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4th November 2001
THE EVENT THAT CHANGED THE WORLD.
1 CORINTHIANS 15:12-20
Ever since the dreadful terrorist attacks upon New York and Washington DC., on September 11th writers have being using the phrase, "this event has changed the history of the world." It certainly has. War by terror-ism is not defined. It is directed without thought against civilians. It is not fought with conventional weapons. Terrorists can be from any nation opposed to you. King George 111 used it to describe George Washington!
Osama Bin Laden has ushered in an entirely new concept of international relations. Because Australia has committed troops alongside the United States and the United Kingdom to eradicate terrorists and to bring the ring-leaders to justice, we have now also been subjected to the Muslim Jihad by the Taliban. We may have terrorist activities in our land. We could join a long list of countries who have suffered a Jihad including Syria, Persia, Egypt, Cyprus, Crete, Rhodes, Sicily, Spain, Armenia, Turkey, Kosovo, Serbia, Herzegovina, Hungry and many others. It has been a concern for many that the world's best intelligence service did not predict such terrorist attacks upon America. Why did they fail? Dr. Martin Kramer wrote a book before the attacks saying: "American academics have failed to predict or explain the evolutions of Middle Eastern politics over the past two decades. Time and again, academics have been taken by surprise by their subjects; time and again, their paradigms have been swept away by events." Why? Kramer says most academics misunderstand the growing role of Islam in the culture and politics of the Middle East.
Western secular scholars think religion is on the wane, so they do not see the signs. They wear ideological blinders ignoring the powerful influence of religion and the facts of faith. As Social commentator Charles Colson says "Blinkered academics may have led them to give America inadequate, inaccurate information, and to overlook key factors about the nature of the terrorist threat to America." Many Australians, including academics and the public in general fall into the same trap of thinking religion is on the wane and so ignore religion as a force.
Take for example to facts about the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. TIME magazine produced an excellent series at the end of the millennium, on events in politics, science, medicine, education, exploration and the arts and so on that have benefited humanity. It also focused on the Man of the Millennium. The news magazine declared of all people who have ever lived, Jesus Christ is the most influential. He is the Man of this and all millennia. TIME lists the most powerful people of all time then concludes: "It would require much exotic calculation, however, to deny that the single most powerful figure, not merely in these two millenniums, but in all human history, has been Jesus of Nazareth. Not only is the prevalent system of denoting the years based on the date of His birth, but a serious argument can be made that no one else's life has proved remotely as powerful and enduring as that of Jesus." I have been thinking: "Is there any good event that has changed the world?" What was the event that most changed the history of the world? It was the resurrection of Jesus Christ! Why then do so many people not accept the Empty Tomb?
The resurrection of Jesus brought into being Christianity and empowered ordinary people to proclaim the message of the Risen Christ into the entire known world. In our skeptical and scientific world we believe nothing until we see it due to our ideological blinkers. What evidence is there for the resurrection of Jesus? The evidence can be grouped: evidence concerning the empty tomb; the post-death appearances of Jesus, and the reaction of the disciples. Last week, when I spoke about one of the top ten encounters Jesus had with people, I examined what happened when He appeared to two discouraged doubters on the Emmaus Road, and then when He appeared to all the disciples. This had such a profound effect upon them all, that cowards turned into heroes and ordinary people accomplished the most extraordinary feats. I will now deal with the evidence concerning the Empty Tomb.
1. THE HISTORICAL FACT OF THE EMPTY TOMB.
Someone may ask: "Do scholars accept that Jesus died upon a cross and was buried in a tomb?" The answer is that scholars of all persuasions accept that Jesus died upon a Cross and was buried in a tomb watched by Roman guards. The credibility and authenticity of the accounts of the empty tomb are just as reliable. Millions of Muslims visit the tomb of Mohammed. That is the power of Islam. But the tomb of Jesus has never evoked more than a tourist interest for Christians. Why? Because "He is not there! He is risen!" The empty tomb held little interest to the early Christians because they knew it did not hold the mortal body of Jesus. The empty tomb is the power of Christianity. That Jesus is alive and with us today is the power of Christianity!
The empty tomb was of no more significance than a wharf after the ferry has sailed out! The empty tomb was a powerful witness to the early Christians. Here are ten reasons to believe the empty tomb is true according to the Scriptures.
- To prove the empty tomb was a lie, all the Jews or Romans had to do was to present the body of Jesus to prove he did not rise from the dead. Present the body! That was all that was required by his enemies. True. But they could not do that. In spite of the guard, the stone the seal, the tomb was empty.
- If the apostles had stolen the body they would not have each gone to an agonizing death for what they knew was a lie. True. Those fearful men hiding behind locked doors changed character overnight into courageous men who openly defied the authorities and preached the Risen Christ. They were imprisoned, whipped, stoned, exiled, boiled in oil, burnt at the stake, crucified and everyone proclaimed he was a witness of the resurrected Christ. Men do not die like that knowing it is a myth.
