The Resurrection of Christ: the basis of our Faith (cont)
A discussion of the Resurrection from "Raised from the Dead: True Stories of 400 Resurrection Miracles" by Father Albert J Hebert, SM published by TAN BOOKS, 1986
"Now God hath both raised up the Lord, and will raise us up also by his power. "
- 1 Corinthians 6:14
The Resurrection of Jesus Christ was the turning point in human history and is the basis of the Christian Faith. It completed the work of man's salvation and redemption by which "the gates of Heaven," closed since the sin of Adam, were again opened. The Passion, death and Resurrection of Our Lord constitute the most momentous event in the history of the world.
St. Paul summed it all up when he stated: "And if Christ be not risen again, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain ... And if Christ be not risen again, your faith is vain, for you are yet in your sins." (1 Cor. 15:14, 17). Thus the Resurrection of Christ is the basis of our faith. If it did not happen, Christianity is based on a lie and we have no hope of our own resurrection.
The fact of the Resurrection is so important that St. Peter declared that the characteristic of an Apostle was to be a witness to it. When the followers of Christ were gathered together to choose someone to replace Judas, St. Peter stated that from among the men who had known Jesus, "one of these must be made a witness with us of his resurrection." (Acts 1:22). The writings of St. Paul contain numerous references to the Apostles' preaching the Resurrection of Christ - in Jerusalem (Acts 3:15; 4:10; 5:30; 10:40), at Antioch (Acts 13:30 ff.), at Athens (Acts 17:31), at Corinth (1 Cor. 15), at Rome (Rom. 6:4-5), and in Thessalonica (I Thess. 1:10).
The Resurrection of Christ from the dead was possible only because He was both divine and human. He was the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity from all eternity, but He had also taken to Himself a human nature in the womb of the Virgin Mary, by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Jesus could suffer and die in His human nature, but because He was a Divine Person, all that He suffered had a divine value that purchased universal redemption for all mankind. All men would not make use of that redemption, so all would not be saved, but Christ had made salvation available to all.
God's perfect wisdom expressed itself in the way He planned and arranged the entire Incarnation and Redemption. Our Lord might have appeared suddenly, with great display, as a full grown man. He could have saved humanity in some other, easier manner.
But this would have prevented man from having many wonderful blessings of Divine Providence. Moreover, there would likely have been allegations that it was just a spirit or apparition that had appeared on earth in such a brief redemptive action, and not really the true God-Man. Indeed, even with His long life to prove His humanity, there were early heresies denying the fact of Our Lord's real, true human nature.
But the full Christmas story of a real Babe, of Herod's swords being aimed at His infant head, of His long family life at Nazareth amidst flesh-and-blood cousins or "brethren," and of His final three years of open public ministry, solidly established the fact of His genuine human nature. Thus His familiars could ask, "Is not this the carpenter's son?" (Matt. 13:55). And Jesus could say, "The Son of man came eating and drinking, and they say: Behold a man that is a glutton and a wine drinker, a friend of publicans and sinners." (Matt. 11:19).
It is obvious, then, that both Jesus' fellow townspeople of Nazareth and His irreverent enemies were convinced that He was human: "because that thou, being a man, makest thyself God." (John 10:33). Because His enemies considered Jesus a mere man, they crucified Him for His "blasphemy." But because He was God, He rose by His own power.
Our Lord Himself provided the proof for His divinity: the Old Testament prophecies fulfilled in Himself, His mighty works, His absolute innocence, His Lordship of the Sabbath, and His supreme power over all nature as manifested in His miracles. Moreover, He cast out those archenemies of God and man, the fallen angels, the demons. He performed all His miracles and forgave sins in His own name and by His own power.
He sealed His claim with the sublime words, "Before Abraham was made, I am" (John 8:58)-as well as with many other words testifying to His divinity. When He finally expired on the cross, the centurion, a witness for Rome, exclaimed, "Indeed this was the Son of God."
Our Lord spoke of Himself as a man who had a human nature that could be destroyed--and yet triumph over that destruction. He prophesied His own death and Resurrection. "Destroy this temple," He said, speaking of the temple of His body. "and in three days I will raise it up." (John 2:19). An incredulous generation would be given only one last, final sign, that of Jonah coming out of the belly of the whale after three days. And He spoke even more specifically: "From that time Jesus began to shew to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the ancients and scribes and chief priests, and be put to death, and on the third day rise again." (Matt. 16:21; cf. also Matt. 26:32).
