21st April 2019
Carmel and George Methodist Church
6am and 10am
With Peter Veysie
John 20: 1-22
THE RESURRECTION OF JESUS CHRIST?
“Christianity is a historical religion. It claims that God has taken the risk of involving Himself in human history, and the facts are there for you to examine with the utmost rigour. They will stand any amount of critical investigation…” (ref.2, p.61).
JESUS: A REAL PERSON IN HISTORY
“What then, does a historian know about Jesus Christ? He knows, first and foremost, that the New Testament documents can be relied upon to give an accurate portrait of Him. And he knows that this portrait cannot be rationalised away by wishful thinking, philosophical presuppositions, or literary maneuvering”.
Non-Biblical Historical Confirmations:
Cornelius Tacitus was a Roman historian, born A.D. 52-54. He was Governor of Asia in A.D. 112 and son-in-law of Julius Agricola, the Governor of Britain, A.D. 80-84. Writing of the reign of Nero he says, “But not all the relief that could come from man, not all the boundaries that the prince could bestow, nor all the atonements which could be presented to the gods, availed to relieve Nero from the infamy of being believed to have ordered the conflagration, the fire of Rome. Hence to suppress the rumor, he falsely charged with the guilt, and punished with the most exquisite tortures, the persons commonly called Christians, who were hated for their enormities. Christus, the founder of the name, was put to death by Pontius Pilate, procurator of Judea in the reign of Tiberius: but the pernicious superstition, repressed for a time broke out again, not only through Judea, where the mischief originated, but through the city of Rome also” (ref.10).
Lucian, a Satirist of the second century, spoke scornfully of Christ and the Christians. He connected them with the synagogues of Palestine and alluded to Christ as: “…the man who was crucified in Palestine because He introduced this new cult into the world…Furthermore, their first lawgiver persuaded them that they were all brothers one of another after they have transgressed once for all by denying the Greek gods and by worshipping that crucified sophist Himself and living under His laws” (ref.11).
Flavius Josephus, born A.D. 37, a Jewish historian, became a Pharisee at age 19; in A.D. 66 he was the commander of Jewish forces in Galilee. After being captured, he was attached to the Roman headquarters. He says, “Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call Him a man, for He was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to Him both many of the Jews, and many of the Gentiles. He was the Christ, and when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principle men among us, had condemned Him to the cross, those that loved Him at the first did not forsake Him; for He appeared to them alive again the third day; as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning Him. And the tribe of Christians so named from Him are not extinct at this day” (ref.12).
“In the whole story of Jesus Christ, the most important event is the resurrection. Christian faith depends on this. It is encouraging to know that it is explicitly given by all four evangelists and also by Paul. The names of those who saw Him after His triumph over death are recorded; it may be said that the historical evidence for the resurrection is stronger than for any other miracle anywhere narrated; for as Paul said, ‘If Christ is not risen from the dead, then is our preaching in vain, and your faith is also in vain’” (ref.5, p.18).
In his book, “Who Moved the Stone?” (ref.6), Frank Morison, a lawyer, “tells us how he had been brought up in a rationalistic environment, and had come to the opinion that the resurrection was nothing but a fairy tale happy ending which spoiled the matchless story of Jesus. Therefore, he planned to write an account of the last tragic days of Jesus, allowing the full horror of the crime and the full heroism of Jesus to shine through. He would, of course, omit any suspicion of the miraculous, and would utterly discount the resurrection. But when he came to study the facts with care, he had to change his mind, and he wrote his book on the opposite side. His first chapter is significantly called, ‘The Book that Refused to be Written.’ The rest of his volume consists of one of the shrewdest and most attractive written assessments I have ever read…” (ref.2, pp.54-55).
