I’d like to start by telling you a bit about the time in my life after I became a Christian.
I became a Christian when I was about ten. For a few years life went on much as before. Then I went on to secondary school. It was a private boarding school. When I started it was an all-boys school and the boys were mostly from wealthy families. It was a really good school. It achieved good results academically and in sport. In the first few years, we had to do sport five afternoons a week! The school encouraged us to be independent and self-sufficient; to be achievers. That’s good! But it can have a flip side. People who are independent, self-sufficient achievers can feel they don’t need God. The weak need God. Strong people don’t need God.
I never experienced any direct hostility because I was a Christian. But I sensed people’s attitudes towards Christians, and I knew I was different. Maybe now I wouldn’t be fussed. But at that time I found it really difficult. I didn’t want to be a Christian. But although it was so many years ago, I remember thinking, I can’t stop believing just because it’s difficult. The issue is not whether it’s difficult; THE ISSUE IS WHETHER IT’S TRUE.
So, at school, I read some books to help me know if the facts of the Christian faith are true. One of those was a booklet called ‘The Evidence for the Resurrection’ by someone called Sir Norman Anderson. Sir Norman Anderson was a professor of law and later became Director of the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies in the University of London. Anderson’s booklet is very short, hardly more than a pamphlet, but it really helped me. We all need to be confident that the fundamental facts that our faith is founded on are true. Maybe we can’t PROVE the resurrection in the same way as we can prove Pythagoras but we CAN show loads of evidence for it.
THE SUPREME FACT
Norman Anderson started his booklet as follows:
‘Easter is not primarily a comfort, but a challenge. Its message is either THE SUPREME FACT IN HISTORY or else a gigantic hoax…’
He started his second paragraph as follows:
‘Either the resurrection is infinitely more than a beautiful story, or else it is infinitely less. If it is true then it is THE SUPREME FACT OF HISTORY…’
Anderson started both his first and second paragraphs with the claim that if the resurrection is true then it is ‘the supreme fact of history’. He believes there is no fact in history that is more important than Jesus’ resurrection.
I wonder if that’s how you view it? Would you say that the resurrection is ‘the supreme fact of history’? I wonder if you would go further and say that the resurrection is ‘the supreme fact IN YOUR LIFE’?
Anderson wrote, ‘IF it is true.’ I’d like us to put that thought on hold for a moment – we’ll come back to it.
I first want to ask, should Jesus’ resurrection be not only ‘the supreme fact of history’ but also ‘the supreme fact in MY life’? If it’s true that God raised Jesus from the dead, does it make any difference to ME? Should I consider it ‘the supreme fact in MY life’?
I listened to John Lennox, who was a professor of mathematics at Oxford, in a debate. He said, ‘If the problem of physical death has been solved historically, I want to know about it!’
If God did raise Jesus from the dead then the problem of physical death HAS been solved! If I’m united with Christ it won’t only be Jesus’ tomb that will be empty. My tomb will be empty too! I will also be raised! I will enjoy the eternal life which Jesus promised over and over again.
I’d like to take a moment or two to remind you of some of Jesus’ promises. Here are a few of them: ‘Whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me HAS ETERNAL LIFE.’ ‘Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood HAS ETERNAL LIFE, and I will raise him up on the last day.’ ‘I GIVE THEM ETERNAL LIFE, and they will never perish.’ ‘Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world WILL KEEP IT FOR ETERNAL LIFE.’
These are just SOME of JESUS’ promises in John’s gospel. There are more in John’s gospel and more in the other gospels and Bible writers make the same claim. I imagine we all know John 3:16! John tells us: ‘For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but HAVE ETERNAL LIFE.’
So, Jesus and the other Bible writers promised eternal life OVER AND OVER AGAIN.
We can’t miss the fact that this claim is at the heart of the Christian message. It sounds too good to be true. It might seem like wishful thinking, fantasy, self-deception.
But if God really raised Jesus from the dead then it means that Jesus’ promise is true! If I am in Christ, MY tomb will be empty. I will have a life to come, one that stretches into eternity.
If that’s the case it should certainly be the supreme fact in my life. If I really believe that I have a life to come then my focus will be on that life. I’ll be happy to make sacrifices in this life if I know that I’ll have another life afterwards. I can put up with some difficulties at school, for example. Christians in Pakistan and Nigeria and many other countries can endure persecution. Christians anywhere in the world can spend themselves in service, knowing that their service is not in vain.
