By Rev. Ralph Woerner
On Christmas we celebrate Christ’s birth; on Good Friday we celebrate his death; on Easter we celebrate his resurrection. The thing which makes Christianity unique – different from all other religions – is Christ’s resurrection from the dead. No other religion, only Christianity, claims that its founder returned from the grave.
Christ’s resurrection is critical to the Christian faith because it proves beyond all doubt that Christ was and is the Son of God.
We can’t be absolutely certain from Christ’s teachings that he was the Son of God: we can’t be absolutely certain from his miracles that he was the Son of God; we can’t be absolutely certain from his holy life
that he was the Son of God; but when he raised himself from the dead he settled that fact once and forever. The crowning proof of Christ’s deity is not his birth, his teachings, his mighty works, or his sinless life. The crowning proof of his deity is his resurrection from the dead.
When pressed by his enemies to furnish proof that he was the Son of God, Christ cited his mighty works and his sinless life, but he didn’t stop with these. The ultimate proof which he offered was his ability to lay down his life and take it up again – to raise himself from the dead! “Destroy the temple of my body,” Christ said, “and in three days I will raise it up again. Let that prove whether or not I’m the Son of God!” That was a fair test, you’ll have to admit. Anyone who could raise himself from the dead would have to be God. How could it be otherwise?
One can ignore the evidence and say Christ didn’t rise, if he wishes, but once he admits that Christ rose he must also admit that he is God.
There are those who honestly think Christ didn’t rise, but that his disciples made up the story of his resurrection.
The first problem anyone who takes this position has to face is the Empty tomb! Whatever else may or may not be true about the events surrounding Christ’s death, this much is certain. On Friday his body
was placed in Joseph’s tomb, a huge stone was rolled against its entrance, a Roman seal was affixed (making it a crime punishable by death if broken) and 16 soldiers were assigned to guard the tomb day
and night to prevent his body from being stolen. Every conceivable precaution was taken to keep Christ’s body in the grave, yet on the third day the tomb was empty. Christ’s body was gone. Even the soldiers acknowledged this! In their cover-up story they accused the disciples of coming by night while they were asleep and stealing Christ’s body away. That in itself was an acknowledgment that his body was missing.
Stolen Body Theory
No one, neither friend nor foe, denied that Christ’s body was gone. That was too obvious to be denied. The question is how had it gotten away when so many precautions had been taken to prevent this?
The soldiers were bribed by the embarrassed leaders into saying that the disciples came by night while they slept and stole Christ’s body away. The inconsistency of this isn’t difficult to spot.
The first thing I want to know is: If the soldiers were sleeping as they said, how did they know what had happened? What judge would listen to you if you said that while you were sleeping your neighbor
entered your house and stole your purse? Who knows what happens while he’s asleep? Testimony like this would be laughed out of any court. The leaders must have been hard pressed to accept such a flimsy cover-up.
The second thing I want to know about the soldiers being asleep is: Why weren’t they brought to trial for sleeping on their watch? That was a crime punishable by death. They had caused great embarrassment to their leaders by allowing Christ’s body to get away. Yet, instead of being punished, they were rewarded for saying they had slept on their watch. Something is terribly inconsistent about that. If they had indeed slept on their watch why weren’t they prosecuted?
The third thing I want to know is: If the disciples had done as the soldiers claimed – if they had broken the Roman seal and carried Christ’s body off- why weren’t they arrested and punished for this? The
rulers knew full well this wasn’t true.
The fourth thing I want to know is: If the leaders really believed Christ’s body had been stolen, why didn’t they send out a search party to recover it? Ten thousand soldiers should have been able
to recover a body, which couldn’t have been missing long. (Or how long were all of those soldiers asleep at the same time on that watch?) The explanation that the disciples came by night and stole Christ’s body just doesn’t hold up. To believe that the disciples had done this takes some real mental straining. They had absolutely no reason to do so.
Are we to believe that these good and honest men stole the body so they could spend the rest of their lives spreading a lie – preaching that Christ had risen when they knew full well he hadn’t?
Whatever else the apostles might or might not have been – deceivers they were not. If they had stolen Christ’s body and then proclaimed that he was risen deceivers are exactly what they would have been.
Another difficulty I find with the story of Christ’s body being stolen is: His grave clothes were intact in the tomb. To prepare his body for burial, according to Jewish custom, they wrapped it tightly from the armpits to the ankles in strips of linen about a foot wide. They poured about a hundred pounds of spices of a gummy consistency between the folds. This served partially as a preservative and partly as cement to glue the cloth wrapping into a solid covering. On the third day Christ’s body was gone but the linen wrapping remained in the tomb.
No thief in his right mind would have taken the time to cut those wrappings off before leaving the tomb. The time this would have taken would have greatly reduced his chance of success. Christ’s body was
gone but the linen grave clothes were still there. Regardless of how you look at it the story of Christ’s body being stolen just doesn’t add up.
Another explanation offered by the critics about Christ’s disappearance is that he didn’t really die. He just swooned on the cross. Later, in the coolness of the tomb, he revived. Let’s examine this for a minute.
Christ had been beaten nearly into unconsciousness, as was the custom of the Romans when they scourged an individual. The bones in his back were laid bare. He was too weak to carry his cross. In addition to this, spikes were driven through his hands and feet. After hanging on the cross for hours, he expired. Then to make absolutely certain that he was dead, a spear was driven deep into his side, releasing a flow of blood and water.
