Only a fool believes that Jesus died on Friday, was buried and on Sunday rose again and walked out of the tomb. We all know it’s utterly impossible.
What’s the difference between the foolishness of gambling, or drug running, and believing in the resurrection? All the evidence says don’t run drugs into Bali. People play poker machines though we know 90% of the time the house wins. Christians believe in the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead – what’s the difference? The evidence is compelling.
Of course – not even all people who call themselves Christians believe in the resurrection of Jesus. It’s a difficult thing to come to grips with. If Jesus had been a good man who died a martyr’s death and we were to follow in his footsteps there would be billions more Christians around the world. But the Bible had to go and claim that he was not only divine but that he rose from the dead. And for most people, maybe even you, that’s enough – no other evidence is required, no other argument necessary – only a fool believes a man can rise from the dead.
And I have to admit I agree! I’ve read about people who coming back from the dead – don’t believe any of them. But I do believe Jesus rose – because the evidence all points in that direction.
Luke 24:36-40 “While they were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.” When he had said this, he showed them his hands and feet.”
Why don’t people believe?
The great claim of Christianity is that Jesus died and rose again. Why do people find it so hard to believe?
- It’s entirely possible to prove that Jesus existed.
- It’s historical fact that Jesus was executed by the Romans and Jewish leaders in acting in collusion?
- Jesus was clearly a great leader, a compassionate teacher – clearly not a liar and not a fruit-loop.
- So how do people reason away the resurrection – how do they explain the ‘facts’ without saying “Jesus rose”?
1 Corinthians 1:18 “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”
Reality is – people are correct to think that only a fool believes Jesus died on Friday, was buried and on Sunday rose and walked out of the tomb. We all know it’s utterly impossible. What is it about Christians that we just can’t let go of this aspect of Christianity and move on? Why do Christians believe in the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead? If you’re a Christian reading this – why do you believe? Why aren’t you convinced like most people that it’s impossible – that no other evidence is required, no other argument necessary – only a fool believes a man can rise from the dead?
There have been stories – not many but some over the years – claiming modern day resurrection – some dead person being raised to life. Some are simple stories of charlatans scamming the gullible – not only in third-world countries but in the West as well. Even high flying Pentecostal pastors have claimed it from time to time – I must admit I’m always reminded of Steve Martin in “Leap of Faith” – playing a scamming faith healer in a down and out mid-western US town – rolls in to take the people’s money – good story, though sadly a little too close to real life! There are some stories out of Africa, India and South America. But all of them share one particular trait – implausibility! All of them lack compelling, unambiguous evidence. All of them lack credible reliable witnesses. Not one of the stories stacks up or seems able to withstand even the most basic scrutiny.
But Jesus’ story is believable – the evidence stacks up – despite the impossibility of it.
The resurrection is the vital element of Christianity – it is the key. Without it Christianity is nothing more than religious superstition. Even the Bible is transparently clear about this.
1 Corinthians 15:14, 17 “…if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. … if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.”
Everything Christians believe about God rests on the fact of the bodily resurrection of Jesus. There is no church without the resurrection and there is no meaning to what we do or believe – if Jesus didn’t rise again. So what is the evidence? How do we know it’s true, and how do we help others believe? What are the arguments or explanations against the resurrection and how do they stack up?
It often surprises people – as I guess it should, given the claim – that there aren’t that many credible arguments against the resurrection evidence. The main arguments are…
- Jesus didn’t die – he revived in the tomb and walked away. After hours on the cross, being strung up by professional executioners, with a multitude of witnesses both for and against Christ, after being stabbed in the side with a spear and the expert witness declaring blood and water separated came out – a pretty clear sign of death – that Jesus was pulled off the cross, placed wrapped in a cold stone tomb and sealed off, guarded by Roman soldiers… and then revived, unwrapped himself, rolled the stone away, overpowered the guards, and walked away. Hmmm?!
- The disciples overpowered the guards and stole his body – 11 dejected, almost paralysed fishermen and disciples overpowered a squad of battle hardened Roman Legionnaires and stole the body – neither the Romans nor the Jews could find it– and then they conspired to create Christianity and perpetrate the hoax, including dying for the lie.
- Jesus rose spiritually not physically – championed by some liberal scholars – we all know that people can’t rise physically, so clearly we’re mistaken and it’s a simple spiritual resurrection. And Jesus was mistaken – though he clearly claims that he would rise bodily, maybe it was just a metaphor or he just misunderstood?
- Everyone went to the wrong tomb – Jews, Romans (guarding the wrong tomb?), disciples, the women, Joseph of Arimathea (the owner of the tomb)…
- The Jews took his body to prevent his disciples claiming he was raised! And then presented it in public so that everyone would know that the disciples were lying – thus preventing the rise of Christianity! Oh – that’s right – they didn’t! Why would the Jews hide the body of Jesus?
