Summary: Six historical facts surrounding Jesus’ death, six alternate explanations, and compelling evidence to believe the resurrection of Jesus best explains these six facts.
When I was a junior in high school (quite a few years ago!), one of my best friends became a Christian. Because I was an atheist at the time and because my friend Paul had been one of my partying buddies, I gave him a really hard time about his newfound faith in Jesus. I remember going up to him once and saying, "Hey Paul, did you hear they cancelled Easter this year? They found the body." Paul didn’t think my joke was very funny.
Well what was an irreverent joke of a 16 year old atheist actually became a movie this year. Maybe you’ve heard about the release of a new movie called "The Body," starring Antionio Banderas. The premise of the movie is that an Arab hardware merchant discovers an ancient tomb underneath his hardware shop in Jerusalem. In the movie, archeologists conclude that the body in the tomb of the body of Jesus. Banderas portrays Father Matt Gutierrez, a priest sent by the Vatican to disprove the evidence. The premise of the movie is that if someone actually found the remains of Jesus, that discovery would destroy the Christian faith.
That premise is a true one. In fact, this is one thing that both Bible believing Christians and atheists can both agree on. The Christian faith stands or falls on the truthfulness of the claim that Jesus truly rose from the grave. The Bible itself says that if Jesus didn’t really rise from the grave, then the Christian faith is empty and void (1 Cor 15:17).
Did Jesus really rise from the dead? That’s our question today. We’re finishing a series today called "Common Questions About Jesus." In this series we’ve been trying to look at some of the most basic questions people have about Jesus. So far we’ve looked at the questions: Did Jesus really exist? Who did Jesus think he was? And was Jesus really God? We’ve seen that the evidence for the existence of Jesus is overwhelming, even the evidence outside of the Bible itself. We’ve also seen that Jesus’ action of driving the money changers out of the temple-an action that virtually all historians agree really happened-clearly indicates that Jesus saw himself as Israel’s Messiah. Then last week Pastor Gary demonstrated that the New Testament also teaches that Jesus is fully God, as well as being fully human.
But the reality is that there have been lots of people throughout history to have made strange claims about themselves. In Jesus’ generation there were about a dozen other people who had claimed to be Israel’s messiah. So who’s to say that Jesus was really the Messiah and not, say, Judas the Galilean or Simon son of Giora or Bar Kochba, who all made similar claims (Horsely 260-61)? And many people throughout history have been called God, so we certainly shouldn’t be surprised that the Bible calls Jesus God. You see, the question of whether Jesus was really the messiah and whether he is truly God in the flesh is intertwined with the question of whether he rose form the grave. If Jesus really did rise from the grave, then he did something that no other messianic figure and no other person called God has done. But if the resurrection of Jesus were proven to be untrue, or a myth or a fable, then Jesus is no different than any other messianic pretender.
Today we’re going to finish our series on "Common Questions About Jesus" by looking at the question, "Did Jesus really rise from the dead?" To do that we’re first going to look at six historical facts surrounding the resurrection, then six alternate theories to try to explain these facts, and then finally some reasons to believe that the bodily resurrection of Jesus provides the best explanation for the facts. In two weeks we’ll be returning to our series through Romans, but today we’re going to look at whether Jesus really rose from the dead or not.
1. The Facts (1 Corinthians 15:3-8)
Let’s be Joe Friday from Dragnet and ask, "Just what are the facts surrounding the claim that Jesus rose from the dead?" To do that we’re going to look at the earliest historical mention of Jesus’ resurrection, which happens to be in the New Testament book of 1 Corinthians. Before we read this section together, let me explain just how important this section is. You see, even though the four gospels--Matthew, Mark, Luke and John--in the New Testament recount the life of Jesus, they were written a thirty to forty years after the death of Jesus. That doesn’t mean that they’re unreliable, but it does mean that they’re not as close to the events as we’d like. But Paul’s letter to the Corinthians was written earlier than the four gospels, probably about 55 AD according to most historians.