Preached by Dr. Gene Scott on April 6, 1980
“This Jesus hath God raised up, whereof we all are witnesses.”
EVERY EASTER WE LOOK AT THE FACTUAL basis of Christianity. Some people think that in order to be a Christian you first have to cut off the top of your head, remove your brain and live brainless ever after. They sing a song in some churches that says, “You ask me how I know He lives? He lives within my heart.” It is a good song, but its message is very subjective. It is certainly true for those who sing it and mean it. But the song may have no impact on you. I grew up in a tradition where much of Christianity was related to a subjective experience of feeling, but feelings are not the basis for the Christian faith.
I have often wondered how I would have preached if I had been like the apostle Paul in Athens preaching to a group of Greek philosophers on Mars’ Hill in the first century. They were so worried that they might omit a god from their worship that they had even erected a monument to what they called “the unknown god.” There were no Christian churches. There were no preachers or clergy. There was no Bible available that you could preach from and expect a large portion of the crowd to be already committed to its authority. There were no preconceived perceptual sets with emotional backgrounds from parents who had taught their children about Christianity. Paul came into that scene and got right to the point by saying, “I’ll tell you who that unknown God is!” And he began to preach about a Person who walked the streets of this earth called Jesus of Nazareth. Paul claimed that God had moved into human flesh and that the Resurrection vindicated the claim that God was encountered in that Person.
The church was born on the day of Pentecost. The disciples were all gathered together in an upper room, and they had been waiting in Jerusalem for seven weeks. The Scripture says in Acts 2, “When the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place.” G. Campbell Morgan translates it like this: “When the day of Pentecost began to be fulfilled,” because Pentecost was a harvest as the church was born that day. “And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. And there were dwelling at Jerusalem Jews, devout men, out of every nation under heaven.”
There must have been a commotion because “when this was noised abroad, the multitude came together, and were confounded.” We will read that 3,000 people out of that multitude were born into the Kingdom on that day, so it must have been a much larger crowd. The disciples had come down from the upper room, and the mob on the street was confounded, “because that every man heard them speak in his own language. And they were all amazed and marveled, saying one to another, Behold, are not all these which speak Galilaeans? And how hear we every man in our own tongue, wherein we were born? Parthians, and Medes, and Elamites, and the dwellers of Mesopotamia. . .” As many as 17 different languages were recognized by the crowd.
“And they were all amazed, and were in doubt, saying one to another, What meaneth this? Others mocking said, These men are full of new wine. But Peter, standing up with the eleven, lifted up his voice, and said unto them, Ye men of Judaea, and all ye that dwell at Jerusalem, be this known unto you, and hearken to my words: for these are not drunken, as ye suppose, seeing it is but the third hour of the day.” The “third hour” would be about 9 o’clock in the morning, and no devout Jew would drink at that time of day. “But this is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel,” in the Old Testament, “and it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh.”
Peter quotes that passage and claims its fulfillment on that day, but then he takes another step. He does not preach his personal experience nor does he attempt to convince the crowd based upon his feelings. He starts right where those people are by stating facts that they can verify. He says, “Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God.” Notice he says, “a man,” which the multitude could identify with, because that is the side of human flesh. Peter says, “Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among you by miracles and wonders and signs, which God did by him in the midst of you, as ye yourselves also know.” Again, that was a verifiable statement of fact. You did not have to be super spiritual or mystical to understand it.
Now Peter, speaking of Jesus, goes on to say, “Him . . . ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain.” The people knew that too. But now Peter introduces the fact they may not be aware of: “whom God hath raised up, having loosed the pains of death: because it was not possible that he should be holden of it.” Peter is not spiritualizing; he expects to exhort the people concerning the consequences, proving out of Old Testament prophetic Scriptures that Jesus is the very Messiah, or Deliverer, who was promised. And when Peter finishes his exhortation, 3,000 people are born into the Kingdom.
In the next chapter of Acts, Peter is preaching again in Jerusalem, and when the crowd gathers, he says, “You desired a murderer to be granted unto you; and killed the Prince of life, whom God hath raised from the dead.” The religious leaders, shaken by the claim because they had brought about the crucifixion, began to tell Peter and John to shut up. Peter says, “Shall we obey man or God? You killed Him, but God raised Him from the dead.”