Are we to believe that after all of this, without any kind of medical attention, the coolness of the tomb caused Christ to revive; that he somehow wiggled out of those crusted grave clothes, hobbled on
wounded feet over to the entrance, shoved back the stone weighing a couple of tons and slipped away without disturbing the guards?
Then with fevered brow, with wounded hands and feet and a gaping hole in his side, he came to his disciples and convinced them that he had risen from the dead and persuaded them to go out and preach that he was God. Anyone who can believe the disciples were that gullible, or that Christ would perpetrate such a lie doesn’t know Christ or the disciples very well. It takes more faith to believe that theory than it
does to believe that Christ had risen.
And what about the dramatic transformation which occurred among the disciples? Following the crucifixion, like a group of frightened children, the disciples fled into hiding in fear for their lives. A few
days later they were running through the streets, shouting to the sky “Christ is risen! Christ is risen! Christ is alive!” Peter, who denied Christ on the eve of his crucifixion, pointed his finger at those who
had put Christ to death and said, “You crucified the Lord of Glory, but God raised him from the dead.”
Christ’s death and resurrection are an open book. There’s nothing to hide. He’s the only spiritual leader in human history who rose from the dead. The disciples didn’t go to a distant place to proclaim he was
risen. They proclaimed it right there in the same place where he was crucified – less than a 1 5-minute walk from his burial place – where their claims could be refuted if untrue. All their enemies needed to do
to discredit their testimony was to open the tomb, fetch Christ’s body and parade it through the streets. This would have proved that the story of his resurrection was untrue. It would have put an end to that
notion once and for all.
The disciples didn’t wait 50 to 60 years to proclaim Christ was risen when no one was around to deny it. They proclaimed it immediately. Their enemies threatened, flogged, imprisoned and even put some of them to death for claiming Christ was risen. Why didn’t they simply fetch his corpse, parade it through the streets and settle the matter once and for all? The best they could do was make up the tale
that the disciples came by night and stole his body away while the soldiers were asleep.
All the soldiers asleep at the same time on their watch, when the punishment for this was death? That sounds rather fishy. And are we to believe that the disciples stole his body so they could perpetrate a
lie? And that later they gave their very lives to defend the lie which they themselves had spun? Were the disciples really those kinds of charlatans?
The thing which convinced the disciples that Christ had risen, however, was not that his body was missing, but rather that he appeared to them alive. He ate with them, he talked with them, he told them what they were to do. As Luke said, “He showed himself alive unto them after his resurrection by many infallible proofs, being seen by them forty days, and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God!” (Acts 1:3).
Thomas was so confident dead men don’t rise that he told the other disciples they could believe Christ was risen if they wanted to, but before he’d believe it he would have to rub his finger over the scars which the nails had made in Christ’s hands and feet and shove his fist into the hole which the spear had left in his side. Then, but not until then, was he going to believe Christ was alive.
A few days after Thomas had made this bold assertion Christ suddenly appeared in the room where the disciples were gathered. Turning to Thomas he beckoned: “Thomas, reach hither thy finger and press it into these scars, and take your fist and thrust it into my side.’ Thomas was astonished! All he could say was, “My Lord and my God!” He, too, ran through the streets exclaiming, “Jesus is alive! Jesus is alive! Jesus is alive!”
There’s no way to explain the empty tomb or the transformation which occurred in the lives of the disciples apart from Christ’s resurrection from the dead. If he had not risen his movement would have died. The tomb which held his body would have brought his movement to an end. Thankfully it didn’t happen that way. The tomb which held his body on Friday was empty on Sunday. The disciples were transformed and the Church was born.
The resurrection of Jesus Christ is no myth. It is one of the best established facts of history, supported by the strongest evidence possible.
Frank Morrison, a noted lawyer, was brought up to believe that the resurrection was only a myth. After he was grown he decided he’d do a service to mankind by writing a book to completely disprove Christ’s
resurrection once and forever. Upon investigating the facts, however, he changed his mind. He became so convinced that Christ had indeed risen that he became a Christian himself.
As the Bible says, Jesus Christ was declared to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead” (Romans 1:4). That’s the thing which made a believer out of Thomas. That is the thing that transformed the disciples, and gave birth to the Church.
“So Christ is risen,” someone might say, “but what difference does it really make?” Ail the difference in this world and in the world to come! If Christ were only human, we could flick him off as just another figure of history. However, since he is divine – the Son of God and Savior of mankind – we dare not flick him off. Our eternal destiny rides on our relationship with him. To each of us he becomes a matter
of life or death, heaven or hell. In and through him we can be saved; apart from him we cannot.
Christ is a great deal more than a moral teacher or noble example. He’s the Son of God and Savior of mankind. This was proven beyond all doubt by his resurrection from the dead. We’re going to celebrate this at our church with renewed appreciation Easter Sunday. If you have no regular church home, we invite you to celebrate it with us!
THE ABOVE MATERIAL WAS PUBLISHED BY THE PINE HILLS MESSENGER, APRIL 1998. THIS MATERIAL IS COPYRIGHTED AND MAY BE USED FOR STUDY & RESEARCH PURPOSES ONLY.