Saturday, 13 April 2019

Why did God forsake Jesus

Matthew 27: 45-46 "From the sixth hour until the ninth hour darkness came over all the land. 46About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”).[

Powerful words ... a powerful image. Jesus Christ ... the Son of God ... His body broken, bleeding, crying out in pain and agony. Let us just take a moment to meditate on one verse in this passage, verse 46. Let's see what we can learn from it. Let us pause and reflect on the cry itself. Let's examine the word “why”, the word “my”, and then let us look at the question "why have you forsaken Me?" as the whole. Let's do this because when we are done I think you'll find that the cry points to the fact that Jesus actually died this death, the “why” points to the reason for his death, the word “my” actually points to the accomplishments of His death and the question taken as a whole shows us something about why He did what He did, His motive.

First, just notice, “about the ninth hour” which is three p.m.., “Jesus cried out a loud voice”. It’s a word that could be translated “scream” or even “shriek”. Any first time reader reading this would immediately feel that Jesus had cracked. Here He is saying to God, “you’ve abandoned me, you failed me”. Jesus seems to be cracking, He’s giving up, He’s saying “God, you failed me.” It’s interesting that historians and scholars who are actually suspicious of the bible, that is to say that they feel that the gospel accounts might contain legendary material and that you can’t trust everything in the bible. Even the most skeptical scholars say this must’ve happened. Why do they say that? Because if you were adding things or making something up for promotional purposes, you would never put Jesus in this position; you would never put your religion's founder in this place, with these last words in his mouth, looking so despondent, so unheroic, and so hopeless. If you were to read the accounts of the end of Buddha’s life or Muhammad's life or any other figure or founder, they are always dying in peace with wise and heroic last words. If you were making up a piece of literature trying to promote a faith, you never write this down; therefore even the skeptic says, “this must’ve happened or we wouldn’t be reading it.” Also, it’s in Aramaic even though the both Matthew and Mark who record this cry from the cross, were writing to Greek speakers, so there’s no need to write what He said in Aramaic. The reason they write it in Aramaic is because this is eyewitness memory. People remembered it. In fact they couldn't forget that cry. I don’t want you to ever forget that cry, it happened. He died on the cross. So first of all the cry points to the fact of Jesus’ death.

Secondly, the word “why?” starts moving us toward the reason, “why did God forsake Jesus?” So let's explore that question ... “why did God forsake Jesus on the cross.” The beginning of the answer is to realize that what Jesus is saying here is, is a bible verse, He is quoting Psalms 22 verse 1. We constantly forget that. He cried it, He screamed it but He was quoting a bible verse which actually shows right off the bat that He did know what was going on. He did know what was happening. Psalm 22 is one of the most puzzling, even shocking Psalms of the whole Psalter. Why? Well, King David wrote a lot of the Psalms and the Psalms very often reflected various times of his life ... and there were terrible times of his life. For example, David wrote Psalm 51 after his son died. But when did Psalm 22 ever happened to David? Listen to some of Psalm 22 which Jesus is crying out. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me, all who see me mock me, they hurl insults, shaking their heads, “he trusts in the Lord, let the Lord rescue him”, strong bulls encircle me, roaring lions open their mouths wide against me. A pack of villains encircle me. They pierced my hands and my feet. I am poured out like water and all my bones are out joint. You lay me in the dust of death. People stare and gloat over me. They divided my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing.” When did that ever happened to David? When did anybody ever pierce his hands and his feet? When were there people surrounding him? Psalm 22  is not describing an illness. Psalm 22 is not describing some kind of general persecution. Psalm 22 is describing an execution. It’s an execution. Did that ever happened to David? No of course not. By crying this Jesus is telling us all that, through the power of the Holy Spirit, David was pointing to me. I am being executed. Judgment is coming down on me.

An execution is not just a tragic death, it’s a punishment. Who is doing the punishing? To answer that look at the darkness. From the sixth hour, until the ninth hour, darkness came over all the land. Anybody who reads the Old Testament knows what it means when God sends darkness. Listen Amos chapter 8, “in that day declares the Lord, I will make the sun go down at noon and darken the earth to broad in broad daylight. At noon I will make the sun go down. It will be a time like the morning for an only son.” Or from Exodus 10 So Moses stretched out his hand toward the sky, and total darkness covered all Egypt for three days. You know the hymn that goes, “well might the sun in darkness hide shut his glory in. When Christ the mighty maker died for man the creature sin.” Darkness means God’s judgment and when it says it’s over all the land, it’s sign of the fact that God’s judgment is over the whole human race and punishment is deserved and it’s going to come down somewhere.

