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.
The question about the resurrection of the dead is a critical point to consider. Since we’ve already argued (see the previous post) in the positive of the resurrection through the proof of Christ’s resurrection, let’s consider it from the negative – that there is not a resurrection. If mankind, and all life here, is just the result of matter plus chance plus time, then there is no eternity to consider. We are matter, and nothing more. There is no spirit to live on after this life has turned to dust. If that is the case, then we have to wonder, “What is the point in trying to be good?” Paul even makes this point himself. If this life is all there is, then “eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we die.” So what is it that drives the atheist, the unbeliever, the one who scoffs at the resurrection or eternity, to do “good”? That desire is really at odds with the core beliefs of the atheist.
Granted, one might look at the evil around us and wonder if we can really claim that we all have a drive to be good. But there truly is something inside each of us that compels us to good behavior – or at a minimum appear that we have good behavior. As C.S. Lewis said, “If we do not believe in decent behavior, then why should we be so anxious to make excuses for not behaving decently? We know that it could be beneficial to cheat on a test when we didn’t study, or to tell a lie when the truth makes us look foolish, or to break a promise when it’s difficult to keep, but there is something that prevents us from doing these things. There is something that tells all societies from all eras that honesty, loyalty, and unselfishness are admirable traits and treason, lying, and selfishness are not. Each society may change to whom you should be loyal, whether it is to your family, your god, or your government, but none of them desire treason. Ah, but there are many people out there that do cheat, lie, and steal. But don’t they try to hide the fact that they do those things? Even the basest of humans will try cover up their horrible deeds – because they know there is something wrong with them.
Well, you might say, they are only hiding them because of society’s standards. And we all know that doing good benefits society. This is a valid consideration. Society tends to benefit when people treat each other according to this standard of behavior. But that’s essentially saying that we should behave decently for the benefit of society. Behaving decently to benefit society is behaving unselfishly; and behaving unselfishly is behaving decently. We’ve now created circular logic. We are still unable to define what decent behavior really is. It’s like saying ‘Men ought to be unselfish’ because it benefits society. But we’re trying to define what drives the “ought” part of that statement. From where did man get the compulsion to benefit society? Yes, we should behave to benefit society, but why should we care about benefiting society? So in this argument we’ve said you should be unselfish because that’s being unselfish. This argument fails to explain the origin of the standard of behavior; it simply points out its usefulness.
So where did mankind get this idea of what constitutes good behavior, this Moral Law? It couldn’t have come through nature because humankind are the only species that exhibits this idea of morality. The rest of the animal kingdom has no moral compass to guide their actions. We even judge animal behavior differently than we do human behavior because, well, they’re animals. Animals “kill” but don’t murder. Animals “mate” but do not rape. It is because they don’t have this moral element to their actions.
Does that mean that mankind has just evolved to a superior state to develop morals? But the basis of evolution is simply to progress the species forward. Therefore, evolution would determine any behavior that progressed the species was beneficial or good, even if that involved destroying other fertile females or killing male infants that challenged the alpha male. Evolution could not have determined that those actions are morally reprehensible.
We clearly exhibit this desire for behaving decently, yet it could not have come through nature or evolution. Therefore, there must be a Moral Law Giver, something outside of nature that imparted this Moral Law onto mankind alone. It is the only way to explain the existence of this Moral Law. Only this Moral Law Giver, or God, can give us the sense of an Ultimate Right and Wrong that we are inherently continually striving toward. Only a moral code based on Godliness, not mankind’s preferences, can provide us adequate motivation for living an ethical life and for judging against those who do not. It is only because of this Moral Law that we have this innate compulsion to do what is right and refrain from what is wrong. And we only have this compulsion for good behavior, this Moral Law that defines good behavior, because God exists.
So if there is no resurrection, why do we desire to be good? The atheist cannot answer this question because without God there is no explanation for desiring good behavior. The only way to explain desiring good behavior is that God exists and that there is an eternity. We only desire to be “good” because God has written this Moral Law and this eternity on our hearts.
Ecclesiastes 3:11 “He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also He has put eternity in their hearts, except that no one can find out the work that God does from beginning to end.”
And because there is a God and there is a resurrection, we can have hope.
