On Sunday we celebrated Easter, known also as Resurrection Sunday. We talked last week about how important it is to know that Jesus claimed to be God since that was the very reason He was crucified. And it is important to stand firm on that claim because it is for that very reason that His death on the cross even means anything to us. But equally important is the fact that Jesus then resurrected from the dead. Without the resurrection, our faith is based on nothing. As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:15–19, we should be the most pitied if there is no resurrection from the dead. Jesus’ resurrection again proves that He is God and it proves His power over death. Only by conquering death and, thus, sin are we even able to receive salvation. Therefore, it is critical to the foundation of our faith that we have confidence in the resurrection of Jesus.
How can we have confidence in something that we didn’t witness firsthand? The same way we have confidence in any historical event that we didn’t witness firsthand: by reading the accounts of eyewitnesses and seeing the effects on others of that event. For example, we know that the Revolutionary War was really fought and won by the new nation of the United States of America because we have eyewitness accounts of it and we see the effects now of that victory, the fact that we have a nation called the United States of America.
By reading the eyewitness accounts found in the New Testament we know several facts about that Resurrection Sunday. First, we know that Jesus really did die on the cross. The Romans were experts on killing people. These executioners crucified criminals on a regular basis and would know when someone was dead. There is also the medical evidence when the Roman soldier pierced Jesus’ side that both water and blood flowed out (John 19:34). It indicates hypovolemic shock resulting in heart failure. It is the medical confirmation that Jesus was dead. Even without that, there is the common sense factor of what Jesus had just endured to know He really died on the cross and didn’t just simply faint. Here was someone who was flogged to the point of exhaustion (he wasn’t even able to finish carrying His own cross to Golgotha), had thorns shoved into his head, had nails hammered through his hands and feet, and had a spear pierced into His side. It is not possible that Jesus could have simply fainted and awoke inside the tomb. He never would have been able to roll away the stone from inside the tomb. But even if He could have, His appearance to the disciples would not be one of a conqueror of death and the grave, but of one that was in dire need of medical attention. That kind of physical appearance would not have changed the disciples from sadness to rejoicing.
Second, we also know the disciples went to the correct tomb and found it empty. Jesus’ tomb was clearly marked by a giant stone over the entrance (sealed with the governor’s seal) and two guards posted by it. It would be very evident which tomb belonged to Jesus. We know the women went to the tomb that morning, but even Peter and John went to see the tomb for themselves after the women declared it was empty (John 20:3). It is highly unlikely that all of them visited the wrong tomb. However, even if for some reason they did go to the wrong tomb and started the rumor that it was empty, the Jewish and Roman authorities could have easily gone to the correct tomb and produced the body of Jesus. But that never happened.
Third, we know the disciples could not have conspired to steal the body. They had all been hiding and denying their association with Jesus even during the trial. They certainly weren’t going to then be bold enough to defy the governor’s seal on the tomb and get past the Roman guards after they saw Jesus executed. It is ludicrous to think they would have the gumption to steal the body. In reality, the disciples weren’t even expecting a resurrection. When the women first told the disciples the tomb was empty, they responded with disbelief, not confidence. Someone who is not expecting a resurrection is unlikely to risk their life to stage a resurrection.
So we can be confident so far that Jesus really died on the cross and the tomb was really empty. But even those two things wouldn’t be enough for us to have confidence in the Christian faith. The people actually seeing Jesus' resurrected body is what gave them confidence in who Jesus really was. Jesus could have just claimed that after His death He would resurrect in spirit – no one would be able to see it but we would just have to have faith that He really did. No, Jesus set the bar much higher than that. He claimed He would raise from the dead physically. That is a fact that can either be supported or refuted, not just supposed like a spiritual resurrection would be. So the appearances that Jesus made to others is something that cannot be taken trivially. He showed Himself to Mary at the tomb, to two disciples on the road to Emmaus, to the disciples in the upper room, to Peter, to over 500 at one time, and lastly to Saul on the road to Damascus. If they were all just dreaming or hallucinating or fabricating this story, the authorities again could have produced Jesus’ body from its tomb to silence these claims. Any alternative explanation of the resurrection fails to explain the empty tomb or fails to explain the resurrection appearances. It was those physical appearances that drastically changed the lives of the disciples. They went from a small band of frightened mourners in hiding to an emboldened outspoken force that nothing could silence. The only thing that can explain that kind of change in their lives is the reality of what they claimed.
