WHY DO WE LOOK TO THE RESURRECTION OF JESUS TO UNDERSTAND DEATH?
By Ernest O'Neill
Why Do We Look to the Resurrection of Jesus to Understand Death?
Rev. Ernest O'Neill
You know the dying business has its own grace and compensations with it so that you're not terribly aware of pain or of that side of things. You're really encased in a little cocoon that God has where your senses are dulled. So, God is gracious that way, so if I could save you from that -- you're right I haven't died -- but from where I've been with other loved ones – no, don't be afraid of the pain of death. The pain of death does not seem to be the big problem with us when we're dying. That's not it at all. And God will give you grace. And of course, many of us will just die painlessly. Many of us will die like old Macmillan the old British Prime Minister, just in their sleep – we’ll die and we won't even know we've died.
So, the dying is not the terrible thing. If you say it to me, “
Well then, what is it? Because I do have some fear of it.” I think if you're an ordinary person, I think you're almost bound to have some wonderings about it. It's all right saying, “Oh well, I know what's going to happen; I have no fear” -- I think if you're an ordinary human being like the rest of us there'll be something of fear there -- more like what old Shakespeare says, you remember: “It's not the death that you're afraid of. It's not the dying or the pain. It's the fear, you remember he says, in “Hamlet” – “the fear of that unknown country from whose bourn no traveler returns.” That's it. “The fear of that unknown country from whose bourn no traveler returns.”
We know this life -- if you like to put it that way -- we'd say, “Well, we know this life. Now wait a minute -- I know where I am here, I know what's around me, I'm in some degree of peace here -- but I don't know what lies beyond.” And I think if you're an ordinary human being just that very fact causes you some fear and some uncertainty and some wonderings -- and if you're like me, when you've thought of death you’ve thought of it – well, let's put it nicely: a little anticipation anyway, or a little apprehension. Because you wonder, what is there? What is there? What’s beyond and in the darkness.
Loved ones, there's only one who has been -- see? There is only one who has been been. Mohammed didn't die and come back to life. The Hindu prophets didn't. Buddha didn't. Confucius didn't, Zoroaster didn’t. All those other fellows who are looked upon as religious leaders -- none of them died and came back to tell us. Nobody. Only one man has done that.
There's only one man who has gone through, died and really been dead -- and been beyond and come back to reassure us.
Now if you say, “How do you know? I mean nobody has ever died and come alive again. How do you know? How do you know He really did it?” Well, you have to pause for a minute and think of that B.C. A.D. thing. I mean, it is remarkable, isn’t it, that our history is split into B.C. “before Christ” and A.D. “anno domini” “in the year of our Lord”?
That's the first thing. You have to honestly look at the fact that our whole method of measuring history and time is based on this dear man Jesus Christ. So, there must be something remarkable about Him. There must be something unusual about Him for that to be. And then of course you know there is just the sheer history of it all. You remember that verse if you look at it in First Corinthians. And if you just even think about that for a moment or two, it's very difficult to ignore it.
It's First Corinthians 15:6. “Then he appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep.” So, you know Paul is saying, this Jesus after he got up from being dead, appeared to more than 500 people at one time, most of whom are still alive. Now do you see the importance of that? The letter to the Corinthians was written in 57 A.D.; Jesus died in 29 A.D. So, you can see there’s about 28 years’ difference there.
But these accounts of Jesus’ resurrection were being read by the very people who were at the cross when he was crucified, and were in Jerusalem when he began to appear in different places alive.
Some of these 500 people were still alive when the New Testament gospels were being circulated. So, do you see it's very hard to reject the fact that Jesus actually did rise from the dead -- because the historical evidence is so good and it was circulating at a time when eyewitnesses were actually still alive who had seen Him.