Welcome to Easter! This is the day that we celebrate that Jesus is alive! We make the unbelievable claim that Jesus lives. This is really what the while fo the sermon series has been building toward - for you can use the ancient and reliable sources to establish that Jesus really was a historical figure, you can read those sources and find that the thing Jesus was most noted for and disposed for was not his good works or his good teachings, but that his most notable claim was a claim that he made about himself, that he was divine, the only unique Son of God, and you can study both medical and historical accounts of the crucifixion and determine that there is no way that a man could survive the ordeal that is described in the historical records, and you could conclude with historian Gerd Ludemann (who happens to be an atheist) that “Jesus’ death as a consequence of crucifixion is indisputable”. Yet it is this last question - did Jesus really rise from the dead, that makes all the difference in the world.
The apostle Paul explains the significance of the historical fact of the physical resurrection of Jesus Christ to his readers in the book of 1 Corinthians, chapter 15.
1Cor. 15:14 And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. 15 We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.
Recap: Paul says if Christ has not been raised 1) the Christian faith is meaningless, 2) the apostles and those who first proclaimed the resurrection are liars, 3) there is no hope of redemption or forgiveness 4) those who have already died are lost forever and 5) we’re all throwing our lives away. So yes, this is an important question - perhaps the only question that matters.
I was once in a room of university students, invited to a course at uOttawa to take part in a discussion about the intersection of science and faith, and at the end of that course period I was asked by one of the student’s why I personally believed in Jesus Christ. I knew that the class had talked about the importance of falsified claims to the scientific method. So I said, “you understand the importance of falsification right? Forming a hypothesis in such a way that the experiment that you do can demonstrate if it is false.” So I told him that Jesus had made perhaps the greatest falsifiable claim anyone has ever made. Jesus said "I am God- kill me and i will rise again." (John 2:19) That’s a testable, falsifiable claim. No scientist has ever dared set up such a test. And so I told this young man and the entire class that I am a Christian because I believe that Jesus Christ truly proved his divinity and therefore his claim over my life by rising from the dead. This is why I’m a Christian and not a buddhist or a Muslim, because I believe that Jesus rose from the dead, and by rising from the dead, he backed up his claims of who he was and his lordship over my life.
Ok, you might say, but surely Christ did not rise from the dead. Astounding claims require astounding pieces of evidence. What is the evidence that Christ indeed rose from the dead?
Now there are more than these three; you may have heard some cases for the resurrection of Christ which reference the empty tomb, we revere Mao, and Buddha, and Mohammed, but no bones of Jesus are enshrined. or perhaps even the Shroud of Turin, very fascinating. Or I could point you to post-resurrection appearances. The problem with building a case for the resurrection using these as evidence is that we are so far removed in history from the scene of the crime, that skeptics have a 2000 year gap to drive through. So in making the case for the resurrection, i want to provide you with three pieces of evidence that you can actually see and inspect today, because these pieces of evidence are still present with us now. You can in fact go home today and pore over these pieces of evidence. The great part about these three pieces of evidence is that you don’t even have to go to a museum, or have a PhD to interpret. i have them here with me in this room.
The first piece of evidence is the Bible: Yes, that very Bible that you can see being held by people next to you in the pews. Now listen carefully, I am not saying the resurrection happened because it says so in the Bible. That would be circular reasoning. I am saying that the writing of the New Testament makes no sense apart from resurrection. For much of the New Testament is written as an eyewitness account, a testimony to what happened in Palestine around 2000 years ago regarding the death, burial and yes, the resurrection of Christ. Here is the apostle Peter in 2 Peter 1:16: For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. The apostle John, who wrote 5 letters of the New Testament, claims that the apostles heard him, to have seen him with their own eyes, they looked upon him and touched him with their hands. Luke, the writer of the third gospel, was not an eyewitness, but states in the introduction to his gospel that he knew eyewitness and had received accounts from them. So the apostles were not interested in writing fiction. You might think that they were mistaken.Sometimes we think that ancient people were dunces or thought that they lived in a magical world of fairies and demigods - no, people then, just like people now, understood that dead is dead. That’s why they mourned who a person passed, just as we do - now they might have been more ready to believe in some sort of spiritual resurrection, but that was not Jesus’ claim. His claim was not, I am God, kill me and I’ll go to the afterlife. That’s unfalsifiable. No, his claim was, I am God, kill me and I will rise again from the dead on the third day. They killed him, and to everyone's surprise (even his own followers) he rose again. John 2:22 “When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.” Which only leaves two options, they were telling the truth, recording what they had seen, or they were knowingly and wittingly lying. The whole thing is a fabrication.
