Is the Resurrection of Jesus Christ a Fact or the Most Vicious Lie Ever Foisted on the Minds of Men?

By: Dr. John Ankerberg; ©1994
The resurrection is clearly a very important topic for Christians. So important that the apostle Paul said if it’s not true, neither is our faith. So how can we know if it’s true or not?

The Importance of the Resurrection

Is there anything that a thinking person can believe today? Can you believe in Jesus Christ? We’ve been looking at the evidence for his life. Did you know that the Encyclopedia Britannica, the fifteenth edition, listed over 20,000 words to the person of Jesus Christ, and there’s not a hint in the encyclopedia that Jesus didn’t exist. Why? Because there were eyewitnesses of his life. There were people that actually saw what he did and they wrote it down. Those documents have come down to us, historical manuscripts: Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul, James, Peter, Jude, the writer of Hebrews. These people claimed to be eyewitnesses, or have contact with people that were eyewitnesses, and wrote that information down.
How do we know that they gave us the truth? We know because the documents came out very early. William F. Albright at Johns Hopkins University said 45-75 AD, the whole New Testament. If Jesus died about 33 AD, within 12-15 years you have some of the books on the newsstands among the very people that were alive that had witnessed the events. If the events had never taken place, the people that hated Jesus, the people that loved Jesus, would have been sure to say something. But they didn’t. Archaeology today confirms that what Luke and the other writers wrote about is actually just the way they said. So we have good reason to believe that we have accurate information about Jesus.
According to textual criticism today, we have more manuscripts concerning the New Testament than we do of any other books in ancient history. If you’re going to throw out our New Testament documents—the books in the New Testament—on the basis that we don’t have good grounds, you’re going to have to throw out Aristotle, Plato and the rest. And again, I’m not approaching this as a book that dropped out of heaven, that’s inspired and inerrant; I’m just approaching this as books in history that I would look at. Do they give us solid, accurate information? Should I, as an intellectual, look at this information and say, “This is good stuff; I can trust these people”?
How would I judge this material? Do I use the same criteria when I’m looking at Tacitus in his History, or Homer? Do I apply the same principles, or am I somehow prejudiced when I come over here to the Bible? I think a lot of New Testament scholarship today is prejudiced. They start off with assumptions that they wouldn’t start off with in other areas.
If we have accurate information about Jesus, did Jesus ever claim that he was God? Did he ever say that he was God? Do you have to know Greek and Hebrew to know that he said he was God? And we found out, no. “I am the Father are one. He that has seen me has seen the Father.” We found out Jesus said, “I am the light of the world.”
I remember in Matthew when he was talking about, “I sent you prophets through the years and you killed the prophets,” who do you think he was talking about? Who was the “I” —“I sent you prophets through the years”? Had to be God who sent the prophets. But Jesus said that about himself. He was the one that sent them.
Now, before we go on to the next part, we’re looking at the claims of Jesus Christ and then we’re going to look at the character of Jesus Christ and look at the information and see if he is unique in any way. Is he unique in his claims? Is he unique in his character? Is he unique in his works, his miracles? Which will bring us into the resurrection of the dead. And then I’m going to say, draw a line on this evidence and tell me, Who do you think that Jesus Christ is?
But in finishing up the fact of Jesus’ claims, one of the questions that people ought to ask, did the enemies of Jesus Christ understand that he was claiming to be God? Obviously, if the disciples said that he was God, they could be padding the case. But did his enemies say that? If you go into a courtroom and you get the other side to admit what you want them to admit, then you’ve won the case. And the question is, is there any evidence that the opposition, those that were opposed to him, heard him say that he was the Son of God or God himself? The answer is “Yes” to the question: Did they understand it that way?
In Matthew 27:41-43 we find these words: “Likewise also the chief priests, mocking him [he’s on the cross] with the scribes and the elders.” Now you have the hierarchy of Israel before the cross. Jesus is on the cross. And they’re looking up at him and they said, “He [that’s Jesus] trusted in God, let God deliver him now if he will have him.” And then look what it says. This is the chief priests, the scribes and the elders, “for he [Jesus] said” —this is coming out of the mouths of the chief priests, scribes and the elders—“for Jesus said, I am the Son of God.” Well, where did they get that? They must have heard Jesus making those statements and they taunted him with his own statements while he was on the cross. Now, sure, they didn’t think he was God, but the very fact that they would use this against him when he’s on the cross, He must have said it, right?
