QUESTIONS FOR GOD
QUESTION #1 – GOD, ARE YOU REALLY UP THERE?
PASTOR ED YOUNG
APRIL 12, 1992
April 15, 1865, President Abraham Lincoln, as he was watching at Ford’s Theater, was cut down by an assassin’s bullet. This is a unilaterally accepted historical fact. We all believe that without a doubt. I also believe that George Washington crossed the Delaware, that Napoleon Bonaparte ruled, that Constantine the Great reigned in A.D. 300, that Christopher Columbus stumbled onto a New World. Why do I believe those things? Why do we say, “Ed, no doubt about it, I believe all of the following historical events you just described?” Because we study history. We study history.
I want to ask you a brief question. How many of you were in Ford’s Theater 127 years ago and saw John Wilkes Booth take the life of Abraham Lincoln? Would you lift your hand? Anyone with George as he crossed the Delaware? Constantine the Great? No one. Folks, don’t strain your eyes because no one, not one of us, was there. But we believe history and by using the Classical Historical Method, by talking to eyewitnesses and writers after they’d talked to eyewitnesses, recorded what the eyewitnesses say, they weave the stories together and we call that stuff, if you did poorly in History…stuff, “History.” History.
There have been some amazing things occur on the historical record. I cannot comprehend 6 million Jews being exterminated in World War II, Idi Amin taking the life of 200,000 people in Uganda. Acts of bravery—we see on CNN, time and time again, a father or a fireman rescuing a child from a stream. The historical record.
But far and away the greatest historical fact ever recorded by secular historians and Christian historians would be the Resurrection of Jesus Christ of Nazareth. Most of us, when we hear that Christ rose again say, “Dead men don’t rise, Ed. It’s impossible. Yes, I can believe the miraculous things in History, but the impossible? Dead men coming back to life? Come on! I was born at night, but not last night. Give me a break! Dead men rise? No way! No way!”
It’s fascinating that we accept the Classical Historical Method in everything that’s been recorded and especially along the life of Jesus Christ except when we get to the Resurrection. Some historians go this way; some historians go that way. Those who know Christ say, “Yes, I will accept the Classical Historical Method—many, many witnesses, hundreds of lives being changed. I see that Christ did indeed rise again. I see from extra-biblical literature and from the Bible that indeed this was fact. But you have some who are skeptics say, “No way. Dead men don’t rise.” In the brief moments that remain, I want to build a case for the historical, bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Now, there are four types of people here this morning. There are the Jean-Claude Van Damme Christians. You’re confident. You’re saying, “Ed, give me a break, man. I know that Jesus Christ is real. He transformed my life. He changed my family. He paid for my sins. I talked to Him this morning. Jesus and I, we are tight. You don’t have to go through all the historical spade work to show me that He rose again. I believe it. I accept it. I am confident.”
Then we have the Don Knotts type Christian, “Don’t. I don’t want to see the ancient documents or the Bible because it might make my faith kind of falter or it might make me doubt. I want to protect my Christianity and there’s no way you can really get into the history and this ancient literature and show me that Christ rose again. I’m sorry.”
Then we have the skeptics. I call these the Open Skeptics. Those are the people that say, “You know, it’s difficult for me to comprehend a dead man coming back to life, but if you will show me the documents, if you will show me the evidence, I will weigh the evidence and I will come to my own conclusion,” and I pray that’s you if you are a skeptic.
There’s also what I call the Ostrich Skeptic. One of my friends has a ranch outside of San Antonio and he has a fleet of ostriches, real birds. And I used to think ostriches were docile and tame because I’ve seen Jim Fowler and Marlin Perkins play with them, but these ostriches, they live behind a 12 foot, reinforced steel fence and they will come after you. They will try to peck your head, and I used to kind of get behind the fence and the ostrich and go back and forth and the ostrich would just kind of you know, run! But I saw one ostrich walk over to some loose sand, bury his head in the sand! Some skeptics are ostrich skeptics. They say, “I don’t want to hear about this. I’m just here because it’s Easter. I might have a new suit on or a new dress and it’s raining outside. I just want to hear a little bit…maybe Christ…well, I don’t want to hear about it. I’m kind of an ornery, ostrich-type skeptic.”