Now let me just say this ... you can’t come to grips with or understand why God forsakes Jesus, and you can’t understand the cross unless you understand that all human beings stand guilty before God and deserving judgment and punishment. Now, that might be a controversial statement for you. Modern people resist this because all of our lives, we’re told, don’t let other people make you feel guilty. Guilt is a bad thing, it shows that you’re letting other people make you feel guilty, you have to decide  what is right or wrong for you. You have to decide that. You determine what’s right or wrong for you and then you live the way you want to live and you don’t let anybody else make you feel guilty.

After World War II, there was a period there that was called “The Age of Anxiety.” This was a time when everybody was wracked with guilt and everyone was into a psychoanalysis to deal with their repressed guilt. If you were to look back at that era you will see that it was the theme of plays, it was a theme of books, it was a theme of everything. We are not like that today. Nobody talks about our current culture as people wracked with guilt. It seems like everybody does things out in the open, everybody is just as shameless ... the president is having affairs with porn stars, our youth are sending nude pictures of themselves to one another on their cell phones, we've legalized marijuana ... and every time we hit a new social low everybody just says, "well ... this is the way it is" or refers to the calendar (this is 2019). We don’t feel guilty, we have no problem with guilt as a culture and that lack of guilt IS a problem.  Of course an inordinate amount of guilt feelings is pathological, no guilty feelings are just as pathological.

Andrew Delbanco, a terrific cultural analyst wrote a book some years ago on American Culture. In that book he analyzes a little section out of Walker Percy’s novel, Love in the Ruins. There’s one point which Delbanco looks at the character named Max. Max is a psychiatrist who thinks that the essence of being an enlightened person is that you live without guilt. You do what you want to do and you don’t feel guilty about it. Now Max has this client named Tom whom has just had an affair and is very worried. Max is having trouble understanding Tom and Max says,  “well Tom, I don’t quite understand what worries you about the affair if you don’t feel guilty” and Tom says “that is what’s worrying me, I don’t feel guilty.” Max comes back and says, “well what I don’t see is, if there’s no guilt after your affair, what’s your problem?” and Tom says, “it means that you don’t have life in you.” Then Andrew Delbanco dispenses his cultural analysis “what the psychiatrist don’t understand is that the guilt Tom no longer feels had been his last reassurance that there existed something in the world that transcended him.” This is brilliant. Here’s what Delbanco was trying to say ... if you say nothing should make me feel guilty, that I have to decide what is right or wrong for me,  then there’s nothing more important than me, my feelings, my conscience, my needs, my intuitions and my consciousness, that’s all that matters. There’s nothing more important than me, there’s nothing that I have to sacrifice and serve and feel guilty if I am not doing it. But if nothing transcends me, in other words, if there’s no guilt, there is also no hope because we’ve got nothing to live for and nothing to die for. If there’s no guilt, there’s no hope and Delbanco says that’s who and what we are, right now.

People don’t feel guilty in our culture, people are shameless and people are unbelievably hopeless and pessimistic about the future. You see, the Bible says is there is truth, there is right, there is wrong and therefore there is guilt ... BUT ... there is also HOPE. There is something more important than you. It’s God. We are supposed to love God with all our heart, soul, strength and mind because He gave us everything. We are supposed to love our neighbor as ourselves and we’re not living up to that command. There is something greater than us (God) who gives us something to live for (to love Him and to love our neighbour), there is guilt when we don't do it ... but there is also Hope. When the dark clouds of God’s judgement lie over the whole land, there should be an execution, there should be punishment. That’s why Jesus was forsaken because the punishment was coming down on Him.

Now thirdly, I want to look at the little word, “my” because Jesus says “my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” It is here that we really come into the holy of holies and we get to learn there’s two ways in which Christ accomplished our salvation. Yes I said "two ways."

The little word “my” points to His infinite sufferings and to His perfect obedience. First, His infinite sufferings. “My God, my God.” Do you notice what He is not saying? He is not saying, “my head, my head”, “my hands, my hands”, “my feet, my feet”, “my side, my side”. There’s thorns in His heads, a spear was stuck in His side, and they pierced His hands and feet with nails. Yet He is not complaining about that. He’s not screeching about it. Nor is he saying, “my friends, my friends, you’ve all abandoned me.” He’s not talking about that either. The physical suffering and the relational suffering aren't the things causing Him the most pain.

Up until the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus has been pretty collected and pretty poised; “The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak, put down your sword, put your sword back. Those who live by the sword die by the sword.” “What thou doest, do quickly.” You say I’m a King.,I figure it is safe to say that up until now, even under incredible pressure, physical suffering, relational rejection, He’s been pretty poised but now he is shrieking. Why? What’s happening that is worse than being abandoned by your closest friends? What is worse than being nailed to a cross? What is He experiencing that makes all that He has endured feel like a flea bite in by comparison. What is it? The loss of love.

