The Evidence for Jesus’ Resurrection/Program 1

By: Lee Strobel; ©2007
Lee Strobel started as an atheist, but his investigation of the evidence led him to put his faith in Jesus.



Announcer: Question? Did Jesus rise from the dead? Is it fact or fiction? Does it matter? What’s the evidence? And what answers would you present to a non-Christian friend who asks, “Isn’t Jesus’ resurrection just a myth?” How do we know that he was really dead when they took Him off the cross? And after His burial, were Jesus’ resurrection appearances to over 500 people, just psychological events in their minds, or real physical appearances of the risen Jesus? My guest today who will answer these questions is former atheist, turned Christian, Mr. Lee Strobel, former award winning legal editor of the Chicago Tribune, and New York Times best seller of over 20 books. We invite you to join us to hear the amazing evidence for Jesus’ resurrection on this special edition of the John Ankerberg Show
Dr. John Ankerberg: Welcome to our program. We have got a great one today. My guest is Lee Strobel. He is a graduate from Yale University with his law degree. And then for 13 years he was the award winning legal editor of the Chicago Tribune. All during that time he was an atheist. And, in fact, somewhere along the line circumstances led him to investigate the evidence concerning Christ, not to prove that it was true but to disprove it. But in the end the evidence persuaded him to come to Christ. We are going to hear that story today. He put that evidence that brought him to Christ into his book, The Case for Christ which has sold over 2 million copies worldwide. He has also written the book, The Case for Faith; The Case for the Creator; and his latest book is The Case for the Real Jesus.
Ankerberg: Alright, I want to hear your story and I think that the folks need to hear the story because you were a real trip. You were a hard nut to crack and the stuff that you believed about God. Take us back to maybe Yale and going into the Chicago Tribune and the mindset that you had as a straight atheist.
Strobel: Well, you know, I first started to consider myself an atheist when I was 16 years old. And that was a lot because of what I was taught in school in terms of evolution, the origin of life. They told me that life can come about by itself, it doesn’t need any supernatural creator. I believed it, and started to consider myself an atheist. I later took a course from a guy who was a spiritual skeptic who was teaching me on the New Testament. And, of course, he convinced me that you can’t trust what the Bible says. And so I considered myself an atheist. I married young, my high school sweetheart, I was 20, she was 19. She was agnostic, kind of in spiritual neutral. I was more hostile. I mean, I never, to be honest, John, I had never taken the time to systematically investigate the evidence one way or the other. I kind of thought, you know, my knee jerk reaction was that the idea of an all powerful, all loving, all knowing creator of the universe was just absurd.
Ankerberg: Right.
Strobel: It wasn’t even worth my time to check out.
Ankerberg: You said, “God didn’t create people, but [you thought] people had created God to soothe their own fears.”
Strobel: Exactly. People needed this benevolent jelly bean of a grandfather in the sky so that, if they died, they could at least believe they could go to heaven. I thought that was what that was all about. And the bad part about that, John, is you know, Bertrand Russell the famous atheist once said, “If there is no God, there is no right or wrong.” And, you know, that is how I lived my life. It was really, I made up my morality as I went. Day by day I would make it up. Because my number one value was to keep myself happy at all cost. I mean, I was all about pleasure; I was all about, you know, it was just a narcissistic life. And you know the honest truth, and it is not something I enjoy talking about, but I lived a very immoral and drunken and profane and self absorbed and really in many ways self destructive kind of a life. I had such issues with anger because it seemed like no matter what path I would go down or where I would search I couldn’t find this happiness that I wanted for my life.
And I remember one day, my wife, who had started going to church because she had met a Christian and this really made me mad. She said she was going to church that day, and I was so enraged with this, I just, I reared back and I kicked a hole in our living room wall just out of rage. And my wife was crying and our little girl is crying. And, you know, if you had asked me then, “Why are you so mad? What is all of this anger?” I don’t know that I could have told you. But I just think it was all of these dead ends and butting my head up against the inability to find that which would bring me the satisfaction that I was after.
Ankerberg: Yeah, you said that Alison, your daughter, when she would see you coming home, what would she do?
Strobel: Yeah, I mean that is probably the ugliest thing I can say about my life.
Ankerberg: She was five years old.
Strobel: Yeah, just under five. And if she was playing on the living room floor with some toys and she heard me come home through the front door, just her natural reaction was to pick up her toys and go in her room and close the door. I mean, “is he going to be drunk again? Is he going to be kicking holes in the wall? Is he going to be screaming and yelling and swearing? You know what, it’s just quieter in here; it is just tranquil in here.” I mean that is so hard for me to say because I love my kids; but that is the truth about who I was.
