CLEARING THE DOUBTS ABOUT THE RESURRECTION OF JESUS
SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ ACT 2:14. 22-33; MT 28:8-15]
Christian Faith stands or falls with faith in the resurrection of Jesus. If Jesus were not raised, then the death of Jesus would have no meaning because it is not salvific. At most, we could say that Jesus died for a cause, a misguided cause about the Kingdom of God and who He was. Without the resurrection, there is no way to verify the claims of Jesus about His Father, the Kingdom of God and His identity as the Son of God. Only on account that He was raised from the dead by His Father, could we know for certain that He is Lord and Saviour of all humanity. The resurrection is the endorsement of the Father for all that Jesus said and did. It is the vindication of Jesus’ message and claims.
That is why, right from the onset of Christianity, there were those who felt the need to suppress the truth about His resurrection, or to ridicule the fact of His resurrection. In the gospel story, we read about how the Jewish leaders bribed the soldiers to say that “His disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep.” Indeed, truth is often covered up or distorted, just like fake news, in order to distract people from having faith. Such distortion of truth is meant to shake the faith of people so that they will not believe. That is why there are many people who object to the truth of the resurrection by suggesting that the body of Jesus was stolen by the disciples of Christ in order to fake the resurrection.
In truth such arguments do not hold water at all. Why would the disciples steal a half-dead or a dead body and then, later on, gather together to proclaim Him as risen and savior? This would be against logic. If the disciples were courageous enough, they would have stood by Jesus when He was arrested and put on trial. Obviously, they were unorganized and fearful of their lives, thinking that if their master who was supposedly the miracle worker was not able to save Himself from death, how could they save themselves from the Romans? What made them change their minds, transformed them from timid disciples to witnesses of Christ who preached with boldness? “Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John and realized that they were uneducated and ordinary men, they were amazed and recognized them as companions of Jesus. ” (Acts 4:13)
Secondly, for the body to be stolen is unintelligible. The Romans were never known to bungle in executing their prisoners and in ensuring that the bodies of the criminals were guarded. Such negligence would have incurred a death penalty. So it was utterly unlikely that the Roman soldiers fell asleep whilst guarding the body. And even if they had fallen asleep, surely they would have awakened to the sound of the stone being removed from the tomb. This was because it would have required quite a few people to do it. That was why the women were asking themselves on the way to the tomb, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” (Mk 16:3) They had not the strength to remove the stone. “When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back.” (Mk 16:4) Furthermore, no one steals a corpse from the tomb. What would be the use of a dead body? At most, the robbers would have entered the tomb to take precious items that were left behind.
So what could be the reason for the transformation in the lives of the disciples, if not the fact that He had been raised? Indeed, through the Easter narratives, the disciples made clear that they saw the Lord. They were witnesses to His resurrection. St Peter said, “God raised this man Jesus to life, and all of us are witness to that.” In the gospel, we have the Lord appearing to the women, “And there, coming to meet them, was Jesus. ‘Greetings’ he said. And the women came up to him and, falling down before him, clasped his feet.”
Again another objection raised by skeptics was that there might have been a mass hallucination among the disciples as a consequence of the loss of their master. They were so sad and depressed that they started to imagine that Jesus was raised from the dead. However, nothing is known about the apostles having the inclination to corporate visions. Precisely, the Empty Tomb story was part of the tradition in substantiating the resurrection of Jesus. This story was not invented because it included the women as the first witnesses, whose testimony would not have been accepted. If the body was found, then Jesus’ resurrection would not have been proclaimed. Most likely then, if they were to speak of the resurrection of our Lord, it would have been presumed that it was a ghost that they saw. After all, no one would be persecuted for claiming to have seen a ghost.
But precisely, the disciples were saying that His body was not there and that they saw Him, not as a ghost but a resurrected body, because He could eat before their very eyes. The Lord said to them, “‘Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.’ And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, ‘Have you anything here to eat?’ They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate in their presence.” (Lk 24:39-42) In the final analysis, it is true that the empty tomb story does not confirm that the Lord is risen; but it supplies the circumstantial evidence. Just because He was not there does not mean that He was raised. Only the witnesses could testify to the fact of His resurrection.
So has Jesus been raised? What does it mean for Jesus and for us? Jesus was not raised simply because God wanted Him to live on. Rather, His resurrection is in continuity with the Historical Jesus. This was why St Peter took pains to identify the Jesus of Nazareth as the Risen Christ. “Jesus the Nazarene was a man commended to you by God by the miracles and portents and signs that God worked through him when he was among you, as you all know. This man, who was put into your power by the deliberate intention and foreknowledge of God, you took and had crucified by men outside the Law. You killed him, but God raised him to life, freeing him from the pangs of Hades; for it was impossible for him to be held in its power.” In other words, the Resurrected Lord confirms that Jesus of Nazareth was the Christ, the Anointed One of God. “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead. All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” (Acts 10:38, 42, 43)
This claim is also in continuity with the scriptures, especially the Old Testament. Hence, it was not something invented by the Christians. St Peter cited the Psalm to vouch for the continuity of God’s plan in Jesus. “David says of him: I saw the Lord before me always, for with him at my right hand nothing can shake me. So my heart was glad and my tongue cried out with joy; my body, too, will rest in the hope that you will not abandon my soul to the Hades nor allow your holy one to experience corruption. You have made known the way of life to me, you will fill me with gladness through your presence.” (cf Ps 16:8-10) Peter explained further how Jesus is the fulfilment of this prophecy of David. “Brothers, no one can deny that the patriarch David himself is dead and buried: his tomb is still with us. But since he was a prophet, and knew that God had sworn him an oath to make one of his descendants succeed him on the throne, what he foresaw and spoke about what the resurrection of the Christ: he is the one who was not abandoned to Hades, and whose body did not experience corruption.” Jesus’ resurrection was therefore in continuity with the Jewish’ faith.
Hence, as Christians, in the light of the testimonies and witnesses from the disciples and from the scriptures, we must not be afraid to defend the resurrection of our Lord and His Lordship. Jesus said to the women, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers that they must leave for Galilee; they will see me there.” Jesus knew that the men would not believe the women’s testimony. In fact, they would be skeptical and doubtful. Yet, the Lord assured the women that He would be with them and so there was no need to be afraid. They must not keep silent even if others ridiculed their belief. So too, we must not be silent in proclaiming Christ as risen and that He is the Lord and Saviour of all humanity.
Written by The Most Rev William Goh, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore © All Rights Reserved
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