Do you know – it takes a lot more faith to be an atheist than it does to believe the resurrection.
Six Reasons to Believe – the Evidence for the Resurrection
1. Jesus claimed he would rise.
Why should you believe Jesus rose again? The place to start is with Jesus’ character.
John 2:19, 21 “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up… the temple he had spoken of was his body.”
Jesus claimed a number of times he would rise physically from the dead. If he’d meant a spiritual resurrection, he would have had to challenge basic Jewish belief and their understanding of what comes after death – the Jews believed and were looking forward to a physical resurrection. There is no evidence that Jesus challenged this basic belief of Jewish faith – in fact the opposite – he appealed to it himself.
And afterwards – as he appears to people and says touch my wounds, eat with me, walk with me – this is clearly a physical being, not a spiritual one.
At that point we can believe Jesus or not – but if we don’t then what are our other options. One choice is that Jesus was not telling the truth that he would rise from the dead – so he’s a fraud. Or maybe he believed it but was delusional – a lunatic. But pretty much everyone agrees he looks like a wise, good, honest teacher and leader. Nothing about his behaviour is erratic or in any way linked to lunacy. If he’s a lunatic or a liar then how do we account for his obvious integrity and honesty – even his enemies agree he was a great teacher? He taught wonderful things – but he claimed to be God’s Son who would rise from the dead. I guess we can’t have it both ways. What is he? Liar, lunatic or…?
2. The empty tomb
Once we work out his character we have to ask – is there any doubt, historically, that Jesus was placed in the tomb, the tomb sealed, and guarded by up to 20 professional Roman soldiers? No there is no doubt!
Was it was open and empty on Sunday morning? Yes it was.
The Jews couldn’t find the body, nor did they confiscate it – otherwise we can be pretty sure they would have paraded it with as much fanfare as they could manage. The disciples were hiding in a secret room, fearing for their lives – so they could hardly be accused of stealing the body for an elaborate hoax. None of these are a matter for conjecture – provable, historical facts.
John 19:33-34 “…when [the soldiers] came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. Instead, one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once blood and water came out.”
Jesus was dead. When they pierce your heart with a spear after hanging on a cross ½ a day you don’t sink into a coma and then revive in the cool tomb and roll the stone away.
Matthew 28:11-15 “…some of the guards went into the city and reported to the chief priests everything that had happened. When the chief priests had met with the elders and devised a plan, they gave the soldiers a large sum of money, telling them, “You are to say, ‘His disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ If this report gets to the governor, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” 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.”
The Romans couldn’t afford their reputation as killers to be questioned – it meant a sentence of death for them – but they took the cash and spread the rumour. If the Jews or the Romans had taken the body they would have simply produced it – case closed. The dejected frightened disciples didn’t steal the body – I guess we can be fairly certain the Jews and Romans asked.
3. The dramatic change in the disciples?
The dramatic change in the disciples is simply amazing and you have to wonder why? Jesus dies. They are utterly dejected and terrified – at first they’re in hiding. They didn’t understand – some of them go back to fishing – back to the mundane of life before Jesus called them – some of them are so scared they stay hidden. They refused to believe the first reports of Jesus’ appearance when the women come from the tomb.
But in just a few short weeks they’re proclaiming Jesus risen, they are full of joy and courage, and importantly they are ready and willing to die for Christ! If they’d stolen the body would they have be willing to die for a lie – a lie that they were certain contained no truth? Why the change?
Their explanation – “we have seen him” – he is raised! Jesus rose from the dead? We don’t have to believe them – but it’s worth asking the question.
4. The Eyewitnesses
This small group of men and women were eyewitnesses to the resurrection – but there were more. Twenty years later Paul wrote to the very sceptical Greek Christians in Corinth – Greeks were good at scepticism – they’d seen it all.
1 Corinthians 15:4-6 “Christ was raised on the third day . . . He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep [died].”
Paul started out murdering Christians. He was converted dramatically on the Damascus Road. He claims that these Greek sceptics should be able to find some of the more than 500 credible eyewitnesses that are still alive 20 years later – go and ask them – they were there.
I’m always a little fascinated by our opinions of people from the past. We often have this sense that they were more gullible, less thoughtful, and easier to pull the wool over, clueless, uneducated or maybe just plain stupid. It’s a funny attitude, given the respect and adoration we give some ancient writers (Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Da Vinci, Shakespeare to name a few).
People in the first century were no more gullible than we are – the early church was full of cluey people, many who were educated, who ran businesses, were trained in the law and the arts, politicians, speakers, philosophers, many who could speak multiple languages like Jesus and the Apostles (who most likely spoke Hebrew and Greek and quite possibly Latin). We today are often impressed by people who can speak multiple languages. Modern educational theory indicates that it’s a sign of some intelligence to be able to do so fluently – how many languages do you speak? In Australia the vast majority only speak English (unless we count ‘Strine’ as a language).
