Resurrection of Jesus Christ: Fact or Fiction?—Hoax or Historical Reality?
1 Corinthians 15:14 Easter Sermon (3-27-16)
If we could take our Bibles and open them to the book of 1 Corinthians, chapter 15, taking a look at verse 14 of chapter 15, bringing a special message today since today is Resurrection Sunday. The title of our message is as follows: Resurrection of Jesus Christ: Fact or Fiction, Hopes or Historical Reality.
Of course most people, even (as I’ll be showing you today) unsaved people, unbelievers, know that the resurrection of Jesus Christ which we celebrate today, is pivotal to Christianity. Part of the reason for that is Jesus Himself said He would rise from the dead. Over in Matthew 16:21 the words of Christ are recorded for us. It says, “From that time Jesus began to show His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised up on the third day.”
It’s interesting that Jesus staked His claim to deity based upon His bodily resurrection from the dead. And of course if Jesus never rose from the dead then He’s nothing more than another crazy person, having no real authority to back up His claim to be fully God. So Christianity itself rises or falls according to the historical fact of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. That’s why in the verse I had you turn to the Apostle Paul says, “and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain.” [1 Corinthians 15:14] I mean, there’s a lot better things we could be doing with our time this morning than sitting around worshipping somebody that never actually rose from the dead.
So one of the great issues that all Christians need to, I believe, come to an awareness of, or one of the great questions is this: did the resurrection of Jesus Christ actually happen. And how do we know that it happened in time and history. What I hope to convince you of today is that the resurrection of Jesus Christ is a historical fact. In fact, it’s just as much a historical fact as any other event of history, such as the winter in Valley Forge, the Gettysburg Address, the Battle of Waterloo, we all mentally sign off that those things were actual historical events in history. In the same way, the resurrection of Jesus Christ deserves that same place in history as an objective historical reality.
As I have looked into this I am more convinced than ever that the resurrection of Jesus Christ is a historical fact. And what I’d like to share with you today, and this is the content of our sermon, is seven reasons why the resurrection of Jesus Christ actually took place.
So here we go, reason number 1, and you might want to over to 1 Corinthians 15:6. The first reason is that there were, according to the writings of the Apostle Paul, five hundred eyewitnesses who Paul says check out their stories and see if they be true. Notice 1 Corinthians 15:6, notice what Paul writes there: “After that,” this is His resurrection chapter, “After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time,” now notice this next clause, “most of whom remain until now, but” a few he says, “some have” died, or he uses the euphemism, “fallen asleep.”
That is an amazing statement that he just made there in 1 Corinthians 15:6. What he’s saying is you don’t take word for it, you Corinthians, the ones that I am writing to, check it out for yourself; there are almost 500 people walking around today that will testify that what I have said is true. Jesus truly did rise from the dead; in fact Jesus appeared to around 500 people. Now let’s think about this for a minute. What if what Paul had said was not accurate? Christianity would have been discredited right out of the gate. The book of 1 Corinthians would have never been passed down from one generation to the next as something to be revered and respected.
It would be like this: let’s say somebody writes a book today and says John F. Kennedy, Jr. died of a heart attack. Now there were many people, and maybe some in this room, that saw Kennedy shot. One of my friends, Dr. Mal Couch who has gone to be with the Lord, was actually there filming the entire parade in Dallas when John F. Kennedy was shot and of course we have films of the Kennedy assassination. But what if somebody wrote a book and said well, he really was never shot, he just died of natural cause, a heart attack. We can imagine how quickly the living eyewitnesses to that event would discredit that book. That book would have never gotten off the ground; that book would never have made it into the private reading of men and women. It would have been discredited right away.
And that is the same thing that Paul is doing here in 1 Corinthians 15:6; he makes this very, very bold statement; he says don’t take my word for it, check it out. Christianity would have been dealt a very early blow; 1 Corinthians would have never made it into the biblical canon. Paul’s ministry would have never gone anywhere if there were not these witnesses alive that could corroborate what Paul said. This is an astoundingly bold claim that he is making. And that’s the first reason I believe that Jesus actually rose from the dead.
Let me give you a second reason, number 2; the second reason I believe that the resurrection is an object of historical fact, number 2, is the enemies of Christianity never produced Christ’s deceased body. Now what you have to understand is going back to the ancient world Christianity, just like it has today, had enemies. The Romans hated Christianity because it was causing insurrections and problems in Rome. The unbelieving Jews hated Christianity. And how simple things could have been if the enemies of Christianity had simply gone to the tomb, produced the body and discredited Christianity right out of the gate. But you see, there is nowhere in history where such a thing was ever done. Why was it never done? Because the tomb was empty.
Let me show you what I’m talking about. Notice the book of Acts, chapter 25 and verse 19. Paul there is in Caesarea and he is involved in a variety of trials, he’s being tried before various Roman kings, and in verse 19 Paul keeps talking about the resurrection of Jesus Christ. It says, “… Jesus, whom Paul asserted to be alive.” And then when you go over to Acts 26:26 Paul says makes the statement, he says, “… I am persuaded that none of these things escape your notice;” you kings trying me, “for this has not been done in a corner.” [Acts 26:26 “For the king knows about these matters, and I speak to him also with confidence, since I am persuaded that none of these things escape his notice; for this has not been done in a corner.”]
