Well, it’s Easter and you’re here. I guess that means that you either consider yourself to be a Christian, you came with someone who does, or you’re at least interested in or respectful of Christianity. You may not even go to church that much the rest of the year, but you’re here on this day out of respect or at least habit. We’re glad you’re here, and let me just say that if you are a believer in or respectful of Jesus Christ, church is a great place for you to go on Easter. One person said, “I would say that if you don’t believe that Jesus of Nazareth was the Christ and Messiah, and that he rose again from the dead and by his sacrifice our sins are forgiven, you’re really not in any meaningful sense a Christian.”
“Ok,” you might say, “Guess I would agree with that. What preacher said that?” Well, it wasn’t a preacher who said it. While it sounds like preacher talk, that was actually said to someone who at least called herself a preacher. It was said to Pastor Mary Sewell, a unitarian pastor who said that she really didn’t believe the “stories” of scripture in any literal sense. She would consider this occasion we celebrate today to be a nice religious ceremony, but not an actual event.
But this pastor’s doubt is not the most shocking part of this story. The most shocking part of this incident is not that some pastor, so called, had to be told of the essential nature of the resurrection. It was the person who said these words to her. You see, the person who corrected this Unitarian’s theology was none other than avowed atheist and Christian antagonist, Christopher Hitchens.
And by the way, in this one statement at least, the Bible agrees with the atheist, not the pastor. Paul, the great Apostle wrote in 1 Cor 15:16-17: 16 For if the dead do not rise, then Christ is not risen. 17 And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins! 18 Then also those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable.
There you have it! Hitchens agrees with the apostle. If you call yourself a Christian and consider the resurrection of Jesus to be a nice story or an inspirational parable, you are not chic or politically correct: you’re just pathetic; you are pitiable. Worse than that, you are deceived.
Scientist Henry Morris writes: “The bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is the crowning proof of Christianity. If the resurrection did not take place, then Christianity is a false religion. If it did take place, then Christ is God and the Christian faith is absolute truth.” There is no middle ground.
So maybe you came today thinking that you’d just go through the religious motions of Easter celebration and leave to enjoy an Easter egg hunt. I want you to know that before you leave here this morning, however, you’ve got to make a choice: You must decide to either accept the truth of the resurrection, or reject it. Either the resurrection happened and Christianity is true, or it didn’t and Christianity is false.
So, since you have to decide, let’s examine the facts. For the sake of argument, lets just assume for a moment that it did not happen. Many have said that, you know. Many people have looked at the resurrection as, at best, a fantastic legend or, at worst, a cruel hoax. So how have these people actually explained the resurrection story? What explanations have they offered for Easter?
DIV 1: THE CASE AGAINST THE RESURRECTION
THE SAVIOR SURVIVED THE CROSS
Well some doubters say that Jesus survived the cross, he died sometime later as an old man and possible even the husband of Mary Magdalene. Recent skeptics have, on the basis of the flimsiest, almost laughable evidence, even claimed to have found his tomb. But this theory has all kinds of problems.
For one thing, it was not even seriously considered until some 1800 years after the event. Doubters, looking back on the resurrection event, and unable to refute the Biblical record at face value, came up with this one. Sort of late, don’t you think?
For another thing, to argue that Jesus didn’t die is to argue that Roman soldiers, accustomed to execution and who had their necks on the line, certified a prisoner dead who really wasn’t.
And then there’s the Bible. In the account at the cross we are told that the soldiers went to the two prisoners on either side of Jesus and broke their legs so that they would not be able to lift themselves up on their feet to breathe. They suffocated more quickly that way. Jesus, on the other hand, when they came to Him, the Bible says, was already dead, so, instead of breaking His legs, they ran Him through with a spear so that the Bible says that “blood and water” ran out. This is a classic sign that the heart was punctured. And noone would survive a punctured heart! No, to say that Jesus really didn’t die and was able, in a weakened state, to survive three days in a sealed tomb, then get up and move the stone away all by Himself is to make a fool’s argument!
THE DISCIPLES STOLE THE BODY
“Well, if He did really die,” others say, “then maybe the reason that the tomb was empty was that the disciples, wanting to start their own religion, came and stole the body away in the middle of the night.” Well, the Roman and Jewish authorities were way ahead of you on that one. They said that they feared something like that happening, so they put a guard of as many as 30 soldiers to guard the tomb. Do you really think that a rag-tag group of disciples could have overcome such a contingent of soldiers? Not only that, but if the disciples stole the body, then they must not have all been in on it because the women return to anoint the body on the third day. Why would they go to anoint a body they knew was not there? Not only that, but the disciples, when they heard that the body was missing, ran to see for themselves. Why would they run to see a body that was not there? Not only that, but breaking a Roman seal was a serious offense. If the disciples stole the body, why were they not arrested after the fact. No, the disciples didn’t steal the body. They showed by their behavior that they expected it to still be there.
