Home Media Sermons by Pastor Nicki Coertze Non-series Sermons . Evidence for the resurrection (Part 1)

. Evidence for the resurrection (Part 1)




The resurrection of Christ is the most important event in the Christian calendar. Paul is very clear in 1 Corinthians 15 that if Christ is not risen then our preaching is in vain, our faith is in vain, we are false representatives of God, we are still in our sins, those who die in Christ are not resurrected, and we of all people are most to be pitied. But then Paul resounds the glorious truth in 1 Corinthians 15:20 (ESV) 20 But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.”

So, today we can say, ‘Christ is risen’, to which we should respond ‘Christ is risen indeed’.

Because the resurrection of Christ is so foundational to the Christian faith, it is therefore the truth that will be attacked most as well. If Satan can discredit the resurrection of Christ, then all that Paul said is true, it is all in vain. So, the resurrection of Christ is attacked from outside, and the resurrection of Christ is attacked by outsiders who claim to be insiders. One such person is the liberal theologian John Dominic Crossan who claimed that the body of Christ never made the grave, but that His body was eaten by dogs. He takes stories like Christ appearing to the men on the road to Emmaus and says that it sounds like a parable to him, and liberal theologians applaud his wisdom. How does Christ walking with two men, talking about the events over the last few days etc. sound like parable. That sounds stupid to me, so therefore it is stupid, right? It is clearly historical.

Jesus taught that life does not end after our bodies die. He made this startling claim: John 11:25 (ESV) 25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live,” According to the eyewitnesses closest to him, Jesus then demonstrated his power over death by rising from the dead after being crucified and buried for three days. It is this belief that has given hope to Christians for nearly 2000 years.

Josh Mc Dowell as a sceptic had the following to say: “I have come to the conclusion that the resurrection of Jesus Christ is one of the most wicked, vicious, heartless hoaxes ever foisted upon the minds of men, OR it is the most fantastic fact of history.” He then spent 700 hours studying all he could and came to the conclusion that Jesus Christ is truly risen.

Of course atheists don’t believe this. The atheistic philosopher Bertrand Russell (1872-1970) wrote, “I believe that when I die I shall rot, and nothing of my own ego will survive.” Well, the early followers of Jesus deny this as they claim that Jesus appeared to them over 40 days before His ascension. They ate with Him, touched Him, spoke to Him. They saw Him outside, inside, on the road, next to the lake, you name it, real appearance at real places observed by more than 500 people.

The question is this, and it is critical to answer this. Is the story of the resurrection a rumour that has been transferred via ‘broken telephone’ or is it based upon solid evidence? The answer to this question is foundational to Christianity, as we saw with Paul’s claims in 1 Cor 15. If the resurrection account of Jesus is not true, then Christianity would be founded upon a lie.

R. C. Sproul puts it this way: “The claim of the resurrection is vital to Christianity. If Christ has been raised from the dead by God, then He has the credentials and certification that no other religious leader possesses. Buddha is dead. Mohammad is dead. Moses is dead. Confucius is dead. But, according to Christianity, Christ is alive.”

So for this morning and next week. We need to ask the question. Is the resurrection of Jesus Christ fact or fiction, is it a fact or is it a myth?

I want you to fasten your seatbelts and think with me. I am not going to simply tell you what the Bible says, I want to give you arguments on a different level. What we will do is to turn our attention to history, which will support what we already know the Word of God teaches.   Jesus' resurrection is a fantastic fact or a malicious myth? To find out, we need to look at the evidence of history and draw our own conclusions. Let’s see what sceptics who investigated the resurrection discovered for themselves.

1. The evidence of sceptics

Sceptics are people who should concern themselves with facts. It means I am ‘sceptical’ until I have looked at the evidence, after which, if proven true, I will no longer be a sceptic. Christians, be careful for the willy-nilly dismissal of probabilities and facts by sceptics. In my debate with atheists they often insult Christians and say that we believe in talking donkeys, and how can you trust a person who believes in talking donkeys? The impression they create is that we as adults are caught up into children’s stories. Is that true? Let me say at the outset that I do not believe in talking donkeys (plural). There was one such event in Scripture and it was clearly miraculous, based on a God intervention and everybody knew that. I would also have a problem with Christianity if the ancient fathers were all talking to donkeys. But because God exists, God can perform the miraculous, and He can even cause stones to cry out, if He chose to do so.

