Summary: If you owned a bookstore and everything in it was classified as fiction or nonfiction, where would you put the Bible, in fiction or nonfiction? That is a fundamental decision everybody must make.
Open your hearts and open your minds for the next 25 minutes to receive this truth.
Romans 1:1-6. “Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God.” Now, we’re going to be talking about the gospel. “The gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures regarding his Son, who as to his human nature was a descendant of David, and who through the Spirit of holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord. Through him and for his name’s sake, we received grace and apostleship to call people from among the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith. And you also are among those who are called to belong to Jesus Christ.”
1. THE REALITY OF JESUS
(1) Do you believe Jesus really lived in the flesh?
I want to talk about the reality of Jesus Christ. I want to ask you three questions about Jesus and see if you can say, “Yes, this is what I believe.” Number one: Do you believe Jesus really lived in the flesh? Verse 3 is talking about his human nature and how he was a descendant of David. That means there was a man who lived in the flesh whose name was Jesus. That’s where you have to start. All of you have to decide if there was really an historical character named Jesus who was born in Bethlehem, grew up in Nazareth, had an itinerant ministry for three and a half years and was then crucified. Do you really think there actually was an historical character? There are still some today who insist Jesus never existed. It’s like Hercules or like Jack and the Beanstalk. He’s some mythological character, a fairy tale. When you start asking the question, “Was there really a Jesus?” you have to say, “Do we read about Jesus anywhere other than the Bible? I know you say it’s in the Bible, but I personally do not believe the Bible.” You have to consider the evidence. There are a number of extra biblical references to Jesus; it’s in other writers’ works. In the year 90 A.D. a Jewish historian named Josephus who was not a Christian, he was just writing history, wrote: “Now, there was a man named Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man for he was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such truth that men received it with pleasure. He drew over to himself many Jews and many Gentiles. He was Christ, and when Pilate at the suggestion of the principal men among us condemned him to the cross, those who loved him from the first did not forsake him. For he appeared to them, restored to life For the divine prophets had foretold these and other wonderful things about him and the tribe of Christians so named for him are not extinct to this day.”
This Jewish historian says there was a man named Jesus who was crucified and his followers said he came back from the dead. Some of you who enjoy studying Greek literature will recognize the name of Lucian of Samosata. He was a Greek writer and he didn’t like Christians. In fact, he was hostile to Christians. About fifty years later, this is what he wrote in a letter: “The Christians, you know, worship a man to this day. The distinguished person who introduced their novel rights, and he was crucified on that account. It was impressed upon these Christians by their original lawmaker that they are all brothers from the moment that they are converted, and they deny the gods of Greece. They worship their crucified sage and live after his laws.”
These are writers outside of the Bible who said, “Yes, there was a man named Jesus.” So that’s where it starts. Do you believe there really was a guy walking around named Jesus?
(2) Do you believe Jesus really died on a cross?
Secondly, do you believe Jesus really died on a cross? It’s one thing to say he lived, but do you really think he died? History tells us even outside the Bible this man named Jesus was crucified. There really is nothing special about being a man in the flesh or even being crucified. Those of you who have studied history know the Romans crucified tens of thousands of common criminals, so the fact that he lived and the fact that he died does not make him any different than a lot of other people.
(3) Do you believe Jesus really came back from the grave?
That brings us to the third question. This is the one that separates those who are followers of Jesus and those who are not. Do you believe Jesus really came back from the grave? First you have to believe he really died. There are some who say, “I don’t believe the real resurrection because I think he never really died to start with.” There are some people who teach that he was simply unconscious, and was then revived in the coolness of the tomb. I hate to say it, but you can go to some liberal churches today in America on Easter Sunday, and the preacher who claims to be a Christian will stand up and say, “There really was no bodily resurrection. It was just a spiritual resurrection in the mind and the hearts of his followers.” I believe Jesus really, really died. He was stone cold dead and I think he came back to life again. In the magazine, Christianity Today, there is a regular column called “Dear Uticus.” It’s kind of a Christian “Dear Abby.” Several years ago someone wrote a letter and said, “Dear Uticus, our pastor said on Easter Sunday that Jesus just swooned on the cross and that the disciples nursed him back to health. What do you think? Signed Bewildered.” Uticus answered with the following: “Dear Bewildered, I suggest that you beat your pastor repeatedly with a cat of nine tails, nail him to a cross with large nails, hang him in the sun for six hours, run a spear through his heart, embalm him, put him in an airless tomb for 36 hours, and you see what happens, signed Uticus.”