Lesson: Jesus is Alive (John 20)
By any standards, the disciples were in complete shambles. One of them the betrayer, Judas, was already dead, a suicide. The unofficial spokesman of the group Peter, the one that had declared to Jesus that although everybody my run away and hide although everyone might desert Christ that he never would.
Yet, he had failed, not just three times, but the last to the questioning of a young slave girl just hours before. We now see that this rugged brave fisherman, that just a few hours before was taking on the guards that was to take Jesus, was now cowering before a young slave girl and denying that he has ever known Christ.
And as for the rest of the disciples, to go and look for them you would discover a rejected and paralyzed company, they had enough players left for a football team, but they would have been an easy team to beat. There was no heart in them at all. They were huddled together for fear that the opponents of Christ might come now to get them. Although it would be highly unlikely since they were such an unspirited bunch. Their wind was out of their sails they were not going anywhere.
On the way up to Jerusalem, Jesus made it clear to them that He needed to suffer and die in Jerusalem. And that on the third day that he would rise from the dead. But they just did not get it.
Whatever, hopes and dreams they might have shared had been dashed and broken by the events that had so recently taken place. When they had removed themselves from the scene, they had looked at one another and said well it was fun while it lasted. But it is over now, and in a Palestinian tomb this great story of salvation had apparently come to a grinding conclusion.
See these men had no concept of a messiah that would come and die nor did they have a concept of a messiah that would rise from the dead. Their Jewish background was as such that the story that they had understood was that when the messiah had appeared He would reign forever. So how could it possibly be that Jesus was the messiah when he was so clearly not remaining forever?
He was gone. And they said to one another we had our hopes that he was the one to redeem the people of Israel but apparently not. And of the occasion that we read of in John chapter 20 they still had no way of grasping the fact from the Bible that this empty tomb was significant in relationship to the identity of Jesus Christ.
And then you allow the clock to tick and pages in the Bible to turn and you go out just seven weeks, and in just 49 days everything has changed. These same men, this paralyzed crew, this dejected bunch, are now back out on the streets of Jerusalem. It would be one thing if they had covered up their shame and are now back at work, back to tax collecting or back to fishing or back to doing whatever a zealot does.
However, it was not what they were doing at all. They were actually back on the streets declaring to the people that God had raised this Jesus to life and as Peter would say we are all witnesses of the fact. You could ask anyone of us and we would be able to tell you that this Jesus who you crucified, God has made both Lord and Christ.
Now the question is obvious to any thinking person,
What was it that turned these men from fear to feat?
What was it that transformed their paralysis to such an embolden expression of power?
What was it that took what seemed to be a Friday evening catastrophe, and turned it into a Sunday morning victory?
And what I want to suggest to you is that when you examine the circumstances, that the only reasonable explanation of the transformation of the disciples can only be traced to the resurrection of Jesus himself.
I want you to take the evidence that I give you today and act like an attorney and see if it would hold up in court. And if you watch Criminal Minds, imagine that you are on that BA Unit and you have to study the behaviors of these disciples to come to the conclusion of what really caused them to act in the way that they did.
I am going to present to you evidence that supports that the resurrection then meant that Jesus can be proclaimed as messiah after all. Remember they believed that the messiah will come and remain forever. He was gone, so therefore, he cannot be. He is back from the dead, therefore, He must be.
And the resurrection would allow them to look at the scene of humiliation on the cross, the shameful death of this Jesus and to realize that in light of the fact that he has now risen from the dead.
This explains now why Jesus was making the point that forgiveness of sins would be preached in His name. What possible forgiveness could there be in a dead messiah? But in a risen messiah, suddenly the picture is dramatically changed.
Without the resurrection, the disciples might have remembered Jesus as their beloved teacher. But there would be no basis for believing him to be their messiah. Certainly, they could have gotten together and had themselves a couple of conversations about the wonderful things that Jesus taught them.