But then let me add, there could be a fifth person, the spiritual fog person. You say, “I could believe it. I might not believe it. I’m kind of in a spiritual fog.” But the question I would like to ask you is, “Wouldn’t you like to have the fog lifted today and know once and for all, “Did Christ rise? Is it a historical fact or not?”
So let’s take now the Classical Historical Method, apply it to the Resurrection—remember, eyewitness accounts of past event—and we’ll collect those accounts, and see if Jesus did rise again. I want to direct your attention to the Bible, 1 Corinthians 15:1. I want to read Verse 13. This is the Apostle Paul writing to the church at Corinth, and here’s what Paul says. Paul says, we realize that Christ predicted publicly and privately that he would rise from the dead, and—listen to these words—“If there is no resurrection, then not even Christ has been raised, and if Christ has not been raised our preaching is useless and so is your faith.”
Paul’s saying, “Don’t get angry at Christians if you think it’s false. Pity the Christians. Feel sorry for them.” And if Christianity is not real, folks, I am the fool of fools because I teach biblical Christianity. If it’s not true, well, so be it. But if it is true, the Bible says we will all meet Jesus face-to-face and look at Him square in the eye, and it will matter how we viewed the Resurrection. It will matter.
So, we’re talking about the most important event in history. “Is anyone out there? Is anyone out there? Is God up there?” we wonder. We can disprove or prove God by studying the Resurrection. If you stay with us over the next five or six weeks, skeptics, Christians, ostrich people, spiritual fog people, I believe that you and I will discover the answers we have to many questions we want to ask God, and these questions are the kind of questions that Arsenio Hall says make you go, “Hmm!” Know what I mean? “God, why is there suffering in the world? Did you really rise from the dead? Why do bad things happen to good people? How about all this sin in the world? Is there such a thing as hell? How about heaven, God?”
But I want to assure you something—it’s impossible to prove beyond a shadow of doubt, the existence of God. That’s an unrealistic expectation. We don’t put that kind of expectation on the judicial system of the United States, but the jury does say this when they hand the verdict down. They say, “He is guilty. She is guilty. He is not guilty. She is not guilty beyond a—what’s the word—no, not shadow, reasonable doubt. I thought it was shadow of a doubt. Someone in the front row said, “Beyond a shadow of a doubt.” No, it’s beyond a reasonable doubt.
I’m on Southwest Airlines. I have a boarding pass. My destination is Houston, Texas. It’s like a cattle car going back and forth. I jump on Southwest Airlines, elbow for my seat. I sit down and I know in my mind, you know there’s a great chance this plane will land in Houston. I don’t have much of a doubt, maybe a tiny doubt, but I believe this plane will land in Houston, and it usually does.
But we make decisions time and time again where we weigh the evidence, don’t we? And we act beyond a reasonable doubt on many things in our lives. You get paid. We take the paycheck, and if you’re smart, you deposit the paycheck in the bank. But are you sure the bank’s doors will be open? Especially nowadays, the bank could be closed! But you’re pretty much sure beyond a reasonable doubt. And again as we grab and grasp and grapple with the evidence of the Resurrection, I believe if you’re open and you take this evidence, it will tip the scales of probability towards the existence of God.
Let’s start off with some common ground concerning the Resurrection. Secular historians, ostrich skeptics, open skeptics, whatever skeptic or person you are, everyone agrees, even the Encyclopedia Britannica agrees, that Jesus was born in Bethlehem. He grew up in Nazareth of Galilee. He claimed to be the Son of God. He went around teaching thousands and thousands of people. He was arrested, tried before Pilate, whipped, tortured, spit upon, crucified between two thieves—and everyone agrees with that, a unilaterally accepted historical fact. A spear was taken and thrust into His side. Jesus was dead.