This declaration is made repeatedly. We find it again in Acts 5, 7, 10, 13, and in Acts 17 where I started, when Paul preaches to the philosophers on Mars’ Hill. It is a consistent thread throughout the New Testament. Without the Resurrection fact, there was no Christian message that would flow out of Jesus’ preaching. Without the Resurrection fact, there is no Christianity. Without the Resurrection, the disciples were just a defeated bunch of men.
Paul summed it up to the Corinthian church, who had their eyes on everything else. They would subjectify their religious experience. When a preacher came along, they would identify with his personality. One of the Corinthians would say, “I am of Paul,” and another would say, “I am of Cephas,” and another would say, “I am of Apollos.” They were so overfull in the things of the Spirit that Paul called them plutocrats in their relationship with God, yet they made the Holy Spirit a vehicle for their own edification and subjective feelings. When they went to the Lord’s Supper, instead of remembering Jesus, they made it into a drunken feast satisfying their own pleasure.
Paul pulled them all together in 1st Corinthians 15. He brought them back like a mariner taking out a compass. He said, “For 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 according to the scriptures: and that he was seen of Cephas . . .” Paul was not describing a subjective, internal, spiritual experience, but rather a seen experience: “he was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve: after that, he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep,” or died, but the majority could still testify. “And last of all he was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time . . . And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain.” In other words, if Christ did not rise, we are liars; we are false witnesses of God, “because we have testified of God that he raised up Christ.” And if Christ did not rise, there is no hope in our faith.
While attending Stanford University, I studied under Lex Miller, the famous New Zealand ethical theologian. Dr. Miller had studied under Karl Barth, the neo-orthodox theologian in Germany, and had been Reinhold Niebuhr’s assistant at Union Theological Seminary. One day I asked him, “Lex, why won’t you base your faith on the Resurrection?” He replied, “I really don’t want to, for fear that it might be disproven, or somehow raise questions in my mind that might make me lose my faith.” I went away shaking my head. Who needs Christianity if the Resurrection did not occur? Christianity is not a set of ethics, despite the fact that if you stop any 10 people on the street and ask them what a Christian is, they will tell you, “A Christian does this and does that, and doesn’t do this and doesn’t do that.” That is not what Christianity is! Christians may or may not do certain things, but that does not make them Christians. The word “Christian” means “follower of Christ,” and on this Easter we remember that He lives.
Jesus did not preach an ethic apart from Himself, He preached Himself. You cannot take away the miraculous, supernatural elements from Christianity, and reduce it down to a mere set of ethics. As a mere ethical formula, Jesus said, “Do unto others what you want them to do to you.” But Confucius said, “Don’t do to others what you don’t want done to yourself.” If the only life we have is a carnal, non-miraculous, no-resurrection humanistic life, then give me Confucius’ golden rule. I feel safer with that rule when I am surrounded by sinners. I am too much of a historian to not know that Jesus’ golden rule has been used as an excuse by people who want to inflict their own desires on others.
Again, Jesus did not preach an ethic apart from Himself; He preached Himself. He said, “I am the door. I am the light. I am the way. I am the water of life. By Me if any man enter in, he shall be saved.” Jesus put Himself in the center of the religious universe. He allowed no claim paramount to His own. He said, “if any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.” He made eternal life totally dependent upon making Him your Master. Jesus never commended His disciples for their “righteous” behavior. Mark says He chose His disciples that “they should be with him.” The only thing that made them different was their relationship with a Person.
John described the essence of God, the very nature of God, using the Greek word logos. He said that the logos, who could tell us all that we need to know about God, was of the same essence as God and was “with God” or facing God in eternity. The wording in the Greek suggests an absolute adoring attention. Jesus turned from that position of facing the God of eternity and He moved into a tent of human flesh called “Jesus of Nazareth.” And though God had never been seen, Christ “hath declared him.” The word in the Greek is a cognate of our word exegesis. It means that Jesus led God forth from behind a curtain and put Him on display. If you wanted to be with God in Jesus’ day, you had to go where Jesus was, because God Incarnate was crystallized into one human form.