In the book of Corinthians, Paul writes from Ephesus back to a church he had already established in the city of Corinth. And he uses this exchange of letters with that congregation to encourage them but to also instruct them on important doctrinal matters. One such point was the importance of understanding and believing in the resurrection. In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul begins his argument for the confidence in the resurrection by summing up the key doctrinal points to the Christian faith: that Christ died for our sins, was buried, and was resurrected. Simply put, that is what Christianity all comes down to, Christ dying for our sins and resurrecting to overcome death.
Many people outside the church want to assert that these points have only been made after the passage of time. The claim is that only over many generations has this become what Christians believe in. So it is important to stop on this point to consider the implications of when Paul is writing this. It has been estimated that Paul wrote 1 Corinthians around AD 55 or 56 based on his missionary journey timeline. That means it was written only twenty-two years after Jesus’ death and resurrection and, as Paul tells in his letter, while most of the 500 witnesses of Jesus’ resurrection were still alive. However, we have to consider further that Paul is writing this to remind the Corinthians of things he had already taught them back in AD 50 when he first established the church there. Therefore those things had been taught to Paul already before he began his missionary journey. In fact, it is safe to presume that Paul had learned those facts at his conversion in roughly AD 32, only two years or so after Christ’s resurrection. So we see that these crucial points of church doctrine were established immediately after the events took place, not many generations later as some people try to claim. We can have confidence that those things really happened; Christ died for our sins, was buried, and was resurrected.
Those facts are confirmed further in that they not only happened, but they happened publicly. All other world religions rely on the single account of one man’s private revelations. Christianity relies on multiple accounts of one man’s public actions. The miracles Jesus performed were in public, among crowds of both friend and foe. The trial of Jesus before Pilate was in public where the crowds cried out for Jesus to be crucified. His crucifixion was in public, beside two criminals, carried out by Roman soldiers (John 19:34). And his death was in public, affirmed by the soldiers piercing His side, Pontius Pilate himself (Mark 15:44), and the Pharisees (Matt. 27:65-66).
That just affirms to us that Jesus was real, had the power to work miracles, and died. But that doesn’t make Him the conquering Savior over sin and death. That would have to come through His resurrection. Now, Jesus could have simply claimed that He would be resurrected spiritually, where no one could prove or disprove whether it really occurred. He could have then just told the disciples to have hope and faith that His Spirit was living on in eternity even though they could not confirm that. But Jesus claimed that He would rise physically, something that would be obvious to everyone, something that could be proven evidentially. So was that in public too? In 1 Corinthians 15:2-8, Paul lists all the people that witnessed the physical resurrection: Peter, all the disciples, 500 people at once (most of whom were still alive when Paul wrote this), James (the half-brother of Jesus and founder of the Jerusalem church), and then Paul himself. But the Gospel accounts fill in more witnesses than even that, as if that wasn’t enough. We know Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene (Mark 16:9), Mary (Matt. 28:1), and disciples on the road to Emmaus (Mark 16:12-13). The resurrected Jesus walked with them, talked with them, ate with them, and touched them – all physically confirming His physical resurrection. We know the tomb was empty because the Pharisees were trying to bribe the guards to lie about why it was empty (Matt 28:12-13). And we know all of this was common knowledge because Paul, while speaking to King Herod Agrippa (Acts 6:7), that “this thing was not done in a corner.” Peter says the same to the Pharisees when preaching in the temple (Acts 4:8-14). These facts about Jesus are common knowledge because it was all done in public by the Pharisees themselves and witnessed by hundreds of people.
Paul points all of this out to the Corinthians in order to reaffirm to them that there is the resurrection of the dead. Because, after all, as Paul says, without the resurrection, the faith of the Christian is a giant waste of time. He says, “If in this life only we have hope, then we are to be pitied more than any other.” Why is that? Because everything we do as Christians is out of the idea that there is a resurrection. If there is not, then Christ wasn’t raised from the dead. If Christ was not resurrected, then our faith is useless, we are false witnesses of God, and more importantly, we are all still dead in our sins.
But because Christ did die and was resurrected, then we do have hope. Our faith is solidly grounded on truth. We are true witnesses of God’s love and His mercy. The preaching of this truth is true and it brings life and hope wherever it is preached. But most importantly, we are forgiven and cleansed from our sins.
The Christian life is not to be the most pitied because it is the only life with hope.
Stay tuned for more on the resurrection...