He has risen; he is not here. (Mark 16:6)
Christianity stands or falls on the resurrection of Jesus. Why do Christians say that? Because the Hebrew Scriptures repeatedly prophesied it, both directly and through typology! King David said that God would not allow his Holy One to undergo decay, to see hell or what the Hebrews called 'Sheol.' The Apostle Paul cites this verse when preaching to Jews at Pisidian Antioch on his first missionary journey, making central the resurrection of Jesus, saying that he appeared for many days to many people, that God had raised him up from the dead, never therefore to undergo decay. Paul goes on to say that David could not have been speaking about himself since he later lay in a grave. Instead David is referring to the One who would come after him, the true and eternal King of Israel. The Hebrew Prophets also prophesied it through typology. How so? Jonah was in the belly of a great fish for three days and was vomited up on the shore, tasting death, as it were, for his own sinful recalcitrance, his unwillingness to go and preach to the pagan Ninevites. Jesus later was in the belly of the earth for three days, not due to his sin for he had none, but for the sins of all his people throughout the ages. So, if Paul or David lied about Jesusí resurrection then we cannot believe anything else they say. They would be totally untrustworthy. Furthermore, Jesus repeatedly foretold his arrest, crucifixion, death, and resurrection. This is mentioned at least three times in Markís Gospel. If this did not happen then Jesus would be a liar too.
But isnít all the talk of Jesusí resurrection just a legend, a historical myth, so to speak? Arenít the Gospel accounts mere oral traditions, handed down, much like Aesopís fables or the legend of Paul Bunyan? After all, the idea of a resurrection is preposterous. The Gospels, however, are not legends or historical myths. They absolutely smack of truthfulness, integrity, and honesty in reporting. All the Gospels were written within thirty years of Jesusí earthly ministry. How, then, were the Gospels composed? Mark, a contemporary of Paul, went about gathering information from eyewitnesses, corroborated their testimony, and then put it altogether in a book we now call the Gospel of Mark. Markís Gospel is fast paced. Very little sermonic data is included. He repeatedly uses the word 'immediately' in his Gospel. He quickly moves from one event to another. Take, for example, the story of the raising of Jairusí daughter. Mark probably heard about this and went directly to the source, Jairus, to get his 'take', and you know Jairus never grew tired of telling his story to anyone who would listen. Since it was only thirty years after the fact, if this was untrue in any way, then others would surely have come forward and declared his words to be bogus. No one did.
One of the ways we know something is true and not a mere legend is the accuracy of unnecessary information; that is, the inclusion of data not germane to the story at hand. We find this repeatedly in the book of Acts. Luke records all kinds of unnecessary detail. Itís like the testimony of someone who sees a murder. They are to give, 'Just the facts,' like Sergeant Friday of the old Dragnet television show wants, but they cannot help also including all kinds of information that does not carry the story along. We find this kind of thing in Markís Gospel too. Mark tells us of the woman who had the haemorrhage for thirteen years. John says that the disciples caught one hundred and fifty-three fish when Jesus appeared to them after his resurrection. And one other example ó how would anyone have known the explicit detail of Peterís denial unless he told the story himself, as clearly this puts him in a very negative light? Legends donít do that sort of thing. They always paint their heroes as bigger than life characters.
So when we come to the story of Jesusí resurrection, recorded in Mark 16:6-7, these words are precluded by Markís testimony that three women ó Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome came to the tomb early on Sunday morning in order to prepare Jesusí body for burial.2 They brought spices to anoint him, much like Pharaohs in ancient Egypt were wrapped in all manner of spices to slow down the decaying process of the body after death. As the women are making their way to the tomb they were saying to one another, 'Who will roll away the stone from the entrance to the tomb?' There is absolutely no indication that these women, nor any of the followers of Jesus, for that matter, actually believed they would see Jesus alive again. As I have already mentioned, however, he told them repeatedly that he would die and be raised again. You would think that at least one or two of them would have said, 'Do you remember when Jesus said something about being raised from the dead on the third day? Not that we really expect to see him alive, but, hey, maybe we ought to stroll over to the tomb and check it out anyway.' No one did so because no one was expecting it.