Jesus chose His disciples to be with Him, and He could sum up their relationship at the end of His ministry when He prayed His high priestly prayer in John 17, saying, “Father . . . while I was with them in the world, I kept them. But I am no more in the world, I come to Thee. Now, Father, You keep them. Make them one as You and I are one, I in them, and Thou in Me.” He spoke of a mystery of the penetration of God’s Spirit into our lives, and God’s ability to keep. He told His disciples, “It is better for you that I go away, because if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you.” The word translated “Comforter” is Paraclete in the Greek. It describes another Person alongside. Jesus said, “I am going to ask the Father that He give you another Comforter to be with you always. You have the Spirit with you now, but I am going to pray that He will be in you.” That is simple logic if you understand the New Testament claims. Just as the actual substance of God moved into one tent of human flesh called Jesus of Nazareth, the claim of Christianity is that God now comes to dwell in us.
There was a period when God moved from the invisible realm to the visible world and was seen as Jesus of Nazareth. He went away and will come back again, and is now to be seen through us as living witnesses. All of that presupposes the miraculous movement of God’s Spirit. That is why the Resurrection is so critical to the Christian faith.
Jesus came making extraordinary claims about Himself. Imagine for a moment if a mere man were to make the kind of claims that Jesus made about Himself. Suppose someone stood before you and said, “Brace yourselves, folks. I’m going to tell you who I really am. Before Abraham was, I was. I saw Lucifer cast down like lightening from heaven. I was there when the worlds were formed. I am the living bread which came down from heaven.” What would you do today if your pastor marched up to the pulpit and made these outrageous claims? You would know that I was putting you on, but what would you think if I kept on going and really tried to convince you? Suppose I said, “All authority in heaven and earth is given unto me. If you build on what I tell you, you are building on a rock. If you build on anything else, you are building on sand.” Yet these are the very claims that Jesus made about Himself. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “You have heard it said unto you, but I say unto you. . .” Thirteen times He declared, “I say unto you.” He seated all authority in Himself. He did not give any other criteria for His authority.
Some say that Jesus was just another teacher like the Gautama Buddha, or like Mohammed, who founded the Islamic faith. Mohammed claimed he had visions, and he recorded his visions in the Koran. That was his authority. The Gautama Buddha tried the way of the sensualist and the way of the ascetic. He came back to the “Middle Way” and said, “I am not even important to the way, but I leave you with the truth, the plan, the Eightfold Path that worked for me.” He pointed to an experience for his authority. Only Jesus marched out and said, “You have heard it said unto you, but I am saying now . . . All authority in heaven and earth is given to Me.”
Imagine again if your pastor said, “There is something wrong with all of you that can only be set right by me. I am the perfect one. I haven’t come to destroy the law, I have come to fulfill it. The only way that the whole world is going to be set right is for me to offer myself as a ransom.” Jesus made those claims in a context where a ransom was the price that must be paid to redeem one near of kin who had been sold into bondage, or where someone was destined to die and you restored them to a position of life. Again, imagine if someone stood before you and had the gall to say, “I’m going to ransom the whole world with my life.”
If I made these claims, you might think I was just putting you on. Yet the only Jesus you are ever going to find in history made these very claims about Himself. It does not matter what source you use to determine what Jesus said. Anyone who says that Jesus is merely a good and wise teacher is going to name a source. Even people who do not believe in the Resurrection will use the Gospels as their source. But regardless of the source, if you subject that source to the most basic test of historicity, you will find in that source Jesus making the kind of claims about Himself that I have just presented.
If any mere man went about making those outrageous claims, you would know he was just putting you on. But if I could convince you that I really believed those outrageous claims about myself, you would think that I had gone insane and ought to be committed. You might think I was making a joke up to a point. But if I continued, it would be considered raw deceit and a megalomaniac tendency with a messiah complex that is not allowable to a respected man. Yet Jesus went around making those claims.
That is why I have no respect for the pseudointellectuals who create a Jesus Christ that does not exist in history. It is too hard for them to say that Jesus Christ was either a nut or fake, so they create a Jesus who never walked on the streets of history. The only Jesus ever to appear on the stage of history is the one who went around preaching Himself and making these claims, including the claim that He would be killed and after three days would rise from the dead. But if someone came along making those outrageous claims about himself, was crucified and then really did come out of the tomb three days later, I would take another look at him. That is Christianity’s claim: Jesus made a trip that none of those other historic founders of world religions made – into the grave and out of it again.
