Imagine appearing in court. You are called into the witness box, and the questions from both prosecutor and defence are thrown at you, but you cannot substantiate what you say with evidence. Everything you say is just hearsay, so-called facts what other people say they have heard about and they think might be the truth.
No evidence, no witness, no case, no truth, no one is going anywhere, situation remains the same, nothing accomplished: the system is useless and dead. Expect no righteousness, no justice, no remedy.
If the Bible has got it wrong with the open grave and resurrection of Christ, there is just no Christianity left. To be precise, the entire Old Testament would be false, the words of Christ would be false, God would be false in sending an angel to tell a lie, the women would have spread a lie, Peter would have spread a lie, Jesus would be nothing more than a deceiver with unbridled megalomania, all the apostles would have laboured for nothing, all martyrs through the ages would died for nothing, we would believe in nothing and for no reason, and when we die we all go nowhere. Life would have been meaningless, faith would have been meaningless and death would have been meaningless.
But the good news is we have evidence; and that makes al the difference, not only for us who believe, but also for those who stubbornly reject the evidence.
The prophetic witnesses – for the Bible tells me so
We dwelled on this point last week and saw that from the first book in the Bible everything following man’s fall not sin, God did not abandon sinful man. His eternal plan of redemption by providing atonement for their sins, pointed to someone who would meet the righteousness of God and provide a complete atonement to restore paradise again.
The prophetic witness of the Old Testament all pointed to the Messiah, the Christ who by his atoning death and glorious resurrection restore man by paying for sin, destroy death and its consequence, who defeat the enemies of God and his people, who would restore paradise, and be King, Priest and Prophet.
The sacrificial system was incomplete and could not atone for sin: it called for the blood and life of a perfect Lamb and a perfect Priest.
The people whom God called to lead the people into the Promised Land were sinful and only partly successful. The result was constant wars and conflict. God then used the land itself to turn against the people with pests, plagues, famine, droughts and floods. It called for a perfect Redeemer.
The promise made to the house of David could only be fulfilled by the perfect King, Jesus Christ, who is pictured in the prophets as the suffering Servant.
The prophets were false and mislead God’s people. Those who remained true to the message of God were killed, or their message was rejected.
If the Bible has got it wrong about the resurrection of Christ, the message of the Old Testament was wrong and is nothing but a lie.
The message fulfilled – for the Bible tells me so
The angel at the open grave
He proclaimed that Jesus is alive and would not be found with the dead. He proclaimed what Jesus had been telling the disciples all along, that He would, according to the Scriptures, be handed over to be killed, but that He would rise again on the third day.
If the angel had it wrong, God and Jesus had it wrong, both would be deceivers, Jesus would still be in the grave, and the church would now be living in fools paradise.
The two Mary’s saw Him, heard Him, touched Him and worshipped Him. And that is what they told the others.
The disciples of Emmaus
These two people had in effect the same experience as the Mary’s: their faith was lacking, and their expectation crushed. But they saw the risen Christ, spoke to Him, heard Him teach them to open their eyes, and ate with him.
When the two disciples we just heard about hurried back to where the Twelve and other disciples had been gathered with the intention to tell them the good news and that the women had it right all the time, they then were told the Jesus had appeared to Simon. The angels, the women, the two disciples, and now Paul had seen Him, talked to Him and heard Him. Their eyewitness account agrees.
Then, suddenly, Jesus was in their midst. Now they could see, hear, touch and witness that what the prophets, angels, and all the other said about Him was indeed true. To them, what was just happening to them, was too good to be true, and they still had their doubts.
In the room behind closed doors
What they were witnessing was no phantasy: it was Christ. He invited them to touch Him, look at Him. He was no spirit. It was, in his own words, “It is I myself.”
It was no hallucination: Not only did the disciples not expect this, they didn’t even believe it at first: neither Peter, nor the women, nor Thomas, nor the eleven. They thought He was a ghost; He had to eat something to prove He was not. Hallucinations do not eat. The resurrected Christ did, on at least two occasions.
They also spoke with him, and he spoke back. Figments of your imagination do not hold profound, extended conversations with you. He conversed with many people in the forty days between his resurrection and Ascension (Acts 1:3).
