Although I’m not a magic expert, I think it’s safe to say that of all people, Harry Houdini holds a premier position as one of the greatest illusionists of all time. Watching the videos and hearing the stories gives one the impression that there was nothing he couldn’t get out of, from straitjackets held under water, ropes slung from skyscrapers, to being buried alive under a mountain of sand. No trick too large, no stunt too dangerous, and yet he escaped from them all.
Except one. Before a show at the Princess Theater in Montreal on October 26, 1926, Houdini was reclining backstage with a couple of college students from nearby McGill University and he was asked if he could indeed withstand any punch to the abdomen. Not wanting to appear weak, Houdini replied in the affirmative, at which point one of the students, J.G. Whitehead, began to punch him repeatedly in the abdomen. Unknown then, but possibly suffering at the same time from an unknown appendicitis, Houdini died 5 days later on October 31 in Detroit, Michigan. The great illusionist was dead.
Almost anyone that watches a magic trick understands one central truth about it: it is designed to deceive you. But we don’t care, and people will pay good money to watch a three-hour show where a man in Las Vegas makes an aircraft carrier “disappear,” only to have it “reappear” 3,000 miles away in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. And even though everyone knows they were fooled, a little snippet of everyone wants to believe that it’s true.
Perhaps that’s why the fascination of Jesus’ resurrection continues to astound and intrigue even the most skeptical of atheists; certainly someone can not just “come back to life!” After all, it has to be a trick! And yet, the Truth that millions over the last 2,000 years have died for is just that: Jesus came to earth, He died for our sins, and was resurrected on the third day to ascend to Heaven forever (1 Tim. 3:16). Too good to be true?
There’s no doubt that the Jews wanted it to be. Fearing the ramifications of a “risen Savior,” they entreated Pilate to set guards at the tomb, and Pilate responded by giving them authority to “make it as secure as they knew how” (Matt. 27:65). This resulted in not only guards, but also sealed with the signet ring of the emperor, that whosoever disturbed the stone was in violation of Imperial territory (Matt. 27:66; see also Dan. 6:17).
And when the Apostle Paul ran around for 20 plus years invoking the name of the resurrected Christ, the angry Jews of Jerusalem made a pact that no one was to eat or drink anything “until they had killed Paul” (Acts 23:12) – a common threat of Paul’s travels. But despite his eventual martyrdom, nothing stopped the early church from expanding at an exponential rate, up to and including the conversion of the Emperor himself less than 300 years later.
But if the Jews were wanting to silence the upheaval about the risen Lord, they didn’t need to track Paul down all over the Empire. All they needed to do was do one simple thing:
Produce Jesus’ body.
That’s it. Produce a verifiable body of Jesus, and the “illusion” of Jesus’ resurrection is totally destroyed, His message tarnished, and His effect rendered meaningless. Of course, that’s still a claim that Christians can make in today’s world: show me the body beyond a shadow of a doubt, and as a Christian, I’ll recant and disavow everything I believe about Christ.
That’s why Paul was so insistent in 1 Corinthians 15 that Jesus’ resurrection was the most important aspect of the Gospel (1 Cor. 15:12-19), because if there is no resurrection of Christ, then faith, grace, obedience, prayer – along with 5,321,302 other commands we find in the Bible – are utterly meaningless. Produce the body, destroy the resurrection, and Christianity is void. It’s that simple.
But the enemies of Christ can’t, because Jesus’ resurrection is not a magic trick. You can’t simply pull up the box of the woman that is sawed in half and find out that there are actually two people in there instead of just one. You can’t lift up the cover on the levitating woman and find the metal contraption that suspends her in the air (apologies if I ruined those for anyone). And you can’t just look underneath the table of a spiritualist, like Houdini himself did so often in his early career, and find the drum that makes a “ghostly sound.” The resurrection of Christ is not a batch of cheap parlor tricks designed to intrigue and deceive; it is simply the most amazing, unbelievable-yet-somehow-believable miracle that Jesus ever performed, and it is the lynchpin of our faith.
So that’s my challenge to the rest of the world: produce a body; after all, you’ve had a 2,000 year head start. And you could spend the rest of your life looking all over the world, as so many have before, and end up at the end thinking of 200 other places you should’ve tried, or you could simply bow the knee to the greatest feat of Deity that this world has ever seen, and acknowledge Him as Lord. The resurrection is not a hoax, and Christians should lean on it for the foundation and key to their entire faith. The world can not refute it.