CSI: Jerusalem Part 2
The Case of the Missing Body
by Greg Hanson
Sunrise Wesleyan Church
March 27, 2005

 

Main Passage: John 20:1-18 (NLT)

 

On Friday we met here and we did a forensic investigation of the Crucifixion of Jesus. We talked in detail about the physical abuse Jesus suffered both on the cross and before the cross, we discussed His state of mind and the psychological and physiological stress He endured, and we even identified the probable cause of death… cardiac arrest brought on by hypovolemic shock, suffocation, and respiratory acidosis. We examined the court records and identified several breeches of conduct that cast a shadow on the whole proceeding. We talked about the political and religious factions that took part in His death. And we also recognized that Jesus provided no physical or verbal defense to try to avoid the cross. In fact, all the evidence points to the idea that the cross was as much His idea as it was the Jewish religious leaders’ and the courts’. It was fascinating to examine all the evidence surrounding the crucifixion, and if you missed that message I would encourage you to visit our website and read it for yourself.

One of the things I want to reiterate is that Jesus willingly laid His life down. In fact, if He wasn’t willing to do that, there’s no power on earth—or anywhere else, for that matter—that could have taken it from Him. Jesus said…

John 10:18 (NLT)
“No one can take my life from me. I lay down my life voluntarily. For I have the right to lay it down when I want to and also the power to take it again.”

Well, we know He laid down His life and died. We talked about that on Friday. The forensic evidence reveals beyond a doubt that Jesus died. He did not simply slip into a coma and later come out of it. He was dead.

But it’s the second part of that statement that we’re here to examine today. Jesus claimed He could come to life again. Could He really? Did He? That’s what we celebrate on Easter, so this morning we want to see if we truly have a reason to celebrate. Did Jesus really rise from the dead? What happened to the body? Because there are only two possibilities: Either He did or He didn’t.

What I want to do here this morning is present to you some of the most common objections to the resurrection, and see if there are real answers to them. Now, I am admittedly biased. I have already examined the evidence and reached my own conclusion. But this morning I think we can still see if there are honest answers to the honest questions about the Resurrection.

Now, simply because of time there are a couple of suppositions you’re going to have to accept going into this debate. The first is that God exists, and the second is that the Bible is reliable. If we had time this morning, we could provide supporting arguments for both of those. As it is, we will only have time to touch on these this morning. So we won’t be able to do an exhaustive examination of these facts today. And I actually do have a couple of messages planned for later this year that will do just that. But for today, our focus needs to be on the resurrection itself. Because that’s what Easter is all about. If you want material regarding these other issues, then talk to me and I’ll get you some.

But this morning, the question is, “Did Jesus rise from the dead?” We’ll look at the arguments from both sides, and then you can make up your own mind about the answer to this most important of questions: Did Jesus prove His identity by rising from the dead?

And I’ve got to tell you, this is an extremely important question. The entire Christian faith rests on the fact that He did. It would be impossible for me to overstate the importance of this. Paul wrote…

1 Corinthians 15:17 (NLT)
And if Christ has not been raised, then your faith is useless, and you are still under condemnation for your sins.

And it’s important for you to realize this morning, that faith is not blind. There are reasons we believe what we believe. It is not illogical or anti-intelligence or anti-science to believe. Rather, the facts support it. So when someone challenges your beliefs, you can know that there are answers, and you can defend your beliefs.

So let’s look at ten of the most common objections to the resurrection. In your notes, I’ve listed the objections and left a little room for you to jot in your own responses.

 

Common Objections to the Resurrection:

Objection #1: Dead men don’t rise.

This is the common sense argument that doesn’t allow for the possibility of a resurrection. It says...

There is a 1:1 ratio of people being born and people dying. Pigs don’t fly, cows don’t jump over the moon, and dead men don’t rise.

