Scripture Reference: John 20:24-31, 1 Corinthians 15:3-19
An Extraordinary ResurrectionDr. Erwin W. Lutzer | October 24, 1993
Selected highlights from this sermon
Why do Christians believe in the resurrection of Christ? Looking at the evidence, it’s overwhelmingly in favor of the resurrection.
Pastor Lutzer takes us through three major reasons for believing in Christ’s resurrection.
- The reliability of the New Testament and other internal and external historical documents
- Eye witness accounts
- How alternative theories stack up against the truth
The evidence for the resurrection is sufficient for any honest doubter, but it’s not sufficient for a dishonest doubter.
An atheist by the name of Antony Flew tells this parable to illustrate the difficulty of defending the Christian faith. He says that, once upon a time, there were two explorers that were walking through a forest when they came to a clearing in the woods. And they noticed that there were some flowers as well as some weeds in the woods in the clearing. And one of them said, “I believe that there’s a gardener that tends this plot.” The skeptic said, “I don’t agree. There is no gardener.” So they decided to do an experiment and they patrolled the area. In fact, they put up an electric fence, and then they used bloodhounds to try to find out whether or not a gardener ever showed. As time went by, the electric fence was never tripped and the bloodhounds never cried out. But the believer kept insisting, “I believe that there is a gardener. It’s just that he’s an elusive, invisible, intangible gardener.” “But,” said the skeptic, “how do you distinguish an elusive, intangible, invisible gardener from no gardener at all?” “Now,” says Antony Flew, “that is the dilemma of the Christian faith.”
We say that there is a gardener that tends this plot with its weeds and with its flowers, with its mixed results and with its good and its evil, but nobody ever sees him. He is invisible, elusive and intangible.”
Well, in this morning’s message I want to tell you that I believe that God has entered the garden. There is evidence that there is a gardener and he has come to the garden. Those of you who attend here regularly know that this is number six in a series entitled Christ Among Other gods, and in previous messages I talked about Jesus Christ in contrast to some other religions. Today we will not be talking about those other religions. We will not have time to do that. I shall speak only about Christ, but when the message is over I will give you an opportunity to reflect and to ask this question: “Is there another religion in all the world that believes in a God like Christ?”
Take your Bibles and turn to 1 Corinthians 15 where the Apostle Paul lays out some evidence for the resurrection, and shows its incredible importance. In 1 Corinthians 15 Paul says beginning in verse 3: “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas (that’s to Peter), then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.”
Verses 16 through 18: For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.”
Well, let me ask you the question, “What evidence is there that God has come to the Garden?” What I’d like to do in the next few moments is to give you some evidence for the resurrection of Jesus Christ, three reasons why we believe in the resurrection of Christ.
Reason number one is because the documents of the New Testament are reliable. Let’s suppose that we were to look at the documents of the New Testament as any other ancient historical writings, giving them no preferential treatment and not considering them any different than secular writings. How would the New Testament stack up with an evaluation like that? Well obviously, if compared to secular writings, the New Testament’s evidence is overwhelming.
There are three tests that scholars use to show the validity or the non-validity of ancient documents. The first, you’ll notice, is bibliographical. That’s a pretty big word. I had to pronounce that and practice it a little bit, but its meaning is simply “do we have a good reliable text that is trustworthy”? You see the ancient documents do not exist. We don’t know where the original manuscripts upon which Paul and Matthew, Mark and Luke wrote are because manuscripts don’t last forever. They disintegrate and there are no ancient original manuscripts that come from that era in any kind of writing.
To give you an idea about the gap that exists between the originals and the ones that we do have, if you were to study the writings of Plato, there is 1500 years between the time of Plato and the actual documents that we have. Those of you who have studied philosophy, when you read about Plato and Aristotle, and all of their teachings, the manuscripts upon which those texts are based only date back to about the year 1000 A.D. The gap is about 1500 years, and yet everybody knows that we have a rather reliable text as to what Plato or Aristotle or Euripides wrote.
