The Resurrection and Belief
I love reading in the Bible the story of the first Easter Sunday. It is a story of unexpected surprises, dramatic characters, puzzle pieces fitting together, and best of all, hope rising. Jesus died, that much was for sure. The women, having prepared more burial spices, never doubted that fact. Nor did they have any inclination that Jesus prepared to rise from the grave. In their hearts, their Rabbi, miracle worker and friend was unmistakably dead.
Having that fact squarely in mind is what makes the story so much fun to read. The anticipation breathed into our reading of the resurrection story is precisely because we are looking at it from the other side of history. We know what they are about to encounter. And that unforgettable, indelible, utterly life-transforming encounter would change everything about them, the twelve, and in a relatively short amount of time, the entire civilized world.
So, here is Marks account.
When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb and they asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?”
But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed.
“Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him.” Mark 16:1-6 (NIV)
That was the beginning of a search for facts, for truth, for what really transpired. The searching proved fruitful, as they ‘found’ in a relatively short amount of time. With the help of the angels, and then the actual appearance of the risen Jesus, it all came together. Since the time the women ran back to tell the disciples what had happened, people for millennia have also been on a search for facts, for truth, and for what really happened.
Someone asked me after church this past Sunday, “Can’t I just believe that Jesus died on the cross and not believe in the resurrection, and, you know, still be ‘in’ and considered a believer?” It is a valid question. After all, Jesus’ atonement on the cross bore the weight of our sin by paying the price. But it can not stop there. I shared with her a piece of Scripture out of Paul’s writings, “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” Romans 10:9 (NLT)
I told her to notice how the verse did not say, “…and believe in your heart that Jesus died on the cross, you will be saved.” No. It must go further. There must be more. The resurrection is the hinge point for our Christian faith. Paul makes that really clear in his first letter to the Corinthians. Chapter fifteen is an entire case for and treatment about the resurrection. Paul makes a startling comment in hopes of bringing to the readers a theological reality. “And if Christ was’t raised to life, our message is worthless, and so is your faith.” I Cor. 15:14 (CEV) And that’s that.
People doubt, however, that the resurrection really happened by doubting its historicity. Historicity is the discipline of proving the validity of a historical event. The historicity of the resurrection event makes a compelling case beyond reasonable doubt that it happened. To the doubters, and those asking us to prove the validity of the resurrection event, we could easily say, “Since millions of Christians throughout the last 2000 years have put their entire faith on this fact, the burden of proof is on you to disprove it.” And that would be a valid response. But people are asking questions and in need of answers, and we should be prepared to talk about our hope (I Pet. 3:15)— especially our hope in the risen Christ.
A prominent theologian, Gary Habermas, has been the most prolific writer in history on the resurrection. He has come up with a ‘minimal facts’ argument in favor of the historicity of the resurrection. ‘Minimal facts’ argumentation merely brings evidence to the lowest common denominator along the entire spectrum of opinions. In other words, skeptics and believers alike most always agree on these seven facts:
a. Jesus was a historical figure who died by crucifixion.
b. Jesus’ tomb was found empty soon after the internment.
c. The disciples believed they experienced interactions with the risen Jesus.
d. Because of their belief, the world was turned upside down.
e. The resurrection was proclaimed as a creed very soon after the crucifixion.
f. James, the brother of Jesus, became a believer.
g. Paul believed he had a vision of Jesus, and it utterly changed him.
This is a great foundation on which to build a case. But I want to bring three other facts to the forefront in order to inspire confidence and belief in the resurrection. First, it is unlikely that the disciples would give their life (violently, I might add) to the cause of the Christian faith if they were uncertain about whether their Savior and Lord was indeed alive. But they did believe and the did die.
James, brother of John was beheaded in Jerusalem, AD 44; Philip was scourged and crucified in Greece, AD 54; Andrew was crucified on an X shaped cross in Greece, AD 60; Matthew was pinned to the ground and beheaded in Ethiopia, AD 60; Peter was crucified upside down in Rome, AD 64; Thomas was executed by spear in India, AD 70; Bartholomew was flayed alive in Armenia; Matthias (Judas’ replacement) was stoned and beheaded in Jerusalem; Thaddeus was crucified in Greece, AD 72; James (brother of Jesus, though not one of disciples) was thrown form the top of the temple, stoned and clubbed to death in Jerusalem, AD 62. The point of all this is, you don’t die like this for a hoax. Something inspired their belief and allegiance even unto death. And that speaks volumes about the truth of what they saw when Jesus appeared to them alive and well after having been crucified and buried. It was indeed the risen Christ.
Second, another instance of belief came upon inspection of the inside of the tomb. John records this rather dramatic event in his gospel account.
So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. Then Simon Peter came along behind him and went straight into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, as well as the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head. The cloth was still lying in its place, separate from the linen. Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. John 20:3-8 (NIV)
A quick word study will give us strong evidence as to why ‘he saw and believed.’ The passage says that there were strips of linen “lying there,” which is a word that means 'stretched out,’ as in ‘neatly.’ If the grave linens were tossed in a corner as if someone were abruptly moved, a different Greek word would have been used. This is compelling evidence that no one moved the body. And it’s why John didn’t go in at first. He thought it very odd.
Peter, however, impulsive as he was, dashed in and not only saw the linens lying neatly where Jesus’ body was placed, he also saw the face covering (‘soderion’ or ‘shroud’) folded up by itself and placed separately from the linens. Putting it all together, it’s as if Jesus merely rose up through the grave clothes, removed the shroud from his face, folded it and said, “Done with that. Won’t be needing this anymore. The work is done, on to the next thing.” Then John ran in, saw the same thing, and believed.
Third, I want to mention the belief which Thomas exhibited after his experience with Jesus. The story, also recorded in the book of John, happened one week after Jesus rose from the grave. I like that the week following Easter is the day Thomas came to believe. It makes that particular Sunday significant. Jesus draws all of us in unique ways. Here was his.
Now Thomas (also known as Didymus[a]), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”
But he said to them, “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.”
A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”
Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”
Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” John 20:24-29 (NIV)
What brought you to belief? How did Jesus draw you? Was it evidence? An encounter? Now, after this Easter season, where is your faith? Stronger than last year? Struggling more than last year? I challenge you to focus your eyes on Jesus, who is the author and perfecter of our faith (Heb. 12:2). Focusing on Him means also focusing on His resurrection. He is the the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end (Rev. 1:8).
Jesus rose from the dead. And that is significant beyond words. Though we celebrated that a week and a half ago, the fact fo the resurrection should impact every day of our life here and our life beyond. Because He is alive, God’s love for you has no expiration date. Because He is alive, you are forgiven from your sins and all the times you pushed God away. He is alive and desires a relationship with you. Because He is alive you are free. A dead Savior can’t free you from the shackles that keep you from being you. Because He is alive, no need to believe lies. He is the way the truth and the life. He is alive not dead so you can hand your future to Him. Are you empty? He fills. And when you get empty again, He fills. He is alive and near. He gives you peace so you don’t have to be bound by worry. He gives you happiness and joy so you don’t have to succumb to hopelessness. He delights in you today. A dead savior can’t delight in anything. You are not alone. The living Savior loves everything about you. You may be tempted to give up, don’t do it. For those who believe, He is alive and in you. Don’t give up. We can trust Him in every moment of our lives because He is alive! Alive forever more so He will be with us for all eternity.