Norman Anderson wrote that Jesus’ resurrection is ‘the supreme fact of history.’ But it should also be the supreme fact for every believer.
That is what Jesus’ resurrection means for us IF IT’S TRUE. But what if it isn’t true?! What then?
WHAT IF IT ISN’T TRUE?
Let’s look at 1 Corinthians 15:12-19 and see what the consequences are if Jesus was not raised. This is the apostle Paul writing.
‘Now IF Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But IF there is NO resurrection of the dead, THEN NOT EVEN CHRIST HAS BEEN RAISED. And IF Christ has NOT been raised, then OUR PREACHING IS IN VAIN AND YOUR FAITH IS IN VAIN. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise IF it is true that the dead are not raised. 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.’
IF the resurrection isn’t true then the consequences are dire. Our faith is futile. We are still in our sins. Once we die – or ‘fall asleep’, to use Paul’s phrase – we perish. We spend our lives for nothing. What we hope for is a fantasy, a mirage.
IS IT TRUE?
So a huge amount rests on Jesus’ resurrection. If it’s true, the result is almost unbelievably good. But if it isn’t true, the result is very bad. We need to know if it is true, at least beyond reasonable doubt. It would be impossible to look at the arguments in any depth in this short talk but I can give a few pointers. I mentioned Norman Anderson’s booklet. You can read it in half an hour. It goes through the main arguments. If you’d like a copy please let me know. There are a number of similar books available.
But the Bible should be our starting point! The four gospels have accounts of Jesus’ resurrection and there is a further account at the beginning of Acts. These accounts are persuasive! Today we read part of Luke’s account of Jesus’ resurrection appearances. Even in this short account there are quite a few things which strongly suggest that we’re reading a true account. Let’s take a look.
The passage starts with a group of women visiting Jesus’ tomb. They say that two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning told them that Jesus was alive, that he had been raised!
If this account isn’t true then it’s a fabrication, a made-up story. But really, if you were going to make up a story that Jesus had risen from the dead, would you make up THIS story!?
Men’s clothes don’t usually gleam like lightning. And the fact that the first people to learn that Jesus had risen were women wouldn’t have sat right in that culture. If Jesus was going to rise, someone important, Peter perhaps, should get the news first. So it doesn’t seem like a story that the women or Luke were making up.
Notice also that ten of Jesus’ disciples didn’t believe the women. Luke writes that the women’s words ‘seemed to them like nonsense.’ That doesn’t do the disciples a lot of credit. Would someone make that up? But it’s helpful for us. If Jesus’ sceptical disciples later came to believe – to the extent that they would be willing to die for this truth – then they must have seen evidence they couldn’t deny.
Today’s passage ends with Peter visiting the tomb and finding that Jesus’ body was gone. That doesn’t prove that Jesus had risen. But people who’ve looked at all the possible explanations come to the conclusion that no other explanation makes sense.
So this short passage in Luke gives us some good evidence. But this passage is only part of the evidence. There’s much more! When we bring all the evidence together it’s almost impossible to escape the conclusion that Jesus’ resurrection is true.
Over the past couple of centuries a number of atheists have set out to disprove the resurrection. It’s understandable why they would want to do that. If the resurrection is true it’s hard to deny that God exists. Let’s hear what happened. This is a short clip from a talk by an evangelist called J. John.
The fact that people who set out to prove that the resurrection was NOT true ended up convinced that it IS true means that there must be some powerful evidence in its favour.
On Palm Sunday three years ago, the BBC conducted a poll to find out what people believed about Jesus’ resurrection and about resurrection in general. The poll was very widely reported. The Daily Telegraph reported the result as follows:
‘Nearly one in four Christians do not believe in the story of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, a poll has claimed. Fewer than one-in-three Christians in Britain believe ‘word-for-word’ the Biblical story of Jesus rising from the dead, with another 41 per cent believing some sections should not be taken literally.’
The survey distinguished between people who profess to be Christians and normally attend church, and those who do not normally attend church. The group who said they didn’t believe in Jesus’ resurrection were mostly from the group who don’t attend church.
But still, it’s really sad that here in the UK there are many people who profess to be Christians and yet say they don’t believe in the resurrection! If we don’t believe, how will we live the lives of sacrificial service that Christ calls us to? If we don’t believe, how will we endure in times of trial? If we don’t believe, what do we have to hope for? We need to believe – and we have reason to believe! So let’s believe, and since we believe, orient our lives to this supreme fact. We have an extraordinary hope which should transform our lives – thanks to that first Easter Sunday.