THE WITNESSES EXPERIENCED AN HALLUCINATION
And others say that the church which claimed to see the pre-ascended body of Christ on several occasions after His resurrection were simply hallucinating. Well, that one really doesn’t hold up either, not unless you believe in mass hallucination. The Apostle Paul says in 1 Cor. 15 that Jesus was seen on several occasions and that, on one of those occasions, he was seen by 500 people at one time! 500 people! Have you ever known of 500 people spontaneously having the same hallucination all at the same time? That doesn’t happen even if there are drugs involved. 500 people may drop acid at the same time and hallucinate, but they won’t be seeing the exact same bugs crawling up the wall at the exact same time!
You see, the doubting heart of man finds it hard to accept the event of the resurrection, but the theories which seek to explain how the resurrection did not happen really ask the wrong question. That’s what prominent Virginia attorney of the University of Virginia Law School and former mayor of Norfolk, Va. said. He investigated the legal evidence for the resurrection of Christ. He began asking himself the question: Can any intelligent person accept the resurrection story? After examining the evidence at length, he came away asking a different question: Can any intelligent person deny the weight of this evidence?
Years ago in England two men set out to disprove Christianity. One was a well-known English jurist and literary scholar named Lord Littleton. The other was Gilbert West. They agreed that if Christianity was to be discredited, it was necessary to do two things—disprove the Resurrection and explain the conversion of Saul of Tarsus in a way that satisfied the skeptics. The two men divided these tasks between themselves, Littleton taking the problem of Saul and West agreeing to research the Resurrection. They invested over a year for their studies and then met together to compare notes. Each one was astonished to discover that the other had become a Christian. The evidence was too strong, the truth too undeniable. It still is.
You might say, “Well show me some of that evidence, then.” If the arguments against the resurrection will not hold water, what arguments can you offer to prove it’s truth.
DIV 2: THE CASE FOR THE RESURRECTION
THE WITNESS OF THE WRITTEN WORD
The first witness for the resurrection is the Word of God itself. Immediately when I say that, you might object. You might say that the Bible is a biased witness. After all, the Bible is the book which tells us about the resurrection to begin with. How can it be a witness for itself?
That’s a good point, but you must understand that the Bible is not like any other book. When I say that, I’m not just talking about its claim to be inspired by God. I’m speaking of its historical accuracy. For instance, several years ago a Scottish scholar named Sir William Mitchell Ramsay, while studying the writings of Luke, discovered what he thought to be errors in the book of Acts. He decided to travel throughout Turkey and the Middle East to prove the Bible wrong. However, in every point of dispute, Ramsay lost his argument. Luke was correct, even in the minutest of details. Ramsay was surprised and later wrote that “no period in ancient history is so assured and well attested” as the times described by Luke. “There are few events,” he said, “which cannot be dated to the year, and sometimes to the month, and even to the day.”
He went on to write: “You may (investigate) the words of Luke in a degree beyond any other historian’s, and they stand the keenest scrutiny and the hardest treatment.” Ramsay’s conclusions are summarized this way: “The author of Acts [and thereby of the Gospel of Luke] is not to be regarded as the author of historical romance, legend, or third- or second-rate history. Rather he is the writer of an historical work of the highest order.”
The word of God offers highly believable evidence of the resurrection.
THE WITNESS OF THE EMPTY TOMB
And then there is the empty tomb. Isn’t it interesting that most critics who doubt the fact that the tomb was empty have been born in the last two hundred years. No one living in Judea at the time of the resurrection denied that it was empty. His friends said he was gone and wanted to know who had taken the body. His enemies were so convinced that the tomb was empty that they had to concoct a lie to explain why. All the authorities would have had to have done to stop the advance of Christianity was to have produced a body. But, they could not, they didn’t even try. The empty tomb offers evidence for the resurrection.
THE PREDICTIONS OF THE WORD OF GOD
But we have much more than human circumstances who can give us assurance that He is Risen. We also have the predictions of the Word of God. Before Christ was ever born, His death and resurrection were prophesied.
