Did Jesus Rise from the Dead?

The resurrection is the foundation of the Christian faith – 1 Corinthians 15:14. Since we have already looked into the big questions of life (Where did we come from? Why are we here? Where are we going?), so if Christ rose from the dead, we know for certain that God exists, what He is like and that He has a great plan for humankind!

Not wishful thinking:

If the resurrection had never happened, Christianity is nothing more than a museum piece, and devotees whom many have given their lives were only poor deluded fools. Skeptics attack the resurrection because Christianity stands or falls on this fact.

One skeptic promotes that it is all a fable or fantasy, attempting to expose the faith as a fraud and superstition. While Frank Morison was doing his research, he could not get past the question, “Who moved the stone?” Lee Strobel has a similar testimony, while trying to expose Christianity as a lie, he examined the evidence and came to faith in Christ.

Data to be considered:

The fact of the Christian church: It can be traced back to the first century Palestine, around AD 32. Did it just happen or was there a cause for it? They were first called Christians in Antioch, and they turned the world up-side down – Acts 11:26, 17:6. They constantly referred to the resurrection as the basis for their teaching and living.

Then there is the fact of the Christian day: Sunday is the day of worship, and can be traced back to around AD 32. Something significant must have happened to change the day from the Jewish Sabbath to the first day of the week. Even more remarkable is the fact that many of the first Christians were Jewish!

There is the Christian book, the New Testament: There are six independent testimonies to the fact of the resurrection; three of them by eyewitnesses (peter, John and Matthew). These who helped transform the moral fabric of society could not have been skilled liars or deluded madmen.

Accounting for the empty tomb:

The earliest explanation was the disciples stole the body (Matthew 28:11-12, 13-15) – Religious leaders gave money to guards to say the disciples came and stole the body while they were asleep. It was so false that Matthew did not even bother to refute it. If they were asleep, how would they know the disciples did this? It would be laughed out of court. This was also totally out of character of the disciples; they would be thieves and liars. But each of these disciples faced torture and martyrdom. People will die for what they believe to be true, though it may actually be false. They do not however die for what the know to be a lie.

The Jewish or Roman authorities stole the body: But why? Evidence they did not comes out of their silence in the face of the bold preaching of the resurrection by the apostles. They were in rage and did all they could to squash this new faith. The truth is that if they had taken the body, they would have paraded the bloody corpse through the streets of Jerusalem!

The women, distraught with grief in the pre-dawn light, went to the wrong tomb: They imagined Christ was alive because they found a tomb empty. If this happened, the authorities would have just gone to the right tomb and produced the body. It is also inconceivable that all the disciples would have made such a mistake, and Joseph of Arimathea would not have gone to the wrong tomb (it belonged to him – Matthew 27:57-59, 60-61).

The swoon theory: Jesus did not actually die, but was weak, exhausted and passed out, but in the cool of the tomb was revived and got out. First off, these Roman guards were good at their trade; they knew dead when they saw it! If Jesus revived, how did he regain strength without food or water for three days? What about the blood loss? How did He remove the grave clothes? How did He roll away the stone, overcome the guards, and walked miles on spike pierced feet? How do you explain the appearances of Christ with only the nail wounds? He would have looked like a resuscitated corpse not a glorified Savior.

The appearances of Christ:

This happened from the morning of the resurrection to 40 days later. He appeared to Peter and John, the disciples, over 500 people, in different places (the tomb, the upper room, to the Emmaus Road). These eyewitnesses testify that this actually happened.

Was it a hallucination? These people were a diverse group and dispositions, not said to be imaginative of nervous minded. Hallucinations are subjective and individual; no two people have the same experience. When He appeared to the 500, over have of them were alive by the time Paul wrote about it in First Corinthians 15. Hallucinations usually take place at certain times and places. These appearances happened indoors, outdoors, and at all times during the day. Some of these experiences took place over a long period of time, abruptly ending after the ascension.

A hallucination is generally comes from an intense desire to believe something that is not there, so he attached reality to the imagination. But these disciples were persuaded against their wills to believe He was raised from the dead. They came to the tomb with spices in hand. Mary did not expect to see Jesus alive, and even mistook Him for the gardener. The disciples believed he story to be an idle tale. When they thought they had seen a ghost, He calms then by inviting them to touch Him and even eating with them, something a hallucination would not have done.

