(A partial summary of Sunday’s sermon.)
When is the last time you saw someone resurrected from the dead? Been a while? 🙂
There is a reason it is not easy for people to believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is unique, with no parallel in our personal experience — and we find it hard to believe anything we haven’t seen ourselves.
God knows that. And the point of sending His Son to save us was, well, to save us — so He wants us to believe. Though the resurrection at first seems difficult to believe, God did quite a few things to make it easier for us to believe it.
Why We Believe
I Corinthians 15:3-4
3 For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures;
4 And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures:
I suppose we need to be clear, from the start, that we believe for one reason — the Bible tells us Jesus rose from the dead. All four Gospels record it. It is directly mentioned in almost every book in the New Testament.
You can’t prove the resurrection. People may talk about evidence that proves the resurrection, but that is impossible. As with any other ancient historical event, you can weigh the evidence, but you simply can’t provide absolute proof.
With the resurrection, we aren’t in the realm of proof, but of faith. If the Scriptures did not tell of it, we would not believe it. Faith calls us to believe on this basis alone — but God, in His mercy, knew that human faith is weak and gave us things we might call “evidence.” We should not call them “proof” — on the resurrection, we will never leave the realm of faith. But for times when our faith is weak, God provided help to make it easier to believe.
1. Easier Because of the Witnesses
I Corinthians 15:6
After that, he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep.
The Scriptures tell primarily of faith and only secondarily of history. But when discussing the historical fact of the resurrection, Paul was very precise. He named specific witnesses. He told how many witnesses saw Jesus, and that most were still alive — but noted that some had passed away. This last, unnecessary to his main point, is the kind of detail you get from a man who is intent on being very accurate and specific.
Jesus was seen after His resurrection by many witnesses, many of whom were initially sceptical. Either they were all lying or they were all deluded — or Jesus rose from the dead. God made it easier for us to believe by the existence of so many witnesses.
2. Easier Because of Uniqueness
3 Concerning his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, which was made 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:
In a few cases God miraculously used His messengers to raise someone to validate His message. But this resurrection is unique — without any involvement of anyone else, Jesus Christ came out of that tomb alive. Unlike the others, He rose with an immortal body, not one that would die again in a few years.
I said above that the resurrection is hard to believe because it is unique — but it is also easier to believe because it is unique. One very special purpose of the resurrection was to make it clear just who this Jesus is — and there has been no one else like Him. We would expect it to be unique. Since we ourselves have never seen anything like it, it is much easier for us to believe that it only happened once in all of history, to show us God’s Son. That helps us understand why we don’t see it happening today. It’s uniqueness makes it harder to believe at first, but when we think about it, it makes it easier.
3. Easier Because it Rings True
For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse:
Deep down, we all know there is something beyond this life. You will hear about heaven at funerals of even the most non-religious people. If people didn’t believe in something beyond this life, they wouldn’t look to promises of the after-life for comfort, but they do.
Deep down, we also all know there is a God of some kind. People throughout all history, in all nations, have always believed there is something more, Something or Someone out there, Somewhere, Somehow. And internally, we all know that what we do matters, that the Someone “out there” is interested in us and what we do.
It rings true that there is a God and He cares enough to get involved with us. It rings true that if He did, miraculous things would happen. It rings true that He would love us and want to sort out the mess man made of His creation. The whole story of God’s love makes sense — and that makes it easier to believe in the resurrection. It rings true.
4. Easier Because it Countered / Destroyed Social Constructs
13 And they say unto her, Woman, why weepest thou? She saith unto them, Because they have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid him.
14 And when she had thus said, she turned herself back, and saw Jesus standing, and knew not that it was Jesus.
Women as Witnesses
Women were the first witnesses of the resurrection. No one in the first century would have made this up if it weren’t true. Both Josephus and the Talmud deny weight to a woman’s testimony, and in keeping with that, the disciples didn’t believe them at first. No ancient Jew would invent such a story — but the Gospel accounts are very, very Jewish.
If Mary hadn’t really been the first to see the Lord, a Jew would have been embarrassed to insert her account in a book written “that ye might believe” (John 20:31). No one in that time and culture would have invented this part of the story. The New Testament writers, sceptical of them at first, were absolutely convinced that the women came to a guarded tomb and found it empty, with a large stone rolled away. Whatever else one may think, the account about the women couldn’t be an invention. It had to be true or no one would have recorded it, and that makes it not hard at all to believe the resurrection.
And, behold, there was a man named Joseph, a counsellor; and he was a good man, and a just:
Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were unlearned and ignorant men, they marvelled; and they took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus.
Destruction of Elitism
Joseph of Arimathaea was a member of the Sanhedrin, the Jewish council of 70 elders. A rich man, elite of the elite, he must have been very highly educated. Peter and John were uneducated fishermen, who had only this claim, that they had followed the Teacher — and the Teacher died.