Now, some might immediately tell me, that’s irrational. No one rises from the dead.
If indeed the whole thing is a fabrication, lies of the apostles, then indeed it is fiction, yet what a work of fiction it is! Look, we almost universally revere J.R.R. Tolkien as a genius because he was able to create the world of Middle Earth, with its own mythology, language, politics, history, peoples and dangers, and how he populated that world with stories in the writing of various works over the course of his career. Yet even with a genius like Tolkien, edits had to be made, timelines adjusted, inconsistencies revised. Imagine the genius required to create the world of the New Testament if it was indeed fiction and not a matter of simple reporting. And not the genius of one man alone, but many, writing to various different parts of the empire, inventing genres of writing, released over decades yet cohesive and without major problems of continuity or contradiction - why it would be the most incredible, most complex piece of fiction ever written. And again, it would be a far more difficult task than Tolkien had before him, for Tolkien invented a world - he didn’t need to concern himself with how that world fit into our history. The authors of the Bible, however, to create a convincing fiction, would have not only give their story internal cohesion, but also it had to correlate to the historical reality of time and place. If they said a Roman leader did such and such, you better believe that would have been checked out. If Luke described a geographical feature or a social custom, it had to check out. If the Bible is not the simple reporting of eyewitnesses to the resurrection, as it claims to be, then it is a work of literary genius that transcends every work of ancient and modern man.
There is another problem with this position: it willfully overlooks basic human nature and the sociological nature of conspiracy theories. basic human nature would state that people perpetuate hoaxes because they have some self-serving motivation to do so. we want to be famous, we long to manipulate others, we stand to gain materially from the sale of a book or promotion of a website, we want to seem important. yet if there seems to be absolutely no gain to the individual for propagating a lie, one would have good measure to think that the person telling the lie believes it to be true. now think of the first believers, imagine the followers of christ meeting in the upper room, wishing to perpetuate the hoax that their master had risen from the dead. Each of the men in that room, would be giving up much personal freedom, homes and homelands, possessions and community goodwill, in fact each of these men would in fact face martyrdom and exile for something they knew to be a lie, without one of them ever recanting. and none of them recanted. Which leads us to the next piece of evidence:
The next piece of evidence is the Church: Here we need to remind ourselves that the Bible was not just a book publishing project. Most of the New Testament was written as letters from the apostles to communities of Christians that had been formed throughout the Roman Empire. Now here is the question? Where did these communities come from? Why did they worship this no-name executed criminal? The historical record tells us that the church exploded on the scene through the preaching of the apostles in the mid first century. We have archeological evidence of a couple of these churches. This is the ruins of a 1st century house found under a church in Ceasarea There is evidence that, not only is this likely the Apostle Peters house, but also that at some time the inner room was renovated to hold more people, the ways were plastered with ceramic, and then over the next century or so Christian inscriptions were made upon the walls. In other words, this was not only a home but a functioning church.
Some critics say that the resurrection was a later addition to the story of Christ, invented years later by the Church to glorify a dead hero. But it is known, from historical records outside Scripture, that the sect known as Christians came into existence in the reign of Tiberius, and that the thing that brought them into existence was their belief that Jesus had risen from the dead. As I stated in earlier weeks, the disciples were the least likely people to worship a man as God, yet this is what happens all over the Roman empire, beginning in Jewish communities around the Empire then spreading to the Greeks.
The resurrection was not a later addition to the Christian faith, but the very cause and incentive for it. They rested their faith, not on historical records, but on what they had seen with their own eyes. The records were the result of their faith, not the cause of it. Christianity hinges on the historical fact of Christ’s resurrection, for without it the entire faith is found fraudulent. Had there been no resurrection, there would have been no New Testament, and no Christian Church. Without the resurrection, there is a hole in history that can be filled with no other explanation.
The third piece of evidence is your Christian friend: But here’s what I can see. I can see the resurrection changing lives. The is not only a hole in history that the resurrection fills. There is a hole in each of our hearts. The resurrection of Jesus Christ changes lives. Fearful fishermen become fearless fanatics. A persecuting pharisee becomes a love-preaching missionary. An encounter with the risen Lord still transforms people.
Today, one of our dearest sisters is going to be visibly, tangibly demonstrating their faith in Christ through baptism. Baptism, in our understanding, in meant to do at least three things.
First, Baptism Pictures New Life in Christ
Second, Baptism Marks Members of the New Covenant
Third, Baptism Prepares the Royal Priesthood
22 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.