The gospel grew from its earliest days in the presence of quite literally hundreds of credible eyewitnesses to the resurrection.
5. The NT Writers
Over the past few years we’ve seen movies and books like the “Da-Vinci Code”, the court case between Dan Brown and the writers of Holy Blood, Holy Grail, and more recently the ‘media sensation’ over the “newly” discovered “Gospel of Judas”. These old documents claim to reveal the true Jesus.
Q. Are they true because they’re old?
Even if that were true – the gospels in the Bible are at least 150 years older.
Q. Are they true because they disagree with what the church teaches?
Q. Are they true because the writers are more honest or credible than the NT writers?
That’s an interesting way to look at Judas? A document appears, supposedly from his hand, written at best and provably 150 years later than the gospels. In it ‘Judas’ claims that he wasn’t betraying Jesus but was in point of fact ‘obeying’ Jesus… when he betrayed him! [Dramatic pause – that’s for you reading this] I don’t know about you but I have this image of John Cleese saying “Right!” in that way that only Cleese can. Obviously – must be true. I mean in our modern world we always acquit criminals when they say “I didn’t do it”!
We already know the character of Judas from proven and reputable eyewitnesses.
The NT writers who proclaim the resurrection appear in every way to be sensible, clear thinking, honest, open and not easily fooled – not just that this is claimed about them, but any fair reading of their works comes to that conclusion. What they wrote hangs together well. They are clued up on human nature. They are personally committed, sober in speech and careful. They teach coherently – we don’t seem to be reading inventions. Their moral and spiritual standards are acknowledged as very high. They are obviously devoted to truth and God’s sovereignty and honour. In our modern courts we apply the same sorts of tests for character witnesses – and the gospel writers would be found to be trustworthy.
6. 2000 Years of Believers
And there is a final piece of the puzzle – Christians!
A personal relationship with Jesus changes you forever! When we put our faith in him, Jesus comes by his Spirit into our lives and begins to show his power and love in our lives. He brings a new love for God and for people, a new hope and joy, a growing patience in trouble, freedom from old enslavements, and courage to stand for justice and righteousness. On top of all the evidence for the resurrection, only a living Lord Jesus could make these changes. Jesus Christ is alive and real. On its own it might not mean much as a claim – but with the evidence it means we have put our trust where it should be.
If you’re a critic of Christianity or an unbeliever – why is it that so many people over 2000 years, have believed? I know there is the same argument the other way – that millions (billions) have not. But it can’t be gullibility can it? It’s not as though everyone who believes is a rank moron. There are believers of every educational standard – doctors, scientists, politicians, labourers, philosophers, university professors, nurses, police, judges, lawyers – you name it. So not a lack of education, not simple gullibility – it’s not limited to a particular race, country, or ethnicity – it’s not linked to parents or ancestry, it’s not limited by colour of skin. Why do so many believe?
Frankly – by itself the belief or lack of belief of people, no matter how many, means nothing. But with the realities of the factual evidence – it means a lot.
Making Sense of the Resurrection?
The evidence for the resurrection is provable and overwhelming – in the face of no other argument that makes sense of the evidence the only sensible thing to do is accept the resurrection as very real. It requires far more faith to doubt the evidence. That doesn’t mean everyone will believe – but some will.
- If you believe then we need to be sure of what and why we believe.
- We need to share why. Not everyone will believe you, family may well hate you, get angry, the opportunities may not be there, or be very obvious, you may be seen as a crackpot or simply an annoyance.
- Learn to speak – tell someone what and why you believe.
- The worst thing that can happen? Jesus said…
“I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die.” (John 11:25)
When he said it he turned to the woman standing by and said, “Do you believe this?” And Jesus turns to us and says, “Do you believe this?”
Romans 10:9-11 “…if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved. As the Scripture says, “Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame.”
The evidence for the resurrection is only part of the story – but a key part. My challenge to you is… investigate Jesus, and the death and resurrection – try if you can to find some other credible explanation. But if you conclude that Jesus really is who he says he is – the Son of God, the creator of the whole universe – and that he did die and rise to offer you forgiveness for your sins and to defeat death – and that he makes a claim on your life – if that’s your conclusion, then it requires much more than an intellectual decision about Jesus.
How do I go beyond merely agreeing that Jesus is who he says he is and entering into an ongoing relationship with him by being adopted into God’s family?
Believe + receive = become.
Jesus offers us forgiveness and eternal life as a free gift – what we have to “do” is make a decision to accept that gift. We can do that simply by praying an honest prayer – something real not fake. Admit your wrong doing, turn away from that lifestyle and accept the gift of forgiveness and eternal life – and ask for his help in starting a new life following him.
Wherever you are in the process of investigating Jesus – contact me – happy to help you take whatever next step you need to take. But let me say – this issue is the key issue in life – put it on the front burner and go for it.