40 pointers to Christ’s Resurrection

40 pointers to Christ’s Resurrection - 1  Easter’s not just a day but over a month in the Church Calendar recalling how ‘After Christ’s suffering he presented himself alive to his disciples by many convincing proofs, appearing to them during forty days speaking about the kingdom of God’ (Acts 1:3). Over the next 40 days this Instagram blog will present pictures and pointers to what’s most remarkable about the Founder of Christianity and the Christianity he founded.  With Father Alexander Schmemann ‘I would love to tell you that the only meaningful thing in life is what conquers death and not ‘what’ but ‘who’ - Christ’.

40 pointers to Christ’s Resurrection - 2  We have four slightly different accounts affirming that when the disciples went to the tomb of Christ they found his grave clothes folded and no sign of the dead. In the next six weeks the Resurrected Christ was seen according to Paul by over 550 people on 11 different occasions. Christianity spread at an astonishing rate and survives 20 centuries later. Over these centuries much critical investigation has gone into the claim for Jesus Christ being the only Man to come back from the dead and there is as yet no conclusive evidence against that claim.

40 pointers to Christ’s Resurrection - 3  Muslims believe Jesus was rescued from earth before the crucifixion. They know their own prophet is dead. The perception that Islam gives priority to Jesus as ever alive was life and faith changing for Abdullah, a Muslim convert to Christ mentioned in Daniel Clark’s book ‘Dead or Alive?’. Another forceful witness is lawyer Charles Colson imprisoned for his part in the Watergate scandal. Party to that great cover up Colson is quoted about the vulnerability of covered up lies and the unlikelihood of anyone dying for them in the way early Christians died for their risen Lord.

40 pointers to Christ’s Resurrection - 4  We have seven accounts of Christ’s Resurrection in the New Testament. Textual critics have yet to undermine the complementary witness of Mark 16:1-8, Matthew 28, Luke 24, John 20 and Mark 16:9-13, Acts 1:1-11 and 1 Corinthians 15:3-8. There are inconsistencies in geography and timing but in recording an event stretching the boundaries of space and time that’s unsurprising. That’s not deterred the ongoing digestion of these passages over centuries and their acceptance by eminent historians and lawyers.

40 pointers to Christ’s Resurrection - 5  The whole thrust of St. Paul’s writings, the earliest Christian documentation, is that Jesus Christ was and is raised as first born of the dead (Romans 4:24f, 6:4, 6:9, 7:4, 8:11, 29, 34, 10:9; 1 Corinthians 6:14, 15:4, 12-17, 20, 29, 32, 35, 42-44, 52; 2 Corinthians 1:9, 4:14, 5:15; Galatians 1:1; Ephesians 1:20; Colossians 2:12; 1 Thessalonians 1:10). Critical biblical scholarship has established these Pauline texts as earliest evidences of the resurrection followed by the later gospel narratives. 

40 pointers to Christ’s Resurrection - 6  At the heart of Paul’s gospel is the desire to safeguard the historical facts central to Christianity: ‘I hand it on to you as of first importance what I in turn have received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures’ (1 Corinthians 15:3-4). This core gospel statement has four parts stressing Christ’s burial. Paul professes here the resuscitation of Christ’s buried corpse and the emptying of his tomb. 

40 pointers to Christ’s Resurrection - 7  The weather is the result of quite random events occurring in an infinity of places. Yet from this chaos can and do emerge very beautiful manifestations of order and pattern like the rainbow or the sunset. Although the tendency of living forms is towards the chaos of death and dissolution the emergence at one point in time and space of the Risen Christ is a parallel.  The emergence at one point of a Man brought back from the dead is in harmony with scientific truth as much as the emergence of a beautiful rainbow on a stormy day.

40 pointers to Christ’s Resurrection - 8  There’s no knock down proof of Christ’s Resurrection or indeed of any past event that’s alleged to have happened. It’s a matter of weighing up the evidence.  In this connection the former Lord Chief Justice of the United Kingdom, Lord Darling, made this comment about Christ's Resurrection: 'In its favour there exists such overwhelming evidence, positive and negative, factual and circumstantial, that no intelligent jury in the world could fail to bring in a verdict that the Resurrection story is true'.

40 pointers to Christ’s Resurrection - 9  Hard evidence for an event that happened in a relatively primitive society 2000 years could almost certainly not exist. Even if we had written testimony it would be disputed as imaginary, just as events videoed and photographed today are regularly disputed as forgeries. It is much more helpful to look at the case for the resurrection on a par with the case for, as an example, the Big Bang. There’s no hard proof just enough circumstantial findings to make belief reasonable to an averagely intelligent human being.

