Return of the Prodigal Son by Pompeo Batoni - 1773

Evolution for the Catholic Student

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Tuesday, April 2, 2013

He is Risen!

He is Risen!

Happy Easter!  Jesus is risen, Alleluia, Alleluia!  As Christians, we recognize that the Resurrection is the culmination of the Paschal Mystery, the central event of human history.  It is Jesus’s victory over death, the firstfruits of the resurrection of ourselves to everlasting life.  It is also the ultimate sign testifying to Jesus Christ.  The Resurrection proves undeniably that Jesus is who He says He is.
One of the disappointing (but not unexpected) things I saw this Easter was the prominence on Holy Saturday of television programming themed: “Who Really Was Jesus?” and, “The Lost Gospel of Judas.”  These sacred days are never lost opportunities for our pagan culture to revel in blasphemy.  Of course, one reality that our culture has no real answer for is the Resurrection.  As we witness to our atheist or pagan family, friends, neighbors and coworkers this Easter season, the Resurrection is a challenge we can pose to them that demands an answer because, as I said above, if the Resurrection is true, then Jesus is who He says He is.  In this article, I intend to show that the Resurrection is more than simply an article of faith; it is a historically verifiable fact.
To deny the Resurrection, one has to account for four historical realities: 1) Jesus of Nazareth was crucified and buried; 2) His tomb was empty within days of His burial; 3) Numerous people testified to seeing Him alive again; 4) The Church, which was built on the hope of the Resurrection, became the most powerful and enduring institution on the planet.
How do we know these four things are true?  The fourth is rather self-evident, but the first three are historically verifiable as well.  First, one needs not look at the Gospels as the Word of God to recognize that they are, historically, among the most reliable documents we have from the ancient world.  There have been wonderful books and articles written about this (Lee Stroebel, among others, has done a great service in this regard).  The Gospels were written essentially by eye-witnesses of the events they report, for eyewitnesses of the events.  They were written in close proximity in time and location to the events they report, and they not only corroborate each other, but are corroborated by other ancient records.  If the subject matter was not religious, any historian would take them as the most trustworthy historical documents we possess from the ancient world.
Also, the four facts I mentioned above are reported not only by the Gospels, but by ancient Jewish sources (Josephus probably being the most famous), as well as Roman records.  They are undeniable, which leaves the skeptic with the daunting task of explaining them with something other than the Resurrection of Christ.
1)  The Death of Jesus:  No serious historian disputes this.  We have as much evidence and detail about this event as basically anything that occurred in the ancient world.  There are only two theories I know of that have ever been advanced to try and question it and both are ridiculous.  The “Swoon theory” suggests that Jesus didn’t really die on the Cross; He only appeared dead, and the foolish Romans took him down and allowed Him to be buried while He was still alive.  Then, after some rest in the tomb, He revived.  The notion that the Romans, experts on torture and death, wouldn’t know that a crucified man had died is silly.  It also ignores the fact of the lance to the Heart.  Not to mention, a scourged and crucified man would not have been able to move the stone from the tomb and in that condition would never have inspired his disciples to become heroes and martyrs like the Apostles were.
The other suggestion, advanced by Muslims, is that it was actually Judas who was crucified, and God miraculously prevented people from recognizing him.  This doesn’t answer the fact that Judas was found dangling from a tree by his neck.  It also would not be a claim made by atheists, and in dialogue with Muslims, we likely wouldn’t begin with the Resurrection, but rather more fundamental issues – the nature of God, the persons of Christ and Mohammed, etc.
2)  The Empty Tomb:  If the Resurrection never occurred, it would be the easiest thing in the world to disprove – just produce the Body of Jesus.   Case closed.  Yet, it has never happened.  Why not?  Because the tomb was empty.  The empty tomb was preached almost immediately, in Jerusalem, the location of the tomb.  Again, it would be very simple to disprove.  If the tomb were not empty, no one could have preached it right down the street from it.  Anyone could check.  I imagine that couldn’t have slipped the minds of both the Jewish and Roman leaders.
The other claim is that the Body could have been stolen.  No it couldn’t have.  There was a guard set at the tomb.  How were Peter and the others going to overpower the armed guards, removed the stone, stolen the Body, and gotten away unscathed?  Impossible.  Plus, this theory ignores the witness of the Apostles.  With the exception of John, the Apostles all died as martyrs.  I’m not sure how many of you played April Fools jokes this week, but I doubt any of you would die to testify to their veracity.  James was beheaded, Peter and Andrew were crucified, Bartholomew was skinned alive!  All they would have had to do to save themselves was deny the Resurrection, yet none of them did.  They went singing to their deaths, confident of a reward in Heaven.  No possible way each of them would suffer horrific deaths for the sake of what they knew to be a fraud.
3)  Numerous accounts of witnesses seeing Jesus alive:  Not only do we have the testimony of the Gospels to this, but Josephus, as well as Roman sources, report that people reported seeing Jesus alive after His death.  These claims were made immediately, by many people.  The notion of a mass hallucination doesn’t work because of the many different people who independently reported seeing Christ.  None of these people saw Him in a dream, or while they were in a trance.  Also, none of these people really expected the Resurrection.  And again, it begs the question of the empty tomb.  St. Peter did exactly what we would expect the disciples to do when confronted with stories of the Risen Christ – he checked the tomb.  Both friends and enemies would have done so when reports of people seeing Christ arose (remember, these first claims also started in Jerusalem).  And, of course, the tomb was empty.
4) The Rise of the Church:  The Resurrection was the event that turned a dejected band of seemingly defeated men into the most powerful group on earth.  These blue-collar nobodies – 11 to start – fulfilled the commission to baptize all nations.  They built a Church that outlived the great Roman Empire, tamed the barbarian Europe that was born of the Empire’s fall, evangelized the New World, and has survived attacks from without and wickedness from within for two millennia.  Not particularly likely if the Resurrection was a hoax or a fantasy, and if the Holy Spirit were not with them.
5)  The Shroud of Turin:  One last thing worth mentioning is the Shroud of Turin.  We are not bound by faith to accept the validity of the Shroud.  But just last week, scientific tests confirmed that the Shroud dates to the time of Christ.  There are so many wonderful books that give scientific and historical details testifying to the Shroud.  The image on the Shroud not only testifies to the death of Christ, but also to His Resurrection.
As Christians, Easter is a glorious time of hope, joy, and victory.  But the Resurrection is also a powerful sign to an unbelieving world.  Having even a rudimentary grasp of the basic facts proving the Resurrection (which is all I can claim for myself) can be a wonderful tool, if not to convince others to believe, at least to get them to think.  Open a door, plant a seed, and God will work wonders.

*Please note: The term ‘pagan’ is not meant to be pejorative or an insult to any particular people.  It is only meant to express a certain spiritual reality.