The Reality of the Resurrection

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A very happy Resurrection Sunday to you! On this Resurrection Sunday morning, I would like to ask you a question. Just how important to the Christian faith, is Christ’s physical resurrection from the dead?

If archaeologists were to discover the bones of Jesus tomorrow, would you walk away from Christianity? What difference would it make if Christ were not raised from the dead?

Some Christians claim that if it could be proved to them beyond any doubt that Jesus did not rise from the read, their faith would nonetheless remain intact, that they would continue to love and serve Christ, knowing that he had never risen from the dead.

Other Christians understand that our faith is not some mystical experience but that it is rooted in history, that Jesus lived a real human life and died a real human death and was raised from the death with a real human, though glorified, body.

On several occasions, Jesus not only predicted his imminent death; he also predicted his resurrection.

Mark 8:31 ESV And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again.

Mark 9:31-32 ESV for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him. And when he is killed, after three days he will rise.” 32 But they did not understand the saying, and were afraid to ask him.

Mark 10:33-34 ESV saying, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles. 34 And they will mock him and spit on him, and flog him and kill him. And after three days he will rise.”

As Christian apologist Ravi Zacharias has said,

If Jesus had been a fake, he would have said that he would rise again spiritually, and they would never be able to falsify it. But he did not. He said that he would bodily rise from the dead. That is empirically falsifiable. All they would have had to do was to show the body.

Christianity is unique. No other religion claims that its founder was not only a man, but also God. No other religion claims that its founder not only died, but was also resurrected. And no other religion stakes everything on the historical resurrection of its founder. Christianity stands or falls on the resurrection of Christ.

The Apostle Paul said it like this,

…if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain (1 Corinthians 15:14 ESV).

…if Christ has not been raised, then all our preaching is useless, and your faith is useless (1Co 15:14 NLT).

What does it matter if Christ was not raised from the dead? Christianity stakes everything on the literal physical resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. Disprove the resurrection of Christ, and you have disproved Christianity.

1.        The Reality of the Crucifixion

But before the resurrection, there is the fact of Christ’s death.

The crucifixion of Jesus is one of the best-attested facts of history. No serious historian doubts the existence and the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.

Islam denies the death of Christ by crucifixion. Coming along 600 years after Christ’s death, Muhammad said, “That can’t be! I don’t believe that God would allow his prophet to die such an awful death.” And so, he denied Christ’s death by crucifixion. Muslims don’t believe Jesus actually died on the cross; they believe that it only appeared that he died.

However, those who were much closer to the historical setting than Muhammad, affirmed that Jesus did indeed die by crucifixion.

It is to be noted that the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Christ were public events. His death and resurrection were not private affairs. His death and resurrection were not done in a corner somewhere and proclaimed elsewhere. He died for all the world to see, and his resurrection was well attested by hundreds of witnesses.

Eyewitnesses verified the facts of Christ’s death:

  • Roman soldiers who specialized in putting criminals to death attested that Jesus was dead (Matthew 27:27, 36, 54).
  • The chief priests, scribes, and elders watched him die (Matthew 27:41).
  • The mother of Jesus, her sister, Mary Magdalene, and the wife of Clopas were witnesses.
  • The apostles including Matthew and John witnessed his death.
  • Mark was also a likely witness, and Luke carefully researched his gospel so that his readers would know the certainty of all that was reported.
  • Roman historian Tacitus (55-120 A.D.) wrote that “Christus… suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus.”[1]
  • Lucian of Samosata (115-200 A.D.) refers to early Christians as those “who worship the man in Palestine who was crucified…”[2]

Yes, the crucifixion of Christ is one of the best-attested facts of history. One historian wrote, “That he was crucified is as sure as anything historical can ever be, since both Josephus and Tacitus … agree with the Christian accounts on at least that basic fact.”[3]

As the Apostle Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:3,

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, (1 Corinthians 15:3 ESV).

Christianity is a religion that is rooted in history. It is not rooted in anyone’s dreams or visions or imagination. Its claims can be investigated historically. It is not necessary for the historian, in coming to the New Testament writings, to regard them as inspired. He may merely regard the New Testament as a collection of Greek documents that serve as sources of ancient history. The majority of New Testament critics, even those teaching at secular universities and non-evangelical seminaries, accept the central facts of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Christian apologist William Lane Craig gives a number of historical facts about the resurrection of Jesus that are accepted by most historians.

