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"The BIG Questions”
Part 7:

"Did Jesus Rise from the Dead”
Based on 1 Corinthians 15:1-11 and Selected Texts
Delivered on April 3 & 4, 2010
by David J. Claassen

Copyright 2010 by David J. Claassen

The biggest celebration for Christians is Easter. It's the day we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. We Christians pin all of our hope on this event. The great apostle Paul stated the importance of it in a letter he wrote to the Christians at Corinth: “And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.” (1 Corinthians 15:14)

We've been addressing a series of messages about seven really big questions about God, faith, and religion. We conclude this series with the question, “Did Jesus rise from the dead?”

If we conclude that Jesus did rise from the dead, and that Easter is true, we need to ask ourselves what difference that should make in our lives. A lot is at stake when we seek to answer that question. Let's look at the evidence.

Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus

We have a document in the New Testament of our Bibles that’s a letter written by the apostle Paul to the Christians in the Greek city of Corinth. In this letter Paul created a list of people who could give eyewitness accounts of Jesus' resurrection. Scholars date the letter as having been written in 55 AD. That's a mere 25 years after the events in Jesus’ life that we know as Holy Week. Many of us can remember events from 25 years ago. It's not a really long period of time, especially for those of us who are older!

This letter of Paul's, which gives us a list of those who witnessed Jesus’ being alive again, is actually older than any of the four Gospels and their historical accounts of the events of Jesus' resurrection. Most scholars believe that the oldest Gospel is Mark, and it was probably written between 65 and 70 AD. Matthew and Luke are believed to have been written in the 70s or 80s. John was probably written in the 80s or 90s. (I’m using the most reasonable but conservative dating here.) Paul's letter to the Corinthians was written in 55 AD, probably a full ten years before the first Gospel — the Gospel of Mark — was written. This means that 1 Corinthians is our oldest account of the resurrection of Jesus. What did Paul say in this letter about Jesus' resurrection?

“For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of who are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, . . .” (1 Corinthians 15:3-8)

Paul listed five events where people saw Jesus alive again. The accounts include individual encounters with Jesus after His death and burial, small groups (the twelve), and a large crowd of about 500 people. Paul stated that most of those people were still alive, the implication being that anyone could check the truthfulness of the claim that Jesus was alive again by talking to any one of these nearly 500 people.

You can add to this the other resurrection appearances recorded in the four Gospels. This adds five more accounts, making a total of ten encounters with Jesus in His resurrected form. This is how I've put the list of ten resurrection appearances together: 1. Mary Magdalene, another Mary (the mother of James), Joanna and “others” the record states (Luke 24:10) 2. Peter (Luke 24:34) 3. Two on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-32) 4. Ten of the disciples, minus Thomas and Judas, who had committed suicide (Luke 24:36-47) 5. The eleven disciples a week later; Thomas was now with them (John 20:26-31) 6. Seven of the disciples who had gone fishing (John 21:1-14) 7. The eleven on a mountainside (Matthew 28:16-20) 8. Over 500 people (1 Corinthians 15:6) 9. James (1 Corinthians 15:7) 10. The eleven at the ascension of Jesus to heaven (Luke 24:50-53)

This is solid evidence: ten eyewitness sightings of the resurrected Jesus. Let me make a few observations.

1. The records of Jesus' resurrection appearances are in documents written within a few years of the event. It wasn’t enough time for a legend to form; legends take a century or centuries to develop and evolve. These accounts were all recorded when they could easily have been debunked if they hadn’t been true.

2. Women are recorded as being the first eyewitnesses of Jesus’ resurrection. In that time women weren’t considered to be credible witnesses. Anyone making up such a story would never have considered making women the first witnesses. It has the ring of authenticity that women were the first witnesses.

3. The apostles are reported to have resisted believing that Jesus was alive again. He had to prove it by eating a piece of fish on one occasion, showing that He was alive and not just a ghost. “. . . he showed them his hands and feet. And while they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement, he asked them, 'Do you have anything here to eat?' They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate it in their presence.” (Luke 24:40-42) The apostle Thomas was vehement about His doubts: “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it,” he stated. (John 20:25) Accounts written years later, after the apostles were respected as the leaders of the early church, would never have portrayed them in such a bad light.

4. Then there's the amazing change in the followers of Jesus to consider. What transformed them from a fearful, timid group who hid in rooms behind closed doors to being the bold, joyous group who went around proclaiming Jesus? Only something of the magnitude of the resurrection of Jesus could have done that.

The evidence is compelling that Jesus did indeed rise from the dead! He was dead as dead can be, and hundreds of people saw Him alive again!

