Saturday, April 3, 2010

Easter Festival

O God, for our redemption You have given Your only-begotten Son to the death of the cross, and by His glorious resurrection You have delivered us from the power of our enemy. Therefore grant that all our sins may be drowned through daily repentance and that day by day a new person may arise to live before You in righteousness and purity forever; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, One God, now and forever.

But these words seemed to them as idle tale, and they did not believe them – Luke 24:11

In our world there is an ever increasing lack of conviction that the resurrection of Jesus Christ is an historical event. This is critical to the heart of the Christian message for it stands or falls on the message of Easter. The bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ and His appearance to others is more then a mere matter of faith. It is what the faith is founded upon.

Best sellers today are listed under the headings, “fiction” or “non-fiction.” According to our text, the disciples considered the women’s story to be an idle tale – pure fiction. Many today would join the disciples and follow those in holding that the Easter story has no historical base.[1] To them, the resurrection is held to be the product of the disciples’ faith that Jesus was alive. Those who do not believe in a life after death reveal their failure to accept the resurrection as fact.

Whether the resurrection is fiction or non-fiction is one of the most important issues for the Christian faith. Without the resurrection, we are in a most miserable and hopeless condition. Without the resurrection there is no forgiveness of sins, no hope of eternal life, and no confidence that Jesus is the Son of God.

There are four reasons for putting the resurrection under the heading “non-fiction”

1. The Fact of Jesus’ death. According to the gospel accounts, Jesus went through six different trials before He was condemned to die on a cross. Three of the trials were before Gentiles and three were before the Jews. He was repeatedly put before people to be tried and the whole time He was under heavy guard. They knew who Jesus was. So, this excludes the possibility of mistaken identity.
It is highly unlikely that the Romans would have crucified a man by mistake. Remember, Jesus had been performing many miracles and was quite well known in the area. Since the Roman soldiers had him in their possession during the trials, during the beatings, and finally on the way to the cross, the most logical conclusion is that they did not make a mistake and crucified someone else instead of Jesus. Therefore, we can logically conclude that Jesus really did die on a cross.
The details of Jesus' trial and Pilate's decision to execute him, there is a strong consensus that Jesus did, in fact, die on a cross. Of course, for Christians the story doesn't end at Jesus' death. Christ's death on the Cross is only the beginning. Being under Roman rule, the Jews were only able to get rid of Jesus by having the Romans kill him. They did not actually perform the execution. They did, however, bring false charges against him which set him up for the Roman authorities to have Him crucified. The task of crucifixion was entrusted to professional Roman soldiers for whom crucifixion was a routine task, and failure to carry out such an order was punishable by death.[2] Pilate also wanted to be quite sure Jesus was dead. Mark records that he would not agree to the removal of the body, until after he had summoned the centurion and obtained confirmation that Jesus had been dead for quite some time. [3]

2. The fact of an empty tomb. Another obvious fact after the resurrection is the empty tomb. The Disciples of Christ did not go off to Athens or Rome to preach that Christ was raised from the dead. Rather, they went right back to the city of Jerusalem, where, if what they were teaching was false, the fabrication would be evident. The empty tomb was "too notorious to be denied." One commentator put it this way that the resurrection "could have not been maintained in Jerusalem for a single day, for a single hour, if the emptiness of the tomb had not been established as a fact for all concerned."[4]

THE GRAVECLOTHES SPEAK VOLUMES! In a literal sense, against all statements to the contrary, the tomb was not totally empty--because of an amazing incident. John, a disciple of Jesus, looked over to the place where the body of Jesus had lain, and there were the grave clothes, in the form of the body, slightly caved in and empty--like a caterpillar's cocoon; with the head piece neatly folded and laying to the side. That's enough to make a believer out of anybody. John never did get over it. The first thing that stuck in the minds of the disciples was not the empty tomb, but rather the empty grave clothes--undisturbed in form and position.

3. The fact of Christ’s appearance after the resurrection. Christ appeared alive on several occasions after the cataclysmic events of that first Easter. When studying an event in history, it is important to know whether enough people who were participants or eyewitnesses to the event were alive when the facts about the event were published. To know this is obviously helpful in ascertaining the accuracy of the published report. If the number of eyewitnesses is substantial, the event can be regarded as fairly well established. For instance, if we all witness a robbery and a later police report turns out to be a fabrication of lies, we as eyewitnesses can refute it.
Several very important factors are often overlooked when considering Christ's post-resurrection appearances to individuals. The first is the large number of witnesses of Christ after that resurrection morning. One of the earliest records of Christ's appearing after the resurrection is by the Apostle Paul. The apostle appealed to his audience's knowledge of the fact that Christ had been seen by more than 500 people at one time. Paul reminded them that the majority of those people were still alive and could be questioned. Dr. Edwin M. Yamauchi, associate professor of history at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, emphasizes: "What gives a special authority to the list (of witnesses) as historical evidence is the reference to most of the five hundred brethren being still alive. St. Paul says in effect, 'If you do not believe me, you can ask them.' Such a statement in an admittedly genuine letter written within thirty years of the event is almost as strong evidence as one could hope to get for something that happened nearly two thousand years ago."
Take the more than 500 witnesses who saw Jesus alive after His death and burial, and place them in a courtroom. Do you realize that if each of those 500 people were to testify for only six minutes, you would have an amazing 50 hours of firsthand testimony? Add to this the testimony of many other eyewitnesses and you would well have the largest and most lopsided trial in history.
4. The fact of the changed lives of those who met Him. But the most telling testimony of all must be the lives of those early Christians. We must ask ourselves: What caused them to go everywhere telling the message of the risen Christ?
Had there been any visible benefits accrued to them from their efforts--prestige, wealth, increased social status or material benefits--we might logically attempt to account for their actions, for their whole-hearted and total allegiance to this "risen Christ."
As a reward for their efforts, however, those early Christians were beaten, stoned to death, thrown to the lions, tortured and crucified. Every conceivable method was used to stop them from talking.
Yet, they laid down their lives as the ultimate proof of their complete confidence in the truth of their message.
The Facts of the resurrection speak volumes to us today. Christ is Risen! He is Risen indeed! Hallelujah!

[1] (Bultmann)
[2] (Matthew 27:27-36, Mark 15:16, Luke 23:47, John 19:23)
[3] (Mark 15:42-6).
[4] Paul Althaus

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