There is no greater agony than to lose love. You know that. Psychiatrists and marriage counselors know that. There is no greater agony than a love that really matters to you. The longer and deeper that love was, the longer and deeper is the agony you suffer; if acquaintance says, I never want to see you again, that’s bad but if a good friend says I never want to see you again that hurts worse. If your child or your sibling or your parents say I never want to see you again that hurts worse than a good friend. If your spouse says they never want to see you again, that hurts the worst of all. If you have been through any of those experiences I am sure you know how much it hurts .... it destroys your heart, it destroys your body, it destroys ... period.

That is what is happening here, but on a scale that you and I just can't comprehend. In John 1:18, it says the Son was in the bosom of the Father for all eternity. The Father and the Son souls were wrapped up in one another, not just for forty years or fifty years or twenty years or sixty years but for all eternity! And that is what Jesus lost. That is where that cry, that shriek, is coming from. You may know something about the agony lost love, I know I do, but there is nothing that compares to this. The love that the Father and the Son had makes the greatest marriage in the history of the world look like a dewdrop compared to the Atlantic Ocean. He was experiencing eternal suffering.

What is the punishment Jesus was suffering? 2 Thessalonians tells us that the right and just punishment if we turn away from God, is exclusion. The absence or exclusion of God, the place where there is no God, is called Hell. It’s called Hell. You’re just sent away from the thing you most need.

Just like the flower needs the sun, we are built for the presence of God. Hell is being sent away forever. Jesus Christ wasn't just taking that punishment ... He was taking that punishment for us.  What He was experiencing on the cross was like zillions of eternal hells all compressed and laid on Him at once. If you know the agony of lost love, just take that experience up a trillion times. He’s saying “I’ve lost you, my God!”

“My” is an intimate word. You may not know anything about me but if you hear me say “my Ruth” or “my Faith” or something like that, you’ll say “that must be his children or his wife”  because a guy doesn’t say “my something” unless we're talking about something intimately close to us. “My God, I’ve lost My God.” When we hear Jesus say that we are looking into the infinity of his sufferings.

For the first time in all eternity Jesus was without God, it was as if He had no God. All that God had been to Him before,  was taken from Him. He had the feeling of the condemned. He heard as when the judge says “depart from me you accursed who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power.” He felt that God had said the same thing ... this is the hell in which Christ suffered.

But “My God, my God” doesn’t just mean the loss of love and the infinite sufferings. It also means His perfect obedience. This is the other side of what was happening on the cross. When Jesus Christ says “My God” He’s using the covenant. No what do I mean by that ...  in the Old Testament God says "if you enter into a covenant relationship with me, a saving relationship with me, I will be your God and you will be My people." He gives us the right to call Him "my God," it’s a covenant name. It means, you’re in a relationship with God. Every person in the history of the world up to now can be assured to this: if you give yourself to God, God will be with you. That is the covenant. That is the promise. However, when Jesus Christ obeyed God, He was abandoned! To everyone else in the history of the world God says, "Obey me and I’ll be with you, obey Me and I’ll bless you." But Jesus Christ ...  He obeyed God yet He was abandoned; He obeyed God and He was cursed! And yet, despite all of this, in the midst of all His suffering, He is obeying God anyway. Listen to the cry "My God!" He is loving God anyway. He is holding onto the covenant in spite of what He’s going through. Nobody on all of time has ever gone through anything like this but He is and He is loving God anyway.

In the story Moby Dick, Ahab hates Moby Dick. In one of the very last scenes in that book, Captain Ahab is entangled in a harpoon line that is attached to Moby Dick. Moby Dick is injured and is about to plunge down into the depths of the ocean. Ahab knows he's going to be dragged down to his death by the whale yet he hollers out  “From hell’s heart I’ll stabbeth thee.” Jesus really was in Hell’s heart. But what does He say? "From hell’s heart I love you still. Though you slay me yet I will praise your name." That is perfect obedience. That is the most perfect obedience ever.

Now do you understand what I mean when I say that the gospel is not one form of substitution but two, not one form of imputation but two. When the Bible says, “God made Him sin who knew no sin, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him,” it’s saying not only that God puts our sins on Him so He dies the death we should’ve died but we are also told, God puts His righteousness on us so that because He lived the life that we should’ve lived. He died the death we should’ve died and lived the life that we should’ve lived. So it’s not just that God pardons you and says “now you get out of jail free,” He puts the congressional medal of honor on you and treats you as if you done everything Jesus ever done.

That idea of being clothed in the righteousness of Christ is a big abstraction for most people including me until I see this. And now I realize, “you mean God is actually treating me, if I believe in Jesus Christ, God treats me as if I’ve done everything Jesus ever done.”

My father used to watch this show NCIS. NCIS means Naval Criminal Investigative Service and it is about a bunch of special agents who investigating crimes that have evidence connected to Navy and Marine Corps. Anyway, there is one episode in which a broken down old eighty year old man, a vet is being arrested by these great big snarling navy MPs. But it turns out years before on Hiroshima he had won the congregational medal of honor and he always wore it underneath all of his suit. So these navy MPs are standing over him snarling, ready to take him in and somebody reaches over and pulls his tie aside and there is the congressional medal of honor, what do you think those guys do? What do those great big guys do, twice his size? They salute. They snap to attention in front of this little broken man. What are they saluting? They are saluting the accomplishment, they are saluting the medal, they are saluting what it represents.