He’s saying I’m not giving you something wild and fanciful, these things were not “done in a corner.” All of these things that I am talking about could easily be corroborated. And when Paul’s enemies showed up and sought to discredit him what did they do. Notice Acts 25:7, it says: “After Paul arrived, the Jews who had come down from Jerusalem stood around him,” watch this, “bringing many and serious charges against him which they could not prove.” What were they stuck with? They were stuck with a bunch of silly ad hominem attacks, trying to throw Jell-O at the wall and hoping something will stick when it would have been so easy for these unbelieving Jews to discredit Paul, simply to produce the body. Yet they never produced the body! How easy it would have been for his enemies to produce the body of Christ that Paul was testifying to.
Josh McDowell, in his very excellent book, Evidence That Demands a Verdict, writes this: “The Church was founded on the resurrection and disproving it would have destroyed the whole Christian movement. However, instead of such disproof throughout the first century, Christians instead were threatened, beaten, flogged, and killed because of their faith. It would have been much simpler to have silenced them by producing Jesus’ body, but this was never done. The Romans and the Jews could not produce Christ’s body and explain where it went. Why didn’t they recover the corpse, put it on a cart, wheel it throughout the streets of Jerusalem? Such an action would have destroyed Christianity, not in the cradle but in the womb. The Sanhedrin” the Jewish governing body, “The Sanhedrin could have gone to the right tomb, introduced the body of Jesus Christ, if in fact Jesus had not risen from the dead. This would have silenced the disciples forever.”
Instead of doing that what does the first century reveal in terms of history? We’ve got to shut these Christians up, we’ve got to intimidate them into silence, we’ve got to persecute them into silence, we have to abuse them and mistreat them and flog them. Some, like Stephen, we have to stone to death. And all of that would have been an exercise in redundancy, it would have been irrelevant if someone had just gone into the tomb and reproduced the body of Jesus Christ. They would say He never did rise from the dead, here’s His body. But it remains a fact that no one ever did that, even though it would be very simple to do so. And so that really is my second reason why I believe that Jesus rose from the dead: Christianity’s enemies never produced the body.
Let me take you to reason number 3, the third reason why I believe resurrection of Jesus Christ, upon which Christianity rises or falls, was an actual historical happenstance. And that has to do, number 3, with the Dramatic, with a capital D, Dramatic change in the disciples, Christ’s disciples. John Stott, the scholar, writes this: “Perhaps the transformation of the disciples of Jesus is the greatest evidence for the resurrection.”
Another scholar, Anderson, writes these words: “Think of the character of the eyewitnesses, men and women who gave the world the highest ethical teaching it has ever known, and who, even on the testimony of their enemies, lived it out in their lives. Think of the psychological absurdity of picturing a little band of defeated cowards, cowering in an Upper Room one day and a few days later transformed into a company that no persecution could silence, and then attempting to attribute this dramatic change to nothing more convincing than a miserable fabrication that they were trying to foist upon the world. That simply would not make sense.”
One of the things that we see in the Scripture and in other historical sources is the change that happened to Christ’s disciples following the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. You see, we all read the story in the Gospels, these people were cowards and you read the book of Acts and they seem like completely different people. In fact, they are so transformed that the book of Acts, chapter 17 and verse 6 says this of these disciples. “These men who have upset the world,” some versions translate that, “they have turned the world upside down.” And what I want you to understand is every single one of Christ’s disciples, with the exception of John, went to a martyr’s death. Every single one of them! The only one that didn’t would be John and they tried to boil John to death and the son of a gun wouldn’t die, and so they stuck him out on the island of Patmos, which was actually the design of God because on that island John would receive the final book of the New Testament that we call the book of Revelation.
Other than John, every single one of these people, whether you’re talking about Peter, Matthew, Philip, Thomas, whoever, they went to a martyr’s death proclaiming the message of Jesus Christ. What changed in these people? How do you explain the Apostle Peter, who in the Gospels is afraid of his own shadow into a man who is actually crucified upside down. Peter, who denied the Lord three times to a real intimidating servant girl; Peter, who when accused of being with Christ began to openly swear and openly curse. How do we explain that man in light of what we read in Acts 1, chapters 1-10, Peter almost a one-man fighting force who turned the world upside down. And who himself, according to extra biblical tradition was crucified upside down because he did not want to die in the exact manner that Christ died in.
How do we explain the transition in Peter without the resurrection? This is why, when you study Peter’s sermons what you’ll discover is the resurrection of Christ is integral to his thinking. Notice Acts 2:29-32, Peter is preaching on the day of Pentecost: “Brethren, I may confidently say to you regarding the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day.  “And so, because he was a prophet and knew that GOD HAD SWORN TO HIM WITH AN OATH TO SEAT one OF HIS DESCENDANTS ON HIS THRONE  he looked ahead and spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that HE WAS NEITHER ABANDONED TO HADES, NOR DID His flesh SUFFER DECAY.  This Jesus God raised up again, to which we are all witnesses.”
Over in Acts 4:10 Peter continues to talk about the resurrection, it says: “let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead– by this name this man stands here before you in good health.” It is the resurrected Christ that healed the crippled man, Peter says in Acts 4. It is the resurrected Christ, Peter says in Acts 2, that has sent forth the Holy Spirit at the dawn of the age of the church. What a different person He is.
Or take for example, one of the brothers of Christ, his half-brother, a man named James. According to John 7:5 not even Christ’s brothers, including James, believed that Jesus was the Messiah. Now I’ve got to cut him a little slack there, if my brother claimed to be the Messiah I don’t think I’d believe him right away either. John 7:5 says, “For not even His brothers were believing in Him.”