The Bible also makes many other references to the Resurrection of Christ. Sometimes it is stated that God raised Him from the dead (cf. Acts 3:15), and sometimes it is stated that He "is risen" (cf. Matt. 28:6-7), thus showing forth both natures of Christ: as man, Our Lord was raised by God; as God, He arose by His own power. Referring to His own divine power, He said: "I lay down my life, that I may take it again. No man taketh it away from me: but I lay it down myself, and I have power to lay it down: and I have power to take it up again. This commandment have I received of my Father." (John 10:17-18).
Because Christ was man, the Son of Man, He was going to suffer and die. Because He was God, He was going to rise from the dead. It is ridiculous to conceive of a God-Man remaining dead!
Jesus planned way ahead that there would be no doubt that it was His true physical body that was involved in the Good Friday crucifixion, that it was His flesh and blood that lay wrapped in a shroud in the tomb borrowed from Joseph of Arimathea, and that it was with His own body that He arose on Easter morning.
So He came to His Passion, to thorns that pressed about His human brow, to scourges that rent the flesh of His human body. And red, red blood flowed from His wounds. He was fixed to the cross with real iron nails that made real holes in real hands and feet. He refused wine with gall that would have acted as a pain reliever, but He took wine at the last moment.
His enemies, thinking they had a mere man nailed to the wood, and forgetting His great deeds, or blinding themselves with obstinate pride, jeered: "If Thou be the Son of God, come down from the cross." The same words might the devil have spoken, realizing at last that this was his most terrible mistake of all, to have Jesus crucified and NOT come down. "Come down!" he might have frantically yelled, or inspired others to shout. For it was clear that Christ's real triumph would be in remaining on the cross. The scheming of the Jewish leaders was working out according to the plan of God, for His glory and the salvation of man.
No, Christ would not come down from the cross, though many others had rejected their God-given sufferings. And there would subsequently be many false or weak Christians who would walk away from the sufferings of martyrdom for temporary relief or earthly favors. No, Our Lord's death was the goal and purpose of His whole life and mission, a victory over sin, the demons, the grave.
When at last He expired with the words "It is consummated," in accord with His Father's will, the human body that hung there upon the wood was really dead.
However, God wanted everything to be completely certified by historical records, to show that His Son was really dead. Joseph of Arimathea, perceiving - perhaps against all his hopes - that Jesus was dead, went to Pilate and asked for the body. Pilate, thinking of the responsibility of his position and fearing further trouble from the Jews, wanted to be sure Jesus was dead.
The Jews, too, wanted the three "criminals" on the crosses officially declared dead. It was the eve of the preparation day for the great Sabbath, and they did not want that day, which began at sunset, to be profaned by unburied bodies. (What a fine, pious scruple-rather than profane the Sabbath, to batter the body of the Son of God in order to hasten His death!) So the soldiers went to break the legs of the three crucified men so they would die quickly and the bodies could be removed. They found the two thieves still alive, and broke their legs. How Mary His Mother must have trembled in her heart as she saw the soldiers smash their legs-sympathizing with them in their agonies, praying that her Son would be spared this barbarity. There was a Scriptural prophecy: "You shall not break a bone of him." And another: "They shall look on him whom they pierced." (John 19:36, 37). The soldiers saw that Jesus was dead, and did not break His legs.
However, the Roman centurion in charge had a responsibility. So that there would be no doubt, the report to Pilate included one final proof of death: One of the soldiers (traditionally called "Longinus") "with a spear opened his side and immediately there came out blood and water." (John 19:34). St. John, Apostle and Evangelist, was standing there with Mary, and he attests to this truth. So there can be no doubt that this Man on the cross was dead, the last blood and water (or fluid) having trickled from His body.
