Tuesday, December 28, 2010

It is finished

This is another post about my visit to a mosque to hear Islamic scholar Yusha Evans. I mentioned earlier that he does not believe in the death and resurrection of Christ. I wrote him a question about this issue, but he chose not to answer it on the night. What follows is an outline of Jesus's death and resurrection, compiled from the four Gospel accounts. I wrote this some years ago on another website, but have reworked it slightly here specifically to engage with Islam. 

This is crucial to the Christian faith. The death and resurrection of Jesus is the foundation of Christianity. As a follower of Jesus, I believe that when he died, he offered himself as a sacrifice to pay the penalty for the sins of humanity. Anyone who believes in Jesus has their sins forgiven by God, and has peace with Him. Frankly, without the death and resurrection of Christ, Christianity is useless and not worth believing in. As the apostle Paul wrote:

"But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that He raised Christ from the dead. But He did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins." (1 Corinthians 15:12-17).

I read up on Islamic teaching about the resurrection. Rejecting the testimony of the four gospel accounts and the epistles, this teaching asserts that the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus never took place. God rescued Jesus from the plot to have him crucified and He altered the appearance of another man, possibly Judas Iscariot, so that he resembled Jesus in appearance. It was this man who died on the cross. Shortly after the prophet Jesus was taken back to Heaven.  

To answer this teaching, the Bible contains a wealth of information concerning the events surrounding the death and resurrection of Jesus. Jesus predicted these events, even predicting how he would die (Matthew 16:21-28; 17:22-23; 20:17-19, Mark 8:31-38; 9:1; 30-32; 10-32-34, Luke 9:22-27; 43-45; 18-31-34). This is significant because Jesus clearly did know that he would die and be resurrected. It is inconceivable that Jesus would have predicted these events if they were not going to take place.

As we review the Gospel accounts of these events, it will become evident that God did not use a proxy to be crucified in his place. Unlike Jesus, who was divine, this unnamed man would have been born under the curse of sin. As the only sinless man who has ever lived, Jesus was the only one who was worthy to die on the cross as a penalty for the sins of humanity. Let me emphasise again that if this proxy man was crucified in Jesus’ place, the sacrifice would have been worthless, and with it the entire foundation of Christianity.

How did Jesus really die? The Gospel accounts state that Jesus and his disciples travelled to Jerusalem for the Jewish Passover festival. On the night he was arrested, Jesus shared the Passover meal with his disciples. (Matthew 26:17-19, Mark 14:12-16, Luke 27:7-13). He revealed that Judas, one of his disciples, would betray him to his enemies (Matthew 26:20-25, Mark 14:17-21, Luke 22:31-38, John 13:36-38). Judas had already secretly arranged to do this (Matthew 26:14-16, Mark 14:10-11, Luke 22:3-6). When they finished the meal, Jesus and the disciples went to the garden of Gethesemane on the Mount of Olives. There he prayed repeatedly, "My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as You will." He found his disciples asleep, exhausted from their great sorrow. Jesus' anquish was so great that his sweat turned to blood (Matthew 26:30, 36-46, Mark 14:26, 32-42, Luke 22:39-46, John 18:1). Accompanied by a mob of soldiers, Judas arrived. He arranged with his accomplices that he would identify the man to be arrested with a kiss. Judas kissed Jesus, and the mob arrested him and lead him away (Matthew 26:47-55, Mark 14:43-49, Luke 22:47-53, John 18:2-11). The remaining disciples fled, just as Jesus predicted they would do (Matthew 26:56, Mark 14:50-52).

Jesus was brought before Annas, the Jewish high priest, for questioning (John 18:12-14, 19-23). They brought him before Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin, the supreme Jewish court, for trial on charges of blasphemy. Under questioning by the Sanhedrin, Jesus declared himself to be the Messiah (Matthew 26:57, 59-66; Mark 14:53, 55-64; Luke 22:54; John 18:24), inciting his captors to mock, beat, and spit upon him (Matthew 26:67-68; Mark 14:65; Luke 22:63-65). Peter denied knowing Jesus three times, just as Jesus predicted (Matthew 26:69-75; Mark 14:66-72; Luke 22:55-62; John 18:17, 25-27).

Remembering Jesus' words to him, Peter went away and wept bitterly. Peter had no doubt that Jesus would be killed. He knew, as the other disciples did, that it was impossible for him to escape execution, or to organise a proxy to die instead of Jesus. The Sanhedrin ordered Jesus's execution (Matthew 27:1-2; Mark 15:1, Luke 22:66-71). Judas, meanwhile, was overcome with remorse at his betrayal of Jesus. He returned the money his accomplices paid him for his actions, and went away to hang himself (Matthew 27:3-10; Acts 1:18-19). Again, it is highly unlikely that Judas would have done this if he knew that Jesus planned to escape his execution.

