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The Most Important Event in History: Six Proofs for the Resurrection of Jesus Christ

If the resurrection of Jesus Christ really happened, then it is the most important event in world history. It is the foundational rational proof that Jesus was who he said he was.

Make sure you can articulate the six reasons that Christians know that this event really happened.

What are they?

1. The evidence of the empty tomb.
2. The evidence of the appearances.
3. The evidence of the changed lives.
4. The evidence of Jesus’ predictions.
5. The evidence of the OT predictions.
6. The LACK of any compelling counterevidence.

This is a great episode to listen with your tween or teenager. They need to know that their faith is based on rational evidence.

 Episode Transcript

I’m Chap Bettis, and you’re listening to the Disciple-Making Parent, a podcast of The Apollos Project where we seek to equip parents and churches to pass the gospel to their children.

How do we know that God really exists? Were the words of Jesus true for all people? And is there really life after death? How can we know for sure? Hi. I am Chap Bettis, author of The Disciple-Making Parent and host of the podcast by the same name, and I’m excited about today’s episode. I remember growing up in a Christian home and having real questions about my faith. How do I know that Jesus is the only way to God? I mean, there are a lot of people out there who don’t follow him. How do I know that this Christianity stuff is really true? Maybe it’s just true for me. Other people have their own truth. Maybe we’re all just dust and then we die. Do I really have to take a leap of faith? Well, that questioning of my faith in high school led me to search out answers, and in that search I found the sure footing that I was looking for.

You see, the answer to all these questions is found in the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. If the resurrection happened, and it did, it is the central event in history. But how can we know that it really happened? Could you explain the proofs to someone else? Well, in this episode, we listen in on a sermon that I recently preached on the most important event in history: six evidences for the resurrection. So there were some occasional sound issues, but I think we’re going to be okay. This is a vital topic and I hope that it will strengthen your faith and your family.

Our text this morning is 1 Corinthians 15:1-20. We’re going to be thinking about the resurrection. Part of my story is I grew up in a good church like this, but had a bumpy transition to an adult faith there. High school years that, caused me to question. Now, I never asked those questions out loud, but no one ever offered answers. So questions like, How do I know that Jesus ever existed? Is there evidence outside the Bible?Answer, yes. How do I know I can trust the gospels? Not necessarily as the Bible, but how do I know I can trust them as historical documents? Answer, they’re the most reliable historical document. If you throw out the New Testament, the gospels, you’ve got to throw out all sorts of places that we get Roman history from. If we can’t trust the gospels, we can’t trust those.

But in college I discovered that there were answers to those questions, and I realized the ultimate question. The ultimate question for us as Christians is, did Jesus really, really come back from the dead with a new body? Christians say yes, that’s what we celebrate at Easter. Jesus rose from the dead with a new body that could walk through walls, eat fish, and ascend into heaven. We’re not saying he had a near-death experience and was resuscitated. We’re saying he came back with a completely new type of body.

So I want to ask this morning, is that really true? And why does it matter? So if you’ve got 1 Corinthians, I’m going to be reading 1-20. If not, you’re welcome to listen along. Paul’s writing to the early believers and here’s what he said.

Now I want to remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and in which you stand, and by which you are being saved if you hold fast to the word that I preached to you, unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received– what is that?- that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures. That he was buried and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures. And then he appeared to Cephas, and then to the 12. Then he appeared to more than 500 brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. A euphemism for “died.” Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle because I persecuted the Church of God. But by the grace of God, I am what I am, and his grace towards me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, although it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. Whether then it was I or they, so we preach, and so you believed. Now, if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We’re even found to be misrepresenting God because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he didn’t raise if it’s true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised, and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who’ve fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people to be most pitied. But in fact, Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.

Let’s pray. Lord, thank you for this time to open up your word. And we do rejoice this morning to think about that. Yes, you did rise from the dead. And as we think about the evidence for that and that question, Lord, I pray that your spirit might be at work among us. Can I just ask you to echo that prayer silently for yourself, that the spirit might be speaking to you as well? Amen.

This passage that we looked at says that Jesus was crucified, which as we know as a historical event, but also says he was raised and he appeared to over 500 people. If Jesus didn’t rise from the dead, then look at verse 14- Our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. In fact, verse 15 says, we’re misrepresenting God. So when a preacher preaches, he’s presuming to speak for God. And Paul is saying, if we’re proclaiming Christ raised and he hasn’t been, then we’re misrepresenting God. Verse 17, if Christ has not been raised, here he just slams it, your faith is futile. You’ve not been forgiven of your sins. And then verse 19 he’s really just bringing this- if in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. We live in an age today where it’s like, Well, if that gives you peace, that’s great. If this egg, you know, or your little incense or whatever, that’s great. Everybody needs something. I’m so glad you’ve got Jesus. And Paul is saying that can’t be. That can’t be because we’re saying he’s raised from the dead.

