People have the idea that belief in God is non-intellectual—that to be a Christian you have to check your brain at the door and have blind faith.
But to be a Christian is not to be unreasoning. Yes, we believe in unseen things, like God and Heaven and angels, but so does everyone. No one can see electricity, or sub-atomic particles, but we have good reasons for believing in them.
I want to share with you three solid reasons why you can believe that the resurrection of Jesus Christ really happened. First, there’s no better way to explain the empty tomb. Second, there are a number of resurrection appearances, where people saw a living, physical Jesus. Third, there’s the existence of the Christian Faith.
I. THE EMPTY TOMB
The fact that the tomb of Jesus was empty is very critical to belief in the resurrection of Jesus, because if the tomb wasn’t empty, then obviously there was no resurrection. The first step in accepting the fact of the empty tomb is to understand that…
A. The Gospel Accounts Are Reliable
The Gospel accounts are reliable in many ways, but one way is that they are simple and honest.
To help you appreciate the significance of what that means, compare the Gospel accounts of the resurrection with an untrue account of the resurrection that was written later, in a false work called the “Gospel of Peter.”
In this account, the tomb is not only surrounded by Roman guards but also by all the Jewish Pharisees and elders, as well as a great multitude from all the surrounding countryside who have come to watch the resurrection.
Suddenly, in the night there rings out a loud voice in heaven, and two men descend from heaven to the tomb. The stone over the door rolls back by itself, and they go into the tomb. Then three men come out of the tomb, two of them holding up the third man. The heads of the two men reach up into the clouds, but the head of the third man reaches up beyond the clouds.
Then a cross comes out of the tomb, and a voice from heaven asks, “Have you preached to them that sleep?” And the cross answers, “Yes.”
(William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith : Christian Truth and Apologetics, Rev. ed. [Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books, 1994], 275–276)
That’s what false legends sound like—made up and showy—but the real accounts found in the Gospels are simple and honest. They are straightforward eyewitness testimony. And they all say that the tomb of Jesus was, on Sunday morning, empty:
6 And [the angel] saith unto [the women], Be not affrighted: Ye seek Jesus of Nazareth, which was crucified: he is risen; he is not here: behold the place where they laid him. (Mark 16:6)
Many scholars over the years have agreed that the tomb was indeed empty—but that there must be some other explanation. So they have proposed alternate theories.
B. The Alternate Theories Don’t Work
1. Disciples Stole The Body
This was the earliest theory—that the disciples conspired together to take Jesus’ body and hide it. Matthew records for us that the real conspiracy was on the part of the chief priests and elders—
12 And when they were assembled with the elders, and had taken counsel, they gave large money unto the soldiers, 13 Saying, Say ye, His disciples came by night, and stole him away while we slept. 14 And if this come to the governor’s ears, we will persuade him, and secure you. 15 So they took the money, and did as they were taught: and this saying is commonly reported among the Jews until this day. (Matthew 28:12–15)
There are several reasons why this theory does not hold water, but the most important is this: The disciples suffered and died for their belief in the resurrection of Jesus. Would they really do that if they knew it was a lie?
And if an enemy of Jesus stole the body of Jesus, then why didn’t they produce it as evidence that the disciples were living a lie?
2. Jesus Didn’t Really Die
Liberals in the 1800’s suggested that Jesus wasn’t completely dead. They suggested that he fainted or went into a coma. But the theory is absurd on so many levels:
Jesus was whipped by a whip with bones embedded in the tips, nailed to a cross, stabbed with a spear (blood and water came out), and put in a cold tomb with a stone that several women could not move by themselves.
Are we’re supposed to think that he woke up and was strong enough to move the stone and convince the disciples that he had risen from the dead as Lord and Savior? He would have looked like the walking dead, not a risen Savior!
3. Disciples Went To The Wrong Tomb
This theory was first proposed in 1907 and states that the women lost their way to the tomb.
Supposedly, the women came upon an empty tomb where they met a caretaker that told them, “You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth. He is not here.” Then, they told the disciples, and they believed that he rose from the dead. Later, Christians changed the caretaker in the story to an angel, and the resurrection story was born.
This theory is full of holes. For one thing, the women weren’t the only ones to go to the tomb. Peter and John also went to the tomb (John 20). Did they also go to the wrong tomb?
Furthermore, someone (for instance, Joseph of Arimathaea, who owned the tomb and buried Jesus) would have eventually found the right tomb. Finally, why didn’t the enemies of Jesus go to the right tomb in order to prove that Jesus didn’t rise from the dead?
If the gospel accounts are reliable (and they are), and there isn’t another explanation that holds up (and there isn’t), then we must accept that the tomb of Jesus was empty because he rose from the dead.
We can believe in the resurrection because the tomb was empty and there is no better explanation then the resurrection. Another reason to believe that the resurrection of Jesus Christ really happened is because of…
II. THE RESURRECTION APPEARANCES
The apostle Paul details some of the resurrection appearances:
3 For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; 4 And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures: 5 And that he was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve: 6 After that, he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep. 7 After that, he was seen of James; then of all the apostles. 8 And last of all he was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time. (1 Corinthians 15:3–8)
(1) “Cephas,” or Peter—sometime after Paul was converted, he spent two weeks with Peter (Galatians 1:18). He would have known if Peter claimed to have seen the resurrected Jesus personally. This appearance is also mentioned in Luke 24:34.
