On February 27th, 1991 Ruth Dillow was at home in Chanuk, Kansas when the phone rang. It was bad news from the Pentagon. Her son, Private First Class Clayton Carpenter, had stepped on a landmine in the Persian Gulf War and was dead. It was an awful, sickening reality to learn that her son would never come home again. Three days later Ruth received another phone call. The voice on the other end said, "Mom, I'm alive!" Ruth said that at first she could not believe it was the voice of her 23 year-old son over whom she had mourned for nearly three days. Ruth said, "I jumped up and down. I was overjoyed! You just don't know how much."
It seems far-fetched, but it's a true story. One presumed to be dead was really alive, and oh, the joy that mom felt when she heard the voice of her son again.
This morning Christians all around the world celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ. You think Clayton Carpenter's story was strange, how about someone really coming back from the dead? That's exactly what followers of Jesus Christ claim happened nearly 2,000 years ago:
Luke 24:1-8 (NKJV) Now on the first day of the week, very early in the morning, they, and certain other women with them, came to the tomb bringing the spices which they had prepared. 2 But they found the stone rolled away from the tomb. 3 Then they went in and did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. 4 And it happened, as they were greatly perplexed about this, that behold, two men stood by them in shining garments. 5 Then, as they were afraid and bowed their faces to the earth, they said to them, "Why do you seek the living among the dead? 6 "He is not here, but is risen! Remember how He spoke to you when He was still in Galilee, 7 "saying, 'The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again.'" 8 And they remembered His words.
The resurrection is the foundation of the Christian faith! So let's begin this morning by looking at:
The resurrection is foundational. Without it, the death of Jesus Christ becomes the heroic death of a misguided martyr, the pathetic death of a deranged lunatic, or the execution of a liar. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of thing Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. Jesus is either a liar, a lunatic, or the Lord.
Jesus continually claimed that he would rise from the dead:
Matthew 16:21 (NKJV) From that time Jesus began to show to 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 the third day.
Matthew 17:22-23 (NKJV) Now while they were staying in Galilee, Jesus said to them, "The Son of Man is about to be betrayed into the hands of men, 23 "and they will kill Him, and the third day He will be raised up." And they were exceedingly sorrowful.
John 2:19-22 (NKJV) Jesus answered and said to them, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up." 20 Then the Jews said, "It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will You raise it up in three days?" 21 But He was speaking of the temple of His body. 22 Therefore, when He had risen from the dead, His disciples remembered that He had said this to them; and they believed the Scripture and the word which Jesus had said.
Jesus never predicted his death without adding that he would rise from the dead.
So, we only have two alternatives: either his claims were true and he rose from the dead and he is LORD. Or his claims were false. If his claims were false, we have two alternatives: he was either a liar who knew his claims were false and deliberately tried to deceive the people, or he was a lunatic who did not know his claims were false but was sincerely deluded.
If his claims were true, than he is LORD as Paul states in:
Romans 1:3-4 (NKJV) concerning His Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who was born of the seed of David according to the flesh, 4 and declared to be the Son of God with power according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead.
Jesus Christ is Lord, and you only have two alternatives: you can believe in Him, or you can reject Him.
Does a person have to believe in the resurrection of Christ to be a Christian? Yes! If you do not believe that he rose from the dead, you are saying He is either a liar or a lunatic.
Romans 10:9-10 (NKJV) that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.
Eternal life is predicated on belief in the resurrection. You must believe "that God has raised Him from the dead". Why is belief in the resurrection so important? The resurrection proved that Christ was all that he said he was. Jesus was not just a great teacher, great prophet, or a good example. He is either Lord, or he's a liar or a lunatic. What you believe about Jesus will determine where you spend eternity.
Hopefully, you can see the importance in the resurrection. If you dismiss the resurrection, you pull the very heart out of Christianity. So, let's look at:
There are many alternative views as to how skeptics believe that the tomb became empty, but only two even remotely make sense:
The Swoon Theory.