And my friends that is just like us. You are not just forgiven. Jesus didn’t just die the death you should’ve died. He didn’t just go through infinite sufferings. He lived the life we should have lived. He perfectly obeyed in your place so that when you believe His righteousness is put on you, that is to say all those medals that Jesus Christ earned in this battle are on your chest and all the angels in heaven salutes you. “My God” shows us the infinity of his sufferings and the perfection of his obedience and therefore the amazing accomplishment of the Cross.

Now lastly let’s stand back and look at the this question, "Why did Jesus do it?" Why did he let God forsake Him? Why did he put himself in a position where all this could happen? I think probably the right answer, that is totally inadequate, is Jesus Christ was doing it for the Glory of God. That’s why He did it. He did it to glorify His Father! And of course that’s right but as a reason it is totally inadequate. He was already glorifying His Father in Heaven. He did not have to come to Earth to glorify His Father. So why did He come? What did He have, what did He get by coming to Earth that He didn’t have before? Us. Why did he left all this happen to Him? Why did He go into the agony voluntarily, He quotes a bible verse here, He knows what's going on, He’s doing it voluntarily. “No man takes my life from me, I lay it down from my own accord.” Why did He do it? From the broken bread and the poured out cup, you can almost hear the words, “my God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me.” And now you know the answer, why did He do it? For you. Or you can say for me. But you have to believe. You have to willing to admit that it was a punishment, it was an execution, the clouds were over us and yet He took it. This is a Holy Week, you have the whole week to think about this and then ... on Easter ... we will celebrate.

Friday, 11 May 2018

How did the Appostles die?

As French mathematician Blaise Pascal put it, “I believe those witnesses that get their throats cut.” With the exception of John, every one of the apostles died horribly violent deaths. Yet they did this without ever denouncing their faith.  Andrew was scourged, and then tied rather than nailed to a cross, so that he would suffer for a longer time before dying. Andrew lived for two days, during which he preached to passersby.

So how did the disciples die?

Let’s take the brothers first. Simon AKA Peter and his older brother Andrew. Both were crucified as old men. Peter was the first pope, Christ’s Vicar, the head of the visible Church. Andrew, before he met Jesus was a disciple of John the Baptist. Andrew was there when John pointed at Jesus on the banks of the River Jordan and said: “Behold the Lamb of God!” Andrew followed Christ after His holy baptism and innocently asked Him where He lived. Jesus innocently answered: “Come and see”. Andrew preached the Faith in Asia Minor (Turkey) and in Scythia, east of Turkey (north of Iran). went to Patras in western Greece in 69 AD, where the Roman proconsul Aegeates debated religion with him. Aegeates tried to convince Andrew to forsake Christianity, so that he would not have to torture and execute him. But when that didn’t work, apparently he decided to give Andrew the full treatment. Andrew was scourged, and then tied rather than nailed to a cross, so that he would suffer for a longer time before dying. Andrew lived for two days, during which he preached to passersby. 

Peter was martyred under the Nero persecution in the year 67. Peter, too, was, as His Master, crucified by nails on Vatican hill. As the story goes, Peter asked to be crucified upside down, so that his death would not be the equal of Jesus and the Romans obliged.

Paul, the Apostle, was beheaded outside the walls of Rome on the same day as Peter.

James the Greater and his brother, John, “Sons of Thunder”. James was the first Apostle to be martyred. He was a victim of Herod Agrippa who seized him when he was in Jerusalem in the year 42 and had him beheaded. Acts 12:1-19 says that James was killed with a sword. The newly-appointed governor of Judea, Herod Agrippa, decided to ingratiate himself with the Romans by persecuting leaders of the new sect. After James was arrested and led to place of execution, his unnamed accuser was moved by his courage. He not only repented and converted on the spot, but asked to be executed alongside James. The Roman executioners obliged, and both men were beheaded simultaneously.

John, the youngest Apostle, was the only one not martyred. However, in the year 95, he was taken prisoner at Ephesus and sent to trial in Rome. Sentenced to death, he was boiled in oil before the Latin gate. He was miraculously preserved from the burning, yet he did feel the pain. The miracle moved the emperor to nullify the death sentence and to send him into exile to the island of Patmos. He was later freed and died at Ephesus in the year 100 when he was eighty-eight years old.

Simon, Jude (AKA Thaddaeus, Lebbaeus, Judas), and James the Less, brother, cousins of Jesus. Simon, the Zealot, preached the faith in Persia together with his brother, Jude. Simon was crucified at Edessa in the year 67. Jude, likewise, was martyred that same year in Persia. Jude was clubbed to death. He was also named Thaddeus “big hearted” to distinguish him from Judas the traitor.