Then take a look at John 10:30, 33. Jesus said, “I and my Father are one,” okay? Now, there are different ways that you could interpret that. Actually, you should interpret that, because it’s a Greek neuter, one, “I am one in essence.” That’s not the fact of “I am one with the will of God” but “I am one in essence with God.” But it can be translated different ways. But I want to know, how did the people that were standing there, how did they understand it, okay? Well, the context tells you. “Then the Jews took up stones again to stone him.” They reached for the rocks. “Jesus answered them, ‘Many good works have I shown you from the Father. For which of these works do you stone me?’ The Jews answered him, saying, ‘For a good work we stone thee not, but for’” what, shoplifting? No, “‘but for blasphemy and because that thou being a man makest thyself’” what? “‘God.’” So they understood when he said, “I and the Father are one.” Here they were, orthodox Jews, God is one, and Jesus said, “I and the Father are one.” “That’s blasphemy! You are claiming to be God.” That’s how they understood him; that’s why they reached for the rocks.
John 5:18 is another place, and there the Scripture says, “Therefore the Jews sought the more to kill Jesus because he not only had broken the Sabbath but said also that God was his Father,” and look at the next words, “making himself equal with God.” And so the Jewish leaders understood him to be saying that he was God. This is evidence that’s on the table. Now, we have the claims of Jesus Christ: that he claims to be God.
Now we want to turn and we want to go to point two, and that is the character of Jesus Christ. What was he like? This guy that claims to be God, what was he like when you met him, okay? Well, let’s start off with this.
Have you ever sat down with friends and asked them this question over a cup of coffee? “What did Jesus do wrong?” How long would your conversation be? Be a real short conversation, wouldn’t it?
Alright, now turn that around. Let’s say that we’re with your family. Let’s say it’s Thanksgiving or Christmas. All the relatives, all the kids are there, and dad, you stand up and you say, “Now, gather around, friends. I’ve got to ask you a question. I’d like to know, can anybody here remember one thing that I’ve done wrong?” Would any guy here like to try and say that? “Write them down and hand them in.” The kids would say, “Hey, dad, could I have more paper?” I mean, none of us would say something like that.
But Jesus made that exact statement to his enemies, not to the guys that loved him. He asked his enemies: “Which one of you can convict me of one sin?” And nobody could say anything. Now, for a moment, if you can picture a man that has never made a mistake, has never made a sin in his life, what do you think it would be like to be around him? We probably wouldn’t like him, would we? Probably think he’d be kind of stuffy, kind of proud. Well, we’ll get back to that. Just hold on to that.
What was Jesus like? Jesus possessed a keen moral judgment, if you want; a spiritual radar, is what I call it. When he looked at other people, it wasn’t that he didn’t know the difference between right and wrong. Do you remember when he looked at the religious leaders of his own day? He saw their sins and was not afraid to say something about it, was he? He called them “white-washed sepulchers.” They looked pretty on the outside; inside they were full of dead men’s bones. He called them “snakes in the grass.” He told them they were proud. He told them they were hypocrites. I mean, that’s pretty strong language. You say that to the pastor, right? “You’re a snake in the grass”? So, the fact is that Jesus, when he looked at other people, he had a moral radar that went right out there and he was not afraid to say something.
Even his own disciples, when they came and said, “Look, Jesus, we’ve got this little request. One of us would like to sit on your left hand, the other one on your right hand when you come into power.” Just a little request.
Jesus said, “This thing of one-upmanship, it shall not be so among you, but the one that wants to be the greatest, you need to be the servant. And if you want to be the very top of the totem pole, you be the slave.” So Jesus was not afraid to rebuke his own disciples or the religious leaders of his own day. He had the spiritual radar that went out which didn’t quit.
And yet, when he focused that spiritual radar on himself, you never hear him say that he did one sin. You never hear one prayer of his confessing to the Father that “I’ve sinned.” You never hear any of the disciples say, “He sinned. He blew it over here.” Now, that in itself is really remarkable. Do you know anybody else like that? No. We can’t think of one person in history that has those kinds of qualifications. We can’t think of one person in the history, except Jesus Christ. He must be unique.
Let me see if I can give you a better example. In Church history itself, there have been many great men, alright? There was Augustine. And Augustine, of course, in his memoirs and in his Confessions, actually, wrote about how he became a Christian and then as he grew closer with God, he started to talk about the sins of his life. And the closer that he got to God, the more he confessed his own sins.
The same was true about Luther and Calvin and Wesley, and as you go through, Finney, and you get to our day of Billy Graham and so on. All of the men that have served God in a great way, the closer they get to God, the more they confess their own sins, right? Now, think about this: If that’s true, what about Jesus?
The skeptics say Jesus was not God. He was just a great man and he got closer to God than anybody else. Well, if he got closer to God than anybody else and the standard practice down through Church history has been that the closer these men have gotten to God, the more they see their own sins, then where is it that Jesus confesses his own sin? Why don’t we see it? He breaks the mold.
Let me give you another example. David Brainerd was the first missionary in America to the American Indians. He died at 29 years of age. Why? Because he went out as a missionary to the American Indians of the Delaware Valley. Do you know who his father-in-law was? Jonathan Edwards. How would you like to have Jonathan Edwards for your father-in-law?
