Why I Believe in the Resurrection
Going back to 1987 fall semester Furman University I was a sophomore. I had signed up to take Intro to Philosophy. Now the professor who was teaching that course took it upon himself to try to open the minds of the students and he did a great job. He would ask really difficult questions that the religious among us just couldn’t answer. And he was really setting us up to let go of the things that we thought we believed but we really didn’t believe so that we could at least be exposed to his world view.
So, for example he would ask questions like – If there’s no historical verifiable record of anyone dying and then even a few hours being resurrected, then is it reasonable to believe that anyone died and was resurrected days later? Even more than that, is it reasonable to orient your life around that kind of belief that is most likely just a myth? So, with questions like that I really was thrown into a huge dilemma. First there was no way that I could defend the bodily resurrection of Christ. Second, I didn’t even know why it was important for me to believe that if I were a Christian. I put all that together with the fact that I was living just a crazy life.
Immorality ran rampant in my life during that time. All of that together working in my heart made me ask myself, am I even a Christian at all?
Many of you know exactly where Dave was at that time when God puts you in a place where his light shines on you kind of exposes (If you need an outline raise your hand) kind of exposes everything you thought you believed and forces you to ask some really hard questions like, am I really, am I an atheist, an agnostic? Am I really a Christian and we want you to know as you come this morning with a variety of motives, I’m sure. I’m sure some of you are here because you just could not wait to worship the resurrected Lord together with God’s people. Some of some of you are here because you were coerced by a relative and you finally gave in and said okay I’ll go to church on Easter. Don’t talk to me again till Christmas. We just want you to know whatever reason brought you here, we are just really glad you’re here and we also want you to know that we realize people are asking a variety of questions. What do I, what do I really believe? And we want to be a place where those kinds of hard questions can be raised and wrestled with. And so, we’re really glad you came.
And in case you’re visiting, Dave is a part of our church and we’ll get back to his story in a bit because what I want to do today is a little different. Normally we plunge into a passage of Scripture. We’re working through the book of Ecclesiastes. Today I simply want to raise one question. Why do I believe in the resurrection? There is no way I can comprehensively answer that question in 15 or 20 minutes. But what I’d like to do, if somebody came to me and said okay we just have a few minutes together. Why do you believe in the resurrection? Here are a couple of reasons that I would probably share with that person. One, because I believe the resurrection echoes the story of God. The resurrection echoes – and by echo what I mean is it affirms and advances the story of God. It does it does not affirm and advance the story of man. Now what do I mean, the story of man? The story of man is man’s attempt to answer the big questions independent of God.
Where do we come from? Why are we here? What’s right? What’s wrong? Who am I at the core? Do I have an enduring identity? And where are we going? Questions like that in the story of man we essentially have to take a leap in the dark, and it may be a leap in the dark toward eroticism, trying to answer those questions through just kind of giving yourself to what you crave. It may be a leap in the dark towards mysticism or toward naturalism or scientism. But any attempt to answer the big questions independent of any revelation only through human investigation is essentially a leap in the dark. Let me just give you one example, one quick example. When scientists like Hoyle and Hawking try to figure out the astronomical odds that functional proteins necessary for life should emerge, appear in our universe, they come up with really big numbers. One with 40,000 zeros after it – the chances that functional proteins would emerge in our universe. So many of them have proposed alternate theories like the panspermia theory that Hawking came up with which basically argues that these microscopic spores traveled from other universes on space dust or comets or possibly alien vessels, and they arrived in our universe, and that’s where we got life.
But as you can imagine that is an interesting theory. But it doesn’t even answer the question, where did it originate from? Because it’s merely kicking the can down the road a bit to another universe. Where did it come from? And met that kind of thinking has led even many of the great scientists like Francis Crick the physicist molecular biologist who discovered the structure of the DNA to conclude this. An honest man armed with all the knowledge available to us can only state that in some sense the origin of life appears at the moment to be almost a miracle. And I love that. We’ll go that far.
We’re not allowed to go further. Our worldview does not allow us to take the logical step, but we need to at least acknowledge it’s almost a miracle so many other conditions which would have had to be satisfied to get it (life) going. So, this is the difference between the story of man and story of God. When the facts point to God, the story of God would obviously take us to God. When the facts point to God the story of man turns more inward toward man. So, what do I mean by the story of God?