Unlike Russell and Crossan, many true sceptics have investigated the evidence for Jesus’ resurrection. We will hear from some of them and see how they analysed the evidence for what is perhaps the most important question in the history of the human race: Did Jesus really rise from the dead?

2. The danger of self-Prophecy

It is rumoured that a few years ago there was a prophet who was supposed to die and then rise from the dead. He designed it all carefully and they made a special coffin. He would be lowered into the grave and then while the community would be in prayer, he would lift a flap and pull a pipe in through which he would breathe for a day or so. They would literally cover him up with sand and at some obscure time somebody would dig open the grave, and he would suddenly appear before the congregation alive as resurrected. The story goes, that it all went wrong and as they poured the sand in, it dislodged the pipe and he died of suffocation.

Now, Jesus told his disciples that he would be betrayed, arrested, and crucified and that he would come back to life three days later. Jesus was no entertainer, or false prophet. His resurrection would prove that He indeed was the Messiah.

Bible scholar Wilbur Smith remarked about Jesus: “When he said that He himself would rise again from the dead, the third day after He was crucified, He said something that only a fool would dare say, if He expected longer the devotion of any disciples - unless He was sure He was going to rise. No founder of any world religion known to men ever dared say a thing like that.”

In other words, since Jesus had clearly told his disciples that he would rise again after his death, failure to keep that promise would expose him as a fraud.

3. The type of death lends credibility.

Unlike our false prophet as per the previous point the death that Jesus died lends great credibility. He was not some teacher who simply made extraordinary claims that he died and rose. He was not like the experts of this world who are normal guys more than 100 km from home and they can concoct any story and present it as truth. The death of Jesus was predicted by Him, even that He would be betrayed by one of His own number. His death was violent, it was public, and He hung on a cross for 6 hours. At exactly 15:00 which is the same time as the time when the Passover lamb was sacrificed Jesus cried out ‘It is finished’ in Aramaic and died. When He died the sky went dark and an earthquake shook the land.

I laugh at the atheists who so brazenly call for evidence of an earthquake. For them, the Biblical report in that regard does not count. Their definition of reliable reporting is ‘a sceptic’.

Once again, unlike the false prophet, who died in his coffin, there was no fooling anybody here. Even Pilate wanted verification that Jesus was dead before allowing his crucified body to be buried. So a Roman guard thrust a spear into Jesus' side. The mixture of blood and water that flowed out was a clear indication that Jesus was dead. Once his death was certified by the guards, Jesus' body was then taken down from the cross and buried in Joseph of Arimathea's tomb. Roman guards next sealed the tomb, and secured it with a 24-hour watch so that nobody would steal the body and claim a resurrection.

4. The devastation of the disciples.

This is critical. So radical was the death of Jesus that the disciples were devastated. They no longer had confidence that Jesus was the Son of God or God in the flesh. They went back to their day jobs. They were not planning to take a message of a Saviour out into the world, there was no agenda, there was no hope and there was no future with a Jesus enterprise. They were not in on an act. If Jesus was a hoax and He expected His disciples to take a ‘pretend message’ into the world, well then Jesus failed in His mission, because for the disciples this was the end. There was no conniving here.

For them the enemy had conquered. In the end the Pharisees and Scribes were correct. He was not the Messiah as they had hoped. All hope was vanquished. Rome and the Jewish leaders had prevailed - or so it seemed.

5.      So, what happened?

Let’s face facts. Something must have happened for there to be 2 Billion people in the world who claim they are Christians today. Something must have happened for us to have in our hands a book called the Bible or the Word of God that is the most printed and most translated book in the world. Did you know that the Bible has been fully translated into 531 languages, and 2,883 languages have a part of the Bible? So, what was the reason that we are here today in South Africa worshipping God and proclaiming Chris. If Jesus died, and the disciples went back to their day jobs, something must have happened for us to be here today.

I love the way a man by the name Peter Steinfels puts it in an article in The New York Times. He says: “Shortly after Jesus was executed, his followers were suddenly galvanized from a baffled and cowering group into people whose message about a living Jesus and a coming kingdom, preached at the risk of their lives, eventually changed an empire. Something happened ... But exactly what?”

Paul is clear about what hapenned. Christ rose from the dead and this got the disciples going to the point that they were now willing to die for their faith, by proclaiming a resurrected Christ.