Then there’s Thomas. He wasn’t about to believe in this hallucination! When Jesus shows up, he exclaims “My Lord and my God.” To hold to the hallucination theory is to ignore the evidence. What changed these cowardly disciples into men of courage and conviction? How do we explain Peter’s denial before the crucifixion to Peter’s sermon at Pentecost, later risking harm and jail time?

Contemporary proof:

If Jesus is alive, He is ready to invade your existence. Thousands of people across the globe have trusted Him with their salvation, and testify how He changed their lives.

Is There a God?

Quite a profound question, since the dawn of time:

“More consequences for thought and action follow the affirmation or denial of God than from answering any other basic question.” – Mortimer Adler.

The whole tenor of human life is affected by whether people regard themselves as supreme beings or acknowledge a superhuman being whom they conceive as an object of fear or love, a force to be defied or a Lord to be obeyed.

God in a test tube:

  1. God cannot be proved through scientific methodology.
  2. The reason lies in the nature of history itself, and the limits of the scientific method. In order to be provable scientifically, it must be repeatable. But while the facts of certain events in history can’t be proven by repetition, it does not disprove their reality as events (creation, assassination of Lincoln, crucifixion).
  3. Scientific method deals only with measurable things. No one has ever seen three feet of love or two pounds of justice, but it is foolish to deny their reality.
  4. Evidence for God?
    1. Anthropology: a universal belief in God, a Great Spirit, a Creator, even in societies that are polytheistic.
    2. Old idea of how religion developed: monotheism was the apex of gradual development that began in polytheism.
    3. New research: oldest traditions around the world of a Supreme Being.

Ecclesiastes 3:11 – eternity is set in the hearts of men. Pascal called this the God-shaped vacuum in every man; Augustine wrote that “our hearts are restless until they find rest in You.”

The law of cause and effect:

  1. No effect can be produced without a cause.
  2. Bertrand Russell, in Why I Am Not a Christian, God was the answer given to him for many of his childhood questions. In desperation he asked, “Well, who created God?” No answer came and his faith collapsed. But by definition God is eternal and uncreated.
  3. R. C. Sproul – “Being eternal, God is not an effect. Since He is not an effect, He does not require a cause.”

Infinite time plus chance:

  1. Inventions do not come into existence without first having a design. We find objects and books that mandate that an intelligent mind was at work. How much more would the complexity of the universe and life itself require a Designer.
  2. Our two choices: Our universe came together by chance, or our universe came together by purpose and design.
    1. Ideally prepare primordial soup, jolted by frequent electrical charges, over an unlimited period of time, that some life form would then evolve. How long would it take a blind person to solve a Rubik’s Cube? One move per second, without resting, it is estimated that it would take 1.35 trillion years; therefore a blind person could not solve a Rubik’s Cube.
    2. So look at DNA. To get 200,000 amino acids in one living cell to come together by chance, it would be 293.5 times the estimated age of the earth (which is set at 4.5 billion years). The odds are better that a blind person can solve a Rubik’s Cube!
    3. Junkyard mentality: What are the chances that a tornado might blow through a junkyard containing all the parts of a 747, accidentally assembling them into a plane, and leave it ready for take-off?

Order and design in the universe:

  1. Look beyond the observable world: protons and neutrons, and the vastness of galaxies. Who gave the specifications?
  2. A working TV – glass, metal, wood, wires, all coming together by natural selection or it is a self-assembled product?
  3. The earth is in delicate balance: (pp. 28-29) temperatures, peculiar properties of water, size of the atmosphere, distance from the sun, the lunar orbit,
  4. The human eye: lens, retina, nerve, brain – chance? Darwin stated in his Origin of Species, “To suppose that the eye with all its inimitable contrivances for adjusting the focus to different distances, for admitting different amounts of light, and for the correction of spherical and chromatic aberration, could have been formed by natural selection, seems, I freely confess, absurd in the highest degree.” (Chapter 6, p. 186). He then goes on to explain how it could have actually happened. The problem is that he appeals to reason, then goes on to paint a picture of imagination and possibility, desiring us to accept the process even without evidence. (Irreducible complexity).