Let me give you a compressed version of it from Acts 17. If you want to follow along you can turn in one of those seat Bibles, or you can look on the screen. Page 926 in the seat Bible. It’s Acts 17. Paul is in the areopagus. He’s interacting with these Greek philosophers and he gives a great compressed summary of the story of God. Verse 24 the God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth does not live in temples made by man nor is he served by human hands. Notice it’s not about us, as though we needed anything since he himself gives us to all mankind life and breath and everything. And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place that they should seek God, perhaps feel their way toward him and find him.
Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, for in him we live and move and have our being as even some of your own poets have said for we are indeed his offspring. Being then God’s offspring we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man. The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead. Wow.
Three big three big thoughts here. One, God made the world. He breathed life, breath, life into us, breath, he made gave us everything. We should seek him. We should in light of the fact that he made us we should seek him. But instead verses 26 to 29 tell us we worship our own images. This is the description of the fall. We lose sight of who we are. We try to self-define and in the process, we not only lose sight of who he is, we lose sight of who we are. Thirdly one day God will judge us by a man whom he has raised from the dead, Jesus Christ who died for us and rose for us.
So, do you see the tight connection between creation and resurrection? The passage begins with creation. The passage ends with resurrection. The resurrection is the assurance that the one who created life, sustains life, gave his life and resurrected it will ultimately judge all living beings.
So, we know that this story of God is tightly connected, and there are huge implications. Implications like, if God created life, God could easily resurrect it. Within the story of man, it makes absolutely no sense to have a resurrected person. It just doesn’t happen. Within the story of God,
If God actually breathed life, spoke universes, then we would expect him to be able to speak life into a dead body. Also, other huge implications, that through Jesus Christ, God is reclaiming the world, which again has huge implications. That means that this world matters. The resurrection sends a huge message that it’s not just about spiritual beings floating around, that physical world actually matters.
Listen what N.T. Wright wrote. The message of the resurrection is that this world matters! That the injustices and pains of this present world must now be addressed with the news that healing, justice and love have won. If Easter means Jesus Christ is only raised in a spiritual sense, then it is only about me and finding a new dimension in my personal spiritual life. But if Jesus Christ is truly risen from the dead,
Christianity becomes good news for the whole world – news which warms our hearts precisely because it isn’t just about warming hearts.
Easter means that in a world where injustice, violence and degradation are endemic, God is not prepared to tolerate such things, and that we will work and plan with all of the energy of God to implement the victory of Jesus over them all. What all? Sin, oppression, injustice.
So, when I say the resurrection echoes the story of God it affirms and advances the story of God, what I mean, it assures us that what happens on this planet in our bodies actually matters. It matters to God. The injustices, the sin, the oppression, all of it matters.
You say why is that a proof of the resurrection? Because I would argue that universally we all know it’s true, and the story of man has no real explanation for it. Every march down Main Street crying out against injustice, every fist raised, every cry against oppression flows not from the story of man, because the story of man starts in randomness. It moves with meaninglessness. It ends with hopelessness. That’s the story of man. There’s no rational basis for cries against injustice. Injustice actually makes sense within the story of man. We’re just a bunch of sacks of chemicals bumping into each other and it doesn’t matter.
And it won’t because there is no future. But if the resurrection actually happened, then those cries within us that this body in this life and we, this world matters, and God sent a strong assurance through the resurrection of Jesus Christ the death, burial resurrection of Jesus Christ, that it matters. And we know it’s true. Doesn’t matter whether you’re an atheist, an agnostic or Christian, you know it’s true deep in your heart you know that this world matters. But apart from God you just don’t know why. So, number one, the resurrection echoes the story of God.
Number two. The resurrection fits the facts. The resurrection fits the facts, and by facts, I mean this. No other theory explains the fact surrounded surrounding the historical events. Gary Habermas has proposed what he calls minimal facts concerning the resurrection. And he lists five. Jesus died by crucifixion, Jesus’ disciples believed he rose and appeared to them, persecutors like Paul were suddenly changed, skeptics like James believed, and the tomb was empty. Now by minimal facts, he’s talking about these five things, and he’s arguing that scholars who have studied these things, and he’s talking about Christian, non-Christian, non-believing historians who study these events have come to almost universal acknowledgement that these five things are true. That doesn’t mean you automatically have a resurrection.