But the problem with this kind of an argument is that you’re coming into the argument saying, “my mind made up. Now, don’t confuse me with the facts.” You’re ruling out the possibility right at the beginning and then saying, “Now show me the evidence for the resurrection.”

You’re coming in with a bias against anything supernatural, and because of that you’re going to have difficulty objectively analyzing the facts and reaching a fair conclusion. Christians are often portrayed as being narrow-minded, but this objection is closed-minded. Because you refuse to even look at the facts.

 

Objections # 2: A resurrection is scientifically impossible.

This is the scientific argument that declares...

There are laws of nature that prohibit people coming back from the dead. That’s a fact. And no matter how much you may want to believe otherwise, that’s not going to change. It is scientifically impossible for the resurrection to have occurred.

That’s what the objection says. But the problem with it is that it misrepresents what “laws of nature” are. Because there’s not a sheriff someplace that will shoot you for breaking the laws of nature. They’re not that kind of laws. The laws of nature are simply an expression of what is normally observed. They’re descriptive, not restrictive. They don’t prevent anything from happening, they simply explain why they don’t happen.

You see, if God exists… and we talked about that earlier… if God exists, then He is the One who put the laws of nature in place. And if that’s true, then He has both the ability and the authority to suspend those laws.

 

Objection # 3: The Bible simply contains religious testimonies written by the already convinced.

The accounts of the resurrection found in the Bible are tainted with the religious biases of the writers. They had placed their lives, their futures, their families… everything… on Jesus. So they would grasp at anything to support a resurrection myth. Relying on their testimony would be like taking George Lucas and asking him to write a critical review of Star Wars. Or like taking Don Cherry and asking him to referee a hockey game between Canada and the Czech Republic.

But just because the disciples were followers of Jesus Christ does not automatically mean that they are unreliable as historians. In fact, since they were followers of Jesus Christ, what did Jesus teach them? He taught them a high moral standard, based upon honesty, integrity and truthfulness. And so if they were going to follow His teachings it makes sense that they would strive to be honest and accurate in their accounts of what happened.

Just because the disciples were followers of Jesus does not automatically discredit them as historians. It does not mean that they lied. In fact, we know that their writings are accurate because of collaborative evidence, as there are at least 22 extra-Biblical writings plus archaeological evidence that supports the Bible’s account of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.

Sir William Ramsay was one of the greatest archaeologists who ever lived. And when he began his work, he was very skeptical of the Biblical writings, especially the writings of Luke. He expected to disprove the Bible through archaeology. But after examining the archaeological evidence, what did he conclude?

“Luke is an historian of the first rank… This author should be placed along with the very greatest of historians.”
~ Sir William Ramsay

And it’s only logical to conclude that if Luke was so precise and accurate in his writing, then that would carry over into his writings on the resurrection.

 

Now, the centerpiece of the whole resurrection account is the empty tomb. The place where Jesus was buried was found empty. Let’s focus in on that for a few minutes.

Objection #4: Perhaps the women went to the wrong tomb.

After all, these were emotional, psychologically drained, desperate women. It’s quite possible that they just weren’t thinking straight and went to the wrong tomb.

But you need to understand, this was not a little execution that happened off in the corner someplace. This would have been the most publicized execution… probably ever… in this region of the world.

This was not a quiet event. There were mobs of people present at the crucifixion. People knew what had happened. They knew that Jesus had been crucified and they knew where Jesus was buried. I can tell you today whose tomb Jesus was buried in… Joseph of Arimathea. And he was friendly with the disciples. If the women had gone to the wrong tomb, he certainly would have pointed it out.

Plus, if you assume that the women went to the wrong tomb then you’d also have to assume that Peter and John who came later also went to the wrong tomb. And wouldn’t they have wondered what happened to the Roman guards and the seal that was placed over the tomb… shouldn’t there be remnants of that? And don’t you think they would have double-checked and made sure they had the right tomb before they staked their lives on it?

