May 2001, I wrote in a book “Am I ready for such a book as this? For Jesus to come into my life, I had to open my heart. Now Bill Bright [the writer of the Foreword] says God wants me to use my mind.” The book is Josh McDowell’s The New Evidence that Demands a Verdict. In the Preface of this book is a list of books recommended “for your library”. Twenty-five books are listed and the only one that is circled is, you guessed it: John R. W. Stott’s Basic Christianity.”
Now in 2021 I return to Basic Christianity as a writer of a blog. I know the book had a profound effect on my life. When I read it earlier in my life, I needed basic answers to basic questions and Stott worked for me. As I consider one of the most important aspects of Christian belief [the resurrection of Jesus], I may refer from time to time to McDowell’s book but it is far more extensive than Basic Christianity. I would refer you to that large volume if you want a lot more information on this subject.
Doubters of Christianity often center their doubt on the idea that no human being can live for thirty-three years on this earth, be scourged*, be crucified, die on the cross, be entombed and then disappear. How could this be? For many, an event like this is just too much to believe.
McDowell provides extensive arguments for the historical fact of Jesus’ resurrection. He goes into great detail about the physical death of Jesus, the tomb itself, the burial, the stone that was rolled in front of the tomb, the seal on the stone, the Roman guards at the tomb etc. [forty-one double-columned pages on all of these details]. Then he gets to the fact that the tomb was empty.
That is where John Stott starts his argument for the resurrection. If Christ was not special, His dead body should have been in that tomb. It was empty. The body was gone.
Christian teaching from the very beginning centers on this fact. Jesus Christ was put in a tomb and after being entombed, He became the living resurrected Savior. If the Jewish authorities who condemned Jesus could have produced the body, then the Faith would have collapsed. Instead of dying, Christianity blossomed in the very city where Jesus was executed and buried.
Some contemporaries began to spin tales to explain away this supernatural fact. One such theory that Stott writes about is that the women who went to Jesus’ tomb went to the wrong one. It was dark, they were very emotional due to grief and they could have easily made this mistake. Maybe this was possible; unless you consider the time that they went. It was dawn, a time of day when it is not completely dark. Matthew 28: 1 says they went “toward the dawn” while Luke says it was “early dawn” and Mark says that “the sun had risen.”
Add to this the fact that these women were informed. At least two of them saw where Joseph and Nicodemus placed the body. They watched the whole process of burial. If some in the party that morning could have gone down the wrong path, others would have corrected them.
In spite of their grief, they were going to perform a duty. They were going to complete the anointing of Christ’s body. Sabbath was not a day when a body could be anointed and Jesus died very close to the Sabbath. They had to rush the work that had to be performed to His body so they would not be in violation of Sabbath. Two days later they returned to show their devotion to their Savior and finish their business. It is not likely that they were so emotional that they lost their way.
Other doubters say that Jesus just swooned. He was never dead. Pilate was surprised that Jesus was dead when the men on either side of His cross were still alive. A centurion was asked to pierce Jesus’ side with a spear and when that happened, blood and water came out. There was no report of screaming or wincing. Stott writes that swoon theorists expect people to believe that a human being can survive flogging and crucifixion and thirty-six hours of being in a stone tomb without warmth, food or medical care. That Person could be strong enough to be able to move a boulder that is sealed without waking a Roman guard detail. That Person would look “good enough” to make appearances before the Disciples, appearances that gave the impression that they “vanquished death.”
Some think that the body of Jesus could have been stolen. Maybe the Disciples removed it? That means that they would have had to avoid a Roman guard detail, an unlikely event given the discipline of Roman soldiers. The guards did report the resurrection to their superiors and when they did, the chief priest bribed them to say that Jesus’ body was stolen. In Matthew it says “they took the money and did as they were directed; and this story has been spread among the Jews to this day.” This may have been done but it is highly unlikely because it is built on the idea that the guards all went to sleep. No Roman guard would sleep on duty like that. Someone would have stayed awake in the night.
Ok, if the Disciples did not remove the body, the Roman authorities or the Jewish authorities did it. Their ability to remove His body would not be difficult if they had a motive to do it. But that is the problem, they did not seem to have a motive. If they did have one, they did not exercise it. If they could produce a dead Jesus Christ as the Disciples went about preaching “You killed Him, but God raised Him, and we are witnesses;” could you imagine what that would have done for the Christian message of the day? What did the authorities do? If they had the body, they were silent about it. They “arrested the Apostles, threatened them, flogged them, imprisoned them, vilified them, plotted against them and killed them” [Stott, 51]. All that was unnecessary if they had the dead body of Jesus. They did not have it. Their silence is proof that the resurrection was a fact.
Isn’t it ironic that doubters focus on the resurrection as the key event that must be denied? They could try to discredit Jesus’ life, His miracles and His teaching. They could try to discount the fact that His life is a fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. Instead they try to dispute a historical fact. At the beginning of this post, I referenced Josh McDowell as an apologist** for our faith. He was not always an apologist; before that, he was an agnostic***. When he was in college, he was preparing a paper to disprove Christianity. When he began his research, he found God and His Son Jesus Christ. Rather than disproving Christianity, he found himself proving it: to himself. McDowell writes about the resurrection: I was asked by a student “Why can’t you refute Christianity. ‘I answered:’ for a very simple reason: I am not able to explain away an event in history—the resurrection of Jesus.”
He would not refute this indisputable fact: the body of Jesus was not removed by men, it was raised by God.
*To be scourged is to be whipped with a rope with metal balls, bones, and metal spikes attached.
**an apologist is someone who offers a defense of a belief system, in this case a defense for Christian belief.
***a person who believes that nothing is known or can be known of the existence or nature of God or of anything beyond material phenomena; a person who claims neither faith nor disbelief in God.