Calvary Road Baptist Church

“PROCLAIMING CHRIST’S RESURRECTION”

 

Today is Easter Sunday, that one day of the year when Christendom declares with pomp and pageantry what Christians have been celebrating on a weekly basis every first day of the week for 2,000 years, the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead three days after His crucifixion outside Jerusalem. Today’s message from God’s Word will, predictably, focus on the fact of Christ’s resurrection from the dead, and will not quibble about those theological liberals who celebrate Easter while denying that Jesus Christ rose from the dead. He did rise from the dead.

Oh, I know that there are many who oppose Christianity and the doctrine of the resurrection for its supposed incompatibility with science. However, anyone who thinks the resurrection of Jesus Christ is unscientific (or antiscientific) is either as ignorant as I once was or deceitful. Gary Habermas submitted his doctoral dissertation to Michigan State University’s Department of Interdisciplinary Studies, College of Arts and Letters in 1976, titled “The Resurrection Of Jesus: A Rational Inquiry.” He then defended his dissertation and was awarded his Ph.D. at that obvious bastion of secular higher education. Imagine, if you will, the intense hostility he must have faced from those tenured professors, and the attempts they made to refute his dissertation during its research and writing, and especially at the time of its defense. Allow me to quote just a few lines from his dissertation:

 

“The results show that the literal resurrection of Jesus is in all probability a historical fact.”[1]

 

On page 27 of his 351-page dissertation Habermas quotes the influential 18th-century Scottish skeptic and philosopher David Hume as denying any possibility of miracles. Hume’s view held sway in the academic and scientific community for more than a hundred years. However, on pages 38-42 Habermas points out what German physicist Werner Schaafs wrote in 1974, that by the turn of the 20th century physicists could no longer insist that miracles were impossible. On page 44 he asserts that in the age of Einsteinian physics miracles are a recognized possibility. Imagine how difficult it would have been for Habermas to make those assertions in his dissertation had those statements, not in fact been true! On page 48 he writes, “. . . we can no longer appropriate a scientific world view that rules out the miraculous.” On page 79 he writes, “The scientific world view can no longer be used to rule out the miraculous.”

The findings of Gary Habermas (remember, he did not make these things up but quoted reputable scientists) concerning the views of physicists conform to my experiences with physicists: Prior to my conversion in 1974, a research physicist at Hughes Aircraft Company told me, while holding a Bible on his way to teach a lunchtime Bible study, “There is no conflict between science rightly understood, and the Bible rightly understood.” Then, when my wife and daughter and I were at breakfast sitting across the table from a retired University of Wisconsin research physicist in London in 2005, I asked about his retirement activities. He stated that since retirement he traveled to major academic centers throughout Europe to speak to research physicists in an attempt to persuade them to go public with their privately held beliefs about the Bible. It seems many physicists believe the Bible (which is, after all, a book of miracles) but are fearful of being dismissed from their positions if they voice their privately held beliefs. I have not to this point proved the scientific credibility of Christianity. It is not my intent to do so. However, I hope I have successfully challenged anyone’s misguided conviction that Christianity is antiscientific so that you will seriously consider the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.

While some object to the resurrection on what they claim are scientific grounds, others object on what they claim are historical grounds. British theologian N. T. Wright’s massive work The Resurrection Of The Son Of God and Gary Habermas and Ray Licona’s brilliant The Case For The Resurrection Of Jesus take on those who question the historicity of Christ’s resurrection by appealing to the unanimous voice of secular history. Allow me to rehearse quickly Habermas and Licona’s observations, who are in complete agreement with N. T. Wright, and with ancient history. Consider these historically indisputable facts they point to in their book:

 

Fact #1  Jesus of Nazareth died by Roman crucifixion. This is verified by Jewish historians Flavius Josephus, Lucian of Samosta, Mara Bar-Serapion, as well as by Gentile historians.[2]

Fact #2  Christ’s earliest disciples believed the resurrected Christ appeared to them. They willingly died for their testimony. No one dies for what he knows is a lie. Their belief was sincerely held.[3]

Fact #3  The greatest enemy of Christianity was the Apostle Paul prior to his conversion to Christ. Yet he gave up all and was eventually martyred for his claim that his conversion was the result of seeing the risen from the dead Jesus Christ.[4]

Fact #4  The greatest skeptic of Christianity was none other than the half brother of Jesus Christ, whose name was James. It was only the resurrection of Jesus Christ that convinced him. He became the senior pastor of the most prominent early Christian church, the church in Jerusalem.[5]

Fact #5  Though not admitted by all contemporary historians, no one for centuries in and around Jerusalem contested the Christian claim that the tomb containing Christ’s body was discovered to be empty, and even Christ’s enemies admitted the tomb was empty following His resurrection.[6]

