Former presidential counsel Charles Colson tells how his Watergate experience can be used to support the testimony of the first-century men who said they saw the resurrected Jesus.
How do we know that Jesus was resurrected? We have the eyewitness accounts of the 11 apostles who were with Him and, of course, the apostle Paul who saw Him. They were with Him before His crucifixion and for the 40 days between His resurrection and His ascension. They lived for as long as 40 years thereafter, never once denying that they had seen Jesus raised from the dead.
What does that have to do with Watergate? I’ll tell you. In June 1972, I was home on a weekend with my wife and children. We had a few days off because President Nixon was in Key Biscayne, Florida. My phone that was connected to the White House rang. It was John Erlichmann. He told me that some burglars had broken into the Democratic National Headquarters in Washington. I started laughing hysterically because I thought to myself, “Of all the ridiculous places for anybody to break into in Washington, DC.”
I went away from that phone call shaking my head and feeling a little despair. I thought, “Now we have a campaign issue, but it will go away after the election.” Well, as you know, it didn’t!
The log showed that in the months immediately following the 1972 election, I was with President Nixon more than any other aide. Watergate never came up. We first started to discuss it in February 1973, when the Ervin hearings started. On March 21, 1973, John Dean walked into the Oval Office and said, “Mr. President, there is a cancer growing on your presidency.” That’s the first time the President really knew there was a conspiracy in the White House. That’s the first time it became a criminal act inside the White House.
John Dean’s memoirs record that 3 days after that meeting in the Oval Office he began to get nervous about his own role. That’s when he hired a lawyer. On April 8, Dean went to the prosecutors to bargain for immunity so that he would not be prosecuted. In turn, he would testify against the President. Later, he said, “I did it to save my own skin.” When he went to the prosecutors to bargain for immunity, it was all over.
Then the other aides started to go in. I took a lie detector test, and my lawyers leaked it to the New York Times. Everybody started to scramble for cover. The Watergate coverup was actually over because Mr. Nixon’s presidency was doomed. Now, if you stop and figure it out, you will see that the Watergate coverup actually lasted 3 weeks or less—from March 21 to April 8, 1973.
Now put yourself in our position. Here we were, the 12 most powerful men in the United States . All the power of government was at our fingertips, but we could not keep a lie together for 3 weeks. The most powerful men in the world could not hold on to a lie. So weak is man that we couldn’t do it.
Are you going to tell me that those powerless apostles who were outcasts in their own land could be stoned, persecuted, and beaten, some for 40 years, never once denying that Jesus was raised from the dead? Impossible, humanly impossible—unless they had seen the risen Christ face to face. Otherwise, the apostle Peter would havebeen just another John Dean. He’d have gone in to turn state’s evidence. He had already done it three times.
Is it likely, then, that a deliberate coverup, a plot to perpetuate a lie about the resurrection, could have survived the persecution of the apostles and the purge of the first-century believers who were cast by the thousands to the lions for refusing to renounce Christ? Is it not probable that at least one apostle would have “confessed” rather than being beheaded or stoned? Is it not likely that some “smoking gun” document might have been produced exposing the “Passover plot”? Surely one of the conspirators would have made a deal.
If Jesus was raised from the dead, as I am absolutely, intellectually positive that He was—and the evidence of history is overwhelming—it’s not only a matter of faith but a matter of deepest intellectual conviction.