Professor Thomas Arnold, for fourteen years the famous headmaster of Rugby, author of the famous three-volume “History of Rome,” appointed to the chair of Modern History at Oxford, was certainly a man well-acquainted with the value of evidence in determining historical facts. This great scholar said in his work, “Sermons on the Christian Life–Its Hopes, Its Fears, and Its Close” (6th ed., London, 1859, p.324):
“The evidence for our Lord’s life and death and resurrection may be, and often has been, shown to be satisfactory; it is good according to the common rules for distinguishing good evidence from bad. Thousands and tens of thousands of persons have gone through it piece by piece, as carefully as every judge summing up a most important cause. I myself have done it many times over, not to persuade others, but to satisfy myself. I have been used for many years to study the histories of other times, and to examine and weigh the evidence of those who have written about them, and I know of no one in the history of mankind which is proved by better and fuller evidence of every sort, to the understanding of a fair inquirer, than the great sign which God has given us that Christ died and rose again from the dead” (ref.7, pp.425-426).
On the Sunday morning following Jesus’ burial, almost 2,000 years ago, something happened that changed the course of history from BC (before Christ) to AD (Latin Anno Domini–the Year of our Lord). That something was so dramatic it completely changed 11 men’s lives so that all but one died a martyr’s death, and it turned the world upside down. That “something” was an empty tomb. An empty tomb that a 15-minute walk from the center of Jerusalem would have confirmed, or disproved!
Jesus Christ went through six distinct trials–three Jewish and three Roman. The Roman authorities punished not only the individual who incited the people against the Romans, but the leaders of the people as well. Many Jewish leaders, by circumstance of the political conditions, had to act as informers against some of the dissenters and revolutionaries among their own brethren in order to save their own lives.
The idea of kingship that Jesus preached was interpreted by both Jews and Romans as carrying the seeds of rebellion against the Roman power. Jesus was considered by the Jewish authorities to be a menace, not only to the Jewish economic situation, but also to the political welfare of the Jewish State, which was dominated by the Romans.
After the verdict of crucifixion had been pronounced by the court, Jesus was severely whipped (or scourged), as was the custom. The whip, known as a flugrum, had a sturdy handle to which was attached long leather thongs of varying lengths into which sharp jagged pieces of bone and lead were woven. When it was determined by the centurion in charge that the prisoner was near death, the beating was finally stopped.
The man condemned to be crucified had to carry his own cross-bar (or patibulam, weighing about 50kg) strapped to his shoulders from the prison to the place of execution. In Jesus’ case, someone was made to carry the cross for Him as He had been scourged so severely.
Upon reaching the execution site, heavy wrought iron spikes were driven through the depressions at the front of each wrist and through both heels, which were transfixed by the same nail. Crucifixion was so gruesome and degrading that the Romans usually excluded Roman citizens and reserved it for slaves to discourage uprisings, or for those rebelling against the Roman government.
The human body hangs upon the cross for a short time: the arms fatigue, great waves of cramps sweep over the muscles, knotting them in deep, relentless, throbbing pain. With these cramps comes the inability to push oneself upward. Air can be drawn into the lungs, but cannot be exhaled! In order to get even one short breath, one must fight to raise himself. Finally, CO2 builds up in the lungs and blood stream and the cramps partially subside. Spasmodically, one is able to push himself upward to exhale and bring in life-giving oxygen.
When the authorities wanted to hasten death or terminate the torture, the victim’s legs were broken below the knees with a club. This prevented him from pushing himself upward to relieve tension from the chest muscles. Either rapid suffocation or coronary insufficiency followed. In the case of Jesus, the executioners observed that he was already dead, so there was no need to break His legs. Pilate required certification by executioners of Jesus’ death before allowing His body to be removed from the cross and to be turned over to Joseph of Arimathea for burial. The Jews were very strict about not allowing the body to remain all night upon the cross. The body of Jesus was immediately transported to the place of burial–a private tomb near Golgotha, where He was crucified.
WAS JESUS CHRIST REALLY DEAD?