And then a month later, have another little coffee meeting and then discuss the wonderful places that Jesus took them. But we would have never found them discussing the marvelous reality of the risen Christ and their continued presence with them, without the fact of the resurrection.
Now for some of you today that might be wondering about Christianity asking themselves what evidence if any for the resurrection of Jesus, you will find that if you go to the source text you can gather the evidence under three separate headings.
I do not have time this afternoon to go in great detail about each one of these but I just want to give them to you and if you one or two spark your interest you can look into further studies in that area yourself or you can ask me your questions later on.
First, as I have suggested that part of the evidence can be found in the origin of the disciples’ belief in the resurrection. I did not say in the disciples’ belief in the resurrection, I said in the origin of the disciples’ belief in the resurrection. What brought about the change?
Any serious investigator is going to ask,
How do these people hidden in fear, suddenly arrive 49 days later proclaiming that Jesus is alive?
And even the most skeptical critic who denies the historical event of the resurrection is still left with having to come up with some mysterious X-factor that got the movement going.
Some of you come here this afternoon saying I do not believe that the resurrection of Jesus Christ took place so that cannot possibly be the explanation of the change. Well, we will now call you to the stand to explain to us why the disciples were so radically different in such a short period of time.
The Disciples were willing to spend the rest of their lives proclaiming this, without any payoff from a human point of view. They faced a life of hardship. They often went without food, slept exposed to the elements, were ridiculed, beaten, imprisoned, and finally, all of the disciples except for John are murdered for their belief in Jesus Christ.
So how do they go from hiding in a room fearful of death to willing laying down their lives as sacrifices in order to tell others about Jesus Christ?
If you want to investigate, you have to go there to the origin of the disciples’ belief in the resurrection. If you want to investigate, you also have to consider the post-mortem appearances of Jesus. The evidence shows that the messiah was witnessed in physical bodily appearances after his death.
Of course, some claim that these were mere figments of their imaginations, or they were subjective visions. They suggest that these disciples have had these visions as a result of their faith. That it was not that these encounters with Jesus were reality but a product of wishful thinking and their faith.
What? So full of what? They were not full of faith. They thought it was over.
One of them committed suicide. One of them really tripped up. And 10 of them were sitting around in the darkness of night saying if you come back to this door make sure you do the special knock.
Because we do not want just anybody coming through that door. We just never know when someone might charge in and grab us and we will be the next ones up on that cross.
So what faith was it that produced the visions of this risen Christ?
As Jews, they never would have imagined a risen Christ who ate fish with them. Because the Jewish mind believed in the resurrection, but they believed that the resurrection would take place at the end of the world. And apparently it was not the end of the world. And they believed that the resurrection would be general in its impact and involve all people rather than it being specific involving an individual.
Therefore, if you want to argue for the fact that the disciples imagined it or created this in their minds, we will have to say that they might have imagined a translated Christ, one that God took into heavens, but they would not have imagined a risen Christ that would eat breakfast with them. Who said you can put your hands in here and touch me here and can walk the Jerusalem streets and who encountered them in such a variety of manners?
We need to lay all of the options out sift through them and pick out the best of the competing explanations to explain why the evidence is true and not otherwise. That is what you need to do. Christianity invites it.
It is prepared to standup against rigorous investigation. And the reason why some of you do not believe today is not because you did the rigorous investigation and found it empty, but because you never did the rigorous investigation.
And VBS comes and VBS goes, you walk in and you walk out. You pay little attention at what is going on and you look at the crafts and you look at the games and you look at your friend or you look at your teacher and you think to yourself, I do not see why these people are involved in this at all. Your glad the service does not last too long and you look forward to the wonderful Dinner and let us get on with our lives. That is your line of thinking, trust me I know because I have been there.
However, do you realize that your eternal destiny is hinges on this. That the events we are considering are of the most pivotal event in world history. That there has never been or will be in the whole shape of time, a more significant event than this.
