presumed dead, found alive
The news this week has been filled with the personal story of John and Anne Darwin. John Darwin vanished in March 2002 whilst out canoeing and was presumed dead. That was, until he reappeared this week five years later! Meanwhile life insurance policies had been cashed in and evidence emerged of a liaison between them in Panama. The ultimate facts and motives are yet to be teased out, but one thing’s for certain: John Darwin is not dead. He’s alive and well!

The story gives us an interesting glass through which to examine the account of Jesus Christ’s death. In the final week of Christ’s life in Jerusalem, he was betrayed to the authorities, arrested, indicted on false charges and put to death by crucifixion. Unlike John Darwin, Jesus’ death was clearly seen by witnesses. Indeed the public humiliation of such an execution was part of the punishment. It was a cursed death (Deut 21:23), to be suffered by only the worst of criminals. His name was clearly marked above him “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews” (John 19:19), even his enemies looked on and mocked him as he hung there (Matt 27:41-43). His mother, aunt and disciples were there (John 19:26), and particularly John, who testified to what he saw with his own eyes (John 19:35; 1John 1:1-4) that we might know the truth and believe. Even a Roman soldier was gripped in awe by the occasion and convinced by Jesus’ death and his uniqueness – “Truly this was the Son of God” (Matt 27:54). 

There can be no doubt that Jesus died. What we have are eyewitness accounts which point us to the inevitable conclusion. And yet, to this day many deny that Jesus was put to death, or even that he ever existed. In Islam, which ranks Jesus as one of its most important prophets, Moslems are taught to deny that it was Jesus who was nailed to the cross. Their theory is just that it appeared to be him, but was in fact Judas or another man. The thought of God’s wonderful prophet being so cruelly put to death and bearing the curse of God in such a way, is as unthinkable for them now, as it was for the first century Jews (Acts 2:36, 3:14,15).

But of course, there is a reason for such a series of events. This was not the judgement of God poured out upon a failed and sinful life. The Bible says that Christ suffered in this way to bear our transgressions (Isaiah 53) and that in this way his soul was made an offering for sin in order to satisfy God’s justice (Isaiah 53:10,11). This was all of God’s doing. It was God’s way to both be just in punishing sin, and yet also be merciful by freely justifying sinners (Romans 3:26). For atonement to be made, it required blood (Lev. 17:11).

Furthermore, the facts do not end there. Jesus did not just die, he rose again from the dead, even to the astonishment of his disciples (John 20:25, Mark 16:13). The authorities attempted a cover up (Matt 28:11-15) but his body could not be found, for he had risen again and appeared many times. There was no mistake by those who were eyewitnesses of his death, nor was there among those who also saw Jesus after his resurrection (1Cor 15:5-8) who often paid a heavy price for their testimony.

The bedrock facts are “that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day” (1Cor 15:3,4). Unlike the case of John Darwin, where there were no witnesses, no body and a presumption of death, Jesus most certainly died. And unlike the reappearance of John Darwin, who remains very mortal, Christ’s resurrection was one of power, clothed with immortality. Death has been swallowed up by life. The Darwin case may prove to be a mistaken attempt at running away from problems, or securing a new and wealthy life. But Christ’s death was not for himself but for us. And his reappearance was no mistake either, but to prove that God’s justice had been fully satisfied (Rom 5:25). Death’s power had been broken. Christ’s resurrection life ensures an eternal inheritance for all those who put their trust in him – no mistake! Friday, 7 December 2007