“…because the Jews did not want the bodies left on the crosses during the Sabbath, they asked Pilate to have the legs broken (which causes death quickly) and the bodies taken down. The soldiers therefore came and broke the legs of the first man who had been crucified with Jesus, and then those of the other. But when they came to Jesus and found that He was already dead, they did not break His legs. Instead, one of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water” (ref.1, John 19:31-35).
“We are told on eyewitness authority that ‘blood and water’ came out of the pierced side of Jesus. The eyewitnesses clearly attached great importance to this. Had Jesus been alive when the spear pierced His side, strong spouts of blood would have emerged with every heart beat. Instead, the observer noticed semi-solid dark red clot seeping out, distinct and separate from the accompanying watery serum. This is evidence of massive clotting of the blood in the main arteries, and is exceptionally strong medical proof of death. It is all the more impressive to a pathologist. The ‘blood and water’ from the spear-thrust is proof positive that Jesus was already dead” (ref.2, p.33).
“Pilate was surprised to hear that He (Jesus) was already dead. Summoning the centurion, he asked him if Jesus had already died. When he learned from the centurion that it was so, he gave the body to Joseph (of Arimathea)” (ref.1, Mark 15:44-45).
That Christ was dead was evident to these Roman soldiers who were very familiar with death and whose own lives most likely depended on being correct in this matter.
“Going to Pilate he (Joseph of Arimathea) asked for Jesus’ body. Then he took it down, wrapped it in linen cloth and placed it in a tomb cut into the rock, one in which no one had yet been laid” (ref.1, Luke 23:52-53).
This tomb was hewn out of solid rock and had an entrance 4 1/2 to 5 feet high. A groove or trough was cut into the rock in front of it to hold the stone, which sealed the tomb. The trough was designed in such a way that its lowest part lay immediately in front of the entrance. When the block holding back the stone was removed, the stone would roll down and lodge itself in front of the opening. This stone weighed between 1 1/2 and 2 tons!
In preparing the body for burial, the body was first washed with warm water. Then, the corpse was clothed in grave linen which was sewn together by women on the body (no knots were permitted). No fewer than three separate garments were allowed. Between each layer of garments, aromatic spices were mixed with a gummy substance known as myrrh (a drug that adheres so closely to the body that the grave-clothes could not be removed). The total encasement weight was about 120 pounds.
A GUARD AND A SEAL PUT ON THE TOMB
To avoid a political problem, it was to the advantage of both the Romans and the Jews to make sure Jesus was put away for good. “…the chief priests and the Pharisees went to Pilate, ‘Sir,’ they said, ‘we remember that while He was still alive that deceiver said ‘After three days, I will rise again.’ So give the order for the tomb to be made secure until the third day. Otherwise, his disciples may come and steal the body and tell the people that He has been raised from the dead. This last deception will be worse than the first.’ ‘Take a guard,’ Pilate answered, ‘Go, make the tomb as secure as you know how.’ So they went and made the tomb secure by putting a seal on the stone, and posting the guard” (ref.1, Matthew 27:62-66).
After the body was properly prepared for burial, the stone was rolled into place and the Roman seal affixed to it. The consequences of breaking the seal were severe: automatic execution by crucifixion upside down. Even the disciples displayed signs of cowardice and hid themselves. Even the Apostle Peter denied three times that he knew Christ.
A “Roman unit” was a 4-16 man security force. Each man was trained to protect six feet of ground. The 16 in a square of four on each side were supposed to be able to protect 36 yards against an entire battalion and hold it! Four men were placed immediately in front of what they were to protect. The other 12 were asleep in a semi-circle in front of them, with their heads pointed in. To steal what these guards were protecting, thieves would first have to walk over those who were asleep. Every four hours, another unit of four were awakened, and those who had been awake went to sleep. This was one of the most effective fighting units ever devised!
Any member of the Roman guard unit found lax in his duty was put to death by being stripped of his clothes, then burned alive in a fire started with his own garments! “The punishment for quitting post was death, according to the laws” (ref.14). The fear of punishments produced faultless attention to duty, especially in the night watches” (ref.13, pp.41-43).