Compare that to the James that we know in the New Testament, the man who wrote the epistle of James, the man who became the pastor of the Jerusalem church, the man who would not renounce Christ’s name and according to extra biblical tradition was thrown off of the Jerusalem wall and went to a martyr’s death. How do you explain the transition in this man, James, the half-brother of Christ? The answer is 1 Corinthians 15:7, which says, “then He” that’s Jesus in His resurrected state, “appeared to James, then to all the apostles.”
How do you explain the difference in Thomas? We all know Thomas as “Doubting Thomas.” Right? And we know that from John 20:24-25, which says, “But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came.  So the other disciples were saying to him, ‘We have seen the Lord!’ But he said to them, ‘Unless I see in His hands the imprint of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.’” Doubting Thomas. But what happened to Thomas? Thomas became one of the greatest missionaries the Christian church has ever seen. Thomas is the one that took the Gospel of Jesus Christ all the way to India where he was martyred in that place as a spear was thrust into him.
How do we explain the difference in Thomas? The answer is the resurrection. The answer is in John 20:26 and following, which says, “After eight days His disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors having been shut, and stood in their midst and said, ‘Peace be with you.’  Then He said to Thomas, ‘Reach here with your finger, and see My hands; and reach here your hand and put it into My side; and do not be unbelieving, but believing.’” And then Thomas in John 20:28 “answered and said to Him, ‘My Lord and my God!’” That’s what changed Thomas. That’s what changed Peter. That’s what changed James. That’s what changed all of these eleven. I don’t think it’s possible to explain it unless there was a bodily resurrection of Jesus from the grave.
Let me take you to a fourth reason why I believe that the resurrection of Jesus Christ was an actual historical happenstance. Number 4, the survival, existence, and ordinances of the Christian church. The Christian church itself with its existence; the Christian church itself with its practices makes virtually no sense unless there was a historical resurrection of Jesus Christ. Notice, if you will, Acts 2:40, Peter, preaching on the day of Pentecost, to all Jews, by the way, you don’t have a Gentile converted in the church age until Cornelius, Acts 10. Acts 2:40, Peter speaking to his fellow Jews, says, “… “Be saved from this perverse generation!”
It is the nation of Israel that did the wrong thing, Peter is saying on the day of Pentecost. I want you to come out from this perverse generation and understand and identify with the message of the church that Jesus has been raised. And what begins from that sermon are three thousand converts which were heavily persecuted. And think of that breakaway from Judaism that these first Jews went through. Think of all of the abuse that they went through. Think of the rejection from even their own family members. Even today if an Orthodox Jew comes into the light of the gospel and believes the gospel that typically means a separation from their community, a separation from their family. That’s what the early church is experiencing here. And what gave them the gusto or the gumption to make the break? The answer is the resurrection of Jesus Christ. That’s why Peter, going back to Acts 2:29-32 makes reference to the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
And what does this early church start doing? They don’t meet on Saturday, they start meeting on Sunday. They don’t meet on the last day of the week, they start meeting on the first day of the week. Keep in mind these people were all Jewish. Going back to Genesis 2:2-3 it is the seventh day that is the sabbath. Genesis 2 says this,  “By the seventh day God completed His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done.  Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made.”
And so in Judaism it is the seventh day or Saturday or the last day in the week which is the day of worship. And that became captured in the law of Moses, going all the way back 1500 years before the time of Christ, to Exodus 20:8-11. God said, through Moses, “Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.  Six days you shall labor and do all your work,  but the seventh day is a sabbath of the LORD your God; in it you shall not do any work, [you or your son or your daughter, your male or your female servant or your cattle or your sojourner who stays with you.’]” Verse 11 goes on and it says that God commanded that they rest on the Sabbath, “therefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day and made it holy. [Exodus 2:11, “For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day; therefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day and made it holy.”]
You have to understand that these Jews, going back one thousand five hundred years understood that the day of worship is Saturday, day seven in the week. And yet what did this infant church start to do? They made a break with tradition and they started to worship, not on the last day of the week but the first day of the week—Sunday. Acts 20:7 says of this early church, “On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together …”
Paul, giving commands to the early church in 1 Corinthians 16:2 says, “On the first day of every week each one of you is to put aside and save….” And here we are 2,000 years later meeting on the first day of the week. Why the change? The answer is very simple: because that’s the day Jesus resurrected from the dead. John 20:1, describing the resurrection of Jesus Christ says this, “Now on the first day of the week…” when the women came to the tomb. [John 20:1 “Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came early to the tomb, while it was still dark, and saw the stone already taken away from the tomb.”] John 20:19 says, “So when it was evening on that day, the first day of the week,” that’s when Jesus appeared to them and said, “Peace be with you.”
John 20:26 indicates that this little band of disciples started meeting on Sunday. It says, “After eight days His disciples were again inside….” There’s a shift in their thinking here; no longer is Saturday the day of meeting, Sunday is the day of meeting. And may I just say to you, that would have never happened had Jesus not resurrected from the dead on Sunday.
Green, a scholar, puts it this way: “The Christians met for worship on the first day of the Jewish week in acknowledgement of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. These Christians actually succeeded in moving to Sunday this age-old and theologically backed day of rest and worship. Yet remember, they were Jews themselves!” Exclamation point. Keeping in mind what they thought would happen if they were wrong we must recognize that this was probably one of the biggest decisions any religious body of men ever made.