From a philosophical point of view there are only five plausible explanations for Jesus' alleged resurrection, as portrayed in the New Testament:

  1. Jesus didn't really die on the cross.
  2. The “resurrection” was a conspiracy.
  3. The disciples were hallucinating.
  4. The account is mythical or legendary.
  5. It really happened.

So, for the rest of the sermon for today and next week, I want to unpack these five points.

Join me as we work through these options and see which one best fits the facts.

6. Did Jesus really die on the cross?

6.1 Medical evidence.

Some sceptics, at least those who believe in the historicity of Jesus, claim that Jesus did not really die. We all know that there are many who claim that they have come back from the dead and we have no evidence that they were really dead. Some go as far as to claim that Jesus was not really dead and that the cool, damp air in the tomb revived him.

I do not have time to go into it, but there are various medical records where doctors claim that it was impossible for Christ to have survived the events of the crucifixion to the point that three days later he is walking around as if nothing has happened. One medical record relates to the spear that was thrust into His side. An article in the Journal of the American Medical Association states: “Clearly, the weight of historical and medical evidence indicated that Jesus was dead. The spear, thrust between His right ribs, probably perforated not only the right lung, but also the pericardium and heart and thereby ensured His death.”

So medically speaking, Jesus should have been dead. And also if He was not dead from the crucifixion, being embalmed and wrapped with grave cloths around him would have killed him slowly but surely, as a man in his state after all the beatings and the crucifixion would not have the power or energy left to free himself from that state.

But there is more evidence than medical evidence.

6.2 Evidence from non-Christian historians.

One of the things that causes atheists to deny the resurrection of Jesus is because they believe that the witness of His disciples is biased. Now, we must remember that while there were historians in that day, they were not running around with I-Pads and video cameras to capture the life story of any individual. And in spite of that there is much more evidence for Jesus Christ than there is for Julius Caesar and Alexander the Great. Yet nobody finds it difficult to believe in them, or all the stories told about them.

Let me mention three historians that spoke about the death of Jesus.

  • Lucian (c.120 - after c.180 ) referred to Jesus as “a crucified sophist” (philosopher).
  • Josephus (c.37 - c.100 ) wrote, “At this time there appeared Jesus, a wise man, for he was a doer of amazing deeds. When Pilate condemned him to the cross, the leading men among us, having accused him, those who loved him did not cease to do so.”
  • Tacitus (c. 56 - c.120) wrote, “Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty ... at the hands of our procurator, Pontius Pilate.”

So, here we have three historians who refer to the death of Christ.

But let’s say that the Disciples of Christ were lying about His death and resurrection. Let’s say that these non-Christians historians were lying about the death of Jesus. Let’s say that they all had a hidden agenda, as our militant atheists would claim.

But there is a further argument on the flipside of the coin. Where are their historians that denied the hype around the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ? There is no doubt that the disciples were setting the world alight with this message of Christ crucified, Christ risen and Christ coming again. There are 2 billion Christians to prove that today. Kings stood up against them, Saul was out to murder Christians. They were hated by many. So all you needed was for some historians to write against Jesus and to expose the false claims of the disciples. Atheists will claim that three non-Christian historians is a pathetic argument, but they cannot produce even one who proved the lie, in the face of major world evangelisation.

One thing that is interesting is that even the majority of sceptical scholars today acknowledge that Jesus lived and died. It is with the resurrection that they have a problem. One sceptic by the name of James Tabor states categorically that “…we need have no doubt that given Jesus’ execution by Roman crucifixion he was truly dead.” Even our sceptic liberal theologian John Dominic Crossan, co-founder of the notoriously sceptical Jesus Seminar, agrees that Jesus really lived and died.

So the matter of whether Jesus was really dead, I believe is debunked. On the basis of medical records as well as the evidence of historians with no counter-evidence, I believe that Jesus really died on the cross.

Let me deal with one more for today, and then we will deal with the others next week.

6.3 The Matter of an Empty Tomb.

6.3.1 Theologically seen.

Many of you will remember a sermon I preached entitled “from the cross to a monument”. In our English translations we read in Matthew 28:1 (ESV) “1 Now after the Sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. Then in verse 8 we read: “Matthew 28:8 (ESV) 8 So they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples.”

Now, remember that most sceptics are sceptics not because they are serious Bible scholars. They are sceptics, because they wanna be. So, very few of them really read the Bible in context as far as it’s grammatical/historical background is concerned. However, Matthew in his choice of words in the Greek is shouting a message of the resurrection at us. Because in verse 1 he uses the word “ (taphos)” which means ‘a burial, hence a grave’. However in verse 8 he uses the word: mnemeion {mnay-mi'-on} which means “any visible object for preserving or recalling the memory of any person or thing, a memorial, a monument, specifically, a sepulchral monument.” Mnemeions were always resurrected to remember or bring to memory a person whose body is not in a grave. Many of you might be aware of the ‘tombs’ erected in England, Italy, Greece and other places to remember those who died in battles whose bodies never returned from battle. So, theologically speaking, Matthew makes it very clear that we do not miss his message that the grave is empty, because Jesus rose.

6.3.2 Philosophically seen.

As per our previous point about the death of Jesus on the cross, we need to realise that none of Jesus’ enemies albeit the Jewish leaders made any attempt to disprove the resurrection of Jesus. There is no historical record of those days, which refers to the claim of the resurrection and then debunks that. So, the silence of the sceptics of that day plays into the hands of those who claim that Jesus was risen. Just think, that if the sceptics found the body of Jesus how they could have destroyed the future of Christianity. And we must not forget that Jesus had many enemies, proven by the mere fact of His crucifixion.

If Jesus’ body was anywhere to be found, his enemies would have quickly exposed the resurrection as a fraud. Tom Anderson, former president of the California Trial Lawyers Association, summarizes the strength of this argument: “With an event so well publicized, don’t you think that it’s reasonable that one historian, one eye witness, one antagonist would record for all time that he had seen Christ’s body? ... The silence of history is deafening when it comes to the testimony against the resurrection.”

6.3.3 Historically seen.

Let me give you a few quick arguments and then we stop for today.

Firstly, the mere record that Jesus was buried in the tomb of a member of the Sanhedrin Council by the name of Joseph of Arimathea gives it historical credibility. That means that Christ’s body was not lost in a grave somewhere, as Joseph was prominent and his family tomb would have been prominent. He was well known and the place of their family tomb was well known. That takes all ambiguities out of the burial of Jesus at least. John Dominic Crossan claims that the body of Jesus never made the grave, but that it was thrown on a rubbish dump outside Jerusalem called Gahena, where it was eaten by dogs. It is amazing that he can discard historical facts cloaked with names, times and places with a whim, and then he presents an argument without any basis or details, and we must embrace it.

Secondly, we know historically that the enemies of Jesus accused Jesus’ disciples of stealing the body, an accusation clearly predicated on a shared belief that the tomb was empty. They accused the disciples of stealing the body, when we know that the Romans had assigned a 24- hour watch with a trained guard of between 4 and 16 soldiers to guard the tomb. If you studied Roman history, if such trained guard failed in their duty like falling asleep they would be stripped of their clothes and burned alive with a fire started with their own garments or they were crucified upside down. The stone before the grave could weigh up to two tons, and it would have been impossible for anybody to remove that even in the presence of sleeping Roman soldiers, if that were the case.

Dr. Paul L. Maier, professor of ancient history at Western Michigan University, similarly stated, “If all the evidence is weighed carefully and fairly, it is indeed justifiable ... to conclude that the tomb in which Jesus was buried was actually empty on the morning of the first Easter. And no shred of evidence has yet been discovered ... that would disprove this statement.”

So, with no body of evidence, and with a known tomb clearly empty, Maier accepted the evidence as solid that Jesus’ body had somehow disappeared from the tomb.


For today, I want to end with a quick story. The story is told of a professor in Russia who did a lecture in front of a large audience. In his lecture he attempted to discredit the resurrection story. It was a long presentation, and at the end he did not give a chance for questions as he would usually do. However a priest from the Russian Orthodox Church put up his hand and asked if he could respond. Frustratingly the Professor agreed and said that he had no more than 5 minutes, upon which the priest responded that he only needs 5 seconds. He turned to the audience and said: “Christos aneste,” meaning ‘Christ is risen’ upon which the whole audience with one voice responded: “Alethos aneste” which means He is risen indeed. Church family. Christ is risen. Christ is risen indeed.


Soli Deo Gloria

Logos Community Church: 05 April 2015

I am following the basic outline in the 'Why Jesus? series on our website. You can visit it at:  WHY JESUS, AND OTHER ISSUES.