If Jesus has not been raised from the dead, Christianity is not true, we won’t be resurrected either, and we’re out of hope and out of luck. Christianity stands or falls with the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The Apostle Paul wrote:
And if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty. 15 Yes, and we are found false witnesses of God, because we have testified of God that He raised up Christ, whom He did not raise up—if in fact the dead do not rise. 16 For if the dead do not rise, then Christ is not risen. 17 And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins! 1 Corinthians 15:14-17
Christianity had extremely humble beginnings. No money, no proven leaders, no technological tools for promoting the gospel. And it faced enormous obstacles. It was brand new. It taught bold truths that were incredible, and it was subject to the most intense hatred and persecution.
So why have so many disciples, followers of Christ, and martyrs through the centuries die for their faith instead of deny Jesus? They believed the resurrection to be true. Anyone could have examined the empty tomb for themselves and many probably did. Make no mistake: both believers and nonbelievers went to the tomb of Christ to look for His body.
Just produce the corpse – and stop the story from spreading. This would have done away with Christianity, but that never happened. Why? Because the resurrection is real.
J. Warner Wallace is a cold-case homicide detective and former atheist. He is now an author and professor of apologetics at Biola University in CA:
“I’m not a Christian because it serves my own selfish purposes. I’m not a Christian because it “works” for me. I had a life prior to Christianity that seemed to be working just fine, and my life as a Christian hasn’t always been easy. I’m a Christian because it is true. I’m a Christian because I want to live in a way that reflects the truth. I’m a Christian because my high regard for the truth leaves me no alternative.”
Since the resurrection is pivotal to Christianity, investigating the claims and proving the resurrection is of infinite importance. The Bible states believers ‘fled for refuge to lay hold of the hope set before us.’ And,
This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast, and which enters the Presence behind the veil, where the forerunner entered for us, even Jesus; Hebrews 6:19
This is referring to the “hope” for the fulfillment of God’s promise of salvation and glorification. The anchor symbolizes keeping believers secure during times of trouble.
The veil was the curtain that blocked the entrance to the Most Holy Place where the priest offered sacrifices for the sins of the people.
In Matthew 27:50-51, immediately after the crucifixion,
And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up His spirit. 51 Then, behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth quaked, and the rocks were split;
The tearing of the veil signified that the way into God’s presence was now open to everyone. The fact a 30’ tall, 4” thick, heavy curtain tore from top to bottom showed that God did it, not man.
Before we get to our main text, let’s look at some extra-biblical sources.
- According to Thallus, one of several non-biblical, pagan historians writing about that time, there was a darkness during the day followed by an earthquake that occurred at the point of Jesus’ crucifixion.
- Roman historian, Suetonius wrote about the new levels of punishment Nero inflicted on Christians, and described the fact Jesus had an immediate impact on His followers, empowering them to die courageously for what they knew to be true.
- Jewish historian, Josephus lived in the first century and writes about Jesus in more detail than any other non-biblical source.
- The second-century Roman historian Tacitus confirms that Christianity was founded by a man named Christus, whom he said was “put to death as a criminal by Pontius Pilate, procurator of Judea, in the reign of Tiberius.”
Jesus was on trial before the high priest Caiaphas, and then was taken to Pilate. The tomb of the Caiaphas family was discovered in 1990 in Jerusalem. Inside were the very bones of the infamous high priest mentioned in the Gospels!
As for Pontius Pilate, a first-century inscription discovered at Caesarea in 1961, confirming that he was indeed procurator of Judea from 26-36 A.D.
Christianity was a threat to religious leaders in Jerusalem as well as the Romans. Why do you think the Romans and Jews did not refute Jesus’ resurrection and stop this new movement before it began?
Hundreds if not thousands of eye witnesses saw miracles Jesus did and most importantly, saw the risen Christ after the resurrection!
The Gospel: Let’s look at 1 Corinthians 15:1-8, a letter that was written sometime around 50 A.D. less than twenty years after Jesus’ resurrection.
“Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that…
- 5 He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.
- 6 After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, (most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep;)
- 7 then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles;
- 8 and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also.”