And plus, if this was the wrong tomb, that means that there was a right tomb someplace. That means there was a body someplace. And if the Romans or the Jewish leaders wanted to disprove the resurrection and discredit the disciples all they needed to do was present that body. They would have loved to have done that. But they didn’t do it because it was the right tomb.

 

Objection #5: So what if the body was missing? That just means it was stolen or moved.

Even if the body was missing, what does that prove? It only proves that there was a body missing. And that is a far cry from a resurrection. In fact, right now there are thousands of people agonizing over missing bodies in Southeast Asia. Three months ago, the Tsunami swept thousands of people away and they died. It was a tragedy, but nobody is claiming that they came back to life again. A missing body does not a resurrection make. If the body was missing, it means that somebody stole it or moved it.

Well who, then? Who would have stolen or moved the body? There are really three possibilities.

Three Possibilities:

  • The Roman Government

  • The Jewish Religious Leaders

  • The Disciples

I suppose there is a fourth possibility, that some common grave-robbers stole the body. But grave-robbers don’t steal bodies, they steal valuables from graves. But in Jesus’ case, the only thing of any value whatsoever was left behind… the linen cloth that Jesus was buried in was left in the tomb. So you can immediately rule out grave-robbers.

We can talk about the Roman Government and the Jewish Leaders together here. Because neither one of them had any motive whatsoever to hide the body. They would have loved more than anything to be able to produced the body because that would have instantly crushed this whole new faith of Christianity and wiped it out of existence, and they desperately wanted to do that. But they didn’t do that. Why? Because they didn’t have the body. Neither the Roman authorities nor the Jewish religious leaders wanted an empty tomb, because the empty tomb was essential to the Christian faith.

Can you imagine what would have happened to the Christian faith if you had Peter out there preaching about how Jesus rose from the dead and all of a sudden the Romans or the Jewish leaders produced the body? It would have completely destroyed the credibility of the believers and Christianity would have been proven false and would have never gotten off the ground. More than anything, the Romans and the Jews would have loved to parade the body up and down Main Street in Jerusalem proclaiming, “You say He’s risen? Looks dead to us.”

It’s inconceivable that the Romans and Jews would have stolen the body, or if they had that they never produced it. So let’s talk about the disciples.

First, it would have been completely out of character for the disciples to steal the body and then lie about it. It’s not impossible, but it’s unlikely because they had sat for years under the instruction of Jesus who taught them that high moral code. It would have been completely inconsistent with His teachings for them to steal the body, lie about it, and then be willing to be put to death for a lie.

Secondly, it would have been inconsistent with what else was going on in their lives at the time. Think about it… when the soldiers came to arrest Jesus, all of the disciples ran away and hid. Peter came back, and ended up following Jesus at a distance through the initial trials. But when a servant girl… a servant girl… recognized him as a disciple, he was so scared that he denied it. After His death, the disciples were devastated. As far as they were concerned, it was over. So what makes you think that this frightened, distraught group of people somehow mustered up the courage to go to the tomb and take on the entire Roman guard that was stationed there… the highly trained, well-armed Roman soldiers… and steal the body?

Third, there was a story that was spread at the time that in fact the disciples had stolen the body. The historical record is that the Roman authorities paid the guards to say that they had fallen asleep and that the disciples had stolen the body. But that’s absurd. If they were asleep, how in the world would they know who stole the body? Plus, if every one of them did fall asleep, don’t you think that when the stone was moved they would have awoken? Because there was a huge stone rolled in front of the tomb that would have taken 20 people to move. Plus the fact that for Roman soldiers to fall asleep on duty, it would have been a death penalty situation. But there’s no record whatsoever of them being reprimanded or punished in the least. Doesn’t that seem odd?

And fourth, the most important reason the disciples couldn’t have stolen the body is because they had nothing to gain from it. It would not make sense for them to claim, “We’re going to steal the body and then lie about it, and then we’ll have the unspeakable privilege of traveling around as penniless evangelists for the rest of our lives, being beaten, being thrown in jail, being whipped, and being put to death for a lie. I mean, it just doesn’t make sense. And remember, in the end it cost them their lives.

