Cover-ups have a bad historical track record for one reason: people talk! While that might be disastrous to a conspiracy being hatched, it was ideal for Christianity. Isn’t that one of many reasons 2.2 billion Christians continue to celebrate an event that rocked the world 21 centuries ago? And there are more.
Check out Paul’s account in I Corinthians 15. The letter was written sometime in the mid-50’s, about 15 years after Jesus’ resurrection but before a Gospel account recorded it.
…That he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died (I Cor. 15:4-6, NRSV).
Those 1st century Jews who believed in resurrection, having poured over Daniel 12, knew it wasn’t some amorphous event but “the literal reanimation of a dead corpse”, as the New Living Translation explains. But huge effort was made to disguise its actuality when it happened to Jesus. The arguments ranged from: ‘he never really died but was just unconscious’, to ‘the disciples only dreamed it’.
But my favorite ‘it never really happened’ explanation was the one Matthew’s Gospel records in chapter 28. Matthew gives us the back story of the Jewish religious leaders asking Pilate to order soldiers to guard the tomb so Jesus’ followers wouldn’t steal the body. When the guards found it empty on the third day, they told the priests who called an emergency meeting then bribed the guards with this response:
You must say, ‘His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ 14 If this comes to the governor’s ears, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” 15 So they took the money and did as they were directed (Matt. 28:13,14).
So with all the efforts of an attempted cover-up that makes Watergate pale by comparison, how did the truth emerge? Here are six reasons and would love to hear others you think made a difference.
- The simplest: the tomb was empty. Something happened to the body that had been placed there.
- Women were witnesses. Why would anyone conceive such a bizarre account and then use women to confirm it when it was culturally assumed they would be less reliable?!
- The consistency of the several accounts of those who saw him: the disciples in the upper room; then when Thomas joined them and Jesus appeared again in the same place; the witness of Cleopas and his friend from Emmaus; the morning meal prepared for the disciples by the risen Jesus Christ;
- The significant shift in the disciples – from fearful followers to bold apostles.
- Jesus’ followers’ ability to prevail over the disgrace and dishonor embedded in Deut.21:23 (anyone hung on a tree is under God’s curse). Similar to having women as eyewitnesses, why would you conceive of a Jewish leader with such a resume?!
- The healing ability of his followers, accounts which fill the book of Acts, indicating what he did was not confined to him personally but could be replicated by those who followed his teachings.
It leaves us with the question for today: how do people know by my life that ‘He is risen’? Only you can answer that one! Happy post-Easter everyone.
If you’re interested in learning more about “The Week that Changed the World”, listen to a free video talk given by me on Good Friday (3/30/18) for Third Church of Christ, Scientist, New York (thirdchurchnyc.org) and download the free handout.