“Before whom He presented Himself alive after His passion by many convincing proofs.”
The foundation of the Christian faith is the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Without it, Jesus would be nothing more than just another long dead religious figure whose teachings would hold marginal value in the 21st century. For many, that is all that Jesus was, a good teacher of religious philosophy who can be treated with a pick and choose approach. But the testimony of Scripture says far more than this.
The introduction of the Book of Acts makes it clear that it is a continuation of the Gospel of Luke. It is addressed like the Gospel to Theophilus of whom we know nothing more than the meaning of the name which is “Friend of God”. The Gospel mentions what Jesus began to do and to teach with the implication that His teaching and ministry would be continued here on earth by a church equipped and filled with the Holy Spirit. The mission was entrusted to the remaining eleven apostles who were the witnesses of Jesus’ resurrection. It was to them that the convincing proofs of His resurrection were given. Paul in 1 Corinthians 15 adds to this by mentioning that Jesus appeared to his brother James and also to 500 others at once, most of whom were still alive some twenty years later. The eleven, the women, the Emmaus disciples, James, Paul at a later time, and the 500 make up a large body of witnesses of the resurrection.
The eleven were about to experience one last proof of the Resurrection when Jesus would ascend into heaven to sit at the right hand of God after they had been instructed concerning their mission by Jesus. They would need this proof to proclaim Jesus in a world who was hostile against God. The Roman world believed that Julius Caesar ascended to the right hand of Zeus (God) upon his death and was, therefore, considered the Son of God. The Apostles were witnesses to a resurrected crucified Jew’s ascension to the right hand of God, the true and only Son of God.
Luke tells us in verse 3 that the proofs that Jesus was alive were thoroughly convincing. He records several of them and the other gospels and Paul record others. So it would do us well to look at some of them. The examples I am bringing this morning are nothing new or original on my part. And there are more proofs to present than can be brought forth in this morning’s sermon.
Everything depends upon the reliability of the witnesses. The Holy Trinity is indeed the first witness of the truth of the resurrection. Romans 1 tells us that everyone knows God because God has revealed Himself to all humankind in creation as well as infixed this knowledge in us directly. Everyone before regeneration knows this truth but suppresses it. God, the Holy Spirit bears direct witness to the heart of the believer of the truth of the resurrection.
In addition to what the theologians call “natural revelation” is the witness of Scripture. Jesus Himself pointed it to the disciples on the Emmaus Road in Luke 24 in which he showed them throughout the entire Old Testament of the witness to the coming of Christ, his passion, and resurrection. This by itself should be sufficient proof of the truth of the resurrection. However, because of human weakness, God has been pleased to offer many others in addition.
God chose the eleven of the twelve to bear this witness. The Scripture shows them to be quite ordinary men. Before the passion, they showed they lacked courage and understanding. Peter and the others forsook Him in fear when Jesus was arrested. However, in Acts we see them willing to die for the faith. They proclaimed Jesus and the resurrection boldly in the same city where Jesus had been crucified. Their willingness to die for Jesus is a convincing proof that they were thoroughly convinced that Jesus had risen.
When the women first brought the account of the resurrection, they were not yet believers. They thought the women were hysterical. Peter and John went out to check it out for themselves. Peter saw the empty tomb and saw the stone rolled away, the empty tomb save the gravecloths neatly arranges with the head covering in a place by itself. Even though John believed, Peter was not yet convinced. Many thought the body had been stolen. Later that day, Luke records that Jesus appeared to Peter directly. The scripture also says he appeared to ten of them save Thomas. Jesus proved that he was not a ghost by eating fish and honeycomb with them and inviting their touch. The next week, he invited Thomas to come and touch him. He also appeared to several of them in Galilee on a fishing expedition and ate with them again. He made another appearance to them in Galilee to give them the Great Commission. It took many convincing proofs to assure the disciples. The final proof they received was on Pentecost. They at this point became the witnesses Jesus wanted them to be.
Another convincing proof is that women were the first witnesses to the resurrection. Women were not allowed to testify in court because they were “hysterical” (the Greek word for ‘womb’). No one writing a fake gospel would have written women into the script this way which clearly shows that this is recorded because it was what actually happened.