Edwards was his father-in-law, and he thought this kid was a saint; just thought this kid was terrific, because the kid went on horseback, riding in the woods to go and visit the Indians. And he would get out there, he would lie on the ground, and the dew would cover him. He’d get cold; he would get pneumonia. He would get colds. But he was out there because he loved the American Indian and he wanted to reach them for the Lord Jesus Christ.
Now, as I understand it, this fellow had quite a prayer life. He’d get up at 4:00 in the morning, get by a tree stump and start to pray. And he only prays for four or five hours, and then reads his Bible for a couple of hours. And then he had a little diary where he would write. Something like us, you know. And Brainerd would write in this diary stuff like this. He would say, “I lament my moral corruption. My lack of prayer.” He would pray four or five hours every morning. “I lament my lack of prayer, my love for Christ. I am a poor worm. I am a dead dog. I am unspeakably worthless. I am wretch.” He died at 29 years of age because he was so enthusiastic about reaching the American Indian.
After he died, Jonathan Edwards took his diary and he opened it up and he started to read it. And he couldn’t believe it. This kid that was a saint had all of these things downgrading himself, saying how unspiritual he really was and confessing his sins. Why? Because, again, the closer you get to God, the more time you spend in God’s presence, you’re like Isaiah who says, “Woe is me! I am an unclean man. I dwell among a people that have unclean lips.”
That’s the way it is all the way through church history. Except for Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ turns this moral radar on himself and instead of saying, “Oh, look at all the sins that are there,” He asks, “Which one of you can convict me of sin?” And nobody could. Absolutely unique in his character. What do you do with a guy like that?
Jesus taught that all other men were lost sheep; but he had come as the good shepherd to see and to save them, John 10:11. All other men were sick with the disease of sin; he was the doctor who had come to heal them, Luke 5:31. All other men were plunged in the darkness of sin and ignorance; he was the light of the world, John 8:12. All other men were sinners; he was born to be their Savior—he would shed his blood in death for the forgiveness of their sins, Matthew 26:28. All other men were hungry; he was the bread of life, John 6:35. All other men were dead in trespasses and sins; he could be their life now and their resurrection hereafter, John 11:25. Is Jesus unique? Yes, He is. Absolutely unique.
But then there’s something else about him. Remember, he said that he was the light of the world. What would you think it would be like to be around the light of the world? For those who say they’re the greatest, you say, “Let’s take five steps back and take a look at this real carefully.” You would assume they would be proud. You would think that they would be a snob. What do you think it would be like to be around the guy that says, “I’m coming back at the end of the world? I’m going to determine the eternal destiny of every man, woman and child that’s ever lived”? What do you think it would be like?
Isn’t it amazing that the children loved to be with him; that the sinners congregated around him; that the people thought he was their friend? That’s all true. That’s how they looked at Jesus. The record says he had no touch of self-importance. He was not pompous. He was not proud. He was the Lord of all, but what did he do? He washed the feet of the disciples. He said he was going to judge the world, but he could take the little children in his arms. He made friends with simple fishermen and publicans. He touched the outcast, the lepers. At the end of his life when he was put on the cross, and as the cruel spikes were driven through his hands he prayed, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”
What did his friends say about Jesus? Obviously, if you want to find out about a man, you better ask his friends, ask his family. The disciples lived with him, ate with him, slept with him for three solid years at least. They knew everything about the guy. What did they say about him? Did they see any slip-ups? Peter described Jesus as a Lamb without spot or blemish. He states, “Jesus committed no sin; in fact, no guile, no deceit was even found on his lips,” 1 Peter 2:22. The apostle John said, “In Christ there is no sin.” And he said that in the same book where he said all men are sinners and if we say we have no sin, we are liars ourselves who make God a liar too. The apostle Paul said, “Jesus knew no sin; rather, he was holy; he was blameless; he was unstained; he was separate from sinners” (2 Cor. 5:21 and Heb. 7:26). He said Jesus was in every respect “tempted as we are, yet without sin.”
Pilate, after examining Jesus, said he “could find no fault with him” and publicly washed his hands of Jesus’ blood (Luke 23). King Herod said, “I can find nothing wrong with this man” (Luke 23:15). Judas, filled with remorse, returned the 30 pieces of silver and said, “I have sinned in betraying” what? “Innocent blood” (Matt. 27:4). The penitent thief on the cross said, “This man has done nothing wrong” (Luke 23). The Roman centurion said, having watched Jesus suffer and die, “Certainly this was a righteous man.”
That’s what the record shows. His character was absolutely unique. So what do you do with this man? Who was he?
But then we get down to his miracles. You know, when you read the miracles in the New Testament, you don’t get the idea that they are like a magician pulling a rabbit out of the hat. Jesus never did miracles to entertain the crowd. The miracles always taught something. And when you read the accounts of the miracles, the people’s reaction is real. It’s as if we were there. Let me give you an example.
