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Case for the resurrection presented to ‘ladies and gentlemen of the jury’

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (BP)–Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary students were addressed as the “ladies and gentlemen of the jury” as Michael Whitehead provided evidence for the resurrection of Jesus.

Whitehead, interim president of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, has practiced law in Kansas City, Mo., for 25 years.

Before making his case, Whitehead explained how Harvard law professor Simon Greenleaf came to the realization in the mid-1800s that the resurrection of Jesus is true. Greenleaf, who authored a three-volume treatise on the law of evidence, was one of the foremost lawyers of the century. As an agnostic, he saw no credible evidence that there is a God until he was challenged by students to apply the rules of evidence to the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. Greenleaf took the dare, and set out to prove the simple premise that “dead men stay dead.”

To demonstrate how Greenleaf came to his conclusion, Whitehead asked his chapel audience March 30 to act as the jury and to treat the gospel accounts as eyeball witness testimony given by deposition in a courtroom on the legal issue of “what happened to the dead body of Jesus?” Whitehead explained that the rules of evidence allow deposition testimony, even of dead witnesses, as well as “ancient documents more than 20 years old” under exceptions to the hearsay rule.

Calling his “first witness,” referring to John 19:38-42, Whitehead noted the “preparations” of the body of Jesus. The passage outlines the burial custom of the Jews — strips of linen were wrapped around the body interwoven, in this case, with 100 pounds of spices. Basically, Jesus’ body was in a 100-pound body cast, Whitehead said.

The next witness was Mark, who stated in chapter 15, verse 46, of his deposition that Jesus was buried in a borrowed tomb sealed with “an extremely large stone” that would take 20 men to move. Whitehead quoted lawyer-engineer J. Frank Morrison that the rock may have weighed one and a half to two tons. These were the “protections” given to the body of Jesus, Whitehead noted.

The third witness was Matthew, chapter 27, verses 62-66, regarding the “precautions” taken by Jesus’ enemies. Highly trained Roman guards guarded the tomb and the seal of Rome was affixed to the stone. The death penalty was certain for any trespasser and for the guard unit if the seal were ever broken.

Yet, in spite of the preparations, the protections and the precautions, the facts in evidence are that the stone was rolled far away from the entrance on the Sunday morning, and the body was gone. So, Whitehead asked, “What happened to the body?”

The first theory ever offered was labeled by Whitehead as “the body snatchers theory,” that the friends of Jesus must have stolen the body. In fact, Matthew’s “deposition” was cited that the guards later testified that “while they were asleep” the disciples stole the body. Whitehead called the guards’ story “bought and paid for testimony” because it is “self-impeaching.” The guards said they were asleep, so how could they know what happened? But if they were asleep, they failed at the guard and would die.

A second theory was called the “swoon theory,” made popular by the book, “The Passover Plot.” The theory, as recapped by Whitehead, holds that maybe Jesus didn’t really die but was drugged so he would look dead. He was put in the tomb, where the cool air revived him. He then escaped from the tomb and was mistaken for a risen Savior.

But, Whitehead asked, what about the testimony in John 19:33-34 that Jesus was pierced in the side with a spear, and that blood and water flowed out? Modern physiologists know this is proof of death, Whitehead said, adding that the Roman guards were professional executioners who knew death, and Jesus was dead.

Beyond this, the swoon theory ignores the other facts in evidence regarding the 100-pound body cast left behind on the slab, the two-ton boulder and the equivalent of a Green Beret unit guarding the tomb and the Roman seal with their lives, Whitehead said.

The resurrection theory, based on the disciples’ testimonies, is the only one that fits all the facts and evidence, Whitehead said.

The disciples died martyrs’ deaths to attest to their testimony that Jesus was dead on Friday and alive again on Sunday and for 40 days thereafter, Whitehead said. Jesus said he did it because he is God, dying for man’s sin, offering resurrection life eternally for all who will receive him, Whitehead recounted.

When Greenleaf realized that the evidence proves Jesus is God, he received Christ as Savior and Lord and it changed his life, Whitehead said. “If Jesus was alive again in 33 A.D.,” Whitehead concluded, “he’s alive today because he is God. You can receive him by repentance and faith. That will change your life and that is the message of Easter.”

Megli is a newswriter at Midwestern Seminary.

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  • Rebecca Megli