George Bowers Sr.: Did he or didn’t he?
Tomorrow is Resurrection Sunday, the most death-defying celebration of all history. Every human being lives with the inevitable reality of death staring us all in the face. We know that, unless Jesus comes first, every last one of us will “give up the ghost” as our lives leave our bodies. We don’t know when or where, and we’re not even sure how, but somehow, somewhere, sometime, we will all die.
Easter, however, sets all of that on its head. For one individual, who like all the rest of us, expired in death, rose again and came back from this pervasive prison. Can we believe it and what are the implications if we do? If Jesus didn’t rise from the dead, as he had prophesied, we needn’t pay attention to anything else he said, for he would be a false prophet and a liar. If he did rise, however, we’d better hang on his every word, for he has power no other person ever possessed.
So did Jesus really rise from the dead? There is a ocean of evidence that every serious inquirer must examine. First we have the tomb gaping open before us. Since accounts of Jesus’ resurrection circulated immediately afterward, a simple visit to the still-occupied tomb would convincingly squelch all optimistic rumors. No such visit was made because the tomb was empty after having been sealed and guarded by powerful Romans. The Jews and Romans both were at a loss to explain or dismiss this yawning emptiness.
Some have tried to surmise that Jesus’ body had been stolen, which would seem logical. The evidence, however, defies it. The French genius and believer, Blaise Pascal, said, “I believe those witnesses that get their throats cut.” After Judas’ suicide, ten of Jesus’ remaining disciples were martyred and the other imprisoned. In the face of death itself, not a single one recanted that he had seen the Risen Christ. If they had stolen the body or fabricated the stories, it’s impossible that all of them would have died for a lie. Powerful truth compelled them to withstand burning, stabbing, hanging and crucifixion for their claims.
Add to this the biblical account of the first eyewitnesses being women in a culture in which women’s testimonies were not even allowed in court. No human attempt to create a resurrection story would have included any female characters, much less the lead roles. Perhaps the early church would have eliminated these ladies’ encounters except that their stories were too well known to be altered.
Some propose Jesus simply passed out on the cross and came to in the tomb. While that may provide one explanation, it doesn’t fit the evidence. For starters, the Romans were expert executioners. They knew the difference between life and death and they were not about to let any condemned person survive crucifixion. It’s significant that John documents the flow of blood and water from Jesus’ side indicating that Jesus’ blood had already separated after death. Additionally, how could one nearly dead criminal unwrap himself, move an enormous stone, whoop all the armed military professionals, and walk off into the morning mist?
Finally, the Gospels and Paul’s letters name several eye witnesses who were still living at the time of their writings. In particular, Paul encourages doubters to question any of the 500 eyewitnesses who together saw the Risen Christ. “Most are still alive,” he says, “though some have fallen asleep.” It may be possible for one person to hallucinate and “see” a departed loved one. But when 500 people all see the same thing at the same time, there can be little doubt as to its veracity.
So then, if Jesus did rise from the dead, what difference does it make? All the difference in the world. It means that this life is not all there is and that every human would be wise to consider the next. It means that death is not the end and that this world’s suffering and pain can be reversed and redeemed. It means that every other word Jesus taught and prophesied is also true. If he did the hardest thing already, how will he not likewise do the rest? Any thinking person would do well to weigh Jesus’ resurrection for him or herself. And when the evidence convicts your own heart, commit your life and your all to him, for only Jesus has power over death. Worshiping him, George
George Bowers Sr. is the senior pastor of Antioch Church of the Brethren in Woodstock and the author of seven books including his latest book of poetry, “Holy Verses.” He can be reached through www.georgebowersministries.com or at firstname.lastname@example.org.