Ankerberg: Then something happened with your wife.
Strobel: Yeah, she met a friend who shared Jesus with her. My wife investigated and she came up to me one day about nine months later and she said, “Lee, I have made a big decision. I have decided to become a follower of Jesus.”
Ankerberg: What did you think then?
Strobel: I thought… divorce was the first word that coursed through my mind. That’s it; I didn’t sign up for this. If she is going to turn into some weirdo, some holy roller, holier than thou and, you know, spend all of her time on skid row serving the poor or something. And I honestly thought that was the end of our marriage. But one of the biggest surprises of my life was, in the ensuing months I expected to see all of these negative things happen; but instead I began to see positive changes in her character, in her values, and in the way she would relate to me and the children. And it was winsome. It was attractive. And so one day she said, “Why don’t you come to church with me?” And I said, you know, I am going to go and get her out of this cult that she has become involved in.
So I went to the little church. It was meeting in a movie theatre. It was called Willow Creek Community Church. The guy gets up to speak, and I don’t think he was even shaving yet. It was a young guy called Bill Hybels. And he gave a talk called Basic Christianity. And, John, he shattered almost every misconception I had about Christianity. I mean, he talked about Jesus; he talked about the cross; he talked about atonement for our sins. He talked about all of this stuff, and I heard it all. And I walked out that day saying two things. First of all, I was still an atheist; he had not convinced me that day that God exists.
But secondly, I realized that if this is true this has huge implications for my life. And so I thought, you know, what I am going to do is use my journalism training, my legal training, and I am going to systematically investigate, is there any credibility to Christianity or any other faith system? I looked at other faith systems as well. And how do they stand up to scrutiny? And a lot of me, John, because of the immoral life I was living, part of me didn’t want it to be true. I wanted to find out that it was not true; because I did not want to be held accountable for the way I had lived my life. On the other hand, as a journalist I tried to say, wait a minute keep your biases in check. Go into this like an umpire in a ball game; call a strike a strike and a ball a ball. Have the guts, have the decency, to follow the evidence wherever it takes me, even if it is to a very uncomfortable conclusion – that God exists.
Ankerberg: You were even tougher than that. I mean, what was the motto you had in the Chicago Tribune newsroom there?
Strobel: Yeah, right. Yeah, we used to pride ourselves on our skepticism. We used to have a policy at the Tribune: try to get at least two sources that confirm a fact before you print it in the newspaper. So we actually had a sign in our newsroom that said, “If your mother says she loves you, check it out.” You know, how do you know? Maybe she is lying; maybe she is making it up. Do you have any evidence? Do you have any proof? I mean, that is the kind of skeptical DNA that I am wired with.
And so as I embarked on this whole investigation, honestly, John, I thought, no kidding, I thought this was going to take a weekend. I thought, give me a couple of days; I will rip this to shreds, I will find all the flaws, all the holes in this, it will take me the weekend. It’ll be fine.
Well, I began to investigate. And as I did, I would begin investigating an issue; I would look at it. And other religions, fascinatingly, would fall by the wayside. I mean, it frankly was not that hard to find the death blow to a lot of these other faith systems. But Christianity was like that old punching doll you had as a kid, the punching bag that you hit it and it comes back every time? It seemed like no matter where I would probe, no matter where I would challenge it, it would respond with affirmative evidence that was compelling. And it was powerful.
Ankerberg: How did you decide where to start when you investigated Christianity? What drew your attention?
Strobel: Well, you know, there are so many issues; you know, the messianic issues, prophecy and so forth. Lots of things. But if I could boil it down to two issues that really are the bedrock of my investigation, because I think this is the bedrock of the issue of who is Jesus is, number one, did He ever claim to be the son of God? A lot of people say that He didn’t. Richard Dawkins in his book, The God Delusion, a skeptic atheist says, well, there is really very minimal historical evidence that Jesus ever even claimed to be the Son of God. Well, that is what I thought.
And then secondly, if He did claim to be the Son of God, did He prove it by returning from the dead? Because I had done a lot of investigations when I was at the Chicago Tribune. We did some of Mental Health facilities. And I will tell you, John, that there is no shortage of people in this world who will look you in the eye and tell you with all sincerity that they are God. But we don’t believe them. Why? Because there is no corroboration, there is no evidence, to support it. If Jesus made the claim that he is the Son of God, that is one thing. But if He proved it, if He backed it up, if He authenticated that claim by returning from the dead, that is pretty good evidence, you come back after three days in the grave, that is pretty good evidence that you are telling the truth.