But he then argues that if these five things are true, then you have to explain those. And over the last couple of thousand years there have been four alternative theories, many more, but four major ones. The first one is the grave robber theory, that the disciples were in dismay when Jesus died, was buried. They came up with a plan that they were going to steal the body and say he rose. Now the difficulty with this theory is the disciples. Because you can see in the garden when Peter tried to go all commando and pulled out his sword, he couldn’t even take out the high priest servant like he got his ear look you know. And then they all fled fearful. So, this theory, you’d have to argue that that the disciples became a Delta Force. They were able to deceive these highly trained Roman soldiers or take them out in some way to be able to get the body they were guarding it. It just seems a little impossible. Second theory is that Jesus blacked out. He didn’t actually die on the cross. He swooned. The Romans thought he died, and that’s part of the problem with the theory. The Romans were professional killers. When they were ordered to kill someone, they were good at it, and they made sure it was done. They even took a sword, just plunged into the side to make sure the person bled out and was completely dead. And this theory would argue that Jesus was then wrapped all up, put in a tomb, and somehow when it became cool enough he woke up in Houdini fashion unwrapped himself, moved the large stone, and remember he’s bled out.
He’s been beaten, scourged, he’s had nails in his hands and his feet, and he’s supposed to unwrap himself, move the big giant rock. And this is pre-Uber. He couldn’t get a ride. He had to travel large distances to show up where his disciples were. And then he had to convince some of his enemies that he was actually a resurrected Lord. So, he couldn’t come across weak at all, which again takes more faith I think to believe that than a real resurrection. Third is the wrong tomb theory. The disciples got confused. They didn’t have GPS then, so they went to the wrong tomb, it was empty, and they thought oh he’s risen from the dead. But that would be pretty easy to counter. All he had to do was take him to the right tomb. And there were plenty of enemies who would be glad to do that and shown the body.
Number four is hallucination. This is probably the most common, that the disciples hallucinated. They didn’t actually see Jesus raised from the dead, they saw an image of him or a spirit or ghost of him or they felt his presence. And this is actually a common experience when someone loses a loved one. There are times where they actually can feel that their loved one is in the room with them. And so, this theory is arguing that the disciples felt that Jesus was in the room with them, and so they wrote about it, and that became the resurrection story. The problem with this last theory, and again it’s the most common, is that the eyewitnesses go out of their way to prove that’s not what happened, while at the same time it is what people would have most expected.
You see this in a couple of places, like in the story in Acts 12. Do you remember when Peter was put in prison? This is the early church. Peter was put in prison and the church was praying that he would be released. Herod had already killed James.
So, it was most likely everybody assumed that Peter was toast. And they were having this all night prayer meeting that Peter would be rescued. And in the morning Peter was released. Miraculously he shows up at the house, knocks on the door. Remember the servant girl Rhoda goes to the door and is so shocked she looks through the gate. It’s Peter. She goes running back and tells them. Did they say, oh Peter’s resurrected!
No. They said it’s Peter’s ghost. It’s Peter’s spirit. That’s what people back then would have assumed. I hear people write, read people write, hear people say, oh people back then just believed in the resurrection. No people back then weren’t stupid. There’s a lot of chronological snobbery today. People didn’t know that dead people stay dead
back then? So, nobody assumed that Peter had been killed and was resurrected, they assumed that Peter had died and that his spirit, they were seeing his spirit show up. They freaked out, and Peter is down there knocking on the door, Hey it’s me! That example, but then if you rewind to Luke 24 when Jesus first showed up, they did the same thing to Jesus. And the reason this is important, it shows that they were not assuming resurrection, they were assuming spiritual presence. When Jesus stepped in the room in Luke 24 and they’re all – they were frightened.
They said it’s a spirit of Jesus. And Jesus came toward them. Remember he said, look at my hands. Look at my side. Ghosts don’t have the scars. And then he had them touch his body. And then what did he have them do? He said bring me some fish and ate some food. The text is going out of its way to show that even though yes, the hallucination theory is right in this sense, everybody would have thought that that’s what happened. But all the eyewitnesses say no that’s not what happened. Easter is not about a spiritual presence.
It’s not about somebody being moved with an Easter thought like some kind of newness. It’s about an actual body that was dead coming alive and appearing to many many many witnesses. And the more I read the accounts of the resurrection, the more credible they become.
Because if you study this at all, what people see when they experience something traumatic like a car wreck. If you interview 10 people, they’re going to give you different stories as to what happened. And none of them are lies.
I saw this car and I saw this, and this person… but they’re all, maybe some are alike, but generally you’re getting perspectives, and in a traumatic event people take in different things. Yeah there was a car and this, that was blue, and it was… And when you piece it all together generally you can figure out what happened. And when you read the gospel accounts of the resurrection, they are messy. I saw one angel, two angels. They are messy accounts because they were traumatic events that were not expected.
