Sunday, 16 April 2017

Proof of the Resurrection, Easter Sunday

We’re gathered here today because of an event that happened 2000 years ago: the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.
As we know, there are some people who think that the Resurrection never happened. I want to say a few words this morning about why the Gospel accounts of His Resurrection are worthy of having us acknowledge them as recording facts and not recording fables.

There are 3 points to make about the evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus Christ:
First, there is the fact that His tomb was empty. As the newsletter sheet insert from Josh McDowell summarises, there are no other convincing explanations as to how His tomb became empty: it is a fact calling for an explanation.
Second, there is the fact of the existence of the Church as body of people who claim Jesus rose from the dead. That Christians claim this is a fact, but WHY do they claim it? Where did the idea come from? This is another fact calling for an explanation.
The only explanation that coherently fits these 2 facts is that Jesus did in fact rise from the dead.
The third point I wish to make concerns the credibility of thinking this, in particular, concerns the credibility of believing the witnesses.

There were, as the Gospels record, certain witnesses who claimed that they saw Jesus after He rose of the dead. Now, as we all know, not everything someone says is to be believed –we need to test the reliability of a witness. And, about that issue, I want to point out that the first Christians were no fools, they knew it was a most remarkable thing these witness were claiming; they tested the claims to see if they were true.

There are 2 points we might test about a witness: was he actually there to see the event he claims to have witnessed? And, is the manner of his recounting straightforward or is it fanciful?
As you all know, we have 4 official ‘canonical’ gospels, 4 approved records of what Our Lord did and said, and of His resurrection appearances.
You are probably less familiar with the fact that there were other texts that claimed to be records, claimed to be ‘gospels’, but the Church tested them and found them unworthy of belief.
Some were dismissed on the simple grounds that they were not recorded by people who were actually there, being written much later.
Others were dismissed because the manner and style of their accounts was fanciful, claiming that Jesus acted more like a magician doing parlour tricks than a Messiah working miracles. So the alleged ‘gospel’ of Thomas has the boy Jesus showing off in front of other boys: they made clay birds, so he made his clay bird come to life![1] Similarly, the alleged ‘gospel’ of Peter alleges a triumphal procession coming out of the tomb, with cross in the procession.[2] While the alleged ‘gospel’ of Bartholomew describes “angels, fiery chariots, and God, descended to earth”[3] as part of the resurrection.

Now, my point is this, the type of description we find in the true Gospels are very different. They are simple, undramatic, matter of fact, the sort of descriptions made by reliable witnesses who were actually there.
It is characteristic of true witnesses that they do not feel a need to embellish their accounts with fanciful details.
So, for example, as we heard in our first reading, St Peter said very simply, “we have eaten and drunk with Him after His resurrection” (Acts 10:41). And, to take another example, the angels who appeared by the tomb are simply described as men “sitting in white”(Jn 20:12) –they are not described as having fancy wings, or fiery radiance. Or, to take a final example, when Jesus showed them the wounds in His hands and His feet, He simply said, “Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.”(Lk 24:37)
–no fake drama, or flashes of lightning.
No need for melodramatics because they were describing what was true, what they had “seen and heard” (1 Jn 1:3).

This is why we are here today. We are not here because we think people normally rise from the dead, but because we recognise the unusual nature of this unique event. An unusual event, but the only explanation that fits the facts:
The tomb WAS empty,
the early Christians DID claim He had risen,
and their testimony is reliable.
And those 3 facts give us reason to put our faith in Christ, and to believe that the many things He promised them He promises us too, including what we proclaim in the creed: “the resurrection of dead”.

[1] accessed 5/4/12
[2] An excerpt from the apocryphal Gospel of Peter:
“And in the night in which the Lord's day was drawing on, as the soldiers kept guard two by two in a watch, there was a great voice in the heaven; and they saw the heavens opened, and two men descend with a great light and approach the tomb. And the stone that was put at the door rolled of itself and made way in part; and the tomb was opened, and both the young men entered in. When therefore those soldiers saw it, they awakened the centurion and the elders, for they too were close by keeping guard. And as they declared what things they had seen, again they saw three men come forth from the tomb, and two of them supporting one, and a cross following them. And the heads of the two reached to heaven, but the head of him who was led by them overpassed the heavens. And they heard a voice from the heavens, saying, You have preached to them that sleep. And a response was heard from the cross, Yes” accessed 5/4/12
[3] “The Resurrection of Jesus Christ (by Bartholomew) is not to be confused with the Questions of Bartholomew, although either text may be the missing Gospel of Bartholomew (or neither may be), a lost work from the New Testament apocrypha. Subsequently, the text describes Jesus descending into hell, and, finding Judas there, preaching to him. Jesus rescues everyone from hell, except Judas, Cain, and Herod the Great. This is followed by a flashback described by a gardener to the night when angels, fiery chariots, and God, descended to earth, and resurrected Jesus.” accessed 5/4/12

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