Preached by Dr. Gene Scott on April 10, 1977
“I am he that liveth, and was dead; and behold, I am alive for evermore . . .”
TODAY I WANT TO LAY A FOUNDATION for the most basic premise of our faith. Once you’ve experienced the reality of God, you don’t have to be convicted; but even then, we are prone to doubt in the dark what God told us in the light. So I want to talk about the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Jesus was a strange kind of preacher. If you take away any mystical connotations, and simply view Jesus as people saw Him in His day, He was a flesh and blood man walking dusty streets, going into ordinary market places and ordinary houses, and doing ordinary things. To most of those who looked at Him, Jesus looked like the body of flesh He had assumed. Yet, Jesus went about making people believe that He was perfect.
Now, that doesn’t shock you if you already accept it, but we don’t make saints out of people who think that they have no faults. How do you feel about somebody who can never be wrong? Have you met anybody like that? They can’t apologize because they’re never wrong. Thomas Carlyle, the philosopher, has said, “Of all acts of man repentance is the most divine,” and, “the greatest of all faults is to be conscious of none.” Yet Jesus said, “Think not that I am come to destroy the law; I am come to fulfill it.” (Matthew 5:17) It is a startling declaration.
If you study the history of God’s book, you find that most of the giants in God start out by feeling their inadequacy: “I am but dust and ashes.” (Genesis 18:27) “I am not worthy of the least of all thy mercies.” (Genesis 32:10) “Who am I . . . and what is my house, that thou has brought me hitherto?” (2 Samuel 7:18) “I am the least in my father’s house.” (Judges 6:15) “Woe is me! I am undone.” (Isaiah 6:5) Such declarations by Abraham, Jacob, David, Gideon and Isaiah show how aware these saints were of their inadequacy. Unlike everyone before Him, Jesus never acknowledged any inadequacy, and He projected Himself as being perfect. Whether He was or wasn’t is irrelevant at this point; He thought He was.
When a rich young ruler came to Jesus and called Him, “Good Master,” Jesus wouldn’t even let him get away with calling Him “Good Master” without also recognizing He was God. (Luke 18:18-19) Jesus was saying, in effect, “Only God can be good; so either do not call Me good, or, if you recognize how good I am, recognize I am God.”
Have you ever met a know-it-all? They are always the final word on everything. What is your instinctive reaction to them? Jesus seated all authority in Himself. He challenged every tradition. You read in Matthew’s Gospel multiple times Jesus said, “You have heard it said . . . But I say unto you . . .” Jesus gave no criterion of authority other than His saying it. He said, “if you build on what I say, you build on a rock; if you build on anything else, you build on sand.” (Matthew 7:24-27) “All authority in heaven and earth is given unto me.” (Matthew 28:18) We might respect someone who has been given authority for a specific purpose, or someone who bases their authority on objective criteria, but instinctively we draw back from a know-it-all.
Jesus talked about the eternal world from His experience of it. What would you think of me if I said to you, “Before Abraham was, I am?” (John 8:58) “I saw satan cast down” (Luke 10:18) How would you react if I said to you, “Don’t you know I must be about my Father’s business?” (Luke 2:49)
How would you feel if I said, “There’s something wrong with the whole world, including you?” While you might
accept that, it’s the next part that’s shattering, “ . . . and it can only be set right by me dying.” “My life is going to be a ransom for all of you.” (Matthew 20:28) That’s a pretty tall view of oneself, isn’t it?
And what if I said, “Eternal life is dependent upon you making me your master?” (John 17:2) What do you think of a person who would say that and expect you to accept it? “You can only get to Heaven if you make me your master. I’m it!” Jesus, you see, did not come preaching a way of life apart from Himself. That’s the mistake the liberal theologians make. Jesus did not preach an ethic apart from Himself or give an ethical path to follow. He preached Himself!
What if I said, “I’m the light of the world?” (John 8:12) “I’m the door of the sheepfold; by me if any man enter in he shall be saved.” (John 10:1-9) “I’m the water of life.” (John 4:14) “I’m the bread of life; eat me and you won’t have to hunger.” (John 6:35) “Drink me and you won’t have to thirst.” “To know me is life eternal.” (John 17:3) You’d think I was nuts, wouldn’t you?
