Reasons for Believing in Christ and the Resurrection
- friends, there is no doubt this morning that Jesus Christ existed
- hardly anyone questions the fact that Jesus Christ is a historical figure who walked this earth and taught and died
- if you look up the Encyclopedia Britannica, under Jesus Christ there will be an entry describing his date of birth, the fact that he’s the founder of Christianity, and so on
- it’s grounded and rooted in history
- some of you have been to his birthplace just outside Jerusalem
- you can see the town he grew up in, the river in which he was baptized, the mountainside he gave the Sermon on the Mount from, the courtyard where he was put on trial, and you can stand on the hill on which he was crucified
- it’s all a matter of the historical record
- non-religious historians reference the life and activities of Jesus
- what really is at stake is whether or not he is the Son of God
- I could give you many evidences for the divinity of Jesus Christ
- we could talk about Jesus’ claims to be God
- that we claimed to be Yahweh (John 8:58) and the Messiah (Mark 14:61-64), claimed equality with God (John 5:18) and equal authority with God (Matthew 28:18), that he accepted worship (Matthew 28:17), and that he commanded us to pray in his name (John 14:13-14)
- we could talk about the claims that the disciples made about Jesus
- that they gave him the titles of deity (Revelation 1:17), called him the Messiah (Philippians 2:10), prayed to him (Acts 7:59), and called him God (Titus 2:13)
- we could look at the miracles Jesus performed to validate that He is God, or the fact that He fulfilled dozens of Old Testament prophecies, or at his sinless life
- one of the greatest minds of this century, C.S. Lewis, wrote:
- I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish things that people often say about him: “I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.” That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of thing Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would rather be a lunatic – on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg – Or else he would be the Devil of Hell.
- Paul Little has pointed out that Jesus could only be one of three things: a liar, a lunatic, or he was telling the truth
- the evidence points to the fact that he was telling the truth
- friends, I could spend an entire morning on any one of these points
- entire books have been written
- instead I’m going to look at the strongest proof that Jesus is indeed the Son of God
- and this supreme proof is the fact that He rose from the dead
- it would be difficult for me to overemphasize the importance of the resurrection
- I agree with the apostle Paul who said in 1 Corinthians 15:4 that the whole of the Christian faith rests on the resurrection of Jesus Christ
- no resurrection, no Christianity
- in fact, the Bible says that if Jesus didn’t rise from the dead, we’re all wasting our time this morning
- it’s also important to believe in the resurrection because the Bible is very clear that your eternal destiny rests on what you believe about Jesus
- in Acts 17:30-31, the apostle Paul says:
- (Acts 17:30) In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent.
- (Acts 17:31) For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead.”
- what you believe about Jesus, and especially about the resurrection, will determine your eternal destiny
- so let’s honestly examine the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus Christ
- throughout history, Christians have maintained that there is enough evidence to convince rational, unbiased people that Jesus Christ did in fact rise from the dead
- cynics hold that the evidence is insufficient
- let’s look at the evidence
- I’m going to use an acrostic that spells “He Arose”
- if you take the first letter from each point and line it up, it will spell “He Arose”
- before you conclude that I’m really clever – don’t worry, I stole the idea
- seven evidences for the fact that Christ really rose from the dead:
- ONE: He was Dead
- you might have heard some say Jesus really didn’t die on the cross
- some Muslims are taught that Jesus only appeared to die on the cross
- this has come to be known as the swoon theory
- it holds that Jesus really fainted on the cross, and when he was taken to the tomb, after a while the cool air revived him
- sounds like it makes a little bit of sense at first
- but let’s think about what happened
- John 19:33 tells us that the Roman soldiers did not break Jesus’ legs, because they “saw that he was already dead”
- later on, when soldiers plunged a spear into Jesus’ side, water and blood spilled out
- medical experts testify that if Jesus were not already dead, this in itself would have killed him
- later on, Joseph of Arimathea asked for Jesus’ body so that he could bury it
- before Pontius Pilate released the body, he ordered a centurion to verify that Jesus was dead
- you can make sure that an officer of the Roman army would not make a mistake in an important matter like this in his report to a high official like Pilate
- when Joseph and Nicodemus buried the body, surely they would have noticed any sign of life as they wrapped his body and anointed it
- medical doctors have testified in great detail that nobody could suffer through the crucifixion and come down from the cross alive or fainted
- but you don’t have to be a medical doctor to know he didn’t come down from that cross alive
- let’s suppose he was alive, and somehow managed to get off his grave clothes, roll away the tomb, sneak past soldiers
- what would his appearance have been like?
