BELIEVE IT OR NOT SERMON SERIES
WAS THE RESURRECTION REAL?
APRIL 4, 1999
People who know me pretty well know that I love to ask questions. Bunches of them. I remember as a child, people would come up to me and say, “Ed, you ask too many questions. Listen. Don’t ask so many questions.” This questioning thing must be genetic because our four children love to ask questions. Bunches of questions. Now and then when my wife, Lisa, and I are taking the clan on a road trip, we will place a question quota on each of our four children. We will limit them to about three apiece. Usually after five minutes or so, all the questions have been used up and we drive in silence.
If you like to ask questions, you have come to the right place this Easter weekend. But don’t worry. I am not going to put a question quota on you because we are launching a brand new series about questions. I know that in an audience this size we have a lot of people who believe in the resurrection of our Lord. You accept the fact that 2,000 years ago, Jesus died on the cross and rose again. But if you were backed into a corner, but if someone really pressed the issue you would have a hard time giving them the evidence and the data that supports your beliefs.
Some here showed up at the Fellowship Church because it is the thing to do on this religious day. You purchased a new outfit, corralled the kids together for a little church, a little candy and a little brunch. You keep Jesus and the things of the church at a safe distance and you sort of accept the resurrection deal. But you still have these lingering questions, these doubts that haunt you.
We also have some skeptics here, some people who don’t buy into the resurrection at all. You are saying, “Resurrection, that has got to be a myth or some mumbo jumbo made up by a bunch of delusional disciples of Christ two millennia ago. I don’t believe it.” If you are a skeptic, I challenge you to become a thinking skeptic. Don’t be a skeptic just because a professor told you this, or maybe an author told you that. Study the evidence for yourself.
So today, I have got some great news for you. Our God wants and welcomes your questions. He really does. God wants us to think and to probe and to dissect His truth. Nowhere in the Bible does God tell us to strip off our intellect and take a blind swan dive into the abyss of faith. It is not there. Nowhere in the Bible does God tell us to check our minds and brains and reasoning power at the door like we check our bags before we board a flight at DFW. God wants us to question. He was always and is always revealing Himself to believers and skeptics alike. So, today, you are going to hear a message from somebody who loves to ask questions. I am going to ask you some questions, questions that I have asked, about the greatest fact in history, the bodily resurrection of Christ.
Secular and Christian historians pretty much accept the fact that Jesus was born in Bethlehem, grew up in Nazareth, claimed to be the Son of God and went around teaching thousands. Most also accept the fact that He was arrested, tried, convicted and crucified between two common thieves, then placed in a tomb under Roman guard. But it is the next 72 hours where sides are divided up and lines are drawn in the sand. Some accept, using the classical historical method, that Jesus conquered the grave. Some believe that He burst forth with resurrection power and appeared to numerous people and then ascended to be with the Father.
Others don’t believe it. They say that dead men don’t rise, the moon is not made of cheese and the Mavericks don’t win championships. They say it is categorically and mathematically and scientifically impossible for someone to conquer death, for someone to burst forth with resurrection power. To you, maybe Jesus was just another man with a Messiah complex who made a brief appearance across the stage of human history. Check out the data. Do the research. Skeptic, this series, I believe, will change your life. Hey, Christ followers, this series will change your life because it will ground you and give you great confidence as you rightly articulate the facts for yourself and for others.
Let’s look at the first question. The first question that you have got to ask about the resurrection is something I refer to as the vacancy question. You have got to say, what about the empty tomb? You know the tomb was empty. And speaking about the empty tomb, a couple of years ago my sister-in-law told me a hilarious story. Some friends had a little guy who was to play an angel in an Easter play. He was to emerge from the empty tomb with little wings on and say these words. “He is not here. He is risen.” He really practiced these lines over and over again. The night of the performance he emerged from the empty tomb, kind of choked a little bit, and said, “He is not here. He is risen. If you would please leave your name, number and time of call, he will get back to you as soon as possible.”
Ed, I know why the tomb was empty. I have got the vacancy question down cold, man. The disciples took the body. A bunch of rag-tag, perch-jerking, faith-floundering men overpowered the best trained soldiers on the planet, pushed aside a boulder that twenty men couldn’t push, took the mummy of the Messiah, buried Him, got together at Starbucks or somewhere and devised a plan. They decided to pull a big one on everybody. They decided to lie, to tell everyone that Jesus came back from the grave. Put your hands together if you are in. Yea, yea.
Right after the empty tomb was discovered, right after the disciples saw Jesus, they began preaching on street corners and at temples and immediately they were sawed in two, fed to the lions and used as candelabras. Not once, when the saw was being sharpened, not once, when the lions were growling, not once when the match was being lit did they say, “Just joking, just kidding. We really came up with the whole deal at Starbucks. Jesus’ body is buried in a field outside of Jerusalem. We were just joking. We are not for real.” People will not die for a lie.
