|I can almost see the Roman authorities bringing in Adrian Monk, everyone's favorite obsessive-compulsive detective, to find out what really happened to Jesus' body. Monk gingerly steps over the police tape and wanders around the outside of the empty tomb, arms outstretched. His fingertips taste the air, pausing just long enough to touch the tip of each soldier's spear. He studies the stone before stepping inside, where he arranges the strips of linen described in John 20:6 according to size. After plucking a crumb out of a Pharisee's beard and asking Natalie for a wipe, he says "Here's how it happened" and describes the entire biblical account of Christ's death and resurrection—even offering physical evidence to support John's claim that he outran Peter to the tomb.|
Of course, short of having Adrian Monk, Gil Grissom or the Mentalist on hand to declare "The Case of the Missing Savior" open and shut, we're left to draw our own conclusions about the events detailed in the Gospels. How reliable is the evidence? And what separates the Christian faith from other religions?
For the answer to the first question, I like to look to men such as Josh McDowell and Lee Strobel who, before coming to faith in Christ, dissected the evidence in an attempt to disprove it. But instead of a flimsy faith built on a shaky foundation, both men found a rock-solid argument for believing the Bible's account of Jesus' life, death and resurrection. And that resurrection is precisely what makes Christianity a unique belief system: the fact that our founder, leader and Lord had the power to bring himself back to life. Jesus Christ beat death, and promised to do so for us as well.
More Than Restored … Resurrected
People understand the concept of restoration. We restore antique furniture, vintage cars and Victorian houses. In a restoration, broken things get fixed and obsolete parts get updated. It entails bringing something back to its original condition. The Christian concept of resurrection goes further. The New Testament resurrection of Christ depicts Jesus as not only alive, but glorified. It was more than the mere re-animation of a corpse.
Resurrection is a crucial component of our faith. And while mystery cults and world religions allude to it, only Christianity has history on its side. The biblical worldview is unparalleled in its promise of a resurrected body for the believer, and Christianity is certainly distinct in that its founder alone—Jesus Christ—could and did enact His own resurrection. Jesus' return after three days in the tomb is a vital, non-negotiable point of doctrine, because Jesus said before going to the cross that His resurrection would prove He was the Savior (Matt. 12:39-40; Rom. 1:4).
Both Christians and non-Christians may wonder how we can know for certain that Jesus rose from the dead. As with all of our questions, the Bible holds the answer. Here's what happened: In 1 Corinthians 15:3-8, Paul said, "For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than 500 of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living. … Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also."
Paul points out in those verses that the most convincing argument for the veracity of Christ's resurrection is that He was seen by hundreds of witnesses. Paul then goes on to pin the credibility of his ministry—and of Christianity—on that fact. He explains that, if Jesus Christ hadn't been raised, Christian preaching, faith, testimony and eternal hope are all vain (literally, "empty"). With seamless logic, he reasons that, if Jesus is still dead, then Christians are to be pitied above any other group (1 Cor. 15:14-20).
Despite arguments and alternate theories from skeptics and doubters, one of the most compelling cases for the resurrection lies in the transformed lives of the disciples. Immediately after reporting seeing Jesus alive, these previously heartbroken, cowardly disciples turned into passionate messengers of the gospel. Nothing they experienced—persecution, prison, imminent death—got them to change their story or deny they had seen Jesus. Within a very short time, their consistent preaching that Jesus had conquered death would transform the world. Two initial doubters, James and Paul, became Christians sometime after Jesus' resurrection. What happened to change their minds? They each had encountered the living Christ.
Atheists, skeptics and determined unbelievers have spent centuries trying to explain away Jesus' resurrection. But attempts to refute all of the historical evidence have only made their theories increasingly complex and unbelievable. How much simpler it would be to accept the obvious conclusion: God, the One who created the universe and all of life, worked a miracle. Jesus came back to life under the power of God, just as He had promised.
Alex McFarland is Plugged In's teen apologetics expert. For more on his ministry and speaking schedule, visit alexmcfarland.com.