- would have been monstrous, wouldn’t have been inspiring, would have taken him to a doctor
- wouldn’t have inspired the confidence that started the church, that would want a resurrection body like that
- scholars don’t even hold to this theory anymore
- there is no doubt this morning that the swoon theory has been discredited
- so let’s look at a second evidence this morning for the resurrection
- TWO: An Empty Tomb
- what about the second area of criticism, the empty tomb?
- we know that Jesus was placed in the tomb, but on Easter Sunday morning, as Jesus’ friends came to visit his burial sight, they saw the stone had been moved
- how can we account for this?
- it is interesting that no serious scholar argues that fact that the tomb was empty
- all of our ancient sources say that the tomb was empty
- if we want to talk about Christian and non-Christian sources, we of course have all four gospels, the book of Acts, and 1 Corinthians 15, all testifying that the tomb was empty
- from unbelievers, though, we basically have the same report
- the empty tomb is not contested by anyone
- Paul Althus writes, “The resurrection proclamation could not have been maintained in Jerusalem for a single day, for a single hour, if the emptiness of the tomb had not been established as fact”
- what we do have is a charge that the disciples stole the body
- the real issue is not whether the tomb was empty, but why the tomb was empty
- what caused the body to be gone? what caused the cave, the tomb, to be empty?
- did everyone go to the wrong tomb by mistake?
- that could have happened, but then whose grave-clothes did they find?
- what was an angel doing at someone else’s gravesite?
- and how is it possible that they all forgot their directions at one time?
- why didn’t the Roman authorities counter their claims by finding the right tomb?
- when Peter heard that the tomb was empty, he wasn’t content with a long-distance view, he charged right into the tomb and saw the linen wrappings and the face cloth lying undisturbed and neatly arranged
- did someone steal the body?
- why would the Romans or Jews want to take this body?
- they sentenced Jesus to death
- why would the Jews want to take the body
- they wanted Him to stay dead
- some people say that the disciples stole the body
- let’s think about that
- why would the disciples steal the body?
- an even bigger question is how did they sneak past the guards?
- even if the guards were sleeping, how would they ever manage to move the stone and steal the body without waking the guards?
- why would the angel who appeared to the women lie about Jesus being risen?
- and since 515 people saw Jesus in his risen form, how do you account for that if the body was stolen?
- so we’ve established two facts so far that are generally not disputed
- one: Jesus died and was buried
- two: within a short time, his tomb became empty
- the question remains: where was Jesus?
- that leads us to our next evidence:
- THREE: The Appearances of Jesus
- you have to remember that Jesus’ disciples did not believe he would rise again
- they were discouraged and scattered, and the last thing they ever expected to see was Jesus alive again
- and yet see him they did!
- first at the tomb
- later on the dusty road to Emmaus
- then in the upper room
- for 40 days, Jesus made his appearance throughout the land
- in total, he appeared 12 different times to more than 515 people
- Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15:
- he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers 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.
- is it possible that these appearances were hallucinations?
- only problem is hallucinations are individual events, that happen in our own brain, not shared with other individuals
- that would be like me asking you, “how did you like the dream I had last night?”
- one expert says that if 500 people had the same hallucination at the same time, that would be a greater miracle than the resurrection itself
- how can people drag out hallucinations over many weeks, in many locations, under various circumstances?
- Josephus, the 1st century historian, records, “For Jesus appeared to them the third day alive again, as the holy prophets had predicted”
- the evidence was clear
- let’s pretend we had a courtroom
- we were going to call to the stand everyone who saw the resurrected Jesus
- we were going to question them, cross-examine them
- were going to spend 15 minutes with each individual
- we were going to do it around the clock, day and night
- you know how long it would take
- all the rest of today, tonight, Monday, Monday night, Tuesday, Tuesday night, Wednesday, Wednesday night, Thursday, Thursday night, Friday, 8:00 Friday night we’d still be here listening to eyewitness accounts
- I wonder how many people after listening to 128 hours straight of eyewitness testimony could possibly walk away unconvinced
- next we have
- FOUR: The Reactions of the Officials
- a Roman soldier was no coward
- he was a specially trained, tough-minded, well equipped warrior
- yet notice the reaction of the soldiers who were protecting Jesus’ tomb when they felt the earth move and an angel roll back the stone
- (Matthew 28:4) The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men.
