Why believe in Resurrection pt. 3

Reason # 3: You don’t make this kind of thing up

Some have suggested that the resurrection narratives in the gospels Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John must have been developed long after the events themselves. They say the two main evidences for the resurrection, the empty tomb and the eyewitnesses, were fabricated stories that were passed on by well intentioned, yet naïve individuals. Could that be true?

First off, the earliest accounts of the empty tomb and the eyewitnesses to the resurrected Jesus are not found in the gospels. The apostle Paul in his various letters to early Christian churches is the first to make mention of these proofs. One of the most compelling texts is found in 1 Corinthians 15:3-7

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.”

Most scholars agree that Paul is quoting a popular Christian liturgy that was developed some time before the writing of this letter. He says it was “passed on” to him. The letter to the Corinthians was written sometime around 52-55AD, around 20 years after the death of Jesus. In reality, this saying could very likely have developed within 5 years of Jesus death, but no later than 20 years. That’s a profound thought considering within this liturgy Paul mentions Jesus death, burial, the empty tomb and many eyewitnesses who could easily be asked to verify the information. To be honest, the argument that the resurrection story was fabricated at a much later date doesn’t hold water. There are simply too many people, contemporary to the date and time it happened, who could expose the whole story as a lie.

This presents another conundrum if we are looking to disprove the resurrection. Why would Paul claim the empty tomb is evidence if there wasn’t an empty tomb? Think about it. The Jewish leaders were incensed over the spread of Christianity. They were willing to hunt down and kill the early church leaders. If they could put the rumors of Jesus’ resurrection to rest by producing a corpse, wouldn’t they have been quick to do so? If the tomb where Jesus was buried really contained his body, there is no way Christianity could have experienced the growth it did in the very city where these events were said to have transpired – Jerusalem.

What about the eyewitnesses? If the story were a fabrication, then why would Matthew, who was writing his gospel to an intended Jewish audience, claim that the first eyewitnesses to see the resurrected Jesus were women (Mt. 28:1-10)? Each gospel tells us the first eyewitnesses to the resurrection were women. A woman’s low social status within the Jewish culture meant their testimony was not admissible evidence in court. If the gospel writers were merely fabricating a story, why would they include these details? It could only have undermined the credibility of their testimony. It makes no sense. Unless… well, you get the point. It’s true!

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Why believe in Resurrection pt. 2

Reason #2 The behavior of Jesus disciples defies logic.

Let’s be honest, the disciples weren’t the “A-team” by any stretch of the imagination. They were a rag tag group of fisherman, tax collectors, and zealots. There wasn’t a man among them who could be considered a courageous person. In fact, when Jesus was arrested in the garden of Gethsemane, they all turned tail and ran. Peter attempted to defend Jesus for a moment, but only because he had anticipated Jesus would miraculously smite all of his captors; when it became clear this was not his intention, he ran away too. The scriptures say that all but John and a few of the women were absent at the time of Jesus crucifixion. John was a teenager who didn’t know any better. The women wouldn’t be seen as a threat and were able to be present without fear of harm.

Peter, who would become the leader of the Christian movement, takes his cowardice a step further. He wasn’t even willing to be associated with Jesus for fear of embarrassment. When asked by a servant girl if he was a follower of Jesus, he denied it. He denied Jesus three times while he was on trial before the Sanhedrim. As Jesus was beat up and spit on, Peter was a spectator from a safe distance.

Imagine the bewilderment of the Jewish leaders when these very disciples show up in Jerusalem, just 45 days after Jesus death, and start preaching and proclaiming boldly that he rose from the dead. Not only were they preaching salvation in Jesus name, but they were backing it up with the authority of miracles. A man born blind, who was easily recognized by the people, was claiming that the Jesus had healed him through Peter’s prayer. The Jewish leaders threaten them and tell them to shut up about Jesus, but their boldness only grows and their influence with it (Acts 4:17-20). What accounts for this boldness? What transformed a rag tag group of scared little boys into spiritual dynamos who turned the entire world upside down? What explains the fact that these twelve men who hid in fear of their lives once Jesus was arrested, subsequently, defied death in order to preach the gospel? Did they do it for money? They weren’t rich. Did they do it for fame? They certainly didn’t live glamorous lives. Did they do it for fun? Only if you define getting crucified upside down, fun. What explains their sudden boldness?

The real question to answer here is what would you do if you witnessed a man defy death, hell and the grave and appear before you with nail scarred hands? How would you view death if you saw him ascend into heaven promising “I’m going to prepare a place for you”? Would you become a radical? Would you turn the world upside down telling everyone what you had seen and heard? Come to think of it, that’s exactly what they did! I’ve yet to come up with an explanation for the explosive growth of Christianity and the boldness of Jesus disciples outside of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Why Believe in Resurrection pt. 1

Many people argue that unless the resurrection can be proved, they cannot put their faith in Christ. I would argue that until the resurrection can be disproved, one is compelled to come up with an explanation for how Christianity emerged in the first century, toppling the Roman empire from within, going on to become the world’s largest religion and showing no signs of slowing down. How do we explain this? I believe the answer lies in the reality of Jesus’ resurrection.

