I was on ZB on Good Friday in debate with a humanist/agnostic/God-believer of sorts and a Muslim. It was an interesting experience. I am not sure how I did (feedback appreciated). Oliver Driver of TV and talkshow fame was a lot of fun. He made some good points; many of which I agreed with. He said that God cannot be described by some 'man-made' religion. I agree with him actually. Our best attempts to describe God are limited. The only reason I dare to even go there is because God came down and made himself known in Jesus. He got hot under the collar about us believers going to the poor and helping them and our concern for homosexuality and matters of personal morality. I agree with him that we need to be concerned for the greater matters. It was interesting that he kept wondering why God hasn't come down to reveal himself. Well the truth is that he has; the incarnation.
However, just as the people of Jesus' time did not recognise that Jesus was God, I am not surprised that he doesn't get it. Jesus started promisingly casting out demons, healing the sick, raising the dead, feeding the poor miraculously, walking on water and calming storms. He demonstrated love and compassion, rebuked those who marginalised 'sinners' and loved the unlovable. The hope was high when he entered Jerusalem as a king and cleared the temple. However, from there his behaviour was irrational for a messiah! Instead of continuing purging the world of evil, he entered into debate with the Jewish leaders and incited their anger. He was then betrayed by one of his own, denied by his closest followers, tried and without giving any defence, sentenced to death. He was then killed in a most brutal manner possible.
Then, stories of his resurrection began to circulate and his followers were prepared to be beaten, imprisoned and killed on account of their utter conviction that he had risen from the dead. All very ambiguous. Historically, all not quite provable and for many implausible.
Why if he was the Messiah did he do it this way?
I can understand Oliver's uncertainty.
One has to dig deep in the story to get it. He died in such a way to fulfil not only the prophecies of the OT, but the whole religious systems of Israel. Even more, he died to satisfy the need for justice, the need for evil to be extinguished and punished. He died for our sins. He was the lamb of God, the ultimate sacrifice for sins, a sacrifice that ends all human attempts at earning salvation.
My Muslim friend Muhammed was interesting too. His presentation was not inspirational but I heard many things in common. He was much more fatalistic than I am, Allah responsible for everything! He and his people stumble on Jesus who they honour highly as a prophet, a very important one! Indeed they affirm his virgin birth; that he was filled with the Spirit and did miracles including cleansing lepers, healing the sick, raising the dead and more. Indeed they seem to accept the apocryphal idea that Jesus turned a clay pigeon into a real one as a child! They affirm his ascension but not his death on the cross, believing that he only appeared to die on the cross. Their ideas seem to be drawn from Gnosticism.
Sadly, they do not realise that unlike Muhammed himself, Jesus rose from the dead.
Indeed, the resurrection is the guts of everything. So why believe it.
1. The Empty Tomb: Why was the tomb empty? No explanation has been given.
2. The Appearances: 10 appearances, one to 500 people. 10 witnesses will normally convict a person of a crime; here we have 10 testimonies, surely enough to say, it happened!
3. The Body: Where is it? Despite the claims of James Cameron, his body remains undiscovered.
4. Accounts: There are 27 books in the NT written by 7 authors with co-authors; all are based
on the premise that Jesus rose from the dead. All were written between 16 and 60 years of the resurrection. That is a lot of witness support.
5. Inconsistencies: One can argue that the differences in the accounts rule out authenticity. Rather, they go the other way, pointing to authenticity as writers refused to collude and tidy up the loose ends. They speak of their honesty.
6. Martydom: The subsequent death of those who made the claims for no apparent gain points to their determination to hold true to their testimony. People die for a lie when there is gain for them or others on their behalf. These people we are told all died for their faith, except John who died an old man in Ephesus.
7. Transformation: The accounts suggest that these first believers went from being cowardly deniers to martyrs who refused to relent in preaching the message 'he is risen' due to some event. Such transformations indicate something serious happened. The best explanation is the resurrection.
8. Mary and the women: The accounts tell us that the first witnesses to the resurrection were women. This is remarkable in that women's testimony was valueless. Yet a number of the accounts kept them in, in their priority. This speaks of genuineness.
9. Historical Impact: Explaining how the whole Roman Empire would accept Christianity as its religion is astonishing. After all, it was a Roman leader who killed Jesus indicating that the Roman gods and Emperor was superior to Jesus the supposed God. Yet, within 300 years without the use of weapons and force, through love and proclamation, the Christian faith spread through the Empire and became its dominant religion.
10. The absence of a credible alternative: None of the alternatives really work. Some think that Jesus was just asleep and not dead. This is ludicrous. He was weakened through lack of sleep, flogged to the edge of his life, exhausted through carrying his cross (in fact he was too weak to do so), and then speared with a sword to reveal that his blood had separated; he was dead! Some think his body was stolen. This is bizzare with a legion of soldiers around his tomb ready to die to stop this happening. Some think he got out himself. Again, tough to do when dead. Impossible when pierced and beaten with a giant rock on the door, and then there were the soldiers. Some think that they got the wrong tomb. That doesn't work, because the women helped to bury him in all the accounts. Then there is the idea of hallucinations. If there was one or maybe two appearances perhaps. However, there were 10 over the whole of Israel from Galilee to Jerusalem and then to Damascus. There was an appearance to 500 people at once. Then there was the subjective state of the disciples which was not one of expectation but of devastation, hardly the state one might expect for people to have such a hallucination. There are no alternatives that work except the only one; he rose!
11. Testimonies: Then there are the millions over history who have believed this message and can testify to the transforming power of Jesus. You see, when we come to believe, it is not an intellectual decision only; something astonishing happens, and God comes into our lives spiritually. I am one of these. My wife Emma is another. We have had our lives utterly transformed and given meaning through the Spirit which entered us when we believed.
12. Monotheists accept the trinity! Another point that really indicates that Jesus rose from the dead for the first believers is that they were Jews who believed in one God and rejected the notion that God could become a person, suffer, die and rise from the dead. Such thoughts were blasphemy. Yet they were convinced to do just that. For this to happen would be like Osama Bin Laden converting to Christianity (may God make this happen!). It would take something phenomenal for this to happen; it did, the resurrection.
So Easter rocks! I will keep following because try as I might, I cannot find a reason to disbelieve in the central premise of the faith, the bodily resurrection of Jesus. He is my Lord and I will follow him. Will you?