And hereís another point that makes this story factual, not a mere legend. Women at that time were not considered credible witnesses. In fact many Roman and Jewish sceptics of the first and second centuries mocked Christís resurrection for this very reason, saying, 'What a joke! Women are witnesses to Jesusí resurrection! Everyone knows you cannot trust hysterical women. They are so emotional and high strung.' But the fact that Mark records these women as eye-witnesses actually proves the validity of his Gospel. Why? Because he would never have included their testimony if it were not true! If he was trying to convince people to believe false information, then he would never have made women as the chief purveyors of that information.
Now back to the story ó the women came to the tomb and found the stone rolled away, although, as Mark tells us, it was very large. Again, this is information that could easily have been refuted by many who later came to the tomb, if it were not true. They told Mark that as they entered the tomb they saw a young man sitting at the right and wearing a white robe. They reported that this amazed them. John in his Gospel says these were two angels, but the women do not say that. The man says to them, 'Do not be amazed; you are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who has been crucified. He has risen; he is not here; behold here is the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter, he is going before you into Galilee; there you will see him, just as he said to you.' The women also report that they left the tomb, trembling and in astonishment, saying nothing to anyone for they were afraid. Mark goes on to tell us that Jesus later appeared to Mary Magdalene, a woman from whom Jesus had cast out seven demons. Hereís another proof of the storyís authenticity. In a court room, to promote doubt in the jury on the guilt of the accused, the defence attorney will do his best to prove the prosecutorís witnesses to be untrustworthy. If Mark is trying to 'pull one over on us', then he never would have said that Mary Magdalene was the first one to see Jesus unless it really happened. Talk about a perceived 'loose cannon!' Here was a woman of questionable morality who was notorious for instability, being demon-possessed. Hardly the kind of star witness one would trot out to prove oneís case! When she reported her story to the disciples she came upon them in their grief. They were weeping and mourning over Jesusí death. They were convinced that it was over. They had enjoyed a great ride while it lasted. They all thought they would ride Jesusí coat-tails to victory and be given a place of supreme power with him. Now that was all lost. They not only grieved but they were also fearful. People knew they had been with Jesus. If they killed him, then surely his disciples should expect the same treatment. And to further prove the credibility of Markís testimony, he tells us that the disciples did not believe Maryís report. Again, if this is a legend then the writer would want to put the heroes in as positive a light as possible. Mark does not do this with the disciples. They are totally defeated. They totally disregard Mary Magdaleneís testimony. Mark concludes by saying Jesus appeared to two disciples and then later that same night he appeared to all eleven disciples at the same time. To further corroborate the story of Mark, Paul tells us that Jesus appeared many times after his resurrection. He appeared to Peter, to the disciples, to James, to over five hundred witnesses at one time. Paul adds that many of them at the time of his writing (about 59 A.D., less than thirty years after the resurrection occurred) were still alive, though a few, admittedly had passed away. He goes on to say that Jesus also appeared to all the apostles, including Paul himself, though he certainly was unworthy of that privilege since he, that is Paul, had been such a terrible persecutor of the church of Jesus.
Bottom line ó the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ is an indisputable fact of history. Believe it, not merely because your preacher says it is true, but believe it because the infallible, inerrant, and inspired Scriptures say it is true, the Gospel writers having carefully and extensively corroborated the testimony of countless eye-witnesses.
1. The second of these two articles on the Resurrection can be found here.
2. Tim Keller in his Kingís Cross does a wonderful job of proving the testimony of these women to be authentic. See pages 212ff.
Rev. Allen M Baker is Pastor of Christ Community Presbyterian Church in West Hartford, Connecticut.
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