I have long held the strong conviction that professed Christians have too little knowledge and understanding of “apologetics” – the study and presentation of the strong evidence and reasons for believing the fundamental facts of the Gospel message. This includes the reliability of the Bible as a historical record and the existence of a real person named Jesus. The facts concerning Jesus would further include His doing of miracles, His teachings, and His death by crucifixion and then resurrection from the dead! Failure by those of us who teach and preach to regularly present this evidence to our people has left many of them weak in faith and more easily misled by the skeptics in our culture and educational systems. Therefore, I often incorporate the “evidence that demands a verdict” in my messages and classes. And there is no better time to do that each year than during the Easter season.
The following message was delivered at the Tanglewood Church of Christ in Odessa, Texas on Easter Sunday, April 12, 2009. It was entitled, “The Day Death Died!” You can click on this link to listen. Below I have reproduced my outline for that sermon.
The Day Death Died!
- Scripture reading: 1 Corinthians 15:3-8
- Michael Green, in his book The Day Death Died, says, “Christianity is unique among the religions of the world. It is based on the conviction that its founder, Jesus Christ, rose again from the dead on the first Easter Sunday.”
- It seems to me there are three broad categories of people in our world when it comes to the subject of Jesus’ resurrection:
- Millions who believe with all their hearts in His real physical resurrection from the dead in the early 1st century.
- Millions who regard Jesus’ resurrection (and almost anything else about Jesus) as a kind of religious fairy tale.
- And millions who have never seriously thought about it, never heard any evidence about it, nor know of any reason why they should do so!
- There are two great issues or questions here:
- Is the resurrection of Jesus true? Did it really happen? Is there sufficient historical evidence to support believing it happened?
- Does it even matter whether it happened or not? What difference does it even make?
IS IT TRUE? DID JESUS RISE FROM THE DEAD?
- Is the resurrection of Jesus from the dead a matter of historical record? Or, is it simply a matter of wishful thinking? Many skeptics erroneously define faith as “belief in something without evidence.”
- It is an interesting side study to look at numerous examples of such skeptics who – in trying to disprove the resurrection of Jesus or in trying to show there was no evidence to support it – ended up becoming Christian believers! Ask me and I can supply you with a list of names.
- Think with me now. What makes something acceptable as “true” from a historical standpoint? Consider two popular stories about George Washington:
- General George Washington crossed the Delaware River with his Revolutionary Army during one snowy night in the middle of winter, an event which took place on December 25, 1776. (This requires us to remember some of our American history.)
- Young boy George Washington used a hatchet to cut down his father’s cherry tree. This story was told by Parson Weems in 1809, about 10 years after Washington’s death.
- What would strengthen the “case” for either of these stories?
- Multiple eye-witness accounts
- Lack of significant contrary accounts
- Written records close to the event in time
- Supporting or corroborating evidence
- Ability to verify at least some of the reported facts
- Now, which of the two stories about Washington has history and facts on its side?
- As we go further back into ancient history, surviving evidence of many events or even people becomes more scarce. Many great events and great people from back then are known only from one or a few sources, and some of those sources are not always considered entirely reliable. Yet we still can know those events or people were real.
- Critics of Christianity may say:
- “Historical evidence is lacking for some parts of the story of Jesus.” But that neither proves nor disproves those events if the evidence is simply not there. But is the evidence really missing? Or do they simply dismiss what evidence we do have because it suits their argument?
- “The winners write history.” By this they imply that once Christianity became accepted in the ancient Roman Empire – an event that did not happen until AD 311, almost 300 years after Jesus lived – Christian historians destroyed all contrary evidence and also “doctored” the remaining historical records to support the case for the miracles and resurrection of Jesus.
- But there is no evidence for this! In fact, their own argument is turned against them.
- Many historical and pagan records proven during those first 300 years speak of Jesus, His miracles, and belief in His resurrection by those earliest Christians.
- Persecutions of Christians during that period are known to have sometimes targeted the historical records and scriptures of the Christians, confiscating and destroying them. Much more evidence supporting their faith would probably still exist today if not for these persecutions.
- By the 2nd century the Christian records were pretty unanimous in identifying four gospel records widely accepted as true and consistent with oral testimony, still living people who had known an eyewitness, and pagan records from the 1st century. This was further supported by other surviving documents from the 1st century by disciples of Jesus like Paul, James, Peter and Jude. All these records came from the right people, places and time to be considered trustworthy.
- The resurrection story is consistent: Jesus was crucified by the Roman Governor Pontius Pilate with the support of the Jerusalem Jewish authorities, His body was buried in a guarded tomb, and some event transpired causing the tomb to be empty on the third day. His disciples soon started reporting they had seen Him alive and that He had risen from the dead. No contrary evidence was ever presented by the Roman or Jewish authorities. People living in Jerusalem had ample opportunity to question the professed witnesses, go look at the tomb, etc. As a result, within a few months thousands of new believers formed the beginning to the church!
- Any “conspiracy theories” being put out today by skeptics or other uninformed unbelievers are based solely on rejecting all existing evidence then spinning a real “fairy tale.” It is as if they are saying, “Ignore all the evidence we have, and now I’ll tell you what really happened!” Is that how history works? No. It is the skeptic who lacks the evidence, not the Christian!
SO WHAT IF THE RESURRECTION DID HAPPEN… WHY DOES IT MATTER?
- We realize that many things may be true in history, yet really make no great difference for us today. For example:
- Did George Washington have blue eyes? (Yes.) But of what historical import is that now?
- How tall was Napoleon? It is not nearly as significant as what happened at Waterloo against Lord Wellington!
- Jesus said His resurrection would authenticate who He was.
- He predicted it – Matthew 16:21ff
- He said it was the definitive (or ultimate) sign and proof of who He was – Matthew 12:39-40; Luke 11:29-30; John 2:19; Luke 24:47-48
- So shocking was this unique event that even His closest disciples did not believe it would happen… until afterwards!
- The early church argued for its truth and His disciples as real eyewitnesses – Acts 2:32; 3:15; 4:33; 5:32; 10:39-41.
- For two millennia it has set Christianity apart from all other significant religions.
- It has given us as Christians confidence about life after death – 1 Corinthians 15.
- Jesus Himself said He would die to be a ransom to redeem us from our sins! “Unless you believe that I am He, you will die in your sins!”
- Today, whether this particular Sunday was THE SUNDAY on which He rose again or not… today our confidence that we are in a right relationship with God, forgiven of our sins, and heirs of eternal life all rests on the historical truth that Jesus DID RISE FROM THE DEAD, is alive today, and will come again at the end of this present world to judge all mankind and welcome us into our eternal home.
- Today let us praise the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ that on an early Sunday morning almost 2000 years ago Jesus burst forth from His grave alive again, and death died!
The painting of “Washington Crossing the Delaware” by George Caleb Bingham was painted circa 1856-1871. It is available on Wikipedia.