The universe had a beginning:

  1. The Lord laid the foundations of the earth – Psalm 102:25.
  2. Continuous or steady-state theory – galaxies move farther apart and new galaxies where formed in between. Matter is continually being created. Hydrogen is renewed out of nothing. But Robert Jastrow, founder of NASA’s Institute for Space Studies says the opposite is true. Whenever a star is born, it begins to consume some of the hydrogen in the universe. The theory of a continual universe is untenable or indefensible.
  3. Oscillating Model – The universe is like a spring, expanding and contracting, repeating endless cycles. A closed theory, no new energy is put into it, and gravity always pulls everything back together. But the universe is clearly losing density with no sign of going into reverse. Both of these fail to look at the observable cosmology!
  4. Big Bang Theory – Dr, Edwin Hubble, plotted speeds of galaxies, and confirmed they are moving apart at enormous speeds. If it is all moving away, at one time it must have all been compacted into a very dense mass. In 1965 science discovered that the earth was bathed in a faith glow of radiation, an exact pattern from an explosion. But Robert Jastrow (an agnostic) comments: astronomical evidence points to the biblical view of the origin of the world. Details differ, but the essential elements in the astronomical and biblical accounts of Genesis are the same – a definite moment in time, in a flash of light and energy.
  5. Even if the universe began in a bang, science cannot explain how the elements were ripe for the event. It certainly cannot be a Who that got it started! Jastrow concludes, “For the scientist who has lived by his faith in the power of reason, the story ends like a bad dream. He has scaled the mountains of ignorance; he is about to conquer the highest peak; as he pulls himself over the final rock, he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries.”

The moral argument:

  1. C. S. Lewis – “right and wrong as a clue to the meaning of the universe.” That’s my seat. That’s not fair. Suppose I did the same to you. C’mon, you promised.
  2. There is an appeal to some behavioral standard that the other person is assumed to accept. Is there a law or rule of fair play? Lewis says that quarreling is one man’s way of showing the other man is wrong.
  3. This law has to do with what ought to take place. It is more than cultural or societal standards. There is surprising consensus from civilizations about moral decency. If there were no set standard, there would be no difference between Christian morality and Nazi morality.
  4. Lewis said it cannot be a social convention, but more of a mathematical table. Two plus two is always four, no matter what your culture. So, there is a Somebody who set a standard: fair play, unselfishness, courage, good, faith, honesty, truthfulness.

God – the celestial killjoy:

  1. Who can fathom the mysteries of God – Job 11:7.
  2. He does not peer over the balcony of heaven and zap us, saying, “cut it out.”
  3. He is not the sentimental grandfather in the sky saying, “boys will be boys.”

God has penetrated the finite:

  1. In these last days He has spoken through His Son – Heb 1:1-2.
  2. If you wanted to communicate to a colony of ants, the best way would be to become an ant.
  3. J. B Phillips, the earth is “the visited planet.”

Changed lives:

  1. There is a clear presence in the lives of men and women today.
  2. Change takes place in believing individuals.

Study Questions:

  1. What must happen for something to be scientifically proven?
  2. Why can we not prove God’s existence?
  3. Since the beginning of time, peoples of the world have sensed a creator of the universe, why do you think that atheists believe they have the upper hand by saying it ain’t so?
  4. Discuss the cosmological and teleological arguments for the existence of God.
  5. Discuss the moral argument of the existence of God. How would you argue for and against this argument?
  6. Changed lives as a proof is very subjective. How would a born-again believer’s testimony be different from the devotee of another religion?
  7. What personal evidence can you offer?
  8. What other arguments for or against the existence of God can you think of?
  9. Which argument seems most meaningful to you? Which one least helpful?

Is Christianity Rational?

Know Why You Believe:

My Sunday School class studied the book, Know Why You Believe, a classic book by Paul Little. It’s plain and simple apologetics for the rest of us.

  1. Is Christianity Rational?
  2. Is There a God?
  3. Is Jesus God?
  4. Did Jesus Rise from the Dead?
  5. Is the Bible God’s Word?
  6. Are the Bible Documents Reliable?
  7. Does Archaeology Confirm Scripture?
  8. Are Miracles Possible?
  9. Do Science and Scripture Agree?
  10. Why Does God Allow Suffering and Evil?

What is faith? Does it mean to believe in something you know isn’t true?

Don’t check your brains at the door:

  1. It is not only essential to know what we believe but to know why we believe it.
  2. Christianity is true whether we believe it or not.
  3. Two broad viewpoints these days:
    1. The anti-intellectual approach: (Colossians 2:8) suggesting that Christianity is non-rational if not irrational. A clear presentation of the gospel is important but it is not a substitute for faith. The Spirit is at work helping people to understand the truth, convicting the world of sin. Read the Invisible Gardener quote and the response (p 15).
    2. The exclusively rational approach: perhaps everything depends upon the mind. There is an intellectual factor, but there is also a moral factor (1 Corinthians 2:14) that says apart from the Holy Spirit, no one will ever believe.
  4. How do you feel the world challenges your faith?