This alternative explanation has been repackaged with many variations. The most popular variant was "The Passover Plot" published in 1965. The basic argument is that Jesus and His disciples conspired to fulfill messianic prophecies by faking Jesus' death on the cross. They managed to manipulate the Jewish leaders into trying Him, the people into demanding the crucifixion, and the Roman government into executing Him. The legal manipulation would have been a miracle in itself. Before being nailed to the cross, Jesus was given a drug that appeared to make him look dead and trick the soldiers into removing Him from the cross while he was still alive. The cool damp air of the tomb revived Him and He appeared alive to His followers. By just using simple logic, this argument fails miserably. Jesus was beaten so badly that He was too weak to carry His own cross, and a bystander was commissioned for Him. He had nails driven through His wrists and feet. The blood loss is hard to escape. The blood poured out His feet, hands, back from the beating, and finally between His ribs when the spear pierced His heart.
If someone can get past the impossible odds of survival, there are a few more problems. How does a man who has had spikes driven through his limbs get up and walk? Somehow Jesus revived, untangled himself, and pushed a massive stone away from the entrance of the tomb without any guards seeing it, and ran away unnoticed. Not only did he escape, but he also walked seven miles from Jerusalem to Emmaus with two travelers who did not notice he was wounded. How is it that most people can't walk with minor pain in their feet, but Jesus was able to walk with holes in His? He had full use of His hands, because he took over the evening meal and broke bread. We could come up with dozens of functions that would cause Him excruciating pain if this was a faked resurrection - not to mention how weakly He must have looked. It seems a little hard to get the multitudes fired up by seeing a half-dead Jesus.
The stolen body theory.
This is the only counter-argument that is even remotely logical. It also has flaws that can't be explained. First, who stole the body? It is undeniable that the body of Jesus was no longer in the grave. The disciples, Jews, and Roman soldiers all concurred that the body was missing. As one historian put it, "History's silence is deafening concerning the body of Jesus. No one has ever claimed to see the body of Jesus after the resurrection." If the Jews or Romans stole it, they would have produced it. All of the efforts to squelch Christianity, and the determination to explain away the resurrection would have ended quickly if someone produced the body. We know that the soldiers did not have it or they would have surely produced it. They were paid for their silence; how much would they have been paid if they produced the body? There would have been no need to think up and rehearse the story of the disciples stealing it if the soldiers had it. We know the Jews didn't have it, because they would have been the first to put it on display. This only leaves the disciples or the resurrection.
Let's look at the possibility that the disciples took Jesus' body. When Jesus was arrested, the disciples scattered like cowards. Peter was the boldest of the 12 and he denied Jesus 3 times. To show how cowardly he was at this point, he was afraid of a servant girl who probably had no say in that culture at all. Yet, when she confronted Peter, he called curses down upon himself to prove he did not follow Jesus. They were too afraid to come forward to take Jesus down and help with the burial. How is it that they would suddenly be bold enough to risk certain death and sneak among the guards, break the seal, move the stone without rousing anyone, and take the body. Also consider that the head cloth was neatly folded and laid beside the burial cloth. Anyone sneaking into the tomb would be hastily retreating after getting the body. They would not take the time to fold the cloth. Most likely, they would not remove the cloth at all. It was also at night in an unlit tomb. This argument also does not hold water. The disciples were too afraid to do anything.
John 20:19 (NKJV) Then, the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in the midst, and said to them, "Peace be with you."
Not only were they fearful, these men just didn't understand or even believe in the resurrection. Although Jesus had told them over and over it would happen, they never got it, and must have concluded he was speaking figuratively.
Mark 16:9-11 (NKJV) Now when He rose early on the first day of the week, He appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom He had cast seven demons. 10 She went and told those who had been with Him, as they mourned and wept. 11 And when they heard that He was alive and had been seen by her, they did not believe.
Initially, they doubted, but something happened that changed these fearful men.