And it is from the effect of this event on the lives of those that saw it that gives us confidence in its reality. The lives of the disciples were completely different after the Resurrection than before. They all fled Jesus during his arrest, but later they all were martyred for their claims of two things: Jesus was the Son of God and He had resurrected from the dead. Thomas wouldn’t believe until he placed his hands in Jesus’ wounds, but later took the gospel outside the Roman Empire into Persia and India until he was stoned and stabbed to death for his preaching. Peter denied knowing Jesus during the trial, but after the resurrection, he preached the gospel until his own death by crucifixion. James, Jesus’ brother, wasn’t a believer at all during Jesus’ ministry, but after the resurrection, he founded the church in Jerusalem and preached the gospel until he was stoned to death for it. Saul was a Jewish Pharisee hunting down and executing Christian believers until he saw the resurrected Christ for himself. Then he became the most ardent and outspoken preachers for the cause of Christ. He endured beatings, stonings, shipwrecks, imprisonments, tortures, treacherous travels, and all kinds of perils and dangers to spread the message to Jews and Gentiles that Jesus was the Son of God and that He had resurrected from the dead. Eleven of the apostles died as martyrs, and all for the same reason: their belief in the Resurrection and their belief that Jesus was the Son of God. They were tortured, flogged, and killed, and all they had to do to save themselves was deny that those two things were true. People don’t die for what they know to be a lie. These facts leave us with the confidence that Jesus was God and that Jesus resurrected from the grave, giving us all the hope of eternal life with Him.
Come meet Cathryn and hear about why she wrote her book, Teaching Others to Defend Christianity. Pick up your copy at the event and have her sign it. Hope to see you there!
With Easter coming this Sunday, I wanted to talk about the significance of the crucifixion. Crucifixion was the Roman method of executing criminals. They crucified people on a regular basis. So for this particular crucifixion to be significant, it depends on who was being crucified. If Jesus were just a man, then this crucifixion may have been a sad travesty that someone so kind and nice, who did nothing wrong, would meet such a tragic end. But then we must ask why he was crucified in the first place? If he were just a nice man that did nothing wrong, what could account for him being crucified like a common criminal?
That question ultimately leads us to who this man called Jesus really was. It was the most unusual trial and execution in all of history – because it wasn’t for what he did but who he claimed to be. He was executed for making the claim of being God. Now, this is oftentimes a point of contention with critics because many say that Jesus never claimed to be God. They think the claim of deity was something added generations later. However, the fact that the crucifixion happened at all flatly disproves this assertion, for it was his assertion of being God that led to his crucifixion. If Jesus didn’t claim to be God, then the crucifixion would not have taken place because that was the sole reason for it.
In case that argument isn’t sufficient for some, let’s look at how Jesus really did make the claim to be God. First, Jesus exhibited characteristics that only God could have. He was all-knowing about the past, present and future. When he met the woman at the well in John 4:16-20 Jesus told her everything about her life. And it was from his intimate knowledge about her life that she knew there was something different about Jesus, that he might be the Messiah. He predicted his own death. He told Peter to get a coin out of a fish’s mouth to use for taxes in Matthew 17. He was all-powerful. Throughout the New Testament, He healed the lepers, raised Lazarus from the dead, brought sight to the blind, cast out demons, and caused the lame to walk again. He had power over the sea and the storms in Matthew 8. And in Matthew 14 he walked on water.