- the guards were probably afraid of the angels, but also much more
- as I already mentioned, keeping watch was an important commission
- they knew that various punishments were handed out to soldiers who couldn’t stay awake on guard duty
- sometimes they were beaten; other times they were set afire, but most of the time they were just executed
- these brave, well-armed men had no way to stop the angel, so they had more than one reason to be afraid
- do you know what they did?
- they turned themselves in
- in Matthew 28:3, we read that the officials, realizing that sending Jesus to his death had not accomplished their purpose, decided to concoct a story
- they bribed the soldiers to spread the story that “His disciples came at night and stole Him away while we slept”
- (Matthew 28:15) So the soldiers took the money and did as they were instructed. And this story has been widely circulated among the Jews to this very day.
- but think about it
- if the disciples had been able to steal the body of Jesus, how would the guards have known it was they who had stolen it if they were asleep?
- how could a group of men sneak up on highly trained soldiers, move a stone, unwrap 100 pounds of grave-cloths, fold them neatly, lift the body, and carry it away while the soldiers slept?
- the reaction of the officials proves that Jesus rose again
- next we have another telling evidence
- FIVE: The Outlook of the Disciples
- look at the historical record
- at the time of his death, Jesus’ disciples were despondent, they were afraid, they fled, they thought it was all over
- a short time later, suddenly these same disciples are out, boldly proclaiming that Jesus is alive
- once cowardly men are suddenly going to their death proclaiming that He lives
- almost all of them were put to death for it
- 10 of the 11 were put to death for their belief, 6 of them by crucifixion
- yet none disavowed their faith
- friends, nobody willingly dies for something they know is a lie
- if this were a charade, at least one of the disciples would have cracked up under pressure and told the truth
- Charles Colson was a counsel to President Nixon, and one of the White House staff who tried to cover up Watergate
- listen to what he says:
- Here we were, the twelve most powerful men in the United States. All the power of the 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 onto a lie. So weak is a man that we couldn’t do it.
- Are you going to tell me that those powerless apostles who were beaten 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.
- Nothing less than a witness as awesome as the resurrected Christ could have caused those men to maintain to their dying whispers that Jesus is alive.
- two last evidences we’ll consider quickly
- SIX: The Start of the Church
- on the basis of Jesus’ life and teachings, the church began two months after Jesus’ death and has continued for over 2,000 years
- in Acts 2, Peter preached a great sermon proclaiming the risen Christ, and over 3,000 people believed and were baptized that very day
- even when Peter faced the wrath of the religious leaders, he stood by his story that “the God of our fathers raised up Jesus whom you murdered by hanging on a tree” (Acts 5:30)
- Peter was not founding a religion based on a creed or philosophy
- he was telling people that Jesus Christ is alive
- that is the essence of his message, and it is the only thing that can account for the spread of the church over 2,000 years
- and lastly we have
- SEVEN: the Expectation of Christ’s Return
- as you read the New Testament, you have a dramatic sense that the first-century believers were eagerly awaiting Jesus’ return
- they could not have believed in his second coming without first knowing that he was alive
- otherwise, how would he be able to come back?
- no one would dare predict such an event as Jesus’ return if He were in fact lying in a tomb, or if his body had been taken away and hidden
- their expectation of his return is proof of their belief in the resurrection
- this is it
- if you have a hunger for more, I have a book that records a debate between a believer and a skeptic, as well as a tape of a mock debate that I’ll be happy to lend you
- here we have Jesus pronounced dead by trained executioners
- completely wrapped in bandages weighing 100 pounds because they were soaked with spices
- placed in a tomb and a huge rock was rolled in front of it
- this rock, according to one source, was so large that 20 men couldn’t move it
- then the tomb was guarded by highly disciplined soldiers
- yet death couldn’t hold him in the grave
- one of the great legal minds of our time, John Singleton Cauthway, who was three times the high chancellor of England, he said he knows pretty well what evidence is, and such evidence as there is for the resurrection has never broken down yet
- but where do you stand?
- you can’t stay neutral; there is no middle ground
- I can’t argue you into believing
- but the facts speak for themselves
- I’ve reached a verdict
- the case for Christ is powerful and persuasive
- I am convinced to the core that Jesus Christ is the unique Son of God, and I’ve trusted him with my life
- the choice is yours
- you’re going to have one remaining question, “So what?” what does it mean to you
- come back one more week
- my message is going to be the impact of these facts on your life