By: Reynold N, Mason JD
Atlanta, Dec. 12, 2010 - Last week, as I was stringing up the Christmas lights, my son was at the foot of the ladder handing up the decorations to me. Apparently, displeased that he was required to put up with the slight chill in the southern air, he blurted out, “why are we bothering anyway, Christ is just like Santa Claus and the Easter bunny. He is not real” “Who told you that?” I demanded. “The teacher,” he replied demurely, sensing my irritation. I was furious that someone had the audacity to cast doubt on my faith. I had celebrated Christmas before I can remember.
For me it is a time to put aside old gripes and quarrels, to celebrate the season of Christ’s birth with family and friends. An ineffable spirit of joyfulness seems to grip Christians at Christmas that is not evident the previous eleven months. And they are more helpful. The Salvation Army, the Red Cross and other charitable organizations well know this and their bell ringers and collection boxes are ubiquitous this time of year. People open up their hearts and purses giving and exchanging gifts and donating to charitable causes the world over. We Christians call this the Christmas spirit. I was not about to brook an affront to my faith and, not from a teacher. She had no business raising questions about my basic assumptions. I resolved to have a tete a tete with her. The problem for me was that I had never been challenged to defend my faith because I grew up in a family that was devoutly christian, in a country that was 95 percent catholic. What to say to this teacher and turn back her blasphemy I had no clue. I have never thought about the matter, it had never been put in doubt or questioned in my entire life until this moment. The birth of Christ is central to my faith but I had no idea how to confront this doubting Thomasina. The gospels tell of Christ’s miracles, death and resurrection. But I could not quote the gospel to a non believer. That would just beg the question. I needed something more, if I was to convince her that I had not lived my entire life animated by an irrational and absurd superstition. Christ is no Santa Claus he is real and I was going to show her.
I dug into a book on apologetics by a renowned professor of religion from Boston college and scoured the internet for something I could use as proof that Christ lived and rose from the dead. One world-renowned professor, after studying the matter for over 700 hours, says he was not able to explain away the resurrection of Christ. Jesus of Nazareth, a Jewish prophet who claimed to be the Christ, was arrested adjudged a political criminal and sentenced to death by crucifixion. Three days after he was buried some women went to his tomb and found the body gone. In the weeks following, the disciples claimed that Christ appeared to them many times before ascending into heaven. This seems fantastic but there were people alive at the time this claim was being and they could simply have come forward and denounced it as a fraud. If a story ran on the news that there was a fire on your street and you saw no evidence of a fire when you got home, you would know that the story was false. You and your neighbors could put the lie to the story and force the paper to issue a correction. Why did no one come forward to challenge the claims of the disciples?
Then there was Matthew, Mark, Luke and john who themselves were witnesses or related eyewitness accounts of the resurrection. The Romans did not want the resurrection story circulating about the empire. They were persecuting followers of Christ who were preaching the resurrection. Why did they not simply produce the body and expose the whole thing as a fraud, the way the FBI puts a stash of seized cocaine on the news when they make a bust? People who opposed Christianity would have gone to great lengths to expose the lie like a couple in bitter divorce battle. The body of Christ was wrapped in linen according to Jewish custom, and placed in the tomb with a large stone blocking the entrance. The Roman seal was placed on the tomb and guards stationed at the entrance to keep thieves from stealing the valuables from the tomb. (Mat: 27; 59-66) Anyone bent on larceny would have to overpower the guards, break the seal and move the rock. That would be like breaking into Fort Knox. Yet three days later the tomb was empty.
Saul of Tarsus made a career of persecuting Christians until Christ appeared to him. He recounts in his writings that Christ appeared to over 500 people, many of whom were still alive when Paul wrote. Yet none of these people called Paul a liar. One professor points out that the Romans called up the equivalent of the FBI and CIA to investigate and find the culprits, who had broken the seal, but no one was ever apprehended and the crime remains unsolved. Had the culprit been caught it would have meant automatic execution. Even the apostles were afraid of this possibility. Some of them went into hiding and Peter denied knowing Christ at the trial. (Mark: 14:16)
On that first Easter morning people who went to the tomb were awe struck when they saw the position of the stone that had been lodged at the entrance of the tomb. The massive stone had been moved. Those who observed it reported that it appeared it had been picked up and carried away. The disciples were very reluctant to believe that Jesus was alive again when the women reported what they had seen. "Now they were Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James; also the other women with them were telling these things to the apostles. And these words appeared to them as nonsense, and they would not believe them" (Luke 24:10, 11). Thomas response was, "Unless I shall see in His hands the imprint of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe" (John 20:25). These men knew that when someone died, they were dead. Thomas was no fool. And while they were telling these things, He Himself stood in their midst. But they were startled and frightened and thought they were seeing a spirit. And He said to them, "Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? See My hands and My feet that it is I myself; touch Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have." (Luke 23:36-39)
How could the disciples or anyone else have eluded the guards, move the massive rock and make off with the body? Skeptics have suggested that the guards were bribed or maybe left their posts. But one professor points out that in those days, the penalty for such an offense by a Roman soldier was death. And one method of death was stripping the condemned man of his clothes and setting him on fire. It wouldn't be wowth the risk for a soldier to go AWOL.
The events surrounding the life and death of Christ didn't occur at a place where we can gain no knowledge of them. Rather, they occurred in history, on earth, and were recorded by men who witnessed the events. Prof. Josh McDowell notes that in the first century AD most people could not read much less write. Paper (parchment) was expensive. The National Enquirer could not have been published in those times; Writing was an expensive and highly regarded art. It is unlikely that all of the writers would have engaged in the expense of writing to disseminate a myth. This is no less remarkable for us today than it was for them. And we can understand their reluctance to accept Him. But they came to believe that they had witnessed something unique as Jesus appeared to them many times over a period of forty days. These experiences had a profound impact on their lives, and continue to impact the lives of people the world over. That is the source of my belief and the font of what we know as the Christmas Spirit. Thanks to Professors McDowell and Kreeft. I now know my faith is well-founded. No need to confront the doubting Thomas-ina. Christ is not like Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny He is real.