Nobody can be convicted in court unless there are witnesses to their guilt or unless there is significant evidence. As Christians, we believe that Jesus died on the cross, and on the third day he rose again. But are there witnesses we can call upon to prove this is true? Actually, there is an amazing amount of evidence, more than you may realise.
According to the Acts of the Apostles, the first witness was St Peter. He said to Cornelius, a Roman centurion, well versed in Roman law, ‘We are witnesses... (that) God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear... to us who were chosen by God as witnesses.’ That refers to the 12 apostles, and maybe others too. These witnesses declared on oath that Jesus was alive and many of them chose to die as martyrs rather than deny that it was true. They were willing to stand up and be counted as witnesses for the resurrection.
The next witness is a silent one: the evidence of the empty tomb. Our evidence is that Mary Magdalene, and several other women, came rushing back on Easter morning to say that they had found the tomb where Jesus was buried - empty! Peter and John rushed out to see for themselves, then confirmed what the women had said. No doubt, many others also went to have a look at this extraordinary sight too. Don’t forget that a very heavy stone had been rolled across the tomb entrance, at the request of the Chief Priests and Pharisees. Pontus Pilate had ordered a wax seal be placed on a leather strap over the stone, which would show if anybody had tampered with it. A squad of burly soldiers had been ordered to stand on guard all weekend. Later, when they went into the city and reported what had happened at the tomb to the Chief Priests, the Chief Priests met with the Elders and they devised a plan to pay the guards to tell a different story. They told them, “You must say, ‘His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ If this comes to the governor’s ears we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” So they took the money and did as they were directed. Pull the other one! The story the soldiers told is much more improbable than the explanation that Jesus was alive!
Then St Paul wrote to the Corinthians that he had passed on to them what he himself had been told: ‘that Jesus... was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to (Peter), then the twelve. Then he appeared to more than 500 brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive... Then... to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all... he appeared also to me.’ Then Paul went back to Jerusalem, no more than five years after Jesus had risen, and heard the evidence for the resurrection from the eyewitnesses who had seen him alive.
However, what really convinced Paul, and should convince us too, was the evidence of his own experience. When we pray to Jesus, he gives us new life here and now, and spiritual strength to confront all the challenges in our lives. That wouldn’t happen if he were stone dead. The real evidence for the resurrection is the changed lives of those who pray to him. If you pray to him to make you a better person and find it works, that’s all the evidence you need. If you’ve prayed to him during the last year, amidst the uncertainty, confusion and horrors of the pandemic, and found some comfort, strength and peace that has enabled you to keep going and even support others, then you are an eyewitness of the resurrection for your neighbours. Tell them what a change your faith has made to your life, for you are the evidence that the resurrection is true. This Eastertide, remember what St Peter said, we are all witnesses.
With every blessing for a peaceful and hope-filled Easter,