Calvary Road Baptist Church

November 22, 2014 - 319 West Olive Avenue, Monrovia, California 91016 (626) 357-2711

ďTHE BODILY RESURRECTION PROVENĒ

 

There are many people these days that refuse to believe anything they cannot scientifically prove, though they have never given serious thought to the severe limitations the scientific method imposes upon those who claim they embrace it. The scientific method is limited in several ways: First, the scientific method is limited to that which can be observed. If you cannot see it, smell it, hear it, taste it, or touch it, using your own senses or with the aid of instruments that heighten the sensitivity of your senses (such as microscopes or telescopes) then the event in question is beyond the scope of science to evaluate. It becomes a matter of history. As well, if it is an event or phenomenon that happens only once without scientific observation and is never to be replicated, it is beyond the scope of science to evaluate. For example: If you place seismic monitors around the world, you can scientifically evaluate a one of a kind earthquake because you are observing that singular event. However, if you had not monitored it when it happened you could not bring science to bear to evaluate it. It becomes a matter of history.

At this point, you might not think the limitations of science pose any kind of a problem for you, since you think everything you are concerned about can be evaluated by means of observation and will occur again and again. Though that earthquake will never occur again, there will be other earthquakes. There does not seem to be a serious problem until you find yourself inquiring about an event that is a one of a kind phenomenon that will occur only once and will never be repeated again. You may think to yourself, ďThere is no such event.Ē There isnít? What about Creation? What about the Flood? What about the Incarnation, the Virgin Birth? What about the Crucifixion of Jesus Christ? And what about the Resurrection of Jesus Christ? So you see, there are a number of events which claim importance in history that lie completely beyond the reach of science to evaluate and arrive at conclusions about. For one, none of these events was observed in a scientific way. As well, none of these events, by their nature, will ever take place again. Are we to conclude that these events did not occur?

If you are a narrow-minded scientist, you will insist that nothing outside the reach of science can be known with certainty. However, thinking men and women recognize that many important truths that affect everyday life are quite beyond the reach of science. Among those many things that are real but which are outside the reach of science are events of history, such as those events I have just mentioned, as well as many other events, such as matters of the heart and soul. Therefore, when it comes to history, historians are capable of insights and of drawing conclusions that scientists are impotent to evaluate. Why so? Because the very nature of historical events places them into the realm of that which cannot be reproduced, but happens only once, as well as being events that cannot be directly observed and measured, as is necessary with science. While the scientist can say nothing about the battle of Gettysburg during the American Civil War, because it is a nonrecurring event he cannot experiment with, historians have written thousands of books on the matter that shed an incredible amount of light on the event. This is the case with all things historical.

That understood, I suggest that on this Easter Sunday we consider the historical event that is the most important historical event of all, the bodily Resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, from the dead. Since science cannot speak to the matter of the Resurrection, since no claim is being made that anything occurring 2000 years ago can be observed in a scientific way, or that Jesus will ever rise from the dead again (meaning that no claim is made that Christís resurrection is a repeating event), science must properly be silent on the Resurrection. Of course, scientists will not be silent about the Resurrection. They will cry out that it is impossible for anyone to rise from the dead, and that such a thing contradicts the observations of science and the so-called laws of nature. We would agree, pointing out that for the Resurrection to have occurred it would have had to be what the Bible says it was, a miracle, which must certainly be inexplicable to science, or it would not be a miracle.

Excuse me, but science is not the last word on everything. Science can authoritatively speak only to those matters that can be observed and experimented on, and nothing beyond that. However, history, which is a legitimate discipline and very useful to us in many ways, can speak where science is properly mute. Therefore, I propose that we consider the Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead in light of history.

Why is the Resurrection of Jesus Christ a matter of importance to us? Two main reasons: First, Christís Resurrection was the focal point of the disciplesí preaching. Many doctrines were based upon it, belief in it is required for salvation (Romans 10.9), it secured for us an inheritance in heaven (First Peter 1.3-4), and if Christís Resurrection did not occur we are lost and Christianity is fraudulent (First Corinthians 15.17). As well, the Resurrection of our Lord is important because it was the evidence that He provided to validate His teachings.[1] The Resurrection of Christ was also the chief evidence provided by the apostles that Christianity is true.[2] Therefore, our Lordís Resurrection largely confirms His claims, much of Christian doctrine, and the truthfulness of Christianity.[3]

Though there are a tremendous number of considerations that can be dealt with when evaluating the likelihood that Jesus Christ rose from the dead, that the Resurrection is an historical event, the most effective way when dealing with people who are not historians is what is called the Minimal Facts Approach.[4]

The Minimal Facts Approach is effective for two primary reasons, in my opinion: First, it is not so burdensome with so many details that a person becomes bogged down with an overabundance of information. You donít want to lose the forest for the trees. Second, the Minimal Facts Approach considers only those facts that are both strongly supported by evidence and are conceded by almost every scholar, even those who are skeptical. I will set before you five facts (4 + 1). Four facts meet the minimal facts criteria of being accepted by almost every scholar (even those who are skeptics), and one fact closely meets it (being accepted by three out of four scholars).

