April 2, 2005
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
Amen to that.
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