40 pointers to Christ’s Resurrection - 10  The power of life is a pointer to resurrection. There was a house built in a forest clearing with six foot concrete foundations. In time an oak sapling burst through the floor. Such is the natural power released in the coming to life of a tiny acorn. The irrepressibility of the life of that acorn is a natural pointer to the supernatural phenomenon of Christ’s Resurrection if we were to accept God’s immortal life has been planted in the world. ‘Christ has crushed death by his death and bestowed Life upon those who lay in the tomb’.

40 pointers to Christ’s Resurrection - 11  Though the Resurrection is an article of Christian Faith that goes beyond reason its well attested historical record is a challenge to rationalism i.e. to a worldview that excludes what the human mind can’t compass.  There are many challenges to such a worldview. Scientists are agnostic about the nature of light given conflicting particle and wave theories. Moralists struggle to explain altruism and anyone who’s fallen in love has found themselves in a realm beyond reason!

40 pointers to Christ’s Resurrection - 12  Christians remain the  world's largest religious group in 2015 making up nearly a third (31%) of earth's 7.3 billion people according to demographic analysis. All Christian groups can trace back to around 30 AD in Palestine. The question of Christianity’s origins is a searching one. The documents Christians hold, which are taken seriously in most of the world’s university’s, clearly state that origin dates from the Founder’s resurrection. The existence and historical claims of such a large company are hard to dismiss.

40 pointers to Christ’s Resurrection - 13  Study of the Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles shows how Christ’s disciples changed from a sad defeated group into fearless missionaries. Peter in particular evidently denied he knew Christ before a servant girl who challenged him after the arrest of Jesus. Weeks later the same man could not be silenced by the whole Jewish Sanhedrin where he gave fearless witness to the resurrection. There’s a strong tradition Peter was martyred for his faith in Christ as unique Saviour, crucified yet risen from the dead.

40 pointers to Christ’s Resurrection - 14    Although the Easter event stands as an unique happening the claim of Christians that it occurred in fulfilment of the Jewish Scriptures has solid basis. Psalm 22 and Isaiah 53 speak of a suffering servant who prevails. The promise of resurrection is voiced in Isaiah 26:19-21, Ezekiel 37:12-14, Daniel 12:1-3 and Job 19:25-27 made famous through Handel’s musical setting: ‘I know that my redeemer liveth and he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth and though worms destroy this body yet in my flesh shall I see God’.

40 pointers to Christ’s Resurrection - 15    Christ himself is recorded as predicting both his death and resurrection. The Gospels record how these predictions caused dismay to his followers. At his trial we read in Matthew 26:61 the accusation against him that ‘this fellow said, ‘I am able to destroy the temple of God and to build it in three days’. Although the saying has bearing on the destruction of the Jewish Temple by the Romans in 70 AD it is widely seen as Christ’s prediction of his own death and resurrection.

40 pointers to Christ’s Resurrection - 16    Many thousands have read former atheist Lee Strobel’s book ‘The Case for Christ’. Strobel, a journalist and law student, attempted a rigorous investigation of the evidence for Jesus. After studying the accounts of the resurrection appearances, Strobel concluded they were as well authenticated as anything in history. Discrepancies between these accounts he saw as actually constructive to the case. Any serious attempt to make up the resurrection stories would have made a better job of it!

40 pointers to Christ’s Resurrection - 17  Harvard Law Professor Simon Greenleaf had this to say about the varying testimonies to the resurrection of Jesus: ‘There is enough of a discrepancy to show that there could have been no previous concert among them; and at the same time such substantial agreement as to show that they all were independent narrators of the same great transaction’. God has come in the flesh and suffered our death so that we in turn, welcoming this gift of the Risen Christ, may become sharers in His divine Life.

40 pointers to Christ’s Resurrection - 18    The Gregorian calendar is the most widely used calendar in the world today. The Term AD is from the original phrase ‘anno Domini nostri Jesu Christi’, which translates to ‘in the year of our Lord Jesus Christ’. The risen Christ has been made the marker of human history. The Battle of Waterloo changed European history two centuries ago. Christ’s Resurrection, seen by many as the stamp of eternity on time, is claimed to have changed world history in every place and for centuries past, present and to come. 

40 pointers to Christ’s Resurrection - 19    The teachings of Jesus and their originality are astounding, especially his commandment to love God and our neighbours as ourselves and to forgive all who hurt us. He said we’d need help to do as he said and help would come our way. Unlike the Buddha who also gave moral teaching Jesus also gave his life. He’s the only founder of a religion without a grave! Christ’s Resurrection finds its proof in Christian experience as we rise above our failings through his Spirit’s empowerment to share his originality and compassion.

40 pointers to Christ’s Resurrection - 20  The first century Jewish historian Flavius Josephus wrote about Jesus: ‘About this time there lived Jesus, a wise man, if indeed one ought to call him a man. His conduct was good and he was known to be virtuous. And many people from among the Jews and the other nations became his disciples. Pilate condemned him to be crucified and to die. But those who became his disciples did not abandon his discipleship. They reported that he had appeared to them three days after his crucifixion, and that he was alive’.

