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Dead! Dead for sure! … by Jay Swisher

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This is a week in which we recall with great passion and gratitude the death of an important man in history. But this was no ordinary man: he spoke of God with a familiarity that came across as genuine; he taught about ultimate truth both directly and by parables; twice he fed thousands of people with a small amount of food; he healed perhaps thousands of people, curing them of serious illnesses that were incurable in his day; he even raised a few people from death.

This man was, of course, Jesus, the God-Man, the Son of Man, the Son of God, the Redeemer, the Savior, the Living Word, and many other titles worthy of him alone. His death was the indirect result of his teaching that offended the jealous religious elite of his day. It was also the direct result of a kangaroo court and deceptive accusations before the Governor who could have released him but chose to please the religious leaders and prevent a riot he feared would start among the people.

Rather than describing the significance of the death of Jesus, I wish to consider an important question: Did Jesus really die? Skeptics have proposed that Jesus did not die. Some claim it was someone else (Judas or maybe Barabbas) who was crucified by mistake in the place of Jesus. This would mean that Jesus did not die, and his resurrection was just a case of mistaken identity. Another skeptical idea is that Jesus was crucified, but he did not actually die—he simply passed out as a result of the extreme trauma to his body. This flimsy theory claims that later, in the cool of the tomb, Jesus revived, removed the huge stone door, exited the tomb, and convinced the disciples he was the victorious “risen” Savior promised by God.

To resolve this question we need one important element: we need an eye witness who can confirm that Jesus really died. In fact we have multiple eye witnesses.

Most of us have seen people who have died. In most cases the person’s body has been carefully prepared and placed in an attractive box. The body of our dear friend or family member has the appearance of being peacefully asleep. In stark contrast to our sanitized observation of dead bodies, the eye witnesses of the dead body of Jesus saw the grotesque body of a person who had been viciously tortured and then died a horrible death. Here is a list of at least eight identified witnesses who saw the dead body of Jesus:

  • Eye witness #1: The Centurion who oversaw the crucifixion is mentioned in all of the Synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke). He commented that he thought Jesus was the “Son of God” when he saw how he died. The Centurion also confirmed to the Governor that Jesus was dead.
  • Eye witnesses #2-4: Several women are mentioned in the Synoptic gospels. These included Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and “the mother of the sons of Zebedee.” These women and others who are not named saw how Jesus was placed in the tomb and came to the tomb on the morning of the first day of the week to anoint what they knew to be a dead body.
  • Eye witness #5: Joseph of Arimathea is mentioned in all four gospels. He asked the Governor for the body of Jesus, and “took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen shroud and laid it in his own new tomb which he had cut in the rock.”
  • Eye witnesses #6 and 7: The disciple John and the mother of Jesus were at the cross according to John’s gospel.
  • Eye witness #8: Nicodemus is mentioned only in John’s gospel. He brought 75 pounds of spices (myrrh and aloes). Apparently with Joseph of Arimathea, “they” wrapped the body of Jesus in the linen cloth with the spices.

Eight eye witnesses at a murder trial would carry much weight with any jury. Would not that number of witnesses of the death of Jesus be sufficient evidence that our Lord died on that cross?

There are only three possibilities of what can happen to a dead body that has been buried or placed in a tomb: mummification, decomposition, or resurrection. As we contemplate the death of Jesus on Good Friday, we do so with the confidence that, while the first two possibilities are by far the most common, the body of Jesus was raised from the dead and appeared to many people (more eye witnesses), some of whom recorded their experience with the living Jesus in the New Testament.

Jesus truly died. Now HE IS RISEN! But we can celebrate that part of the story next Sunday.