“You will not apply my precept,” he said, shaking his head. “How often have I said to you that when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth?” Sherlock Holmes/Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Profundity from the prince of detectives! In the guise of reason, must we abandon logic? Ultimately, believing that the Father did send Jesus as our Messiah is resolved solely via the faith which can only be given to humans through the Holy Spirit, by the will of God. That said, in this age of “reason,” it behooves the follower of Jesus to have at least the bones of a logical and reasonable defense of the centerpiece of our beliefs; the resurrection of our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Messiah. Perhaps it will come as a surprise that such a supernatural event has much to commend it, even to the naturalistic mind.
First, the only ones in a position, or possessing a motivation to falsify the resurrection, clearly believed in it themselves. Of Jesus’ original disciples, not one escaped great persecution for insisting Jesus rose from the tomb, and all save John were martyred. Not one became wealthy from speaking engagements or book royalties, nor were any of them interviewed on Roman Empire Today or Good Morning Greece or the Jewish Broadcasting Network. Nobody got accolades, but rather hardship, poverty and persecution wherever they went. So why? Few historians will deny that the apostles and other witnesses believed they had seen Jesus alive from the tomb, and believed that they had seen Him ascend bodily into the heavens. None of the actions of Jesus’ followers after His death indicate that they expected or desired public acclaim, political power, or financial profit.
Mass hallucination has been suggested, or that Jesus survived the crucifixion. Such a mass hallucination would be as supernatural an event as the resurrection, and the resurrection is more believable. As for executional failure . . . I’m sure I needn’t point out that the Romans were good at killing people. Just to make sure, they pierced Jesus’ side, and blood and water flowed out. That means He was pierced to the heart, and that his heart had been crushed by a fluid build-up in the pericardium (membrane around the heart). He was dead, and no mistake.
Second, there’s that empty tomb. Jewish historical records attest to it. All four gospel accounts insist on it. Mentions of the crucifixion itself pop up occasionally in secular records, so we can reasonably accept that He was crucified, even without the gospel writers. And where there is a crucifixion, there must be a body.
But the body went missing. The Jewish authorities had been afraid that might happen, so they asked Pilate for guards, which he granted them. They blocked the tomb with a huge rock, put a seal on it, and set a watch of Roman soldiers over it. But the soldiers came back to them with a wild tale of angels, and what could they do about that? The priests gave them the story; “Say that his disciples came and stole the body while you slept,” along with money and a promise to protect them from punishment for keeping a poor watch. Sleeping on watch is a no-no, and Roman soldiers were expendable. The only reason for them to “admit” to such a thing would be that the alternative (in this case, to tell the true story) was even worse.
So why didn’t the priests arrest the disciples for this travesty, have them tortured until they ‘fessed up and told where the body was, and then returned Jesus body to the tomb; or more likely, put it on public display? Clearly, there was no body to find. This thin story was the best they could do, and for a lot of people, it was good enough.
Third, why didn’t the disciples make up a better story? They had the women — and particularly Mary Magdalene, as the first witnesses to the resurrection. In their society women couldn’t even be counted as witnesses in a court of law. Then the disciples didn’t believe the women even though their account lined up with what Jesus had said. What’s more, the men were holed up behind locked doors while it was the ladies who had the courage to go and tend to the body of their Lord. If you’re going to make up a legend, this is not the way. You at least make yourself look good.
Fourth, there are the witnesses. Paul says that more than 500 believers watched Jesus ascend up into heaven, and that as of his writing (1 Cor 15:6), most of them were still alive. Surely the Jews could have found at least a few of these people and prevailed upon them to tell the world what they saw (or what they didn’t see) — especially if it was all a lie. But we have no mention in the Jewish writings of any attempt having been made to discredit the viral growth of “the Way” by bringing forth such witnesses.
Fifth there is James the brother of Jesus, who had not, until the resurrection, believed that his brother was the Son of God. I mean, would you? Yet he became one of the primary leaders of the early church. And let’s not forget Saul of Tarsus, later known as Paul, who went from breathing fire and death to all followers of “the Way” to the most prolific written apologist of the gospel we have. He suffered stoning, shipwreck, lashes, hunger, privation, scorn, imprisonment, and more, for the sake of the Messiah who had revealed Himself as Jesus of Nazareth as Saul had traveled toward Damascus with the intent of persecuting those who believed in Him.
There’s more, and if you look for it, you will find it, but I think I’ve presented enough here to begin to persuade our friend Sherlock Holmes, or at least to start him thinking. The trick is as always, to see what is before us rather than merely what we “know to be true.”
Blessings to you all, and a Joyful Resurrection Day!