Ankerberg: Yeah, one time I was in a mental health facility and I walked in the room and the guy says, he told me straight faced, he said that, “Do you know that I am the second son of god?” And I said, “No, I didn’t know that. How do you know?” And he says, “Well, God told me.” And another guy across the room said, “No, I didn’t!” But listen, hold on to that. We are going to get to the evidence of those two points. And we are going to take a break, and we’ll come back, and we are going to hear the evidence that persuaded Lee. Stick with us; you won’t want to miss this.

Ankerberg: Alright, we are back, and we are talking with Lee Strobel. He was a solid atheist working at the Chicago Tribune for 13 years as the legal editor. And one day his wife came to know Christ and it started him on a search to actually prove these beliefs were wrong. But, Lee, tell us the rest of the story here. The fact is, you said there were two facts that you went after. And what were they again?
Strobel: First one, did Jesus claim to be the Son of God; and then secondly, did He back that up by returning from the dead?
Ankerberg: Alright, how did you go about it?
Strobel: Well, the first thing I did, John, I thought, well, a good historian probably wants to go to the earliest sources. And so I thought, well, what is the earliest biography of Jesus? It is the Gospel of Mark, which most people believe was the first of the gospels written. It was based on the eyewitness account of the Apostle Peter. And so I opened it up and the first thing I noticed is that Jesus, the most common way He refers to Himself is not as the Son of God, it is as the Son of Man. So I said, “Well, case closed. He never claimed to be the Son of God; he is just saying, ‘I am the Son of Man, I am just like you and like everybody else’.”
Ankerberg: Right.
Strobel: That is what I thought. And then I delved deeper. And what I found out is that when Jesus referred to Himself as the Son of Man, He wasn’t just claiming humanity. He was claiming so much more than that; because what He was doing was applying to Himself the description of the Son of Man that is found in the Bible in the Hebrew scriptures, the Old Testament, in Daniel 7. And if you look there what you find are divine qualities of the Son of Man: that is He comes to judge all of human kind; He has sovereignty, complete sovereignty and power; He is worshipped by all people, only God is worshipped; His kingdom will last forever. I mean, these qualities that you read in Daniel 7 are divine. [Dan. 7:13-14] And so what Jesus is doing is applying that to Himself and saying, “I am more than just a man; I am the Son of Man.”
And so all of a sudden I’m like, whoa, okay, wait a minute. Maybe there is more. One of my favorite examples of what He said, and this gets missed by a lot of folks I think in Mark 6, is where Jesus is walking on the water. And everyone knows that story. And most Bibles translate His words as saying, “Fear not, it is I.” [Mark 6:50] But actually, I delved deeper, and what you find in the original Greek in which the New Testament is written, what Jesus actually said was, “Fear not, I AM.” Well, what is I AM? That is the way that God revealed Himself to Moses at the burning bush in Exodus. [Ex. 3:14] And so, all of a sudden He is making another claim. And then it becomes even more overt in His trial before Caiaphas, the High Priest, where he just asked him point blank, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?” And the first two words out of Jesus mouth are, “I AM.” [Mark 14:61-62]
Ankerberg: Yeah, we need to slow that down. “Are you the Christ,” that’s the Messiah, okay? “Are you the Son of the Blessed One?” They wouldn’t say God because they just didn’t do that in the Jewish culture, the fact is, but that is what it meant. Are you the Son of God as well, a double header. He says, “I Am.” And then He adds something that goes even worse than that.
Strobel: Yes, He does. And He says, “And you will see me on the right hand of the mighty one and coming in the clouds of heaven.” [Mark 14:62] That is, coming in judgment, that is coming to judge humankind. Which is ironic, John, when you think about it, because in effect He was saying to Caiaphas, “Oh, excuse me. You think you are trying me? Quite the opposite is true here.” And so, how does Caiaphas respond when Jesus? And by the way, that is a reference to Daniel 7; He is applying that Son of Man to Himself. And so how does Caiaphas understand what He says? He declares blasphemy. Why? Because Jesus is claiming to be God. It was clear to him and it is clear as you read through the biographies of Jesus how this theme just repeats itself.
In John 10:30 Jesus says, “I and the father are one.” And the word in Greek for “one” there means “one in essence”. And so, how does the audience understand what Jesus is saying? They pick up stones to kill Him. Why? Because they say, “You, being a mere man, claim to be God.” [John 10:33] They understood perfectly what He was saying and they were going to kill Him for it. And so, I mean, I walked away from this, John, saying, “Wait a minute. Jesus at least clearly made the claim that He is the Son of God.” That is clear. Now the next question is, did He back it up? Because anybody,… I could claim I’m the Son of God. The question is, does He have any credentials to back it up?
