We were strolling through the war cemetery near the River Kwai in Thailand (of movie fame ‘Bridge Over the River Kwai’) close to the Myanmar (Burmese) border, reading the epitaphs on tombstones when I came across that of a twenty-six year old Aussie army sergeant. Its words jumped out at me and I called over my wife to read it too.
Its bitter-sweet words read: He fell asleep in Jesus. Probably only a mature convinced Christian would appreciate the ‘sweet’ part.
The bitter part of course was that a precious young life (any life) had been brutally cut short by the immorality, stupidity, viciousness and horror of war resulting in the never-ending loss forced upon, and to be endured by, loved ones back home. The sweet part, always tempered by the previous sentence was that this soldier (who did not want to forfeit his priceless life), was safely in his forever heavenly home in the comforting presence of Jesus.
The spiritual world view
His epitaph reflects God’s world view revealed in the pages of Scripture about which conviction is only made possible by the ministry of the Holy Spirit as those pages are read.
God teaches that neither for the believer nor unbeliever is physical death the end but where that person will spend their forever is vastly different in each case, the choice being ours - one will be endlessly spectacular the other endlessly horrific.
That a person had fallen asleep was a gentle Jewish expression that s/he had succumbed to the sleep of death. After His amazing resurrection to indestructible life and having appeared to His close friend Peter, Jesus then: appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living though some have fallen asleep. (1 Corinthians chapter 15 verse 6).
The quintessential statement by the greatest preacher in human history, Jesus says it best. Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep but I am going there to wake him up…Lazarus is dead…upon arriving at the tomb Martha, the deceased’s sister said: by this time there is a bad odour for he has been there four days…but Jesus called out: Lazarus come out. Lazarus slowly walked out and Jesus said: Take off the grave clothes and let him go. (John chapter 11 verses 11-44).
It is in 1 Corinthians chapter 15 however where God, as the ‘behind the scenes’ ultimate author of the whole of the Bible, highlights the centrality of the rescue mission Jesus came to carry out: vis His death and resurrection. If Christ has not been raised…then all who have fallen asleep in Him are also lost, just as He is. All Christians then would have pitifully believed and put our trust for eternity in a dead Christ (1 Corinthians chapter 15 verses 17/18), which would understandably make us the laughing stock of the world.
God the Father and God the Holy Spirit spell it out that if Jesus had not been raised to eternal life then in that abysmal case Jesus would not have overcome death for us nor in the process have ushered in ‘forever life’.
But to put it beyond doubt that this miserable outcome is not the case, God pounds the final nail in the coffin of that dead view by triumphantly stating: But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. (1 Corinthians chapter 15 verse 20).
But what if…
The skeptic, the couldn’t-care-a-less unbelieving critic and sometimes the noisy sneering opponent has time and time again claimed that the resurrection of Jesus simply did not happen, that there is no evidence to indicate otherwise. But from an evidentiary point of view (much more powerful than the mere statement of belief) that is simply not so.
After the happening of a significant event in life (a promotion, graduation, wedding, birth, the death and funeral of a loved one or friend) the subsequent history is always observed at close range and is lived ‘with and in’. The change of circumstance will always result in life changes. Adjustments are made. Those forever-after changes confirm the fact that the subject event took place. Did dad really die? Of course he did. We attended his funeral and he is no longer with us. You know that, his seat is now empty! We’ve had to regroup.
The reaction within society
The following seamless uninterrupted history after Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection confirms the eye witness accounts: on one occasion by over five hundred (not just witnesses but) eye witnesses. No court case in world history has ever had that number of eye witnesses attest to the same undeniable event.
There was never any general murmur in society, denial or groundswell of opposition to the resurrection account. Spot fires ‘yes’ no doubt but general bushfire denial (even raging bushfire denial) ‘no’. Why? Because there couldn’t be. Why? Because Jesus’ spectacular resurrection to victorious real life was an actual undeniable historical fact easily verifiable by half a football crowd. But there was no need. And as they ground their teeth in frustration His staunch detractors knew it only too well.
Its universal effect
Irrespective of the reaction of Jesus’ unbelieving (sometimes sneering) opponents human history was thereafter forever irrevocably changed. Thus the year of publication of this article is 2020 A.D., not some fanciful figure of 4.6 billion years (or is it ‘only’ 4.3 billion) as is ridiculously and lamely claimed by the atheist evolutionist.
The bedrock historical event of Jesus’ resurrection demands your ‘yes’ verdict.
Gavin Lawrie is a retired Barrister and Solicitor from Tweed Heads NSW Australia and author of the book: 'THE EVIDENCE OF EVOLUTION: Uncovering The Faulty Science Of Dawkins' Attack On Creationism'. He is married to Jan with two adult children and they are grandparents.
Gavin Lawrie's previous articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/gavin-lawrie.html