FACT #1: After his crucifixion, Jesus was buried in a tomb by Joseph of Arimathea.

This means that Jesus was buried at a site that was known to both those who followed Christ and those who did not. The disciples could never have proclaimed the resurrection in Jerusalem had the tomb not been empty. Not only did the disciples know where Jesus was buried, the enemies of Jesus knew where he was buried. In fact, they sealed the tomb and posted a guard of soldiers at the tomb of Jesus.

According to the late John A. T. Robinson of Cambridge University, the burial of Jesus in the tomb is “one of the earliest and best-attested facts about Jesus.”1

FACT #2: On the Sunday following the crucifixion, Jesus’ tomb was found empty by a group of his women followers.

This is significant. Again, as the Apostle Paul states in 1 Corinthians 15,

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, (1 Corinthians 15:3-4 ESV).

To state that a dead man was buried and that he was raised implies that his grave was left empty. The reference to the third day — he was raised on the third day — refers to the visit of the women and others who went to the tomb on the third day and found it empty.

In reading the accounts of the empty tomb, we find that they are told with simplicity and without embellishment — without additional elements. In other words, the four Gospels simply tell the story without adding anything to what happened. This is quite different from the wild legendary stories found in apocryphal gospels that were written in the second century, a hundred years later. For example, one so-called gospel (the Gospel of Peter) has Jesus coming out of the tomb with his head reaching up above the clouds. He is followed by a talking cross! That is what a legend looks like! But the New Testament accounts of the resurrection are told with simplicity: nothing but the facts.

It is important to note that the first witnesses to the empty tomb were women. The Jews considered the testimony of women to be worthless and would not allow it to be admitted into a Jewish court of law. The only reason that the Gospels tell us that the first witnesses were women is because that is how it must have happened. The Gospel writers would never have invented such a story that the first witnesses to the resurrection were women. If the Gospel writers were inventing the story, they would have had some prominent and well respected person being the first witness to the resurrection.

It is interesting to note that the Jewish authorities themselves acknowledged that the tomb was empty. When the disciples proclaimed that Jesus was risen from the dead, the authorities did not point to his tomb and say, “Look! What do you mean, he’s risen from the dead? There’s his body!” They could not, for the tomb was indeed empty. Instead, they paid the guards to say that the disciples had stolen the body. They thus admitted that the tomb was empty.

FACT #3: On multiple occasions and under various circumstances, different individuals and groups of people experienced appearances of Jesus alive from the dead.

The Apostle Paul gives a list of witnesses to the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15:5-8,

and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 8 Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me (1 Corinthians 15:5-8 ESV).

Paul is writing this in the early 50s, about 20 years or so after the resurrection of Christ. He tells the Corinthians that the risen Christ was seen by more than 500 of his followers at one time, and that most of those witnesses are still alive. Paul says, in effect, “You can check this out. The witnesses are still alive. Hundreds of them. They will tell you that Christ was raised from the dead. He is indeed alive.”

Some have said that the disciples hallucinated. But no serious historian accepts that theory. Hundreds of people don’t have the same hallucination at the same time.

One of the cults operating in Vanuatu today claims that Christ was not raised from the dead with a real body, but that he evaporated! But that is not what the records say. When Jesus first appeared to the disciples in the upper room that first Sunday night of the resurrection, the disciples could not believe their eyes and wondered at first thought that they were seeing a spirit, but Jesus told them,

“Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? 39 See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” 40 And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. 41 And while they still disbelieved for joy and were marveling, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” 42 They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43 and he took it and ate before them (Luke 24:38-43 ESV).

Evaporations don’t have scars, eat fish, or have flesh and bones.

John tells us that before the resurrection, even the brothers of Jesus did not believe in him (John 7:5). There would be no reason to invent such a story. But after the resurrection, James became a believer and a leader in the Jerusalem church. According to the first century Jewish historian Josephus, James was martyred for his faith in Christ in the late A.D. 60s. What would have convinced him to die for his belief in his brother? Paul tells us, “Then he appeared to James” (1 Corinthians 15:7).

Even Gert Lüdemann, the leading German critic of the resurrection, himself admits, “It may be taken as historically certain that Peter and the disciples had experiences after Jesus’ death in which Jesus appeared to them as the risen Christ.”3

FACT #4: The original disciples believed that Jesus was risen from the dead despite their having every predisposition to the contrary.