It is hard to shatter people’s traditional view of Jesus. They like to put Him on some religious ornamental shelf and by doing so avoid facing the reality of His shocking message. He came on the scene making staggering claims about Himself: that He was perfect; that all authority was seated in Him; that the eternal world was His home and He could tell us about it; that He was going to go back to the eternal world to make mansions for us and come back to take us to be with Him there; and that the doorway to eternal life was Him. He preached Himself, not something apart from Himself. He said, “Follow Me,” not “Follow Me as I follow somebody else.” Jesus claimed that there was something wrong with the world that could only be set right by His death; and that after He died, He would be raised again.
As C.S. Lewis said, when you really come to know the only Jesus who walked the stage of history, you face a startling alternate. Jesus was either so nutty that He is on the order of a man who thinks he’s a poached egg, or he was a deceiver who was trying to fool people into believing he was something he was not; or, He was the most startling person ever to walk this Earth. No other founder of great religions made the kinds of claims that Jesus made about Himself.
I remember being at Stanford University in a graduate seminar with a leading Buddhist scholar, Dr. Kishimoto, who was comparing Buddhology with Christianity in his well-developed, but completely wrong theory. There is a vast difference between Gautama Buddha and Jesus, and people who try to find comparisons miss the difference. In Buddha’s own sermons, recorded in his followers’ own scriptures, he denied his own importance. He did not preach himself. He preached the “middle path,” a way that had worked for him. He did not think he was perfect. It was Buddha’s sense of his inadequacy that produced Buddhism. He was driven by what their language calls tanha, a sense of thirst for the things of this life.
Buddha sought deliverance in two ways. He tried the way of the extreme aesthetic where he denied himself everything, then he went to the other extreme and tasted everything. He then found the “middle path.” In an experience of enlightenment, he reached a trance-like state that he said “touched” eternity and led him to believe that he would become one with ultimate reality, the “that which is behind all that” and which could not be named. When Buddha was dying he said, “I’m not important; all I leave you is the way.” He didn’t claim he had an eternal existence; he just believed that he had touched it and eventually he would identify with it, whatever it was. Centuries after his death, Buddha’s followers met together and looked back and concluded that he couldn’t have done what he did if he hadn’t been divine. So you can trace the history of Buddha’s followers stamping onto him divinity, contrary to his own preaching.
Christianity started with the proclamation of a miracle. The first message of Christianity was the Resurrection; the earliest songs and the earliest teachings proclaim a miracle. Later historians and the so-called “higher critics” have
tried to remove the miraculous element; they call it a myth. It’s a reversal of the development of Buddhology, which began with a denial of anything supernatural.
Mohammed never claimed to be divine. Islamic people are not “Mohammedans;” they do not worship Mohammed: “There is one God, Allah; Mohammed is his prophet.” Confucius, when he was asked about the next life, said, “I can’t solve the problems of this life, so don’t ask me about the next one!” Confucius simply made a logical analysis of society and offered an ethical way of living. Among all respected historic founders of religion, only Jesus made the ridiculous claims we’ve catalogued.
Without the Resurrection, Jesus was either a nut or a fake. If any person who said the things that Jesus said died and was put in a tomb, and three days later came out and I saw him, and he sailed off into the heavens, I’d take another look at that person. Philosophers have all sorts of complicated definitions of God. I don’t need any definitions of God beyond what Jesus claimed about Himself. If He is perfect, that’s the starting point of goodness. If He has “all authority in heaven and earth,” that’s the last word on that subject; I don’t have to hunt anywhere else. If He knows eternity from the inside, that’s the best Pilot for my ship en route there. If He by dying would set everything right, He certainly validated His claim better than anybody else. And if eternal life depends upon making Him my Master, I’m going to do it - if He came out of that tomb.
That’s why Paul says, “If Christ be not risen from the dead, our faith is vain. Furthermore, we are false witnesses of God; because we have declared of him that he raised up the Christ.” And to those Corinthians jumping around in their various spiritual experiences, Paul directed them to the foundation of Christianity: “I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day,” and after that was seen. And then he enumerates Christ’s appearances, including to “above five hundred brethren at once . . . And last of all he was seen of me.” (1 Corinthians 15) The writers of the New Testament spoke of the fact of the Resurrection.