 

FACT #1, JESUS CHRISTíS DEATH BY CRUCIFIXION

 

My friends, no credible scholar questions the historical event of Jesus Christís crucifixion. Perhaps a guy sitting at a bar will deny the Resurrection, or a junior college teacher who is biased against Christianity, or an atheist propagandist. Knowledgeable people, however, scholars who deal with these things in expert fashion, have no doubt that Jesus of Nazareth was crucified. Two considerations:

First, consider that Christís crucifixion is reported in all four gospels. What if you donít believe the Bible is the Word of God? Whether you accept the Bibleís divine origin or not, it is accepted as reliable history by scholars. Therefore, giving the Bible no more credence than any other first century written source, the gospels still provide credible verification that Jesus Christ was crucified.

As well, consider that Christís crucifixion is reported by a number of non-Christian sources. Flavius Josephus, a Jewish general defeated by the Romans a few decades after Christ reports Christís crucifixion in a book he wrote (Antiquities 18:3). The Roman historian Tacitus makes reference to Christís crucifixion in his writings (Annals 15:44). Lucian of Samosata, a well known writer in his day, refers to Christís crucifixion in one of his writings (The Death of Peregrine, 11-13). Then, there is a Jewish man named Mara bar Serapion, who made reference to Christís crucifixion in a letter he wrote that is now held at the British Museum.

Thus, it is a historical fact that Jesus was crucified. Science cannot comment on His crucifixion because His crucifixion is not repeatable, it was not observed at the time in a scientific manner. However, there is no disputing that Christís crucifixion is a well established historical fact.

 

FACT #2, JESUS CHRISTíS DISCIPLES BELIEVED HE ROSE FROM THE DEAD

 

Two considerations concerning the early discipleís conviction that Jesus rose from the dead:

First, the earliest Christians claimed the Resurrection really happened. How do we know the first disciples of Jesus Christ claimed He rose from the dead? There are three ways, which can be remembered using the acronym P-O-W. First, there was the Apostle Paul. He is the P in P-O-W. In two of his letters, Paul said that disciples claimed Jesus rose from the dead.[5] Paulís authority for making these claims is established, not only in his own letters in the New Testament[6], but he was also recognized as authoritative by the Apostolic Fathers who came after the Apostles of Jesus Christ.[7] Next, comes the O, which represents Oral Tradition. For a number of very good reasons, First Corinthians 15.3-8 is thought to be an early creed that the Apostle Paul incorporated into his first Corinthian letter. Since the crucifixion is usually dated A. D. 30 by most scholars and Paul wrote this letter by about A. D. 51, the creed is thought by scholars to have come from a very early oral tradition source, possibly even eyewitnesses to the Resurrection, meaning that very early on many Christians embraced the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. The Resurrection, then, was not some later idea that developed. Finally comes the W, for Written Tradition. You have all four gospels. Regardless of criticís skepticism concerning the gospels, they do contain multiple claims by disciples, written within seventy years of His earthly ministry, that Jesus rose from the dead. You also have the Apostolic Fathers, Clement of Rome (A.D. 95, 1 Clem. 42:3), and Polycarp (A.D. 110, Pol. Phil. 9:2).

Second, the earliest Christians believed the Resurrection of Jesus really happened. Why should we consider them credible witnesses? For a number of reasons: Their personal transformations are strongly documented. From men who abandoned and denied Jesus at His arrest and execution, they were transformed into men who, to their own harm, boldly and publicly proclaimed Him risen from the dead after His Resurrection.[8] Clement of Rome, a contemporary of the apostles, reports the sufferings and deaths of the apostles Peter and Paul (1 Clem 5:2-7). Would they have endured such suffering to propagate a lie? Liars make poor martyrs. Ignatius, who likely knew the apostles, reports that the disciples were so encouraged by seeing and touching the risen Jesus, they were unaffected by the fear of martyrdom (Ign. Smyrn 3:2-3). Polycarp was instructed and appointed by the apostles and attests that Paul and all of the apostles suffered (Pol. Phil. 9:2). As well, there are the testimonies of Dionysius of Corinth (cited by Eusebius in EH 2:25:8), Tertullian (Scorpiace 15), and Origen (Contra Celsum 2:56, 77) in support of the sufferings of the earliest Christians. It is important to consider the willingness of the apostles and other early Christians to suffer and die for their testimony of the risen Jesus as evidence of their sincerity. They truly believed that Jesus rose from the dead. It is not suggested that their sincerity verifies the truth of their beliefs; people have long been willing to suffer and die for various religions and causes. It does, however, demonstrate that they were not deliberately lying. Liars make poor martyrs. The fact is strongly attested to, then, that Jesus Christís earliest disciples sincerely believed that He rose from the dead and appeared to them. Thus, legend and lies fail to account for the Christís appearances, because the original apostles and earliest Christians both claimed and believed that the risen Jesus had appeared to them.