The intellectual world argues there couldn’t be a Resurrection, and their reasoning is that it just couldn’t happen. No one rises from the dead, therefore it didn’t happen. This is known as a tautology in philosophy, just a lot of words that say nothing because you stated your conclusion in your first words. It is arguing in a circle: a resurrection couldn’t happen, therefore it didn’t happen, therefore anybody who says that it did has to be lying, because it couldn’t happen. Therefore, it didn’t happen, and anyone who says that it did is a poor historian not worthy of a second look, because it couldn’t happen. Therefore it didn’t happen, and if you believe it did, you are deluded, because it couldn’t happen, etc.
Throughout my university days, I encountered people from all walks of life who denied the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, from Dr. Kishimoto, the leading Buddhist scholar in his day, to philosophy professors, agnostics and fellow students. Yet, if I were to ask them a few questions, it would always reveal that not one of them had spent even 20 hours in their lifetime looking hard at the evidence. Too many young people have left the church because they thought that they must only base their faith upon their feelings. Faith is based on facts and a reaction to the facts, the facts that God has provided.
There are some signs that God has not guaranteed to give. Sign-watchers marched up to Jesus and said, “Show us a sign.” He said, “There shall no sign be given . . . but the sign of the prophet Jonas.” The only sign that God has committed to give us that verifies and vindicates His claims is the sign portrayed in the story of Jonah going into the great fish and coming out again, which typified the death and resurrection of Christ. Jesus in essence said that God is not bound to give any sign proving His veracity, other than the one sign that represents Him paying the supreme price. He said, “I am going to die and rise again.” That is all. If you settle that claim, it will settle all the others, and you do not need any other signs. God in His mercy has occasionally given some signs to people like Paul and others, but the only guaranteed sign is His Resurrection. It is a fact asserted, not a subjective feeling, and it is the basis of the Christian faith.
Let me pause for a moment to address the technical historians. Historical certainty by definition means that you have every available piece of evidence. By that definition, when you can no longer be an eyewitness, you can never have historical certainty, but you can have psychological reactions to the available evidence. I am not a hard-sell evangelist, but I have spent my life trying to get people to look at the one fact that separates Christianity from every other religious faith.
You can argue in a circle if you want, but thousands have looked and ended up so convinced that they would give their lives. And if Jesus rose, then all His other claims are verified. You do not need to try to figure out what God is like: He is like Jesus. You do not have to figure out where all authority is: it is in Him; He claimed it. The Resurrection becomes all-important.
I had my faith shaken in university by the circular argument. For three and a half years I wandered in agnosticism because I wanted to earn my “intellectual wings,” I wanted respect in the university circles. Then I discovered something. Most of my professors deserved respect because they would not speak on a subject until they had studied it. I remember going to my classical history professor and asking him a complicated questions about the Civil War. He said, “That is not my specialty. Roman and Greek history are my specialty.” And he referred me to a U.S. history professor. So I went to that U.S. history professor and asked him the same question about the Civil War. He said to me, “I don’t want to answer that question because that is not my area of specialty within U.S. history.” Yet these same professors could give a pontifical, absolute conclusion about Christianity. I was in a class in historiography and the professor told me that the Gospels were poor history. He said, “There are no written records dated earlier than the fourth century.” He had a Ph.D. in history and had taught it for 15 years. So I asked him, “What about Tatian’s Diatessaron?” He had never heard of it. The Diatessaron was a harmony of the four Gospels that was put together around A.D. 160. To produce the Diatessaron, all of the Gospels must have been already written, collected and widely circulated before that time.
I discovered that my professor was simply parroting a standard critical textbook, and that he had not personally looked at the evidence. Again he was using the circular argument: miracles couldn’t occur, so if there are miracles recorded, it has to be bad history. It took me a long time to find out that men who are careful in their scholarship and will not speak on a subject they have not studied will become instant experts when it comes to religion. It seems that everyone is born an expert in religion; everyone can deliver dogmatic opinions on that subject. The gears in my agnostic mind began to start going into neutral, and then backing up, as I discovered that not everyone who speaks about Christ has looked at Him. I had to settle it for myself. The Resurrection is a fact that can be settled. And when you look at the evidence, you will have a psychological reaction to it. No one with good sense ought to go through life without looking.