 

Objection #6: The fact the disciples died for their faith doesn’t prove anything.

You know, you’re making a big time out of the fact that the disciples died. But what does that prove? It doesn’t prove anything, because there have always been people willing to die for their beliefs, whether their beliefs were true or not. September 11th is proof of that. The terrorists were willing to die that day for their beliefs. That doesn’t mean their beliefs were true. That doesn’t mean that what they did was right. People have been dying for religion throughout history.

But there’s a major difference between what the terrorists did and what the disciples did. I would agree that people throughout history have been willing to die for their faith if they believe it’s true. And I will concede that the terrorists believed that when they died that day they would go straight to Paradise. But there’s a major difference, and that difference is this:

People will die for their faith if they believe it is true, but they will not die for their faith if they know it is false.

And the disciples were in a position to know whether or not Jesus had really risen from the dead. And I remind you that all but one of the remaining eleven disciples were put to death proclaiming that Jesus had risen. In fact, six of them chose to be tortured through crucifixion rather than recant their claims that Jesus had risen from the dead and that they had seen Him. And nobody knowingly dies for a lie.

 

Okay, I just mentioned that the disciples claimed to have seen Jesus after the resurrection. And there were others, too. Let’s shift our focus to these appearances. Because there were several of them. Just in 1 Corinthians 15, Paul summarizes several of them that are described in detail elsewhere…

1 Corinthians 15:4-8 (NLT)
He was buried, and he was raised from the dead on the third day… He was seen by Peter and then by the twelve apostles. After that, he was seen by more than five hundred of his followers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died by now. Then he was seen by James and later by all the apostles. Last of all, I saw him, too…

And then there are other accounts of Him appearing to Mary Magdalene and to others as well. So here’s an objection…

 

Objection #7: Paul claims that 500 people saw Jesus at the same time. But these are 500 nameless people.

How do I know that what Paul wrote is true? I mean, these are 500 nameless people. I need their names, I need their phone numbers, I need their addresses, I need their emails. How do I know these people really existed? This evidence is so sketch that it’s really no evidence at all.

Well, first of all, this reference to 500 people is accompanied by a list of specifically identified individuals, five of whom ended up writing their own books on the subject. Matthew, John, James, Peter, and Paul. The reference to 500 was merely cream on top of the argument. He didn’t name them all because he was discussing a widely known fact.

I mean, if I tell you that I went to a Rocket game and told you that there were 2000 other people there, too, just because I don’t name them all doesn’t mean that they weren’t there. And remember, over half of these people were still alive. It would have been easy for Paul’s enemies… and he had plenty… to expose him as lying if indeed he were lying. But Paul’s saying, “Hey, if you doubt me, there are plenty of people out there that are going to back up what I’m saying.”

And I think it’s also important for us to remember that the disciples are writing about these events and telling about them in the very region where they happened. If they were lying about it, the people would have run them out of town. I mean, if you’re going to make up a myth, tell about something that happened in a far off land. Or tell about something that happened long, long ago. (Maybe even in a galaxy far, far away.)

If I told you about the huge riots that happened in downtown Charlottetown this week, you would know that I was lying. But if I told you about the riots in Eritrea, you probably wouldn’t know if I was telling the truth or not. You might believe me, you might not.

But here you have the disciples spreading the news in the very area at the very time the resurrection happened to the very people who would have known if it was true or false. Look in Acts chapter 2. This is just a couple months after the alleged resurrection, and Peter is addressing a crowd of people…

Acts 2:22, 32 (NIV)
“Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know… God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact.”

He appeals to their knowledge of recent events. Did they tell him they didn’t know what he was talking about? No, that doesn’t happen. They don’t throw him out of town. Instead, 3000 of them that day were baptized and added to the Church.