In the case of the New Testament the gap is about 250 years. And even that gap has been narrowed because of the discovery of some recent manuscripts, papyrus manuscripts in Egypt. We have the quotations of the early church fathers, and this has led a man by the name of Sir Frederick Kenyon, who for many years was the principle librarian in London, England, at the museum there, to say that the gap between the original writings and the manuscripts that we have today is, for all practical purposes, negligible. We have a good textual tradition upon which we can base our faith.
Secondly, there is what is known as internal evidence. That has to do with the reading of the text itself. Do the writers disqualify themselves because of contradiction? That is, does
it appear as if they are making up the story? Well, if you read the New Testament documents, it’s clear that the writings claimed to be eyewitness accounts. For example, John says, regarding the crucifixion, “He who saw this bear witness of it, and he is the author of what he actually saw.”
We won’t take out time to read the text but in Luke 1:4, Luke says that he has decided to set forth the things that happened in the life of Christ, and he says, “I have laid it out in order that we might know exactly what has taken place.” You read the Gospel writers and they have a sense of authenticity and integrity. You don’t get the impression, at all, that they are unreliable news reporters.
Then there is also external evidence. External evidence asks the question, “Is there anything in ancient history or archeology that confirms the New Testament witness to Christ?” Well you know, in various writings there are 13 references to Christ in secular literature. In fact, Josephus even has a reference to Christ’s resurrection. In addition to that you have archeology, which always points in the direction of the authenticity of the Gospels. A man by the name of Sir William Ramsey spent all of his life studying the Gospel of Luke, and then the other book that Luke wrote, which is the book of Acts. And he concluded that Luke is unsurpassed in his trustworthiness as a historian.
Everywhere we look there seems to be the earmarks of reliability so one of the reasons that we can believe as Christians in the authenticity of the manuscripts, the reliability of the manuscripts, is that even if they are tested by secular means and secular tests, they come out very well as being reliable documents.
You’ll notice, first of all, the New Testament documents are reliable. And secondly the witnesses are credible. They are credible witnesses. Now let me speak with you very frankly because if you do any witnessing at all and you are talking to people about your faith, you know that often they will say, “Well, are you sure? How do you know that the Gospel stories weren’t made up by those who were devoted to Christ?”
I remember many years ago reading a Sunday school manual from a very liberal denomination. And I won’t tell you what denomination it was, but it was very liberal. Here’s what it says. It says: “When it came to the miracles of Jesus, like taking five loaves and two fish and feeding a multitude, what really happened was there was a little boy with his lunch and he took his lunch and he gave it to Jesus. And when the multitude saw the devotion of this little boy, and saw his commitment, they all felt so guilty that all of them began to take out their lunches, and they began to share with those who didn’t have a lunch, and that’s how everybody was fed.” It was known as the “paper bag theory.” Everybody had a little paper bag, and when the little boy gave his paper bag to Jesus, thousands of little paper bags appeared.
Now, you know if you have a little paper bag god, you need a theory like that, but here’s the question. How do we know that these disciples didn’t take a man and make him into God? How do we know that they did not put words in his mouth and take an ordinary person, Jesus, and make Him into the Christ? There are several reasons why the disciples were incapable of doing it. First of all, it’s because Jesus would have been a very bad candidate to choose to make into the Christ. If there is anything unlike His times, it was Christ. There were all kinds of Messiahs that would have fit in better with what the people were expecting in that day.
Those who have done extensive work to look into what the general thought was regarding the Messiah in Christ’s time tell us that the nation was expecting a Messiah that would unify the ten tribes. They were expecting a Messiah who was going to take on Rome and fight the Roman Empire and throw off that heavy yoke of Roman occupation. They were certainly not expecting a Messiah who said, “My Kingdom is not of this world.” They were not expecting a Messiah who was going to take everything that was going on in the Temple, all of the forgiveness and the worship that was taking place there, and offering it out on the street corner, and saying, “All that you need to do is to come to Me to be forgiven. You don’t have to go into the Temple.” That’s not the kind of a Messiah that they were expecting. Jesus would have been the last person that people would have made into the Messiah.