They took Christ, put hundreds of pounds of grey cloth around Him, embalmed Him with spices, took the body into a tomb, took a two ton stone and rolled the stone across the tomb. The authorities said, “Hey, I remember that Jesus, this guy who was born in Bethlehem, called Himself the Messiah. He said He would rise, He would resurrect from the dead after three days, we’d better take care of that.” So, the officials, they put the best trained, lean, mean, fighting-machine people to guard the tomb. They put the Roman seal over the tomb, kind of like a biblical burglar alarm. If anyone just touched this giant boulder, beep, beep, beep! You’re tampering with the body of Christ.
They had four or five guards standing there, and they’re thinking, “Why are we guarding the tomb of a dead man?” They ordered out from the Stop ‘N’ Go for some coffee and stuff, and they were sitting there with their spears, waiting for someone to touch them or try to get near the tomb. If these guards had fallen asleep, or had done something that was a little out of kilter, they would have been burned right there. That’s how serious it was.
So everyone agrees with this. But when Christ—still thinking about the Classical Historical Method—when Christ rose from the grave, as He said He would, and over the next forty days, He appeared ten specific times to different groups of individuals. At one time Christ appeared to over 500 people. Then after 40 days, He ascended bodily to be with the Father. Christians accept that. They say, “We’re sticking with the Classical Historical Method. There are many eyewitnesses, many accounts in the Bible and extra-biblical literature. No doubt about it; Christ rose again!
“But,” the skeptics say, “dead men, they don’t rise. It’s impossible!” If you take that view, little do you realize you are getting ready to be backed into a corner that you will have a difficult and tough time getting out of because the Christian will look a skeptic in the eye, in love, and say, “How do you explain the empty tomb? How do you explain the empty tomb, Mr. or Mrs. Skeptic?” “Hmm, the empty tomb…that’s easy! The body was stolen. The body was stolen! That’s right, the body was stolen. No doubt about that; that’s easy.”
In fact, that was talked about in the Bible, and I’ll show you where it’s talked about. Take your Bibles and turn to Matthew 27:62, “The next day, the one after preparation day, the chief priests and the Pharisees went to Pilate. ‘Sir,’ they said, ‘we remember that while He was still alive, that deceiver said, “After three days I will rise again.” So give the order for the tomb to be made secure until the third day. Otherwise, His disciples may come and steal the body and tell the people that He has been raised from the dead. This last deception will be worse than the first.”’ So he says, “’Take a guard,’ Pilate answered. ‘Go, make the tomb secure.’ So they went and made the tomb secure by putting a seal (the biblical burglar alarm), on the stone and posting the guard.”
But the skeptic says, “I bet you the body was stolen.” Now, let’s track that thought for a second. Let’s say the disciples, the pro-Jesus forces, stole the body. The disciples, a bunch of rag-tag bass fishermen. They didn’t have much faith. Peter had just denied Christ a couple of nights before three times. Thomas was a doubter. They were all broken-up, fragmented, but they came in and they overpowered these guards, the best-trained fighting machines in the world that would make the Green Berets look like little children today. That’s how mean they were. The guys went barefooted, folks. They were tough. But the disciples, let’s track the thought, they overpowered them.
They’d been working out a lot with free weights, and they pushed the two ton stone away, they grabbed the body of Christ, and they ran into the field bearing the body of Christ. They got together, “Hey guys, come here. We are going to tell the people that Jesus rose again. We’re going to make a giant fabrication. Hey, alright!” They go back to town. “Jesus has risen. He’s risen! He’s alive! Jesus is alive!”
