By Charles Colson (assembled and edited from several sources). Colson served as Special Counsel to President Richard Nixon from 1969-1973. In 1974 he was convicted for his involvement in the Watergate cover-up. He was the first member of the Nixon administration to be incarcerated for Watergate-related charges, and served seven months in a federal prison. Colson became a Christian in 1973, and after his release from prison founded the non-profit ministry Prison Fellowship. For the next 38 years he was a respected evangelical Christian author and leader. Colson died five years ago last Friday.
I have been challenged many times on my belief in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. My answer is always that the disciples and five hundred others gave eyewitness accounts of seeing Jesus, risen from the tomb. But then I’m asked, “How do you know they were telling the truth? Maybe they were perpetrating a hoax.”
My answer to that comes from an unlikely source: the Watergate scandal in which I was very much involved.
Watergate involved a conspiracy to cover up the truth. It was perpetuated by the closest aids to the President of the United States, the most powerful men in America, men who were intensely loyal to their president. Ehrlichman, Haldeman, Mitchell, myself and the rest believed passionately in the President. We had at our fingertips every imaginable power and privilege. I could phone an aide’s office and have a jet waiting at Andrews Air Force Base. I could order Cabinet members or generals around. I could influence the United States budget. Yet even at the prospect of jeopardizing the President, and even with all the privileges of the most powerful office in the world, the instinct for self-preservation was so overwhelming that one by one, those involved deserted their leader to save their own skin.
The first of us, John Dean, testified against Nixon only two weeks after informing the president about what was really going on– two weeks! The real cover-up, the lie, could only be held together for two weeks. Soon after, everybody else began to jump ship in order to save themselves. The fact is that the only thing those around the President were facing was embarrassment, or perhaps a little time in prison. Nobody’s life was at stake. But in a situation like that, as I saw up close, the desire to save oneself has a way of overriding loyalty or any idealism.
What does this have to do with the resurrection? Simply this: if Jesus Christ did not rise from the dead on that first Easter Sunday, then the proclamation of that central Christian truth had to involve a massive cover-up. The disciples would have had to cover up the fact that Jesus was really still dead, and in the face of the fiercest opposition, lie to everyone, all the time, from then on; and say that Jesus was still alive and that the whole world should believe in him as Lord and Savior and God.
Think about the situation that Christ’s disciples were in after He left them. Here was a group of peasants, powerless, up against the most powerful empire in the world. Possible prison time was the very least of their worries. They knew that torture and execution could be in their future if they refused to stop preaching the name of Jesus Christ. But they couldn’t stop, and every single one of the disciples insisted, to their dying breaths, that they had physically seen Jesus bodily raised from the dead. To a man, they kept talking about Christ’s life, death, and resurrection to anyone who would listen. None of them would deny or retract their story. Eventually, just as the authorities had threatened, most of them were executed for it. But still, all of them maintained to the very end that Jesus had risen from the dead, and that they had seen Him, touched Him, and talked with Him.
Don’t you think that if those disciples were attempting to cover up the truth that Jesus was really still dead, that at least one of them would have cracked before being beheaded or stoned– that one of them would have made a deal with the authorities? Only an encounter with the living God could have kept those men steadfast. Otherwise, the apostle Peter would have been just like John Dean, running to the prosecutors to save his own skin. He had already denied Jesus three times (before the crucifixion). But Peter did not ever deny Jesus again, and neither did any of the other disciples. And no one can ever make me believe that eleven ordinary human beings would for forty years endure persecution, beatings, prison, and death, without ever once renouncing that Jesus Christ was risen from the dead.
You see, men will give their lives for something they believe to be true, but they will never give their lives for something they know to be false.
The Watergate cover-up reveals the true nature of humanity. Even political zealots at the pinnacle of power will, in the crunch, save their own necks, even at the expense of the ones they profess to serve so loyally. But the apostles could not deny Jesus because they had seen Him face to face, and they knew He had risen from the dead. This gives us one of the strongest proofs we have for the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
You can take it from an expert in cover-ups– I lived through Watergate– that nothing less than a resurrected Christ could have caused those men to maintain to their dying whispers that Jesus is alive and is Lord. Two thousand years later, nothing less than the power of the risen Christ could inspire Christians around the world to remain faithful– despite prison, torture, and death.
Jesus is Lord: That’s the thrilling message of Easter. And it’s an historic fact, one convincingly established by the evidence, and one you can bet your life upon.
Christ has risen! He has risen indeed!
“I prefer to believe those writers who get their throats cut for what they write.”
–Blaise Pascal (1623-1662), French inventor, mathematician, physicist, philosopher, and adult convert to Christianity
1 Corinthians 15:3-8 — For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.
Acts 5:27-33 — The apostles were brought in and made to appear before the Sanhedrin to be questioned by the high priest. “We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name,” he said. “Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are determined to make us guilty of this man’s blood.”
Peter and the other apostles replied: “We must obey God rather than human beings! The God of our ancestors raised Jesus from the dead—whom you killed by hanging him on a cross. God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might bring Israel to repentance and forgive their sins. We are witnesses of these things,and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.” When they heard this, they were furious and wanted to put them to death.
2 Peter 1:16 — For we did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.
Christ is Risen: The world below lies desolate
Christ is Risen: The spirits of evil are fallen
Christ is Risen: The angels of God are rejoicing
Christ is Risen: The tombs of the dead are empty
Christ is Risen indeed from the dead, the first of the sleepers,
Glory and power are his forever and ever. Amen.
St. Hippolytus of Rome (AD 190-236)