Now, today we had down here in Florida six to ten feet waves on the surf. Those are pretty good waves out there. I heard that the fellows on our staff went down the beach and they looked at the waves and they were coming in! I’ve been in Hawaii where they had the waves up to 20 feet tall coming through when you have hurricanes and so on, and I’ve seen those. You don’t go swimming in a 20-foot wave, do you? Why? Because if you’re going up while this wave is coming, and it comes over you, you can have 20 feet of water pushing you right straight down into the gravel and grinding you up down there. Gets pretty hard to come up. And then while you’re coming up, then the other wave’s coming over right behind that.
Remember the account in Matthew, Mark, Luke, all three of them record the account of Jesus and the disciples on the Sea of Galilee. And Jesus is tired so he goes and rests in the bottom of the ship, and they are sailing across the Sea of Galilee. And the wind comes down off the Golan Heights, and you can have some real waves coming up. In fact, the way the account is written, Peter thought they were going to die. They were bailing for all they’re worth. Have you ever been in a small boat when the waves are filling it up and the wind is blowing like mad and you’re losing and you’ve only got these little cans and you’re trying to bail out? Well, you know you’re in big trouble. Nothing is going to help you and soon you’re going to be down and you’re going to be swimming out there in the waves and you don’t do a lot of swimming.
So, Peter, a fisherman, seeing what the score was, got scared and said, “Where’s Jesus?” James says, “He’s sacked out down at the bottom of the boat.” “What? Wake him up, get a bucket, let’s go. We’re going down.” So Peter goes running down to Jesus—this is a marginal reading of the Ankerberg translation here, you understand—Peter goes down and he says, “Jesus, get up!” Jesus wakes up and says, “What’s the matter?” He says, “The wind, the waves, it’s coming into the boat. We’re going down. Grab a bucket.” So Jesus comes on up to the top. He looks at these huge waves rolling by. Remember “Hawaii 5-O,” you guys that are really old. Do you remember those waves they used to have on “Hawaii 5-O”? See one of those wave coming at you, Peter says, “You see that. It’s coming toward us. We’re going down. Do something!”
What does Jesus say? “Oh, ye of little faith.” “Yeah, right, Jesus. But this wave is coming, you see?” So Jesus turns and he looks at the wave, looks at the wind, looks at the elements and he says, “Peace, be still.” I can just see Peter looking at James, “Did you see that? I mean, that’s really going to help us out here. ‘Peace, be still.’ I mean…” And while he’s saying that, the wind drops off. And as the wind drops off, the waves start to smooth out and all of a sudden it’s just quiet and the water is just lapping up against the boat and Peter and James and the other disciples are absolutely drenched, standing there with their buckets in their hands looking around.
What I like about all three of the accounts, what Peter said next, is exactly what I think we would have said. Peter looks over at James and he says, “Who is this man?! Who is this guy! Did you just see what happened? Nobody goes around and says to the elements, ‘Peace be still’ and everything stops. He just did. Who is this guy?” And Jesus didn’t do it to show off. There’s nothing after that. That’s just what happened and that’s their reaction. Jesus did the miracles to show that He was God.
Have you ever watched these Hollywood movies about Jesus? Don’t you get a kick out of them? They fudge on most of the miracles. But what’s the one miracle that they all keep in? I remember Sir Lawrence Olivier was in one and he was one of the people that was standing there and he came up to Lazarus’ tomb. And the fact is that Jesus looks in and here’s this big stone over the door. Sir Lawrence Olivier is out there in the crowd and he’s looking at this with all the people and he’s got this smirk on his face because everybody is just ridiculing Jesus. And Jesus says, “Just roll the stone away.” And they’re laughing and having party time. “What do you want to roll the stone away for, Jesus? Come on. The guy’s dead.” Jesus said, “Just roll the stone away.” And so you see all this happening and you see them all around and then all of a sudden Jesus says, “Hey, Lazarus, come on out of there.” And then you see Sir Lawrence Olivier, his face, and he’s kind of got a smile and as only he can do, the smile starts to fade and all of a sudden you see Lazarus coming forth and all of a sudden fear goes into his eyes and then all of a sudden from fear and then wonder. He turns from Lazarus and he looks over at Jesus and he starts to look at Jesus with a penetrating stare to say, “Who in the world are you that can call forth the dead?” Fantastic bit of acting. But they captured that message correctly. Who goes around calling people back from the dead?
Look, I spoke on the university campuses during the Vietnam War. I had friends that came home in a box. And I can remember going to a cemetery where one of my friends, 20 years of age who was shot in Vietnam, was buried. And there were about three people there. And it was a gloomy day, something like this, except Chicago cold, okay? And it’s rainy and it’s drizzly and it’s cold. And here’s the dirt that’s been put into the grave. And you’re standing and looking at each other trying to fumble for words to say. And it’s a despairing situation. And I thought, “What would it be like if some fellow came along and said, ‘What’s the matter with you guys?’”
