What if? What if it is all true? That’s essentially the question I have been asking in this sermon series called “Examining the Evidence.” What if – after examining the evidence – what if everything we say about God and about Jesus and the resurrection – what if it really is all true?
For those here today who may have missed the first five sermons in this series, let me invite you to go online to our church’s website – zionontheweb.com – and click on the sermons tab at the top. There’s where you’ll find messages that answer questions like, “Does God Exist?” “Creation – How Did We Get Here?” “Can the Christian Scriptures Be Trusted?” “Who Is Jesus?” and “Is Jesus the Only Savior?” And what I did –using data from science – employing statistical probabilities and analysis – input from history, and from the Bible itself – is simply lay out the evidence – and invite you to arrive at your own conclusion. But let me tell you – the evidence is overwhelming. And it is clear to me – that when you follow the evidence – the ONLY rational conclusion a person can arrive at is that yes, God does exist. We did not get here by chance or dumb luck. That the Christian Scriptures can be trusted; that Jesus really did exist – and that he is exactly who he says he is – both Savior – in fact the only Savior – and Lord.
And that leads to today’s question. Did Jesus really rise from the dead? And I think of all the questions being asked in this series – this question is the most pivotal. Because there is one thing that atheists, agnostics, skeptics and Christians can agree on, and it is this. If the resurrection of Jesus from the dead never happened – then Christianity falls flat on its face. If the resurrection is a lie, then we – as the Apostle Paul says in I Corinthians 15—are of all people most to be pitied.
So – if you are in any way skeptical about the resurrection – if you have your doubts – let me ask again. What if it’s true? Now before you brush that question aside – before you make up your mind against it – let’s examine the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.
Now I’ve got to tell you, what I am about to present to you is not the first time I have ever presented this evidence. So some of you will be hearing this for the second – maybe the third time. I mean – this is so important – that it needs to be repeated – so that it sinks in. So let it sink in. I simply ask that you keep an open mind today to what I am going to say.
Because you can examine all the evidence and still choose to ignore it. But let me state for the record that the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is overwhelming.
One of the books I read in preparation for this series is written by a homicide detective – J. Warner Wallace – called Cold-Case Christianity. It’s listed in your Mission Minutes in the bibliography for this series. Wallace had been an atheist who – just for the heck of it – applied his investigative skills as a cold-case homicide detective into investigating the truth claims of Christianity and the resurrection. And guess what! He is now a believer. He is a believer – and quite frankly – he’s not the only one who has investigated the truth claims of Christianity – intending to prove them wrong – and converted from atheism to Christianity. C.S. Lewis, and Lee Stroebel are two authors that come to mind. I have included them in the list of readings as well.
So let’s start by examining the arguments that have been made to disprove the resurrection – to say that it never happened.
• Some make the claim that Jesus wasn’t really dead. He simply passed out, and was later revived. This is referred to as the swoon theory. Anyone who has ever seen the gruesome Mel Gibson movie “The Passion of the Christ” gets a fairly accurate picture of the flogging Jesus went through prior to his crucifixion. I mean, he was so beat and exhausted that the Romans had to get someone else to carry the cross beam for him. Death came to Jesus through asphyxiation. He suffocated. That’s what crucifixion does. Breaking the legs of the person crucified hastened the asphyxiation process because they needed to push themselves up with their legs in order to breathe. But they didn’t need to break Jesus’ legs because they saw that he was already dead. These professional Roman executioners verified that he was already dead – and ran a spear through his body. The swoon theory is about as ridiculous as they come.
• Some claim that the women who went to the tomb on that first Easter morning went to the wrong tomb – an empty tomb – and declared Jesus risen from the dead. But we are told that the women saw where the body of Jesus was laid. We also know that the tomb belonged to Joseph of Arimathea – one of those who buried the body of Jesus. Add to that the guards that were at the tomb, and there’s no way they went to the wrong tomb.
• Others claim the body of Jesus was stolen by either the Romans, the Jews, or the disciples. But the Romans would have no reason to steal Christ's body. The Jewish religious leaders had no reason to steal the body either. And if they had, when the disciples started to talk about Jesus being raised from the dead – after thousands left Judaism to become Christians – all those Jewish religious leaders had to do was to put the body of Jesus on display to prove to the world that Jesus had not risen from the dead.