I lost my faith while I was attending the university because professors transferred to religion the authority that they had in other areas, which they did not have in religion. As an undergraduate major in history, I remember asking one of my professors question about the Civil War. He refused to answer, and referred me to an expert in Civil War history. I thought to myself, “Here is a Ph.D. in history, yet he wouldn’t make a declaration on a controversial subject concerning the Civil War because he was not an expert in that area. But every day, he would make declarations about Christ and Christianity.” When I asked him a few questions, his answers revealed that he hadn’t even looked at the evidence. He ridiculed the New Testament as history, and said that there are no early manuscripts in existence. So I asked him, “What about Tatian’s Diatessaron?” He said, “Huh?” He had never looked at it. On every other subject, professors will study before they declare themselves, but everybody believes they are born an expert on religion. Any person you meet on the street will give you pontifical opinions on religion, even if they’ve never looked at a single source for proof of Jesus’ Resurrection.
My professors wanted me to substitute for my faith in Jesus Christ some creation of the intelligentsia: a good and wise teacher, but not the Son of God. If Jesus were just a man, He might have been good, but not wise: believing those insane things about Himself, He would not be considered very smart. Or, Jesus could have been wise, but not good: He may have been smart enough to fool everybody, but He would have known that no mortal man can make the claims that He made.
The importance of the Resurrection is that the Man who made those claims is the same Person who came out of the tomb. A resurrection by itself might not be convincing; the Bible describes many instances of someone being raised from the dead. But if the One who went about making these claims was the One who came out of the tomb, that is what puts the stamp of authority on everything else that He said.
This is a subject that can be studied logically. You don’t have to cut off the top of your head to be a Christian. Some people think you do, as though the God of all truth is going to topple if you ask Him a question. There isn’t anything you can think up to ask that He hasn’t answered before you asked, and you don’t have to stop thinking to be a Christian. So for three and a half years I studied the Resurrection. When I closed the last book, I concluded that, while I couldn’t go and talk to the witnesses the way Paul could, there wasn’t any other answer, Jesus came out of that tomb!
Before we look at the evidence that convinced me, let’s look at some of the theories people have put forth to explain away the Resurrection. I’ve heard every kind of explanation for Jesus’ Resurrection, because it’s hard to deny the power of that message. The first explanation is that the disciples stole the body. Another explanation is that the Jewish leaders took the body. Another explanation is that the Romans took the body. Another explanation is that the women went to the wrong tomb; they were full of grief, crying with swollen eyes, and couldn’t see very well. In the early morning light, they went to a tomb they thought was Jesus’ tomb. It was empty, but it was the wrong one. Resuscitation is another explanation: Jesus wasn’t really dead on that cross, and, in the coolness of the tomb, He resuscitated. That goes with the more recent theory that He planned it all along and just faked it. Another explanation is that the disciples hallucinated: they reported their glorified daydreams. They thought they saw what they saw, but they didn’t really see it because it didn’t really happen. Another explanation is that the disciples lied and made the whole thing up. They were defeated, but they enjoyed retaining their position of leadership; they took seven weeks to concoct the story, and on the Day of Pentecost, they put it together and fooled the world. Then there is the last explanation. It’s true. The disciples were telling what they had really experienced.
Logically and factually, there are only two possible explanations. Every other theory falls before these two: those disciples were either telling a lie and they knew they were telling a lie, or they were honest reporters of facts they experienced.
The empty tomb eliminates most of the possible explanations. If the Jewish leaders took the body, that is contradicted by the fact that they had the most to lose if the Resurrection was reported. All they had to do to disprove it was go to the tomb and produce the body when the preaching of the Resurrection started. Either produce the body, or produce the witnesses who saw them take it. The Romans could have done the same. If the disciples took the body, they sure lied. If the women went to a wrong tomb, anyone could have gone to the right one. If the disciples had hallucinations, wake them up by showing them a body. Every explanation can be eliminated but the two: the disciples either lied, or they reported the truth.
Moreover, the disciples did not just preach Resurrection, they preached Ascension as well as Resurrection, and the Ascension was an integral part of their reporting. The other theories explain only the empty tomb; what the disciples preached went far beyond an empty tomb. They either were liars and knew it, or they were honest men reporting what they saw.
There are a lot of reasons, internal evidences, that show that the disciples were honest reporters. For example, Jesus and the disciples are in a place with a multitude. Jesus asked Philip where to buy bread. Why does He ask Philip? You have to go to another Gospel written many years later in another place to find that Philip was from that place. They could not have conceived that the Bible would be put together as it now is; they were writing in independent places. Yet, when you put all four of the Gospels together, you will find why Jesus asked Philip if there was a place to buy bread: he was from the place.
