10 reasons I believe in the Resurrection - Thoughts for Easter from the Rector of Kirkheaton, the Revd Richard Steel
"I’ve had more than one conversation where people have been amazed when I’ve said that if the Resurrection was ever disproved then I would no longer be able to be a Christian. Many today, even a good number who would call themselves Christians are happy to accept a ‘spiritual’ interpretation of the Resurrection. They feel that something happened in the disciples minds that triggered a new way of looking at Jesus - it’s just that they didn’t have any other language to describe it than the physical. But today, because we’re so much more ‘sophisticated’, ‘scientific’, we know so much more about psychology, then we can describe it differently. The Resurrection is just a way of talking of Jesus still being with us “in spirit”. I just cannot see what hope this approach brings. I’m with Tom Wright, the Bishop of Durham on this one - in an article he wrote for the Times some years ago he says - “the Resurrection isn’t a metaphor, it’s a physical reality.”
St Paul, says exactly the same. If Jesus hasn’t defeated death, in a real, not metaphorical way what assurance do we have for our belief in a future life with God? Indeed Paul says that unless our hope, our faith, is based on something real then “we are, of all people, most to be pitied.” The Resurrection is so important because everything else hangs on it. We rightly stress what happened on the cross, but if we look through the speeches of Peter, Stephen and Paul, it was not Jesus’ death they looked to as the central emphasis but the Resurrection. Jesus’ death could simply be a heroic example. Jesus’ teaching might be simply the best of any spiritual leader, any sage. The Resurrection cannot be compared to anything else. It is unique, and the cornerstone of the New Testament. If it didn’t happen then Jesus’ entire message rests on a fallacy.
Isn’t this dangerous? Isn’t putting so much stress on the physicality of the Resurrection a risky strategy. What if this central plank of belief is suddenly pulled out from under our feet? This plank has been secure for 2,000 years, and I’m confident it remains as secure and solid today as it ever has been. Let’s remind ourselves of the facts.
Fact 1 - Jesus existed. There’s no doubt about that. No serious scholar now tries to argue with that. They may argue about exactly who and what he was, but He’s recorded in sources outside the Bible, even hostile sources. Jesus existed.
Fact 2 - In Jesus’ day the idea that a Messiah, the leader sent from God, would die, let alone rise again, was completely and totally unexpected. The Jews had no idea of an afterlife beyond something very shadowy. Resurrection was physically all right, but it would happen all at once at the very end of time. In fact not even all the Jews of Jesus’ day even believed that. Any idea that the disciples were ‘cashing in’ on an idea that was already around is simply not true. It was so novel, completely unique. No other contemporary teacher was saying this kind of thing. Thus it could only have come from Jesus Himself. That’s reinforced by the fact that even when He did teach it the disciples simply couldn’t grasp what he meant. It may seem clear enough to us when we look back into some of the things He said, but the disciples clearly didn’t have that belief before. They were not psychologically prepared for it. As Mark’s Gospel puts it, even after Jesus’ Resurrection the reaction by the women was “trembling and bewilderment, fear”. Luke records the completely defeated disciples - “we had hoped ....”
Fact 3 - Jesus was dead! Sounds obvious, but part of many arguments is that he wasn’t really dead, and revived in the tomb. I suppose one of Jesus’ wealthy friends might just have bribed the guards - but that’s very unlikely, and would be a crime punishable by death it found out. Even had he not been dead, two days without food or water in a cold tomb is hardly ideal conditions for recovery, and there was the small detail of the stone! But these were professional soldiers. They knew their job. They certainly weren’t going to take down a body that wasn’t dead. That’s why they suggested breaking the legs of all the victims. To check they stabbed Jesus with a spear, and you have this rather strange description of “water and blood” coming out of the wound. That has been thought to be symbolic, but actually, in recent years it’s been shown to be a medical indication of death - the red corpuscles separated from the plasma. There was no doubt that he was dead.
Fact 4 - he was buried - and they knew where. He wasn’t just thrown to one side like a common criminal. Joseph of Arimethea offered his own grave, so there could be no suggestion the women went to the wrong tomb! Not only was He buried but a guard of soldiers was put on the tomb to make sure he stayed that way - just in case the disciples tried to take the body away and claim a miracle.
Fact 5 - On Easter Sunday the tomb was empty. If it hadn’t been the Jewish authorities would have been very quick to point it out. If they had, for some reason difficult to work out, taken the body themselves, they could have just as easily returned it to disprove the rumours. The best they could do was start their own rumour, that the disciples had indeed bribed the guards. The tomb was empty.
Fact 6 - the undisturbed grave clothes. A strange, apparently small, detail, but an important one. The Gospel writers were very precise about this. If Jesus had revived then these cloths would have gone with him - there were no other clothes there after all. Or, at the very least they’d have been bundled up somewhere on the floor. But this was neat, organised, like laundry. Not the kind of thing a disoriented and panicking man would have done. This was what seemed to clinch it for John.
Fact 7 - He was seen by many people. So many of the disciples, in a variety of different contexts and places saw him, indeed touched Him. Hysteria, hallucination? Not when 500 people saw Him at once. He even ate food on more than one occasion. This was no imaginary figure any more than it was a ghost. Jesus was really there.
Fact 8 - The change in the disciples. They were terrified, disheartened, discouraged. Everything they’d worked for for three years had gone. Yet, just weeks later they were out on the streets of Jerusalem, speaking to any who would hear. They were prepared to go to prison, to be stoned to death, ridiculed, attacked, for years. To the end of their life, which, for most of them, ended in martyrdom. Is this something people who know they are living a lie do? It’s one thing for those modern gurus who end up running dozens of Rolls Royce cars on the back of gifts from their followers. None of the disciples ever got rich or had an easy life on the back of their story. Do the speeches in Acts sound like people proclaiming what they know is untrue?
Fact 9 - The conversion of Paul. Paul was the arch enemy of the early church. A clever man with a good mind who made it his job to arrest and harass the new believers. Hardly a man who would be easily taken in. Yet something happened on the road to Damascus that convinced Him that Jesus was alive, that He was who He claimed to be.
Fact 10 - The rise of the Christian Church. This church grew fundamentally on the issue of Jesus’ Resurrection. Why not, as with every other major faith, simply follow your leaders teachings? Why complicate matters? Why try to prove something that could not be proved, unless it was true? We often claim to be more sophisticated now, we’d know better. But so many the people at the time could have easily disproved what the disciples were claiming, but they didn’t. Don’t forget that for Jews such a death as Jesus died, on a cross, meant that He was cursed by God. Why chose such an argument, unless it was true? And 2,000 years later, Christians are the single largest faith group, over one third of the entire world’s population, in every culture in a way no other faith is. The church has had it’s ups and downs but, in spite of the fact that the message is “a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles”, it has gone from strength to strength and is growing, worldwide, at a rate faster than ever.
I can’t prove the Resurrection, but these facts are as solid as any historical fact. Individually they stand up to scrutiny, they can be tested. I don’t believe that the people of Jesus’ day were that much different from us today. I don’t believe they would use a blatant lie to proclaim a faith based so much on claims to be the ultimate truth. I do believe we can base our faith squarely on the Resurrection.
The Resurrection happened - and because it happened we are assured of a “hope that will not disappoint us”. That makes a difference, an amazing difference, to our lives now, let alone what it offers us for the future. It’s a message people need to hear today."
“Hallelujah” - “Praise the Lord”. Praise our Risen Lord.