Know some answers:

  1. We are commanded to be knowledgeable (1 Peter 3:15) for sound reasons. Why would the Bible have such a command?
    1. To strengthen our faith – we should know more than the fact that Jesus lives in our hearts.
    2. To validate our experience – a non-believer can claim his experience is just as valid and we are stumped. We cannot drive ourselves to believe something of which we are not intellectually convinced.
    3. To show that we believe something that is objectively true, regardless of who told us (like our parents or SS teacher, first-hand faith).
  2. How would obeying 1 Peter 3:15 help dispel the faulty concept in non-believers’ minds that faith is believing something you know isn’t true?

A rational body of truth:

  1. Perhaps no one has ever presented the facts to us logically. Faith is more than superstition based on emotions.
  2. The Great Commandment to love God will all our heart, soul mind and strength (Matthew 22:37) which involves the whole person.
  3. Paul defends and confirms the gospel (Philippians 1:7) which tells us that the gospel can be rationally understood and supported.
  4. The gospel is equated with truth, and opposed to error (2 Thessalonians 2:11-12). Non-Christians are defined as rejecting the truth (Romans 2:8).
  5. Paul asserts that it is not because people don not have enough knowledge to know the truth (Romans 1:20) but they have exchanged the truth for a lie (Romans 1:25).

Moral smoke screens:

  1. The moral issue overshadows the intellectual issue: it is not that people cannot believe, but that they will not believe (John 5:40).
  2. Moral commitment leads to a solution of the intellectual problem (John 7:17).
  3. Question: If Christianity is rational and true, why don’t more educated people believe it? It’s simple, because they don’t want to believe it! It’s not a matter of brain power; it is a matter of the will.
  4. Do you agree of disagree?
  5. Do other factors (like an abusive earthly father) keep someone from fully trusting God?

Doubt strikes terror:

  1. Sometimes we question our faith and wonder if it’s true, especially if you were raised in a Christian home. We believe it because we have confidence and trust in the person who told us about it. Re-examination is needed; to become first-hand faith.
  2. How can we know that we are not taken by church propaganda? Come back to two factors:
    1. The objective, external, historical facts of the resurrection.
    2. The subjective, internal, personal experience of Christ.
  3. Would a good Christian ever doubt? Like your faith is slipping because you began thinking. When challenged by an educated skeptic, they conform under pressure and then shed a faith that they never embraced as their own.
  4. How are doubting Christians usually handled in this church?
  5. Is there a group where doubters can discuss their issues in a non-threatening way?

Don’t hit the panic button:

  1. If you don’t have the answer, just promise to get one; no one has thought up just this week a question that will bring Christianity crashing down.
  2. Some things are never going to be answered (Deuteronomy 29:29). Christian faith goes beyond reason, not against it.
  3. Exposure to non-Christians reveals the same questions come repeatedly, and are limited in the range. One can predict the questions that will arise within a half-hour.

A doubter’s response:

  1. Doubters need to understand that they must come to a decision rather than find an answer.
  2. To make no decision is to decide against Christian position.
  3. To continue to doubt in the face of adequate information may indicate an unwillingness to believe and a will set against God.

Study Questions:

  1. For centuries the church did nothing to foster spiritual knowledge and Christian growth. Today we have millions of Bibles, thousands of churches and hundreds of ways to access information. Do you think it is easier or harder to have a genuine and growing relationship with Christ than in earlier centuries?
  2. What reasons do you see in your friends who refuse to believe? How can you help them through the roadblocks?
  3. Apart from the Holy Spirit, no one will believe. Pray now for the Spirit’s intervention in the lives of people you know.

Why Does Atheism Reject God?

Dinesh D’Souza takes on leading critics of the church from E.O. Wilson to Richard Dawkins, from Sam Harris to Christopher Hitchens, extolling how Christianity is at home in the arena of science and philosophy and can offer a recipe for lasting happiness in a disillusioned world. While considering the book, I found this review very insightful, An Argument Against the Atheists:

 

“Today’s Christians know that they do not, as their ancestors did, live in a society where God’s presence was unavoidable. No longer does Christianity form the moral basis of society. Many of us now reside in secular communities, where arguments drawn from the Bible or Christian revelation carry no weight, and where we hear a different language from that spoken in church.”  That is the opening salvo from author Dinesh D’Souza in his new book, What’s So Great About Christianity

 

Why does atheism reject God? This is the part I found fascinating, especially since it has been my conclusion for years!