You say, “Our friend here was in Vietnam and he got shot. He’s dead. Only 20 years of age.”
And he says, “Well, hey, don’t be so gloomy. You see those shovels over there? Dirt’s not too bad. Get the dirt out. Get the shovels and dig the dirt out.”
What?
He says, “Trust me. I know what I’m doing.”
So you’re nuts enough to do it, so you dig down six feet, you pile up the dirt six feet right next to the grave. You say, “Now what?”
He says, “I’ll tell you what. You see the casket down there. It looks a little locked. Can you pry the cover loose just a little bit?”
And so you pry the cover loose.
And he says, “Leave it shut.” Yeah, you want to leave it shut, because the body stinks down there. And then you climb out of the hole and you’re standing there and you say, “Well, now, what else are we going to do?”
And he says, “I’ll tell you what. What’s the fellow’s name?”
And you say, “Well, his name is Harry.”
And so the guy says, “Hey, Harry, come on out of there.” And you say, “You mean we did all of that work for nothing. I mean, you’re just going to talk to this fellow? Come on.”
And while you’re saying this and kidding this fellow, all of a sudden the cover swings open, and Harry sits up in the box. And you’re looking down there and Harry stands up and climbs out of the grave. And he’s standing right next to you and you don’t know what to say. “Hey, Harry, how was the trip?” What are you going to say?
And this guy that says, “Hey, Harry, come on out of there,” he says, “Harry looks a little cold and needs a little food. Take care of him.” And he starts walking away.
Now, you’re dumb but you’re not that dumb, and you say, “Hey, look, I’m going to die someday. Where are you going to be? Maybe you could come over and say, ‘Hey, Johnny, come on out of there.”
That’s what happened at Lazarus’ tomb. “Hey, Lazarus, come on out of there.”
If you had Jesus around and you went to a funeral, you would never know if you were going to come home with the guy you went to see. And we just don’t do that. But when Jesus said that he also taught, “When you see this, then remember, I am the resurrection and life. He that believeth in me, though you die, yet you will live.” Why? “Because I’m the resurrection, I am life, I’ll take care of it.” See, that’s empirical proof. “Want to see this, then let me teach you something.” That’s how Jesus did the miracles. But the capper is the fact of his own crucifixion and his resurrection from the dead.
If one of you said to me, “John, I’m not feeling too good tonight. In fact, in about 20 minutes of time, I’m just going to fall right out in the aisle and I’m going to die, stone cold dead right there. But just let me lay there. And I’m going to lay there for four or five days dead and then after that, I’m just coming back to life again.”
I would say, “Oh really. I haven’t seen that before, but I’m willing to watch.”
Jesus called the shots ahead of time. He said in advance, “I’m going up to Jerusalem. They’re going to kill me. And then three days after that, after I’ve been in the grave, I’m coming forth again.” Right. Nobody believed him on both sides. You read the account. Nobody believed him. He went up to Jerusalem. The religious leaders took him. He went through seven trials, monkey trials. He was crucified on a cross. A spear was put through his side. The blood and water came out. He was taken down off of the cross. He was pronounced dead. He was wrapped in cloth, the Jewish cloth, and inside every layer of the cloth they put spices to the tune of 75 pounds of spices. Just like a mummy. Then they took that body, all wrapped up, and they put it into a tomb. And then they sealed the tomb. And Jesus was pronounced dead and he was gone.
And yet, just a few days later, those crazy disciples that had run when Jesus was crucified were standing in that very town that had watched him murdered and they were saying, “Listen, Jesus is alive. He’s the Messiah. You killed God’s Messiah! You need to accept Christ as your Savior. He’s the one that God sent!” And they believed them, to the tune of 3,000 at one meeting and 5,000 more in the same city at another meeting. How did they get away with that? Why did people believe?
There are two facts that nobody can explain: one is the empty tomb. They couldn’t have been preaching that Jesus was alive if you could walk two blocks over to the tomb where he was buried and his body was still there, right? I mean, that would have been too easy to disprove. What happened to the body? The body wasn’t there.
First of all, the religious leaders were the first ones to say that the body was gone. Do you realize that? Wasn’t the disciples. The soldiers were guarding the tomb. The religious leaders said, “Look, let’s put a guard at the tomb. They got permission to do so. They put a Roman centurion to guard with his little group to watch the tomb.
Do you know the qualifications for being a Roman centurion? If you read Tacitus, if you read some of the other people, you find out that the qualifications to be a Roman centurion was at least 20 years of valorous duty to the Roman army. You were put in charge of people that had three or four different languages. Why? Because they didn’t want you to all have the same language so you could conspire together. But this man would be able to communicate to all of them. But the only penalty for failure to do your job was what? Death. And that cuts into your schedule. So the fact is, this fellow didn’t want anything to happen to that tomb. He was there with the other soldiers and these were the men that after they had been put there to guard the tomb came to the Jewish leaders and they said, “The tomb is empty.”