Now before you can intelligently discuss the Resurrection, you must assume certain basic facts. The first assumption is that Jesus lived. There is no point having a reasonable discussion about whether or not Jesus rose from the dead if you are not willing to assume that He lived. Even Tacitus, the heathen Roman historian, will affirm this fact. Second, Jesus was crucified, by the hands of the Romans and at the instigation of certain Jewish leaders. Not all of the Jews were responsible, but only certain religious leaders. Third, that He was considered to be dead. Note I did not say, for purposes of discussion, that He was dead, just that He was considered dead. Fourth, that He was buried in a known, accessible tomb. If you do not want to believe that fact, you will at least agree that it would be easier to prove than it would be to prove the Resurrection. Fifth, that the disciples preached the message that Jesus rose from the dead and ascended, and that His tomb was empty. That is the easiest fact to assume because I am doing that today. Sixth, the Jewish leaders in that day were more concerned about disproving the story than you or I could be today. Their leadership and their very livelihood would be jeopardized if this message were true. Seventh, that the disciples were persecuted for preaching this message and eighth, that the tomb was in fact empty. All of these facts are in themselves much easier to prove than the Resurrection, but there is no point in discussing the Resurrection unless you are willing to assume these facts.
What about this Resurrection story? There have been all kinds of theories conjured up to explain this event and why Christians gather to commemorate the Resurrection of Jesus at this time of the year. Before there ever was an Easter commemoration, the first theory postulated to explain away the Resurrection was told by the Jews in New Testament times: they said that the disciples stole Jesus’ body. Another theory is the Romans took the body and threw it in a dump somewhere. Another theory is the Jews took the body, just to make sure that no one could tell the story of the Resurrection. Another theory is the women went to the wrong tomb. Poor grief-stricken women, bleary-eyed with tears, wandered around in the graveyard in the early morning hours. They found an empty tomb but it was the wrong one, and the whole story grew out of that mistake. Another theory is resuscitation: Jesus didn’t really die on the cross, and in the coolness of the tomb He resuscitated. That one really boggles my mind! You don’t resuscitate from a Roman crucifixion! Another theory is that the disciples merely had hallucinations. They believe they saw what they saw, but they just had glorified daydreams.
Another theory is that the disciples made up the whole story, the scoundrels. They had bet on the wrong master, and he blew it apart for them by getting crucified and they, to save face, had to conjure up this story. And the last theory is that the disciples really saw what they saw, encountered what they encountered, experienced what they experienced, and told it the way it was.
You cannot study a subject without coming to a conclusion. Anyone who doesn’t have a conclusion knows very little about a subject, because our psychological makeup is such that as you expose yourself to facts, you will have psychological reactions. Why do you suppose there are so many different theories about the Resurrection of Jesus Christ? It is just too difficult to not acknowledge the psychological honesty of the preachers, especially when you consider the price they paid for telling the story of the Resurrection. So down through history, people have tried to explain it away. They would conjure up face-saving theories to explain away the disciples’ story.
Analyze every theory – wrong tomb, resuscitation, Romans taking the body, the Jews taking it or the disciples taking it – every single theory is blown apart by the fact that the disciples did not just preach about an empty tomb. All of those theories can only explain why the disciples preached that the tomb was empty and Jesus rose from the dead. But the disciples did not just preach about an empty tomb! They preached the Resurrection of a living Christ who appeared to them many times, whom they touched, with whom they partook of food and with whom they could associate and talk. And they preached with equal force the Ascension, that the same Christ who came out of the tomb and who came into their room, also ascended into the blue. They preached three sermons: empty tomb, living Christ and ascended Christ.
So let me reduce down many years of study and say that when you really look at the evidence, every theory has to bow to only two alternatives: the disciples either lied and made up the whole story to save face, or they told what they genuinely saw, experienced and encountered. I analyzed every theory, piece by piece, and every other theory falls apart. The Romans taking the body might explain an empty tomb, but it sure does not explain a living Christ and the experience of seeing Him ascend. Resuscitation might explain an empty tomb, but it wasn’t a sick, emaciated, resuscitated Christ that they preached about; it is a vital living Christ and an ascended Christ! They either lied about the whole story or a part of it, or they honestly reported what they experienced. They cannot escape being either liars or truth-tellers!
