What is the evidence for Jesus' Resurrection?

William C. Brownson Uncategorized

READ : John 20:24-28

How strong are the grounds for believing that Jesus has been raised from death to endless life?

In this study “The Case for Christian Faith,” we’ve thought about the reliability of the Gospels, about the witness of Jesus to be the Son of God and about the meaning of his crucifixion. Today we come to the tremendous event on which the first three really depend, the resurrection of Jesus. Without this there never would have been a New Testament. Every book in it was written from the standpoint of faith that Jesus is risen, alive and reigning as Lord. And there never would have been a credible claim that Jesus is one with God, God’s Son, if death had finished him. And his death, rather than demonstrating God’s love and accomplishing our salvation, would be only an unrelieved tragedy which we would little remember. In a real sense everything in the Christian faith hinges on the resurrection. Today we want to consider what grounds there are for believing this and what enormous difference it makes.

Questions Sometimes Raised

Let’s think first of questions that are sometimes raised. Could Jesus have survived the ordeal? There are many in the world today in some religious systems who teach that Jesus never really died, that he survived this ordeal.

Journalist Lee Strobel interviewed a prominent physician to ask about this possibility. The man says, “first Gethsemane extreme stress, little sleep, bloody sweat caused by severe anxiety, then the flogging with braided leather thongs with balls of metal and pieces of bone, shredding the backs of the victims, exposing the spine all the way down many died simply from this. Tremendous shock from loss of blood. Jesus is already in critical condition before he was ever crucified. And these long spikes nailed through his wrists, arms stretched out, shoulders dislocated, cause of death asphyxiation. He had to push himself up to exhale, and there had to be cardiac arrest. And then the spear in his right side, between the ribs, through the lungs, into the heart, no way that he survived!”

And the biblical record makes it clear that the soldiers were convinced that he was dead. Joseph of Arimathea came and took away his body and wrapped it. Jesus really died.

“Was the tomb really empty?” others ask. Well, the site was known to all parties. The Roman soldiers surely knew where it was. The Jewish leaders sent their guards. Jesus’ loved ones and friends visited it.

And there’s unanimous witness in the Gospels that the discoverers were women: Mary Magdalene, the other Mary in Matthew. Mark adds Salome. Luke says “the women,” John just “Mary.” If it were a fabrication, no one would have made the first observers to be women because in that culture women weren’t allowed to serve as witnesses in a Jewish court of law.

And then there’s the simplicity of the account. Later on there are fictional, apocryphal accounts from the second century on how people saw Jesus come out of the tomb and everybody met him. The biblical account, by contrast, is very simple, very spare. No one seriously questions that the tomb was empty. Everyone assumes it. The more serious question is: “What happened to the body?”

Well, did someone remove the body? What about the Romans? Is there any conceivable reason for that, unless it was to guard against a possible resurrection story? But when the resurrection was later proclaimed, why wasn’t the body brought forth?

What about the religious leaders? Again, there would have been no gain to them unless to have the body safely in their keeping. But why not present it later then to destroy any hope about Jesus’ resurrection?

Well, would the disciples have spirited the body away and hidden it somewhere? Would they have buried it elsewhere? That’s possible. But in their frame of mind, would that have been likely? Think of their despair over loss, their grief, their fear. And if they did bury his body, could they possibly have preached him as death’s conqueror? Would a dead body have galvanized and inspired them to be the world-transforming people that they were? That’s hard to imagine, isn’t it?

Something World-transforming Happened on That First Easter

What’s clear, friends, is that something world-transforming happened on that first Easter. All evidence points to an empty tomb. Where was Jesus? The angel said, “He is risen. He is not here.” He said, “Mary.” She said, “I have seen the Lord.” He appeared to the ten. They saw him. They touched him. They heard his voice. And then there were the eleven in the same way. The two on the Emmaus Road. All these different people on different occasions in different places said that they saw him, touched him, ate with him over a 40-day period.

In 1 Corinthians 15 we find the record of Jesus’ appearing to several of the apostles at different times and then to above 500 people at once. And Paul says, writing in perhaps the early fifties, “Most of them are still alive, even though some have died.” So this didn’t occur in a corner. This wasn’t an appearance to a few wild-eyed people who perhaps had hallucinations. This was something that was confirmed over a period of time to many different witnesses.