The final possibility is that Jesus was resurrected. We see that the evidence against the resurrection falls short, but what evidence lends credibility to the resurrection? Let's begin by examining the disciples. These men fled in all directions when Jesus was arrested, and they did not offer any defense on His behalf. After the resurrection, there was a dramatic change in their lives. These men, who were afraid to be present at Jesus' burial, now were going into the very city where the crucifixion occurred and were boldly proclaiming His resurrection at their own peril. The crowds were still present and so were the council members that tried Jesus and soldiers who crucified Him. Why would they suddenly have such a change of heart that they would preach the same Jesus that they had just denied? Not only did they preach the resurrection, but they also condemned those responsible for His death and called them to repent, so they could be forgiven.
Acts 2:22-24 (NKJV) "Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a Man attested by God to you by miracles, wonders, and signs which God did through Him in your midst, as you yourselves also know; 23 "Him, being delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God, you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death; 24 "whom God raised up, having loosed the pains of death, because it was not possible that He should be held by it.
To create a legend, you don't go where the eyewitnesses are and exaggerate when the facts are still fresh. Legends are born by carrying the story to a distant land or waiting until the facts have faded. The disciples went to where the iron was still hot. They proclaimed the resurrection before those whom they knew would examine the facts.
There were many eyewitnesses to the resurrected Christ. Look at Paul's statement in:
1 Corinthians 15:6-8 (NKJV) After that He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep. 7 After that He was seen by James, then by all the apostles. 8 Then last of all He was seen by me also, as by one born out of due time.
Paul presented his claim before those that could question him, and, in fact, is inviting them to question. He is saying, "Most of these witnesses are still alive and available to examine."
People may be willing to die for what they believe to be true, but who would die for what they knew to be a lie? The eleven disciples saw Jesus die. They gained absolutely no financial gain from this faith. Just the opposite, they lost everything except their joy and the hope of heaven. When Jesus was alive, their hope was their expectation of an earthly kingdom. After the resurrection, they lived for Christ with reckless abandon as they were committed to the hope given to them of eternal life. Only John died of old age; however he was beaten, imprisoned, and banished to the isle of Patmos. This island was where criminals were sent to die - from starvation or from the hands of other criminals. According to tradition, each of the other disciples were beaten repeatedly and killed. Look at how Jesus' disciples died and see if this sounds like men clinging to a lie: Matthew was slain in Ethiopia; Mark dragged through the streets until dead; Peter and Simeon were crucified; Andrew crucified; James beheaded; Philip was crucified; Bartholomew flayed alive; Thomas pierced with lances; James, the less, thrown from the temple and stoned to death; Jude shot to death with arrows; Paul was boiled in hot oil and beheaded.
All of these men could have lived if they had said one statement: "He is dead". But they refused. Above the accounts of their deaths, this doesn't account for the tortures they endured. Paul was stoned 3 times and survived. He was beaten with 40 strips from a cat of nine tails on 5 occasions, and imprisoned repeatedly. Similar stories follow the other apostles. They lived lives that would be considered sheer misery by the world, yet they rejoiced in their sufferings. Not one of them caved in and chose the easy life. Can anyone believe that not one of these men would deny his resurrection unless they absolutely witnessed the resurrected Christ? What did they have to gain by forming this kind of religion? They lost property and often were abandoned by friends and family. Even if you could believe that these men were willing to suffer for a lie, would they be willing to draw their own friends and families into suffering? They may have suffered for Christ on the outside, but they rejoiced openly and lived with joy and peace that their captors did not have and could not understand. Throughout history, many of the very people who have persecuted Christians have become Christians. As they saw the strength, joy, and peace that defied logic, they saw their own lives as meaningless. There are many testimonies of captors who witnessed persecution who said, "I want what that person has".