 

Objection #8: The resurrection accounts are contradictory.

Read them for yourself. If you read the four Gospel accounts of the resurrection, each account included different facts and different people that saw Jesus at different times and in different places. The accounts contradict each other.

Well, first of all, if you were in a court of law and all of the witnesses told you the exact same story, the judge would throw their story out because it would be obvious that they had conspired and rehearsed their story. Because eyewitness testimonies differ in the details. In a courtroom the main question is, “Do the witnesses agree on the essential facts?” And it’s clear in the Bible that all the testimonies agree on the main facts that Jesus died and rose again and that there were people who saw Him after He arose.

And second, just because there are different details doesn’t mean that they contradict each other. Here’s an example. The Macmillans went to New Brunswick this week. I could be talking to one person and tell them that Jim went to New Brunswick. I could tell someone else that Lynn was in Moncton. And I could tell someone else that Jim and Lynn took the kids to see Aunt Gerti. Which statement is true?

The answer is: all of them are. Just because there are different details doesn’t mean they contradict each other. In fact, they compliment each other.

 

Objection #9: The appearances were hallucinations.

Okay, maybe these people did believe they saw something. But that’s not uncommon for stressed out people to finally cave in psychologically and begin to see things. It would be like the guy lost and crawling through the desert who is so thirsty that after a while he begins to see mirages and think he’s seeing water. It’s just plain, old-fashioned wish fulfillment. Like the people who claim they’ve seen Bigfoot or the Loch Ness Monster.

Well, first of all, leave Nessie out of this. But there are some real problems with this hallucination theory. The first one being that hallucinations are not group events. You don’t find multiple people seeing the same hallucination. In other words, it’d be like me coming in here this morning and saying, “Wow, how about that dream I had last night, huh? What’d you think of it? Wasn’t that something?” You’re going to think, “What is he talking about?”

Gary Collins is an internationally acclaimed psychologist who has written over 45 books on psychology related topics, and he put it this way:

“Hallucinations are individual occurrences. By their very nature only one person can see a given hallucination at a time. They certainly are not something which can be seen by a group of people.”
~ Gary Collins

And someone else has said…

“Having 500 different people have the same hallucination at exactly the same time would be a greater miracle than the resurrection itself.”
~ Unknown

Plus, these couldn’t have been just hallucinations because Jesus interacted with the people. He spoke to them, He talked with them, He ate with them, He showed them His wounds in His hands and side, and they even were able to touch Him. Doesn’t sound like an hallucination to me. Neither was He a ghost or a spirit. He had a physical body. And He appeared to multiple people in a variety of places and in broad daylight… not when there could have been some question as to who He was and what the shadows were hiding.

The final objection we’re looking at this morning is related to the hallucination theory…

 

Objection #10: The appearances were simply wish-fulfillment.

Jesus had told his disciples that He would rise from the dead. So obviously they would have been watching for Him. They would have expected to see Him, so they fulfilled their own wishes by thinking that they saw Him.

But you need to understand that even though Jesus did talk about His death and resurrection, the disciples didn’t understand what He was talking about. John, for example, admits that they didn’t “get it” until after the resurrection. Sure, Jesus had talked about it, but they didn’t understand. Only in looking back after the fact did they put it all together. So these disciples were crushed, they were discouraged, they were confused, they were dejected. They weren’t looking for Jesus to be resurrected.

Look at Thomas as an example of the frame of mind of the disciples. Thomas was a skeptic. Here’s Thomas being told by his friends, “He’s alive, He’s alive, we’ve seen Him.” How does Thomas respond? “I’m not going to believe it unless I can put my fingers in His nail holes and I can put my hand in His side.” Thomas wasn’t going to stake his life on wish-fulfillment, but what happened? We’re told that Thomas did see Jesus and ended up being killed for his beliefs in south India.