The apostles could not have believed in a “hallucination” if Jesus’ corpse had still been in the tomb. This is very simple and telling point; for if it was a hallucination, where was the body? They would have checked for it; if it was there, they could not have believed that He had risen. Moreover, if the apostles had hallucinated and then spread their unsubstantiated story, the Jews would have stopped it by producing the body, unless the disciples had stolen it, in which case we have a conspiracy theory and all its difficulties. A hallucination would explain only the post-resurrection appearances; it would not explain the empty tomb, the rolled-away stone, or the inability to produce the body. No theory can explain all these data except a real resurrection.
If the resurrection was a lie, the Jews would surely have produced the corpse and nipped this feared superstition in the bud. All they had to do was go to the tomb and get it. The Roman soldiers and their leaders were on their side, not the disciples’. And if the Jews couldn’t get the body because the disciples stole it, how did they do that? Was it possible for unarmed, unbelieving fisherman to overpower Roman soldiers or rolled away a great stone while they slept on duty?
On the Mountain in Galilee
Then Jesus appeared to them on the mountain in Galilee. Even some at that point had some doubts. The risen Christ there declared to them that all authority was given to Him in heaven and on earth.
The Five Hundred
The five hundred saw Christ together, gathered at the same time and place. This is even more remarkable than five hundred private “hallucinations” at different times and places of the same Jesus. Five hundred separate Elvis sightings may be dismissed, but if five hundred simple fishermen in Maine saw, touched and talked with him at once, in the same town, that would be a different matter.
Over five hundred is about as public as you can wish. Paul says in 1Corinthians 15:6 that most of the five hundred were still alive when he wrote the letter, inviting any reader to check the truth of the story by questioning the eyewitnesses. He could never have done this and gotten away with it, given the power, resources and numbers of his enemies, if it were not true.
James initially did not believe that the man he grew up with in the same house, could be the Messiah. God did a mighty work in his life and he later calls himself “a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ.” He became the leader of the church in Jerusalem.
Our Lord appeared to Paul too. He was the apostle who persecuted the church and put believers in jail. This was the reason for his mission to Damascus when our Lord appeared to him and changed is life forever. From being a persecutor this man became an apostle, mighty in deed and word. He testified before Agrippa of the Christ he worshipped:
“… I stand here testifying both to small and great, saying nothing but what the prophets and Moses said would come to pass: that the Christ must suffer and that, by being the first to rise from the dead, He would proclaim light both to our people and to the Gentiles.” (Acts 26:22–23, ESV)
Here we have it from the Bible: people who were witnesses of the resurrection of Christ preached a resurrected Christ and they lived a resurrected Christ. They willingly died for what some lightly refer to as a conspiracy. Nothing proves sincerity like martyrdom. Their lives changed from living fear to marching out in faith; from runaway cowards they changed to steadfast bold witnesses who under threat and persecution proved their sincerity. Can a lie cause such a transformation?
The message proclaimed – for the Bible tells me so
Does this grab you, my dear friend? Does the empty tomb excite you? Does it give you a peace that transcends all understanding to know that all those who witnessed his resurrection told the same story and that their story is what the prophets and the Psalm wrote about? What do you make of if that the apostles and other after them made this their main message, and that they were willing to die for it? Listen to what Paul writes:
“… that I may know Him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like Him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.” (Philippians 3:8–11, ESV)
Christ took his disciples right through the Old Testament, beginning from Moses, through the prophets and the Psalms. This teaching probably happened during the forty days He appeared to them before He ascended into heaven. Most probably on the same mountain in Galilee He taught them what is known as the Sermon on the Mount. What He did to fulfil the Law, and what He did to deal with sin and death, is their message:
“This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. (Luke 24:46–48, NIV)
What spurred them on? They knew it was the truth, attested by the Old Testament, by Christ, by the angels, by hundreds of people, and by the Spirit of God in their hearts. They also did it because they understood something about repentance and forgiveness of sin, so that when they worshipped Christ, they became witnesses of the truth about Him. They became obedient to his mission. They understood that the message of Christ and his victory over hell, sin satan and death makes all the difference. They were in the grip of grace, and they could not keep it to themselves.
Where do we stand?
Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on 3 April 2016