Death. When we contemplate our own mortality or experience a loved one’s death, we must come face to face with death. For the Christian and non-Christian alike, death brings pain. However, the Christian has a different perspective. Jesus gives us hope in a better life now and after death. Why? Because of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Did the Resurrection of Jesus really happen?
The reality of the resurrection can be examined and scrutinized. Our faith in Christ is not only built on theology. It is based on history. In John 14:6, Jesus proclaimed, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.” Now, this is not a provable fact in the same way that His resurrection is provable, but it is nevertheless either true or false. It cannot be true that Jesus is the only way while at the same time it is also true that other religions can also offer salvation. If salvation comes through Jesus, then it is because He is the Son of God and it cannot come through any other means. As we have studied, if there are other ways to be saved, then Jesus is a liar and a fraud and He offers no salvation at all.
In 1 Corinthians chapter 15, Paul addresses doubt about the resurrection. He makes several strong statements. “If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain… And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.” At least some in the church in Corinth doubted whether or not they would be raised. Paul addresses their doubt head on by listing many who saw the resurrected Christ and were still alive at the time of the writing. “(Jesus in resurrected form) appeared to Cephas (Peter), and then to the Twelve. After that, He appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters 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.” He seems to say, look at all of the eyewitnesses. Jesus rose again.
However, many of us still doubt about the Resurrection. Let’s address several of the primary questions of doubt.
Did Jesus die? - Yes. The Roman Historian Tacitus wrote in his final work Annals 116AD (assessing blame on Christians for the fire that destroyed Rome in 64AD): “Christus, from whom the name (Christians) had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of . . . Pontius Pilatus..” What was the extreme penalty? Crucifixion. The Romans were experts at executing and wanted to be sure He was dead. They publically killed him. He did not pass out. When he was seen on Sunday, he was in full health. If he had suffered on the cross and somehow escaped death, he would not have been worshiped as a resurrected Lord two days later. He would have needed someone to nurse him back to health. Jesus died on the cross.
Was the tomb empty? – Yes. Gary Habermas writes that “75% of historical scholars accept the historicity of the empty tomb.” Even early critics like Justin Martyr and Tertullian say it was empty. Jewish writers never refute it, they just try to explain it away. In addition, the resurrection was first preached in Jerusalem. If the tomb was not empty, the body would have been produced by the government and religious leaders.
Was the body stolen? – No. The Jews and Romans would have shown everyone if they had it. The body would have squashed the Christian revolution. The disciples were terrified and had no motive. Just a few days prior they deserted Christ in his greatest time of need. They would not have stolen the body knowing they would end up dying for what they said they believed.
Was it a group hallucination? – No. 500+ people at the same time? That’s funny.
Was the story made up? - No. Nothing looks fictional in the way it is presented. The resurrection appearances suddenly stopped (at Ascension with the exception of Paul). Women were the first witnesses in the gospel narratives and they were not given a voice in court. You would not choose a woman to prove your story was true. Witnesses were alive when the NT was written. “500+ people – they are alive today. Go ask them.” What is the motive? Suddenly, this group is ready to suffer and die for their faith. No one would do this for something they made up.
Josephus in Antiquities of the Jews wrote around 93AD “About this time there lived Jesus, a wise man, if indeed one ought to call him a man. For he . . . wrought surprising feats. . . . He was the Christ. When Pilate . . .condemned him to be crucified, those who had . . . come to love him did not give up their affection for him. On the third day he appeared . . . restored to life. . . . And the tribe of Christians . . . has . . . not disappeared.”
Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:1-4, “I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures…”
Jerry Vines says: “Gospel not a catch word for man made theology. Nor a code word for man-made methodology. But a clear word of divinely directed history.”
In verse 11 of 1 Corinthians 15, Paul says “His grace toward me was not in vain (NIV – Without effect… NLT – God poured out his special favor on me-and not without results…). The transformation of thousands of lives and the explosion of the early church is the primary reason we know this story was not made up. What happened to those who believed in the resurrection? James, the brother of Jesus, was openly skeptical that Jesus was the Messiah. Later James became a courageous leader of the Jerusalem church, even being stoned to death for his faith. Paul, possibly the PRIMARY biblical example, was persecuting the church and then his life transformed? Why? He saw the resurrected Lord. Faith in the resurrected Christ totally transformed the lives of all who saw him.
The resurrection of Jesus really happened. The death of death. Do you believe it? You can respond to the truth of the resurrection by responding to Christ Himself, as the Risen Lord. You can receive salvation through believing in the resurrection.
Faith in the resurrection does not only transform the way you die, it transforms the way you live. There is a member in our church. I’ve asked permission to share his story. He was a cultural Christian. He grew up hearing the stories of Jesus, went to church on occasion and lived like the world. Then, one Sunday he was faced with the truth of the God, Jesus and the resurrection. Life totally changed. He said when we were talking, “Suddenly, my faith was the most important thing to me.” He read many books attacking and affirming the faith. His conclusion. The resurrection really happened. And his life is proof.
Jeff Warren’s father died last Monday. In his obituary we read: “He was an active member at FBC Charlotte where he was a deacon and loved teaching Sunday school. Following retirement he became the Assistant to the Pastor (Dr. Charles Page) in the area of evangelism. Gene had a passion for sharing Christ with anyone who would listen.” If Jeff’s father were here today, do you know what I think he would say? The resurrection of Jesus happened! And his life is proof.
Is your life proof that the resurrection of Jesus really happened?