from the dead primarily because we find him unacceptable is to evade the real question: did it happen? We may feel uncomfortable with the idea of a risen Jesus but emotions are notoriously unreliable in deciding what is true.
And yet it is clear from the biblical accounts that the Roman soldiers refrained from breaking the legs of Jesus as he hung on the cross because they found he was already dead. One of them simply thrust a spear into his side, piercing his heart. If Jesus had been alive at this point modern medical students would tell us that bright arterial blood should have appeared.
Instead an eyewitness, probably John, describes that blood and water came from the wound. This pre-scientific description concurs with today's medical proof of death - the separation of blood from serum. A sure sign that someone is not experiencing a 'swoon'.
Even if we suspend common sense to presume that Jesus did survive the cross, hoodwinking both his executioner and Pilate, we are left with a substantial leap of faith if we are to conclude that Christ escaped. Having been severely beaten, nailed by wrists and ankles to a cross for six hours, taken down and wrapped in 100 pounds of spices, could Jesus have moved a two-ton rock and evaded a tomb guard who faced the death penalty for losing live prisoners, never mind dead ones? Is it beyond reasonable doubt to conclude that he performed such remarkable feats?
Another speculation is that Christ's remains were stolen. The predicament here is one of motive. In killing Jesus the Romans and the Jewish authorities had achieved their ambition. A meddlesome threat had been dealt with in such a way as to scotch rumours about Jesus's claims that he would rise from the dead.
If for some perverse reason the authorities had removed the dead body of Jesus, they would only have had to produce it again when the disciples caused near hysteria in Jerusalem by proclaiming that Jesus had come to life. They could have stopped the emerging Christian Church in its tracks. But across 2,000 years no eyewitness, enemies or friends of Jesus, historians, or critics have produced Christ's dead body, or even claimed to have seen it.
No one was less likely to steal Jesus's remains than the disciples, assuming that they could have eluded the tomb guard in order to mount a raid. Far from waiting for a resurrection this demoralised group of men - Thomas the doubter, John the dreamer, Matthew the taxman and assorted fishermen - were more intent on saving their own skins.
And yet something transformed them from conquered cowards into fearless preachers about the risen Christ. Their sudden and passionate declarations of Christ's post-crucifixion appearances spread like a wildfire throughout Palestine in a movement which was to changed the course of history. Had the disciples fabricated the Resurrection story they would surely have avoided elementary gaffs such as casting women - whose testimony was unacceptable in a court of law - as the first witnesses of the risen Jesus.
Of course, few people believe in Jesus solely because the arguments point to physical resurrection. The apostle Paul did not become a Christian after hearing about the empty tomb, but when he met the living Christ on the road to Damascus. We, too, discover Jesus in a life-changing way by entering a relationship with him.
When as a rebellious 19-year-old I committed my life to Jesus while walking along a side-street in Hackney, London, I experienced Christ's resurrection power in conversion. I could no longer describe him as merely a good teacher. His claims to be the Son of God, to be able to forgive sins and to offer new life, became tangible realities.
During the past 30 years I have attempted to live out and test this resurrection faith. There have been spectacular bursts of doubt, difficulty and questioning. And yet in different parts of the world I have been moved to witness perhaps the greatest proof of the Resurrection - the suffering and devotion of Christian people in the most appalling circumstances, from a Christian community living off a rubbish tip in Manila to the secret faith of persecuted believers from the former Communist Eastern Europe.
The Resurrection heralds the beginning of the end, a sign of hope that nothing need ever be so terrible again. In the transformation of Christ's mutilated, abandoned body, we have the promise that no situation can be deemed totally hopeless, not Bosnia, Northern Ireland, not a hungry child. For the Resurrection is God's sign that he can and will transform all evil, not by avoiding it or pretending it is not bad, but by bringing new life from it.
The Resurrection ushers in the new age of friendship between human beings and God. It is available to all, not just at Easter. Those who are sustained by this relationship join Jesus intent on becoming transformers of the world in which we live.
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