How are we to explain this change from Saturday to Sunday worship without the resurrection? The Christian church does not just meet on Sunday, the Christian church is also known for its ordinances. We have two that we practice in this church; one is called communion; the second one is called water baptism. Take a look if you could at Romans 6:3-5, what do those ordinances mean:
Let’s take water baptism first. Water baptism symbolizes the believer’s spiritual baptism into Christ. Romans 6:3-5 says this, “Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death?  Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.  For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection.”
You see, when a person trusts Christ they are baptized or identified into Jesus Christ. His death becomes their death; His burial becomes their burial; His resurrection becomes their resurrection; His ascension becomes their ascension. That is our new identity in Christ. And what symbolizes that is going under the water and coming up out of the water. We have been raised to newness of life and without the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ that whole concept of our identity into Christ makes no sense. Not to mention the ritual of water baptism that came from this. Why go into the water and come out? Because Jesus went into the grave and came out of the grave and we are identified into that transaction because of our faith in Christ.
Or take for example, communion; we’re going to be taking communion at this church next week. Luke 22:19, Jesus says, “do this is remembrance of Me.” [Luke 22:19, “And when He had taken some bread and given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.”] And you know the drill by now, the bread would represent His body which was sacrificed for us. The cup would represent His blood which was spilled on our behalf. The communion elements themselves speak of Christ’s death. And yet what is the early church doing?
Notice Acts 2:46, notice their frame of mind as they’re participating in communion. It says, “Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together” this is describing communion that they were partaking of, notice this next clause, “with gladness and sincerity of heart.” But wait a minute, if these symbols represent Christ’s death what are they glad about? I mean, if this all reminds them of the death of Christ what is there to be joyous about? What is there to be worshipful about? Well, they did it with gladness because they understood that death itself did not hold Jesus in that tomb.
In fact, Paul, in 1 Corinthians 11:26, when he’s describing communion says this: “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.” Now here Paul is not just talking about the death of Christ, he is talking about the return of Christ. The communion elements themselves speak of the return of Christ. But how can Jesus come back if He died? The answer, of course, is He rose from the dead.
What I’m hopefully trying to communicate is the Christian church itself, when it meets, its ordinances, its survival and it’s very existence could never have happened unless those early Christians believed in their hearts of hearts that Jesus rose from the dead.
A fifth reason why I believe that the resurrection of Jesus Christ is an actual historical event, number 5, is secular history, let me pause for a minute; what do I mean by secular history? I’m not talking about Christian authors, I’m not talking about early patristic writers, I’m not talking about books of the Bible. I am talking here about secular history, history written from the vantage point of people who had no Christian bias whatsoever. In fact, if they had any bias at all it wasn’t a pro-bias, it was an anti-bias against Christianity. Secular historians themselves attest to the resurrection of Jesus. It’s not just in our Bible, it is in the annuls of secular history. One such citation from Josephus, who was Josephus? Josephus was a Jewish historian who lived a little after the time of Christ, who went to write history for Rome. Notice what Josephus says here:
“Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man, for he was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews, and many of the Gentiles. He was the Christ, and when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men among us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him;” look at this next line, I have it underlined, “for he appeared to them alive again the third day; as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him. And the tribe of Christians so named from Him are not extinct at this day.” [Josephus, Antiquities, 18.3.3]
Isn’t it interesting to read about things we study in the Bible from a secular historian? Look at all the details that he covers here. And one of the things that he brings up is the fact that Jesus “appeared to them alive again the third day.” You’re not dealing with somebody in his writings here, Josephus, who was sympathetic to Christianity in the least. In fact, as a Jewish historian he was trying to please the Romans in his writings. One of the things that did not please the Romans is the bodily resurrection of Jesus.
So here is Josephus trying to please the Romans and yet in the process he makes a statement about the resurrection of Jesus Christ. I doubt very highly that Josephus would have ever included that statement if there wasn’t some kind of truth to it. He says I’ve got to talk about it, even though my overlords won’t be happy, because it’s true. It happened, in other words. He would not have included it had it not been true.
Number 6, a sixth reason why I believe that the bodily resurrection of Jesus from the dead is an actual objective historical fact. Number 6, no credible theory has ever been produced to explain away the objective evidence of the empty tomb. We have made reference to the fact that it would have been easy for the enemies of Christianity to reproduce the body. Why did they not reproduce the body? Because He rose from the dead and the tomb was empty.
Now if you don’t believe that Jesus rose from the dead then you have to come up with some kind of theory to explain away the empty tomb. And these folks have had 2,000 years to work on this. They’ve going through about 2,000 years of brainstorming to come up with some plausible explanation for the empty tomb. I’m going to show you their theories in just a minute but now I simply want to make the point that it takes more faith to believe their theories than it does simply to believe that the tomb was empty because of Christ’s resurrection.
Hanson, a scholar says this: “The simple faith of the Christian who believes in the resurrection is nothing compared to the credulity of the skeptic who will accept the wildest and most improbable romances rather than admit the plain witness of historical certainties. The difficulties of belief may be great; the absurdities of unbelief are greater.” [George Hanson, (The Resurrection and the Life).]
As we used to say in my basketball days, all right, bring it, bring it on! Give me your theories, you’ve had 2,000 years to work on it, you won’t believe what I think, that the tomb was empty because Jesus rose, you tell me why the tomb was empty. So here we go, four theories. Number 1, the swoon theory. Number 2, the theft theory. Number 3, the hallucination theory. And number 4, the wrong tomb theory. So here we go, let’s look at these. I’m not trying to make fun of people, I’m not trying to mock people, I’m trying to expose the darkness of unbelief; the almost insanity that the unbelieving mind will gravitate towards when a person refuses, by way of volition, to trust in Christ.