Now when brave and bold Joseph of Arimathea secured the body of Jesus, after Pilate had summoned the centurion for his report of death, a little group made haste to bury their Lord before sundown. Joseph had offered his own new tomb hewn out of rock, a tomb in which no one had ever been buried, in the garden near Calvary. Nicodemus came with a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pounds in weight. Jesus' friends hurriedly anointed His body, the women planning to come back after the Sabbath to honour Jesus lovingly with a more complete service.
Joseph's was a good-sized tomb, that of a rich man, and within it they laid Jesus on a "table," or slab of rock; then they helped Joseph roll a huge stone across the entrance. Then they all hastened homeward to observe the Sabbath.
The Jews, telling Pilate of Jesus' prediction that He would rise again after three days, asked for a guard to be stationed at the tomb, lest His disciples steal the body and say Jesus was raised from the dead. Pilate agreed, gave them a guard, and ordered a seal placed on the tomb.
The action of the Jews is one more illustration of how God makes use of the folly and evil intentions of men to confound their plans and further His own designs and glory. Here was established a guard composed of soldiers of the greatest and most famous human power in all history, the Roman Empire. Here, one might say, stood the power of the Roman Emperor-his soldiers, his seal. It was all there to assure that Jesus' body would stay in that tomb and that there would be no human tampering with it.
How naive can men be! But there was indeed one thing that all these various men did know for sure: they were guarding a DEAD body.
But lo! On Sunday morning there was a mighty earthquake, and the angel of the Lord, resembling a flash of lightning with his garments as dazzling as snow, rolled the stone back and seated himself upon it. His action seemed to declare that the stone which was guarding death, as well as the power of the Roman government, was ingloriously sat upon and conquered.
At the appearance of this shining angel "the guards were struck with terror, and became as dead men." The angel had not flashed down to let Jesus out; the angel came to show that He was already gone, already risen. Just as Jesus' risen, spiritualized body would pass through the cenacle room with its locked doors later that day, so Our Lord had already passed through the sealed tomb with ease.
At daybreak, Mary Magdalen, Mary the mother of James, and Salome hurried to the tomb with perfumed spices to complete the anointing of Jesus' body. They were wondering: "Who shall roll us back the stone from the door of the sepulchre?" (Mark 16:3). It was a huge stone, and even the three of them would not be able to slide it along its trench.
When the women arrived they saw that the stone was rolled back and that the tomb was empty. Then the angel addressed them: "Fear not you; for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he is risen, as he said. Come, and see the place where the Lord was laid." (Matt. 28:5-6). Here was angelic, supernatural testimony to the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.
As the women spread the news, there were a number of visitors to the empty tomb that first Easter Day. Mary, the Mother of Jesus, is not mentioned among these visitors. Most writers in the Church agree that Jesus visited her first, privately. Mary did not go to the empty tomb, or at least she did not rush to it as the others did, because she remembered and believed Jesus' words that He would rise.
Simon Peter and John raced there, though; Peter entered the tomb and noticed the wrappings of Jesus' body on the ground, and the head cloth rolled up in a place by itself. John attests that he too saw and believed. Perhaps the body cloth or shroud and wrappings were left as if a body had simply passed through them.
Jesus made a special appearance to Mary Magdalen and to another or other women. The women clung to the feet of Jesus as if to make sure He was real; they did not wish to let Him go. This Gospel detail shows the reality of Our Lord's, risen body, which was not a "ghost" or an apparition. It a real, physically tangible body.
There are variations among the four Gospel account of the events after the Resurrection of Jesus, but they all make the same point: He was there, He was real, He spoke and walked and "broke bread" with His faithful followers. The accounts are well known from the Easter liturgy. Well-known too, is the account of how Jesus walked along with the two disciples on their way to Emmaus, as well as the accounts of His appearances to the Apostles and others-on one occasion including five hundred of the faithful gathered together (St. Paul stated later that many of those witnesses were still living at his writing.)
When the two from Emmaus had rushed back to tell of meeting Jesus, they were greeted by the eleven and others: "The Lord is risen, indeed, and hath appeared to Simon (Luke 24:34). And even as they were talking, Jesus Himself appeared to them all. "Peace be to you; it is I, fear not." (Luke 24:36). But they were near panic, thinking they saw a ghost; Jesus asked them why they were disturbed. He knew how to calm them. He said, "See my hands and my feet, that it is I Myself; handle and see: for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as you see me to have." (Luke 24:39). And Our Lord showed them His hands and feet with the wounds that no longer bled, for He now had a risen, spiritualized body, though it would be fully glorified only in Heaven.
