Tag Archives: resurrection

The First Witnesses

Controversies around the Passion of Christ are numerous. Some people are desperate to find evidence that would prove the story false. Was there really a man named Jesus? Did He actually die on the cross (or did he swoon or faint or pretend)? Was there a substitute on the cross who just looked like Jesus? Were His followers complicit in a cover-up to steal the corpse and then spread wild rumors of His resurrection? You get the idea.

Often we speak of the first witnesses to what happened at the garden tomb. How many were there? Who was first to arrive? Were there two angels or just one? The gospel writers convey a chaotic scene but one common element is that women were the first to witness the empty tomb. From His birth to His resurrection, there is irony as to those who were the initial witnesses. In Luke, we are told that the angels announced to a band of shepherds that the Savior was born. In all of the gospel accounts, women came first to tend to the hastily buried Jesus.

The irony is that shepherds were held in low regard and were not trusted to give testimony in court. They were too unreliable. Women were thought to be unworthy and unable to bear witness. God chose a surprising audience for world-changing events!

But who were the first witnesses? In Matthew 27, the Jewish Temple leadership approached Procurator Pilate with a request: “Sir, we remember what that deceiver once said while He was still alive: ‘After three days I will rise from the dead.’” They wanted Pilate to station guards at the tomb because they feared the disciples would steal the body and then claim the words of Jesus had come true. It seemed they put more weight in those words than His own followers did!

Pilate agreed to the guard and placing a seal on the tomb. Some combination of Roman soldiers and Temple police formed the guard. The seal would have been Roman, meaning that  breaking the seal would have been a capital offense.

Matthew 28:1-4 explains the events at the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea on that Sunday morning. The guards were at their posts when an angel of the Lord rolled away the stone then sat on it. So much for the power of Rome. The text reads: “The guards shook with fear when they saw him, and they fell into a dead faint.”

Have you ever wondered what happened to those men? Later in the chapter, some of the guards reported to the leading priests what had happened. They were given “a large bribe” to spread the news that the body was stolen while they slept. How interesting. If those were Roman soldiers, they would have been executed for being asleep at their posts. The priests promised the soldiers that they would take care of them if they would participate in the cover-up.

They fade from the historical record but they were the first to know that death could not hold Jesus. How could they witness such a miracle and not have been changed? It seems that there are still many who seem unfazed by what occurred. Here it is: Jesus died on a Roman cross, bearing the sins of the world. His battered and desecrated body was buried in a borrowed tomb. On the third day, JUST AS HE PROMISED, He broke the power of sin, death, and evil. His resurrection gives any who would believe the assurance of life eternal. Happy Easter!!

I’m dreaming, right?

Michael Licona coauthored the 2004 book, The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus. He addressed objections to the resurrection. One of them has been that people hallucinated the risen Christ. They wanted to see Him so badly that they did. Licona lived in Virginia Beach for a number of years. During that time, he got to know several Navy SEALs stationed there. He knew that few applicants made it through the intense, strenuous training. These guys were normally tight-lipped about their experiences, but Licona had heard enough to realize the stress these men had gone through. One of the infamous components of their qualification process was “Hell Week” – sleep deprivation, constant and vigorous exercise, verbal assault, team-building challenges, and much more. Some of the SEALs told Licona that 80% of the men experience hallucinations – but not the same hallucinations. One guy told him: “Hallucinations aren’t contagious. They’re personal. They are like dreams. I couldn’t wake my wife in the middle of the night and say ‘Honey, I’m dreaming of being in Hawaii. Quick, go back to sleep, join me in my dream, and we’ll have a free vacation.’”

Did people hallucinate the risen Lord? Even though Jesus had announced on at least three occasions the events that would take place in Jerusalem (Including “But on the third day, I will be raised from the dead.”), none of His followers would make sense of His warning until after the fact. They weren’t expecting to see Him. Those who went to His tomb weren’t thinking they would encounter anything other than a dead body.

The tomb couldn’t hold Him. What He promised really happened. My life was changed by what took place two thousand years ago. One day, perhaps soon, He will return. That won’t be a hallucination either!

Grave Crisis

They are running out of room. At cemeteries around the world, space for burials has been a real problem. In New Orleans, the additional problem of a high water table has made it difficult to keep up with the number of graves needed. In Arlington National Cemetery, more plots are needed to honor America’s fallen. In London, a newly instituted practice called grave sharing has been implemented. Graves are opened, caskets are removed, a deeper hole is dug, the first casket is reinterred, and the second casket is placed on top. Many countries have been dealing with this problem for over 200 years.

2000 years ago, a new tomb was needed. A wealthy man in Jerusalem owned a family plot. Someone needed a grave. A man had come to a violent end, another victim of the barbaric Roman form of execution – crucifixion. On many occasions, bodies nailed to a cross were just left there as a grim reminder to anyone who dared oppose the Empire. Sometimes the dead were thrown into the city dump, a place called Gehenna, to make room for the next condemned to die. But on this occasion, the wealthy man appealed to Roman governor Pilate. He had an unused tomb. Could he have permission to bury the battered body in his family tomb? Permission granted.

A borrowed tomb. Jesus was buried in a borrowed tomb. It was  temporary loan. When you borrow something, it is expected that you return it. He wouldn’t need it for long.

From The Message: “Death swallowed by triumphant Life! Who got the last word, oh, Death? Oh, Death, who’s afraid of you now?” (1 Corinthians 15:55)

Don’t you dare die!

Warning!

In March, 2008, Mayor Gerard Lalanne pushed the governing council in the village of Sarpourenx (southwest France) to pass an ordinance that read in part: “All persons not having a plot in the cemetery and wishing to be buried in Sarpourenx are forbidden from dying in the parish. Offenders will be severely punished.” The good folks of Sarpourenx had a problem – the town cemetery had no more room.