There’s another reason. Do you realize that the disciples would never have been psychologically capable of taking a man and calling him God? They would not have been able to do that. They were schooled and steeped in Judaism, which says, “Thou shall have no other gods before me. The Lord our God is one Lord.” And now you mean to tell me that these disciples would have taken an ordinary man and ascribed to him deity? That would have been the highest blasphemy. They could not have done it.
The reason that the disciples finally concluded that Jesus Christ was God is not because of Messianic fever, which some of the liberals want to say existed in those days, and they were anxious to make a man into a god. It was not because of that. They were hardheaded fishermen who refused to believe until the evidence was so overwhelming that the facts compelled them to believe. That’s why they believed that Christ was the Messiah, that Christ was God.
And then, of course, it is the resurrection of Jesus Christ that actually transformed them. I mean they were a very frightened group of men on the day of the crucifixion, but it was because Jesus Christ was raised from the dead that it is that explanation that can explain the strength of those early disciples, and the formation of what we know as the Christian church.
The documents are reliable. The eyewitnesses are credible. Thirdly, the alternatives are unbelievable. Now, of course, because unbelief reigns in the human heart, there have been people who have looked at the Bible and said, “Well, the tomb must have been empty.” There are many that grant that, but they say, “The explanation for the empty tomb must be found somewhere else other than in a miracle.” And so some people have said, “Well, the disciples stole the body.” Remember that’s what Pilate was worried about when he said, “You know, so the disciples don’t come and steal His body, set a watch,” and they guarded the tomb. But I need to ask you something. If the disciples stole the body, they would not have laid down their lives for something they knew to be a hoax. People have laid down their lives for foolish causes but not for things that they believed were foolish causes.
Others have said, “Well, the enemies must have stolen the body.” But if the enemies did it they would have produced the body when, on the Day of Pentecost, Peter stood up and preached with such conviction about the resurrection of Jesus Christ. You see it just doesn’t work to say that the enemies stole it.
And then, of course, a book came out many years ago which I remember reading. If you’re into fiction it’s a good book to read. And it illuminates the swoon theory. The idea is that Jesus really didn’t die on the cross. He just swooned and then he was put into that dark tomb and He was revived, and then He came staggering out the third day with bloodstains all over His body. And in a weakened condition He inspired the disciples to begin the Christian church, and He convinced them of His resurrection. Well, that is also unlikely.
All theories regarding the empty tomb collapse under the weight of other evidence. Throughout history not everybody has been happy with the resurrection and the deity of Jesus Christ. I can assure you of that. Not everybody has been glad because of it right from the early centuries. Pilate said, “Let’s put an end to this.” And the Pharisees wanted to put an end to it. And when you think of western civilization, some of our greatest thinkers who have impacted us the most are people who, in effect, have said to themselves, “We want to keep Christ in that tomb.” And in most instances they have tried to keep Him there by simply ignoring Him, pretending that He had no relevance to their particular disciplines or their expertise.
For example, David Hume took the stone called philosophy and said to himself, “We can use philosophy to keep that tomb closed,” so Hume taught that miracles were impossible. He said that the reason that miracles are impossible is because there is uniform evidence against them. Now if you have taken an introductory course in logic, you know that that is circular reasoning. He’s beginning with the supposition that he wishes to prove. How can he know that there is uniform evidence against miracles? All that we can do is check them out and to see whether or not they have happened.
Now what is a philosopher? The word philosophy means a lover of wisdom. How could David Hume, who supposedly loved wisdom, have bypassed Jesus Christ, about whom the Bible says that in Him are all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge? How could Hume have done that? Well, he tried it to keep the tomb closed.
What about Carl Marx? You know, Marx was born in the Rhineland of Germany, and at the age of six was baptized a Lutheran and said very nice things about Jesus. And then he teamed up with Engels, and wrote the Communist manifesto, and then to the British Museum he wrote Das Capital. Marx saw Jesus as totally irrelevant. He said that religion was the opiate, you remember, of the people. And so Marx thought that he would come up with an economic theory and with a political theory that would surely close Christ off and keep Him dead. How could Marx have erred so profoundly? How can we possibly think that Christ can be kept from politics when the Bible says that the governments of the world shall be upon His shoulders, and that someday He will rule, as it says in Psalm 2?