But we have the swoon theory. What does that one say? That one says that Jesus never really died. It looked like He died but He never died. They put Him in the tomb, He was still alive, and it was a cool sepulcher, temperature wise; in the cool air He revived. They make reference to the fact that there were spices connected to His grave clothes, you’ll see that in John 19:40. [John 19:40, “So they took the body of Jesus and bound it in linen wrappings with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews.”] And these spices, also, in addition to the cool air had the effect of reviving Him so He revived and he snuck out of the tomb in the middle of the night. That’s their theory.
Let’s look at this a little bit more carefully. Notice John 19:34, “But one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and immediately blood and water came out.” Now I’m not a medical doctor, although I’ve read medical journals on this. When there is a split between blood and water it’s indicative of a ruptured heart, indicating that Jesus clearly was dead. Look at John 19:32-33, “So the soldiers came, and broke the legs of the first man and the other who was crucified with Him  but coming to Jesus, when they saw that He was already dead, they did not break His legs.” The soldiers thought Jesus was dead. [34, “But one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and immediately blood and water came out.”]
Nicodemus, John 19:39-40, “Nicodemus, who had first come to Him by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes ….  they took the body of Jesus and bound it in linen wrappings.” Nicodemus thought Jesus was dead. Jesus, of course, was buried in the tomb of Joseph or Arimathea, a wealthy man. His role in the burial of Christ is described in John 19:38, [“After these things Joseph of Arimathea, being a disciple of Jesus, but a secret one for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus; and Pilate granted permission. So he came and took away His body.”] Joseph of Arimathea thought Jesus was dead. The soldiers thought he was dead, Joseph of Arimathea thought he was dead, Nicodemus thought Jesus was dead.
This idea that you can survive the ordeal of the crucifixion to me is laughable. One scholar puts it this way: Thorburn, he says: “The agony in the Garden, the arrest at midnight, the brutal treatment in the hall of the High Priest’s palace and at the Praetorium of Pilate, the exhausting journey backwards and forwards between Pilate and Herod, the terrible Roman scourging,” he was beaten 39 lashes which is one lash away from death, “on the journey to Calvary during which he fell exhausted by the strain upon His powers, the agonizing torture of the crucifixion, and the thirst and feverishness which followed.” Could a human being survive that? I think the answer r is no.
Even if Jesus survived how did he wriggle out of the grave clothes in that weakened condition. Luke 23:53 talks about how He was wrapped in grave clothes. [Luke 23:53, “And he” Joseph of Arimathea, “took it down and wrapped Him in a tomb cut into the rock, where no one had ever lain.”] John 19:40 says He was bound in linen wrappings. And in fact John 19:39-40 says what was attached to those grave clothes were a hundred pounds of spices. [John 19:39, “Nicodemus, who had first come to Him by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pounds weight.  So they took the body of Jesus and bound it in linen wrappings with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews.”] How does a man in a weakened condition, having supposedly survived the ordeal of the crucifixion, wriggle out of the grave clothes, let alone the stone?
Matthew 27:60 says, says that the stone placed over Christ’s tomb was” a large stone.” [Matthew 27:60, “and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn out in the rock; and he rolled a large stone against the entrance of the tomb and went away.”] In fact, according to Matthew 28 an angel moved that stone. [Matthew 28:2, “And behold, a severe earthquake had occurred, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled away the stone and sat upon it.  And his appearance was like lightning, and his clothing as white as snow.  The guards shook for fear of him and became like dead men.  The angel said to the women, ‘Do not be afraid; for I know that you are looking for Jesus who has been crucified.  He is not here, for He has risen, just as He said. Come, see the place where he was lying.”] How could a man who has survived the ordeal of the cross move a stone like that. How could He have gotten by the station soldier?
Matthew 26:62-65 talks about how the Jews were afraid someone might steal the body so they posted a guard. [62, “The high priest stood up and said to Him, ‘Do You not answer? What is it that these men are testifying against You?’  But Jesus kept silent. And the high priest said to Him, ‘I adjure You by the living God, that You tell us whether You are the Christ, the Son of God.’  Jesus said to him, “You have said it yourself; nevertheless I tell you, hereafter you will see THE SON OF MAN SITTING AT THE RIGHT HAND OF POWER, and COMING ON THE CLOUDS OF HEAVEN.’”]
And by the way, when you get into the history of this what you’ll discover is that if you fell down on your job as a guard your life was in jeopardy, you were summarily executed. Are we to believe that Jesus, in this weakened state, got by that guard? And there’s even more problems; didn’t He appear to the disciples on the road to Emmaus? How long of a distance is it between Jerusalem and the road to Emmaus? Luke 24:13 says seven miles. [Luke 24:13, “And behold, two of them were going that very day to a village named Emmaus, which was about seven miles from Jerusalem.”]
So we’re to believe that a man who survived the ordeal of the crucifixion somehow survived a seven mile journey and in His weakened condition was able to convince these disciples that He is the conqueror of the grave, and become so convincing that they were willing to be martyred for the cause. Start looking at the details and this is no theory at all; this is fantasy, imagination. And yet I could quote the church fathers and the scholars and the people that actually believed this.