With those few words, he rested the whole rational case for Christianity on the resurrection. And so it’s not a leap of faith. And one of the things that transformed me in college was understanding the truthfulness of the resurrection. Because as a young person looking at my life, looking forward, I was saying, I want to invest it in something that’s going to pay off. One of the, one of the quotations that struck me was the one by CS Lewis. CS Lewis said, “Christianity, if false, is of no importance, none. If it’s true, it’s of infinite importance. The only thing it cannot be is moderately important.” So many times it’s easy to be churchgoing people where Christianity is moderately important and what CS Lewis is saying and what I faced as a college student is to say, Look, if it’s true, I want to be all in. If it’s not, I want to sleep in on Sunday morning, do other things on Saturday night as a college student.

Tim Keller says it this way. “If Jesus rose from the dead, then you have to accept all that. He said, if he didn’t rise from the dead, then why worry about anything?” He said, “The issue on which everything hangs is not whether or not you like his teaching, but whether or not he rose from the dead.”

So in my time this morning, I want us to think about how do we know that Jesus rose from the dead. We’ve already sung some songs about that in terms of thinking about heading towards eternity. How do we know? How do we really know? I mean, it’s nice and that’s great, but how do we know know know know, really know? Stake your life know? It’s the resurrection.

So let’s talk about just a little bit. I don’t want to assume anything you’re here for the first time, but the Gospel’s historical records, we have four biographies of Jesus and they record his death, and it’s another discussion to talk about how we know that they’re accurate. But this man named Jesus of Nazareth was scourged. He was beaten all night. He was crucified with a crown of thorns pressed on him, pierced with a sword. Roman soldiers knew how to kill people. In addition, the biographies record that Joseph of Aramathea and Nicodemus, two religious leaders (this is going to be very important in a minute) two prominent, upstanding leading citizens, took Jesus’ body and placed it in the tomb of Joseph.

In addition, the biographies record that the seal was placed on the tomb. That would indicate it had been disturbed. And there were armed guards posted in front of the tomb. And yet the historical record shows that on Sunday, the tomb was empty and the body had disappeared. Not only that, but over 500 disciples would say as eyewitnesses that for the next 40 days that Jesus appeared to them. And this man Jesus had a new body. He could walk through doors, he could appear at once, disappear, and eventually ascend into heaven. So this was not a ghost, this is someone who could eat food, but it was something different. And immediately the disciples started preaching that Jesus had risen.

Now, is that true? Because if it’s true, it’s the most sensational event in history ever, bar none. If it’s true, the resurrection proves there really is life after death. If it’s true, the resurrection proves that Jesus was who he said he was. It proves that God exists. It proves that he cares for us, and it can give conclusive answers to some of the most profound questions that we wrestle with. And so we’re going to spend the rest of our time thinking about how do we know the resurrection is true.

But before I do that, I want to ask one question. How do we know that anything in history is true? So how do we know science is true? Some of you are scientists. What happens with science? You learn this in third grade, right? The scientific methods. Science is . . .what? Scientific theory, the reason we have penicillin, science is. . . repeatable, right? You test it and you get the same thing over and over again, and thank heavens. That’s how we have penicillin. That’s how we have medicine, because we have experiments and, now, we have scientific laws that come out of that. Question:  How many 16th presidents of the United States can you have? One. You can’t repeat that.

So how do we know that anything in history really happened? Eyewitnesses. Eyewitnesses. That’s what happens in a court of law all the time. They’re trying to establish something historical, maybe just recently, months, years, happened, and the answer is eyewitnesses. And so the story that we have recorded so far, and the things we’re going to look at now are proof that Jesus rose from the dead. We have eyewitnesses.

There’s six proofs from the resurrection of Jesus that I’m going to talk about this morning:

  • The tomb was empty
  • There were eyewitnesses to the risen Christ
  • They were transformed
  • Jesus predicted his resurrection.
  • Scripture predicted it, and then,
  • There’s no compelling alternative.

So let’s, let’s go through those one at a time.

So the first proof is that the tomb was empty. So the disciples went out, proclaiming to everyone that Jesus had arisen and the tomb was empty. The question is, how did it get empty? What happened to the body? So we’re saying he rose from the dead, but is there any alternative? Well, some people have opposed and said, Well, maybe the disciples stole it. But that doesn’t hold up, because how could they overpower the guards? How could they have kept the conspiracy a secret, and why would they end up dying for this lie? What do they get from proclaiming that Jesus is alive? A book? Appearing on Oprah? No, you get to die. That’s what you get from proclaiming this.

