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Week-end Tomb

March 25, 2016

The Passion is an integral part of Dr. Bill Creasy’s lecture on Isaiah 53. He reports an imaginary conversation between Joseph of Arimathea and his wife when he arrived home on Good Friday night after wrapping  Jesus’ body, and leaving it in his new tomb. He tells his wife that he provided the tomb for Jesus’ body. “What?!!” she exclaimed. “You gave that new tomb away? Do you know how much it cost?” To which Joseph replied, “Don’t worry, he only needs it for the week-end.”

But the disciples hadn’t yet grasped that fact. The women were surprised and perplexed when they arrived with spices for the body early Sunday morning and found the stone rolled away and the body missing. Two angels, appearing as “men . . . in dazzling apparel . . . said to them ‘Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. . . Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.’” (Luke 24: 2-8).[1] They ran to tell the others, who were skeptical—“their words seemed to them like nonsense” (Luke 24: 11). It wasn’t until Jesus appeared to them later that day that they finally grasped the reality of Jesus’ resurrection: “While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’ They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. ” (Luke 24: 36-37).

Their surprise soon turned to “joy and amazement” (v. 40) when reality began to set in. I can identify with that. I was recently surprised by the unexpected appearance of our youngest son, who we had not seen in a year. I was just drifting off to sleep when his sudden appearance shocked me. I didn’t grasp the reality of his being there, since my brain was telling me that he was still in Italy. After a few seconds, when the reality hit me, I flung my arms around him and hugged him for a long time. It gave me an inkling of how the disciples felt when Jesus surprised them.

This week’s psalm sets the tone for our rejoicing over the empty tomb: “This is the day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.” (Psalm 118:24). We rejoice on Easter because of the resurrection of Jesus, by which we are assured that we will also experience new life with him when our time on earth is over. Paul assures us that “[I]n fact Christ has been raised from the dead . . . For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.” (1 Corinthians 15:20-21).

One of the wonderful aspects of Christianity is that we don’t have to speculate about whether or not we will continue to live with God after our years on earth are over. Jesus showed us how it was done—how believers will be resurrected into new life. We celebrate the resurrection of Christ in every mass and worship service. And it gives us great hope and assurance for our own future after death, as well as that of our loved ones.

Can we trust the resurrection story, or is it an elaborate myth? Dr. Norman Geisler, a highly respected current day theologian and scholar, argues that the “Evidence for the resurrection of Christ is compelling. There are more documents, more eyewitnesses, and more corroborative evidence than for any other historical event of ancient history. The secondary, supplementary evidence is convincing; when combined with the direct evidence, it presents a towering case for the physical resurrection of Christ. In legal terminology, it is ‘beyond all reasonable doubt.’” (Geisler, Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, Baker Books (1999), pp. 651-664).

The following is a brief summary of evidence in support of the resurrection:

  • Jesus first appeared to women (John 20:15-18; Matthew 28: 8-10). The first appearance of Jesus to women is “an unmistakable sign of authenticity . . . in a male dominated culture . . . In the first-century Jewish culture, a writer inventing a resurrection account would never have taken this approach. A woman’s testimony was not even accepted in court.” (Baker Encyclopedia, p. 651).  The disciples thought their account was “nonsense” and said so.
  • The transformed disciples are evidence of the truth of the resurrection: This fact is highly persuasive; if they were spinning a yarn, they would not have hid and been afraid. It is even more convincing when coupled with the apostles’ skepticism at the first reports of the resurrection. They didn’t actually accept it until Jesus appeared to them. And trust-but-verify-Thomas, who was not present when Jesus initially appeared to the others, continued to disbelieve the reports of Jesus appearances. But a few weeks later, these same people put themselves in harm’s way by boldly proclaiming the resurrection of Christ, even to the chief priests who were responsible for Jesus’ death.
  • The reaction of the Jewish authorities confirms the truth of the resurrection. They did not dispute the missing body or search for it, but instead, bribed the soldiers to lie (Matthew 28:11-15).
  • Jesus appeared many times after his death, in his physical body, to his disciples and to others. “During the first eleven appearances alone Jesus appeared to more than 500 people over a forty day period of time. (Acts 1: 3). to Peter (1 Corinthians 15:5; John 20: 3-9; Mark 16: 12; Luke 24: 13-35); to ten disciples (Luke 24: 36-49; John 20: 19-23); to eleven disciples (John 20: 24-31); to seven disciples (John 21); to commission the apostles (Matthew 28:16-20; Mark 16: 14-18); to five hundred (1 Corinthians 15:6); to James (1 Corinthians 15:7): “Jesus’ brothers were unbelievers before his resurrection. The Gospel of John informs us that ‘even his own brothers did not believe in him’ (John 7:5). But after his resurrection, at least James and Jude became believers . . . James became a pillar of the early church.”; at the Ascension (Acts 1: 4-8); to Paul (Acts 9: 1-9; 1 Corinthians 15:8). On all twelve occasions Jesus was seen and probably heard. Four times he offered himself to be touched. He was definitely touched twice. Jesus revealed his crucifixion scars on two occasions.” There are four accounts of the empty tomb, and he was witnessed eating food on four other occasions—all of which confirm that Jesus rose from the dead in a physical body (Baker Encyclopedia, p. 652-655).
  • The early church consisted of Jews, who proclaimed that Jesus was God. For their testimony as to Jesus as the Christ, the apostles were beaten, persecuted, threatened with death and martyred. This is strong evidence in support of their encounter with the resurrected Christ.
  • Jewish historian, Josephus: Even the first century Jewish historian, Josephus, who was not a believer, reported “At this time there was a wise man called Jesus, and his conduct was good, and he was known to be virtuous. Many people among the Jews and other nations became his disciples. Pilate condemned him to be crucified and to die. But those who had become his disciples did not abandon his discipleship. They reported that he had appeared to them three days after his crucifixion and that he was alive. Accordingly, he was perhaps the Messiah, concerning whom the prophets reported wonders. And the tribe of the Christians, so named after him, has not disappeared to this day.” (Josephus: The Essential Works, translated by Paul L. Maier, Kregal Publications (1988), pp. 269-270).
  • Many other theories against the resurrection accounts (wrong tomb, swoon, stolen body theories, and others) have been debunked by scholars. Paul Maier summarizes the scholarship In The Fullness of Time, Kregel Publications (1991), pp. 189-205).

The scholarship of the past two thousand years supports Jesus’ resurrection. The lives of millions of Christians who have experienced life with the living Jesus is also clear testimony that Jesus lives. J. P. Moreland, a distinguished philosopher, stated to Lee Strobel that “the final confirming proof [of the resurrection] is the ongoing encounter with the resurrected Christ that happens all over the world, in every culture, to people from all kinds of backgrounds and personalities—well educated and not, rich and poor, thinkers and feelers, men and women. They will testify that more than any other single thing in their lives, Jesus Christ has changed them.” (Strobel, The Case for Christ: A Journalist’s Personal Investigation of the Evidence for Jesus, Zondervan, (1998), p. 255).

St. Augustine of Hippo, often quoted by Pope John Paul II, counseled: “Do not abandon yourselves to despair. We are an Easter people and Alleluia is our song.”  Indeed.

[1] The Scripture texts for the Resurrection of Our Lord are Psalm 118:15-29; Isaiah 65:17-25; 1 Corinthians 15:19-26; Luke 24:1-12.Diane Cieslikowski Reagan




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