Well, let’s take you to another theory, the theft theory, and what they say here is the tomb was empty because someone stole the body. Well, who stole it? Rome stole it, one option. The Jews stole it, another option. The disciples stole it, another option. Let’s look at Rome first. Would Rome steal the body? No, because what Rome wanted as they were ruling over the land of Israel during that time is they wanted peace. And making it appear as if Jesus had risen from the dead would have just agitated the existing factions which already existed between the Christians and the Jews. Josh McDowell puts it this way: “It would have been to the Governor’s advantage to keep the body in the grave. Pilate’s interest was to keep things peaceful. Moving the body would have caused unwanted agitation to arise from the Jews and the Christians.”
Well, maybe the Jews stole the body? No, they couldn’t have stolen the body because that’s what they were worried about; that’s why they, according to Matthew 27:62-65 asked for a guard to be stationed at Christ’s grave so no one could steal the body and fake the resurrection. [Matthew 27:62-65, “ Now on the next day, the day after the preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered together with Pilate,  and said, ‘Sir, we remember that when He was still alive that deceiver said, ‘After three days I am to rise again.’  “Therefore, give orders for the grave to be made secure until the third day, otherwise His disciples may come and steal Him away and say to the people, ‘He has risen from the dead,’ and the last deception will be worse than the first.”  Pilate said to them, ‘You have a guard; go, make it as secure as you know how.’  And they went and made the grave secure, and along with the guard they set a seal on the stone.”]
So if that doesn’t work, number 3 is the disciples stole the body; the disciples stole the body to fake the resurrection. How could that be when the disciples themselves didn’t even believe in the resurrection. In fact, they were the biggest doubters of all. That’s why Jesus, in Luke 24:25, when He rose from the dead said, “‘O foolish men and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken!” How do these disciples go from cowards to people of such courage that they are willing to break the Roman seal, which was placed over Christ’ tomb and if you broke it you fell under penalty of Roman law, Matthew 27:66. [Matthew 27:66, “And they went and made the grave secure, and along with the guard they set a seal on the stone.”]
How could they have become such people of courage that they moved a large stone in the middle of the night, Matthew 27:60, and got by the guard who supposedly fell asleep on the job, even though his life depended upon him performing his functions under Rome. [Matthew 27:60, “and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn out in the rock; and he rolled a large stone against the entrance of the tomb and went away.”]
And one of the things that’s very interesting, take a look at John 20:6-7, it’s a description of the grave clothes in the empty tomb. [6, “And so Simon Peter also came, following him, and entered the tomb; and he saw the linen wrappings lying there,] Notice verse 7, it says, “and the face-cloth which had been on His head, not lying with the linen wrappings, but” watch this, “rolled up in a place by itself.” I mean, Jesus, when He rose from the dead took those grave clothes and put them… He obviously had some good laundry habits, rolled them up, put them away nicely and neatly. Is that what you do when you steal a body in the middle of the night? Do you take the linens and put them together nicely and neatly, all while you’re afraid a Roman guard is going to catch you? NO, you’re in a hurry; the linen wrappings would be in a mess.
And beyond that, if the disciples stole the body what we also have to believe is that these disciples were willing to experience martyrdom for a lie. Why would you go to your grave teaching and defending the resurrection of Jesus Christ when you know in the back of your head that you staged the whole thing? Remember all of these disciples, with the exception of one, suffered martyr’s death. And would these disciples be willing to let others die for a life; many Christians were killed.
And beyond that, the last time I checked these disciples were all devout Jews and one of the Ten Commandments is what? “Thou shalt not lie nor bear false witness.” See, this idea with these death theories is the Jews stole the body, the Romans stole the body, no motive. The disciples stole the body, no power; they simply could not have conjured up the courage that it would take to commit such a theft.
That takes us to theory number 3, this is my personal favorite. The hallucination theory. Now NBC, ABC, CBS, Jennings, Rather, the rest of them run these Easter specials. And this is what they always slip in, these types of theories. So what I’m trying to do with you this morning is to equip you so you can answer these theories to your children and your grandchildren who ask you for an answer to these things.
The hallucination theory simply goes like this: the disciples really wanted Jesus to rise from the dead; in fact, they wanted it so bad it became a hallucination. It was a resurrection, therefore, independent of reality. But does the biblical record have any consistency with what we know of hallucinations? No it does not. People that have hallucinations are typically in a state of expectancy; they hallucinate about something that they desperately want to happen, a relative to come back from the dead, something like that. As I mentioned before these disciples didn’t even believe that Jesus would rise from the dead.
These disciples were not in a condition of expectation at all. In fact, in three post resurrection appearances as recorded in the Scripture these disciples didn’t even recognize Jesus, they thought
He was the gardener, John 20:15. [John 20:15, “Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?’ Supposing Him to be the gardener, she said to Him, ‘Sir, if you have carried Him away, tell me where you have laid Him, and I will take Him away.”’]
They thought He was a ghost. John 21:4 says they just went back fishing. [John 21:3-4, “Simon Peter said to them, ‘I am going fishing.’ They said to him, ‘We will also come with you.’ They went out and got into the boat; and that night they caught nothing.  But when the day was now breaking, Jesus stood on the beach; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus.”] Does that sound like a state of mental expectation? In fact, when Jesus spoke to them from the shore as they were fishing they did not recognize Him. And typically when a hallucination takes place a person is in a nostalgic environment reminiscing about something. Does this sound like the circumstances where the disciples saw the resurrected Christ.
