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On this the Church Stands


The resurrection of Jesus has traditionally been a central claim of Christianity. The New Testament documents report that his disciples found his tomb empty, that he appeared to them on numerous occasions, and that his resurrection was a major theme of their message.


Paul writes that the resurrected Jesus appeared to him, and that Jesus’ resurrection is an essential doctrine. "For if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, then all our preaching is useless, and your faith is useless. And we apostles would all be lying about God—for we have said that God raised Christ from the grave."[1]


Atheist turned Christian, C. S Lewis, wrote the following about the importance of the resurrection of Jesus Christ to the early church:


To preach Christianity meant (to the Apostles) primarily to preach the Resurrection. … The Resurrection is the central theme in every Christian sermon reported in the Acts. The Resurrection, and its consequences, were the ‘gospel’ or good news which the Christians brought. The New Testament writers speak as if Christ’s achievement in rising from the dead was the first event of its kind in the whole history of the universe. He is the ‘first fruits,’ the pioneer of life,’ He has forced open a door that has been locked since the death of the first man. He has met, fought, and beaten the King of Death. Everything is different because He has done so.[2]


The veracity of Christianity depends completely on the truth or falsehood of this historical event – the resurrection of Jesus Christ – and therefore, it needs to be determined whether it is a historical event or not.


Over the years, there has been many a skeptic who understood that Christianity is falsifiable, and many disbelievers have set out on a course of research to prove that Jesus did not rise from the dead. Yet so many who set out on this journey, through their research, were eventually led to change their minds and become Christians.


One such example is that of Lee Strobel. The conversion story of Lee Strobel is a fascinating tale of the power of investigative reporting applied to the gospel message. Strobel’s journey to faith had nothing to do with a desire to change his lifestyle, but with the changes he saw taking place in his wife; after she became a follower of Christ.


Before giving his heart to Jesus, Strobel was a hard-nosed legal editor for the Chicago Tribune and a very ardent atheist. He writes:


In short, I didn't become a Christian because God promised I would have an even happier life than I had as an atheist. He never promised any such thing. Indeed, following him would inevitably bring divine demotions in the eyes of the world. Rather, I became a Christian because the evidence was so compelling that Jesus really is the one-and-only Son of God who proved his divinity by rising from the dead. That meant following him was the most rational and logical step I could possibly take.[3]


Another such individual who was once an atheist is Frank Morrison. Morrison was a very gifted English lawyer, who set out to write a book that was going to be titled, Disproving the Resurrection of Jesus. He was convinced that he could prove what his title proclaimed. However, when he completed his research, he wrote a completely different book, now a classic, titled, Who Moved the Stone? Morrison demonstrated that the rules of evidence in a court of law confirm Jesus' resurrection. His opening words in his book are quite powerful indeed:


This study is, in some ways, so unusual and provocative that the writer thinks it desirable to state here very briefly how the book came to take its present form.


In one sense, it could have taken no other, for it 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.


It is not that the facts themselves altered, for they are recorded imperishably in the monuments and in the pages of human history. But the interpretation to be put up on the facts underwent a change. Somehow the perspective shifted – not suddenly, as in a flash of insight or inspiration, but slowly, almost imperceptibly, by the stubbornness of the facts themselves.[4]


One of those facts was that Jesus' tomb was found empty. His body was missing; and if Jesus did not rise from the dead, then one could only conclude that someone had to have stolen the body.


If Jesus body had been stolen, scholars agree that there are three groups of people who would be motivated to steal it: the Romans, the Jewish authorities, or the disciples. The problem is that the Romans and the Jewish authorities are not very plausible suspects. Once the resurrection was being proclaimed throughout Jerusalem, all they had to do was produce the body of Christ and Christianity would have died a very quick death.


So, we are left with the disciples. Could they steal the body, dispose of it, and then have spent the rest of their lives propagating a lie, particularly when the heart of their teaching was to be committed to proclaiming the truth?


Does anyone seriously believe that these men who were discouraged, defeated, and who feared for their lives, would go out, steal Jesus' body, and then proceed to boldly preach the resurrection to hostile crowds? What would motivate them to do this? Why face prison, torture, and death, all the while knowing that Jesus' dead body lay in some hidden place?


A few years ago, an article appeared in the U.S. News and World Report, a prominent secular magazine, that was titled, "Jesus' Last Days." It said, in part:


Yet even the most skeptical biblical scholars conceded that something extraordinary happened in Jerusalem after Good Friday to account for the radical change in the behaviour of the disciples, who, at Jesus' arrest, had fled to their own homes in fear. Could Jesus' resurrection account for the fact that within a few weeks they were boldly preaching their message to the very people who had sought to crush them?[5]


Historian Thomas Arnold, author of the distinguished three volume work The History of Rome, says:


I have been used for many years to study the histories of other times and to examine and weigh the evidence of those who have written about them, and I know of not one fact in the history of mankind which is proved by better and fuller evidence of every sort to the understanding of a fair inquirer than the great sign God has given us that Christ died and rose again from the dead.[6]


I don't think the disciples ever questioned that Jesus rose from the grave after they all witnessed his resurrected body and many post-resurrection appearances. It totally transformed their lives. So, what about our lives?


If Jesus rose from the dead, then we are faced with the question of whether we will accept everything he said; if he didn’t rise from the dead, then none of us should give a thought about anything he said. The one and only critical issue before us is not whether you do or don’t like his teaching, but whether he rose from the dead.


British pastor Richard Bewes said that during the years before Jesus arrived on earth, the world’s greatest philosophers had debated issues of life and death:


Then came the message of the resurrection of Jesus,” wrote Bewes in his book, The Resurrection: Fact or Fiction. “If it had been simply a whispered legend of some unknown person living in Palestine, it might have remained an interesting after-dinner topic of conversation. . . for a while. But here was far more than a story in an ancient book. People were completely transformed in outlook. The personality of Christ blazed out in their conviction. And they were ready to die for their unshakable confidence in the message of Christ crucified and now alive forever.


In the first century, there was no media at all. If Jesus Christ had not, clearly and without doubt, been raised bodily from the grave, we would never have heard of him.


So, if he did rise from the dead, then the matter of his resurrection becomes a central issue for all of us. Either we will live our lives with a cruel sense of angst – seeing nothing beyond this life – or we will accept and believe in his promise when he said, “I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying. Everyone who lives in me and believes in me will never ever die”.[7]


Jesus didn’t mean we wouldn’t die a physical death because we all have an appointment with death. He meant we would go on to live a resurrected life with him even after dying. I don’t know about you, but that’s a promise I have chosen to believe in. I hope you will too.


 

[1] Tyndale House Publishers, Holy Bible: New Living Translation (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2015), 1 Co 15:13–17. [2] C. S. Lewis, Miracles, (HarperOne, 2001), 16. [3] Lee Strobel, Twitter, https://twitter.com/leestrobel/status/1118902861805555712?lang=en. [4] Frank Morrison, Who Moved the Stone? (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1995), 17. [5] Jeffery L. Sheler, "The Last Days of Jesus," U.S. News and World Report, April 16, 1990, 53. [6] Josh McDowell, Evidence That Demands A Verdict, San Bernardino: Here's Life Publishers, 1972, 190-191. [7] Tyndale House Publishers, Holy Bible: New Living Translation (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2015), Jn 11:25–26.

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