Jesus Rose From The Dead
Dr. Simon Greenleaf, who was born in 1783 and died in 1853 was one of the founding members of Harvard Law School in America and he became Royal Professor of Law at Harvard University. He is reputed to have been one of the greatest legal minds that ever lived. He wrote the famous legal volume entitled, 'A Treatise on the Law of Evidence'. As an atheist, Dr. Simon Greenleaf believed the resurrection of Jesus Christ was a hoax. He was challenged by some of his students to apply his rules of evidence to the Gospel accounts of Jesus' resurrection. He took up the challenge. He determined and expected, once and for all, to expose the "myth" of the Resurrection. After thoroughly examining the evidence for the resurrection — Dr. Greenleaf came to the exact opposite conclusion! He wrote a book entitled, 'An Examination of the Testimony of the Four Evangelists by the Rules of Evidence Administered in the Courts of Justice' in which he affirmed the truth of Jesus' resurrection. He became a Christian and was a faithful ambassador for Christ all his days.
Albert Henry Ross was born in 1881 and died in 1950. He was a freelance journalist and writer. He is best known today for writing the book 'Who Moved the Stone?' under the pseudonym Frank Morison. First published in 1930 with many reprints thereafter and continuing sales today, the book analyses the Biblical texts about the events related to the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. An agnostic, Ross was sceptical regarding the resurrection of Jesus, and set out to analyse the sources and to write a short paper entitled 'Jesus – the Last Phase' – in order to demonstrate the apparent myth. In compiling his notes, he came to be convinced of the truth of the resurrection, and set out his reasoning in the book 'Who moved the stone?'
Not every one meets the Risen Jesus as Saul of Tarsus did. People need to be persuaded of the truth of Jesus' resurrection. Our society wants a scientific proof which cannot be. But there are different types of proof. Christian witness has the status of legal testimony. There are many witnesses. Christian testimony is also in actions as well as words. The methods of the social sciences can be applied to Christianity to document its worldwide contribution to humanity. But for today, this very special day, let us think about why an atheist law professor and a sceptical journalist found the evidence for Jesus' resurrection compelling.
Jesus did die. Objections that he was still alive when taken down from the cross are refuted by the evidence that a Roman soldier pierced his side under the heart causing blood and water to flow out. Medically this is credible: the pleural fluid (fluid built up in the lungs) escaped first, followed by a flow of blood from the wall of the right ventricle of the heart.
The tomb was empty. The authorities could and surely would have recovered Jesus' body if they had been able to do so. They could have put it on display to disprove the disciples' preaching of Jesus' resurrection. They never did so. They knew the location of the tomb. They knew who owned the tomb. He was contactable.
There was a suggestion that the disciples stole Jesus' body and reburied it. This makes of the resurrection narratives lies and fiction. It also makes no sense of the fact that these same disciples spent the rest of their lives testifying to Jesus' resurrection. Since this cost them a great deal of suffering in their lives, would they have done so for something they knew to be a lie? Would one of them not have broken ranks and said that they were all frauds?
Women had no legal status in the time and culture of the New Testament. Would anyone found a new world faith on people whose testimony was of no value? Even the disciples at first disregarded the evidence of Jesus' resurrection given to them by Mary Magdalene, Joanna and Mary, the mother of James. That is a note of authentication in itself.
Jesus' mother Mary was a first hand witness of the resurrection and she became a Christian and member of the Church. Luke's Gospel relies on her personal accounts of Jesus' birth. John's Gospel indicates that Mary was present at Jesus' crucifixion. Acts 1:14 states 'They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers'.
Acts tells us of Jesus' resurrections appearances. These pass one of the tests of authenticity in historical studies – the group witness test. Jesus appeared to different people at different times and to groups of people. Acts 1: 3 says 'After his suffering, he presented himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive'. Paul confirms this in 1 Corinthians 15:6f... 'he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters 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 also, as to one abnormally born'. Paul meant by that last statement that he had not been one of the disciples and was co-opted into being an apostle by Jesus. Paul was the last person on earth at the time who wanted or expected Jesus to be alive. These resurrection appearances were not visions of individual people; they were not hallucinations; they were not dreams or imaginings. They were real corroborated meetings. In acts 10:39f Luke records Peter as saying 'We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a cross, but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen. He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen—by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead'.
We know that some of the first disciples become apostles and early Christian converts lost their lives for confessing Jesus Christ as Lord. Stephen for one and James, Jesus' brother. Thereafter over the years in various places many others lost their lives as martyrs for Jesus. Such martyrdom actually continued for more than 300 years. Tertullian who live from 150 – 220 AD approximately and was a third generation Christian teacher coined the phrase 'The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church'. He realised that whenever there was a great persecution of Christians, far from stifling its growth, Christianity exploded exponentially. It is not possible or credible that these generations of Christians could have kept a false conspiracy going for so long at such personal cost if it were not true that Jesus rose from the dead.
There is much fiction written and many films made of it: Harry Potter, of course. James Bond, the Man from Laramie, Superman, Spiderman, Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz, Princess Leia and Lara Croft, Sherlock Holmes, Montalbano. These do not create historical realities such as the Christian Church. Legends and fictions do not create significant human movements. In the ancient world there were epic poems and legends such as those of Hercules and Odysseus. No-one follows them as living beings today. Christianity is a historical phenomenon based on a real event, the resurrection of Jesus.
How could a personal non-violent living faith survive and prosper amid such opposition? Why does Christianity survive in hostile circumstances as there are today in some places? Why is it still growing? Because the truth of the resurrection is a power greater than anything in the human make-up and mentality. Because it is real. Because it is true. Jesus' resurrection is the greatest event in our world's history. We share in his risen life in this sacrament of Holy Communion. We continue the world history of Jesus' resurrection here this morning. We acknowledge Jesus as Lord and we witness to Him. That is our privilege and our joy on this most beautiful of anniversary days.