No matter how complicated and obtuse the theories make it, when you really study it, Christianity boils down to two decisions. First, you must decide if Jesus was a nut or an out-and-out fraud, or if He was exactly what He said He was, which would make Him the Son of God. As C.S. Lewis said, you have to decide either that Jesus is as nutty as a man who believes he is a poached egg, or you have to deal with Him in terms of His claims, which include His right to be Lord over your life. And the only matter that will settle it is whether He came out of the tomb. If Jesus came out of that tomb, you had better take another look at Him. The second decision boils down to another either-or. Those who told the story of the Resurrection were either liars, deliberately fabricating this story to cover the failures of their ministry and their minister, namely Christ, or they were men who honestly told what they saw and experienced as they saw and experienced it.
This is the crux of it all: could these men be lying about the story they told? There are three reasons why that confounds logic and is harder to believe than to believe the Resurrection itself.
The first reason is this: these men, every one of them, in all the historical records that we have, were cataclysmically changed in the nature of their personalities at a precise point in history, all at the same time. No deceiver could have written the Gospels this way. Mark wrote his Gospel because of his association with Peter. Mark was the young man who ran away naked in the darkness on the night Jesus was crucified. The next time we encounter him he is running back from Turkey because the trip with Barnabas and Paul was too tough for him. Peter restored Mark and straightened him out, because Peter knew what it was to fail and be restored.
Mark wrote his Gospel about Jesus because Peter gave him the information. Now if Peter were a lying scoundrel, human nature would have Peter cover his own weaknesses. Mark’s Gospel radiates honesty because, of all the Gospels, it gives the worst picture of Peter. It is an indirect evidence of Mark’s honesty that it is Peter’s protégé who makes Peter look the worse as he tells of his failings.
Peter was a miserable problem. He was always unstable. He was one of three favorite disciples whom Jesus took up the hill, when Jesus wanted encouragement before He started to talk of the cross for the first time. Peter fell asleep. And when he woke up and got his mouth in gear, he made one of the stupidest statements on record, equating Jesus with Elijah and Moses. When Jesus spoke of His mission, Peter, the know-it-all, told Jesus what not to do, saying, “Be it far from you.” Jesus had to rebuke Peter with such harsh words as “Get behind me, satan.” When the crucifixion was looming, Jesus said, “One of you is going to deny Me.” Peter, the extremist, did not just say, “I’m willing to be beaten for You.” He said, “If they slay me, I will not deny You.” Shortly thereafter, Peter denied His Lord three times.
Something changed Peter from his failure and instability, until he became “the rock” of the church, never wavering again. He became the voice of security, encouragement and strength to Christians scattered all over Asia who were undergoing persecution. Peter wrote them a letter without the slightest wavering, saying, “You are sons of God; act like it! You are citizens of a heavenly Kingdom; act like it! You are pilgrims in a strange land headed for a heavenly hope; act like it! You have something the world doesn’t have; act like it! Bear up under your problems!” From instability, fear and denial, to a “rock,” never to waver again, Peter was changed.
John was called the “son of thunder.” He wanted to call down fire from heaven on his opponents. He had anything other than love expressed in his nature. A self-centered and selfish rat, he wanted the best seat in the Kingdom, and he sent his mother to ask Jesus for it. What a cowardly stunt! Almost hidden among the Gospels are the traits of his personality. He was self-centered, selfish, non-loving and high-tempered. Yet he would go on to write the Gospel and the epistles most associated with God’s love. He becomes the symbol of the loving pastor in the New Testament, and the caretaker of Jesus’ mother. He was cataclysmically changed from a fire-breathing, self-centered, self-seeking “son of thunder,” to the apostle of love.”
Thomas was a doubter. Unless you are reading the Gospels carefully, you may miss these character sketches that are woven in. Thomas was always a hardhead who was always questioning. Jesus faced a dangerous journey early in the Gospels. He had told His disciples over and over again, “I am the good shepherd. No man takes My life from Me, but I lay it down.” To Thomas, that was mere poetry. He was a realist who saw things as they were. It was a dangerous journey and Thomas thought that Jesus might be killed. Thomas expressed his love and courage when he stepped forward and said, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” He was brave, but he was humanistic. He did not realize that Jesus was more than a man and would only lay down His life when the time came for Him to do it.