The original disciples recognized the importance of the eyewitness accounts of Jesus' resurrection. When it came time to replace Judas, the apostle Peter told the rest, “Therefore it is necessary to choose one of the men who have been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from John's baptism to the time when Jesus was taken up from us. For one of these must become a witness with us of his resurrection.” (Acts 1:21-22) They wanted to pick someone who could verify that Jesus had indeed risen from the dead!

Conclusions from the Evidence

Canon Westcott, a scholar from Cambridge, said, “Indeed, taking all the evidence together, it is not too much to say that there is no historic incident better or more variously supported than the resurrection of Christ.” (Know Why You Believe, Paul Little, p.49)

In the 1930s Frank Morrison, a young British lawyer, set out to disprove the resurrection, thinking that it was nothing but fantasy. While he researched the resurrection of Jesus he became convinced against his will of its historical accuracy — and he ended up writing a book titled Who Moved the Stone? in which he described the compelling evidence for Jesus' resurrection.

The scenario was repeated in the 1980s, when a Chicago lawyer, reporter for the Chicago Tribune, and skeptic had to deal with his wife, who had become a Christian. He decided to use his legal and investigative training and skills to investigate the Christian faith. He wrote, “I plunged into the case with more vigor than with any story I had ever pursued. I applied the training I had received at Yale Law School as well as my experience as legal affairs editor of the Chicago Tribune. And over time the evidence . . . began to point to the unthinkable.” (The Case for Christ, p.14) He became a fully-committed follower of Jesus Christ — and today Lee Strobel speaks and writes convincingly about the truthfulness of the resurrection of Jesus.

Dr. Timothy Johnson is a physician and medical reporter for ABC News. He wrote, “I do believe that if you choose to follow Jesus, you will eventually believe in his resurrection.” (Finding God in the Questions, p.130)

The logic is simple: either Jesus rose from the dead or He didn’t. The evidence is compelling that He did! If He rose from the dead, that authenticates that He was who He said He was: the Son of God who had come to Earth to save sinners and to be Lord of all, now and forever. His resurrection should make all the difference in the world to us!

It Makes All The Difference!

Because Jesus is alive, He is to be reckoned with by each one of us. We're not talking about a dead religious teacher that we can take or leave. We know that somewhere the bones of Abraham, Muhammad, Buddha, and other religious leaders lie buried, but not Jesus' bones! The angel said to the women at Jesus’ tomb, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen!” (Luke 24:5-6)

He died on the cross so that you and I wouldn't have to die eternally because of our sins. Accept Him as your Savior! He rose from the dead to new life so that we can have new life in Him, now and forever! Accept Him as your Lord, putting Him in charge of your life. We can be His throughout this life and be with Him and carrying out His grand purposes for us throughout eternity!

He’s alive! One of the last things that Jesus said before ascending to heaven in His new resurrected form was “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20)

Because He lives with us and in us, we can face everything that life brings to us. We serve a risen Savior, and our lives should show it!

Martin Luther, who started the great reformation, was going through a time of despondency and discouragement. Life had gotten to him. One day his wife walked into the room where he was, and she was dressed in black. He asked her why she was dressed in mourning clothes.

“Someone has died,” she said.

“Who?” Luther asked.

“It seems that God must have died,” she replied.

He got the point: he was acting as if God was dead.

Life's a challenge; it's tough. However, Christ is risen! He promises never to leave or forsake us! Why do we act as if He's not with us, leading us, helping us, and empowering us? As individuals or as a church we can act as people do who have no faith, or very little faith. We should be responding to the challenges of life differently than those who don't live with the deep conviction that Christ lives.

Have you ever had the electricity go out and so you called a neighbor to ask, ”Do you have power?” If it's late afternoon you know that it will grow dark soon. You hurry to get the candles out. Darkness comes, and you light your candles. You have an electric stove, so you resort to cooking all of dinner on the grill outside, going in and out of the house countless times. Then you heat water on the grill to do the dishes and to wash before bed. It's such a hassle, living the whole evening without electricity. You call the neighbor on your phone again: “Are you still without power?” “No,” the neighbor says. “It came on a couple of hours ago.” You hang up, try a light switch, and the light comes on! You've had power all along, but you didn't know it, and you tried to get by without it.

Do we have power? Yes, we do: the power of the resurrection, the presence and power of the resurrected Christ! Shame on us for acting like we don't, for allowing ourselves to be intimidated, held back, beaten down, and discouraged when all along the power of the resurrected Christ is available to us because He hasn’t left us or forsaken us! Too often we‘re theoretical believers but practicing atheists: in theory we believe, but in practice we don’t live our belief! May we affirm what the apostle Paul affirmed when he wrote, “I want to know Christ and the power of His resurrection.” (Philippians 3:10)

If you haven’t turned to Christ, do so! If you have, as I have, let’s live as if we really believe that we have Christ with us and that we’re with Him. He is risen! That should make all the difference in the world to us!

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