James the Less was martyred in the year 62. He was chosen by Jesus to be the first bishop of Jerusalem and he remained there permanently in order to save a remnant of the Jews. The ancients of the Jews, however, tired of his preaching and they took him to the pinnacle of the temple and told him to renounce Christ before all the people who were gathered below. Having none of that, he rather preached Christ crucified as Savior, and they cast him off from his pulpit. Still living after he hit the ground, they finished the job by bashing his brains out with a club. This was recorded by the Jewish historian Josephus.

Philip. Philip was first a disciple of   John the Baptist until John testified that Jesus was the Savior. Philip, then, came to Nathanael and said to him: “We have found him of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets did write, Jesus the son of Joseph of Nazareth” (John 1:45). Nathanael would be an Apostle, too. His Greek name is Bartholomew. Philip powerful ministry in Carthage in North Africa and then in Asia Minor, where he converted the wife of a Roman proconsul. In retaliation the proconsul had Philip arrested and cruelly martyred at Hierapolis in the year 62. Like Peter, he was crucified upside-down.

Bartholomew (or Nathanael) was introduced to Jesus by Philip. Upon seeing Bartholomew Jesus said to him: “Behold an Israelite in who there is no guile. Nathanael saith to him: Whence knowest thou me? Jesus answered, and said to him: Before that Philip called thee, when thou wast under the fig tree, I saw thee. Nathanael answered him, and said: Rabbi, thou art the Son of God, thou art the King of Israel” (John 1:47-49). Bartholomew was a nobleman, his name means “son of Ptolemy. He preached the Faith as far away as India. He returned after that to Asia Minor and was martyred by being skinned alive and then beheaded in Armenia in the year 72.

Matthew, another Apostle with a Greek name (Gift of God), a publican, a tax collector in Capharnaum, the city of Peter and Andrew. His Hebrew name was Levi. Matthew left his custom house immediately after Jesus called him: “Come, follow me.” He wrote the first of the Gospels. He wrote it for the Jews. It is filled with citations from the Old Testament prophecies. Matthew preached the Faith in Africa and was martyred in the year 65 in Ethiopia while offering Mass.

Thomas (also called Didymus, which means “the twin.”)   Thomas was not there when Jesus first appeared to the Apostles after His Resurrection. Thomas doubted; in fact, he went so far as to protest: “Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe” (John 20:25). When Jesus came to His Apostles the second time, Thomas was there. “Then he saith to Thomas: Put in thy finger hither, and see my hands; and bring hither thy hand, and put it into my side; and be not faithless, but believing” Thomas then said to Him “My Lord and My God” (John 20:27). Thomas preached the Faith in Persia and India where he angered local religious authorities, who martyred him by running him through with 4 spears in the year 74.

Matthias, who replaced Judas, was one of the seventy-two disciples of Our Lord. To qualify he had to have been with Jesus from the beginning of His public ministry and been a witness to His Resurrection. He preached the Faith first in Judaea, then Cappadocia, and finally in the northern most regions of Asia Minor near the Caspian Sea. Two traditions come down to us regarding his martyrdom in the year 65. One has it that he was crucified, another that he was hacked to death.

All the disciples who ran away in fearful flight (John 20:19) following Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion were so convinced of the resurrection that they were willing to risk their lives testifying to it. What gave these cowards the backbone to do this?  All the apostles and early Christian leaders died for their faith, and it is hard to believe that this kind of powerful self-sacrifice would be done to support a hoax. People might live with a lie if it brings them money or power, but people won’t die for a lie. In short, we must ask, what caused these remarkable transformations? The fact that all of the apostles were willing to die horrible deaths, refusing to renounce their faith in Christ, is tremendous evidence that they had truly witnessed the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Friday, 23 March 2018

Can the Resurrection be proven?

1 Corinthians 15 New International Version (NIV)

15 Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.

For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.

Christianity is the only religion that can point to a time on the calendar and place on the map and  say “It started here.” The reason Christianity can say that is because of the resurrection. As the letter of Paul points out … this is of first importance. Without the resurrection Jesus was either wonderful teacher who met an untimely end or a failed revolutionary with delusions of grandeur. It was the resurrection that proved Jesus was who He always said He was and why He came to dwell amongst us.

More and more these days people say that they don’t believe in God. People have been making these kinds of statements pretty much ever since language was invented. Even Thomas, one of Jesus disciples, refused to believe that Jesus had been resurrected. He changed his mind when Jesus appeared to Him personally.

I doubt any of us will be visited life this but since this was an event rooted in history we can examine it like any other event. First we look at the witness statements and their reliability, second we take proof or evidence, and then we take a look at the aftermath.
      The witness statements     
If we were in a court of law the witness statements to an event could be the difference between life and death. When it comes to the resurrection we could say the same thing. As such reliability of the statements about the resurrection is key.