And it is remarkable, John, this is back in the earliest records we have about Jesus. This is not some legend that developed in the century or so after He died, which is what I thought. The idea that He was God that He was claiming to be more than just a human being, I thought this was stuff of legend and mythology that developed a long time later. You go back to the earliest records about Jesus; from the get go He is making these extraordinary claims. He is telling parables about the wicked tenants; and the message of that parable that He tells is that He is the Son of God who was sent and killed as a result.
Ankerberg: Yeah. I like John A. T. Robinson, the guy that helped start the Death of God movement. In his Redating the Gospels, he put this thing we are talking about the Gospel of Mark as early as 40. Now I am saying I am not sure that I agree with that, but the fact is if it is at 40, that is 10 years off the time of Jesus and His resurrection. I am saying 10 years, man, these accounts that we are talking about of Jesus saying these things are on the newsstands in Jerusalem there. And so you have got really solid evidence that Jesus claimed to be God. Now, when that struck into your mind, what did it do to you?
Strobel: Yeah, and by the way, we even have earlier stuff than that, because we have got creeds of the early church that go back, which had this annoying tendency as I looked at them to affirm that Jesus is the face of the invisible God. And it reaffirmed that He is divine. And these are beliefs that go back even before Mark was written.
Ankerberg: I am just saying, how did it hit you when this started to dawn on you?
Strobel: Well, first of all I was surprised. Because again, I thought this was going to take a couple of days for me to deal with and then I would be done with it. But the more I looked at it I thought, wait a minute. The Son of Man, He is making a divine claim. Look at these parables He would tell that would position Himself in an extraordinary manner superior to all human beings. He is clearly saying something that is dramatic, that is powerful. And the audience that He is talking to understood it that way. You know, we can read it today and say, “Well, how do you get this?” But look at how the people reacted of His day; they wanted to kill Him because He was making this claim.
Ankerberg: Alright, we’ve got two minutes left. Set me up in terms of the point number two, which we are going to continue on into next week.
Strobel: Yeah, I mean, I looked at the resurrection of Jesus, whether He backed it up by returning from the dead. And I kind of summarize it into the five “E’s” I call it; five words that begin with the letter e. The first one: execution; was Jesus put to death? Was He really executed? Was He really dead when He was taken down from the cross?
Ankerberg: Yeah. Some people today say, “No, He revived in the tomb.” We are going to look at all that. Keep going.
Strobel: Right, absolutely. And then we have early accounts, in other words, things that cannot be the product of legend. We have an empty tomb that even His enemies agree was empty. We have eyewitness accounts: 515 people encountered the resurrected Jesus. And then we have the emergence of the church right there in Jerusalem, which is inexplicable apart from the disciples of Jesus telling the truth about His resurrection from the dead.
Ankerberg: And you systematically went through every one of those points, which we are going to do in the next program. And the bottom line was what?
Strobel: Well, bottom line is, you know, you go through that and you weigh the evidence honestly and fairly. And I found myself agreeing with Sir Lionel Luckhoo, the greatest lawyer who ever lived – he won 245 murder trials in a row either before a jury or on appeal – who was an atheist until he studied the evidence. He took his monumental legal skill and applied it to the historical record. And his conclusion was, “I say unequivocally that the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus Christ is so overwhelming that it compels acceptance by proof that leaves absolutely no room for doubt.”
Ankerberg: We have got skeptics who have got Ph.D.s. We have got kids in college and high school. We have got adults that are just wondering about these things. And they are where you were at, okay, and they are listening to this. Kind of tell them why they need to stay tuned for next week.
Strobel: Well, first of all, I think this is the pivotal issue. And the apostle Paul said it: if Jesus had not been raised, our faith is futile, we are still in our sins. [1 Cor. 15:17] I mean, this is the issue, the number one issue. Because anybody can make the claim they are divine, but can you prove it by returning from the dead? And so I think it is that monumentally important. I think it is the pivotal event of history. And I think if people look at it with an open mind, with an open heart, they make it a front burner issue in their life. And they kind of say to themselves, “You know what? When the evidence is in, I am going to reach a verdict.” With that kind of attitude, if you investigate the evidence for yourself, I think it is pretty hard not to come to the kind of conclusion that Sir Lionel Luckhoo came to.
Ankerberg: Yeah. Alright, folks, we want you to stay tuned, because next week we are going to talk about that pivotal point, did Jesus rise from the dead? We are going to listen to this skeptic as he worked his way through those five points. And I think this is something that you need to hear, and I hope that you will join us.

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