Home Media Sermons by Pastor Nicki Coertze Non-series Sermons . Evidence for the resurrection (Part 2)

. Evidence for the resurrection (Part 2)




http://knowing-jesus-pullzone.knowingjesus.netdna-cdn.com/wp-content/uploads/he-is-risen_t-800x600.jpgLast week I started a totally different kind of sermon which is not a Biblical exposition, but really a Biblical defence for our faith. Jude challenges us as believers in Jude 3 (ESV) to contend for the faith. Look at his challenge: 3 Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.” So, we can have a hallelujah party around our common salvation all day long, but there are times we need to stand up and fight for our faith. For this purpose we need to be equipped so that we can defend our faith. I believe that too many believers are at times actually apologetic for being believers and having a viewpoint, and feel it is not their right to share that with people. You cannot coerce people into becoming a Christian. That is the work of the Spirit, but you have to defend your faith. We get excited about sports, politics etc. and we are willing to defend our position in that regard, why should our faith be less important.

I am not going to repeat all I said last week, but just a little bit of a summary. There are many sceptics out there. There are those who claim that Jesus never lived, others claim that Jesus lived but He was just a good man. Others claim He lived and He was a prophet. Then there are those who claimed that Jesus simply died on the cross for His trespasses against society. Others claimed that He was not crucified but that this is a made up story. Others claimed He died on the cross and His body was thrown on Gahenna, the rubbish dump outside Jerusalem. Others claimed that He made the grave and that He rotted there. Other’s claim that there is an empty grave but that His body was stolen.

Sadly there are liberal theologians whose faith needs to be doubted who do not believe in the resurrection as it is humanly impossible. These same theologians will reject the virgin birth on the basis of biological improbability. They reject the miracles as well, because they have set themselves up as little gods, and if they cannot achieve something then it is unachievable even by God Himself. The claim of these theologians that God exists and that miracles are impossible at the same time is nothing but an oxymoron by morons. I cannot put it any other way. So, they believe in God as the creator of the universe, but in the meantime they have stripped Him of any further creative powers.

All of these sceptics will ask that you as a Christian must prove the resurrection of Jesus, but none of them can provide proof for their claims. So, let’s get back to where we left off last week.

7. The supposed grave Robbers

I made mention last week that there was this accusation that the disciples stole the body of Jesus. One sceptic Frank Morison who was an English Journalist was a sceptic who believed that the resurrection of Jesus was a myth. He then started his own investigation, he began to examine the motives of Jesus’ followers. As a sceptic he says that maybe the supposed resurrection was actually a stolen body. But if so, how does one account for all the reported appearances of a resurrected Jesus? Historian Paul Johnson, in A History of the Jews, wrote, “What mattered was not the circumstances of his death but the fact that he was widely and obstinately believed, by an expanding circle of people, to have risen again.”

Now, let’s say that the disciples stole the body of Jesus. What do you do with the eye witness accounts?  Why would the disciples suddenly move from their mourning, their hiding, their return to their day jobs suddenly set the world on fire with evangelism knowing that they are doing it with a dead body in their midst. And, could they. In society they were a bunch of discredited men as far as people were concerned. They crucified their leader, why would they embrace their message?

Each eyewitness account reports that Jesus suddenly appeared bodily to his followers, the women first. This is interesting. Morison wondered why conspirators would make women central to its plot, which is a valid question. In the first century, women had virtually no rights, personhood, or status. If the disciples had a plot and the plot were to succeed, Morison reasoned, the conspirators would have portrayed men, not women, as the first to see Jesus alive. And yet we hear that women touched him, spoke with him, and were the first to find the empty tomb. You don’t start a world-wide movement with women as eye witnesses.

Later, according to the eyewitness accounts, all the disciples saw Jesus on more than ten separate occasions. They wrote that he showed them his hands and feet and told them to touch him. And he reportedly ate with them and later appeared alive to more than 500 followers on one occasion.

Legal scholar John Warwick Montgomery stated, “In 56 A.D. [the Apostle Paul wrote that over 500 people had seen the risen Jesus and that most of them were still alive (1 Corinthians 15:6ff.). It passes the bounds of credibility that the early Christians could have manufactured such a tale and then preached it among those who might easily have refuted it simply by producing the body of Jesus.”

Bible scholars Geisler and Turek agree. “If the Resurrection had not occurred, why would the Apostle Paul give such a list of supposed eyewitnesses? He would immediately lose all credibility with his Corinthian readers by lying so blatantly.”

Peter told a crowd in Caesarea why he and the other disciples were so convinced Jesus was alive. Acts 10:39-41 (ESV)39 And we are witnesses of all that he did both in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree, 40 but God raised him on the third day and made him to appear, 41 not to all the people but to us who had been chosen by God as witnesses, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead.”

British Bible scholar Michael Green remarked, “The appearances of Jesus are as well authenticated as anything in antiquity ... There can be no rational doubt that they occurred.”

8. Consistent to the End

As if the eyewitness reports were not enough to challenge Morison’s scepticism, he was also baffled by the disciples’ behaviour. A fact of history that has stumped historians, psychologists, and sceptics alike is that these eleven former cowards were suddenly willing to suffer humiliation, torture, and death. All but one of Jesus’ disciples were slain as martyrs. Would they have done so much for a lie, knowing they had taken the body?

The Islamic terrorists on September 11 proved that some will die for a false cause they believe in. Yet to be a willing martyr for a known lie is insanity. As Paul E Little wrote, “Men will die for what they believe to be true, though it may actually be false. They do not, however, die for what they know is a lie.” Jesus’ disciples behaved in a manner consistent with a genuine belief that their leader was alive.

No one has adequately explained why the disciples would have been willing to die for a known lie. But even if they all conspired to lie about Jesus’ resurrection, how could they have kept the conspiracy going for decades without at least one of them selling out for money or position, or arriving at a point of honesty? I think we all know it to be true that: “Those who lie for personal gain do not stick together very long, especially when hardship decreases the benefits.” It is one thing to lie to keep your story alive, but it is another thing to go into full – time service to propagate that lie, especially when you think that they were not great teachers or philosophers. Something drove them, and I believe it is the resurrection.

Chuck Colson, implicated in the Watergate scandal during President Nixon’s administration, pointed out the difficulty of several people maintaining a lie for an extended period of time. He said: "I know the resurrection is a fact, and Watergate proved it to me. How? Because 12 men testified they had seen Jesus raised from the dead, and then they proclaimed that truth for 40 years, never once denying it. Everyone was beaten, tortured, stoned and put in prison. They would not have endured that if it weren’t true. Watergate embroiled 12 of the most powerful men in the world - and they couldn’t keep a lie for three weeks. You’re telling me 12 apostles could keep a lie for 40 years? Absolutely impossible.

Something happened that changed everything for these men and women. Morison acknowledged, “Whoever comes to this problem has sooner or later to confront a fact that cannot be explained away ... This fact is that ... a profound conviction came to the little group of people - a change that attests to the fact that Jesus had risen from the grave.”

9. Were the Disciples Hallucinating?

We have crazy people in this world. There are those who believe they still see Elvis around town. And then there are those who believe they spent last night with aliens in the mother ship being subjected to unspeakable testing. Sometimes certain people can “see” things they want to, things that aren’t really there. Some people have overactive imaginations. There are even those who think that I am a nice guy, just crazy people. And that’s why some have claimed that the disciples were so distraught over the crucifixion that their desire to see Jesus alive caused mass hallucination. Is that plausible?

Psychologist Gary Collins, former president of the American Association of Christian Counsellors, was asked about the possibility that hallucinations were behind the disciples’ radically changed behaviour. Collins remarked, “Hallucinations are individual occurrences. By their very nature, only one person can see a given hallucination at a time. They certainly aren’t something which can be seen by a group of people.”

Hallucination is not even a remote possibility, according to psychologist Thomas J. Thorburn. “It is absolutely inconceivable that ... five hundred persons, of average soundness of mind ... should experience all kinds of sensuous impressions - visual, auditory, tactual - and that all these ... experiences should rest entirely upon ... hallucination.”

Furthermore, in the psychology of hallucinations, the person would need to be in a frame of mind where they so wished to see that person that their mind contrives it. This is exactly what happens with so many people who claim visions. Their minds concoct what they want to see. They are in a kind of dream world, imagining things and then believe they had a super natural vision. Two major leaders of the early church, James and Paul, both state forcefully that they encountered a resurrected Jesus, neither expecting, or hoping for the pleasure. Theirs were not willed visions. The apostle Paul, in fact, led the earliest persecutions of Christians, and his conversion remains inexplicable except for his own testimony that Jesus appeared to him, resurrected.

The hallucination theory, then, appears to be another dead end. What else could explain away the resurrection?

10. From Lie to Legend

Some unconvinced sceptics attribute the resurrection story to a legend that began with one or more persons lying or thinking they saw the resurrected Jesus. Over time, the legend would have grown and been embellished as it was passed around.

On the surface this seems like a plausible scenario. But there are three major problems with that theory.

First, legends simply don’t develop while multiple eyewitnesses are alive to refute them. One historian of ancient Rome and Greece, A. N. Sherwin-White, argued that the resurrection news spread too soon and too quickly for it to have been a legend.

Second, legends develop by oral tradition and don’t come with contemporary historical documents that can be verified. Yet the Gospels were written within three decades of the resurrection.

Third, the legend theory doesn’t adequately explain either the fact of the empty tomb or the historically verified conviction of the apostles that Jesus was alive.

Therefore, the legend theory doesn’t seem to hold up any better than other attempts to explain away this amazing claim. Furthermore, the resurrection account of Jesus Christ actually altered history, beginning with the Roman Empire. How could a legend make such an enormous historical impact within such a short time period?

11. Why Did Christianity Win?

Morison our sceptic, who at least did his research and proved to be very honest in his findings was bewildered by the fact that “a tiny insignificant movement was able to prevail over the cunning grip of the Jewish establishment, as well as the might of Rome.” Why did it win, in the face of all those odds against it?

He wrote, “Within twenty years, the claim of these Galilean peasants had disrupted the Jewish church ... In less than fifty years it had begun to threaten the peace of the Roman Empire. When we have said everything that can be said ... we stand confronted with the greatest mystery of all. Why did it win?” By all rights, if there were no resurrection, Christianity should have died out at the cross when the disciples fled for their lives. But the apostles went on to establish a growing Christian movement.

J. N. D. Anderson wrote, “Think of the psychological absurdity of picturing a little band of defeated cowards cowering in an upper room one day and a few days later transformed into a company that no persecution could silence - and then attempting to attribute this dramatic change to nothing more convincing than a miserable fabrication ... That simply wouldn’t make sense.”

12. A Surprise Conclusion

With myth, hallucination, and a flawed autopsy ruled out, with incontrovertible evidence for an empty tomb, with a substantial body of eyewitnesses to his reappearance, and with the inexplicable transformation and impact upon the world of those who claimed to have seen him, Morison became convinced that his preconceived bias against Jesus Christ’s resurrection had been wrong. He began writing a different book - entitled Who Moved the Stone? - to detail his new conclusions. Morison simply followed the trail of evidence, clue by clue, until the truth of the case seemed clear to him. His surprise was that the evidence led to a belief in the resurrection.

In his first chapter, “The Book That Refused to Be Written,” this former sceptic explained how the evidence convinced him that Jesus’ resurrection was an actual historical event. “It was as though a man set out to cross a forest by a familiar and well-beaten track and came out suddenly where he did not expect to come out.”

Morison is not alone. Countless other sceptics have examined the evidence for Jesus' resurrection, and accepted it as the most astounding fact in all of human history. C. S. Lewis, who once had even doubted Jesus' existence, was also persuaded by the evidence for Jesus' resurrection. He writes, "Something perfectly new in the history of the Universe had happened. Christ had defeated death. The door which had always been locked had for the very first time been forced open."

Let's consider just one more sceptic who was persuaded by the evidence.

13. A Stunned Professor in law.

One of those who originally thought the resurrection was simply a myth, only to reverse his position like Morison, was one of the world’s leading legal scholars, Dr. Simon Greenleaf. Greenleaf helped to put the Harvard Law School on the map. He wrote the three-volume legal masterpiece A Treatise on the Law of Evidence, which has been called the “greatest single authority in the entire literature of legal procedure.” The U.S. judicial system today still relies on rules of evidence established by Greenleaf.

While teaching law at Harvard, Professor Greenleaf stated to his class that the resurrection of Jesus Christ was simply a legend. As an atheist, he thought miracles to be impossible. In a rebuttal, three of his law students challenged him to apply his acclaimed rules of evidence to the resurrection account.

After much prodding, Greenleaf accepted his students’ challenge and began an investigation into the evidence. Focusing his brilliant legal mind on the facts of history, Greenleaf attempted to prove the resurrection account was false.

Yet the more Greenleaf investigated the record of history, the more stunned he was at the powerful evidence supporting the claim that Jesus had indeed risen from the tomb. Greenleaf’s scepticism was being challenged by an event that had changed the course of human history.

Greenleaf was unable to explain several dramatic changes that took place shortly after Jesus died, the most baffling being the behaviour of the disciples. It wasn’t just one or two disciples who insisted Jesus had risen; it was all of them. Applying his own rules of evidence to the facts, Greenleaf arrived at his verdict.

In a shocking reversal of his position, Greenleaf accepted Jesus’ resurrection as the best explanation for the events that took place immediately after his crucifixion. To this brilliant legal scholar and former atheist, it would have been impossible for the disciples to persist with their conviction that Jesus had risen if they hadn’t actually seen the risen Christ.

In his book The Testimony of the Evangelists, Greenleaf documents the evidence that caused him to change his mind. In his conclusion he challenges those who seek the truth about the resurrection to fairly examine the evidence.

Greenleaf was so persuaded by the evidence that he became a committed Christian. He believed that any unbiased person who honestly examines the evidence as in a court of law will conclude what he did - that Jesus Christ has truly risen.

But the resurrection of Jesus Christ raises the question: What does the fact that Jesus defeated death have to do with my life? The answer to that question is what New Testament Christianity is all about, and that is what we learn week by week.

Church family. Christ is risen ……………….. Christ is risen indeed.

1 Corinthians 15:20 (ESV) 20 But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.”


Soli Deo Gloria

Logos Community Church. 12 April 2015


The bulk of this information is taken from the article Y-Jesus which appears on our website but is edited for the purpose of presentation, with my own arguments added in and refined.