The Bible records the minute the followers starting saying, “Hey, He appeared to me. I had breakfast with Him. I was one of the 500. I’m His follower. I was not a follower when I saw Jesus,” they began to squelch this talk. Torture. They were sawn in two, fed to the lions, pitch was put over these followers, and they were used as candelabras. Every one of the immediate followers of Christ died a martyr’s death and they died singing praises to God. People will not die for a lie! If it were some sort of fabrication, and I’m a follower of Christ and I made everything up, as they were wheeling me to the coliseum and I hear the lions going, “Grrrr”, I would go, “Ha, just kidding. Just a joke.” But that didn’t happen.
The skeptic again says, “Well, the disciples didn’t steal it. I know who stole it. I know! The Jewish or Roman officials, they took the body. They took the body.” But that’s difficult to comprehend, because if the Roman officials and Jewish officials stole the body, the moment everyone starting freaking out saying, “He is risen,” (these weak fishermen are now bold people) all they would have to do is say, “Time out! At 12 noon, we will show the body of Christ right there by the gate of the city.” They couldn’t do it because they didn’t have the body. The grave, the tomb was empty.
So, how about the empty tomb? That’s a question that’s worth thinking about. But I will even give you some more evidence. What do you do, Mr. or Mrs. Skeptic, with the post-Resurrection appearances? What do you do with that? Ten specific times. Christ was seen at one time by over 500 people.
But skeptics are saying, “Ed, listen, I can tell you went to Florida State because Jesus just appeared to those who loved Him. They just had some kind of hallucination or something. That’s what happened!” But Jesus appeared to the Skeptic of skeptics; his name was Thomas. And let’s take our Bibles and turn to John 20:24. Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, John 20:24, “Now Thomas, called Didymus, was not with the disciples when Jesus came.” That’s one of His post-Resurrection appearances, so the other disciples told him, “Thomas, we have seen the Lord. We saw Christ! We saw Him!”
But here’s Mr. Skeptic—he was an ostrich-type skeptic—he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks on His hands and put my finger where the nails were and put my hand into His side, I’m not going to believe it, guys. Give me a break. I saw Him beaten. I saw Him crucified. I saw Him wrapped in all the grave cloth, and I saw the spices. I saw the guards. No way! No way! He’s going to have to come here, and I’m going to have to put my hand in the nail prints and press my hand and check where He was pierced in the side for me to believe.” And the following verses—I believe Christ had some post-Resurrection humor—Verse 26, a week later, His disciples were in the house again and Thomas was with them and still saying, “No way! All this talk, guys. Chill! It didn’t happen.”
“Though the doors were locked Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’” Can’t you imagine Thomas? Here he is with all of the followers of Christ. He had said, “No way. No way. I’m going to have to see Him,” and all of a sudden, Jesus appears and Jesus probably walked and said, “Peace be still. Thomas, hey Thomas, stop shaking. It’s me. Come here. Come here, big boy. Come here. Feel the nail prints in my hands. Touch my side. Thomas, I paid the price on the cross for all of your sins. I rose again.” And what did Thomas reply? A reply that I pray all of us can say. Thomas said to Him in Verse 28, “My Lord and my God.”
Turn to 1 Corinthians, Chapter 15—a big right turn. 1 Corinthians 15, the Apostle Paul writing to the church at Corinth in A.D. 55, says these words, Paul says, “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures and that He appeared to Peter and He appeared to the twelve; after that He appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time.” And then Paul goes on to say, “most of whom are still living.”
If you have a doubt, check the evidence. See these people here? They were there. They saw Jesus. They were some of the five hundred. What could attorney do with 250 different personal witnesses on one particular case? Two hundred and fifty hours of personal testimony—you think he would win the case? This would hold true in any court, any land, any culture, whatever you want to talk about…250 hours, and that’s being conservative, of personal testimony. They wanted to see Jesus so bad that they were hallucinating. One prominent psychologist says that for 500 people to have 500 hallucinations at the same time, at the same place, over the same person, is a greater miracle than the Resurrection. So, the post-Resurrection appearances.
How about the dramatic changes in the lives of the disciples? They were different people. They were changed. The central theme of their message from that time forward was the Resurrection of Jesus, “He lives.”
