Thursday, April 13, 2006

No Corpus Delecti?

Understanding the nature of the celebration, "Happy Easter" is much more politically incorrect than "Merry Christmas".

Christmas announces the arrival of Jesus. Easter proclaims that He actually, physically rose from the dead. Not figuratively. Not a nice ending to a fairy tale. The claim of Easter is one of history. Is it true or not?

The centrality of the resurrection to the Christian message is such that the Apostle Paul wrote in I Corinthians 15 that, without it, "our preaching is in vain."

So, with all due respect and goodwill to my unbelieving friends, I wish you a Happy Easter. And I hope that the power of the Easter message gives life to your bones.

I won't bore you with all the details, but many moons ago I set out to investigate this claim that Jesus had indeed risen from the dead after the crucifixion. It's easy to believe that He did not. After all, people don't rise from the dead, right?

Here are some of the high points of what I found:

If we start from the premise that an infinite God can do anything, and logically He can, then we must presuppose that anything is possible, including raising Jesus from the dead.

To check the historical record, most of our evidence comes from the Bible. I have found that the Bible was and is reliable historically. Archaeological findings and confirmation by other historical documents continue to confirm this belief. The Bible has more extant manuscripts of any work of antiquity by far. That is, the Bible that we have reliably relates what the authors saw and recorded.

The Bible reports that after Jesus was killed, his ordinary disciples boldly returned to the scene of the crucifixion -- Jerusalem -- to announce that He had risen. The Bible records that Jesus appeared to more than 500 witnesses. This near-contemporaneous announcement of the resurrection, and at the scene of the crucifixion, is astonishing. Why wasn't such a wild claim immediately put down and refuted?

The mini-revolt by the new Christian sect would have been simple enough to crush, for sure: Simply produce the body of Christ. After all, He was dead, right? But this was never done. And still has not been done. Why not?

But instead of being quickly and easily crushed, the infant faith grew. The 11 disciples fanned out across the known world. Eventually, these men turned the world (including the Roman Empire that condemned Jesus) upside down. All, except the exile John, died martyrs' deaths. So, what happened? When Jesus was crucified, only John did not flee the scene. After the crucifixion, all stayed true to Christ even to the point of death. Yet it wasn't fame, fortune or a televangelism career that motivated them. No, Christ's disciples were were ostracized, beaten, jailed, and martyred. Again, for what?

Remember, simply producing the body would have crushed this new movement in its infancy. The most powerful government and military in the world, working with the cooperation of the religious leaders of the day, couldn't produce the body (which it had guarded) and stop all this foolishness? Apparently not.

Instead, the Christian message spread. Christians didn't become extinct. More were added.

The Jewish historian Josephus doesn't mention the resurrection directly. Yet, he understood the significance of the surviving, thriving Christian faith in noting this powerful evidence of the resurrection: "And the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day."

Perhaps all this uproar was caused by the empty tomb. It was indeed empty, even according to a 5th Century collection of Jewish writings called "Toledoth Jeshu".

So, if the tomb was empty, how did it get that way? Again, where is the body? Dead people don't just get up and walk away ... do they?

When the explanations for an event become more fantastic than the event itself, then what do we have?

People can visit the tombs of departed religious leaders, like the Muslims that visit Mohammed's grave. But what about Jesus?

In life, He had no place to lay His head.

Can you truly bury God?

Where is the body?

Happy Easter. See you next week.