Written by eyewitnesses.

All NT writers were either apostles or associated with the apostles as eyewitnesses and/or contemporaries. Matthew and John were disciples of Jesus. Mark was a contemporary and associate of the apostle Peter (1 Pet 5:13). Luke was a companion of Paul (2 Tim 4:11) who interviewed many eyewitnesses to produce his account (Luke 1:1-4). James and Jude were closely associated with the apostles in Jerusalem and were Jesus' brothers. Paul received his apostleship by a revelation from Jesus. In each case there is a definite link between the writer and the apostles who gave them information.

Written accounts circulated during time of eyewitnesses (other than NT writers).

The dates of the NT documents indicate that they were written within the lifetime of contemporaries of Christ. People were still alive who could remember the things he said and did. This includes hostile eyewitnesses who would have served as a corrective if false teachings about Jesus were going around.

The date of original writing is extremely close to the actual events.

The timing between the events occurring and the writing of the events is far too short for the Gospels to be legends. The Gospel accounts were written at the very most forty to sixty years after Jesus' death. Paul's letters, written just ten to fifteen years after the death of Jesus, provide an outline of all the events of Jesus' life found in the Gospels (his miracles, claims, crucifixion, and resurrection). The two earliest biographies of Alexander the Great were written more than four hundred years after Alexanders' death, yet historians consider them to be generally trustworthy. Why? Because legendary material only began to emerge in the centuries after the early writings, i.e. five hundred years later. So whether the Gospels were written forty or sixty years after the life of Jesus, the amount of time is negligible by comparison. It is therefore very unlikely that those writings would have fallen victim to legend or faulty memories. Professor Sherwin-White, a respected Greco-Roman classical historian from Oxford University established that the passage of two generations was not enough time for legend to develop in the ancient world and wipe out a solid core of historical truth. In the case of Jesus, we have reliable information about his divinity and resurrection that falls safely within that span.

Corroborated by non-Christian accounts.

There are numerous references to Jesus as a historical figure who died at the hand of Pontius Pilate. Some even noted that He was reported to have risen from the dead. Tacitus, a Roman historian, made at least three references to Christ. Josephus, a Jewish historian working for the Romans in the first century, mentioned Jesus, His death and reports of His appearance after death. The fact that neither Josephus nor any other contemporary of the apostles made any attempt to refute the resurrection is significant. Also, the Talmud, a rabbinical commentary on the Torah, mentions Jesus and the Gospels are cited in other first-century works, including The Epistle of Barnabas, The Didache, Clement’s Corinthians, and Ignatius’ Seven Epistles.  The Nazareth Inscription is one of the most powerful pieces of extra-biblical evidence that the resurrection of Christ was being preached right from the earliest beginnings of Christianity.

They died for their story.

With the exception of John, every one of the apostles died horribly violent deaths. Yet they did this without ever denouncing their faith.  Andrew was scourged, and then tied rather than nailed to a cross, so that he would suffer for a longer time before dying. Andrew lived for two days, during which he preached to passersby.

As French mathmetition Blaise Pascal put it, “I believe those witnesses that get their throats cut.” All the disciples who ran away in fearful flight (John 20:19) following Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion were so convinced of the resurrection that they were willing to risk their lives testifying to it. What gave these cowards the backbone to do this?  All the apostles and early Christian leaders died for their faith, and it is hard to believe that this kind of powerful self-sacrifice would be done to support a hoax. People might live with a lie if it brings them money or power, but people won’t die for a lie. In short, we must ask, what caused these remarkable transformations? The fact that all of the apostles were willing to die horrible deaths, refusing to renounce their faith in Christ, is tremendous evidence that they had truly witnessed the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
         The Proof or Evidence the Resurrection Happened
Under this section we will take a look as to what the proof was that the resurrection really happened.

Jesus was Killed

Obviously there cannot be a resurrection unless someone was killed.

Mark 15:44-47 New International Version (NIV)
43 Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent member of the Council, who was himself waiting for the kingdom of God, went boldly to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body.44 Pilate was surprised to hear that he was already dead. Summoning the centurion, he asked him if Jesus had already died. 45 When he learned from the centurion that it was so, he gave the body to Joseph. 46 So Joseph bought some linen cloth, took down the body, wrapped it in the linen, and placed it in a tomb cut out of rock. Then he rolled a stone against the entrance of the tomb. 47 Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joseph saw where he was laid.

The way Mark (Mark 15:44-47) reports the burial is significant: He is “certifying” that Jesus was really dead. Joseph of Arimathea is named here as an identified witness who actually had Jesus’ body wrapped up and sealed it in a tomb. A Roman centurion (who would be an expert) bore witness of Jesus’ death to Pilate (who would be the legal authority on the matter). Finally, two women are cited as eyewitnesses to the burial. So multiple experts and witnesses prove He was really dead. Anyone at that time could go and track down witnesses to see what had happened.

