Summary: This sermon examines the evidence for Jesus’ resurrection. There are three evidences: (1) The Empty Tomb, (2) The Resurrection Appearances, and (3) The Transformation of the Disciples.
How do you know that Jesus is alive?
Christians claim that Jesus is alive. Today, I would like to show you the evidence for Jesus’ resurrection. Let’s read 1 Corinthians 15:1-8, 14-15a, 17:
"1 Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. 2 By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.
"3 For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. 6 After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, 8 and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born. . . . 14 And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. 15 More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses. . . . 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins" (1 Corinthians 15:1-8, 14-15a, 17).
The resurrection of Jesus Christ is either the supreme fact of history or else a gigantic hoax.
This seems to have been realized in the days of the first-century Church. On the one side, there was a little company of men and women who turned the whole world upside down by their passionate proclamation of the resurrection which had transformed their lives. On the other side, there were those who vehemently denounced the whole story as outright blasphemy.
We find it hard to see the issue so clear-cut, for we live in an age that is tolerant and suspicious of all fanaticism. Most people have no desire to attack the Easter message. And yet they only half believe it. To many it is a beautiful story, full of spiritual meaning. Why worry, then, whether or not it is a literal fact of history?
But that is missing the point. Either the resurrection of Jesus Christ 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; and to fail to adjust one’s life to its implications means eternal loss.
But if it is not true, if Christ has not risen, then the whole of Christianity is a fraud, foisted on the world by a company of consummate liars, or, at best, deluded simpletons.
Even the Apostle Paul realized this when he wrote, in 1 Corinthians 15:14-15a, “And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses.”
So that is the issue, and it is vital for us to come to a decision about it one way or the other. Today, I want to examine the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
I. The Empty Tomb
The first evidence for the resurrection of Jesus Christ is the empty tomb.
A. False Theories for the Empty Tomb
Ever since the disciples began to proclaim that Jesus had risen from the dead, some have denied the historical resurrection and have tried to come up with ways of explaining the evidence through alternative theories. Let me briefly list some of these alternative theories and show why they are false.
1. Unknown Tomb Theory
One of the earliest false theories presented to explain everything away is that the tomb of Jesus was unknown.
In Arlington National Cemetery near Washington, DC, we have the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. With Jesus, the opponents claim that it is the case of the Unknown Tomb.
One possible reason for this theory is that for years it was believed that those who were crucified were tossed into a common pit. However, the discovery in June, 1968 of the remains of Yohanan Ben Ha’galgal in a family tomb outside Jerusalem struck at the very heart of this theory, because Yohanan had been crucified. Yet, he had been buried in the family tomb at his burial.
The weakness of this theory is that it totally disregards the straightforward historical narrative about the events surrounding the burial of Jesus and the post-resurrection scene. The Bible says that Joseph of Arimathea, having received permission from Pilate, took the body to his own private tomb (Matthew 27:57-60), and not to a common pit for those who were crucified.