Josephus also testifies that James, the brother of Jesus, and leader of the Jerusalem council, was executed. Talk about an amazing conversion and transformation! James was a skeptic weeks prior to the resurrection.
How do you explain his turn around? (Vs. 7, “then He appeared to James;)
To give you an idea of the magnitude of the case for Christ and why the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Romans could not refute it, here are people who saw Jesus:
- At the cross – (Jesus’ mother, His aunt, Mary the wife of Cleopas, Mary Magdalene, and the Apostle John)
- At the tomb of Jesus – (Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus) before the soldiers closed and sealed it up; Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of JOSES saw where He was laid. Mark 15:47
- Resurrection Sunday – Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of JAMES, and Salome brought spices to anoint Him for burial. Mark 16:1
- Upper Room, at least twice (Thomas touched Jesus’ side)
- On the road to Emmaus (two disciples, Cleopas mentioned by name)
- While they were eating with Him
- While six of the disciples were fishing including Didymus and Nathaniel
- At Jesus’ ascension (Acts 1:9-11) which we’ll read in a few minutes.
Luke 24 mentions Mary, Joanna, AND THE OTHER WOMEN… they returned from the tomb and told the Apostles they saw Jesus alive! What a blessing to have Luke’s detailed, inspiring, meticulous, journalistic account of Jesus.
By the way, don’t you think the gospel writers could have written a better story and made the disciples, the heroes look better? Peter denies Jesus, James and John want to call down lightening from heaven, Judas betrays Jesus, one guy ran away naked during Jesus’ arrest, and Thomas doubts the resurrection until he sees the risen Lord.
And who in their right mind would document the first person to see the risen Savior was a former demon-possessed woman, Mary Magdalene? Plus, at least five women were the first to see the empty tomb. Not only is it embarrassing the men were hiding behind closed doors, but in that society a woman’s testimony was not highly valued.
If you’re trying to start a religion and gain a following, it makes no sense for the gospels to record women as the first eye-witnesses – unless it was true!
Examining Luke’s accounts of Christ and the church
Luke was Paul’s personal physician and was even imprisoned for a time. Early in church history, the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts were joined together as one book with two volumes.
Luke begins his gospel by describing his purpose and expertise:
Inasmuch as many have taken in hand to set in order a narrative of those things which have been fulfilled among us, 2 just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word delivered them to us, 3 it seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write to you an orderly account, most excellent Theophilus, 4 that you may know the certainty of those things in which you were instructed. Luke 1:1-4
A witness simply means a person who tells the truth about Jesus Christ. The Greek word means “one who dies for his faith” because that was commonly the price of witnessing or testifying to the resurrection.
Imagine what it would be like if the Book of Acts wasn’t in the Bible. You pick up your Bible and see the ministry of Jesus ending in the Gospel of John; next you read about a man named Paul writing to the followers of Jesus in Rome. Who was Paul? How did the gospel get from Jerusalem to Rome? The Book of Acts answers these questions and tells the story of the Good News spreading around the known world.
One thing some people wrongly claim is the New Testament was written hundreds of years after the events happened. This lie was debunked!
The Book of Acts, for example, had to be written prior to 70 A.D. Why? Because there is no mention of the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem.
So then, Luke’s gospel had to be dated prior to Acts. And in terms of time and place, the historical details from Luke are precise and correct, including his understanding of prophecy.
Luke often points to the Old Testament, and knows it well. He states that the things foretold by God by the prophets, God has fulfilled – including the suffering of Christ, the Messiah (Acts 3:18).
Now look at another key text for today; the beginning of Luke’s second account, the Book of Acts:
The former account I made, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began both to do and teach, 2 until the day in which He was taken up, after He through the Holy Spirit had given commandments to the apostles whom He had chosen, 3 to whom He also presented Himself alive after His suffering by many infallible proofs, being seen by them during forty days and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God.
6 …when they had come together, they asked Him, saying, “Lord, will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?”
Vs. 2 – “He was taken up” – God the Father took up Jesus in His resurrected body, from this world to His rightful place at the Father’s right hand.
Vs. 6 – The verb ‘restore’ shows that the disciples were expecting a political kingdom; the noun ‘Israel’ shows they were expecting a national kingdom; and, “this time” suggests they were expecting its immediate establishment.”