For instance, Isaiah 53:9-11 tell us that “He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth. Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the Lord makes his life a guilt offering, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the Lord will prosper in his hand. After the suffering of his soul, he will see the light of life and be satisfied.”
Psalm 16:9-11 predicts of Christ that “You will not leave (His) soul in Sheol. Nor will you allow Your Holy One to see corruption.”
Hosea 6:1-2 says, Come, and let us return to the Lord; For He has torn, but He will heal us; He has stricken, but He will bind us up. After two days He will revive us; On the third day He will raise us up, That we may live in His sight.
And Jesus said of Himself in Matt 12:40, that “as Jonah was three and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” And in Matt 17:22-23, He predicted, “The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men. They will kill him, and on the third day he will be raised to life. From the Old testament to the New, the Word of God predicted that Christ would rise.
THE EYEWITNESS ACCOUNTS
And it wasn’t just predicted, it was witnessed by eye-witnesses. In 1 Cor 15:3, Paul writes: For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: 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 by Cephas, then by the twelve. 6 After that He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep. 7 After that He was seen by James, then by all the apostles. 8 Then last of all He was seen by me also, as by one born out of due time.
THE CHANGED LIVES
Which just leads me to the best evidence of all. You see, the resurrection changes lives! It certainly changed the Apostles. On Friday you have a group of men huddled in misery, depressed and dejected, denying their own Savior like spineless cowards. On Monday those same men are ready to face the lash, the prison, the sword, the stocks, the snarling beasts in the arena, and death itself—all the while proclaiming the Gospel to the very ones who only days before had murdered their leader. Never for a moment during the entire remainder of their days did any of these men lose their nerve or deny their Savior. They willingly poured out the rest of their lives, suffering shame and pain, leaving hearth and home, spilling their own sweat and blood to turn the world upside down.
What happened between Friday night and Monday morning?
They saw the risen Savior. John Stott suggests, “Perhaps the transformation of the disciples of Jesus is the greatest evidence of all for the resurrection. It was the resurrection which transformed Peter’s fear into courage, and James’ doubt into faith. It was the resurrection which changed the Sabbath into Sunday and the Jewish remnant into the Christian Church. It was the resurrection which changed Saul the Pharisee into Paul the apostle, and turned his persecuting into preaching.”
And it changed Frank Morison. He was an English journalist who scorned Christianity so much he decided to disprove it. He knew that if he could disprove the resurrection as no more than myth, he could destroy the Christian religion.
So he went to work. He poured over the evidence, trying to absorb all the information he could and marshaling all of his arguments. Finally he had to captiulate. Not only was he unable to disprove the Resurrection, but he was compelled on the weight of the evidence to become a believer himiself.
He was so impressed that he wrote a book entitled Who Moved the Stone? It offered a compelling argument for believing the resurrection as an historical fact of history. He said that the book is “essentially a confession— the inner story of a man who originally set out to write one kind of book and found himself compelled by the sheer force of circumstances to write quite another.”
Well, there you have it. Arguments against the resurrection refuted and arguments for it offered. But the choice is up to you. Finally, I believe that the historical truth of the resurrection means very little until it has an impact on you . . . until it reaches and changes your heart. The greatest argument for the resurrected life of Christ is a changed heart within you. This is the greatest hope the resurrection brings us. Though we may be dead in our sins, we can live in Him. His resurrection can change us.
A freshman entered the university, like many, looking for a good time and searching for happiness and meaning in life. He tried going to church but found religion unsatisfying. He ran for student leadership positions but was disappointed by how quickly the glamour wore off. He tried the party circuit, but he woke up Monday mornings feeling worse than ever.
He finally noticed a group of students engaged in Bible study, and he became intrigued by the radiance of one of the young ladies. He asked her a reason for it. She looked him straight in the eye, smiled, and said, “Jesus Christ.”
“Oh, for heaven’s sake,” he retorted, “don’t give me that garbage about religion.”
She replied, “I didn’t say religion; I said Jesus Christ.”
The students invited him to examine intellectually the claims of Christ and the evidence supporting Christianity. He accepted their challenge and, after much study and research, finally admitted that he could not refute the body of proof supporting Christianity. McDowell received Christ as his Savior, and his research became the background for his book Evidence That Demands a Verdict.
One of the major factors in his conversion to Christianity was his inability to ignore the historical resurrection of Jesus Christ, a point he made later to a student at the University of Uruguay who asked him, “Professor McDowell, why can’t you intellectually refute Christianity?”
“For a very simple reason,” replied McDowell. “I am not able to explain away an event in history—the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”