- If the Apostles had fabricated the story they would never have implicated Joseph of Arimathea who gave Jesus his own tomb. Joseph was a member of the Sanhedrin which "voted to kill Jesus." Mk 14:55,64;15:1 He could deny the empty tomb easily as he saw the body there.
- If the Apostles had fabricated the story they would never have said women were first at the empty tomb. A woman's testimony was worthless in those days. If they were fabricating the story you would expect the leaders of the disciples to be the first witnesses. Unless women actually were there! Only true events would have put the women there as being first to find the tomb empty.
- Believers never venerated the tomb of Jesus. Tombs of martyrs are always venerated. But not the tomb of Jesus. Because it was empty! There was no shrine needed when people knew the Risen Lord.
- The disciples could never have overcome the Roman guard ordered by Pilate. Each Roman Guard consisted of 16 men, rotating shifts, a fighting machine. To suggest the disciples defeated the Roman guard, stole the body without the Roman resistance, is absurd.
- No conflicting stories or traditions exist to explain what happened. There are no alternate stories for the empty tomb. Only that Jesus was raised from the dead.
- If the disciples made up the story, they would have used the Jewish belief in the resurrection. The Jews believed that the resurrection would occur universally to all saints, never with one individual, at the end of the world. The Gospel record is completely contrary to what Jews believed. So something different must have occurred to change their beliefs.
- If the disciples made up the story, they would have gone somewhere else to tell it. The disciples preached the empty tomb in the very city where Jesus was executed and buried. So many were eyewitnesses and could contradict the story if they thought otherwise. But they could not. The tomb was empty!
- The early date of Paul's account 1 Cor. 15:3-8 makes the theory of a legend a lie. Because, writing only twenty years after the resurrection, when most eyewitnesses were still alive, Paul says he "received" these facts. They predated his writing. There was no time for legend and myth to develop. The discovery of the earliest copy of a Gospel brings the written record even closer to the event. Cf. Carsten Theide.
2. ALTERNATIVE THEORIES OF THE EMPTY TOMB.
If there were no other views existing in the early church about the Empty Tomb, what about modern alternate theories? There are four:
A. The Conspiracy Theory. That is, the disciples stole the body. No New Testament scholar today believes this theory. It would have been impossible to steal the body of Jesus with the Roman guard there. It is psychologically implausible because it does not take into account the effect that the crucifixion had on the disciples. They were sad, depressed, and cowardly after the crucifixion. Why would they suddenly become bold if they knew Jesus was really dead? The disciples were clearly sincere seekers of the truth. To turn them into frauds and liars over night is to make them contrary to their character.
B. The Swoon Theory. This theory states that Jesus was not completely dead when they took Him down from the cross. When He was in the tomb, He gained His strength, unwrapped Himself, moved the two ton stone from the tomb, and escaped the guards without them ever knowing. This is ludicrous but believed by some.
C. The Wrong Tomb Theory. This theory says the women eye-witnesses went to another tomb with no body in it. So they thought Jesus had been raised. But this means Peter and John also went to the wrong tomb. And the Jews went to the wrong tomb. And the Jewish Sanhedrin and the Romans also went to the wrong tomb, and the guard went to the wrong tomb, as did Joseph of Arimathea who had purchased and owned the tomb. By any probability, not likely!
D. The Hallucination Theory. This theory says everyone hallucinated an image of Christ. But the nature of a hallucination does not present twelve people or 500 people seeing the same thing. Neither were they all people susceptible to hallucinations. Neither does it take into account the 15 different appearances of Jesus to hundreds of people over seven weeks, until the Ascension which we will later discuss. It was not a one time event. Hallucinations don't happen like that.
No alternate theory is credible. What happened to the body if Jesus did not rise from the dead? They all agreed: the body was gone! The tomb was empty. To this day, no-one has given a more rational answer than that of the scriptures: God has raised Him up from the dead! Only such a powerful fact could have made Christianity arise out of a culture that was so antagonistic towards it. Only such a fact would cause so many Jews to give up their Sabbath, sacrificial system, the Law, and to believe in the very thing they thought was blasphemous: that Jesus was God's son. Something happened 2000 years ago, that changed the course of history from B.C. (Before Christ) to A.D. (Anno Domini: the year of our Lord). The only reasonable explanation is that Jesus Christ really lived, died, was buried, and rose again to which there was an empty tomb as evidence. No other answer is satisfactory. If you believe the scriptures as God's Word, then you have no trouble believing God raised Jesus from the dead! Only ideological blinkers keep people from accepting the truth. Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! He has saved you who believe from sin and death and lives to enable you to cope in this life and to join Him in the next. Take off the blinkers and know!
Martin Kramer, Ivory Towers on Sand: The Failure of Middle Eastern Studies in America (Washington: Washington Institute for Near East Policy, October 2001.
BreakPoint with Charles Colson Commentary #011102 - 11/02/2001
Rev Dr Gordon Moyes
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