Why are we here worshipping today? Why is there Christianity? Simply put, it’s because Jesus rose from 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 15:13–14)
I remember the scene from my high school years vividly. I was in the parking lot of the Lutheran church with my friend Chuck. I don’t know why we were there, or what the conversation was about. I remember saying to Chuck, “I think the Bible was made up by one person in order to fool a lot of people.”
Did the disciples make up the story of the resurrection and therefore the Christian Faith?
I want to share with you some reasons today why I believe that the resurrection of Jesus Christ really happened. These reasons—or evidence—are just tip of the iceberg. I won’t go in depth in each one, it will be more like that sampler plate you get at a restaurant.
If you want to learn more, I could recommend several books that you could read: J. Warner Wallace, Josh McDowell, Lee Strobel, and William Lane Craig all have books detailing the evidence for Jesus’s resurrection.
Then, in the second part of this message, I want to share what Jesus’s resurrection shows us about God.
SHOW THE EVIDENCE FOR THE RESURRECTION OF JESUS CHRIST
1) The Gospel Accounts Are Reliable Historical Documents
The Gospel accounts are reliable in many ways, but one way that you can see their reliability is that they are simple and honest. To help you appreciate the significance of what that means, compare the Gospel accounts of the resurrection (e.g., Mark 16) with an account of the resurrection that was written later, in a false work called the “Gospel of Peter.”
Now in the night in which the Lord’s day dawned, when the soldiers…saw the heavens opened and two men come down from there…The stone which had been laid against the entrance to the sepulchre started of itself to roll and gave way to the side…and both the young men entered in.
…they saw again three men come out from the sepulchre, and two of them sustaining the other, and a cross following them, and the heads of the two reaching to heaven, but that of him who was led of them by the hand overpassing the heavens. And they heard a voice out of the heavens crying, “Thou hast preached to them that sleep,” and from the cross there was heard the answer, “Yea.”
(Gospel of Peter 9:35–42 qtd in William Lane Craig, The Son Rises: The Historical Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus [Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2000], 76.)
You have angels with their heads literally in the clouds. And then, a cross is walking around and talking! 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.
1 And when the sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, had bought sweet spices, that they might come and anoint him. 2 And very early in the morning the first day of the week, they came unto the sepulchre at the rising of the sun. 3 And they said among themselves, Who shall roll us away the stone from the door of the sepulchre?
4 And when they looked, they saw that the stone was rolled away: for it was very great. 5 And entering into the sepulchre, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, clothed in a long white garment; and they were affrighted. 6 And he saith unto them, 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 16:1–6)
This is the sort of testimony that you would expect from real people in a real, but amazing situation. This is just one reason why we can accept the Gospel accounts as reliable, historical documents.
Another bit of evidence from our sampler plate of evidence is that:
2) Jesus Was Buried In A Tomb That Was Later Found To Be Empty
There are two important points here: Jesus was buried in a tomb. That same tomb was later found to be empty.
Many liberal scholars think that Jesus, being crucified as a criminal, was thrown into a common grave with other criminals. It’s probably true that many crucified criminals were thrown into common graves. But we know from archeological evidence that this was not always the case. In the late 1960’s, archeologists found a victim of crucifixion buried in the same type of container—an ossuary—that most Jewish people were buried in.
Jews, being more sensitive to the care of the deceased, were more likely to care even for crucifixion victims—especially someone as loved as Jesus—just as we see here in our passage. To say that Jesus was dumped in a common grave is just nonsense and doesn’t fit the culture or the evidence.
Jesus was buried in a tomb and that tomb was later found to be empty. Even the anti-Jesus Jewish leadership affirmed this to be the case when they claimed that the disciples stole the body of Jesus from the tomb.
The Jewish leadership even went so far as to bribe the professional Roman soldiers to say that they fell asleep and the disciples stole the body while they were asleep (Matthew 28:11-15).
Furthermore, if the tomb wasn’t empty, the enemies of Christianity could have used it to stop the movement in its tracks. But that didn’t happen.
So it’s well-established that Jesus was buried in a tomb and that tomb was later found to be empty.
The evidence for the resurrection continues to mount:
3) The Risen Jesus Appeared To Many Different People
One common argument that unbelievers make against the resurrection of Jesus Christ is that what the disciples saw was a hallucination or a vision.
After all, don’t people who lose loved ones sometimes see—or think they see—that loved one sitting in their favorite chair or working in the garden? Isn’t reasonable to suppose that the disciples also saw such a vision?
Take a look at 1 Corinthians 15. At the beginning of this chapter, the apostle Paul gives a list of some of the post-resurrection appearances Jesus made:
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:
Let me pause here and say that the words that Paul just wrote here were copied from an earlier creed that he had “received.” Paul wrote First Corinthians 25 years after the resurrection, but these verses are something that believers in Christ were saying very early on, perhaps just a few months after the resurrection. In terms of historical documentary evidence, verses 3 to 5 are the earliest evidence we have of Jesus’s resurrection.