In John 14, Jesus gathered His disciples around Him and He began to preach. He spoke of His departure and said, “I am going to go away. I am going to go to a place and build mansions for you, and then I am going to come back and get you. I am going to take you to that place and bring you to Myself.” Even if you were a hardhead, you could follow what Jesus said: He was going to go somewhere. That does not require spiritual vision to understand. He was going to a place, He was going to build mansions, He would come back to get us and take us to be with Him. But then Jesus said, “Whither I go you know, and the way you know.” The rest of the disciples listened like most church congregations. They picked up only a little bit of it. Some of them were probably leaping in their spirit about the mansions. But Thomas listened to every word. When Jesus said, “Whither I go and you know, and the way you know,” Thomas interrupted the sermon and said, “We don’t know where you’re going! How can we know the way?”
Now who do you think doubted after the Resurrection? It was Thomas, the same hardnose. The other disciples told Thomas that Jesus came out of the tomb. Thomas, the same man who thought Jesus would be killed and was willing to die with Him, the same man who said, “We don’t know where you’re going,” was the one who said, “I refuse to believe Jesus came out of that tomb, unless I can put my hand in His side and feel the wound and put my fingers in the print of the nails.” The time came when Jesus appeared to Thomas and said, “Behold My hands and My side.” Jesus did say, “it is more blessed to believe without seeing,” which is just common sense. Many people quote only part of this passage and berate thinking people who have doubts. You are a blessed person if you can believe with no intellectual problems. But don’t ever forget that Jesus submitted to the very test that Thomas asked for. I have often told college students that God is not going to fall off His throne because you ask a few questions. Jesus submitted to the test. Thomas went on to pierce the Himalayas and take the message of the Resurrection into India, the seat of philosophic religions, never to falter in his faith again.
The second reason why I believe that the disciples were telling the truth is that I do not believe that people will go through what these men went through for a lie. Bartholomew was flayed to death with a whip in Armenia. That means he was skinned alive, slowly and painfully, with a whip. All he had to do to stop the whip from landing on him was to retract the story he was telling about Christ, the Son of God, vindicated by the Resurrection. Andrew was crucified on the cross given his name, the criss-cross known as “Saint Andrew’s cross.” Peter was crucified upside-down at Rome. Thomas was thrust through with a Brahman sword near Madras, India. Mark was dragged to death in the streets of Alexandria. Luke, the beloved physician who traveled with Paul, was hanged from an olive tree in Greece. Paul was beheaded in Rome. Every one of them except John suffered a martyr’s death preceded by horrible, painful persecution. John was banished and miraculously delivered from a martyrdom experience. I do not believe men will go through that for a lie.
The third and last reason is Saint Thomas Aquinas’ great proof of the Resurrection: the disciples suffered their persecution and martyrdom for their story, alone. Imagine that you are Bartholomew. You are in Armenia. You have testified to the Resurrection, and now you are going to be skinned alive with a whip. Or suppose you are Peter in Rome. I will imagine I am Thomas. I crossed the high passes of the Himalayas. There is no television, there is no radio, there is no mail service as we know it, and there is no telephone. Most likely I do not even know where you are. But assume that we had agreed to tell this story of the Resurrection as a lie to cover the defeat of having chosen a master who made false claims about himself.
I could believe that if you kept the three of us together, or kept all the disciples together, we could maintain the lie due to group pressure. We would not break quite as easily. I should point out however that this group could not hold together prior to the Resurrection: they all fled in fear. Assuming that there was group pressure, we might hold out on our lie a little longer. But if you separate us until I have no knowledge that you are being skinned alive with a whip, how am I going to know if you reneged on the story? All you have to do to escape certain death is say, “It’s not true.” If you know you are a liar anyway, why not save yourself? If you assume this context, that we have made up the Resurrection story, then I would be willing to blaspheme, because there is nothing to blaspheme. If you are lying, then you know Christ died and did not rise from the dead. All you have to do to be set free is renege. You could flee from Armenia, and when you see me again, I would never know the difference.
We are only asking one question: Did these men lie when they told the story? I find it psychologically inconceivable that a group of men could conjure up this lie and then each one of them die alone in far-flung corners of the world, without even one of them ever backing down from the story.