If you read Mark’s Gospel, you’ll find that Mark exposes Peter’s faults more than any other Gospel writer. If you really want the story of Peter’s failures, read mark, because Mark was with Peter. After Mark failed with Paul and Barnabas, Peter took him in hand. Now, if Peter was just making up lies, he could have done a better job painting himself positively than he did through Mark. He reports his failures to Mark, and Mark writes what Peter reported.
Mark wrote his Gospel to prove that Jesus is the Son of God. He either wrote to the Romans or to the Egyptians. If Mark were writing to Jewish readers, they would understand that the expression “Son of man” carries with it connotations of divinity. Jewish readers were well familiar with Daniel and the apocryphal book of Enoch, which describes the Son of man coming on clouds of glory. Thus, to Jewish readers, “Son of man” means divinity more than any other phrase. If, however, you are writing to Roman or Egyptian Gentiles, “Son of man” means just what it sounds like: He’s a man. Mark is writing to prove to Gentiles, either in Rome or Egypt, that Jesus is the Son of God by being true to facts as he witnessed them. He has Jesus referring to Himself as “Son of man” more than any other Gospel. That’s what historians call “internal evidences of veracity.” They tell it the way it is, even if it hurts their story.
Why did the disciples wait seven weeks? The critics say they waited seven weeks so they could make up the story. Well, if they are smart enough to make up this kind of story, they could have figured out that the seven week wait hurt their credibility. And why pick the time they picked to tell the story? They sound to me like honest people who had lost their faith, suddenly saw Him alive and followed what He said, “You are going to be My witnesses, but you go to Jerusalem and you stay there until something happens.” (Acts 1:8) They stayed there and then they told what they had seen.
But there are three other reasons even more convincing. The first is the cataclysmic change that occurred in the disciples. I could believe that a lie changes a man, seldom for the better. But the disciples changed for the better.
Peter was always a problem; he was an extremist. His mouth would start going before his head was in gear 90 percent of the time. Jesus wanted to wash his feet. Peter said, “No!” Jesus said, “If I don’t wash your feet, you don’t make it in.” Peter said, “Give me a bath; wash me all over.” (John 13:6-9) Jesus had taken three of his disciples to a mountain, and they fell asleep. Awakened from a deep sleep, Peter sees Jesus talking to Elijah and Moses. And, once again, Peter’s mouth is going: he puts Jesus and the two prophets all on the same plane and says, “Let’s build three tabernacles and stay here!” (Matthew 17:4, Luke 9:33) Jesus says, “I’m going to go to my cross.” Peter replies, “Be it far from You.” And Jesus has to say to him, “Get behind Me, satan.” (Matthew 16:21-23) Later, Jesus says, “One of you is going to deny Me.” Peter replies, “Not me, Lord. If they kill me, I won’t deny You!” (Mark 14:27-31) Shortly thereafter, Peter denied Jesus three times. (Matthew 26:69-75)
After the Resurrection, Jesus sent a special message, “Go tell my disciples and Peter.” (Mark 16:7) And you watch Peter’s change; he preaches on the day the Church is born. (Acts 2:14-36) He never waivers; he becomes “the rock.” And that braggadocious one became so broken in spirit and changed that he said, “Turn me upside-down to crucify me,” according to the most reliable traditions of his martyrdom. From instability to stability, Peter was completely changed.
John was a high tempered “son of thunder.” (Mark 3:17) If you oppose him, he’ll call fire down from heaven on you (Luke 9:54) After the Resurrection occurs, he suddenly became “the disciple of love.” His writings communicate the epitome of love.
Thomas was a doubter. He’s always doubting. Jesus is going to go through Samaria and Thomas says, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” (John 11:16) Thomas actually thought Jesus would be killed. That’s a humanistic view. Jesus talks of going away to prepare mansions, saying, “Whither I go ye know, and the way ye know.” Thomas retorts, “We don’t know where You’re going; how can we know the way?” (John 14:2-5) He’s just a hardhead. After the Resurrection, Thomas is still doubting: “If I don’t touch the print of crucifixion, I won’t believe.” (John 20:25) After seeing the resurrected Jesus, Thomas has faith that enabled him to penetrate the Himalayas and take the gospel into the toughest region of the world, philosophic India.
The disciples were all changed: from instability to stability, from hot-tempered selfishness to love, and from
non-faith to unwavering faith. It all occurred at a certain point. If I had no other proof of the Resurrection, I’d see these men as they were before the Resurrection suddenly become exemplary. I would see what had changed them and I’d recognize that a lie doesn’t change men for the better, as these men were.