JP Moreland said it this way. “People will die for their religious beliefs if they sincerely believe they’re true, but they won’t die for their religious beliefs if they know they’re false.” That’s just human psychology. No, everything points to the fact that they didn’t steal it. How could they overcome the guards? Well, maybe the Roman Jewish leaders stole the body. Well, again, what was their motivation? In just a few days, they’re going to have teaching they hate, that Jesus has risen from the dead. It’s filling their whole city. All they’ve got to do is say, “Well, we stole the body. Here it is.” And the disciples are defeated. No, they had no motivation.

A more recent theory has said, and this is the one that used to bother me as a young person, maybe Jesus passed out on the cross. He didn’t really die, he passed out. But you know, it’s interesting that theory did not come about until the 1700’s when crucifixion, at least in the Western world, had long since disappeared. In other words, people who were not familiar with crucifixion came up with that theory. But that is in some ways the more ridiculous one. Think about it. Just two days after being scourged, spear thrusts, crucifixion, how could Jesus roll away the stone from the inside, overcome the guards, and then end up convincing the disciples that he’s resurrected, he can walk through doors? In some ways, that’s the silliest theory of all.

Now if all we had was the empty tomb, that would be enough evidence. But we’ve got the second piece of evidence as well. It’s that he appeared to over 500 people. Now consider the question, and we’ve discussed this before, how were things established in history? Answer: witnesses. We hear “You will be my witnesses” today in 2018 as “Go tell other people about the changed lives and good news.” I want to suggest that part of what God is doing is saying, “You who saw Jesus, the 500, you go and be my legal eyewitnesses to the world.” That’s why the church grew so fast. Imagine if good news had three people who saw Jesus, and you’d say, “Well, I don’t think Frank’s crazy, and Frank said he saw Jesus.” And more and more people are like that. And then those and those three die off. And then the next generation can say, “I can tell you Frank was not a nut. And he saw Jesus.” And Rufus and Mary. We had three people in our group. They saw Jesus alive. And so these were eyewitnesses.

Now again, some people said, “Well, they made it up.” Well, the problem is, no one dies for a lie. So maybe they hallucinated. Well, you’ve got to think about who these people were and who tends to hallucinate. People with vivid imaginations tend to hallucinate. and but, Not rugged fisherman, not a guy who works for the IRS. Those aren’t the people who hallucinate. So, so even the non-Christian Pinchas Lapide rejected the hallucination theory. He said this. Listen, I love this. “If a defeated, depressed group of disciples overnight could change into a victorious movement of faith based only on autosuggestion or deception, without a fundamental faith experience, that would be a greater miracle than the resurrection.” 500 people having the same hallucination willing to die for it. No, it’s the second strong piece of evidence we have.

Not only do we have a tomb without a body- and by the way, I forgot to mention this with the eyewitnesses. Remember, after as this teaching is filling Jerusalem, the question is, “Where is the body?” And someone goes, “Administratively, who was supposed to take care of Jesus’ body? What happened from the cross?” Answer: two leading Jewish members of the Sanhedrin could say “We did it.” What does the Bible say it takes to establish something? How many witnesses? Two or three. We took the body down and put it in the tomb. So you’ve got the eyewitness. And now you have the appearances and that’d be enough.

But in the spirit of late night TV, Wait, there’s more! It’s the transformed lives. And that quote right before suggested as well, the apostles were radically changed. After the crucifixion, they were scared. But why were they scared? They’d watched their leader crucified. And just a few days later, they’re courageous and willing to die for their beliefs. In addition, think about this, there were some radical changes. The early followers of Jesus were predominantly Jewish. They make some radical and fundamental changes. What are those three? At least one is the initiation.

What’s the initiation rite to become a Jew? Circumcision of men. What’s the initiation rite of the Jewish followers of Jesus? Baptism of men and women. That’s a very different change. Not only that, a second huge change is the day of the meeting. Enshrined in the 10 Commandments is honoring the Sabbath- Saturday. Suddenly these new Jewish followers of Jesus are meeting on Sunday. Why the resurrection day? The fact that we meet on Sunday celebrates the resurrection. That’s a huge change as well. They’re suddenly adding a holy day, even though the 10 Commandments talk about Saturday. Saturday is the Sabbath.