If they had stolen the body of Jesus in hopes of being religious elitist, they would have quit their quest to found a religion around Him when the illusions of grandeur proved to be a failure. If it were a lie, they would quickly have tired of the beatings. Look at James, the brother of Jesus. He rejected Jesus during His life. I am sure that he thought of his older brother as just another sibling, and a delusional one at that. Yet after seeing the resurrected Christ, James was a changed man as well. He no longer called himself the brother of Jesus but a bondservant of Christ. Not a single critic ever questioned that the tomb was empty. There was no doubt of this fact. The real question is, which testimony do you believe? Those who reject Christ or those who were eye witness testimonies to His resurrection and GLADLY suffered for their proclamation of this truth?
The earliest apostolic writings can be dated back to eyewitnesses. You can't make that claim from other religions. Christianity was written down closer to the actual events than other religions. Buddha lived in the sixth century BC, but the scriptures of Buddha were not written until the first century AD. Muhammad died in 632 AD, but his sayings were not written for more than 100 years, 767 AD. Unlike other religions, outside the Bible there are many supporting witnesses that verify the accuracy of the accounts of scripture. Without the Bible, we can prove through historical evidence that: Jesus was a Jewish teacher; many people credited Jesus with healing and exorcisms; people believed He was the Messiah; He was rejected by the Jewish leaders; He was crucified under Pontius Pilate in the reign of Tiberius; after his shameful death, His followers believed he was still alive, and this faith spread to the multitudes throughout Rome by AD 64; The Christian faith was held dear by all manner of people - women, men, slave, free, rich, poor. Those who converted, worshiped Jesus as God. There are also tens of thousands of archaeological discoveries that validate the scriptures and silence criticism.
To me, the risen Christ is not just an historical fact, He is an experiential fact. At 21 years old, I was minding mine own business; I could have cared less about God; when a friend gave me a gospel track, and as I read it I became convicted. What if there really was a God? What was my responsibility to Him? What if there really was a Hell? I began to read my Bible and pray that God would reveal himself to me. As I read my Bible, I realized that I was a sinner on his way to Hell, not a nice guy who God would allow into heaven:
Romans 3:23 (NKJV) for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,
I realized that Christ paid a debt for me that I could never pay; He died in my place, He was buried, He rose again on the third day.
Romans 5:8 (NKJV) But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
I put my trust in Christ and his work of redemption for me. I have been a Christian now for 26 years. I know that He is alive, because I've met Him. You can't argue a changed life.
I am in no way a participant or a fan of golf, but I've learned a few things about the sport. In gulf there is a thing called a mulligan. What's a mulligan? If you're at the tee and make a bad drive, your generous buddies might offer you a mulligan. It's a chance to take the shot over without it counting against you on the score card. It's a second chance to get a better score. No one knows about your slice except your buddies and the people in the golf cart that your ball slammed into.
We all need a mulligan for life - a second chance, a fresh start. It is the resurrection of Jesus Christ that makes it possible. God promises us a fresh start, a completely new relationship with Him - eternal life, simply by trusting in Jesus and his resurrection. When we put our trust in Christ, we literally receive the righteousness of God so that we are completely sinless before Him:
2 Corinthians 5:21 (NKJV) For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.
Four friends were talking about death. One of them asked the other three, "When you are in your casket, and people are mourning you, what would you like to hear them say about you?" The first man said, "I'd like to hear them say that I was a fine physician in my time and a great family man." The second fellow said, "I'd like to hear that I was a wonderful husband and a school teacher who made a huge difference in our children of tomorrow." The third man replied, "I'd like to hear them say, 'Look, he's moving!'" You know, I think most of us can relate to that last fellow, none of us want to think that it all ends in death. And you know what? If you believe in Jesus Christ, it doesn't!
John 11:25-26 (NKJV) Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. 26 "And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?"
That is quite a promise. Jesus is saying, "I guarantee eternal life to everyone who believes in me." But remember this promise is coming from a man who rose from the dead. Jesus not only conquered death himself, but he conquered death for everyone who comes to Him in faith. If you have never put your trust in the Lord Jesus Christ, I beg you to do it now.