Josh McDowell says, “Consider the wide variety of times and places, the early morning and the appearance to the women at the tomb, the appearance on the road to Emmaus one afternoon, a couple of private interviews in broad daylight, by the lake early one morning.” 1 Corinthians 15:6 talks about a Galilean mountain where 500 people saw the resurrected Christ. [“After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep;”] Josh McDowell says, “Indeed, there is almost a steady variety in the times and places of Christ’s appearances, a variance that defies the hypothesis that these things that they saw were mere visions.”
Beyond that, a hallucination has a tendency to be very individualistic and subjective. Christ made eleven post resurrection appearances, either to individual people or to groups and are we to believe that they all saw the same vision? They all saw the same Jesus? All five hundred, spoken of in
1 Corinthians 15 saw the same Jesus. Beyond that, hallucinations have a tendency to be audio and visual, not tactile, or touching. Was it not Thomas who actually touched the actual body of Jesus Christ. By the way, when someone claims that they have hallucinations that is an attribute of them that doesn’t just stop; they typically will have hallucinations at different times throughout the course of their lives. All of these appearances stopped after forty days; all the so-called hallucinations stopped after the resurrection.
Well, the fourth theory that you’ll run into is that the women, and let’s blame it all on the women, right? The women went to the wrong tomb. And this theory essentially says that Jerusalem was full of rock tombs and so that when the women went to the tomb very early Sunday morning they went to the wrong tomb. And proponents of this theory like to argue that it was very dark out so it’s entirely possible that they went to the wrong tomb. But how early in the morning was it? John 20:15, the women mistake Jesus for the gardener. Don’t gardeners do their work, not when it’s pitch black. [John 20:15, “Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking? Supposing Him to be the gardener, she said to Him, ‘Sir, if you have carried Him away, tell me where you have laid Him, and I will take Him away.’”]
Beyond that the women had carefully noted the day before, on Friday that is, where Jesus had been buried. Mark 15:47 says this of the women, “looking on to see where He was laid.” Luke 23:55 says, they “saw the tomb and how His body was laid.” Would they have forgotten so quickly where their Messiah, their Savior, had been buried?
Beyond this, these women came to the tomb early in the morning conscious and purposeful. Why did they come? They brought spices so that they might come to Him and anoint Him. They went in with a purpose. It doesn’t sound like they were half awake.
Now perhaps the women went to the wrong tomb. The women told the disciples the tomb was empty. Who else came into that tomb? Peter and John. Did they go to the wrong tomb also? John 20:2-8. [John 20:2-8, “So she ran and came to Simon Peter and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved, and said to them, ‘They have taken away the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid Him.’ So Peter and the other disciple went forth, and they were going to the tomb.  The two were running together; and the other disciple ran ahead faster than Peter and came to the tomb first;  and stooping and looking in, he saw the linen wrappings lying there; but he did not go in.  And so Simon Peter also came, following him, and entered the tomb; and he saw the linen wrappings lying there,  and the face-cloth which had been on His head, not lying with the linen wrappings, but rolled up in a place by itself.  So the other disciple who had first come to the tomb then also entered, and he saw and believed.”]
Now who owned the tomb? Joseph of Arimathea, Matthew 27:59-60 says this. [Matthew 27:59, “And Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen cloth,  and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn out in the rock; and he rolled a large stone against the entrance of the tomb and went away.”] Couldn’t Joseph of Arimathea, if everybody had gone to the wrong tomb, straighten everyone out? One of the things that sort of humorous about this theory is Matthew 28:5-6 mentions an angel in the tomb. [Matthew 26:5-8, “The angel said to the women, ‘Do not be afraid; for I know that you are looking for Jesus who has been crucified.  ‘He is not here, for He has risen, just as He said. Come, see the place where He was lying.”] Did the angel go to the wrong tomb also? What I’m simply walking you through is if you do not want to mentally accept the bodily resurrection of Jesus from the dead these are your options, which to my mind are no options at all.
There is a seventh reason, a final reason why I believe that Jesus bodily rose from the dead. Number 7, some of the brightest minds have investigated this subject and the evidence of the resurrection of Jesus Christ and although they started out as skeptics they transitioned into believers.
Let me share a couple of these people with you; one of them was named John Locke. John Locke was one of the writers of that our Founding Fathers quoted from quite frequently when they put together our founding documents, like The United States Constitution. John Locke wrote a book entitled The Reasonableness of Christianity. Christianity is reasonable, it’s intellectually appealing is the point of his book and he deals with some of the evidence that I’ve been talking about here, related to the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Let me introduce you to another gentleman by the name of Simon Greenleaf; who exactly was Simon Greenleaf? He lived from 1783 to 1853; he was the royal professor of law at Harvard University, and he succeeded Justice Joseph Story as the Dane Professor of Law in the same university upon Story’s death in 1846. Greenleaf produced a famous work entitled A Treatise on the Law of Evidence that is still considered the greatest single authority on evidence in the entire literature of legal procedure. In 1846 while still a professor at Harvard Greenleaf wrote a volume entitled (quote) “An Examination of the Testimony of the Four Evangelists By the Rules of Evidence Administered in the Courts of Justice,” close quote. In this classic work the author examines the value of the testimony of the apostles to the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
And in fact, if I have the story straight, Greenleaf was goaded by his students into taking the legal rules of evidence and using them to disprove the resurrection. Greenleaf took the challenge and what he discovered was that the case for the resurrection was, in fact, more likely, more probable, more sure than anything he had ever argued in a court of law. And he moved from skeptic to believer on the basis of the evidence.