40 pointers to Christ’s Resurrection - 21    In first-century Israel, women were not allowed to testify in a court of law as they were considered unreliable witnesses. Yet the New Testament accounts of Christ’s Resurrection indicate how in seeking to get news of this out to the world he commissioned women followers, chiefly Mary Magdalene, to do it. This choice is in harmony with the esteem Jesus had for women. The role of women as witnesses is  remarkable and controversial for those days and would not have been included in any fabricated story. 

40 pointers to Christ’s Resurrection - 22    The Jewish Sabbath on Friday gave way for Christians to Sunday as the Lord’s Day. Not only were the first disciples changed by encounter with the risen Lord Jesus, the very day of weekly worship got changed. This  is a fact of history which needs accounting for given the conservatism of religious traditions, especially Judaism which keeps the same regulations today as in Jesus’ day for the commencement of Sabbath on Friday evening. Christ’s Resurrection ‘on the third day’ is allegedly behind this change.

40 pointers to Christ’s Resurrection - 23    New Testament Scholar E. P. Sanders argues that a concerted plot to foster belief in the Resurrection would probably have resulted in a more consistent story: ‘There seems to have been a competition: 'I saw him,' 'so did I,' 'the women saw him first,' 'no, I did; they didn't see him at all,' and so on.’ In defending the historicity of the resurrection, Sanders goes on to say, ‘that Jesus’ followers (and later Paul) had resurrection experiences is, in my judgment, a fact. What the reality was that gave rise to the experiences I do not know.’

40 pointers to Christ’s Resurrection - 24    James D.G. Dunn is quoted in Wikipedia saying whereas the apostle Paul's resurrection experience was ‘visionary in character’ and ‘non-physical, non-material’, the accounts in the Gospels are very different. He contends that the "massive realism'...of the [Gospel] appearances themselves can only be described as visionary with great difficulty - and Luke would certainly reject the description as inappropriate’ and that the earliest conception of resurrection in the Jerusalem Christian community was physical.

40 pointers to Christ’s Resurrection - 25    New Testament scholar N.T. Wright is quoted in Wikipedia suggesting that multiple lines of evidence from the New Testament and the early Christian beliefs it reflects shows it would be highly unlikely that belief in the empty tomb would simply appear without a clear basis in the memory of the early Christians. In tandem with the historically certain visionary experiences of the early disciples and apostles, Jesus' resurrection as a historical and accessible reality becomes far more plausible. 

40 pointers to Christ’s Resurrection - 26    Acts 9:1-20 records how on the road to Damascus, Saul of Tarsus, then arch-persecutor of the early disciples, was converted to Christianity following an extraordinary vision and discourse with the risen Lord Jesus that left him blind for three days and led to a change of name to Paul the apostle, one of Christianity's foremost missionaries. Though some trace Christianity back to Paul’s vision as hallucination it’s hard to make sense of the impetus from his experience without the parallel Christian movement tracing back to Easter.

40 pointers to Christ’s Resurrection - 27    The experience of the living Christ is at the heart of the survival of Christianity over 2000 years. Documented holiness and wickedness in the Church over 20 centuries allows outsiders to make judgment on the truth of Christian claims of which Christ’s Resurrection is central. The Church’s survival in the face of its failures is a pointer to the truth of the Resurrection. Looking over history G.K.Chesterton wrote that ‘every time Christianity has seemed to be going to the dogs the dog dies!’

40 pointers to Christ’s Resurrection - 28    The Roman historian Tacitus wrote in 115AD of ‘an immense multitude’ following Jesus despite his ‘suffering the extreme penalty…under Pontius Pilate’. How can we explain the extraordinary growth of Jesus’ followers if that penalty (crucifixion) had really been the end of his story? Tacitus is no friend of Christianity so his account of the early church all the more impressive corroboration of the resurrection in parallel with the New Testament, itself respected by scholars as a disciplined history of an extraordinary phenomenon.

40 pointers to Christ’s Resurrection - 29    What usually happens doesn’t always happen. The laws of science allow for this. The resistance of a metal wire to the flow of electric current follows so-called Ohm’s Law that voltage divided by current is constant. At low temperatures Ohm’s Law breaks down and you get superconductivity. This illustrates a key philosophical point concerning Christ’s Resurrection: it doesn’t override but it qualifies death’s predictability pointing to the most meaningful thing in life: what conquers death, not ‘what’ but ‘who’ - Christ’!

40 pointers to Christ’s Resurrection - 30    The accounts of the resurrection in the New Testament are strangely reserved and matter of fact. The disciples fail again and again to recognise Jesus. This failure would hardly have been relayed to us if, as some critics of Christianity make out, the disciples made up the stories.  Would the different geographical focuses - Matthew in Galilee, Luke in Jerusalem - have survived in a made up version? As J.B.Phillips wrote it is precisely in the untidiness of the New Testament records that we hear ‘the ring of truth’.