AN EMPTY TOMB!
“After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb. There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone, and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were as white as snow. The guards were so afraid that they shook and became as dead men. The angel said to the women, ‘Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; He has risen, just as He said. Come and see the place where He lay, then go quickly and tell the disciples: “He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see Him….” ‘ So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell the disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them. ‘Greetings,’ He said. They came to Him, clasped His feet and worshiped Him. Then Jesus said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me’ ” (ref.1, Matthew 28:1-10).
THE APOSTLES ARRIVE AT THE EMPTY TOMB
“So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. Then Simon Peter, who was behind him, arrived and went into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, as well as the burial cloth that had been around Jesus’ head. The cloth was folded up by itself, separate from the linen. Finally the other disciple who had reached the tomb first also went inside. He saw and believed” (ref.1, John 20:3-8).
THE GUARDS LEAVE THEIR POST: . . .THE BODY OF CHRIST IS GONE!
“While the women were on their way, some of the guards went into the city and reported to the chief priests everything that had happened. When the chief priests had met with the elders and devised a plan, they gave the soldiers a large sum of money, telling them, ‘You are to say, “His disciples came during the night and stole Him away while you were asleep.” If this report gets to the governor, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.’ So the soldiers took the money and did as they were instructed” (ref.1, Matthew 28:11-15).
CHRIST APPEARS TO MANY
“On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you!’ After He said this, He showed His hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord” (ref.1, John 20:19-20).
“After that, He appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers 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 (Paul) also…” (ref.1, 1Corinthians 15:6-8).
CONSIDER THESE FACTS:
BROKEN ROMAN SEAL: the first obvious fact. As previously stated, the penalties for breaking this seal were very severe–death by torture!
THE EMPTY TOMB: the disciples of Christ did not go far away to preach a risen Christ. They went right back into the city of Jerusalem where their message easily could have been disproved had it been false. The Resurrection could not have been maintained for a moment in Jerusalem if the tomb had not been empty! The official explanation for it–that the disciples had stolen the body–was an admission that the tomb was indeed vacant. This admission is the strongest kind of historical evidence. If a source admits a fact decidedly not in its favor, then the fact is genuine!
THE POSITION OF THE 1 1/2 – 2 TON STONE. It had been lodged in front of the doorway to the tomb and was “rolled away from the tomb.” This was probably the evidence that saved the Roman Guards from being executed by their own superiors for laxness of duty for allowing Jesus’ body to be “stolen.”
THE ROMAN GUARD FLED: With all their rigid discipline and the penalty of death hanging over their heads they left their post and reported to the priests instead of their military leaders–something must have really scared them!
GRAVE-CLOTHES TELL A TALE: This was the foremost thing that stuck in the minds of the disciples–the empty grave-clothes undisturbed in their form and position. That was enough to make a believer of anyone!
CHRIST’S APPEARANCE CONFIRMED: Jesus was seen by as many as 500 people at one time, who were alive at the time of the New Testament writings, and could be questioned about the facts. He also appeared to those who were hostile, or unconvinced. Saul of Tarsus despised Christ and persecuted His followers mercilessly until Christ appeared to him. He then became one of the greatest witnesses for the truth of the Resurrection.
THE WOMEN SAW HIM FIRST: This must have been an embarrassment to the apostles. According to Jewish principles of legal evidences, women were invalid witnesses. They did not have a right to give testimony in a court of law. The initial reaction of the disciples was understandably one of suspicion and disbelief. If the Resurrection accounts had been manufactured, women never would have been included in the story as the first witnesses.
How could anyone have moved the extremely large stone up and away from the whole tomb without waking the entire Roman Guard unit? And, why not just open the tomb enough to get in and get the body out?
If the Roman Guard had fallen asleep (as claimed), how could they have known it was “the disciples” who had stolen His body?
Is this lie not contrary to everything written about the high moral standards and honour of the disciples’ lives?
Would the disciples of Christ have died martyrs’ deaths for a lie?