May 16, 2021
Did Jesus really rise from the dead? A cold case homicide detective, an atheist, uses his investigative techniques to see where the evidence leads.
- No other religion makes an extraordinary claim that Jesus died in Jerusalem and came back with a glorified body.
- Christianity makes historical claim and a historical fact that Jesus rising from the dead transcends our world, happened in our world and happened in our history.
- The Apostles had the difficult task of convincing people that Jesus rose from the dead in a glorified body and that they will die bearing witness to that proclamation.
- Jay Warner Wallace, a homicide detective, wrote the book, Cold Case Christianity.
- Jesus actually rising from the dead according to Jay Wallace, best fits all the compiled evidence.
- Through Jay Wallace’s investigation, he himself experienced a life changing experience and became a witness of the resurrection of Jesus.
The readings today are about Jesus ascending into Heaven. Father presents the results from a cold case homicide detective, who was an atheist. After going through the Gospels of Mark, the detective reached the conclusion by all of the standards of solving a cold case murder, Jesus did rise from the dead, and the Gospels are a true account.
Father concludes by relating we are all called to be witnessed today of the risen Jesus. He comes to us in a special way in the Blessed Sacrament and in Mass. He comes to dwell with us so that His spirit can make us also witnesses for our world today of His resurrection.
As they were looking on, Jesus was lifted up, and that cloud took him from their site. Some 40 days ago, we celebrated Easter. Why did Jesus wait 40 days, before rising back to heaven? What was the purpose of those 40 days? That passage we heard today said Jesus, during those 40 days, He presented Himself alive to them, by many proofs, after He had suffered, appearing to them, during 40 days. Jesus did something that has never been done before, never been done since. And no other religion makes this type of claim, this same claim that Jesus, not only He didn’t have a near death experience, He actually died, completely died and then came back, and not just in a vision. But not just sensing His presence, but came back with a body, but a glorified body, a body and a whole different state. As I said, no other religion makes an extraordinary claim like that. And the even more extraordinary thing is that Christianity doesn’t just say that this happened once upon a time in a faraway land but it says this happened someplace very specific, in Jerusalem. And it even says, and some scholars think that we can even pinpoint the actual day this happened, April 5, 33, AD. And whether that’s the exact year or not, this happened in a very clear historical framework. And so Christianity is not just a moral code or a spiritual teachings but it’s making a historical claim that something happened, a historical fact happened, a fact that transcends our world, but also happened in our world, and in our history. St. Paul says, “If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is vain.” So everything depends on, did Jesus really rise from the dead? In our world with so much evil, it’s very hard to believe that, and so Jesus, we hear Jesus today, before He rises, His commissioning witnesses, He says, “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be My witnesses.” If you will, I’m leaving, I’m going up to heaven, I will not be visible now, but you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Even to Canyon Lake, and St. Peter later on, and not long after that, when in the Acts of the Apostles, we hear St. Peter’s saying, “We are witnesses to all that He did. God raised Him on the third day and made Him manifest, not to everybody, but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, we ate and drank with Him after He rose from the dead.” So the apostles now have a very difficult task. A lot of people saw Jesus die, now the apostles have to convince people that He has risen. Yes, He truly died on the cross, 1000s of people saw that, but now He is risen, risen from the dead, and a glorified body, and that the apostles are going to pay with their lives to bear that witness. So the question is, did Jesus truly rise from the dead? Did He really rise from the dead? And so I want to come back to some material that I covered a couple of years ago, so this will be a rerun for those who were there. But this might not seem like a big issue to you, but it is a big question. It’s a question that a lot of people don’t believe, a lot of people struggle with this question. So I think it’s interesting to look at this case of someone who investigated the evidence. And so this is gonna be a more technical homily, as we look a little bit at this evidence. It’s, by a guy who is not a theologian, but actually a homicide detective and what’s called a cold case, homicide detective. His name is Jay Warner Wallace, and he wrote a book about this called ‘Cold Case Christianity.’ And so I’m going to try to condense that whole book into a little homily, so I promise it won’t last more than two or three hours, and I’ll wake you up at the end. So Jay Warner Wallace, just a little background on him, his professional investigative work had received national recognition. His cases have been featured more than any other detective on NBC dateline. And so the name of the book is Cold Case Christianity, a homicide detective investigates the case for the gospel. And so he describes himself he said that since his 30s, when he became a police officer, and then a detective and specialized in a homicide, he described himself as an angry atheist, a skeptic. He said, “I’d been a cop for about eight years before I began investigating Christianity, which was about at the age 35, he said in that time, I slowly lost my faith in people, which is easy to happen, and especially when I guess when you’re a cop. I was suspicious, I considered everyone to be a liar, and capable of horrific behavior. Nothing surprised me when it came to the depravity of humanity. I trusted no one, and thought of myself as superior to the vast majority of the people I encountered. I was cocky, cynical and distant. My wife and my kids were my entire world. I had a few acquaintances who are also police officers, but few other friends. My heart was shrinking, and was growing harder with every case I worked, with every passing year.” So because of so much evil, that he’s encountering, it’s his fate, his heart is shrinking. “At 35, I began to read the Gospels for the first time. Something about the Gospels caught my attention, more as an investigator than as someone interested in the ancient philosophy of an imaginary sage. I interviewed hundreds or maybe 1000s of eyewitnesses and suspects. I’d become familiar with the nature of eyewitness statements. And I understand how testimony was evaluated in a court of law. Something about the gospel struck me as more than mythological storytelling. The gospels actually appeared to be ancient eyewitness accounts. I’ve conducted so many interviews and had had such success getting suspects to cop out, that my department sent me to a number of investigative schools to refine my skills. So I began to use forensic statement analysis, as I studied the Gospel of Mark. Within a month, and in spite of my deep skepticism and hesitation, I concluded that Mark’s gospel was the eyewitness account of the Apostle Peter.” So that’s interesting, that’s what tradition says, but he’s coming at this from a different route, and comes to the same conclusion. “In my current assignment, I investigate Cold Case murders. Unlike other lesser crimes, an unsolved homicide, is never closed. Time doesn’t run out on a murder investigation. There are many similarities between investigating cold cases and investigating the claims of Christianity.” So he lists some of those similarities. “Cold Case homicides are events from the distant past, for which there is often little or no forensic evidence. These kinds of cases are sometimes solved on the basis of eyewitness testimony, even though many years have passed between the point of the crime and the point of the investigation. While there may not be any surviving eyewitnesses of the actual murder, there are often witnesses available who can help puzzle together, the events leading up to the crime, or the behavior of a suspect following the crime. These witnesses can be evaluated in a number of ways to confirm their reliability. In the end, a strong circumstantial case, can usually be made by collecting witness statements, and verifying these observations with what little forensic evidence is available. By taking this approach, I have arrested and successfully prosecuted a number of Cold Case suspects who thought they had gotten away with murder. Christianity makes a claim about an event from the distant past for which there is little or no forensic evidence.” And for instance, I don’t think he’s he was familiar with something like the Shroud of Turin. “Like cold cases, the truth about what happened can be discovered by examining the statements of eyewitnesses, and comparing them with what little additional evidence is accessible to us. If the eyewitnesses can be evaluated, and their statements can be verified by what we have available, and equally strong circumstantial case can be made for the claims of the New Testament. But are there any reliable eyewitness statements in existence to corroborate in the first place? This became the most important question I had to answer in my personal investigation of Christianity. Are there any reliable eyewitness statements? Were the gospel narratives, eyewitness accounts, or are they only moralistic mythologies, stories where the Gospels reliable or they filled with untrustworthy supernatural absurdities? The most important question I could ask about Christianity, just so happened to fall within my area of expertise.” And so again, he’s investigating very important cases, homicide, and difficult, rather, you know, in a court of law, so these cases had to meet the standards, legal standards. And so he said about witnesses, he had realized that there were always four key questions to ask about witnesses. First of all, were the witnesses present? And he says the evidence indicates that the gospels were written during the lifetime of the eyewitnesses. The second question is, have they been honest and accurate? And it says here we have the evidence of literary analysis of the text, but also archaeological evidence and also evidence from non Christian texts that all corroborate the honesty. He says the most reasonable inference from the evidence is that the gospels are incredibly reliable, especially considering the nature of such account. Few ancient records have been as critically examined as the New Testament Gospels, few other documents from antiquity have been as heavily challenged and carefully scrutinized. This prolonged scrutiny has given us a robust and detailed set of evidence that we can