 

Thus, the claim that Christ’s resurrection was not a historical event, and even the outlandish absurdity by some few that Jesus Christ was never born and never died on the cross, is dispelled by real history. The antiscientific dispute is, therefore, dealt with. The historical aspect is dealt with. How about logic and rationality? Shall we briefly deal with that aspect of the objections to Christianity and the resurrection? Simon Greenleaf was a 19th-century legal scholar who is most famous for writing the three-volume classic of American jurisprudence titled A Treatise On The Law Of Evidence and for his instrumental efforts in organizing Harvard University’s law program, where he served as a professor for fifteen years. About his Law of Evidence, the London Law Magazine wrote, “. . . more light has shone from the New World than from all the lawyers who adorn the courts of Europe.” He was highly esteemed by legal scholars abroad. It seems that Professor Greenleaf, already famous for his Rules of Evidence, was approached by one of his law school students, who asked him if he as an unbeliever would be willing to apply the legal profession’s rules of evidence to a consideration of the testimonies of the four New Testament evangelists, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. He agreed to do so. The result is the book I hold before you, The Testimony Of The Evangelists: The Gospels Examined By The Rules Of Evidence Administered In Courts Of Law. I will quote this man as I have quoted the others:

 

Christianity does not profess to convince the perverse and headstrong, to bring irresistible evidence to the daring and profane, to vanquish the proud scorner, and afford evidences from which the careless and perverse cannot possibly escape. This might go to destroy man’s responsibility. All that Christianity professes, is to propose such evidences as may satisfy the meek, the tractable, the candid, the serious inquirer.[7]

 

Every document, apparently ancient, coming from the proper repository or custody, and bearing on its face no evident marks of forgery, the law presumes to be genuine, and devolves on the opposing party the burden of proving it to be otherwise.[8]

 

In trials by fact, by oral testimony, the proper inquiry is not whether it is possible that the testimony may be false, but whether there is sufficient probability that it is true.[9]

 

A proposition of fact is proved, when its truth is established by competent and satisfactory evidence.[10]

 

In the absence of circumstances which generate suspicion, every witness is to be presumed credible, until the contrary is shown; the burden of impeaching his credibility lying on the objector.[11]

 

The credit due to the testimony of witnesses depends upon, firstly, their honesty; secondly, their ability; thirdly, their number and the consistency of their testimony; fourthly, the conformity of their testimony with experience; and fifthly, the coincidence of their testimony with collateral circumstances.[12]

 

After applying these criteria to the four Gospel writers, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, which we have not the time to read today, Mr. Greenleaf became a Christian. He logically and rationally considered what the Gospel writers wrote, believed what they wrote, and then looked to Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of his sins.

Having addressed those of you who, like me, thought Christianity was unscientific, and who, like me, questioned its historical claims, and also conceived of the Christian faith as being irrational and illogical before hearing of Simon Greenleaf’s work, let us address the important historical fact of Jesus Christ’s resurrection from the dead under five headings:

 

First, THE RESURRECTION OF JESUS CHRIST WAS PLANNED

 

We know the resurrection of the Son of God was planned by God, based upon several Scriptural considerations: First, God is the Creator and Sustainer of all things, is the Decider of how history will unfold, and is the Author of the Unfolding Drama of Redemption. Thus, what happened, what happens, and what will happen is a direct consequence of God’s sovereign decree. Next, we know that God decreed that from eternity past His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, would be crucified, Revelation 13.8. God also decreed that His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, would sit on the throne of His father David in the future millennial kingdom, Luke 1.32. The only possible way those two decrees could be fulfilled, that Christ be crucified and that Christ sits on David’s throne in the millennium, is for Jesus Christ to rise from the dead. Since those two are ancient decrees, so too must be God’s plan to raise His Son from the dead.

Planned by God the Father, the resurrection of the Son of God was also planned by the Son of God. It was in Caesarea Philippi that our Lord Jesus took His twelve disciples and asked them,

 

“Whom do men say that I the Son of man am?”

 

It was there, as well, that Peter said,

 

“Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.”[13]

 

It was also in Caesarea Philippi that our Lord first told His disciples of His plan to rise from the dead. I read Matthew 16.21:

 

“From that time forth began Jesus to shew unto his disciples, how that he must go unto Jerusalem, and suffer many things of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised again the third day.”