The Empty Tomb

This fact is supported by four considerations. First, Jesus was buried in a well-known tomb. This is important, because if the location of Jesus’ tomb was uncontroversial, the claim by the early Church that Jesus had vacated His tomb could have been easily verified (or, for that matter, discounted). That Jesus’ tomb was well known is attested by material both early and non-legendary. Mark’s gospel, written no more than 30 years after Jesus’ crucifixion and itself based on even earlier sources, mentions that Jesus was buried in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea (Mk 15:43). This early detail can’t be a fictitious insertion by later Christian authors. After all, Joseph was a member of the Jewish Council (or Sanhedrin; Mk 15:43). In other words, why would later Christians invent a story about a Jewish Sanhedrist helping Jesus? Had the early Christians created this detail, the Jewish authorities could have disproved it easily. They could have checked the records to find out whether or not Joseph had been a member of the Council and/or whether or not his tomb had been used, not to mention vacated, by Jesus.

Second, not only was Jesus’ tomb well known, it was also found empty. This detail is also found in very early sources, this time not only in Mark’s report (16:1–8) but also in Paul’s (implied in 1 Cor 15:4). In fact, many scholars date the tradition Paul speaks of in 1 Corinthians 15:3 to within five or six years after Jesus’ death. Moreover, Mark’s report that the tomb was found empty by women. Celsus, a Greek philosopher who lived in the second century A.D., was highly antagonistic to Christianity and wrote a number of works listing arguments against it. One of the arguments he believed most telling went like this: Christianity can’t be true, because the written accounts of the resurrection are based on the testimony of women—and we all know women are hysterical. And many of Celsus’ readers agreed: For them, that was a major problem. In ancient societies, as you know, women were marginalized, and the testimony of women was never given much credence.
Do you see what that means? If Mark and the Christians were making up these stories to get their movement off the ground, they would never have written women into the story as the first eyewitnesses to Jesus’ empty tomb. If Mark and the early Christians were inventing stories, it would have been fine, upstanding, reliable male witnesses being first at the tomb. The only possible reason for the presence of women in these accounts is that they really were present and reported what they saw.

Thirdly, think about where Christianity started: Jerusalem.

The disciples went out and preached the message of the risen Jesus in the same city where Jesus was publicly crucified and buried. It would have been easy to crush this movement of unruly fishermen by simply going to Jesus' tomb, pulling out the body, and exposing the followers of Jesus as liars. Both the Romans and the Jews were fed up with this new group of Jesus followers, and they could have easily produced the remains of Jesus' body to quench the Christian movement had the tomb not been empty. But this never happened. The body of Jesus was never produced from the tomb in an attempt to undermine the movement of Jesus followers, nor were there any counter-narratives arguing that the tomb was still occupied.

Fourthly  The Jews were claiming that the disciples had stolen the body.

Matthew 28:11-15 says:
[S]ome of the guard went into the city and told the chief priests everything that had happened. After the priests had assembled with the elders, they devised a plan to give a large sum of money to the soldiers, telling them, “You must say, 'His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep.” If this comes to the governor's ears, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” So they took the money and did as they were directed. And this story is still told among the Jews to this day.

Why would the Jews circulate the story of Jesus' body being stolen by the disciples if the tomb was not empty? Thus, there would be no need to propagate the idea that the disciples stole Jesus's body from the tomb if the tomb were not empty! In short, the earliest Jewish response was itself an attempt to explain why the body was missing and the tomb was empty.

The Resurrection Appearances

Paul’s early account speaks of hundreds of witnesses who claim to have seen Jesus risen (1 Cor 15:5–9). Paul indicates in this text that the risen Jesus not only appeared to individuals and small groups but he also appeared to five hundred people at once, most of whom were still alive at the time of his writing and could be consulted for corroboration. Paul’s letter was to a church, and therefore it was a public document, written to be read aloud. Paul was inviting anyone who doubted that Jesus had appeared to people after his death to go and talk to the eyewitnesses if they wished. It was a bold challenge and one that could easily be taken up, since during the pax Romana travel around the Mediterranean was safe and easy. Paul could not have made such a challenge if those eyewitnesses didn’t exist. There are many instances of sightings of Jesus’ resurrection but I like to go to Paul where he says that Jesus appears to 500 people. I like this one because it flies in the face of the argument that these were just hallucinations of distraught people. If it was just one or two that would be one thing, but 500 at a time is unheard of.

3.      The Aftermath

When something happens there are always consequences. If a man gets caught cheating on his wife there are consequences. If you leave the tub running and go to town to do shopping, there are consequences. If you pull the pin on a hand grenade, there are consequences. If something so monumental as a resurrection took place, there would be monumental consequences. Let’s take a look at some of them.