And when people are shocked, they record, they give testimony to their experience. Add to that, the disciples are portrayed as bumbling fools. If they made this up, they would have cleaned that up and portrayed themselves a little differently. Here’s the big one for me, the role of women in the resurrection. They are the first ones on the scene. So why is that scandalous? Well in that day women’s testimony in Greek and Roman courts was not permitted.
And in the Jewish courts it was two for one, two women to testify against one man. So, if you were inventing this stuff, why would you put women as your first witnesses? And more than that, think about the kind of women Mary Magdalene with a sketchy past. And I read that and I just think, that is just like God. He just wants to send a huge message that my resurrected Son is not for the pure and powerful. He is for the people who would be outcasts, and it doesn’t matter if their witnesses are not as credible. This is what happened. That’s the record we have in the New Testament. So, the resurrection fits the facts.
Number three. The resurrection changes lives. I could give a couple million examples of this. Let me just give you a few. One is James. James the half-brother of Jesus was a skeptic. He was embarrassed by his brother’s ministry. Can you imagine growing up with Jesus as your brother?
I’d just love to see that scene in the therapist’s office. What would you talk about? My brother never did anything wrong. And so, James wanted nothing to do with him, distancing himself from Jesus’ ministry, didn’t believe it was true. Then all of a sudden you see him emerge after the resurrection as not only a follower of Jesus but a leader of the church in Jerusalem. Eventually a martyr stoned to death for saying he believed in Jesus. What accounts for that radical transformation in someone who should be the least likely convinced? There’s only one explanation, and that’s in 1 Corinthians 15. Paul records that when Jesus rose from the dead, he specifically appeared to James. Again,
I would have loved to see that conversation. Hey bro. Sorry about the childhood, but I’m not crazy. You saw me dead. I’m alive now. His brother was truly his Savior.
I also think the example of Paul is quite compelling because Paul was on the other extreme. He wanted nothing to do with Jesus because he hated what Jesus stood for, what Jesus taught. He was a Pharisee of Pharisees. He had nothing to gain by following Jesus. He had everything to lose.
What explains the change? Only one thing. He came face to face with the resurrected Lord, and he believed, and God changed him. And again, he had everything to lose. He eventually died a martyr. Almost all Jesus’ disciples died as martyrs. And they died separately, which is really important. It wasn’t like a communal thing where it’s like okay, let’s all pretend this is really true and take one for the team.
They died separately. And they didn’t turn back because they knew what they saw was true. The Resurrection changes lives. And the resurrected Lord is still changing lives. He changed my life. I have no human explanation for how he found me, confronted me, called me to repent, showed me myself in ways I would not want to see, and then saved me and continues to do so. And the resurrected Lord saved Dave Driskill. Let’s go back to his story and hear the rest.
So, my struggle with all of these questions with my own lifestyle, with everything that I could not get figured out was just driving me crazy. There’s this verse in 1 Corinthians that says, if anyone thinks he’s wise by the standards of this age, he should become a fool that he may become wise. This guy convinced me that I was a fool when it came to Christ and what I said I believed. So, I’d love to say that from there I got everything figured out and put all the pieces together and the rest as a happy story. But the truth is a lot more complicated than that. I did study the scriptures. I did get all of the apologetics in place so that I was much better at debating the claims of Christ.
My lifestyle hadn’t changed. I could go lead Bible studies, but I still wasn’t a believer.
I remember one night I prayed,
if you want to call it a prayer, and I was in all this inner turmoil over who I was versus who I knew I should be. And I said, Lord you need to either make me see or leave me alone.
I don’t want to be in the middle of this anymore.
Well the Lord took me seriously.
He took all of this that I had studied, all that I knew that I said I believed about him. He put it all together so that I could see, so that I could receive him, and what he did is he took out my heart of stone that was just trying to get to him through logic, and he replaced him with a heart of flesh. He saved me completely. Not just my brain, not just my emotions, not just my lifestyle. He made me a different person. Now
I can still go through all of those arguments if anybody wants to debate the resurrection of Christ. There are actually very good answers to those types of questions.
But what I have in Christ today is so so much more than that.
I thank God for that professor back in college. I thank God that he used him to strip away my self-righteous idea of what a good Christian should be. He made me no longer a religious person. And now I’m saved, I died, and I’ve been resurrected in Christ, and I’m a totally new person today.