And then finally, really the biggest change: All their lives they have been taught there’s one God. Now they are worshiping Jesus as God. I don’t know that it was all clear in their mind, but, you’ve got Thomas at the end of John saying, “My Lord and my God.” Thomas gets a bad rap as being the doubting disciple, but he actually makes the fullest profession of any of them. “My Lord and my God.” That’s huge for a Jewish disciple to say that.

So their lives are radically, radically changed. How does that come about? How do you get a bunch of people? Suppose someone said, “You know what? We’re no longer meeting on Sunday. It’s Tuesday. And we’re no longer baptizing. We’re going to do something else.” We’d be upset. We’d say, “You can’t change those big things. That’s right there in the scriptures.” And yet this new movement changed those. So there’s the evidence of the transformed lives.

A fourth evidence. To me, it’s overwhelming when you actually look at it. A fourth evidence is Jesus actually predicted the resurrection as God’s sign. Now, in a weird way, when I was a teen, this was one of the most convincing ones. Because I remember thinking- maybe I wasn’t a teen, maybe this is more like a childlike mind- but I remember thinking, if God really wanted to get the message out about Jesus, all he would have to do is line up the stars and say, Jesus. I must have been a kid. I hope I didn’t have that thought as a teen. Why doesn’t God give us a sign? If God gave us a sign, then people would have to believe.

Listen to what Jesus said in Matthew 16:4. An adulterous generation asks for a miraculous sign. None will be given it except one: the sign of Jonah. First Jonah was three days and nights in the belly of the whale. So the son of man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. What is God’s sign? He has given us a sign. If he lined up the stars, they’d have to be in a certain language, English or Spanish or something else. And then scripture seems to indicate that, of course, then we’d come up with a reason as to why God didn’t actually do that. God says, I have given mankind a sign, lots of eyewitnesses, and the sign is the resurrection. That’s your sign. I’ve raised my Son from the dead. The resurrection was and is God’s sign for those who are genuine seekers.

The evidence really, so far, it’s overwhelming. How do we explain the empty tomb? Where did the body go? How do we explain the appearances? How do we explain the transformed lives? And actually, scripture records that Jesus predicted his resurrection five times before it actually happened. So Jesus predicted the resurrection. But not only that, number five, and this was pointed out in our passage in 1 Corinthians 15 where it talks about that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures.

The resurrection is hinted at in the Old Testament. It’s not clearly explicitly spelled out, but there’s all sorts of hints that this is coming. And of course, that with the progress of revelation of the Bible, I’ve heard someone say everything in the Old Testament is true, but it’s kind of like your third or fourth grade science book. Everything’s true; it’s just not as complete as we see in the New Testament. And so similarly, there are verses like this in the Old Testament: Job 18:25: I know my redeemer lives, and in the end he will stand on the earth. What did Job know? How does that fit? Isaiah 53, the whole long passage about the suffering Messiah, you can read that and say, this is almost like the fifth Gospel. And if you’re Jewish or you’re trying to share with someone who’s Jewish, look at Isaiah 53. That’s like the fifth Gospel. Isaiah 53 ends with these words: He, the suffering Messiah, will see his offspring and prolong his days. The will of the Lord will prosper in his hands. After he has suffered he will see the light of life and be satisfied. Isaiah 53, 10 and 11.

And then Psalm 16, which, Peter quotes: For you– the Messiah talking- you will not abandon my soul to Sheol or let your holy one see corruption. So this idea of resurrection is not new to scripture. And even as we pointed out Jesus, pointing out the idea with Jonah, and there’s other places as well.

Those are five compelling evidences. But why is it that Christians always have to have to defend? Sometimes the person who’s asked feels the need to defend. So for example, this is a sidebar, but for example, talking about the reason, why is there evil and suffering in the world? Well, I can tell you the Christian answer to why there’s evil and suffering in the world, but before I do that, you tell me why you think there’s evil and suffering in the world. There’s not a compelling answer from an evolutionary point of view. There’s not a compelling answer from an Eastern point of view. I’ll tell you the Christian answer. But let’s hear the a similar way, the sixth reason is- and this is overwhelming- is that the Jewish leadership does not have a compelling counter-theory.

What is the compelling alternative? If you start with there’s no supernatural, Jesus could not have risen from the dead, now you’re forced to bend over backwards to come up with all sorts of crazy things, which if you just honestly look at the evidence, honestly, then resurrection is the way. The Jewish leader said, Tell the people that the disciples stole the body when we were asleep. Just think about that statement. A) you would be killed for falling asleep, but B) if you’re asleep, how do you know who stole the body? There’s no way. So in fact, there is no compelling alternative. Scripture actually records that those guards fell over as dead. And I honestly think we’ll see some of them in heaven. Think about it. You’re on guard duty, there’s this amazing flash of lightning, and suddenly you’re trying to figure out what’s going on.

