Do you agree or disagree with this statement? Let’s look at both sides.
If Jesus DIDN’T rise from the dead like Christians believe, perhaps there is still some good to our faith. We could say “my faith helps me through tough times” or “it makes me a better person” or “it causes me to love others and do things to better the world.” Those are all useful products of our faith.
But if we were to somehow discover that Jesus didn’t rise from the dead, I would think of all the times I have told people that he DID rise, and I’d probably feel a tremendous amount of guilt for spreading something untrue. And I would think of all the people who had given their entire lives for a lie.
The writer of the statement “If Jesus didn’t rise from the dead, your faith is useless” knows a thing or two about faith. These words were penned by Paul the apostle in 1 Corinthians 15:7. He explains: “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins” (NIV). For the Apostle Paul, the resurrection was the sign that Jesus was who he said he was - he had the power to forgive sins and to actually grant us the eternal life that he promised. Without the empty tomb, the cross had no power.
So that means belief in the resurrection is central to our faith. But what evidence exists to justify believing that Jesus rose? Is it even rational to say the words “He has risen?”
Here are four arguments to support the reality of the resurrection of Jesus:
1. Eyewitness accounts in the Bible (see Luke 1:1-4 & 1 John 1:1-3) of people who saw, touched, and talked with Jesus before he died and after he rose again. The disciples went from utter despair when he was arrested to boldly proclaiming “Jesus is Lord” days later. Surely something must have happened that would cause Peter to go from denying that he even knew Jesus to preaching to a crowd of thousands at Pentecost (Acts 2:14-41). Peter and other believers continued to testify that Jesus was alive right up to the point that they were martyred.
2. Other ancient writings of 1st century non-Christian historians such as Josephus and Tacitus mention Jesus in their accounts. In a letter dated 110 AD, a Roman governor named Pliny (the Younger) wrote to Trajan, the Emperor of Rome, asking for advice on “how to handle Christians”:
Here's what I have done to date: I have asked them if they were Christians. If they have confessed, I have asked them a second and third time, threatening them with punishment. If they have persisted, I have commanded them to be led away to punishment. They had been accustomed to come together on a fixed day before daylight and to sing responsively a song to Christ as God.
This ancient letter is significant for it shows that within 80 years of Jesus’ crucifixion there was:
A. Persecution of Christians
B. Their refusal to deny that Jesus is Lord
C. Roman officials who felt the need to respond to what was going on
D. A belief among Christians that Jesus was not just the Christ (messiah), he was God
No serious scholar suggests that Jesus was a fictional character or that the gospels were completely made up. Much of what is written in the Bible has been corroborated by other sources. For example, the “darkness” that falls over the land when Jesus is crucified (Luke 23:44) is referred to in non-biblical accounts written by four historians: Thallus, Julius Africanus, Tertullian, and Phlegon.
Lee Strobel, in his book A Case for Christ says: “When you stop to think that ancient historians for the most part dealt only with political rulers, emperors, kings, military battles, official religious people, and major philosophical movements, it’s remarkable how much we can learn about Jesus and his followers even though they fit none of those categories at the time these historians were writing.”
3. Details in the gospels that would have been strange additions if the writers were making it up:
- If the writers were trying to get people to believe that Jesus had risen, why have the first witnesses be women, whose testimony was not valid in that culture?
- If the gospel writers fabricated the story of the resurrection, why did they make themselves look so bad in it? Why make up that they spent some of the Last Supper with their leader arguing over which of them was the greatest (Luke 22:24)? Why admit that they fled in fear after he was arrested (Matthew 26:56)? Why say that they didn’t believe the reports of the women that Jesus was alive (Luke 24:11-12)? Or that even after Jesus appeared to them over a course of 40 days some of the disciples continued to doubt him (Mathew 28:17)? It is a bit odd that these men would concoct a story of Jesus’ resurrection but also willingly tarnish their own reputations in the process.
- How can the disciples have claimed that the tomb was empty… if it was not? Couldn’t the soldiers have just rolled the stone away to show that his body was still there? If the tomb was not empty, where are all the outcries from the Roman guards and Pontius Pilate and Jesus’ opponents saying “the stone wasn’t rolled away, I saw his body in there myself!”
4. Your life and the lives of other Christians testify to the reality of the resurrection.
It was powerful to be in the sanctuary this past Sunday and listen to those who were about to be baptized give testimony to a life changed by Jesus. I don’t know about you, but I could sense God’s Spirit moving among us that morning. My life has changed dramatically since I first called on the name of Jesus 22 years ago. Other people I know have experienced life transformations that they cannot explain other than to say “God did it.”
Romans 10:9 says “If you declare with your mouth ‘Jesus is Lord’, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” Perhaps it is still too much of a leap for you to believe in the reality of the resurrection. I ask you then, do you want to believe? Does your heart long to believe in Jesus? Sometimes I can relate to the man who said to Jesus “Lord, I believe… help me with my unbelief (Mark 9:24).” God doesn’t just want head/fact based belief. He wants us to believe in our hearts – to want to believe. He wants our hearts to influence our actions, our lives, and the lives of those around us.
This week, as we lead up to Easter, may you live out the power of Jesus’ resurrection in your everyday life.