The final question I would pose to the skeptic is, Mr. and Mrs. Skeptic, what do you do with the emergence of the New Testament church? For 2,000 years, skeptics have had to deal with the emergence of the New Testament. Hundreds and thousands of lives changed from
every socio-economic level, every point in history, all having that common denominator—Jesus lives! He died on the cross for all of my sins, past, present and future. I received what He did for me. Folks, we’re not talking about religion today—a man-made system of all these hoops you must jump through. Christianity is spelled D-O-N-E. The work has been done. The work is finished and we either receive the finished work, the D-O-N-E work, or not. Once you receive the work, you know Christ, I know Christ, personally.
Local skeptics have to deal with what’s going on at this church. We’ve been going what, two years, and today we have over 2,000 people here? And I say this with all humility. We don’t give away Happy Meals or $20 bills. All we do is attempt to teach that Christ took care of our sin problem and He lives today and the same power that brought Him back to life is available for your life and my life. Local skeptics have to deal with that. As I look around this Arts Center, I know so many backgrounds of miracles, miracles that have taken place. People have done 180s; it’s because of Jesus. It’s because of Him.
Sir Edward Clark made a profound statement. “As a lawyer, I have made prolonged study of the evidence for the events of the first Easter day. For me, the evidence is conclusive. Over and over again in the high court, I have secured a verdict on evidence not nearly so compelling. As a lawyer, I accept the evidence unreservedly as the testimony of truthful men to facts that they were able to substantiate. If everything is so conclusive,” he writes, “if history is so clear, why do so many people continue to disbelieve?”
Why do so many people continue to disbelieve? We accept every other historical fact. We have the biblical literature, the documents, the facts, why are there so few Christians? The answer is simplistic. Men and women, we have an aversion to bowing down. We don’t want to submit. We don’t want to go before a holy God and confess our sins to Him, so we say, “God, this is my party,” and we have the Bruce Springsteen disease, “I’m the Boss. I’ll do my own thing. I determine my own destiny. This is my life, God. I’m not willing to submit to you, even though I see all the evidence, no way! I’ll do my own thing. I know what’s best for me.”
This past week is the 80th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic, when 1,500 men, women, and children, lost their lives. About the Titanic, it was said, “God couldn’t even sink this vessel.” The Titanic was in the North Atlantic, hit an iceberg, a hole was in its side. It began to tilt and it sank.
History records the fascinating event. History records that while the Titanic was sinking—they had a gorgeous ballroom—people were seated at tables having a great time, a great party, dancing, hearing the band. They were loving it. “What a boat! There’s no way it can sink,” but the Titanic was sinking; people in mass hysteria, chaos, jumping into life rafts, some just jumping over the side of the boat, and every so often, history records a man or a woman would run through the ballroom. One of the crew would say, “Get out! Get up from your tables. Stop dancing. Band, cut it. Let’s go. The ship is sinking,” and the people said, “Hey, they told me this boat can’t sink. This is April 15th, not April Fool’s. I’m sorry. I’m staying here. This is my party.” Even though all the evidence said the Titanic was sinking, they said, “This is it. This is my table.”
Sounds a lot like some people I know. They see the evidence; they see the ship is sinking, and they say, “God, you’re not going to ruin my party. I’m sitting at my table, doing my own thing. You’re not going to ruin it. I’m staying right here even though it’s sinking. Fine. Cool. Hey, I’m sorry God.”
I feel sorry for you if you feel that way because God does not want to ruin your party. He wants to invite you—listen to me—to His party, to dine at His table, to be with His people, to have your lives transformed by the Resurrection power of the Living Lord. So He doesn’t want to ruin your party, He wants to invite you off a sinking ship to His party. God is saying, “Accept the evidence. Understand the evidence, accept it by faith, and Jesus will change your life.” The Bible talks over and over that some day, some day we will all know the Resurrection is for real. But some day for some here could be too late.