And then, of course, we think of Freud. Freud thought that Jesus Christ was irrelevant. He believed that all belief in God was the figment of our imagination because all of us wanted a father figure, and so we made up the idea of God. And, of course, Freud thought that psychotherapy would answer all of our problems. Well today if you do any reading at all you know that psychotherapy is on the couch. It is in desperate shape with hundreds of different theories. And Freud ignored Christ who is called, in the Bible, the wonderful counselor, the mighty God, the everlasting Father and the Prince of Peace. And all that was ignored.
What about Voltaire? Voltaire thought that he could take that stone that we call the stone of culture, and he would put it across Christ’s tomb. Voltaire was an enemy of the church and had some reason to be critical of the church in his day, I might add, but unfortunately his criticism of the church closed him off from the possibility of believing in Christ. Voltaire predicted that in 100 years the Bible would be obsolete. And yet I am told that his house in Europe was purchased by the Geneva Bible Society after he died as a headquarters to spread the Bible throughout Europe. How could Voltaire have missed it? “He’s the lily of the valley, the bright and the morning star.” How do you take Christ and keep Him in the tomb?
And then what shall we say about Darwin, whose tomb I remember seeing in Great Britain? Darwin thought that we could take the stone that we call science, and if the theory of origins were looked at, he thought that one could do without God, though he personally professed faith in God. Subsequent scientists said, “We don’t need God at all and evolution explains origins.” And so he took the stone of science and said, “Let us keep Christ sealed in the tomb.” But of course today we know that evolution is in disarray. In fact, the editor of the French Encyclopedia said that evolution is a fairy tale for adults. Let me ask you something. How could Darwin have erred so terribly when it says regarding Jesus that He is the king of science, for by Him are all things created, both which are in heaven and which are in earth, whether they be thrones or dominions or principalities or powers? All things were created by Him and for Him. You cannot keep the king of science in the tomb. What am I saying to you today? Well, kingdoms come and kingdoms go, but Christ lives. Emperors are crowned and emperors are uncrowned, but Christ lives. Skeptics live, and I might add that skeptics die, but Christ lives. King of kings and Lord of lords!
And now I invite you to turn in your Bibles to the story of a skeptic in John 20. The basic outlines of this story are known to all of us. Do you remember Thomas who was a pessimist, by the way, and he is not the first one who ever lived, nor is he the last? Let’s give him credit for being a loyal skeptic. When Jesus was about to go back to the city of Jerusalem after the death of Lazarus, Thomas said, “Let us go that we may die with Him.” That is loyal skepticism.
Evidently he was a twin. Thomas was called Didimus. That’s what the word means. It means the twin. He was not with him when Jesus came. Verse 25: “So the other disciples told him, ‘We have seen the Lord.’” You can imagine the excitement. You see, Thomas missed a Sunday evening service, and if the Lord were to appear in our Sunday evening services there would be a lot of people who would miss Him. So Thomas was not there and he didn’t accept the word of the disciples. He said, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.”
Now may I say that Thomas was an honest doubter? And there is a difference between doubt and unbelief. You see, doubt stumbles over some stones that we do not understand, whereas unbelief often kicks at stones that we understand only too well because the evidence for Jesus Christ is so overwhelming that people who do not want to believe in him will fight against it with all of their being. And so Thomas should have believed. Certainly he should have believed for two reasons. First of all, Jesus predicted it.
One day some people came to Christ and they said, “Do a sign that we might believe in You.” And Jesus said, “You’re not going to get any more signs.” He said, “There’s going to be one sign and that is the sign of the prophet, Jonah. Just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the heart of the earth, so shall the Son of Man be, but that’s going to be the end of the signs, and then He will rise again, and that’s it.” Thomas should have thought about that because Jesus said that on numerous occasions according to the New Testament accounts.
