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Rev Adam Pawley

The Rector writes,

Easter approaches… Alleluia! Christ is Risen!

I wonder how we would each react if someone we knew came back from the dead? Shock! Horror? Amazement! Unbelievable? Impossible!

Personally, if someone I knew had died and then came back from the dead I doubt they would convince me it was them! Even if they looked like them.

Jesus’ resurrection is core to the Christian faith. If it’s not true then the Christian faith collapses. Yet it’s still going 2,000 years later. Why then can we be sure that Jesus really rose from the dead? Firstly, that he really died too?

The best evidence for Jesus’ death and resurrection is the four gospels. These were after all pooled together into the New Testament by the early church for this purpose: they are evidence for the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.

So what do they say? On Maundy Thursday evening, following the last supper, Jesus praying in the Garden of Gethsemane is arrested. He is trialled before the High Priest Caiaphas and on Good Friday morning before the Roman Governor Pilate and sentenced to crucifixion. His skin tender from ‘sweating blood’ (Luke 22:44) – a rare medical condition called hematidrosis that can occur when under great psychological stress, he was beaten by the guards and soldiers (Mark 14:65, 15:19). He would have gone into hypovolemic shock – lost large quantities of blood. The gospels tell us he (surprisingly) survived this because he was then crucified.

On the cross, a form of death by suffocation, it was unlikely Jesus would have lasted long. At his death, John’s gospel account tells us, “when they found that he was already dead… one of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water” (John 19:34). This is a reference to clot and serum, if a corpse is pierced and such flows from the body, it is medical confirmation that the body is dead.

The gospels are full of people who witnessed the crucifixion and burial of Jesus. If you look at Marks’ burial narrative alone (Mark 15:42-47),you will discover that Pilate, a Roman Centurion, Joseph of Arimathea and the women on the way to the tomb all witnessed Jesus’ death and burial. We can be confident that Jesus really died.

Why then can we be confident that Jesus really rose from the dead? An empty tomb is obviously not enough evidence for the resurrection.

The gospels tell of several occasions where Jesus’ appeared alive to his disciples (e.g. Mark 16:9-20 – our final Mark narrative for Sunday 12th April). One of the post-resurrection accounts describes Thomas touching Jesus’ nail and spear scars (John 21:7), another Jesus is eating breakfast on the beach with his disciples (John 21:12), so this is a genuine bodily resurrection claim we are talking about too. The Apostle Paul said that on one occasion Jesus appeared to more than 500 people (1 Corinthians 15:6). This number of people don’t hallucinate!

After Jesus’ resurrection, in the book of Acts, Jesus’ disciples were then willing to be killed for their faith in the resurrection. Why give your own life for the sake of a lie?

The four gospels in the New Testament too don’t all tell the story identically. We might say, well that’s evidence that it’s not true then, but their differences actually strengthen the case for the resurrection. It’s evidence that the gospels are independent accounts, that they’re not plagiarised. Yet all four have the same four core elements: Jesus died on the cross, Jesus’ body is buried in a tomb, the women discover the tomb to be empty on Easter morning, they see a vision of angels saying Jesus is risen, and Jesus is witnessed alive.

A short read of 96 pages, (and a source for this month’s article) that presents evidence for the resurrection is Lee Strobel’s The Case for Easter, available £1.99 in paperback from online retailers Eden or Amazon, 99p for a Kindle edition or free to you if you ask me for a copy. Some of it (medical evidence for his death) I don’t recommend if you are easily queasy!

Of course, the real question is (and the question in itself is evidence for the resurrection and the need for it), Why does Jesus’ death and resurrection matter? This will be explored in our Holy Week Meditations and Easter services to which I invite you as we conclude Mark’s Gospel for 2015. Please see the Easter flyer.

This Holy Week and Easter as you join us, I invite you: Come to remember his death and celebrate with confidence that He is risen indeed.

Alleluia. Adam.

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