Some would say that the body was stolen. This is what the Roman guards were bribed by the Jewish leaders to say. But this would beg a question. What grave robber would have taken the time to unwrap the body of Jesus and fold the items neatly when the Roman guard was nearby? Body snatching was a capital offense. Even though graves were robbed, it would have made far more sense to grab the wrapped body and unwrap it later rather than risking the awakening of the guard. When you consider that bodily fluids oozing out of the corpse of Jesus would have clotted to the strips of cloth with the sticky myrrh. It would have been difficult and time consuming to unwrap.
Who would have had the motive to take the body? Certainly the Jews would not. The disciples could have had motive but were hiding in terror. And why would they be willing to proclaim at the risk of life and limb about a resurrection if they had stolen the body. If the body minus its wrappings was missing, there is simply no other explanation for the empty tomb.
We also know that the tomb was empty because once the news of the resurrection spread, the Jewish authorities could have produced the body. So it is clear that the body was missing from the tomb. And if there was a body of Jesus in a tomb when reports broke out, the guard would have been doubled.
Another proof of the resurrection is the variance in the written accounts themselves. Each of them noticed different details which shows individual perspective. Suppose that all four accounts of the resurrection were identical. Would they not be dismissed as copies of one account? In a court of law, if all the witnesses told identical accounts, the case would be thrown out of court because the testimony would be seen as rehearsed. As Luke had access to many accounts, he could have certainly copied one of them. What makes the testimony itself convincing is that they all materially agree on the main point, that Jesus was alive and had shown Himself on many different occasions.
One more theory which some present is that Jesus did not actually die on the cross, but fainted and revived later in the tomb. This can be discounted out of hand. One has to be desperately trying to suppress the truth by presenting this argument. Jesus’ body was handled after death. He received a spear wound to the heart after death that certainly would have been mortal if alive. His body was wrapped in strips of cloth which would have hardened. How could he have unwrapped Himself? Then one would have to explain how a weakened and beaten Jesus could have rolled away the stone by Himself before the oxygen ran out in the sealed tomb. Then Jesus would have had to find clothes, cleaned himself up, and been presentable. Could he have walked all the way to Emmaus, and so on? The fact that Jesus dies is as convincing as the resurrection.
Some others would claim that Judas or some on else was actually crucified rather than Jesus. Again, this is a desperate argument which actually further the truth of the matter. The body was missing from the tomb, whether Jesus or a substitute. Certainly John who was at the cross knew it was Jesus. Certainly His mother would know her son. And if a substitute died, certainly this would have been known by His disciples. Yet they were willing to die for Him and most if not all died as martyrs.
So if we piece together the picture from the details of the several accounts we see convincing testimony that Jesus rose from the dead. The fact that the Holy Spirit brought different details to each in the recording of Scripture and their coherence makes it most convincing as they appear as natural accounts of those who had been on the ultimate of emotional roller coasters from despair and terror to ecstasy and joy. Their testimony is exactly what we would expect under these circumstances. Their humanity shows forth the truth of the account.
Seeing that by many “infallible proofs” as the King James Version puts it that Jesus suffered death and rose again on a day we call Easter and the Jews would call the Feast of Firstfruits, the firstfruit from the dead as Paul puts it, what are the implications of this great event?
First of all, it demonstrates that Jesus is not to be dismissed as a good man, a good teacher, or religious martyr. Many want to keep Jesus in the tomb and hope someday to find His dead body. They are happy to keep a few of his teachings. Some want to remember him as a pacifist and others as a revolutionary. Some want to make Him like the Old Testament prophets and advocate for social justice. Many want to make Jesus a useful figurehead to their own ideas.
But the Apostles who proclaimed the death and resurrection of present a different Jesus. This Jesus rose to the right hand of the Father and is coming back to judge the living and the dead. They proclaimed His death was for the forgiveness of sin and our rebellion against God. It we will believe that God raised Him from the dead and confess also that He is LORD, we shall be saved. If we do not believe, nor subsequently confess His lordship, we shall be eternally condemned and punished in hellfire. There can be no starker choice. One cannot simply take a middle position. Either you are saved or you are lost. Either you are entirely for Him or you are entirely against Him.
So on this Easter Sunday morning, are you proclaiming Him to eternal life and joy or you are proclaiming your eternal condemnation. Which is it? Pray that God will open your eyes unto salvation. If you find it difficult, pray for faith to believe. But whatever you do, do not take a pick and choose attitude towards the truth of God.