Reasons to Believe the Resurrection
One of the things that distinguishes the Christian faith from other faiths is that it is a “historical religion” – it is not just a statement of beliefs but about historical things that happened. The resurrection of Jesus is the most important of these events that happened – if it happened, other claims are believable, and if it did not happen, then Christians are people to be pitied (as the Apostle Paul said in 1 Corinthians 15:19), since we are still in our sins (1 Corinthians 15:17) and misrepresenting God (1 Corinthians 15:15).
Because we celebrated the resurrection this past Sunday, I thought I would give 7 reasons for believing in the resurrection. There are many more, but these are some that hit me this year as I reflected on this truly outrageous claim that there was a guy named Jesus who was dead and then came back to life.
- The Gospels’ accounts of the empty tomb and the resurrection appearances of Jesus are similar but vary in many ways. While some people think the variations (such as Mark 16:5 saying there was as young man in a white robe at the tomb, while Matthew 28:2-4 speaks of an angel coming down, John 20:11 having two angels, and Luke 24:4 having two men) are reasons not to believe the resurrection account, I find them to be support because these variations show that this was not a story that someone came up with and then started spreading. These differences are the sort of findings you would expect if there are a number of people independently telling stories about the same event [and I think they can be harmonized]. If the resurrection was a story the disciples concocted and started spreading, they would have had their details straight!
- Similar to that, in the Book of Acts we see the disciples proclaiming the resurrection of Jesus in Jerusalem – they city where Jesus died, the city where his body would be (if it was there!). No one says “Wait a minute, the body is in the tomb!” If the disciples starting preaching in a far off land where no one could verify the story, that would be one thing, but they started at the place where everything happened. Similarly, when Paul gives a list of people who saw Jesus, he notes that many of them are still alive (1 Corinthians 15:6) – as if to say, “Go ask them, it really happened!
- People often point out the change that happened in the disciples from running away from the authorities out of fear to boldly proclaiming the message about the resurrection even in the face of suffering, but it is also interesting that the disciples start to take the gospel to Gentiles even though during Jesus’s ministry (and even his early instructions to the disciples) they would only preach to Jews. What accounted for this change? It would seem to be the instructions of Jesus found in places like Matthew 28:16-20 and Acts 1:8 to be witnesses to the ends of the earth, to preach to all nations. Jesus never totally said this in his pre-resurrection life and no Jew of the time would have thought of it – pointing to the historicity of these words.
- I find it interesting how the Gospels counter a lot of the modern objections people raise to Jesus’s resurrection. For example, the women did not go to the wrong tomb, as they knew which tomb it was (see Matthew 27:66). Pilate was surprised to hear that Jesus died so quickly and checked to make sure he was dead (Mark 15:44-45), so Jesus didn’t just faint. Finally, Paul notes that Jesus appears to “more than five hundred brothers at one time” (1 Corinthians 15:6), showing that these appearances were just “remembering Jesus” or a hallucination – there is no way that this many people had the same hallucination or the same memory at the same time! None of those modern theories denying the literal resurrection of Jesus are new or compelling.
- The stories of the empty tomb and Jesus’s resurrection have women as first and key witnesses – even though their testimony was not accepted in the court of law during the time. In addition, Paul doesn’t list the women as witnesses in the list he gives in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8. Why would someone make this key detail in the story?
- One of the things that I love about the story in the Gospel of Mark is that the women go to the tomb without any sort of plan on how to get to the body of Jesus – remember, there was a big, heavy rock in the way (Mark 16:3). This detail is embarrassing and shows the confused state that the disciples of Jesus were in – they were in no position to hatch a story about Jesus.
- The Gospels show that the disciples doubted at first – and not just “Doubting Thomas” in John 20:24-29. In Luke 24:11, they think that the story the women start telling is an “idle tale.” The women seem to doubt in Mark 16:8. Matthew 28:17 speaks about some worshipping Jesus but also some doubting. Jesus has to prove to the disciples that he is not a ghost by eating fish in Luke 24:36-43. Mary Magdalene seems to think that someone took Jesus’s body (John 20:2), and the women at the tomb were perplexed by the missing body (Luke 24:4) – they did not think at first that Jesus had risen from the dead! Even when Peter and the Beloved Disciple go to the tomb in John 20:1-10, they don’t seem to immediately think that Jesus is risen form the dead.
These reasons give us all the more reason to say once again what we said this weekend: “He is risen! He is risen indeed!”
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