But the transformation of the disciples and their world impact is the most striking thing in terms of evidence for the tomb being empty and Jesus being risen. What were they like after Jesus had died? They were afraid. They were sad. They felt guilty and ashamed. They were discouraged. They were ready to go back to their old haunts, their old life, their old work. And yet in the book of Acts, these same people have flaming courage, abounding joy, confidence, zeal to witness. How so? What happened? We read in Acts 2:32-33 of Peter’s preaching on the day of Pentecost. He says that the great things that the people are witnessing, Jesus has poured out upon his people. It’s Jesus, the risen One, who brought about the miracle of Pentecost.

What evidence is offered to disprove Jesus’ resurrection?

Now what evidence is sometimes offered to disprove Jesus’ resurrection? As a matter of fact, none. No contrary fact has been unearthed. No testimony from ancient times. No alternative explanation that has any weight. Nothing.

There are certainly various opinions, often based on presuppositions that rule out the miraculous. If you are convinced that nothing out of the ordinary can ever happen in this world, that nothing beyond your understanding and experience is possible, then any fanciful explanation of things will make more sense to you than an amazing miracle. People sometimes say that their understanding of science will not allow them to believe. But the real problem goes deeper. In a sense it’s easier not to believe because then Christ makes no claim upon us. We have concluded that he is long dead, irrelevant to us and we can forget about the whole thing.

No one contends that such a miracle is easily believable

But then, almost everything about Jesus is beyond us. Think about his birth. Born, we are told, to a virgin! No one else was ever born that way! But think of it like this. No one like Jesus was ever born in any way before or since! And what good reason do we have to doubt it? All this eye-witness testimony for the truth of which witnesses are ready to toil, suffer and die? Maybe it’s true as one of Shakespear’s characters said, “There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in our philosophy.”

If Jesus is the person he claimed to be, and the person who repeatedly taught that he would be raised from death, who said things like, “No one takes my life from me. I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down and I have power to take it again” (John 10:18). And if his death was a mighty act of God’s saving love, that the Almighty God should raise the dead, especially the One of whom he said, “This is my beloved Son,” should that be thought a thing incredible? (Acts 26:8).

What if Jesus did not rise?

Paul in his letter to the Corinthians sketches the dark realities that would appear if Jesus didn’t rise:

  • The falsehood of proclamation.
  • We’re false witnesses if we say he rose and he didn’t (1 Cor. 15:13-15).
  • The emptiness of faith. No Savior to whom faith can attach itself (v. 15).
  • The failure of redemption.
  • We’re still in our sins (v. 17). How can there be any confidence that we are forgiven people?
  • And the collapse of hope.
  • People who have died in Christ have perished. (vv. 18-19)

What if he did?

But now, in the light of the resurrection, all these dark possibilities are blown away. Preaching the heralding of the best news ever a faithful telling of what God has done in the life, death, and rising of his Son. Faith anchored in a living Lord of love, who will never fail or forsake us. Forgiveness a joyful reality. Hope a bright new song. Death where is your sting? Thanks be to God who gives us the victory!

For all who struggle with doubt, and some of us do, we can identify with Thomas. Even though the others proclaimed that they had seen Jesus risen, Thomas refused to believe. He demanded his special kind of evidence. The Lord in his wonderful patience and mercy came to Thomas and didn’t chide him for his unbelief but offered him the very evidence he called for. And then Thomas, touched by God, made this most beautiful confession of faith, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:24-28).

Oh, the witness of the whole New Testament is, “Now is Christ risen from the dead!” (1 Cor. 15:20). And there are many of us who not only share in that conviction from the Scriptures and from history but from our personal experience. I remember Charles Spurgeon saying something like this: “When I had poured out everything I know from the Scriptures about the risen Christ, I sometimes crammed myself into the great gospel gun and fired off my own experience of Him.”

Personal Witness

That’s what I do today, dear friends. And many of you do who are believers. I’ve cherished in my heart, my life, my work for some sixty years the evidence for Jesus’ resurrection. He is nearer than breathing, closer than hands and feet. I can say in the hymn, “Lord, you have made yourself to me, a living bright reality. More present to faith’s vision keen than any earthly object seen.”

All we do and say and are as followers of Jesus is a witness to the wonderful reality that he is alive and with us all the days. We sing these wonderful Easter songs,

“You ask me how I know he lives, he lives within my heart.”

And

Because he lives, we can face tomorrow.
Because He lives, all fear is gone
Because we know he holds the future
And life is worth the living just because He lives.

Alleluia!