Wednesday, April 01, 2015

Eyewitnesses of His Majesty: Stories of the Resurrection

The gospels all report the resurrection of Jesus. As expected with four witnesses telling the same story, there are differences in details between the resurrection stories of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Skeptics have long tried to use the differences in the stories as proof that the resurrection is not an historical fact, but simply a figment of the wishful thinking of the earliest disciples.

However, in addition to the different details of the stories, there are amazing similarities between the stories that speak to the truth of what happened on a Sunday morning nearly 2,000 years ago. The testimony of these witnesses to the resurrection of Jesus must be heard and contemplated before one can either believe or disbelieve.

An open, empty tomb! All the gospels mention that the tomb was open and empty when people arrived there. The women who were planning to give a proper anointing to Jesus’ body for burial were concerned that they would not be able to roll the stone away. They forgot that problem when they arrived and the tomb was open and empty. The empty tomb meant they had a new problem – where was Jesus? For the enemies of Jesus the empty tomb was also a problem, for all they needed to disprove the resurrection was to produce the corpse of Jesus. They could not do that, so the stories persisted – intensified by later appearances of Jesus to his disciples.

The presence of messengers! All the gospels say there were messengers of the resurrection, but they disagree about the number and the nature of these messengers. Matthew says, “an angel”; Mark says, “a young man in a white robe”; Luke says, “two men in clothes that gleamed like lightening”; John says, “two angels in white.” In all three synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark & Luke) the message is “He is risen!” In John the angels ask Mary Magdalene why she is crying, and then Jesus appears to her. It is not surprising, nor out of line with the rest of Scripture, that there were angelic messengers at this most important of events!

A meeting with Jesus! Matthew says that Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene and the other Mary, John tells of Jesus meeting with Mary Magdalene. Neither Mark nor Luke mention people meeting Jesus near the tomb. All the gospels have stories of Jesus appearing to his disciples later on resurrection Sunday or the weeks that followed. Seeing Jesus alive was a very convincing event, as you can imagine.

Doubt that turned into deep faith! The story the religious leaders wanted to tell about the resurrection is that it did not happen and the disciples simply stole the body. This is very unlikely since all the disciples were “slow to believe” that Jesus had risen from the dead. They, like all people in all places and times, knew that death is a final condition and that hope is lost at that point. That is why the resurrection was such an amazing surprise to them. Death, which seems to be all powerful, is over-powered! The hopelessness of grief is turned to joy when Jesus rises from the dead. And most of them lived the rest of their lives telling the story of a crucified and risen savior, many of them even dying for telling that story. They obviously had no doubt about the truthfulness of the resurrection!

Jesus once told Thomas, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” Be blessed…

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