7 And He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority. 8 But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”
Before we turn to the return of Christ, let’s look at four things that are reasonable to believe about Jesus.
THERE IS GOOD REASON TO BELIEVE THE FOLLOWING:
- Jesus Truly Died on the Cross
(a) The Roman Soldiers Would Not Have Allowed Jesus to Survive
(b) The Soldiers Didn’t Break Jesus’ Legs
(c) John Saw Water Come from Jesus’ Side
(d) The Living Jesus Does Not Show Up Anywhere Else in History
(e) The Bible Offered an Eyewitness to Verify the Death
- The Apostles Didn’t Imagine the Resurrection
(a) There is no Such Thing as a Group Hallucination
(b) The Corpse Was Never Produced
(c) The Apostles Claimed to be Eyewitnesses
- The Resurrection is Not Merely a Legend
(a) There’s Not Enough Time for the Legend to Develop
(b) The First Witnesses Were Women and This Would Have Been Seen As Unreliable
- The Apostles Were Not Lying About the Resurrection
(a) They Could Not Have Removed the Body
(b) The Locals Would Have Known It
(c) They Had No Motive, and Only Suffered for the Claim
Back to Acts chapter 1, verse 9. Jesus just told them about the Holy Spirit and said you will be My witnesses…”
9 Now when He had spoken these things, while they watched, He was taken up, and a cloud received Him out of their sight. 10 And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as He went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel, 11 who also said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven.” (big clue!)
12 Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day’s journey. ACTS 1:1-12
The cloud mentioned in verse 9 was a visible reminder that God’s glory was present as the apostles watched the ascension of Jesus.
“The mount called Olivet” – We’re less than four weeks from what we celebrate as Palm Sunday. The week before His crucifixion, Jesus came from the Mount of Olives, through the Kidron Valley, and entered Jerusalem through the Eastern Gate riding on a donkey. (John 12:14).
Written five centuries before the birth of Christ, the prophet Daniel predicted this exact event, and he also gave us the very date the Messiah would enter Jerusalem as King (Daniel 9:25), and Jesus allowed people to worship Him publicly for the first time.
Also according to Zechariah 14:4:
And in that day His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives,
Which faces Jerusalem on the east. And the Mount of Olives shall be split in two; From east to west, Making a very large valley; Half of the mountain shall move toward the north And half of it toward the south.
At the return of Jesus Christ, He will enter the city through the now cemented and sealed Eastern Gate (Ezekiel 44:1-3; Nehemiah 3:29).
This significant city gate in Jerusalem was cemented and closed up by Muslim conquerors in the 16th century. Just as the Bible teaches, the Eastern Gate to the city remains closed and will be sealed until the Messiah returns. The Eastern Gate is the only one that has been shut for 500 years.
In about 593 BC, the prophet Ezekiel recorded this vision:
Afterward he brought me to the gate, the gate that faces toward the east. 2 And behold, the glory of the God of Israel came from the way of the east. His voice was like the sound of many waters; and the earth shone with His glory…. 4 And the glory of the Lord came into the temple by way of the gate which faces toward the east. (Ezekiel 43:1-4)
So be encouraged by the historical and prophetic evidence contained in God’s Word. We only know a fraction of what Jesus did and taught, but eye witnesses have testified, archaeology confirms, and prophecy solidifies the many convincing proofs of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and provides clues about His return.
We know What, Why, How, and Where, regarding the return of Jesus. We just don’t know WHEN!
For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. 18 Therefore comfort one another with these words. 1 Thess. 4:16-18
We have an everlasting hope that can never perish, fade, or fail. Luke and Acts were written “so that you may know the exact truth about the things you have been taught.”
John mentions many other signs Jesus performed, things the disciples witnessed, and says, “but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.” (John 20:30-31)
In 1 Corinthians 15:51-52, Paul writes:
Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed— in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.
This is the truth. This is our hope! The resurrection guarantees that as believers, we will live, appear before Christ, be like Him, and be filled with joy in His presence forever.
Full sermon from 3.24.19 at Freedom Fellowship Church, Kaukauna, WI.