And they persuaded the Jewish leaders to come to the tomb. They investigated it, and after they investigated, what did they do? They cooked up this story. “Listen, we’ll take care of you with the government. We will pay them off. And the fact is, we will give you a little money and we want you to present this story. Now, let’s think what the story’s going to be.” And they got together and they said, “Look, tell them this: While you were sleeping,” a Roman centurion sleeping? He’d be killed for that. No way. “While you were sleeping, the disciples came and stole the body away.”
Justin Martyr, about 150 AD, reports that story was still being spread around that the disciples stole the body away. Schonfield in The Passover Plot said something similar to that. Others down through history have said the disciples came and stole the body away.
But listen, why doesn’t that make sense? Couple of reasons. Number one, they cooked up the story so fast that they didn’t even realize they made a logical error. They said that while the soldiers were sleeping the disciples came and stole the body away. Well, listen to this, if your next door neighbor is Bill and you tell me last night somebody robbed my house and it was Bill, I would say, “Well, how do you know that?” “Well, I was sleeping on the couch and all of a sudden, while I was sleeping, Bill came in and stole my TV set.” I’d say, “Now, wait a minute. If you were sleeping, didn’t you have your eyes closed? How did you know it was Bill?”
If you’re sleeping, you’re not awake watching. If the soldiers were sleeping, how did they know it was the disciples? It would have been easy for them to say, “Listen, you know, we were there and we woke up and Peter put up a great fight. Tom over here got a black eye and this guy here, he was killed. I mean, those guys were great fighters.” That would have been evidence. But they didn’t present that. “While we were sleeping the disciples came and stole the body away.”
Didn’t think about what they’re saying. They’re saying the disciples came and stole the body away. Disciples who were the cowards! When Jesus was taken, who were the ones that ran away? It was the disciples. They weren’t fighters. They weren’t expecting a resurrection.
What happened to the body? What do you think happened to the body? That is something that has to be explained. Something happened to the body, and we know that the body wasn’t there. The tomb was empty.
But just a few weeks later the disciples were standing in the very city of Jerusalem and they said, “The answer to the riddle of what happened to the body is, Jesus rose from the dead. He appeared to us. We believe it. We don’t care if you kill us. Here we are!” That’s what changed the disciples. That’s the only thing that makes logical sense.
The second thing that you have to explain are the people who said that they saw Jesus alive after he was crucified. Paul says there were more than 500 people at one time that saw Jesus. In other accounts, you can find ten different times that Jesus appeared to different people along the way. Now, what is the theory that accounts for what these people were saying?
The main theory today of what was happening was hallucination. These people were hallucinating. They were imagining something as if they were seeing it, but there really wasn’t anything there. They were just imagining it.
Now, in group psychology today we know a couple of things about hallucinations. Number one, we know that if one person here is having a vision and the other person is having a vision, most likely, they’re not having the same vision at the same time. You don’t have stereo vision, okay, because it comes out of your subconscious. It comes from your background and so you’re not going to have the same vision.
Secondly, it is among people that expect it to take place. For example, if one of the accounts said that Peter and John and James were with Mary and the other women and they were in a little hut, and they had all the blinds shut, the door locked, and they were all sitting around. It was dark inside there and this is one of the places that Jesus hung out before. The fact is, while they were sitting there the candle was kind of glowing and all of a sudden the wind blew up and the drapes went up and the candle went out. Suddenly, Mary says, “I see Jesus. I see Jesus.” And Peter says, “Yeah, there he is!” Now, see, that would be a little bit of a problem for me. Wouldn’t it for you? You see, they had to be expecting it. They had to be in one of those spots where Jesus was near and dear to them before and if that was the case, then we would have a big problem. Maybe they were hallucinating.
But where did Jesus show up? Where did Jesus appear? It wasn’t in those kind of places. It was on a busy road to the city of Emmaus; it was down at the beach in the morning. He had lunch with the guys a couple of times. He appeared on the top of a mountain to 500 people. The hallucinations took place in spots where hallucinations do not take place. Think of 500 people that saw Jesus at one time. If those people were hallucinating, then you have to say there is such a thing as group hallucination. Five hundred people all tuned in to the same vision. No. They were eyewitnesses and this is what changed their life.
I want to close with something that maybe you haven’t heard about before. There are also, I feel, about five different reasons that you have to account for that go right back to the resurrection.