Belief in Resurrection

Matthew 27
So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them. “Greetings,” he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him. 10 Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”
16 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Quite often I hear “Well, people back then believed in the supernatural so they believe people could come back from the dead.” The trouble with this statement is that if there is one thing that modern day atheist and 1st century Jews hold in common is that they didn’t believe in the resurrection. The resurrection was as inconceivable for the first disciples, as impossible for them to believe, as it is for many of us today. Granted, their reasons would have been different from ours. The Greeks did not believe in resurrection; in the Greek worldview, the afterlife was liberation of the soul from the body. For them, resurrection would never be part of life after death. As for the Jews, some of them believed in a future general resurrection when the entire world would be renewed, but they had no concept of an individual rising from the dead. The people of Jesus’ day were not predisposed to believe in resurrection any more than modern day atheists. Even today with global communications at our finger tips, it takes at least 20 years for a new idea to take hold and start to be accepted. In the case of the resurrection it went from not being believed to widely accepted overnight. The letter from 1 Corinthians 15 has been dated back by some experts to about 4 or 5 years form the resurrection of Jesus. Therefore, we must ask, from whence did this belief in a bodily resurrection come from, if not from the reality of Jesus’ Resurrection appearances?

Explosion of the Christian Church

If you were a gambler in the 1st century and someone came up to you and said “Which do you think will last longer, a religion started by a guy who was just killed and his 12 (or now 11) disciples OR the Roman Empire who is the unchallenged superpower of this Earth.” I am pretty sure you would take the Roman Empire. However, after the death of Jesus the entire Christian community suddenly adopted a set of beliefs that were brand-new. Their view of resurrection was absolutely unprecedented in history. They believed that the future resurrection had already begun in Jesus. There was no process or development. His followers said that their beliefs did not come from debating and discussing philosophical ideas; they were just telling others what they had seen themselves. Even if you propose the highly unlikely idea that one or two disciples did get the idea that He was raised from the dead on their own, they would never have got a movement of other Jews to believe it unless there were multiple, inexplicable, plausible, repeated encounters with Jesus.

How could a group of first-century Jews have come to worship a human being as divine? It was absolute blasphemy to propose that any human being should be worshipped. Yet thousands of Jews began worshipping Jesus literally overnight. The hymn to Christ as God that Paul quotes in Philippians 2 is generally recognised to have been written just a few years after the crucifixion. What enormous event broke through all of that Jewish resistance? If they had seen him resurrected, this would certainly account for it.

Changed Lives

There were hardened skeptics, like James, Jesus’ brother, and Saul who didn't believe in Jesus before his crucifixion-and were to some degree dead-set against Christianity-who  turned around and adopted the Christian faith after Jesus' death. There's no good reason for this apart from them having experienced the resurrected Christ.

The gospels tell us Jesus' family, including James, were embarrassed by what he was claiming to be. They didn't believe in him; they confronted him. In ancient Judaism it was highly embarrassing for a rabbi's family not to accept him. Therefore the gospel writers would have no motive for fabricating this skepticism if it weren't true. Later the historian Josephus tells us that James, the brother of Jesus, who was the leader of the Jerusalem church, was stoned to death because of his belief in his brother. Why did James' life change? Paul tells us: the resurrected Jesus appeared to him. There's no other explanation.

Saul as a Pharisee, hated anything that disrupted the traditions of the Jewish people. To him, this new countermovement called Christianity would have been the height of disloyalty. In fact, he worked out his frustration by executing Christians when he had a chance. Suddenly he doesn't just ease off Christians but joins their movement and ends up dying for the movement. There's no good reason for this apart from them having experienced the resurrected Christ.

Also, as mentioned above, all of the apostles except John died horribly violent deaths in service of spreading the Good News of the Gospel. These are men who, on that Good Friday, ran into the night afraid of being caught. Peter who denied Jesus three times was crucified upside down rather than deny Jesus again. What would change the character of these men so much that they would rather leave their homes and suffer horrible deaths rather than run and hide ever again? The fact that they had witnessed the truth of the resurrection.

My Conclusion

Most people think that, when it comes to Jesus’ resurrection the burned of proof is on believers to give evidence that it happened. That is not completely the case. The resurrection also puts a burden of proof on its nonbelievers. It is not enough to simply say “I don’t believe that Jesus rose from the dead.” You must come up with a reason why, overnight, history changed course and the Christian Church was born. Yet no reasonable answer has ever been given. Every account flies in the face of everything we know about 1st century history, religion, and culture.

I can sympathize with a person who says “I don’t know history and culture but I just can’t believe the resurrection happened.” But you know what, the 1st Century Jews and gentiles felt exactly the same way. They found the resurrection just as inconceivable. The only way anyone embraced the resurrection back then was by letting the evidence challenge their preconceived notions of life and the world and their views as to what is possible. The evidence points to an empty tomb, a missing body, multiple eyewitness accounts of a risen Jesus, and many changed lives as a result … and the evidence was overwhelming.