 

FACT #3, THE CONVERSION OF THE CHURCH PERSECUTOR PAUL

 

How do you explain the conversion and ministry of the Apostle Paul?

His conversion was remarkable. He had been a zealous religionist who energetically persecuted Jewish converts to Christianity.[9] By his own testimony, recorded three times in the Book of Acts (Acts 9; 22; 26), the Lord Jesus Christ appeared to him in resurrection glory. This led to his conversion from being Christianityís worst enemy, and an astonishing ministry of advancing Christianity wherever he went until his martyrdom.

How is the Apostle Paul to be explained? From being a Jewish Pharisee with position, prestige, and considerable power and influence in the lives of other people, he forsook it all to become the chief spokesman of a movement he had previously despised and resisted with all his might. The reason for it all? He said it hinged on Jesus Christís post-resurrection appearance to him.

How do you explain the suffering and martyrdom of the Apostle Paul for something he knew to be false?[10] You cannot. Only if this intelligent, well-educated, articulate man actually did see the risen Savior can his suffering and subsequent martyrdom be explained.

No one has ever suggested the Apostle Paul lost his mind. No skeptic has ever accused him of insanity. Perhaps he did not really suffer, and was not really martyred. How, then, do you explain the record of Luke[11], and of Clement of Rome[12], and of Polycarp[13], and of Tertullian[14], and of Dionysius of Corinth[15], and of Origen[16]? They each witness to Paulís suffering and martyrdom.

Fact #1 is that Jesus was crucified. Fact #2 is that Jesus Christís earliest disciples were so convinced He rose from the dead that they lived, suffered, and died to proclaim it. Fact #3 is that the Apostle Paul, the greatest enemy of Christianity, became the greatest Christian, and abandoned both position and prestige to live a life of suffering and die the death of a martyr, while proclaiming the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.

 

FACT #4, THE CONVERSION OF THE SKEPTIC JAMES

 

James was the half brother of the Lord Jesus Christ, both having Mary as their mother, but James having a human father.[17] The gospels report that James and the other half brothers of Jesus were unbelievers prior to Resurrection.[18] So, what happened to James? First Corinthians 15.7, which preserves an early creed, reports the Lordís post-resurrection appearance to James. This resulted in his conversion. James is later on identified to be the most prominent leader of the church in Jerusalem.[19]

A man of sterling reputation, even among unbelievers, James suffered and was martyred for his faith in Christ.[20] How is this man to be explained? Whereas the Apostle Paul had been the greatest enemy of Christianity, James was perhaps the greatest skeptic. What overcame his skepticism, causing him to not only embrace Christianity, but also faithfully represent his brother Jesus Christ as the savior? Only the Resurrection explains the conversion and life of James. The skeptic saw Jesus risen from the dead and was a skeptic no more.

These are four historical certainties that are doubted by virtually no credible scholars, four historical facts that lead to the conclusion that Jesus Christ rose from the dead. There is, however, one more consideration.

 

Fifth, PLUS 1, THE EMPTY TOMB

 

Is it conceivable that the early disciples of Jesus Christ would have been willing to suffer and die for the cause of Christ knowing the tomb where Jesus was buried still had a body in it, and knowing their Lord had not conquered death? Is it conceivable the Apostle Paul would have forsaken position and prestige as a rabbi and as a Pharisee knowing the tomb where Jesus was buried still had a body in it? How about James? Could anything have overcome his skepticism so long as he knew the tomb where Jesus was buried still had a body in it, and that Jesus was dead and not alive from the dead?

How about the enemies of Christ and the opponents of Christianity? Why did they not produce Christís dead body once they heard Christianís claims of the Resurrection? How hard would it have been to produce the body that was placed inside the tomb they controlled, and with soldiers as guards that they assigned to watch the tomb to prevent the bodyís theft? As well, there were the women. If you were inventing a story in a chauvinistic society that looked down on the credibility of women as witnesses to an important event, would you have fictionalized an account of the Resurrection using women as the first witnesses of the empty tomb?[21] Of course not.