But is the resurrection a sustainable belief. I want to explore three reasons why I believe the resurrection to be a reality over the next three weeks’ blog postings.

Reason # 1: Jesus’ death should’ve ended his influence

Think about it. Have you ever heard of Simon of Peraea (4BC), Menahem Ben Judah (70AD), Simon bar Kokhba (135AD), or David Koresh (1990’s)? Ok, maybe you’ve heard of David Koresh. All of these characters claimed to be the messiah. They amassed followers who were convinced that they were in some way anointed by God to establish His kingdom. They all died. Upon their deaths, the movements they had begun died with them. This is how it works in messianic cults – the leader dies and the movement dies along with him/her.

Most of us have seen the Dateline story investigating the person who claims to be the messiah, God, or some form of deity. The claim is they perform miracles, signs and wonders. Usually, they are amassing a small fortune in the process. How do you respond when you hear an outlandish report such as this? “How can people believe this craziness?” “Someone needs to expose this clown and reveal the hoax!” It was no different in Jesus’ time. In fact, this is the primary reason why he was put to death. The Pharisees believed he was a blasphemer who was leading the people astray (Jn. 7:25-52). The Romans chose to execute him in order to crush any possible rebellion he might incite, or other trouble he may cause on account of his bold claims (Jn. 19:1-16). Many theologians believe that Judas betrayed Jesus in order to force his hand and reveal his true identity (Mt. 27:3-5). Whatever the reasons, Jesus was put to death.

In Mark 8:31 Jesus predicts his own death and resurrection. Mark says, “He (Jesus) spoke plainly about this.” Even the Pharisees knew about these predictions. They pleaded with Pilate to place guards at the tomb so that the disciples wouldn’t attempt to steal his body and claim resurrection (Mt. 27:62-66). This presents a major problem for those who would dismiss Jesus as simply a great teacher who made a significant upon the world. Great teachers don’t say crazy things like, “I’m going to die, but after three days God is going to raise me back to life.” Unless, of course, the crazy things they are saying are true.

Jesus never wrote a book, never traveled further than 50 miles from his home, he never held a public office, he was the son of Galilean peasants, yet he claimed to be the Son of God. His followers consisted of 120 ordinary Jewish people whose faith did not fail following his bloody death on the cross. Even David Koresh could boast more followers at the time of his death. No one could’ve predicted what happened following Jesus death. Christ followers multiplied upon the earth. Christianity exploded to over 1,000,000 people just two hundred years later. By the year 391AD, Christianity was proclaimed to be the official religion of the Roman Empire and continued to grow at unprecedented rates. Today there are over 2 billion Christians on the planet and that number is estimated to grow to 3 billion by the middle of this century.

So, how do you explain this? I’m convinced the resurrection gives us the most important clue.

Next week I’ll cover reason # 2: The actions of Jesus disciples defy logic.

Extreme Jesus Following

Christianity is first and foremost about being like Jesus. The phrase is so familiar it has become a cliché. Nevertheless, that’s exactly what it means to be “Christian”, a term that was first used to describe the believers in Antioch around 40CE. At first, the term was used in derision, or mockery of the early believers. It literally means, “little Christs.” Eventually, however, Christians adopted it to describe themselves as it expressed perfectly their goal in life to emulate their Savior, Jesus Christ (1 Peter 4:16).

But what does it mean to those of us who call ourselves Christians today, to live like Jesus did? What kind of commitment does that require of us? Most importantly, as I evaluate my own life, how do I measure up?

The goal of every believer to be like Christ couldn’t be more clear in the scriptures. 1 John 2:6 says, “Those who say they live in God should live their lives as Jesus did.” We sing songs about it, read books on the subject, we even have fancy, rubber wristbands that remind us to ask the question, “WWJD?” Unfortunately, all of these things haven’t helped me a whole lot in my efforts to live a Christ-like life. If anything, I’ve been overexposed to the idea and need to see things with a fresh perspective.

I recently read about a pastor, Ed Dobson, who decided to get serious about the Christ-like life. He committed an entire year to living his life in exactly the way Jesus did. That may not sound extreme on the surface, but remember, Jesus was a Jew living in 1st century Palestine. That meant following Old Testament laws about eating, clothing and behaviors. For instance, observing kosher dietary restrictions to not mix meat and dairy forced Dobson to give up his favorite chicken and cheese burritos. He observed Jewish holidays such as Yom Kippur and Passover and he often prayed at a synagogue. He refrained from work and travel on Saturdays, the Jewish Sabbath and even obeyed the biblical command not to trim beards.

“The hard part,” Dobson said. “Is trying to live up to His (Jesus) teachings.” The most serious part of his commitment came through his serious study of Jesus teachings. Dobson read through all four Gospels every week. He took seriously Jesus’ commands to help the poor and visit the imprisoned. He prayed daily, repeatedly reciting “Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me.” The prayer of a blind man Jesus healed.

“Jesus is a very troubling individual,” Dobson said. “I’ve realized how far I fall short.”

I wonder what my reaction would be if I focused so intensely my efforts to live my life as Jesus did. How far would I fall short? Where am I missing it today? Do I have the guts to find out? One thing I know for sure is I have a long way to go on the journey to become like Christ.