I’m not sure how you severely punish dead people, but perhaps the mayor had more pull than anyone realized.

I do know this. I read about a cemetery that had at least one tomb empty.

He is risen!

Conquering evil

Somebody said to me this morning: “So, this is the end, right?” I knew what he meant. Are we seeing the close of history unfolding? Is the fulfillment of prophecy so apparent that it is most certainly the end of days?

Perhaps there are two things we all need to do right now. The first and most important must be to bathe our world in prayer. Let’s pour out our hearts to the Father. Let’s make ourselves available to the moving and prompting of the Holy Spirit. Let’s claim the peace that He promises and follow Paul’s advice: “Don’t worry about anything but pray about everything. Tell God what you need and thank Him for all He has done” (Philippians 4:6).

The second I believe is to care for what matters most. Paul also wrote: “Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise” (Philippians 4:8). What fits that description in your life? I imagine that the ‘what’ quickly becomes the ‘who.’

Evil spreads like a devastating cancer. We have seen its face and felt its destructive power. But evil didn’t first appear on the streets of Paris last Friday night. It isn’t found just in a twisted, perverse ideology that destroys life and relishes death.

When ISIS and its ilk fade from the scene, evil will find another way to diminish humanity and oppose divine truth. There is a battle underway according to Paul: “Be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power. Put on all God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil. For we are not fighting against flesh and blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against might power in this dark world, and evil spirits in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:10-12).

Evil will have its day but its reign is temporary. An empty cross and an empty tomb speak to a different conclusion. Even so, come quickly Lord Jesus.

Make up your mind

In our postmodern, even post-Christian times, it seems fashionable to deny the possibility of the resurrection. Most arguments against start with a presupposition like that from James Tabor who is chair of the department of religion at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. According to him, the suggestion of a resurrection could be ruled out from the beginning. He wrote: “Dead bodies don’t rise – not if one is clinically dead – as Jesus surely was. So if the tomb was empty the historical conclusion is simple – Jesus’ body was moved by someone and likely reinterred in another location.” Dr. Tabor has also revealed that Jesus was probably buried in Galilee, outside the city of Tsfat.

Being exposed to such an open mind makes one confident that the religion students at UNC Charlotte have the opportunity for a world-class indoctrination, not education.  Tabor is not alone. He has plenty of company who have already decided that Jesus could not possible rise from the dead. Christianity can be simply dismissed.

Concerning such matters, the Apostle Paul agreed to a point: “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile” (1 Corinthians 15:17). If the Muslims are right, Jesus never actually died on the cross, much less returned from the dead. A prominent Hindu leader opined: “Jesus was only injured and after treatment returned to India where He actually died.

This past Sunday, Kim and I attended a worship service hosted by Rise Again Ministries. Among the speakers was Bishop Roberts from Lynwood Park United Church of God in Christ. He preached with great energy and enthusiasm, underscoring his deep beliefs in the faith he calls his own. One line he spoke remains with me: “Your arms are too short to box with God.”

There are plenty of skeptics and cynics. In our country, they are free to express their faith or lack thereof. As Dr. Dale Moody, long-time professor at Southern Seminary, used to say about his good friend and fellow combatant Dr. Frank Stagg over all things theological: “He has every right to be wrong.”

Does Christianity rest on a sure foundation? Was Christ really the Son of God who came to earth to defeat the powers that thought they were in charge of the world? Did His death atone for our sin? Did He exit the tomb alive, having defeated our last great enemy? Does He reign supreme? Will He return in glory? Will God redeem and rescue His creation? Does any of this matter?

Make up your mind.

Christians around the world will profess their faith this week. They will celebrate Easter – not the end of the story, but the beginning of what God had in mind before creation. Will you join your brothers and sisters to worship and praise the risen Lord? Will you have someone by your side?

April 15

We normally associate April 15 with income tax deadlines. Last year that date took on a different meaning. At 2:49 pm, near the finish line for the Boston Marathon, two bombs exploded within 550 feet of each other on Boylston Street. Three people were killed; more than 260 people were injured by the blasts. In the devastation and confusion, many flee understandably frightened. Many others run, not away but toward the scene. Stories of compassion, bravery, and service begin to be shaped as the minutes become hours on that horrific day.

This weekend approximately 36,000 people will take part in the Boston Marathon, scheduled for Monday, April 21. Boston Strong has become Boston Stronger. At least one Wieucan, a young lady married here in our church who has run in numerous races and marathons, will be one of the participants. I wished her good luck Sunday and promised that I would pray for her. Join me.

While much of the world’s attention will be turned toward Boston, the marathon is not the big event of the weekend. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him will not perish but will have eternal life.”

Those familiar words from John help to frame what happened two thousand years ago this weekend. Evil reared its ugly head then, too. Violent death suffered by the innocent took place. An excited crowd had gathered earlier in the week to watch a parade. On the darkest day in history, the cheering crowd had become a jeering mob. A young man hung broken and bleeding. His body would be enclosed in a borrowed tomb. Tears flowed, hearts were broken.

As I have heard and read the stories of those who are putting their lives back together after the Boston bombing, I am inspired by the courage and determination of those who refuse to allow this tragedy define their lives. I am encouraged by the many acts of ministry that took place that day and since.

As I reread and listen to the words of what took place 2000 years, I find strength, comfort, and assurance that sin and death falter in the face of love. The cloak of despair and darkness was ripped away to reveal the glory of the One who burst from the grave. Christ claimed victory from the jaws of defeat.

 

I will stand and applaud those who compete and those who finish their race on Monday, but on Sunday I will bow and worship the One who finished a race I could never win. He is risen!