Paul goes on to add additional eyewitness evidence:
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)
Notice that Paul mentions 500 witnesses who saw the resurrected Jesus (probably in Galilee, Matthew 28:16-17) and says that, while some have died, most remain alive. In effect, Paul was challenging people to go talk to these witnesses. He wouldn’t have done that if he wasn’t confident in the truthfulness of their testimonies.
The four gospels also describe Jesus appearing to many different people on different occasions:
• to Mary Magdalene, in John 20:10–18
• to the other women, in Matthew 28:8–10
• to Cleopas and [his friend] on the road to Emmaus, in Luke 24:13–32
• to eleven disciples and others, in Luke 24:33–49
• to ten apostles and others, with Thomas absent, in John 20:19–23
• to Thomas and the other apostles, in John 20:26–30
• to seven apostles, in John 21:1–14
• to the disciples, in Matthew 28:16–20
• And he was with the apostles at the Mount of Olives before his ascension, in Luke 24:50–52 and Acts 1:4–9 (Lee Strobel, The Case for Easter: A Journalist Investigates the Evidence for the Resurrection [Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2009])
What this tells us is that it is impossible that they all somehow imagined or hallucinated Jesus’ appearing. You might suppose that one or two people could have hallucinated seeing Jesus, but not such a large number in a variety of situations and locations. People saw Jesus actually risen from the dead.
Finally, another reason to believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ is because of…
4) What The Disciples Were Willing To Give Up
What was it that the disciples were willing to give up?
4.1) They Were Willing To Give Up Their Traditions
Here’s one example: 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.
A second thing the disciples were willing to give up is that…
4.2) They Were Willing To Give Up Their Lives
Of course, other people from other religions have died for their beliefs, but there is something unique about the deaths of the disciples. They died because they had seen the risen Christ. Modern martyrs die for what they believe to be true, but their belief is based on information passed on down through generations.
The disciples died because they were eyewitnesses to the risen Christ. If Christ had not risen from the dead, the disciples would not have said, “Oh, well, let’s make a religion anyway.” And if they had, would they have died for it?
Josh McDowell writes, “While people die for what they believe is true, it is a stretch to think all the apostles were willing to suffer and die for a claim they knew was false” (Josh McDowell and Sean McDowell, Evidence That Demands a Verdict: Life-Changing Truth for a Skeptical World [Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2017]).
WHAT THE RESURRECTION OF JESUS CHRIST SHOWS US ABOUT GOD
1) The Resurrection Shows Us That God Has The Power To Keep His Promises
People sometimes make promises that they can’t keep, right? Have you ever been in a terrible situation and a well-meaning friend says, “Everything will be alright, I promise”?
How do they know? They can’t do a thing to change the situation!
The resurrection reveals God’s authority and power to keep His promises.
First, immediately after Adam and Eve sinned and plunged the world into sin and chaos, God made a promise in Genesis 3:15 to send a Savior.
Abraham and his descendants were chosen to be the family line from which the Savior would come.
Satan worked overtime to try and stop Christ from coming. He worked to destroy the Jews and the line of Jesus. We know of the Holocaust of 1940’s Germany, but that was only the latest of many holocausts and attempted holocausts: the killing of the baby boys in Egypt, the attempt of Haman in the book of Esther to destroy all the Jews in Persia, and Herod’s command to kill the babies in Bethlehem.
But God had the power to direct world affairs and protect the Jews over the course of thousands of years until…
4 But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, (Galatians 4:4)
Second, there is the power of God to raise a person from the dead:
14 And God hath both raised up the Lord, and will also raise up us by his own power. (1 Corinthians 6:14)
We humans have done some amazing things. We’ve built mighty buildings and nations, explored outer space, cured diseases, and so on. But we will all die, and there’s nothing we can do about it.
Well, nothing but believe in the promise and power of God to raise us from the dead through Jesus Christ. Those who trust in Jesus Christ will experience a resurrection of their own:
52 In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. (1 Corinthians 15:52)
God’s display of power in raising Jesus from the dead shows us that He is powerful enough to keep His promise of raising us from the dead and giving us victory over death!
2) The Resurrection Shows Us That God, In His Love, Gives Us His Promises
Why would God go to such pains to do this for us? Why would God even make a promise to us?
It is not because we are so valuable that He couldn’t live without us. We are humans created in the image of God, this is true. But we are also sinners who, everyday, each rebel in some way against our Creator. For our rebellion, we each deserve eternal death:
23 For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans 6:23)
Why would God give us the gift of eternal life? Why would He give His Son to rescue us? It’s because God is love (1 John 4:8). The Bible says that,
8 But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8)
God lovingly offers you the gift of salvation, but you must accept it—
12 But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: (John 1:12)
- There’s only one way to be saved, and that is in Christ alone.
- There is only one place to put your hope for your own resurrection, and that is in Christ alone.
- There is no other way to have victory over sin, death, and Hell, but in Christ alone.
Where is your hope found today? Is it in Christ alone?