examine. So that his answer to the other second question is, yes, they are honest and accurate statements. Can they be verified and as accurately transmitted? That is, the witness could say something true, but though the record could have been changed, distorted. He says there’s much historical records that concords that the Gospels have collected and transmitted the evidence reliably. And the fourth question is, do they have an ulterior motive? Are the witnesses biased? And he says, it’s clear that the gospel writers are not driven by power, or greed, or fame, because they die, they lost, they lost that and they died, most of them died as martyrs. So his summary is that the gospel witnesses are eyewitness, they are eye witnesses, they are honest, they are corroborated, they’re accurately transmitted, and they are unbiased. And so then he sets about gathering the available evidence and seeking the most reasonable explanations that best fits the evidence because like in a lot of cases, we don’t have perfect knowledge. Many cases depend entirely on indirect and circumstantial evidence, which becomes more powerful, the more indirect confirming evidence there is. And so he mentioned the study by author’s name, Habermas and Licona, who limited their list of evidence to the facts that were strongly supported and to those facts that were granted by virtually all scholars, from all sorts of different perspectives. “As a skeptic, myself, I formed a list of New Testament claims. As I first investigated the resurrection. When I was an unbeliever I found four claims of Habermas and Licona, as of their minimal facts, to be the most substantiated by both friends and foes of Christianity.” So he’s limited himself to four facts, was not just Christians, but also those of Christians, generally recognized and those four facts are that Jesus died on the cross, and was buried. Second, that Jesus tomb was empty, and no one ever produced His body. Third, that Jesus disciples believed, they believe that they saw Jesus resurrected from the dead. That doesn’t mean He was resurrected, but they believe that at least. And fourth, that Jesus disciples were transformed, following their alleged resurrection observations, that doesn’t mean that the resurrection actually happened, but they, their lives were transformed by at least thinking it happened. So he goes through a whole list, I think there’s eight of them, of possible explanations that have been given. For this, one explanation is that Jesus didn’t really die. It was just a swoon or a coma. And some have proposed that others that the disciples lied about the resurrection. And that’s already in the Gospel, we already see that being presented. Others that the disciples were delusional, they just imagined this. A fourth, that they were fooled by an imposter. Fifth, that a few of them had a vision, that it wasn’t something that happened in our real world, but a few of them had a vision of something. Six, the disciples had a spiritual experience. Again, not something happening in the real world, but a spiritual experience of Jesus. Seven, that there the teaching was distorted over time. That the belief in the resurrection was something that was added, afterwards, later on, by people who weren’t eyewitnesses. And lastly, that Jesus actually rose from the dead, which sounds like the most unlikely explanation. But he, again, I’m condensing a lot, but he says that actually what best fits the evidence as it goes through all the evidence available, and all these different options, he says, the evidence that the explanation which best fits the evidence, is that Jesus truly rose from the dead. All the other explanations have problems with the evidence. And so even though it’s very surprising to believe that Jesus rose from the dead, it’s actually what best fits the evidence. And this makes me think of a passage from the Catechism, where speaking about faith, and speaking about the signs or the evidence that God gives, it says, “so that the submission of our faith might nevertheless be in accordance with reason.” God willed that external proofs, external evidence of His revelation should be joined to the internal helps that the Holy Spirit, so there’s the help of the Holy Spirit, but God also gives many external evidences, as I mentioned, like the Shroud of Turin. So the result of all this for Jay Warner Wallace, whereas real realize that the most reasonable explanation, the most reasonable explanation of the evidence was that Jesus was risen from the dead. And so he said, this was life changing for him, even though he was trying to hide it, people who knew him sensed his life had changed. And so without realizing it, he was becoming a witness of the resurrection of Jesus. And who else is called to be a witness of the resurrection of Jesus? Who else is called for our world today in this very challenging, hard, dark time that we’re living right now, with all that’s going on, with so much doubt, with so much fear, with so much despair, who else is called to be a witness of the risen Lord Jesus? You are called to be a witness by the grace of the Holy Spirit, that even though we are weak and we are sinners, by the grace of the Holy Spirit, we also can be witnesses, that Jesus is risen and alive today, and thus victorious, is gone to heaven. But He’s also remained with us. He comes to us we know in a special way in the Blessed Sacrament, and this Mass comes to dwell with us so that His spirit can make us also witnesses for our world today, of His resurrection. Amen.