More modernly, take a man named Frank Morrison given the same challenge, an attorney who wrote a book called Who Moved the Stone. He came to Christ on the basis of the evidence for the resurrection. More modern examples you might recognize the name, John Warwick Montgomery who became the founder of the Simon Greenleaf School of Law. He has written, as an attorney, multiple books, multiple journal articles seeking to demonstrate the objective reality of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
You might recognize the name Josh McDowell. If you’re a beginner but you want to go deeper into this subject I recommend his book entitled Evidence that Demands a Verdict. Another man who moved from skeptic to believer simply by looking at the evidence for the resurrection.
You might also recognize the name Lee Strobel, a more modern writer who started off as a journalist doubting the reality of Christ and His resurrection and started looking into the evidence and became convinced; moved from skeptic to believer. He’s written many books, The Case for Christ, The Case for Creation, and others. See, we are not the only ones who have thought about this. Minds that are far brighter than our own have looked into this.
And using objectivity and honesty with the evidence have concluded that there can be no other reality or conclusion than the fact that Jesus bodily rose from the dead. Why do I believe the resurrection of Jesus Christ deserves the same historical place as Gettysburg, Valley Forge, Waterloo, or any other book of history. I believe that because Paul said check out the eyewitnesses, 500 of them, 1 Corinthians 15:6. [1 Corinthians 15:6, “After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep;”] Christianity’s enemies never came up with any plausible explanation as to what happened to the body. They never even produced the body.
Look at number 3, the dramatic change in the apostles.
Look, number 4, at the existence of the church and its ordinances.
Number 5, look at the angle of secular history.
Number 6, look at the fact that the unbeliever is reduced to foolishness when they come up with their explanation.
And then number 7, look at the giants that have studied this and come to the conclusion that Jesus rose from the dead.
What’s the bottom line? Confucius tomb occupied. Buddha’s tomb occupied. Mohammed’s tomb occupied.
The verdict of history is Jesus Tomb—EMPTY!
Well, what does it mean for us. Paul, on Mars Hill, in Acts 17:30-31 gave a tremendous sermon and this is how he closed it. Speaking before unbelievers, he says: “Therefore, having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent,  because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead.”
Paul says Jesus Christ rose from the dead and guess what? He’s coming back. He is coming back this time, not for the salvation of souls; He is coming back for judgment. He is coming back to deal with all who have maligned His name by rejecting Him. You see, the resurrection of Jesus Christ proves that Jesus is a lot more than a pop psychologist; He’s a lot more than a standup comic. He’s a lot more than a motivational speaker. He’s a lot more than somebody who simply gives you tips to have your best life now. He is the God of the universe. He is the One who spoke and the heavens and earth leapt into existence. He is the One that died on a cross for the sins of His creation, when His creation rejected Him. He is the One that rose from the dead. He is the One that is coming back. That’s what it means to us.
And the answer is: are you right with Jesus Christ? Am I right with Jesus Christ? I mean, if everything that we have said is accurate and true we ought to be treating this man, Jesus Christ, with the utmost deference and the utmost respect. And you enter into a relationship with Him by accepting His gospel. It’s not my gospel. It’s not the church’s gospel. It’s not some denominations gospel. It is not the theologian’s gospel. It is His gospel; His gospel is simply this, that He died on a cross for you. When He died on that cross He had you in mind. He has done everything that can be done to solve the problem that we all have with God, and that’s our sin. The sin of man and woman puts us on a collision course with the God of the universe.
And yet Jesus Christ, by entering history, dying on a cross, paying the penalty for our sin has resolved that problem. And He leaves humanity with a very simple offer. The offer is simply this, to receive what He has done for you, not on the basis of works, not on the basis of sincerity, not on the basis of religiosity, but totally on the basis of grace. Grace means unmerited favor. It’s the equivalent of receiving something from God which is a gift. The only way you can receive a gift from God is by faith, for the Bible says, “Without faith it is impossible to please God.” You cannot enter into a relationship with God through any other avenue other than the avenue of faith.
And the gospel is what He did and His authentication of it through His bodily resurrection from the dead is a free gift. And at some point a person has to come to the realization that they are no longer trusting in themselves for their salvation but they’re trusting exclusively in the promises of Jesus Christ. You can trust exclusively in the promises of Jesus Christ right now as I’m speaking. It’s not a matter of walking an aisle, joining a church, raising a hand, giving money, trying harder.
It’s a moment of privacy between you and the Lord as the Spirit of God places people under conviction. And we respond in a moment of privacy to what Jesus has done; we place our trust, not in ourselves but in the promises of Jesus Christ, who claims He’s done everything to procure our salvation. It’s something you can do right now as I’m talking. If it’s something you have done or are doing then on the authority of the Word of God your whole destiny has changed. You are now made right with the God who created you, redeemed you, and loved you enough to die for you. Why would you, particularly on Resurrection Sunday let an opportunity like this pass? Our exhortation, the strongest we know how to articulate it is to trust, or believe in Jesus Christ. If it’s something that you want more explanation on I’m available after the service to talk. Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life, he who believes in me will live even if he dies.”
Shall we pray. Father, we’re grateful, forgive us in our commercial mindset to just sort of treat this as sort of another casual holiday, a time for feasting and family and lose sight of what it actually means. Thank You for this event that happened in history 2000 years ago, the historical reality of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. I pray Father again, if anybody is here that has not trusted in Christ that they would trust in Christ now, for the Bible says today is the day of salvation. We’ll be careful to give You all the praise and the glory. We ask these things in Jesus name. And God’s people said… Amen.