“TELL HOW HE LIVETH AGAIN”: WHAT LEADS US TO BELIEVE THAT CHRIST ROSE FROM THE DEAD?
By Wayne S. Walker
I enjoy reading good biographies. Of course, most biographical stories end with an account of the individual’s death. However, while Jesus certainly died, as we noted in our previous article, the story of His life on earth ends a bit differently. In 1880, Fanny J. Crosby wrote the famous gospel song which includes the lines, “Tell of the grave where they laid Him, Tell how He liveth again.”
“Now on the first day of the week, very early in the morning, they, and certain other women with them, came to the tomb bringing the spices which they had prepared. But they found the stone rolled away from the tomb. Then they went in and did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. And it happened, as they were greatly perplexed about this, that behold, two men stood by them in shining garments. Then, as they were afraid and bowed their faces to the earth, they said to them, ‘Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but is risen! Remember how He spoke to you when He was still in Galilee, saying, “The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again.”’ And they remembered His words” (Luke 24:1-8).
Several years before Fanny Crosby’s hymn, in 1834 Anne Richter had written another song that included a stanza about Christ’s resurrection.
We gazed not in the open tomb,
Where once Thy mangled body lay;
Nor saw Thee in that upper room,
Nor met Thee on the open way.
But we believe that angels said,
“Why seek the living with the dead?”
What evidence is there which would lead us to believe that Christ arose from the dead?
First, there is the empty tomb. It was a new tomb in which no previously dead people had ever been laid (Matthew 27:57-60). One theory to explain away the resurrection has the disciples mistaking the body of Jesus for some other corpse, but there simply could have been no confusion with other bodies. It was hewn out of solid rock (Mark 15:42-46). Another theory has Jesus swooning on the cross, reviving in the tomb, and exiting through a back door. However, there was just no other way in or out. The location was well known in that the women carefully observed where the tomb was so that they could come back and anoint the body (Luke 23:50-55). Still another theory has the disciples mixed up as to where the actual tomb was and going to the wrong one, but they made sure that there was no mistaking where it was located.
A watch was set to guard the tomb and make sure nothing happened to the body (Matthew 27:62-66). The predominant theory is that the disciples stole the body, but everything within the power of human beings was done to avoid the possibility of a stolen body. Even Christ’s enemies admitted that the tomb was empty (Matthew 28:11-15). Of course, the soldiers said that it happened while they were asleep, which is silly because no one can testify to what happened while he is asleep, and in fact they had to be bribed to tell such a self-damning story. Thus, the empty tomb proclaimed the resurrection. When Peter announced on Pentecost regarding Jesus, “Whom God raised up, having loosed the pains of death, because it was not possible that He should be held by it” (Acts 2:24), not one person arose, spoke up, and presented any evidence to the contrary.
The second line of evidence for the resurrection of Christ is the testimony of eyewitnesses. In any court of law, eyewitness testimony is considered the best. “For we did not follow cunningly devised fables when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of His majesty” (2 Peter 1:16; cf. 1 John 1:1-3). The apostles claimed to be eyewitnesses of the resurrected Christ. Such testimony was one of the qualifications to serve as an apostle (Acts 1:22). Thus, on the day of Pentecost, Peter declared, “This Jesus God has raised up, of which we are all witnesses” (Acts 2:32; cf. 3:14-15, 4:19-20, 5:31-32). However, the question is often asked, why basically them? Why not everyone? In preaching to Cornelius and his household, Peter explained, “Him God raised up on the third day, and showed Him openly, not to all the people, but to witnesses chosen before by God, even to us who ate and drank with Him after He arose from the dead” (Acts 10:40-41). Having been His constant companions for some three years, they were in best position to identify Jesus and to testify that the same Jesus whom they knew and saw crucified was now alive again.
Some might object that the apostles had ulterior motives for their testimony, but the third line of evidence for the resurrection is the transformation of the apostles. Notice the attitude of the apostles when they first heard the claims of the resurrection. After the women found the tomb empty, Luke 24:9-11 tells us, “Then they returned from the tomb and told all these things to the eleven and to all the rest. It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them, who told these things to the apostles. And their words seemed to them like idle tales, and they did not believe them.” However, notice these same apostles a short while later. “Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated and untrained men, they marveled. And they realized that they had been with Jesus Acts 4:13). In fact, when they commanded by the authorities to stop preaching in the name of Jesus, we read in Acts 5:41-42, “So they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name. And daily in the temple, and in every house, they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ.”
What could have brought about such a drastic change? In Acts 1:1-3, Luke explains, “The former account I made, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began both to do and teach, until the day in which He was taken up, after He through the Holy Spirit had given commandments to the apostles whom He had chosen, to whom He also presented Himself alive after His suffering by many infallible proofs, being seen by them during forty days and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God.” Some critics want to picture the apostles as credulous, gullible fools who were looking for a resurrection under every rock and behind every tree. Nothing could be further from the truth. They demanded proof positive. Remember Thomas? When told about the resurrection, he said, “Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.” But when confronted with the actual evidence, he answered, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:24-29).
The final line of evidence for the resurrection that we wish to examine is the conversion of Saul of Tarsus. Consider Saul when we first meet him in Acts 7:58 where it is said of the stoning of Stephen, “And they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul.” Following this, we are told, “As for Saul, he made havoc of the church, entering every house, and dragging off men and women, committing them to prison” (Acts 8:1-3; cf. 9:1-2). Yet, consider what Saul became just a short while later. “So when he had received food, he was strengthened. Then Saul spent some days with the disciples at Damascus. Immediately he preached the Christ in the synagogues, that He is the Son of God (Acts 9:19-20; cf. vs. 26-29).
To what did Saul/Paul attribute this huge shift? “For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve. After that He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep. After that He was seen by James, then by all the apostles. Then last of all He was seen by me also, as by one born out of due time” (1 Corinthians 15:3-8). Men may change their minds for all kinds of ulterior motives, such as wealth, fame, power, etc., but none of those motives may be laid at the feet of Paul. The only reasonable explanation for his dramatic turn around is that he must have seen Jesus after He arose from the dead.
Fanny J. Crosby concluded her 1880 gospel song, “Tell Me the Story of Jesus,” by saying:
Love in that story so tender,
Clearer than ever I see.
Stay, let me weep while you whisper,
Love paid the ransom for me.
The story of Jesus, whether we read about it in the Bible, hear it preached in sermons from the pulpit, or sing about it in hymns and gospel songs, is the story of God’s love for mankind in sending His Son that through believing in Him we might have redemption through Christ’s blood and the hope of everlasting life. What does this story mean to you?
—in Search for Truth; 10/25/2015, Vol. VII, No. 13; and 11/1/2015, Vol. VII, No. 14