It must be admitted that modern scholars are not unanimous that the tomb in Jerusalem where Jesus was buried was empty three days later. However, the 75% who are convinced the tomb was empty, the three out of every four scholars who are persuaded the tomb was empty, seem to be in agreement with the company of those first century citizens of Jerusalem, none of whom protested the early Christianís declaration of an empty tomb.

Why did no one deny the tomb was empty for several centuries? Why were the Christians so effective in evangelizing other Jews if the tomb was not demonstrably empty? The tomb was empty, my friend, and the stone was rolled away to show that it was empty.

 

Granted, most sermons make use of the Bible. And while I have used the Bible somewhat this morning, I have not used it as divine decree, but as a source of history that even the most bitter opponent of Christianity could not dispute. Why so? To show that while science is impotent to make any kind of pronouncement about the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, it is well within the purview of history to evaluate the evidence and to draw conclusions about Christís Resurrection from the dead.

We have four facts agreed upon by virtually all scholars, with an additional fact that is embraced by a ratio of three out of every four scholars. Jesus was crucified. Early Christians were convinced Jesus rose from the dead, and suffered and were martyred for that belief. The Apostle Paul, who had been Christianityís greatest enemy, was convinced Jesus rose from the dead, and used it to explain his remarkable conversion. Fourth, the transformation of James from being a skeptic to being a Christian leader was the result of his belief in Christís Resurrection.

Were these men stupid?

Were they insane? No one has ever accused them of being mentally unbalanced.

Were they after personal gain?

Was it a scam? If it was, they failed. The only credible explanation is that Jesus really did rise from the dead, and they saw their risen Savior. Thus, the empty tomb, that no one in the early days of Christianity disputed or denied.

So, history has ruled. The Resurrection is a fact. On that the Bible is correct and Jesus Christís prediction was accurate. In light of this, perhaps you need to take the next step of acting on what the Bible says about other important matters.

If Jesus died and rose again (and He did), then what the Bible says about you is true. You are a sinner. You are lost. You do need to be saved from your sins, and the Bible will tell you how. Know this, as we conclude this morningís service; no Savior who has not conquered death is of any use to you.

However, on this Easter morning, I and other Christians celebrate what we celebrate on the first day of every week, the Resurrection of our Savior, Jesus Christ. He is risen!



[1] Matthew 12.38-40; 16.1-4; John 2.18-21; cf. Mark 14.58; Luke 11.29-30

[2] Acts 17.2-3, 18, 31; 2.22-32; 3.15; 1 Corinthians 15.17

[3] 1 Corinthians 15.14

[4] Gary R. Habermas and Michael R. Licona, The Case For The Resurrection Of Jesus, (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2004), pages 43-47.

[5] 1 Corinthians 15.9-11, Galatians 2.1-10

[6] 2 Corinthians 10.8, 11.5, 13.10, 1 Thessalonians 2.6, 4.2; 2 Thessalonians 3.4; Philemon 21

[7] Clement of Rome [1 Clem. 5:3-5], Polycarp [Pol. Phil. 3:2; 12:11], Ignatius [Ign. Rom. 4:31]

[8] Acts 7 & 10

[9] 1 Corinthians 15.9-10, Galatians 1.13-16. Philippians 3.6-7

[10] 2 Corinthians 11.23-28, Philippians 1.21-23

[11] Acts 14.19, 16.19-24, 17.5, 17.13-15, 18.12-13, 21.27-36, 23.12-35

[12] 1 Clem 5:2-7

[13] Pol. Phil. 9:2

[14] Scorpiace 15; also cited by Eusebius in EH 2:25:8

[15] cited by Eusebius in EH 2:25:8

[16] Commentary on Genesis cited by Eusebius in EH 3:1

[17] Matthew 13.55

[18] Mark 3.21, 31, 6.3-4, John 7.5

[19] Galatians 1.19, Acts 15.12-21

[20] Josephus (Ant. 20:200), Hegesippus (quoted at length by Eusebius in EH 2:23), Clement of Alexandria (quoted by Eusebius in EH 2: 1; mentioned in EH 2:23)

[21] Luke 24:11; Josephus, Ant. 4:8:15; Talmud: J Sotah 19a; Rosh Hashannah 1:8; Kiddushin 82b; Origen, Contra Celsum 2:59; 3:55; Suetonius, The Twelve Caesars, Augustus 44



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pastor@calvaryroadbaptist.org