Number one, you have to account for the origin of the Church. Here we are. We’re a Church. Where did it come from? Well, somebody started it. Who started it? Well, a Christian. Where did he come from? Well, another person won him to the Lord. Well, where did that person come from? And you go on back in history and you finally come down to the start. Where is the start? Right about the time of Jesus. Now, why did the Church start? It’s because they had said they had seen Jesus Christ alive and he had shown them that he was God and he had told them as God to go out and tell everybody that he had arisen from the dead, he had conquered death, he had paid for the sins of the world. He was the Savior. He could forgive their sin. And that’s what they preached. You look at the sermons all through the book of Acts and you will find that’s what the fellows said. “We saw him alive. We are witnesses of his resurrection from the dead.” That’s how the Church started. That’s the message that started the Church. What in the world caused this? Could only be the resurrection of Jesus. That’s what they said.
There’s something else. Do you realize that right at that time we went to Sunday worship? And who went to Sunday worship? Orthodox Jews changed the day that they worshipped from Saturday to Sunday. Why? That’s an earth-shaking event. They kept it for over 1500 years in the Old Testament, and all of a sudden one day they woke up and said, “We’re doing it on Sunday, not on Saturday.” Why? Cause there was nothing else to do? They said, “We want to commemorate this day as the Lord’s Day. This is the day that he rose from the dead. We will gather together. We will worship on this day.” You give me any other reason that beats that one for why all of a sudden they started worshipping on Sunday. There is none.
Where did this thing called baptism originate? The ordinance of baptism, where did that come from? What is it? Baptism is a pictorial display of what? Of Jesus going down into the grave and you’re identifying yourself with him, that I die to myself. And then what? When you come out of the waters, it’s coming out of the waters into newness of life with Christ to serve him. That’s the resurrection. That’s what baptism means. Where in the world did that originate? Why did it originate? It originated right at that time and they said because this is what Jesus wanted and it teaches what he did. He was buried and he arose from the dead. That’s what baptism is all about. And it goes right back to that time.
How about communion? What’s communion? The Christians got together and they decided to celebrate what? The Lord’s death “until he comes.” Why would you celebrate somebody’s death? Because he’s not dead anymore. He died for us to pay for our sins and he arose from the dead and he’s coming back to get his Church. Communion, baptism make no sense unless there’s an actual physical resurrection from the dead and it goes right back to the time of Jesus. That’s when it started. All the scholars admit that. And what is it based on? It’s the resurrection.
And I’ve got another one. What about Jesus’ own family? Do you remember his family? I’m talking about his brothers, now, not his mother. His own brothers did not believe in him during Jesus’ lifetime, did they? What were they like? Mark 3:21. When His family heard about this—Jesus and his claims that he was God—they went to take charge of him for they said, “He is out of His mind!” Mark 3:21; John 7:3-5.
Jesus’ brothers said to Jesus, “You ought to leave here and go to Judea” and they said this tongue-in-cheek, “so your disciples may see the miracles that you do. No one that wants to become a public figure acts in secret.” Why did they want Jesus to go up to this area and do miracles? “Since you are doing these things, show yourselves to the world,” and it says “for even his own brothers did not believe in him.” Why did they want him to go up there? They were trying to goad him into a death trap.
If he showed up at the Feast of Tabernacles in Jerusalem, they thought that the authorities would take him and kill him, and so they were saying, “Jesus, why don’t you go on up to Jerusalem and do a few miracles up there and make a few statements up there?” And they would have been rid of him. Those were his brothers. Nice family, huh?
Now, we don’t hear very much about Jesus’ brothers until Acts 1:14. But surprise, surprise! These fellows that did not believe in Jesus and actually tried to kill him show up in Acts 1:14 where it says, “They all joined together constantly in prayer,” talking about the first Christians, “along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus and,” goodness sakes alive, “his brothers.” What were they doing there? These guys had tried to kill him; didn’t believe in him; why were they there right before Pentecost?
In Galatians 1:19 Paul reports that when he visited Jerusalem three years after his conversion he did not see any of the other apostles except James, the Lord’s brother, which seems to imply that James was not an apostle. The Jewish historian Josephus records that the Jews illegally and brutally stoned James to death for what? For his faith in Jesus Christ, sometime around 60 AD. In 1 Corinthians 9:5 Paul mentions not only James but Jesus’ other brothers became believers. He says, “Do we not have the right to be accompanied by a wife, as the other apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas?” These guys got converted. What changed his own brothers from not believing in him to becoming apostles that went out and got killed for their brother? Paul says, in a nutshell, in 1 Corinthians 15:7, the reason why they got converted. After Jesus was seen to be murdered on a cross and crucified in front of all Jerusalem, after he was put into the grave, after he arose from the dead, after he started appearing to different ones, Paul makes this little crisp statement in 1 Corinthians 15:7, “Then he appeared to James.” That must have been a meeting. How would you like to see your dead brother come back and say, “I’m God. Here I am.” There’s nothing else you can attribute to these brothers of Jesus, why they would have changed, except what Paul said. They saw him after he arose from the dead and they went out and served him and they got martyred for doing it.