 

Next, THE RESURRECTION OF JESUS CHRIST WAS PREPARED

 

There is a vital connection between a plan and its preparation, is there not? I read Hebrews 10.5-12:

 

5      Wherefore when he cometh into the world, he saith, Sacrifice and offering thou wouldest not, but a body hast thou prepared me:

6      In burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin thou hast had no pleasure.

7      Then said I, Lo, I come (in the volume of the book it is written of me,) to do thy will, O God.

8      Above when he said, Sacrifice and offering and burnt offerings and offering for sin thou wouldest not, neither hadst pleasure therein; which are offered by the law;

9      Then said he, Lo, I come to do thy will, O God. He taketh away the first, that he may establish the second.

10    By the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.

11    And every priest standeth daily ministering and offering oftentimes the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins:

12    But this man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God.

 

This passage cites Psalm 40, written a thousand years before the Savior’s birth, and shows God’s displeasure with the sacrifices He had no pleasure in under the terms of the Mosaic Law. The writer to the Hebrews focuses the reader’s attention on the fact that God prepared a body for Jesus Christ so that He could offer Himself to the Father as the perfect sacrifice for sins. Notice that the resurrection of Jesus Christ is implicit in the preparation of His body for sacrifice, which was made possible by His sinlessness as a result of the virgin birth.

 

“A body thou has prepared for me,”

 

verse 5, He came to do the Father’s will by dying on the cross.

However, look at verse 12, where we read,

 

“But this man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God.”

 

The plan all along was for Jesus Christ to leave heaven’s glory and be born of the Virgin Mary, to die a sacrificial death on the cross of Calvary, to rise from the dead on the third day, and to ascend then to heaven to sit at His Father’s right hand. Yes, His body was as prepared for resurrection as it was for sacrifice.

 

Third, THE RESURRECTION OF JESUS CHRIST WAS PROPHESIED

 

By prophesied, I refer to an Old Testament prediction of Christ’s resurrection from the dead. And not just any prediction, but what is referred to as a typology prediction. Prophetic predictions are usually declarations that are made by recognized prophets of old. However, with Jonah, the prediction was what happened to him rather than what he said. Thus, it was typology.

You will remember that the LORD directed him to go to Nineveh. His response was to flee in the opposite direction. Sailing to the West, he was thrown overboard by the crew in a terrible storm,

 

“the LORD had prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.”[14]

 

After which

 

“it vomited out Jonah upon the dry land.”[15]

 

What does this have to do with the Lord Jesus Christ? I read three verses from the Gospel record:

 

Matthew 12.40:  “For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale’s belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.”

 

Matthew 16.4:  “A wicked and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given unto it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas.”

 

Luke 11.30:  “For as Jonas was a sign unto the Ninevites, so shall also the Son of man be to this generation.”

 

Typology in the Bible is when a ancient historical event so wonderfully pictures a subsequent event that it is obviously not a coincidence, but was an event placed into history by God to validate and authenticate something more important that takes place subsequently. So with Jonah’s experience some eight centuries before the time of Christ. Using typology the Lord’s resurrection from the dead was prophesied.

 

Fourth, THE RESURRECTION OF JESUS CHRIST WAS PREDICTED

 

You will recall that in Caesarea Philippi the Lord Jesus Christ revealed to His twelve apostles that He would be killed and be raised up the third day. That was a private statement made only to them a little more than two years after He predicted His resurrection publicly. Lost in the confusion that surrounded His first cleansing of the Temple, our Lord said to the Jews when He objected to them making the Temple into a house of merchandise,

 

“Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up,”

 

John 2.19. We cannot be sure the disciples were nearby when He made this statement.

We certainly recognize that He was talking about the Temple of His own body though those who did hear Him and later used His statement against Him before His crucifixion thought He was threatening to destroy Herod’s Temple.[16] The point that I seek to make is that He predicted His resurrection and His prediction of His resurrection was, in fact, fulfilled.

 

Finally, THE RESURRECTION OF JESUS CHRIST PRODUCED FRUIT

 

May I quickly relate to you just a few varieties of the fruit produced by the Lord Jesus Christ’s resurrection? There are many things I could rehearse to you about eternal life, about forgiveness of sins, about a righteous standing before God, about the threat of damnation and God’s wrath being removed, and so forth. However, my desire at present is to point out things that can be seen by onlookers. These are behavioral characteristics that can be attributable in the Bible to Christ’s resurrection:

First, the transformation of Christ’s apostles from quivering and cowardly men who ran for their lives into stalwarts for the faith who not only no longer feared death more than they feared to dishonor their Savior, but they lived out the remainder of their lives courageously, faithfully, and joyfully, but at the same time meekly telling anyone who would listen that their Master actually conquered death. They turned the world upside down.[17]

Second, the transformation of women from second-class status, in a culture where they were already granted rights and privileges found nowhere in the Gentile world, to the status of full-fledged equals not only in the eyes of God (which had always been the case) but also in the eyes of men. Women were the first witnesses of the resurrection.[18] And those women’s testimonies of Christ’s resurrection were not only not discounted and otherwise shunted aside, but were recorded in God’s Word for all to see the world over throughout subsequent human history down to this very day.

