If you Claim a Resurrection, At Least Use Credible Witnesses

(The resurrection on Easter Sunday, the last of the Ten days of Passion Week)  All over the world, people today are celebrating the resurrection of Jesus. It’s an interesting phenomenon because most rational people know that it is impossible to raise anyone from the dead, and yet believers everywhere accept by faith that the resurrection occurred. Why?

Is there a reason why people believe Jesus was Raised From the Dead?

How can anyone accept the resurrection as fact when it HAS to be false? Why celebrate Easter at all if it the resurrection couldn’t have happened? It’s a legitimate question that any skeptic would ask, and a fairly rational objection. I’d offer a couple of things in response.  I don’t believe faith has to be blind, or that as Christians we have to discard reasonable logic because we have faith.

First of all, there is EVIDENCE of the resurrection. There were lives indisputably changed ONLY AS IF Jesus had been raised from the dead. The disciples were somehow transformed from a group of hidden cowards and traitors to bold witnesses who proclaimed the resurrection in the face of persecution and opposition. Hundreds of other eyewitnesses shared the good news with thousands of believers. All of them stubbornly maintained the truth of the resurrection, even when threatened with arrest and violent death. Why? Why should anyone die for a hoax or a lie? There was no compelling reason for them to maintain a spiritual charade!

Eyewitness Accounts

There were written accounts of it that were widely circulated as affidavits to the truth. Eyewitnesses accounts testified about seeing Jesus in a risen state well after his crucifixion and death. To me, all of those things speak to a central fact: something happened. Something happened that transformed cowardly disciples into powerful witnesses. Something caused ordinary people to become extraordinary believers; and something created a movement that shifted human history and eventually toppled the mighty Roman Empire. But those things are not the evidence that impress me most about the truth of the resurrection; what gets my attention is the way the Gospel writers told the story, because they did it all wrong.

Compelling, Counter-Intuitive Evidence

“But the angel answered and said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for He is risen, as He said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay. And go quickly and tell His disciples that He is risen from the dead, and indeed He is going before you into Galilee; there you will see Him. Behold, I have told you.” (Matthew 28:5-7, NKJV).

This is Matthew’s account of the Gospel testimony to the resurrection of Jesus? Do you see what is really out-of-place here? There is something drastically wrong with Matthew’s story. You see, he and the other Gospel writers recorded that women were the first witnesses at the empty tomb.

resurrection witnesses

The Wrong Witnesses

In Jewish law, women’s testimony was not admissible, so why would Hebrew authors include this information unless it were TRUE? No first century Jewish reader would have given credence to this account of the resurrection. (In fact, Luke says that even the disciples thought the women’s story was “idle tales”. Mark says when mourners heard this news, “they did not believe”.) But instead of reworking the story to make it more credible (which would have been the obvious play if they were perpetuating a hoax), the Gospel writers reported that the women were first on the scene.

They did his in spite of the face that such an “un-doctored” version might hurt their credibility with Jewish readers. If the Gospel writers had wanted to convince everyone that the resurrection was true, they would have written a more believable story. When a lie would have served them better, they told the truth about what happened.(Kind of the opposite of much of today’s journalism…)

A Number of Facets to the Resurrection

When Mary Magdalene encountered Jesus in his resurrected body, she did not recognize him until he called her by name. (So on a side note, I think we can assume that our resurrected bodies will be different than our current ones. Something else to look forward to for some of us!) And a little research about the Easter narrative reveals that it contains fulfilled prophecy, conquered death, eternal hope, transformation, substitution, revolution, and affirmation… It’s hard to even describe just how important the resurrection is, so from this point I think it’s best to just let Scripture speak for itself:

Paul was Convinced, and Scripture is Clear

“For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures. That He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He was seen by Cephas, and then by the twelve. After that He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep. After that He was seen by James, then by all the apostles. Then last of all He was seen by me also, as by one born out of due time.” (I Corinthians 15:3-8, KJV).

“For if the dead do not rise, then Christ is not risen. And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins! Then also those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable.” (I Corinthians 15:16-19).

“Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live.” (John 11:25)

“For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection…” (Romans 6:5)

A Hope Worth Having

And finally: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead…” (I Peter 1:3).

The resurrection is not a fantasy or an early Christian conspiracy. Chuck Colson made the observation that if twelve of the most powerful men in America could not keep Watergate secret, it is HIGHLY unlikely that twelve fishermen and disciples could have maintained a secret conspiracy to invent the resurrection while being tortured and killed over it. The reality of the resurrection toppled an Empire who tried to suppress it, and dozens of eyewitnesses died attesting to it as fact. That factual occurrence changed the world 2,100 years ago, and has been changing the world ever since. It still has the power to change yours today. He is risen! HE IS RISEN INDEED!