Yet the new church was led by poor and uneducated Peter and John, not Joseph or Nicodemus. In a society that exalted education, where rabbis taught that wealth meant God’s blessing and poverty was God’s judgment, it is almost impossible to understand — unless both rich and poor knew the Teacher really did rise again. THEN it makes sense, because a resurrection would change how you view everything, wouldn’t it? The new attitudes towards formal education and wealth help us believe a miracle had happened.
Where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is all, and in all.
Destruction of Racial Barriers
Paul was a Hebrew of the Hebrews, a Pharisee (Philippians 3), a student of the great teacher Gamaliel, probably headed for membership in the Sanhedrin, but he wrote the above words. Who among first century Jews would give up all that prestige to preach unity with the hated Gentiles? (See also Ephesians 2.) Something must have happened — something amazing like a resurrection from the dead. The changed attitude of Jewish Christians towards other nations helps us believe something earth-shaking had taken place.
5. Easier Because It Wasn’t Refuted
I Corinthians 15:19
If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.
From the very beginning, Christians taught and believed that their faith rested on a fact. Those who opposed the new religion could have killed it in its infancy. All they had to do was produce the body, or produce the Roman guards to testify that it was still in the tomb, or question the witnesses until they cracked and confessed under pressure.
The Jewish authorities would have loved to kill the new religion — and tried to by other means, but never disproved the resurrection. By AD 50, less than 20 years after the resurrection, the Romans were already having to deal with riots because of this new faith (see multiple passages in Acts). That may even be why the Jews were expelled from Rome at that time (Acts 18). The Romans would have found it easier to keep the peace if this new religion would just go away.
But no one ever refuted it. The new faith was built on its assertion of a fact in a time when those in power could have refuted it, if the fact weren’t a fact at all. And those in power had strong incentives to refute it — but they never did. Why? Either they were incompetent, or they couldn’t refute it because it was true. The more you think about it, the harder it becomes to disbelieve the resurrection.
6. Easier Because of Changed Lives
Salvation of a Scoffer
John 7:3-5 tells us that Jesus’ brothers did not believe in Him, and used scoffing words of His miracles. Yet, after the resurrection, His brother James became a leader of the church (Acts 15) and the writer of the book of James, eventually a martyr. Something happened to change him.
Courage of a Coward
Peter, before the crucifixion, in fear denied the Lord. Afterwards, something significant transformed him, so that he was able before a multitude to say things like this:
Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain:
Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ.
The Preaching of a Persecutor
Paul, formerly a persecutor, became a preacher:
I Timothy 1:12-13
12 And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who hath enabled me, for that he counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry;
13 Who was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious: but I obtained mercy, because I did it ignorantly in unbelief.
Three lives, drastically changed — something happened (and these are not the only three). It isn’t hard to believe that they saw something life-changing, maybe even a person who rose from the dead.
More could be said, of course — people write entire books on this subject. It really isn’t impossible to believe in the resurrection — God did enough to make it quite easy.
So Why Don’t People Believe?
Resurrection Sunday has passed now, but if the Lord does not return, next year will come around, and there will be many articles written on evidence for the resurrection. Some will, no doubt, explain it far better than I have. And yet, so many will still not believe. Why? Not because it is really that hard to believe. God did so much to make it easier. Perhaps J.C. Ryle, writing in the 19th century, got to the root of the problem:
Men may tell you that there are difficulties in the Bible; things hard to understand. It would not be God’s book if there were not. And what if there are? You don’t despise medicines because you cannot explain all that your doctor does with them. But whatever men may say, the things needed for salvation are as clear as daylight. Be very sure of this—people never reject the Bible because they cannot understand it. They understand it too well; they understand that it condemns their own behavior; they understand that it witnesses against their own sins, and summons them to judgment. They try to believe it is false and useless, because they don’t like to believe it is true. An evil lifestyle must always raise an objection to this book. Men question the truth of Christianity because they hate the practice of it.
The difficulty is not that it is really THAT hard to believe, but that people don’t want to believe. It costs something to believe in the resurrection, because if there really is a God, and He really did send His Son, and that Son really did die on the cross and rise from the dead, it puts a great demand on us. If all that is true, eternity is coming on His terms, not ours. The right view of sin is His, not ours, and the right solution for sin is found with Him, not with us.
The resurrection changes everything, and people instinctively know it. They may not have thought through everything it changes, but they know it is life-altering, world-altering, if it is true. That’s the hardest thing about believing it — people don’t want God altering their lives. But that is the most dangerous thing about not believing it, too, because the world, eternity, HAS been altered by the resurrection. If your life isn’t altered, it isn’t really fit for purpose, either for this world or the life to come.