Third, the deliverance of God’s people from a hopeless and pessimistic anticipation of death and an uncertain eternity. No one had hope before and without Christ’s resurrection. There was only poverty, oppression, disease, and a relentless scratching out a living in the hopes of staying alive. But with the resurrection of Christ, there was given to God’s people hope, the anticipation of future blessings, and reasonable justification for turning away from pessimism to optimism based upon God’s promises being delivered as He had shown His great power in Christ’s resurrection. And this hope spread. From Jerusalem the Christian Gospel spread to surrounding regions, then to more remote regions, and finally to regions beyond. Before the end of the first century the Gospel had been carried, proclaimed, and eagerly embraced as far to the East as India and as far to the West as Spain and the British Isles. And those who embraced the Gospel did so willingly, and not as a result of coercion or anything like the force of arms. When there was bloodshed and people died, it was the Christians who died for their faith, and not being afraid of dying, because of the hope of the resurrection.

One final remark about the fruit of the resurrection, though there is so much more I could say. Christianity began as an overwhelmingly Jewish phenomenon. After all, the Messiah was Jewish, the apostles were all Jewish, Christ lived His life, died His death, and rose from the dead in Jewish territory, and the early believers were almost all Jewish. But that small Jewish nation was not capable of containing the promises, the blessings, or the power to save that changed the lives and destinies of millions. So we look to the first of the Gentile Churches mentioned in the book of Acts, the Church in Antioch. When Jewish Christians in Jerusalem were scattered by persecution, they fled to cities all over the civilized world where Jewish people had earlier settled. Once there, they did not remain silent but preached to all who would listen the unsearchable riches of Christ, His death for their sins, His burial, and His glorious resurrection three days later. When Barnabas was sent to investigate what God was doing in the great crossroads city of Antioch to the North, he sought out the recently converted Apostle Paul, and they established the believers in Antioch into a real and functioning Church of Jesus Christ. What is the first thing to be seen in God’s Word about the Church in Antioch? Its leadership was amazingly integrated, with Jewish and Gentile leaders, who were both light skinned and dark skinned. Why is this important to take note of? Where before in human history could such a thing be seen except among those who preached the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and who lived their lives in the hope of their own future resurrection? Never before had the cultural and ethnic divides been so successfully hurdled as with those who believed in the resurrection, who anticipated their own resurrection, and who preached the resurrection as integral to the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.

 

Do I believe Jesus Christ conquered sin, death, Hell, and the grave by rising from the dead three days after He gave up the ghost? I most certainly do.

If Christ is not raised, my faith is empty, and I am yet in my sins, First Corinthians 15.17. If Jesus Christ did not rise from the dead, then all those Christians who trusted Him for the last 2,000 years are not just dead, but also have perished First Corinthians 15.18. And if Jesus Christ has not risen from the dead, and therefore if I have no future resurrection to look forward to, then I am of all men most miserable, First Corinthians 15.19.

The Christian faith rises and falls on the resurrection of Jesus Christ, which is a good thing because He is risen and someday He is coming again. My friend, what will you do with what I have set before you this morning? What I hope you will do, what I want you to do, is consider the claims of Christ in the Bible (including His resurrection), and give serious thought to speaking to me about becoming a decided and dedicated follower of Jesus Christ.

__________

[1] Gary Robert Habermas, The Resurrection Of Jesus: A Rational Inquiry, A Dissertation Submitted to Michigan State University in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy, Interdisciplinary Studies, College of Arts and Letters, 1976, Abstract.

[2] Gary R. Habermas and Michael R. Licona, The Case For The Resurrection Of Jesus, (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2004), pages 48-49.

[3] Ibid., pages 49-63.

[4] Ibid., pages 64-66.

[5] Ibid., pages 67-69.

[6] Ibid., pages 69-77.

[7] Simon Greenleaf, The Testimony Of The Evangelists: The Gospels Examined by the Rules of Evidence Administered in Courts of Justice, (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Classics, 1995 reprint), page 12.

[8] Ibid., page 16.

[9] Ibid., page 28.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid., page 29.

[12] Ibid., page 31.

[13] Matthew 16.13, 16

[14] Jonah 1.17

[15] Jonah 2.10

[16] Matthew 26.61; 27.40; Mark 14.58; 15.29

[17] Acts 17.6

[18] Matthew 28.1-9

Would you like to contact Dr. Waldrip about this sermon? Please contact him by clicking on the link below. Please do not change the subject within your email message. Thank you.

pastor@calvaryroadbaptist.org