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread
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The Dome of the Rock, the Western Wall, and the Churches in Jerusalem: What Do They Have in Common?

In Jerusalem the number one business is tourism. Hotels and buses are filled with pilgrims anxious to see and touch Holy sites like the Dome of the Rock, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, or the Wailing Wall. There are more buses running around Jerusalem than you will see anywhere this side of Branson, Missouri.

dome rock

It is truly impressive to see the devotion that pilgrims have to their sacred sites. Millions of people come each year to insert written prayers into the Western Wall, and to pray earnestly as close to the site of the Second Temple of Jerusalem as they can. It is thought that being closer to the Temple is being closer to the presence of God, thereby putting prayers almost directly to the ear of God, where they will surely be heard. Orthodox Jews and devoted Christians come to the wall in hopes that the Lord will surely answer prayers delivered so close to His house.

dome wall

There is an interior passage on the other side of the wall where a special group of women pray daily, bringing their petitions before God with continual supplication. Their reverent whispers echo softly in the secret passage, flying up through stone walls on butterfly wings to the heavens. The women pray fervently at the wall, perhaps with a prayer-book or Scripture to guide them, or perhaps with eyes closed as their lips move in silent supplication. Unlike the outer wall, this sacred space is reserved for women who are committed prayer warriors locked in spiritual battle with grief or longing or darkness…

dome women

Out and above the wall on Dome of the Rock, access is also limited. The Dome Mosque was built in the 700’s on TOP of the old Temple site, and is restricted these days to almost all “outsiders”. Only Muslims are allowed there, and there are guards at every entrance to keep tourists and non-Muslims from looking into the Dome. It is considered holy by the Muslim faith because it houses the rock where creation originally occurred; it is also where Mohammed allegedly rose to heaven with Gabriel, and where he went to pray (in a story very similar to the Transfiguration) with Abraham, Moses and Jesus. Westerners and Christians have been kept out of the Mosque for almost two decades, and Jews do not enter the Dome because it is a violation of Jewish law. There was an opening where a door was being repaired when we walked by the Dome, and the guard hurried out to move us away from the entrance lest we see inside.

dome guard

A group of women sat in the doorway and gave us dirty looks as we tried to catch a glimpse of what was inside, but alas! The religion of peace apparently doesn’t want outsiders. Their zealous devotion has created a shield around the Mosque…

At Churches and Christian holy sites, the devotion is also amazing. Pilgrims kiss the stones where Jesus may have been killed or prepared for burial, and the stations of the cross along the Via Dolorosa are venerated by the followers of Christ. People come from all over the world to lay prostrate, to reach and touch, and to experience the thrill of walking perhaps where Abraham or Jesus walked. The religious fervor and devotion of these pilgrims is touching and inspiring. (Interestingly, it was matched on our trip only by the curiosity and desire of celebrity-seekers who were trying to see Prince William up close!) But as I watched all of this devotion directed at holy sites and sacred places, I wondered if it was not perhaps the teeniest bit misdirected…

Matthew 28:5 “The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. 6 He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. 7 Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.”

For me the truth in the Holy Land was not about the many amazing places we visited, or in the archaeological tells, or in the Church of the Nativity or the Church of the Holy Sepulcher; I appreciate the tradition behind those sites and the fervor with which people respond to them. But for me, in thinking of the Living God who said, “I am come that they might have life, and have it more abundantly” I couldn’t find spiritual excitement in rocks, or walls, or Domes nearly as much as I found it in an empty space…

dome tomb

Reflection After the Wailing Wall Upon an Empty Space

Prayers are offered at the wall by Saints and Rabbis lifted high
In supplications large and small, regardless of the passers-by…
There a Rabbi bobs his head and there a tourist walks around,
While holy prayers are being said with passion on this holy ground.
Will Yahweh in His heaven hear as saints and Pilgrims seek this place?
And will they know that God came near, and offers peace? And love. And grace.
The Dome above the Temple rock is covered up with sheets of gold,
While guards at every entrance block all touring pilgrims, young and old…
And pilgrims come here every day to see these holy, sacred sites,
To look and see, to kneel and pray, to replicate religious rites!
When in Bethlehem we trod, in Churches, or in Galilee,
I wondered: does the living God reside in things that we can see?
We saw another wall of stone that opened to a burial room
And stood within it, all alone, Rejoicing in the empty tomb!

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread