The Resurrection of Jesus Christ

Title: The Resurrection of Jesus

Text: 1 Corinthians 15:3-8, Mark 16:6-7, 1 Corinthians 15:14-20

Time: March 23rd, 2010

Today is Easter Sunday and I’ll present the resurrection of Jesus. If you remember, last week I talked about the death of Jesus, the week before I examined the trial of Jesus. I noted that today in our modern, secular world the meaning of Christ’s death is almost entirely lost because people don’t normally think in terms of sin, judgment, atonement, forgiveness and salvation. Instead, we normally think about things like money, possessions, work, comfort, health, entertainment, recreation, security, happiness, fulfillment, pleasure – and other creaturely things. That’s because we basically gauge our lives around our temporary existence on earth without much thought of eternity, God or the after-life. That’s why the age we live in is called secular. The problem is when we think about spiritual holidays, like Christmas and Easter, we bring our earthly, worldly temporal, secular thinking into the church – for many people this is about the only time they visit a church, for still others not even the two major holidays can get them to church – we find that the biblical message is hardly comprehensible. We know we should understand and find meaningful the Easter message of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus, but because it requires spiritual thinking we have a hard time. At least for a lot of people it’s hard to think spiritually. So last week I laid down a challenge to all secular people who can’t figure out what’s so important about Jesus’ death and why should it matter to people today – examine the resurrection of Jesus and work backwards from there. What I meant was, if you don’t understand why Jesus needed to die on the cross and why that is supposed to mean a lot to us today, start with the resurrection of Jesus and work backwards from there step-by-step. If the resurrection is true – if Jesus really rose from the dead after three days in the grave – then his other teachings and activities need to be carefully examined. Why? Because he’s credible, he’s someone to look into, he’s not somebody you can ignore. If Jesus could rise from the dead, then he could probably do anything. If Jesus really rose from the dead, then we’d better learn up on what else he said he could do, because if he could perform a miracle of the magnitude of resurrection, his credibility to speak on almost anything is high! That’s what I meant by my challenge to skeptical people today in our secular world – start with the resurrection claims of Jesus Christ, because if it be true that Jesus really did rise from the dead, then we need to look into all the other things he said and did because if he speaks the truth about his ability to overcome death, whatever else he speaks and does is probably also true. And that would have a huge impact on all of our lives. So with that, let me try to outline a way a secular, modern person might come to faith in Jesus.

First, there’s the case for the resurrection of Jesus Christ. 1 Corinthians 15:3-8, “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance; that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.” Now grasp the historical significance of this document, written by the Apostle Paul about twenty years after the resurrection of Jesus Christ. In this letter to the Christians at Corinth he reminds them all of the resurrection of Jesus and how the Lord was seen by Peter and the other disciples, but then he includes added detail about witnesses to the risen Christ — “He appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living.” Now why would he include that extra information about hundreds and hundreds of additional witnesses to the resurrection of Christ unless it really happened? We might expect that the immediate followers of Jesus might all claim to have seen the risen Christ, we might expect that if it could be explained through hallucination his closest followers might claim a vision of Jesus, but five hundred others? If someone were trying to play it safe or avoid embarrassment one might point to a few inside witnesses – like the disciples, or maybe even a larger number of witnesses – all carefully and conveniently unavailable for questions or inquiry. But not Paul. He steps right up and makes the claim that five hundred witnesses can testify to seeing the risen Christ and that most of these witnesses are still alive! That’s an open invitation for any skeptical person to track down some of these live witnesses and interview them about what they saw. Paul says most of them are still alive! Although a few of them had died since twenty years had passed. So what does a skeptical Jew – or Roman, for that matter — who wants to get to the bottom of this new Christian faith do in order to investigate the resurrection claims? Easy, he simply goes to any number of the original witnesses of the risen Christ and finds out for himself whether their claims are credible. But the curious thing is that there’s not the slightest bit of evidence that anybody ever refuted the witnesses claims to seeing the resurrection of Jesus. Nobody exposed any cover up because there wasn’t anything to expose. The Apostle Paul is very open about the Christian claim that Jesus rose from the dead. There were hundreds of eyewitnesses still alive who could verify it. There was never a refutation of the resurrection claim because all the evidence pointed in the direction of it really happening! There simply is no other credible explanation for the existence of Christian faith and the growth of the Christian church other than Jesus did in fact rise from the dead as the gospel proclaims. I challenge any skeptic to gather up all the historical evidences and try to put together any other plausible alternative. Oh there have been a number of alternative theories proposed over the years, but having read through them they are laughable; they simply don’t fit the historical facts. The only account that makes sense of everything we know happened is the actual biblical account that Jesus supernaturally rose from the dead on the third day! Again, I challenge anyone to come up with a more plausible account. I won’t hold my breath.

