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April 2, 2005
Column #1,231

Newsweek Affirms the Resurrection                     
      Four decades ago I was a TIME correspondent and proud of the fact that one section of TIME from its beginning in 1922 was Religion. TIME founder Henry Luce, a son of missionaries to China, knew the importance of faith in America, and pioneered serious religion coverage.

      To compete, Newsweek began in 1939 with a Religion section. But after TIME merged with Warner, show biz got more space and the Religion section was dropped. Newsweek recently discontinued its regular coverage too.

     Both magazines do cover stories at Christmas and Easter. Last Christmas both wrote cover stories that questioned the virgin birth of Jesus, prompting a critical column by me. 

     Last week, however, Newsweek published a very encouraging cover story, "How Jesus Became Christ: From Resurrection to the Rise of Christianity."  Interestingly, it was written by Jon Meacham, the magazine's Managing Editor not a religion writer.

     He asks how "did the Jesus of history, whom many in his own time saw as a failed prophet, come to be viewed by billions as the Christ" or Messiah whom the Nicene Creed calls "the only begotten Son of God...God of God, Light of Light..."

     In this culturally divided time, "when believers feel besieged and skeptics think themselves surrounded, " he acknowledged that  many secular people "dismiss the faithful as superstitious or simple." However, he reminds readers that as the sun set on the Friday of the crucifixion, Jesus appeared to be a failure and was abandoned by virtually all of his followers. "The disciples clearly did not expect Jesus to rise again."

     Something had to have happened to empower his followers. It was the Resurrection of Jesus that transformed his scattered followers into the apostles who would build a church of two billion Christian followers that is now the world's largest religion.

     Skeptics have always dismissed the Resurrection as a theological invention. However, Newsweek cites two key facts that scholars agree provide evidence that Jesus did rise from the dead: "First, the tomb in which Jesus' corpse was placed after his execution was empty."

      Second, "the apostles, including Paul, believed the risen Jesus had appeared to them; writing in the first years after the Passion, Paul lists specific, living witnesses, presumably in order to encourage doubters to seek corroborating testimony."

     The Gospels, written later provide added detail. "Sometimes he appears as flesh and blood; at others, he can walk through walls. Sometimes, he is instantly recognized; at others, even close followers fail to understand whom they are speaking with until Jesus identifies himself," Jon Meacham writes.

     "On historical grounds, then, Christianity appears less a fable than a faith derived in part from oral or written traditions dating from the time of Jesus' ministry and that of his disciples." Jesus is quoted in Mark as saying, "The Son of man is delivered into the hands of men, and they shall kill him; and after that... he shall rise from the third day." Mark adds that the disciples who heard this at the time "understood not that saying, and were afraid to ask him."

     "That the apostles would have created such words and ideas out of thin air seems unlikely, for their story and their message strained credulity even then," Newsweek asserts.

     It quotes Paul as admitting the difficulty of the message: "...we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles." 

     Newsweek: "A king who died a criminal's death? An individual's resurrection from the dead? A human atoning sacrifice? `This is not something that the PR committee of the disciples would have put out,' says Dr. R. Albert Mohler, Jr, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

     "The very fact of the salvation's message's complexity and uniqueness, I think, speaks to the credibility of the Gospels and of the entire New Testament."

     What's the significance of Newsweek's story?

     The facts it reports are known to believers. But to skeptics and secular readers of Newsweek, this reporting should prompt many to reconsider the basic Christian message. In decades of reading similar stories in all three news magazines, none have made such a persuasive case for the accuracy of the New Testament.

     In an Easter sermon the Rev. Robert H. Malm, Rector of Grace Episcopal Church in Alexandria, Virginia, said while waiting in a grocery store checkout line he saw the cover story and read it. He announced in his sermon, exultantly, "Newsweek got it right!

     "The world would be so different, if it were not for the Resurrection."

     Amen to that.

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