• There are some who suggest that grave robbers stole the body. Well! The only thing of value to steal would have been the grave clothes Jesus was buried in. And guess what! These were left behind.
• Did the disciples themselves steal the body? And then make the claim that the tomb was empty – and Jesus risen from the dead just like he said? Listen. If the disciples stole his body, then they knew that the resurrection was a lie. And yet, they are the ones who spread the news of his resurrection. They had nothing to gain from telling a lie if the resurrection were indeed not true. In fact, they lost their lives because of it.
So the body of Jesus was not stolen – by anybody.
• Some try to explain away the resurrection appearances of Jesus as a hallucination. One giant hallucination experienced by over 500 people at various places on 11 different occasions. I can just imagine the disciples sitting around and saying, “Let’s all just think happy thoughts, and maybe we can all visualize Jesus here with us.”
By the way – and this is so obvious – all of these efforts to disprove the resurrection fall flat on their face. So what evidence do we have for the resurrection?.
• Neither the Roman authorities nor the Jewish religious leaders ever disproved it. They didn’t even attempt to. And if they could have they would have.
• Then you have to consider the transformation that came about in the disciples. After Jesus was raised from the dead, these were different men and women. From scared and frightened to boldly proclaiming Jesus Christ crucified and risen from the dead.
• And then there is Paul. Paul was a witness to the resurrected Christ – and it changed his life from a persecutor of Christians to the greatest missionary the church ever had.
• Speaking of Paul – he lets us know that there were more than 500 witnesses to the resurrection. Some had died, but the rest, he said, are still with us. The clear implication is that he is saying, “If you don’t believe me, ask them.” 500 plus people could not have imagined this – nor could that many people be part of a mass conspiracy – and never once did any deny what they had seen.
• And then, in a male-dominated world where women were second class citizens – the testimony of women was regarded as worthless. In all four gospels, women are the first eye witnesses. Why would they dare make up a story about women being the first to find Jesus? They would be inviting scandal and scorn; unless, of course, it actually happened – and since that’s the way it happened – that’s the way they wrote it.
• But here I think is the clincher. The most compelling piece of evidence that I can give you is the witness of the disciples. Think about it. If the resurrection is a lie – then those first disciples are the ones who made it up. And what happened to them? All of the original disciples – with the exception of John – died martyr’s deaths. And not one of them at the last minute recanted and said, “Hey! Wait a minute! That resurrection thing – we just kind of made that up.” No. They had nothing to gain either politically or financially – and it cost them their lives. You can raise arguments against the idea of resurrection. But one thing cannot be argued – the dramatic change that took place in the life of the disciples after that first Easter. Though nearly all of them were eventually martyred – they simply did not fear death. It changed their lives. And more to the point – the resurrection still has the power to change lives today.
One final piece of evidence would be the immediate effect of the resurrection on the birth of the Christian church. Its growth didn’t happen without proof and without Spirit driven power. It swept across the whole known world over the next 300 years.
So the evidence is overwhelming – evidence for the literal, physical, bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.
I am here to tell you today that the resurrection of Christ is not a fairy tale. It is not myth. It is not a rumor. It is a matter of fact – as well as a matter of faith. I simply invite you to examine the evidence – and come to your own conclusion.
And if you still don’t believe me – if you’re still wrestling with this whole Jesus thing and his resurrection, well, let me ask you again. What if it’s true? And I will tell you –based on the evidence – that it is true. How YOU answer that question – and I cannot answer this question for you – but how you answer the question is critical for you because eternity hangs in the balance. What if Jesus – through his life, death and resurrection does make eternal life possible for every one of us? Now I’ll say more about that next week.
But for me – the evidence is iron-clad. And therefore it my great joy and privilege to declare to you this morning the ancient proclamation of the church.
Christ is risen! [He is risen indeed!]
Christ is risen! [He is risen indeed!]
Christ is risen! [He is risen indeed!]