  1. Their leader was dead.
  2. He died the horrible death of crucifixion.
  3. He was executed as a criminal.
  4. T. Wright, an eminent British scholar, concludes, “that is why, as a historian, I cannot explain the rise of early Christianity unless Jesus rose again, leaving an empty tomb behind him.”5

 

2.        The Reality of the Resurrection

What about the resurrection? Does it really matter? What difference does it make?

This is what the Apostle Paul says about the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15,

And if Christ has not been raised, then all our preaching is useless, and your faith is useless. 15 And we apostles would all be lying about God—for we have said that God raised Christ from the grave. But that can’t be true if there is no resurrection of the dead. 16 And if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, then your faith is useless and you are still guilty of your sins. 18 In that case, all who have died believing in Christ are lost! 19 And if our hope in Christ is only for this life, we are more to be pitied than anyone in the world (1 Corinthians 15:14-19 NLT).

If Christ was not raised from the dead,[4]

2.1.        We Worship a Dead Man

If there is no resurrection, then Jesus Christ has not risen from the dead. We worship a dead man. Jesus went to the cross, he died, he was buried, and his body decayed to dust just like everyone else’s. Christians are followers of a dead man.

If Christ did not rise from the dead, Christianity is hardly different from any other religion. We have put our hope in a spiritual leader, a guru, who lived and died. We may try to follow some of his teachings, but we would have to reject much of what he said about himself and about why he came.

If Christ was not raised from the dead,

2.2.        We Preach a Useless Message

And if Christ has not been raised, then all our preaching is useless… (1 Corinthians 15:14 NLT).

We are wasting everyone’s time. This is nothing but idle talk, worthless myths and legends.

If Christ was not raised from the dead,

2.3.        Our Faith Is Empty.

And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain (1 Corinthians 15:14 ESV).

We have faith in a Christ who is dead.

If Christ was not raised from the dead,

2.4.        We Misrepresent God

We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised (1 Corinthians 15:15 ESV).

We are false witnesses.

If Christ was not raised from the dead,

2.5.        We are lost in sin.

17 And if Christ has not been raised, then your faith is useless and you are still guilty of your sins.

We are still dead in our trespasses and sins.

If Christ was not raised from the dead,

2.6.        We have no hope beyond this life.

We have hope only in this life:

19 And if our hope in Christ is only for this life…(1 Corinthians 15:19 NLT).

If Christ was not raised from the dead,

2.7.        We are pitiful.

we are more to be pitied than anyone in the world (1 Corinthians 15:19, NLT).

We are living an illusion.

All this is to say that the reality of the resurrection of Jesus Christ really matters.

Pastor Timothy Keller said,

If Jesus rose from the dead, you have to accept all he said, if he didn’t rise from the dead, then why worry about anything he said…. If Jesus rose from the dead, it changes everything.[5]

  1. It is not a dead man that we worship, but the living Lord of Life!
  2. It is not a useless message that we preach, but the gospel of Jesus Christ, the power of God unto salvation for everyone who believes.
  3. Our faith is not empty, but rooted in the foundation of historical reality and directed to the One who has a name that is above every other name, Jesus Christ our Lord.
  4. We do not misrepresent God, but bear witness to the truth of what God has done in Jesus Christ.
  5. We are not lost in sin, but are saved by the One who was delivered for our offenses and raised for our justification.
  6. We are not among those who have no hope, but have in Christ’s resurrection the guarantee of our own resurrection on the day that he shall raise our mortal bodies and this mortal will put on immortality.
  7. We are not pitiful but hugely blessed of God with many great and precious promises.

3.        The Importance of the Resurrection

Christ is risen. His resurrection is one of the best-attested facts of ancient history. So what?

Don’t we have to ask ourselves what implications this has? Why does it matter? Or is this some dry, dusty old piece of history that has no relevance to our lives? I believe that the resurrection is the most important truth in the world. It has far reaching implications on our lives.

Matt Perman sums up the importance of the resurrection of Christ:[6]

3.1.           First, the resurrection proves that the claims Jesus made about himself are true.

What did Jesus claim? He claimed to be God. One might say, “I don’t believe that He claimed to be God, because I don’t believe the Bible.” But the fact is that even if we take only the passages which skeptical scholars admit as authentic, it can still be shown that Jesus claimed to be God.