What is the alternative? Jesus came out of that tomb! Now you might go through life ignorant of Christ’s claims and the evidence for the Resurrection, but after today you will never be the same again. Because if He did come out of that tomb, and I believe that He did, then what about His other claims? Life eternal is not based on how well you imitate some other disciple, or how well you conform to church traditions. Life eternal is based on what you do with this Person who came and gave His life for you and rose again to lead, help and claim you. I do not have to resolve every other problem of religion. Canon Bryan Green has said that there is a circle of doubt you can deal with, but you better put a peg in the middle where the certainties are. The Resurrection vindicates every claim that Jesus Christ made about Himself.
A Christian is a follower of Christ. The basic creed of the church is “God was in Christ.” Do you want to know what God is like? He is like Christ, so you had better deal with Him! Quit dealing with traditions of men, but you had better deal with Him. And on this Easter Sunday, we proclaim it as they did on that first day: He is risen! If I can believe that, as far as the academic, intellectual, sinful world is concerned, I am already out in left field. If I can believe He went through the rock that sealed His tomb and that He passed through a locked door, then I can believe that Molecular displacement is not a problem for Him. He created it all. We pull atoms apart and get an explosion, but Jesus just moves them aside. He went through a locked door and sailed off to glory.
What is my next step? He promised never to leave me, nor forsake me. To a world that does not understand the basis of faith, we Christians look like crazy people serving an invisible Master, talking to a Person we cannot see, and ordering our lives as though He is our Master. But that is exactly what the New Testament church did. The word kuriakon in the Greek literally means “the Lord’s,” and it is the cognate of our word “church.” The on-looking world saw the New Testament Christians so possessed with a faith in an unseen Master that wherever they went, His reality transcended everything.
This is why when Paul was thrown into prison with blood running down his back and his feet in stocks, about midnight in the inner prison he nudged his fellow preacher and said, “Let’s sing,” and they hymned praises to God in that dark prison cell. You cannot read the book of Acts without knowing that he and other Christians performed every activity of their lives to one audience: the risen Savior who claimed their lives and was always there. That is what Christianity is.
I have said for years that if I could pierce through the stuff and the junk of legalism, ritual, rules and regulations, to an understanding that Christianity is a relationship with a living Person, I would die a happy preacher. Will you this Easter take a new look at Jesus and His Resurrection? Jesus said, “All authority in heaven and earth is given unto Me.” When I am convinced that Jesus said something, that settles the matter, because the Resurrection tells me He had the right to make that claim.
He spoke of the eternal world as though He had been there and had inside knowledge, that He was here only temporarily, and that He was going back and would come again to get us and take us to be with Him. The Resurrection tells me that is the way it is. He put Himself in the center of the religious universe and said that what I did with Him determined my position in eternity. And that is why salvation in the New Testament is synonymous with submission to His lordship. The jailer at Philippi said, “What must I do to be saved? Paul said, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.”
My Christianity has one bottom line. I may kick against it, but Jesus Christ is alive, watching me and with me, and He is my Master. He knows it and I know it. That is basic Christianity. He said there was a stain on our lives that we could not remove; only He could remove it by living the perfect life I did not live, and then by laying down His life. The Scripture says that “God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” Quit trying to work your way to heaven; the entrance fee is already paid in full. Jesus paid it all. That is basic Christianity. He rose to claim us. Make Him you Lord.
Reprinted with permission from Pastor Melissa Scott
This is the season when we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ (although we should celebrate the Resurrection every day). And sometimes I think our Christian faith is lost among all the Easter bunnies, eggs and dinners. If Christ had not risen, our faith would be in vain. The founder of our faith would be just another Buddha or Muhammad, dead and without the power to save us.
The essence of our faith is this - God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, a lost and condemned world. Jesus became one of us, yet He was God. He lived, He died, and He rose again believing that this should change our life. No other religion can claim a founder that rose from the dead.
Dr. Scott used to preach the Resurrection message at least once a year. Each year he would have a little different perspective, or he would present different evidence. So there are many versions of this message and we have published several of them in Wingspread. Last year we published Dr. Scott’s evidence of the Resurrection. We have published messages where the evidence comes from the prophecies of the Old Testament. This time the evidence comes from the disciples’ standpoint. This is not a message we have ran before, and unusually lengthy. It deserves to be read. It will reveal a lot of New Testament church history to you, and hopefully it will help grow your faith.
Rodney & Margaret
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