As some were still incredulous with joy and wonder, He said to them, "Have you here anything to eat?" Jesus was always the practical instructor, the perfect psychologist. "And they offered him a piece of broiled fish and a honeycomb. And when he had eaten before them, taking the remains, he gave to them." (Luke 24:42-43). They could see that He had eaten. There was no mistaking; they could see that the part He returned to them was still the same food.
On the first Easter Sunday evening Thomas had been absent when Jesus appeared to the Apostles, and later he would not believe their account. So, in that same room a week later, Jesus, appearing again, said to the doubter, "Put in thy finger hither, and see my hands; and bring hither thy hand, and put it into my side; and be not faithless, but believing." And Thomas exclaimed, "My Lord and my God!" One might say that Our Lord bent over backward to give every possible proof of His having risen with His real body. He knew it was a tremendously important fact to establish-and He established it superbly.
Nevertheless, the Jewish leaders persisted in their unbelief, their obstinate refusal to see the truth, even after the sepulchre guards had gone into the city and reported to the chief priests all that had transpired at the tomb. The priests got together with the elders, who bribed the soldiers to say that the disciples had come by night and stolen the body of Jesus while they were sleeping. The Jews told the soldiers that if they got into trouble with Pilate over the open tomb and the missing body the Jewish leaders would straighten out the matter with Pilate - which probably meant a big bribe, or some notable concession to him. As St. Matthew said later, the soldiers accepted the bribe, and the false account of what had happened was still circulating among the Jews of his time. (Matt. 28:15).
Anyone who has been a soldier, or is familiar with military life and discipline, knows what a preposterous plot the Jews and guards engineered. A soldier on important guard duty is subject to death for sleeping on his post; he would never confess to such negligence unless he was assured of protection by higher authority.
As St. Augustine, with his trained, logical mind, observed centuries ago: What kind of witnesses are sleeping witnesses? This is a contradiction in terms. If they were asleep, what could they witness to?
Nevertheless, in the name of history, some people attempt to destroy history, as in the name of truth or of Christian faith some so-called theologians today attempt to destroy even the basic truths of the Faith.
The unbeliever, fixed in his preconceived, false position can always find an excuse for not believing, even when he is faced with arguments that would be incontrovertible for the average sane man. That is why Jesus told some of the Pharisees that they were hopelessly blind, and that if they persisted in that blindness they would die in their sins.
To further instruct His Apostles and to let all know that He had undoubtedly risen from the dead, Jesus appeared frequently during a 40-day period to His disciples and others, and He often ate with them.
In the years that followed, the continuing response of the Apostles and disciples to Our Lord's Resurrection, and also, the response of their hearers - as well as the reactions of the Jewish leaders, all provide proof for the reality of this historical event.
The Apostles had nothing earthly to gain, and they had everything to lose, by preaching something so contrary to what the authorities wanted to hear as was the doctrine of the Resurrection of Christ. In fact, all but St. John suffered martyrdom for their testimony to Our Lord's life, words, and Resurrection.
Although the 12 Apostles scattered throughout Europe, Asia, and northern Africa (rather than sticking together for mutual psychological support like, for example, various modern cult groups), not one of them tired of the battle and defected, confessing that the Resurrection story had been made up. Eleven of the 12 gave their lives for this extraordinary story of a Man who had come back from the dead and who had promised that all His faithful followers would likewise rise again after death.
Also, the fact that thousands of Jews and Gentiles, having heard the Apostles' teaching, firmly believed in their message, further substantiates the evident factuality of the Resurrection account. These followers, too, suffered torture and martyrdom by the thousands in support of the "new" religion, a religion based on the fact of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. It has well been said that the rise of the Catholic Church amid such terrible opposition and persecution, without the Resurrection, would have been an even greater miracle than the Resurrection itself!
Totally inadequate to explain the growth of the Church is that ridiculous theory of the modernists, i.e., that the "resurrection" of Christ was not a historical reality, but rather a spiritual event which took place in the minds and hearts of the Apostles. People do not suffer and die by the thousands and millions for a spiritual experience which took place in somebody else's mind!