Second, if Jesus was right about the resurrection, what else was he right about? Mark 16:6-7, “’Don’t be alarmed,’ he (the angel) said, ‘You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter, He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’” This statement by the angel at the tomb after the resurrection makes reference to the fact that Jesus had repeatedly told his disciples that he would suffer and die, yet also said that he would rise from the dead and appear to them again alive. We don’t have time to go through all the passages in the Gospels where Jesus tells his disciples that he would die and raise to life again. But the angel makes reference to Jesus reminding them that he’d see them again afterwards – “There you will see him, just as he told you.” Now, again, if Jesus predicted his resurrection, and he did predict it; if he was right about that, what else might he be right about? In other words, if he said he’d rise from the dead, and he did, then the next logical question might be, “What else did Jesus say — and might he be right about those things too?” This is what I mean by challenging modern skeptics and secular people to start at the resurrection and figure out what happened there first. There is plenty enough historical information to make a decision about the resurrection – whether one believes it happened or not. I’m confident that if a fair minded person investigates the facts surrounding the resurrection, they’d conclude that it probably did take place because there is no other way to explain not only the gospel accounts, but also, there’s no other way to explain the creation and expansion of the Christian church. Ok, now, once one concludes that the resurrection of Christ took place — that it really did happen, that Jesus predicted and fulfilled this supernatural miracle, then, the next issue is, “What other claims did Jesus make, because whatever else he said and did are probably true too. He’s credible.” Well, he just so happened to claim to die for the sins of the world as an atoning sacrifice. Well, if he was right about his resurrection, that claim came true, he’s probably right about his claim to be the atoning sacrifice for the sins of the world. But then, if he’s right about being the atoning sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins, then the whole atonement-sacrificial system must be true too, just like the ancient Jews taught and practiced. And if the atonement system is true, then it must also be true that we are all sinners in need of forgiveness for our sins, and if we take all this blood sacrificial atonement stuff seriously, then the whole idea of God’s judgment and damnation must be true too. Jesus took all this stuff seriously, enough to die a bloody death, so we too must take it seriously. It all fits together.

Third, the resurrection is the key to faith in Jesus Christ. 1 Corinthians 15:14-20, “If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men. But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.” Here the Apostle Paul again makes much of the importance of the resurrection of Jesus Christ to the Christian faith. He argues the negative – if Christ had not been risen from the dead, how empty and worthless would be the Christian faith. Think about it. If Jesus had taught that he would die an atoning sacrificial death for the sins of the world and then raise again to life afterwards, but then failed to rise from the dead, who would believe him about the part about dying for the sins of the world? If he couldn’t make good on the one claim, why should we believe him about the other claims he made. He claimed to be the Son of God, but he also claimed the power to rise from the dead; if he couldn’t come back to life, why should we believe his claim to be the Son of God? He claimed the power to forgive sins and grant eternal life in heaven, but if he couldn’t fulfill his claim to rise from the dead, why should we believe his claims to forgive sins and grant eternal life in heaven? If you think about it, everything basically was resting on the ability of Jesus to make good on his claim to resurrect from the dead. If we couldn’t believe him in that, how could we believe him in anything? Now we see how absolutely important the resurrection of Jesus really is for the Christian faith. Now we can understand why an atheist like C.S. Lewis was converted on Easter Sunday when he believed for the first time in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. All the pieces of the Christian faith come together if the resurrection is true. Now the truth is, each person must make up his or her own mind about whether or not Christ rose from the dead. I can show you all the biblical and historical evidences, I can make all the cogent and plausible arguments, but ultimately each person must make up their own mind about it. If you don’t believe in Christianity today, if you are skeptical of the claims of the Christian faith, if you don’t believe in the Bible or the gospel message, I’d ask you to do just one thing – seriously look into the resurrection of Jesus. Seriously consider it and ask yourself this one question, “Does it make sense that it might have happened?” I hope you’ll take the time to really, sincerely consider that Jesus just did rise from the dead. Then, after you’ve considered it, make up your mind about it. I hope you’ll conclude what many of us believe, that Jesus really did rise from the dead that first Easter morning, that his death really did atone for sins, that his forgiveness and salvation is available by simple faith. It’s the biggest decision you’ll ever make and one that will have the greatest consequences one way or the other.

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