There’s a second reason why he should have believed. This was an attorney’s dream of all things. There were ten people who all agreed. Have you ever heard of that for a court case? Ten people who all agreed! “We all saw Him.” Even if one person can hallucinate, it is unlikely that ten would have similar hallucinations at the same time. Thomas said, “That’s not enough for me.”
Isn’t Jesus gracious? He could have said, “Well, Thomas, if you don’t believe with all that evidence, well then forget it.” But no, after eight days, again the disciples are together, and Jesus appears and he goes directly for Thomas, having known the doubt that existed in this melancholic heart. And He says, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” And Thomas looked into the eyes of Christ and said, “Body, face, scars - my Lord and my God! It is true. It is my Lord and my master!”
You say today, “Well, is the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus Christ as certain as mathematics – two plus two is equal to four?” No, all of mathematics is actually based on the linking together of the conceptions of the mind. Historical evidence is different. Historical evidence cannot even be repeated. You can’t go back and say, “Well, we’d like to videotape the resurrection.” Sony was too late. The video camera can’t work back then. No, you can’t do that. The evidence for the resurrection of Jesus Christ is sufficient for any honest doubter, but it is not sufficient for a dishonest doubter.
Well, let me ask you this question. Who is Jesus Christ? Who is He among all the other so-called Gods, the gods who say that they are God, and yet deny that they are creators; the gods who say that all of us are gods, which is nonsense? Is there another like Christ? Who is He? Liar? When He said, “Before Abraham was, I am,” was He lying? When the high priest said to Him, “Art the Son of God?” and he said, “Thou sayest it,” was he a liar? I don’t think so. The Man who preaches the Sermon on the Mount a liar? Lunatic like Albert Schweitzer, the great humanitarian, said – that Christ was insane because only insane people go around claiming to be God? Oh! You read the New Testament and you don’t get that impression at all. Neither liar nor lunatic! Legend? Did the disciples make it up? No, the disciples themselves needed to be convinced of it. They would never have thought of making it up.
There’s only one option left. Lord! “Ho Kurios mou, kai ho Theos” says the Greek text. My Lord and My God! And then Jesus very graciously says something and this is the closest you will ever come to having your name in the Bible. Wouldn’t you like to have your name in the Bible? Well, there are some names that I wouldn’t necessarily like to be identified with in the Bible, but notice what Jesus says very graciously. He says, “Thomas, because you have seen Me had you believed?” Yes, that’s the answer he had to see before he believed, but Jesus said, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” That’s the closest you’ll ever come to having your name in the Bible.
What Jesus is saying is, “Blessed are you, Brad, because you did not see, and yet you have believed.” “Blessed are you, Angie, because even though you didn’t see, yet have you believed.” And our friend, Dave, sitting over there who is with us this morning, “Blessed are you, Dave, because you did not see, and yet you have believed.” “And blessed are you, Jean and Julie, and blessed are you, whoever you may be, Terry, though you have not seen, you have believed.”
My Lord, my God, my Savior! The gap between man and God is infinite, absolutely totally infinite. We explained this last time and therefore God had to take the initiative to spend the gap by Himself, with no human help, to reconcile us and to lead us to Himself. Only God could redeem us, and Christ is God.
Let us pray.
Our Father, we want to thank You today for the graciousness of Christ. We want to thank You that Paul wrote so eloquently that if Christ be not raised, our faith is vain. But we thank You that he also wrote that Christ is raised, that He appeared to 500 brethren simultaneously. And therefore, Father, we thank you for the certainty of our hope and our own resurrection, which is tied directly to His triumph. We pray today for those who have never received Christ as personal Savior, even those who heard this message, and yet maintain an arm’s length from a Savior who is God. In this moment we pray that You will cause them to believe.
Before I close this prayer, if you don’t belong to Christ personally, would you at this moment embrace Him as Lord and Savior – your Lord and Savior? This moment you respond to Him.
Father, help us, like Thomas, to fully and finally and completely believe. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.