MY PERSPECTIVE, Gary Damron
I have only one first cousin, but beyond that the family tree is complicated. Last week we visited two relatives we hadn’t seen for a long time, and enjoyed sharing memories. Even better, we hold in common a faith that we all found after our somewhat chaotic childhood. The reality of resurrection was introduced to each of us in a way we understood and responded to, and we’re forever changed.
This Sunday at church we gave away copies of Lee Strobel’s book Case for Easter, a journalist’s investigation of the facts of Jesus’ resurrection. Strobel presents arguments that events on that first Easter began a difference in the known world which continues more than 2,000 years later.
There are many religions, but only Christianity claims that their leader is alive after being dead. Resurrection is the foundation of the Christian faith. Despite the danger to those proclaiming it, written accounts of his sightings - by more than 500 witnesses - verify that Jesus was seen alive after the crucifixion.
Through the centuries people have tried to discount the fact that he in fact died, to circumvent the possibility of a resurrection. The violent beatings he received before being nailed to a cross placed him in critical condition. In exhaustion, he stumbled and fell under the load of the wooden crossbeam he was forced to carry, and Simon the Cyrenian was enlisted to carry it the rest of the way (Mark 15:21, Luke 23:26). After he cried from the cross, “‘Lord, into your hands I commit my spirit’” (Luke 23:46), Jesus died of cardiac arrest. Roman soldiers in charge of his execution made sure he was dead by thrusting a spear into his heart. Strobel says they “weren’t about to risk their own death by allowing him to walk away alive.”
Even if he had been able to somehow survive, it would have been impossible for him to walk after having nails driven through his feet, and to travel down the Emmaus road (Luke 24) a short while later. His pathetic appearance, from wounds inflicted before and after crucifixion, would have only convinced his followers to pity him, not proclaim him victor over death. But the glorified body of Jesus brought hope and proof.
Being a follower of Jesus had already placed each of the witnesses in grave danger; talking of him being still alive would have compounded their risk. After Lazarus was called forth from his tomb (Luke chapter 11), the chief priests had plotted to put him to death (John 12:10) to squelch the stories of his temporary resurrection.
Some of the earliest writings after Jesus’ death contain a clear account of those happenings. Paul communicated an early creed, “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and He was buried, … raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, … appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep; then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles; and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also” (1 Corinthians 15:3-8).
After losing their leader, his disciples were discouraged, disappointed, desperate, depressed and dispersed. But as a result of of seeing Jesus alive, they abandoned what they were doing and spent the rest of their lives proclaiming the truth of the resurrection. Most suffered hardship and martyrdom because of their stand.
The crucifixion had convinced them Jesus loved them, and resurrection gave them the promise of everlasting life with their Lord. John 1:12 sets forth a simple formula – believe, receive, become part of the family of the living God.