3.2.           Second, have you ever wondered what reasons there are to believe in the Bible?

Is there good reason to believe that it was inspired by God, or is it simply a bunch of interesting myths and legends? The resurrection of Jesus answers the question. If Jesus rose from the dead, then we have seen this validates His claim to be God. If He is God, He speaks with absolute certainty and final authority. Therefore, what Jesus said about the Bible must be true. Surely you are going to accept the testimony of one who rose from the dead over the testimony of a skeptical scholar who will one day die himself—without being able to raise himself on the third day. What did Jesus say about the Bible? He said that it was inspired by God and that it cannot error.

3.3.           Third, many people are confused by the many different religions in the world.

Are they all from God? But on a closer examination we see that they cannot all be from God, because they all contradict each other. Jesus is the only religious leader who has risen from the dead. All other religious leaders are still in their tombs. Who would you believe? Some dead prophet or prophetess, or the Living Lord of Life who died but rose again and showed himself to be alive to hundreds of people over a period of 40 days before returning to heaven as his disciples watched him ascend. I think the answer is clear: Jesus’ resurrection demonstrates that what He said is true. Therefore, we must accept his statement to be the only way to God: “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, except through me” (John 14:6).

3.4.           Fourth, the resurrection of Christ proves that God will judge the world one day.

The apostle Paul said, “God is now declaring to men that all everywhere should repent, because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead” (Acts 17:31). The resurrection of Christ proves something very personal and significant to each of us—we will have to give an account of ourselves to a holy God. And if we are honest with ourselves, we will have to admit that we do not measure up to his standard. We are sinful, and therefore deserve to be condemned at His judgment.

3.5.           Which leads to our fifth point. The resurrection of Christ provides genuine hope for eternal life.

Why? Because Jesus says that by trusting in Him, we will be forgiven of our sins and thereby escape being condemned at the judgment. The New Testament doesn’t just tell us that Christ rose from the dead and leave us wondering why He did this. It answers that He did this because we are sinners. And because we have sinned, we are deserving of God’s judgment. Since God is just, He cannot simply let our sins go. The penalty for our sins must be paid.

The good news is that God, out of His love, became man in Jesus Christ in order to pay the penalty for sinners. On the cross, Jesus died in the place of those who would come to believe in Him. He took upon Himself the very death that we deserve. The Apostle Paul says in Romans 4:25 that ”He was delivered up because of our sins.” But Paul goes on to say “He was raised to life because of our justification.”

The night before his crucifixion, Jesus looked beyond the cross to his resurrection and told the disciples, “Because I live, you also will live” (John 14:19 ESV).

3.6.           Let me close with the sixth reason why the resurrection is significant.

The Bible says that Christ’s resurrection is the pattern that those who believe in Him will follow. In other words, those who believe in Christ will one day be resurrected by God just as He was. The resurrection proves that those who trust in Christ will not be subject in eternity to a half-human existence in just their souls. It proves that our bodies will be resurrected one day. Because of the resurrection of Christ, believers will one day experience, forever, the freedom of having a glorified soul and body.

Is the resurrection of Christ important? Nothing could be more important. Unbelievers will face Christ as their judge on the Day when God will judge the world through the One that He has raised from the dead. Believers will be invited to enter into the eternal life that we have already begun to experience because Christ is alive.

Sign-Off

This Resurrection Day, and every Sunday, I urge you to turn to Christ the Savior. Find a church where the Bible and only the Bible is taught, preached, and lived. Walk with Christ in the power of the resurrection.

Thank you for tuning in to FM 107 and listening to the Joyful News Broadcast. This has been a ministry of Joy Bible Institute. You can visit our website at joybible.wordpress.com. Our prayer is that the joy of the Lord would be your strength.

10 SIGN-OFF JOYFUL, JOYFUL, WE ADORE THEE

 

[1] http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/the-great-offense-was-jesus-really-crucified?utm_source=Desiring+God&utm_campaign=9b080eac96-RSS_EMAIL_CAMPAIGN&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_6da5f8315b-9b080eac96-99525301

[2] http://radicaltruth.net/index.php/learn/radical-truth-christianity/117-was-jesus-crucified

[3] Crossan, John Dominic (1995). Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography. HarperOne. p. 145. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Historicity_of_Jesus#cite_note-fox-6

[4] http://www.challies.com/articles/if-dead-men-dont-rise

[5] Timothy Keller, The Reason for God, 202, quoted by Adrian Warnock, Raise with Christ, 27.

[6] http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/historical-evidence-for-the-resurrection

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