I’ve got it, Ed. Maybe the Roman officials and the Jewish power brokers took the body. That’s pretty good. I have asked the same question. But, if they had taken the body, the moment everybody started the resurrection talk, they could have produced the body. There was a problem. They couldn’t produce the body because they didn’t have the body. And even Christ’s opponents never said the tomb was occupied. Something happened. Resurrection power occurred. Believe it or not.
There is something else about this account that gives great validity to the Biblical record. It concerns women. Females were the first ones to discover the empty tomb. Now in our culture, you would say what does that matter. Back in Biblical times, women were treated as second class citizens. They couldn’t even testify in a court of law. Talk about discrimination, if you were a woman, whoa, whoa, whoa. Yet the gospel writers record for us that it was the women who discovered Jesus. Now, if they were trying to do the hoax thing, to make up a fabrication, the last person they would have ever mentioned would have been a woman. In their culture, that would make them lose credibility right up front. It shows the accuracy of the Bible. The vacancy question is one we have got to ponder.
Let’s go to the next question. I call it the flatline question. Was Jesus dead or not? Had He flatlined on the cross or not. Some have said that He was probably unconscious, or perhaps He was given some kind of drug to make Him look dead. Then when they took His body, after wrapping it up like a mummy with 75 to 100 pounds of spices, maybe then when He was put in the cool tomb, the air revived Him and He pushed aside the boulder that twenty people couldn’t move and overpowered the Roman guard and then appeared to the disciples. Maybe that is what happened. That theory is known as the swoon theory. When people go down that trail, they usually are ignorant to historical data.
Medical expert, C. Truman Davis, researched what happens when someone goes through the whole process of crucifixion. And let me warn you. What I am going to say is graphic, but it is graphic for a reason. Let me draw your attention to John 19:1. I used to skim over the verse all the time as a young believer, but not today. “Then Pilot took Jesus and had Him flogged.” What happened when someone was flogged? Jesus was tied to a post and a whip with lead balls and razor sharp bone sewed into the leather was used. This came across His back, His shoulders and His legs thirty-nine times. Many people, who were to be crucified, never made it past the flogging. After the flogging, Christ would have been admitted to any ICU ward in the metroplex. Read the quote from a third century historian by the name of Eucevus on the side screen. “The sufferers veins were laid bare, the very muscles and tendons and bowels of the victim were laid open to exposure.” After that they put His body on the cross and they took five to seven inch spikes and nailed them through His wrists crushing the median nerve, the largest nerve emerging from the hand. Then they nailed His feet to the cross and then they erected the cross. When it fell into the hole dug for it, the flesh ripped and the pain and the agony was indescribable. People who were crucified died because they suffocated. They could breath in, but they couldn’t breath out. You see, to breath out, the sufferer had to push his or her feet on the spikes, rub the lacerated back against the coarse cross just to exhale. And to expedite death, the Roman soldiers would usually shatter the shins of people being crucified. But they took a spear and thrust it into the side of Jesus and the Bible says that a clear fluid came out followed by blood. Any physician will tell you that that is a sign of death. And this occurred before they were to shatter His shins. So no one came down from the cross alive. It didn’t happen. Yet the flatline question is OK to ask.
The next question I call the cameo question. How many people here have ever checked out an Alfred Hitchcock video? The thing about him that is interesting is he loved to make cameo appearances. I have some more movie trivia. How many of you saw the movie entitled Staying Alive? This will date me now. Not Saturday Night Fever, Staying Alive. That was when Travolta got all buff and everything. Remember that? Do you remember that scene when Travolta is walking down the street with some BeeGee’s music playing. He bumped into a guy with a fur coat on and the guy turned around and it was Sly Stallone. He made a brief cameo appearance in that movie. Jesus did not make some Alfred Hitchcock, Sly Stallone type brief cameo appearance on the stage of human history after His resurrection. No, He appeared twelve times to many, many people, large groups, small groups, indoors and outdoors, to skeptics and believers. The risen Lord locked eyes with human beings to show again the validity of His resurrection. And the Apostle Paul wrote these words in I Corinthians 15: 3-6. “Christ appeared to Peter and then to the twelve. And after that He appeared to more than 500 of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living.” Paul was saying, you don’t have to buy what I am saying, just talk to the 500 who saw Him at one time.