And Jesus didn’t just appear to His disciples and to believers. He appeared to unbelievers, too. Such as James, the half-brother of Jesus. James had not been a follower of Jesus. In fact, he had rejected Him. Hey, if your brother went around declaring, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me,” you would probably reject him, too. So James was not a follower of Jesus. And yet, what was it that suddenly turned James so completely around that he was willing to proclaim to his death that Jesus was the Son of God who died and rose again? The only thing I can think of is found in 1 Corinthians 15 where it records that the resurrected Jesus appeared to James.

And remember, before the resurrection, all of the disciples thought it was over. They were all thinking about going back to fishing or whatever their old jobs were. They had been beaten, and they knew it. Not only that, but they had betrayed and deserted Jesus at His greatest hour of need. They were ashamed, they were confused, and it all seemed so hopeless for them. But all of that changed. John Stott, one of the greatest theologians in the world today, said…

“Perhaps the transformation of the disciples is the greatest evidence of all for the resurrection… When Jesus died, they were heartbroken, confused and frightened. But within less than two months they came out of hiding, full of joy, confidence and courage. What can account for this dramatic transformation? Only the resurrection, together with Pentecost which followed soon afterwards.”
~ John Stott

And if you want to talk about someone who was at the complete opposite end of the spectrum from the disciples, think about Paul. Paul was a professional persecutor of Christians. He had made it his job and he really loved it. He was putting them to death, he was jailing them, and he was beating them. And yet what possibly could have happened that would have turned him 180 degrees around to become the greatest promoter of the Christian faith in history? The only thing I can think of is that he was telling the truth when he said the resurrected Jesus appeared to him.

 

So there you have it. 10 Objections to the Resurrection, and what I believe are reasonable responses to those objections. But really, when it comes to examining evidence, who is more qualified to do that than legal scholars?

Dr. Simon Greenleaf was a Jewish professor and the man who made Harvard Law School what it is today. He wrote a famous book entitled, A Treatise on the Law of Evidence, considered by many to be the greatest legal volume ever written. He was challenged by a student one day to investigate the claims of the resurrection and apply the rules of evidence. He did, and he became a Christian.

Frank Morrison was a lawyer and a journalist who set out to disprove the resurrection. He investigated, was convinced by the evidence, and devoted his life to Christ.

John Singleton Copley, one of the greatest legal minds in history, three times the High chancellor of England, declared:

“I know what evidence is, and evidence like that for the resurrection has never broken down yet.”
~ John Singleton Copley

And so you and I can have confidence that if we take an unprejudiced look at the facts of the resurrection that they are reasonable, they are logical, and you can believe with assurance that Jesus did indeed rise from the dead and you can know Him today.


Now, just as we finish up here, there’s one thing that concerns me. A lot of people are going to miss Heaven by a matter of inches. They’re good people, maybe attend church weekly, and have even read the Bible and agree with it all. But they’re still going to miss Heaven by a matter of inches, because they believe in their head but they haven’t received in their heart. They have a knowledge of who Jesus is but they have no experience of Him. And that’s tragic.

Would you close your eyes. If you’re here this morning and you believe all of Jesus’ claims but you’ve never receive Him into your life, I want to give you that opportunity today. There’s no logical reason to put Him off. If you’d like to receive Him this morning, then just slip up your hand.

 

On Your Own…

Read the resurrection accounts for yourself. You can find them in the Bible at these references:

  • Matthew 28

  • Mark 16

  • Luke 24

  • John 20-21

  • Acts 1:1-11

For more proof of the resurrection from an intellectual perspective, read William Lane Craig’s “Contemporary Scholarship and the Historical Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus Christ” (www.leaderu.com/truth/1truth22.html)

 

 

(Thanks to Bill Hybels, Lee Strobel, Mark Mittelberg, and William Lane Craig who supplied much of the content and inspiration for this message.)

 

 

 

Copyright © Greg Hanson, 2005 SunriseOnline.ca