One last one. What do you do with Paul, the old Saul of Tarsus. Saul was one of the Jewish authorities. He was the chief persecutor of the Christian movement. He was an extremely devout rabbi. He did not believe in this Messiah Jesus and he set about to kill his followers. According to Luke in Acts 22:4 Paul did the following: “I persecuted the followers of this way to their death, arresting both men and women and throwing them into prison as also the high priests and all the council can testify.” That’s the kind of guy he was. Something happened to him. And he turned from somebody that was persecuting and hunting Christians down and was adamantly against them; he changed from somebody that gave up the comforts of being a respected rabbi; he took the life of an itinerant preacher. It was a life full of toil, sacrifice, pressure and unimaginable suffering. Paul, because of his change, was whipped five different times by the Jews, 39 lashes each time. The Romans also whipped him on three occasions. Once he was stoned and left for dead. Three times he was shipwrecked. Once he was afloat in the water for 24 hours. Robbers were there to threaten him along the highway. Jewish and pagan adversaries were seeking to kill him. He experienced hardship. He went without food. He didn’t sleep sometimes. He was poorly dressed. He had no place to stay. And eventually, he was martyred for his changed beliefs. He was one of the most remarkable men who ever lived and it all began right around 35, 36 AD. Why? Paul says the reason that he changed was he saw Jesus Christ alive on that road to Damascus. That’s the only thing he says. That’s what got him.
Now, you take, [1] where did the Church begin; [2] where did we start with baptism and [3] communion; [4] where do we get the change in the brothers of the Lord; [5] where do we get the change of Paul? What do you attribute that to? What would have persuaded these tough nuts to crack? They said, every one of them the same thing, “We saw Jesus Christ alive after he was crucified.” He’s alive and they went out and served him and they changed the world.
Now, my friend, I want to ask you this: Who do you think that Jesus Christ is? We have historical records about Jesus Christ that you can’t just throw away. That’s solid information, written by eyewitnesses. They came out early among people that loved him and hated him. In those records Jesus claims to be God of God. His character was absolutely unique. How do you place this Jesus among all the people that have ever lived? Who do you think that he was? What do you do with the works that he did? His miracles? What do you do with his resurrection from the dead? Who do you think that Jesus was? And the interesting thing is that this man lived 1,900 years ago on planet earth. That Jesus is very God.
And the question, the very important question is this: Do you know him? Because the Bible says, quoting Jesus, you’re going to stand before him someday and he’s going to say, “Did you accept my offer? Did you accept my forgiveness? Did you accept what I did on the cross for you?” Do you want to say to him, “No,” after he’s done all of that? The one who left glory to come and do all of that so we could know for sure who he was and how much he loved us?
My friend, if you do not have a personal relationship with that Jesus, you can start one very simply because He wants you to have it. This is not something where you’re approaching the King on trembling feet and saying, “Oh, I don’t know if he will like me or not.” He’s already said, “I came and gave my life. God proved his love toward us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ went and died for us.” He already proved he loves you. But he says, “Realize you’re a sinner. Realize you’ve broken my laws.” That’s why I came. I’m the Savior.”
As the angel said, “Unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior.” Didn’t put your name there; you’re not the one to do the saving work. Jesus is the Savior. And when Jesus died on that cross, he paid for your sins and mine. He was put into the grave. He arose again. He’s living now and he can forgive you. He wants to change your life. He’s proved that he’s God. He’s got power to put inside of you, the Holy Spirit of God that will live there. And you can change your life from the inside out. He says someday you’re going to say to him what decision you made. You can make that decision now and you can be one of his own. Is there any reason you would turn Him down?
I’ve invited folks to say a little prayer with me, similar to the prayer that I said when I invited Jesus Christ into my life. And you could do that right now. If you know that you’re a sinner, if you believe that Jesus Christ is God. If you’ve looked at all of this evidence and you say, “Yes, he is God,” then right now, would you say this prayer with me and invite him to be your Savior and let him change your life and make you a Christian? He says that he will if you’ll invite him into your life. I’m going to say a prayer. Say it in your mind and your heart to God. Just mean it with all of your heart and he’ll hear you. Here’s that prayer.
“Lord Jesus, I’ve broken your laws. I know that I’m a sinner. I don’t want to go to hell. I’ve looked at the evidence. I believe that you’re God. I believe that you died on the cross and you paid for the sins of the world. You paid for my sins. And I understand that you want to give me the gift of eternal life. I understand that you want to come in and forgive me of my sins, the sins of my life. You want to change me. You want to make me one of your own. You want to make me a Christian. Lord, I want that. And right now, I invite you to come into my life. Please forgive me of my sins. I put all of my faith, all of my trust and hope in you. My very eternal destiny, I trust you with that, that when I come to die, you’ll take me to heaven. You’ll take care of that area. And Lord, while I live, show me the next steps of how to serve you. Not so that I gain salvation but just because I want to love you. You’ve given me salvation. Thank you for making me a Christian.”

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