You may be saying that you can explain that one, that all these people were hallucinating. They were all primed and pumped for the resurrection. No, they weren’t. The bodily resurrection went against everything that the Jewish culture stood for. Psychologists say that 500 people having the same hallucination at the same time about the same thing would have been a greater miracle than the bodily resurrection of Christ Himself. That didn’t even happen at Woodstock, did it? How many lawyers do we have in the service? Don’t be shy. See, the lawyers are lying. No one is raising his or her hand. I am kidding. One of my closest friends is a lawyer. Anyway. Let’s say that we could turn this stage into a courtroom setting. And let’s say that we could take the 515 witnesses that are documented in the New Testament and parade them across this stage. Let’s say the finest attorneys from the Fellowship Church could cross-examine each one for 15 minutes. Wouldn’t that be cool? Guess how long we would be here. We would be here today, tonight, Monday, Monday night, Tuesday, Tuesday night, Wednesday, Wednesday night, Thursday, Thursday night and we still wouldn’t be through. And I ask you, how many here, after hearing all of the eyewitness reports and the attorney’s cross-examinations would still say you do not buy in. All you have got to do is use the classical historical method, the method used for any historical event, and the resurrection holds an incredible amount of water. The evidence, as Josh McDowell says, demands a verdict. It demands a verdict.
Another question let’s ask is the 180 question. Think about the life change that has taken place for over 2,000 years in the prevailing New Testament church. Think one more time about the disciples. When Christ was crucified and buried, they were scattering. The Bible says that they were hiding. Simon Peter would have gone by Bass Pro Shop, to Lake Grapevine and back to fishing. The physician, Luke, probably wanted to get back to his practice to make some more money. Matthew, the tax collector, was probably thinking of hooking up again with the IRS. These guys had life change. They did a 180. They turned from cowards into courageous, committed people proclaiming the name of Christ. Skeptics have to deal with the prevailing New Testament church. Millions upon millions of people from every culture, every tribe, every walk of life say the same thing. I was looking for meaning and purpose. I didn’t find it until one day I understood that God loved me so much He sent Christ to die on the cross for my sins and rise again. I have applied that into my life and I am forgiven, am cleansed. I have a clear conscience, a power and a significance that I never thought possible and it is because of Jesus.
Local skeptics have had to deal with what has occurred at the Fellowship Church. Nine years ago we began in a rented office complex with 150 people and today we will have over 13,000 people in attendance. I say that with all humility. We don’t give away fifty-dollar bills or Frappachinos around here. What do we do? We simply take the Bible and teach it and communicate it in a compelling way to the preschoolers, the children, the students, the singles and the married adults. People come and they come in droves. I can’t explain it. It is a God thing. But people have got to ask. What is going on at the Fellowship Church?
If you missed last weekend, you missed one of the greatest services in the history of our church. We had the stage plastered with people who have done 180s. And you would not believe the diversity and what they said about what God has done in their lives. What do you do with the 180 thing? I am not talking about just reading a self-help book or listening to some glassy-eyed guru or going to an Anthony Robins seminar. No, no, no. We are talking about a personal connection and relationship with the living Lord.
Maybe some of you can identify with Thomas, one of the twelve. You remember Thomas. I love Thomas because he was a questioner. All of his friends were saying, I saw Jesus. I had breakfast with Him. Thomas said, I am not buying in. I am not going to buy in until I see Jesus face to face, until I can touch the scars from the nails in His wrists and feet. Then I will believe. If I see Him and can touch those scars. Seven days tick off the clock and guess who showed up? The risen Lord. He looked at Thomas and said, “Peace, be still.” It means, stop wigging. I’m kidding. It doesn’t mean that. No, Christ was saying to calm down. Jesus was telling him to touch the nail scars, feel His side. And Thomas’ response is the same response that I pray many will have this weekend. Thomas said in John 20, “My Lord, and my God.” And in verse 29, here is what Jesus said. “Because you have seen me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” Those words are to you and to me. Blessed are those who have not seen and believed. But the great news is, we have the evidence. We have the data. We can dissect it. We can probe it. We can check it out. Believe it or not.
This series will radically change the lives of many Christ followers, I believe. Your faith and my faith will be built to a powerful level as we talk through and answer these questions. If you are a skeptic or a seeker, be a thinking one. Do the study yourself. The Bible can take your scrutiny. Go for it. You will be richly rewarded.
Ephesians 1:19 & 20 says, “I pray that you will begin to understand how incredibly great His power is to help those who believe in Him. It is that same mighty power that raised Christ from the dead.” Man, I love that. The same power that brought Christ back from the grave is available in your marriage and mine, in your career and mine, with your friendships and mine, with your temptations and mine. Tap into the power. Tap into it.
Several years ago I had an intense conversation with a skeptic about the Christian faith. As we were walking out of his house toward my car, he looked at me and said, “Ed, I appreciate you taking the time to share with me the claims of Christ. But I have got to be honest with you. I believe in all of the ten major world religions and what they have to offer. I believe in them all.” I answered, “I appreciate your honesty with me. But there is one thing that separates Christianity from all other major world religions. You can travel to the tombs of the major world religious leaders and every tomb is occupied but one. Several years ago I stood in front of the only empty tomb of any world religious leader and His name is Jesus. I don’t know about you, but I don’t worship dead guys. I worship the man who is alive.”
About one second after I die and he dies, one of us is going to be wrong. I am putting my money and my life on the one who came back from the grave. But the bottom line is, we either believe it or not. Believe it or not.