40 pointers to Christ’s Resurrection - 31    Counter to the most radical theory that Christ’s Resurrection was an invention Norman Anderson writes ‘Think, first, of the number of witnesses...Paul tells us that in 56 AD the majority of some 500 original witnesses were still alive. Think, too, of the character of the witnesses. Not only did they give the world the highest moral and ethical teaching it has ever known, but they lived it out, as even their opponents were forced to admit. Is it conceivable that a deliberate lie would… inspire them to… martyrdom?

40 pointers to Christ’s Resurrection - 32    N.T.Wright concludes: ‘We are left with the secure historical conclusion: the tomb was empty, and various ‘meetings’ took place not only between Jesus and his followers (including at least one initial sceptic) but also, in at least one case (that of Paul), between Jesus and people who had not been among his followers. I regard this conclusion as coming in the same sort of category, of historical probability so high as to be virtually certain, as the death of Augustus in AD 14 or the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70’.

40 pointers to Christ’s Resurrection - 33     The Shroud of Turin, an ancient length of linen cloth alleged to be Christ’s burial shroud, was first  photographed 1898 revealing an extraordinary ‘Christ-like face’ in the black-and-white negative, clearer than in its natural sepia colour, as if a scorch mark from radiation. Pope John Paul II called the Shroud ‘a Mirror of the Gospel’. Carbon dating in 1988 dated the cloth 1260-1390 but the material used may have been part of a medieval repair so there’s new openness to the relic being a record of Christ’s Resurrection.

40 pointers to Christ’s Resurrection - 34     A point against dismissing witnesses to the Resurrection as ‘muddle headed mystics’ is given by C.H.Dodd: ‘The various stories about the “appearances” of the risen Christ to his followers… have one constant feature. They do not refer to anything in the nature of a vague “mystical experience” but are all centred in a moment of recognition. You can’t recognize a person unless you remember him. Thus an act of remembrance of a real and well-known person is a built in feature of the faith that inspired the gospels.’

40 pointers to Christ’s Resurrection - 35     Why one particular event in the history of the world - Christ’s death and resurrection - should have unique saving significance is a key problem or mystery. Those of Christian faith take comfort from recent convergences between cosmic and atomic physics which show patterns observed by telescopes and microscopes have more in common than once thought. Their affinity makes some sense of the coming of an omnipresent God to one time and place to demonstrate in love his supremacy over death.

40 pointers to Christ’s Resurrection - 36     The universally acknowledged fact that Christ has risen in the early Church is clear from Paul’s first letter to Corinth which engages in Chapter 15v12f with believers questioning their own resurrection after death. ‘If Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say there is no resurrection of the dead? ... If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died’.

40 pointers to Christ’s Resurrection - 37     Were the alleged  appearances of the risen Christ hallucinations? A negative answer builds from the fact 500 are said to have seen Jesus at the same time.  Then the apostles appear somewhat down to earth eg hard-headed Matthew the tax collector and the fishermen Peter, James and John. Hallucinations often arise for people expecting, yearning for events like an oasis in the desert. The New Testament records how the disciples weren’t expecting Christ’s resurrection appearances which were a surprise to them.

40 pointers to Christ’s Resurrection - 38     In a recent book Steve Simms documents a lady from Nashville who has literally seen the risen Jesus. She grew up a Muslim in Baghdad. She was arrested under Saddam Hussein, imprisoned, and tortured and raped daily for months. Finally, in desperation she cried out, “God, whoever you are, please help me!” When she opened her eyes she saw Jesus literally standing in front of her. The next day a guard sneaked her out of prison and released her at the Jordanian border.

40 pointers to Christ’s Resurrection - 39    From Easter Day onwards people have encountered the Risen Jesus in ‘the Breaking of Bread’ (Luke 24:35). Philosopher priest Teilhard De Chardin spoke of this pointer to Christ’s Resurrection: the pure, round whiteness of the uplifted Host at Mass, bread imbued with the risen Christ, pointing to the perfection ahead in eternity when God will become everything to everyone in His Son. By raising Jesus as the centre of human history Christians believe the Father has made him our hope, our goal, our Omega. 

40 pointers to Christ’s Resurrection - 40    Over the last 40 days we’ve set forth 40 pointers on this Instagram blog mirroring how that first Easter ‘After Christ’s suffering he presented himself alive to his disciples by many convincing proofs, appearing to them during forty days’ (Acts 1:3). The Resurrection shows us Truth as the Risen Son of God seeking us. Jesus by his Resurrection is in a position to give this invitation: ‘Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest’ (Matthew 11:28)