(2) “the twelve”—this is what the eleven disciples (after Judas left) were still called. Luke (24:36-42) and John record this appearance and describe the disciples as frightened and hiding:
19 Then the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled for fear of the Jews, came Jesus and stood in the midst, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you. 20 And when he had so said, he shewed unto them his hands and his side. Then were the disciples glad, when they saw the Lord. (John 20:19–20)
(3) Then Jesus was seen by “above five hundred” at one time. This appearance was probably outside a Galilean village somewhere. Paul’s point in telling about this appearance was that the people involved could be questioned about what they had seen for “the greater part remain unto this present.”
There are other appearances, but what I want you to understand is that there were plenty of witnesses who saw Jesus after his resurrection. They saw a physical Jesus that they could touch, who ate with them. There were so many witnesses that’s it’s impossible to suppose that they all somehow imagined or hallucinated Jesus’ appearing.
Finally, another reason to believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ is because there is, today…
III. THE CHRISTIAN FAITH
Why are we here worshipping today? Why is there Christianity? Simply put, it’s because Jesus rose from the dead. The foundation of Christianity has to do with the resurrection of Jesus Christ. It’s the hinge-pin! The Bible says so—
12 Now if Christ be preached that he rose from the dead, how say some among you that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 But if there be no resurrection of the dead, then is Christ not risen: 14 And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain. (1 Corinthians 15:12–14)
When I was a teenager, I thought that someone made up the Bible—the Christian Faith—in order to fool people. Did the disciples make up the resurrection and therefore the Christian Faith? Here are two good reasons to believe that they didn’t make up the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
A. The Traditions They Gave Up
One reason to believe that the disciples didn’t make up the resurrection or the Christian Faith has to do with the traditions that they gave up. Here’s one example:
We know that Christians worship on Sunday, but what day is the holy day for Jews? It’s on Saturday, and has been ever since God gave them the fourth commandment (Exodus 20:8-11) around 1500 BC.
The first Christians were Jews, but they changed their day of worship from Saturday to Sunday because that was the day that Jesus rose from the dead.
Think about that—they changed 1,500 years of tradition. It’s hard enough to get people in church to sit in a different pew! Imagine changing a millennium-old tradition!
Something special must have happened for them to give up very old traditions, and that something was the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
B. The Deaths They Were Willing To Die
Another reason to believe that the disciples didn’t make up the resurrection is that they were willing to die for their beliefs.
Chuck Colson, who passed away a few years ago, was a Nixon aide who went to prison for his role in the Watergate scandal.
While in prison Colson became a Christian, and after his release, he, among other things, developed Prison Fellowship, a Christian prison ministry. In a radio broadcast, he said…
I have been challenged myself many times on the resurrection. My answer is always that the disciples and five hundred others gave eyewitness accounts of seeing Jesus, risen from the tomb.
But then I’m asked, “How do you know they were telling the truth? Maybe they were perpetrating a hoax.” My answer to that comes from an unlikely source: Watergate.
Watergate involved a conspiracy to cover up, perpetuated by the closest aides to the President of the United States—the most powerful men in America, who were intensely loyal to their president.
But one of them, John Dean, turned state’s evidence, that is, testified against Nixon, as he put it, “to save his own skin”—and he did so only two weeks after informing the president about what was really going on—two weeks!
The real cover-up, the lie, could only be held together for two weeks, and then everybody else jumped ship in order to save themselves. Now, the fact is that all that those around the President were facing was embarrassment, maybe prison. Nobody’s life was at stake.
But what about the disciples? Twelve powerless men, peasants [and fisherman] really, were facing not just embarrassment or political disgrace, but beatings, stonings, execution. Every single one of the disciples insisted, to their dying breaths, that they had physically seen Jesus bodily raised from the dead.
Don’t you think that one of those apostles would have cracked before being beheaded or stoned? That one of them would have made a deal with the authorities? None did.
You see, men will give their lives for something they believe to be true—they will never give their lives for something they know to be false…
No, you can take it from an expert in cover-ups—I’ve lived through Watergate—that nothing less than a resurrected Christ could have caused those men to maintain to their dying whispers that Jesus is alive and is Lord.
Two thousand years later, nothing less than the power of the risen Christ could inspire Christians around the world to remain faithful—despite prison, torture, and death.
Jesus is Lord: That’s the thrilling message of Easter.
There you have it: three solid reasons why you can believe that the resurrection of Jesus Christ really happened. First, there’s no better way to explain the empty tomb. Second, there are a number of resurrection appearances, where people saw a living, physical Jesus. Third, there’s the existence of the Christian Faith.
Why is the resurrection so important to Christianity? Christianity goes about answering the question: what is our problem, and how do we fix it? The Bible says that our problem is sin and that “…the wages of sin is death.” This death is an eternal, conscious death in Hell.
What’s the answer to that problem? We can’t pay for our sins ourselves, so someone else has to.
Jesus died on the cross to pay for our sins. But if he had stayed dead, would we really know that his sacrifice had done the job of paying the penalty for our sins? We wouldn’t, except that he didn’t stay dead. He not only paid the penalty, he also defeated the penalty—he defeated death itself!
What do you need to do in order to be saved? It’s very simply explained in one verse:
9 That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. (Romans 10:9)