Jesus was brought before Pontius Pilate, the Roman Governor of the province of Judea, for further questioning. The Sanhedrin had no power to execute Jesus, so they hoped that he could be sentenced to death under Roman law. However, Pilate found no basis for the charges against Jesus (Matthew 27:11-14; Mark 15:2-5; Luke 23:1-5, John 18:28-38). Pilate sent him to King Herod. Jesus was questioned and mocked again, then returned to Pilate (Luke 23:6-12).

At the time of the Jewish Passover, the Governor had a custom to release a prisoner chosen by the people. They chose to release Barabbas, a notorious criminal (Matthew 27:15-26; Mark 15:6-15; Luke 23:13-25; John 18:39-40; 19:1). Prior to leading Jesus away to be crucified, Pilate's soldiers mocked and beat him. Mocking Jesus's claims to be a king, they thrust a crown of thorns upon his head, and dressed him in a purple robe (Matthew 27:27-31; Mark 15:16-19; John 19:2-3). Once again Pilate sought to have Jesus released, but the religious authorities demanded his death. Pilate accepted their demands (John 19:4-16).

They brought Jesus to Golgotha, a hill overlooking Jerusalem, and a number of his followers watched as he was lead to his death (Matthew 27:32-34; Mark 15:20-23; Luke 23:26-32; John 19:17). Stripped and nailed to a cross, he suffered an agonising and humiliating death. Mary, his mother, watched as her son slowly died (Matthew 27:35-44; Mark 15:24-32; Luke 23:33-43; John 19:18-27). He was abandoned and powerless, separated from his Heavenly Father as he bore the burden of the sins of humanity upon his broken body. He cried out in pain, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (Matthew 27:45-59; Mark 15:33-36; Luke 23:43-45; John 19:28-29). He cried out again, and knowing that he had accomplished the redemption of humanity, spoke the words, "It is finished." Then he died (Matthew 27:50; Mark 15:37; Luke 23:46; John 19:30). To make sure that he was dead, Roman soldiers removed his body from the cross and pierced his side with a spear, bringing a flow of blood and water (John 19:31-37). Miracles happened. The curtain in Jerusalem's Jewish temple was torn in two. Dead people came back to life. The Roman soldier who stood guard at Jesus's cross was moved to exclaim, "Surely this man was the Son of God." (Matthew 27:51-56; Mark 15:38-41; Luke 23:47-49).

Joseph of Arimathea, a secret follower of Jesus, asked for Jesus's body, and wrapping it in a clean linen cloth, he placed it in his own tomb, sealing the entrance with a large stone. The women who earlier witnessed Jesus's death followed Joseph to the tomb and watched (Matthew 27:57-61; Mark 15:42-47; Luke 23:50-56, John 19:38-42). The chief priests of the Sanhedrin remembered that when Jesus was still alive, he claimed that he would rise from the dead after three days. They wanted to make sure that Jesus was dead, and that his followers would be crushed. To prevent them coming and stealing the body, they persuaded Pilate to place the tomb under guard (Matthew 27:62-66).

On the morning of the third day after Jesus's death, Mary Magdalene, Mary, mother of James, and Salome went to the tomb. To their astonishment, they found that the stone sealing the entrance to the tomb had been rolled away (Matthew 28:1-4; Mark 16:1-4; Luke 24:1-6; John 20:1). When they went inside to investigate further, they found that the tomb was empty. Angels appeared, telling them that Jesus had risen from the dead, just as he said he would do (Matthew 28:5-8; Mark 16:5-8; Luke 24:3-8). The women hurried to tell the other disciples what they had seen. Peter went inside the tomb, and he and another disciple saw the cloth and linen that was used to to wrap Jesus's body lying on the ground (Luke 24:9-12; John 20:2-9). Peter was dumbfounded.

Mary Magdalene remained at the tomb, crying. Angels appeared to her. "Woman, why are you crying?" they asked. She replied, "They have taken my Lord away, and I don't know where they have put him." A man stood behind her. Mary thought that he was the gardener who kept the burial ground. When he spoke her name, she realised that it was Jesus. Filled with joy, she returned to the other disciples, telling them, "I have seen the Lord!" (Mark 16:9-11, John 20:10-18). Jesus then appeared to the other women who visited the tomb, and they clasped his feet and worshipped him (Matthew 28:9-10). Reporting to their superiors what had happened, the tomb guards were bribed to spread a story that Jesus's disciples stole his body (Matthew 28:11-15).