Second, he receives praise from those around him as though he were God. If Jesus didn’t intend to be worshiped as God, then he certainly would have stopped the people from doing so. We know that was how Paul and Barnabas responded to being worshiped like gods at Lystra in Acts 14. The people saw what Paul and Barnabas could do through the power of the name of Jesus and fell down to worship them like gods. But Paul and Barnabas stopped that by insisting that they were just men. They rejected the idea of being worshiped like gods. Granted, having others worship you like a god does not in fact make you god. The Roman emperors and Egyptian pharaohs liked to be worshiped like gods but they certainly were not. But it tells us about what they intended. If the people wanted to worship Jesus as God and he did not stop them, then it tells us he intended for people to worship him like God. But we also must take into consideration what kind of people were doing the worshiping. When those at Lystra or Rome or Athens worshiped something as god, it was just adding one more name to a list of hundreds of gods they already worshiped. But when the Jewish people began to worship someone as God, a people who were unique in this time by having only One God, it meant what they were worshiping was part of that one true God. Jesus even says himself in Matthew 4:10 that we are to worship the Lord God only, yet Jesus openly and readily received worship as that God. His followers were devout Jews who believed in only one true God, yet they all confessed Jesus to be God.
Third, Jesus makes the confession himself about his deity, which is really the whole point here. In John 5:16–18, the Jewish leaders confronted Jesus for healing a man on the Sabbath because that violated the law of resting on the Sabbath. Jesus’ response was “My Father has been working until now, and I have been working.” He referred to God as His own personal Father, not as “our” Father. He put His work on par with God’s work, making Him equal to God. The Jewish leaders clearly understood Jesus was claiming to be God. It says they “sought all the more to kill him because He not only broke the Sabbath, but also said that God was His Father, making Himself equal with God.”
In John 10, Jesus was approached by the Jewish leaders who questioned Him about being the Christ. His response was “I and My Father are one." At this, the Jews picked up stones to stone Jesus. Jesus asks them for which miracle, which deed, are they stoning him and they replied, “For a good work we do not stone You, but for blasphemy, and because You, being a Man, make Yourself God.” The Jewish leaders understood exactly what Jesus was claiming, and they were ready to execute Jesus on the spot for that claim.
In Mark 2, Jesus demonstrates his power and his deity by healing a paralytic but also by forgiving the paralytic’s sins. The scribes ask by what authority He is able to forgive sins. The scribes understood that only the one injured by someone’s sins can be the one to offer forgiveness. If you steal my money I can forgive you. But I can’t announce that I forgive you for stealing someone else’s money. This man’s sins were against God, so the only one who can forgive those sins is God Himself. Therefore when Jesus said that He could forgive sin, He was claiming to be God. He was forgiving sins as though He was the main person offended by those sins. He could only forgive those sins if He really was the God whose laws are broken and whose love is wounded in every sin.
But the most definitive evidence of Jesus’ claim as God is in His trial. In Mark 14:60–64, the high priest directly asks Jesus, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” And Jesus answered, “I am.” This is exactly the statement the Sanhedrin was waiting for. Jesus claimed to be God, the Christ, the Son of the Most High God. He was tried and convicted for this claim and this claim alone. So there is no mistaking that Jesus clearly claimed to be God and knew the full weight of that claim. It was the very claim that cost him his life.
But why does this matter? What if Jesus were not God? Then his death on the cross was insufficient to pay for our sins. If Jesus were just a nice, innocent man wrongfully convicted, then our sins are still upon us. It was only through the sacrifice offered by God Himself that we can have forgiveness. See, we all sin. And the punishment for those sins is death and separation from God. The only way to escape that punishment is by maintaining perfection and holiness – a standard that none of us can meet. Except God. Only God Himself can maintain that holiness and therefore provide the atonement for our sin-stained lives. If Jesus were not God, then our sins are left upon us. It is so critical to understand that Jesus was God. It is why He was crucified and it is how we have forgiveness. Otherwise, His death is insufficient and the wages of sin is still due us.