The second reason for concluding that the disciples were truthful reporters: men don’t pay the price they paid for a lie. Every one of them, except one, paid with his life as a martyr. Bartholomew was skinned alive with a whip. Thomas was pierced with a sword. Andrew was crucified on that X-shaped cross that bears his name, “St. Andrew’s cross.” Peter was crucified upside-down. Mark was dragged to death in the streets. Luke was hanged. You don’t pay that kind of price for a lie.
The third reason for believing the disciples report is St. Thomas Aquinas’ great proof of the Resurrection: they paid that price . . .alone. Now grab your minds for a moment. I could believe that we could make up a lie to save face and establish a position. If we stay together, we might keep telling the lie the same way. No one would want to be the first one to break rank. But the disciples were separated so that none of them knew where the others were, or even whether any of the others were alive. One is in Egypt, one is in India, and another is in Rome. Another is about to be skinned alive with a whip down in Armenia and all he has to do to save his life is say, “It’s not really true!” No one would ever know that he broke rank.
I dare you to find one of them anywhere in history who ever wavered in preaching the story. It’s psychologically inconceivable that one of these men would not break down and say, “We made it up.” Separated, scattered, dying in far-flung corners of the globe, one of them somewhere would break if it were a lie they were preaching. But not one of them did. It is psychologically inconceivable that men would do that for a lie.
So what if it’s true? It is! He spoke and nothing became everything. That’s why a hero of faith separates himself from the crowd and says, “The same God whose Word brought forth Jesus from the tomb and took Him to glory, that same God has said, “I a alive for evermore,” (Revelation 1:18) and “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever, (Hebrews 13:8) and all that God is, is behind every promise to me.” (2 Corinthians 1:20) The same power that brought Jesus forth from the tomb is at your command as you walk in Him.
That is why the cry in my heart is for a return to New Testament Christianity. I have heard some foolish people say they need miracles to restore their faith. After the Resurrection, the disciples didn’t need miracles to keep their faith; they had faith that produced the miracles. And I’m sure that if you watched Jesus sail off into the blue, it wouldn’t be a stretch of faith to tell a lame man to start walking and then see him walk. And when, instead of just mouthing platitudes, we come to a fresh realization that Jesus really does live, we will become the instruments of Resurrection life in the world that He intended us to be. You don’t need anything but Jesus, because He lives.
Prayer Requests for April, 2011
For Scott Ross’ Mother, Mable Ross. She has Macular degeneration in both eyes and has to have painful treatments weekly to keep her eyesight.
For James Devers at Helena, Oklahoma, that his sentence will be reduced.
For Earl Oswalt, Taft, Oklahoma, who has a double hernia and various other health issues.
For Stephen Clayton at Pine Bluff, Arkansas, who just had back surgery. He now needs treatment for his hip and leg.
For Raymond (“Peanut”) Sanders at Iowa Park, Texas, for health.
For Richard Burns, Menard, Illinois, who has diabetes and takes daily injections.
For Frank Randolph at the Varner Supermax at Grady, Arkansas, who has a habeas petition in the courts.
For Ed Ewing, Visalia, California.
For Mike Long, at Larned, Kansas, for health.
For Anthony Grayson, Wallkill, New York. He just received a time cut of 20 years and wanted to thank everyone for their prayers. He still has more legal challenges ahead, though.
For Roger Best at Holdenville, Oklahoma, who has Somnambulism (sleep-walking).
For Willie Scott at Pine Bluff, Arkansas, that he gets out of segregation soon, and also that his diabetes stays under control.
For Jimmy Huff and his ministry at Colorado City, Texas, and for everyone living in Colorado City. Wildfires recently destroyed several homes there.
For Willie Clark, Iowa Park, Texas, who wants to be transferred closer to his family in the Houston area.
For Michael Small’s step Mother, Suzanne, for health, and that her cancer will stay in remission. Michael is at Menard, Illinois.
For Sister Ann & all the Carmelite Nuns in Little Rock.
For Frank Williams, Jr., Death Row, Grady, Arkansas. The Arkansas Supreme Court is going to hear his case again.
For Freddie Lee Lott, Galesburg, Illinois. The last testing done showed no signs of the cancer.
For Willie Harper, Joliet, Illinois, that his cancer stays in remission.
For Robert Heffernan, Grady, Arkansas, for healing of a diabetic ulcer on his leg.
For Pastor Scott & her ministry (The University Network) in Los Angeles.
For all of us at Wingspread.
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