What are the evidences and why is it important? The resurrection of the dead proves that Christianity- following Jesus- is really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really true. When you don’t feel like it, when you’re the only one in school who believes it, when you’re the only one in your family who believes it, how do I know? How do I know I’m not making it up? It’s the resurrection. Professor Thomas Arnold, author of the famous History of Rome, said it this way. He was the chair of history at Oxford. “I’ve been used for many years to study histories of other times and to examine and weigh the evidence of those who’ve written about them, and I know of no one fact in the history of mankind which is proved by better and fuller evidence of every sort to the understanding of a fair enquirer than the great sign which God has given us, that Christ died and rose again from the dead.”

Brooke Foss Westcott, who’s also an English scholar, said it this way: “Taking all the evidence together, it is not too much to say that there’s no historic incident better or more variously supported than the resurrection of Christ. Nothing but the assumption that it must be false could suggest the idea of deficiency in the proof of it.” In other words, the only deficiency is if you come to it and say, this can’t be true.

I know that Jesus’ teachings, some of his teachings, are out of style today. I know that, and people come up and they say, I don’t like Jesus teaches this. I don’t like Jesus teaches that. I understand that, but to use Tim Keller’s words, the issue is on which everything hangs is not whether or not you like his teaching, but whether he rose from the dead.

Why do I follow Jesus? Why did I give up pre-med to follow a life of pastoring- which in case you don’t know, has a little different income differential? I’m putting all the chips in the middle of the table. I’m all in. I am all in. So either this is true, or if it’s not, don’t tell me “You’re such a sweet minister.” Don’t say that. I challenge you as well. If you are uncommitted, the resurrection is for you. God says this is the sign for you. So if you’re sitting here attending church, maybe you’re a young person doubting, maybe you’ve just come in today for the first time. The resurrection is the sign. There’s all sorts of different questions that are going to be answered in this series, but the resurrection proves that Jesus was who he said he was.

It also proves, scripture tells us, that God accepted the payment of Christ. In Acts 17, Jesus will be the judge. There’s the final judgment. That’s the proof, the rational proof if you’re uncommitted. If you’re doubting or wavering, wondering if Christianity is really true, finding it hard to stand up in school or work knowing that certain political pressures of the day make followers of Jesus seem backwards. . . Let me tell you this. Jesus said in Matthew, the Sermon on the Mount, “Narrow is the road that leads to eternal life.” Truth has never ever been determined by the majority. It’s determined by the one who rose from the dead.

If you’re a relatively mature Christian, the resurrection is for you. Are you coasting? Well, you know. . . Christianity, church, good news, that’s, kind of important, but what really excites me is making money or this or that. Jesus is ruling and reigning right now from heaven. How do I know that? How do I know it’s not some little mind trick? Because eyewitnesses saw him raised and ascended to heaven and he said he’s coming back.

So if you’re a mature Christian, are you living all in? What For you as a mature Christian who’s been a Christian 15 years, what does living all in mean? What does not hedging your bets, what does living all in mean?

Just final application. If you’re nearing the end of your life, perhaps, and maybe you have gnawing doubts, the resurrection is for you. Jesus has walked through death and he came out on the other side. I love this illustration. For those of us in New England, you know how there’s this little plant called the crocus, right? And you can have snow all around, but what does the crocus say? Spring’s coming, summer’s coming. And God says that the firstfruits, the crocus, is the resurrection. And if you’re a follower of Christ, summer’s coming. Summer’s coming. And if you’re near the end of your life and saying, Lord, am I deceived? Is this true? Will you walk with me through the final enemy? The answer is yes. He’s walked through the final enemy of death and come out on the other side.

Let’s pray together. Lord, we, this morning, I am personally thankful that you speak to our heart and our emotion. But you also speak to our head and you give us real proof that you rose from the dead, that we’re just not being deceived, making it up, just kind of having good feelings when we come to church. But this is really true. And so even on days when it’s cloudy, the sun’s shining. Even on days when we don’t feel like our faith is real. We don’t know, Lord, are you there? You are there. You’re ruling and reigning in heaven right now, and you will come. Lord help us. I pray for those who are questioning, help them cross over and say, yes, Lord, I will follow you. For those who are doubting, Lord, give us strength and encouragement, and for those perhaps are coasting, Lord, what does it mean for us to live all in? Lord, thank you for this proof, and we just rejoice in that we pray in Christ’s name. Amen.

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