Later that day, two of Jesus's followers were travelling to the village of Emmaus, not far from Jerusalem. Jesus came and walked with them, but they did not recognise him at first. They discussed the events of the previous three days, how Jesus had been arrested and crucified, the reports of the empty tomb, and the women who claimed that Jesus was alive again. Speaking of himself, Jesus responded, "How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?" Beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in the Scriptures concerning himself. Only then did they recognise Jesus (Mark 16:12-13, Luke 24:13-32). They returned to Jerusalem immediately to report to the other disciples what happened (Luke 24:33-35). They thought he was a ghost, so Jesus invited them to touch his wounded hands and feet. He then took and ate a piece of fish in front of them (Mark 16:14; Luke 24:36-43; John 20:19-25; 1 Corinthians 15:5). There could no longer be any doubt that Jesus was alive.

John 20:24-28 tells us of how Thomas, one of the disciples, responded when the other disciples came to him with the news that Jesus was alive. Thomas was a broken man. He had spent three years of his life following Jesus, and it had cost him everything. He mourned deeply over the loss of his friend, and wanted to be alone. The other disciples came to him saying, "We have seen the Lord."

Thomas replied, "Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my fingers where the nails were, and put my hands into his side, I will not believe it." Imagine his astonishment when Jesus came to Thomas and invited him to touch his wounds. He suddenly realised that it was true. Jesus had risen from the dead, just as he said he would. Overcome with emotion at this awesome miracle, he cried out to Jesus, "My Lord and my God!" These words are very profound. Thomas acknowledged Jesus as Messiah and as God. Jesus affirmed Thomas for his belief in him, just as he did all those who recognised him as Thomas did. Thomas would not have reacted to Jesus in this way if he had not died at all.
Some time later, seven of the apostles spent the night fishing on the Sea of Galilee, and caught nothing. The next morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but they did not realise who he was.

He called out to them, "Friends, have you caught any fish?"

"No," they replied.

He said, "Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some." They did as Jesus said, and they were unable to haul in the net because of the large number of fish (John 21:1-14). This reminded them of their first meeting with Jesus, when he performed a similar miracle (Luke 5:1-11), and provided further proof that Jesus had risen from the grave, and was now back with his followers.

In a powerful act of reconciliation, Jesus reinstated Peter (John 21:15-24). After giving what is known as the Great Commission, the command to spread his teachings throughout the world (Matthew 28:16-20; Mark 16:19-20; Luke 24:50-53, Acts 1:9-12), Jesus told the apostles to wait in Jerusalem until the power of the Holy Spirit came upon them (Luke 24:44-49, Acts 1:3-8). The Holy Spirit was the Comforter and Counsellor Jesus promised to send to them (John 14:15-31, 16: 5-16).

The power of the Holy Spirit came upon the church, empowering it to boldly proclaim Jesus's message of hope and forgiveness from God throughout the world. As we read the remainder of the New Testament, it is impressive to see that the apostles, as the pioneers of the early church, suffered greatly for their faith, and were prepared to lose their lives for the cause of Jesus Christ, as most of them eventually did. They would not have shown such courage, determination, and conviction in their cause if Jesus was less than he claimed to be, and if they were mistaken in believing that Jesus was the Messiah, uniquely chosen by God to provide salvation to humanity. He provided the ultimate proof of these claims in his victory over death, which the apostles had all witnessed. This was not a mass delusion, nor was it a case of mistaken identity. Over a period of several weeks, more than 500 people saw Jesus alive in the days after his resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:6). Jesus was crucified and rose from the dead, just as the Bible says he did. God did not use a proxy to die in his place.

It is highly unlikely that the first Christians would have displayed such commitment, passion and energy in spreading the teachings of Jesus Christ if in fact he was not the Messiah. But they were totally convinced that Jesus was exactly who he claimed to be. He was the Son of God, the Messiah, and the only Saviour of humanity. He alone conquered death, making it possible for all of us, as God's children, to be reconciled with God, receive forgiveness for our sins and escape the penalty of eternal separation from God, and have a relationship with Him.

2 comments:

His Lordship The Gun-Toting Atheist said...

"without the death and resurrection of Christ, Christianity is useless and not worth believing in."

Without the death and resurrection of Christ, Christianity is called 'buddhism'. The teachings of the two faiths are very similar when you compare them.

http://www.thezensite.com/non_Zen/Was_Jesus_Buddhist.html

Ross said...

Thanks for the link. I'll have more to say on this when I've read the article.