True, there have been cases of charismatic figures misleading large numbers of people, to their own destruction. But the 12 Apostles were ordinary men -- slow to understand, slow to believe. Several of them had been fishermen. The power of their message did not come from their own talents or their own personal charisma. And the Resurrection account had to "compete in the open marketplace" of beliefs in Jerusalem, Antioch, Corinth, Rome, and many, many other sophisticated cities, as well as among hard-nosed common-sense country folk yet it won acceptance everywhere.
Furthermore, the leaders of the Synagogue have provided their own unwilling testimony by their failure to come up with any good alternative explanation for the fact that Jesus' body was missing from the tomb. (This fact they did not even attempt to deny.) As mentioned above, their "witnesses" claimed to have been asleep at the time of the event in question! And the guards were apparently not punished, as would have been the case if Our Lord's body had actually been stolen.
Neither during nor after Jesus' life on earth did the Synagogue leaders give evidence of being disinterested seekers after the truth regarding His words and deeds; they were interested parties. They felt it was to their own advantage to squelch the religion of Christ, which was drawing away support in droves from their own (now superseded) religion.
But despite their efforts, they failed to squelch it.
The Jewish leaders' lack of sincerity is shown in their reaction to Sts. Peter and John after the former had cured a lame man. The Jewish leaders said among themselves:
"What shall we do to these men? for indeed a known miracle hath been done by them, to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem: it is manifest, and we cannot deny it. But that it may be no farther spread among the people, let us threaten them that they speak no more in this name [that of Jesus of Nazareth] to any man ..." (Acts 4:16-17).
Sts. Peter and John answered that they must continue to "speak the things which we have seen and heard [regarding Christ]." (Acts 4:20). St. Peter was eventually crucified for sticking to his story. (In response to his request, he was crucified head downward, as he felt unworthy to be crucified in the same manner as his Lord.)
Much more honest was the attitude of the wise Pharisee Gamaliel. Gamaliel, recalling other religious leaders who had recently arisen, only to be soon forgotten, gave the following advice to his fellow members of the Jewish council:
"And now, therefore, I say to you, refrain from these men, and let them alone; for if this council or this work be of men, it will come to naught: but if it be of God, you cannot overthrow it, lest perhaps you be found even to fight against God." (Acts 5:38-39).
With the benefit of 20 centuries of hindsight, those of us living today (even those without faith) can see that the stupendous and wondrous teaching that Christ is risen and that His faithful followers shall also rise again has indeed been confirmed by God. The Catholic cathedrals, churches and chapels which testify to this doctrine are to be found throughout the world. Every one of these churches, sheltering the true risen God in its tabernacle, is the fulfilment of the ancient Temple of Jerusalem. The poorest Catholic chapel, literally containing Almighty God Himself in the Blessed Sacrament, infinitely surpasses that magnificent temple, which despite its splendor was only a prefigurement of the Tabernacles of the holy Catholic Church.
Believers in the risen Christ, adorers of His holy Body and Blood present among us, are to be found among every type of people - both eastern and western; educated and uneducated; white, black, and yellow. The Faith is not a local phenomenon. All over the world people have testified with their lives to the truth of the religion of Jesus Christ. Time itself has been divided into two eras, B.C. and A.D., because of the momentous events which took place in Jerusalem 2000 years ago.The Jews continue to disbelieve (very many even losing faith in their own religious traditions), though even among these people there has been a steady stream of conversions to the religion of Jesus Christ. Among the most famous are Fathers Theodore and Alphonse Ratisbonne, Father Hermann Cohen, Edith Stein, and Father David Goldstein. Worthy of mention is the fact that in 1917 there was formed a "Catholic Guild of Israel" for the conversion of the Jewish people to the True Faith; many of its members were Catholics of Jewish descent.
When Jesus finally ascended into Heaven from Mount Olivet, two angels assured those who were watching that He would similarly return, in clouds of glory. (In the Scriptures, and throughout Old Testament history, the cloud signified the presence of God.) The God-Man had gone to His glory to sit at the right hand of the Father. But we know that one day, just as He promised, He will come back to judge the living and the dead.