 

Al Mohler writes: D’Souza’s strongest analysis comes when he considers the true character of the new atheism. It is, he suggests, a “pelvic revolt against God.”  In other words, it is a revolt against Christian morality — especially sexual morality. This is not a new observation or argument, but D’Souza makes it exceptionally well: 

 

My conclusion is that contrary to popular belief, atheism is not primarily an intellectual revolt, it is a moral revolt. Atheists don’t find God invisible so much as objectionable. They aren’t adjusting their desires to the truth, but rather the truth to fit their desires. This is something we can all identify with. It is a temptation even for believers. We want to be saved as long as we are not saved from our sins. We are quite willing to be saved from a whole host of social evils, from poverty to disease to war. But we want to leave untouched the personal evils, such as selfishness and lechery and pride. We need spiritual healing, but we do not want it. Like a supervisory parent, God gets in our way. This is the perennial appeal of atheism: it gets rid of the stern fellow with the long beard and liberates us for the pleasures of sin and depravity. The atheist seeks to get rid of moral judgment by getting rid of the judge. 

 

I have thought this for years, not so much the sexual immorality part, but the fact that modern atheism wants to be accountable to no one. That statement sounds as if atheists are evil people, desiring to eliminate all moral codes. Not true. As a recent media report puts it, atheists want to spread the message that “we’re good people, just not God people.”  

 

In the new book, unChristian, the author states that modern apologetics do not work in our postmodern relativistic society. Christianity just does not “click” using logical rational arguments for God’s existence. I believe we all evaluate the facts as we see them and choose to believe what we do based upon our interpretation of those facts. For atheism, I can’t help but think D’Souza’s point is valid.

Christianity Has An Image Problem

There is a fascinating book called, unChristian (Kinnaman and Lyons) that declares Christianity has an image problem. I’ve known it for years but did not really have any research to support it. I often heard stories like:

  1. The church is only after my money
  2. Look at the lifestyles of TV evangelists
  3. Church is boring or irrelevant
  4. Remember Ted Haggard and Jim Bakker?
  5. The church is full of hypocrites
  6. I don’t need to go to church to worship God
  7. Too many priest sex scandals and cover-ups
  8. Christians are too narrow-minded

Once teenagers get their driver’s licenses, it seems participation in church activity is usually the first item scratched off the list. Remember that Christianity is a relationship more than it is a religion. Jesus said that a tree is known by its fruit, so believers not living out what they say they believe is one of the greatest barriers to outsiders giving Jesus a try. Believers in Christ are the church; it’s not the building or an activity we do on Sundays. It seems I read that Gandhi would have become a Christian, but he could not find any of His followers.

So how has the Christian faith portrayed itself to a skeptical generation? What does Christian mean to you? For many, it means very conservative, indoctrinated, anti-gay, anti-choice, angry, violent, judgmental, illogical, hypocritical, too political, building their own empires, trying to convert everyone to their way of thinking, who cannot live at peace with anyone who believes differently than themselves. So, what did I leave out? A lot of this originates from the hurtful past of former believers.

How are Christians to overcome this negative stereotype? Today’s Christians are known more for what they are against than what they really stand for. Its one thing to know about Jesus, it is another to really know Him. Assent to a set of propositions is not what Jesus desires, but that we become His disciples, followers who live out what we believe. We are not alone, there are other authentic pilgrims on this journey.

I heard Greg Stier of Dare2Share Ministries tell a story of when he was a pastor, about being in a coffee shop, studying at a table with all his Jesus books in front of him. As he was leaving to pay, there was a Goth looking kid wearing a Marilyn Manson T-shirt behind him who noticed all his books. “Are you religious?” he asked, “Because I don’t like religious people.” Greg looked at the guy and said, “Me neither, I can’t stand religious people! You know who else didn’t like religious people? Jesus! Eventually those religious people had him killed.”

So, there he was with this kid with the Manson gear, both agreeing that religious people made them sick. But Jesus showed them by rising from the dead! Greg then went on to tell him about Jesus being into relationship rather than religion. In some ways people may be into spirituality or even into Jesus, but they don’t like the church. Sad reality, since believers ARE the church.