That the question and the answer to the question of the empty tomb is absolutely fundamental to living life and facing death. That this is not some pointless interest that is for some people and not for others. Or, a mental crutch for weak-minded people.
So in our case for Christ’s resurrection. We have to deal with the evidence of the disciples sudden boldness, we have to deal with the post-mortem appearances of Jesus, but next we need to deal with the evidence of the empty tomb. The amount of evidence that supports the empty tomb is vast. Again, if this is your hang up additional study will be fruitful for you.
For example, when you look at this material with an open mind the burial story itself is historically credible. I mean this is one of the questions you should be asking as an unbeliever, is there any credibility in this at all? Or does this give me the impression as I read it that somehow a group of individuals went in a room and came out with a religious idea and they hang it on the cross of Jesus Christ?
Well then, you are a sensible person. You must look at the evidence, you must read it, and you know what you will discover? You will discover that not only is this a book that is capable of your investigation of it. But you will discover that when you read it that this book is actually investigating you. You will discover that the person that wrote this book made you. And that this is actually a handbook that explains you existence.
It will be a wonderful day when you take it out of the glove box and you will see answer to the question,
why am I am the way that I am?
I wonder if there is an answer to death?
I wonder if there is an explanation of life?
I wonder what the matter of this empty tomb is?
And you will discover for example that the story of the tomb makes perfect sense. A well-known man comes and asks for the body saying I have an empty tomb can I have the body to place him there? The women did what women did at that time. It was customary for them to be the embalmers the carriers of spice. There were no conflicting reports concerning the burial of Jesus. And in fact, the awareness of the tombs location was apparently something that everyone could have went to. If there was a body in the tomb, it would have been impossible for the resurrection story to survive for five minutes.
How could these men go out and say Jesus is a live if they are giving tours of his tomb with the body still in it? Also, the empty tomb is recorded as being discovered first by women. In that context under Roman rule women did not have a vote. And in Jewish culture they could not even give testimony in a court of law. Shepherds could not either. And the women were regarded as the lowest, when it came to these matters.
And yet you read the story and what does it say, early in the morning while it was still dark Mary Magdalene came to the tomb. Let us imagine for a second that we are putting together a mythology story. And we are sitting in a room, and I decide to make my contribution to the discussion and say that early in the morning Mary Magdalene went to the tomb.
Any sensible person is going to say no do not say Mary Magdalene went to the tomb, well I say what about his mother Mary? No, they are going to say, do not say a woman went to the tomb. Say a man went into the tomb, because no one is going to believe a testimony of a woman. I mean if we are going to make a fiction let us make it a good fiction. Do not say the least credible person in Roman and Jewish law, try to make up the most credible person to support your myth.
Therefore, the fact that it is the women that go into the tomb points to the fact that it is historically true. Otherwise, we have to believe that the formulators of this non-sense determined that it would be a good idea to take the leaders of the Christian church and to right from the beginning, humiliate them as cowards by writing that they were cowards hiding in a room scared, while the big brave women were out tending to Jesus.
The earliest Jewish arguments support this. When the Jews came to the tomb, they did not say it is not empty, they instead accuse the disciples of stealing the body. This proves that the tomb was empty by the argument that they present.
If they could have shown that the tomb was not empty, that would have been far easier than coming up with this notion of the disciples going out to steal the body. It is actually very difficult to object to the empty tomb on historical grounds. Those that object to it do so for other reasons.
Get on the bus and go home until the next VBS and this is the kind of thing that you are going to hang your hat on. And I want to ask you do you really want to do that? You say the reason why the tomb was empty was not because Jesus had risen from the dead but because the disciples had stolen the body.
First of all, why would they steal the body? Secondly, where would they put it? And thirdly, why would they hit the streets with a lie and get themselves killed for it? I will gladly take that one in a court of law. I would be glad to deal with that one.
Some of you do not believe because you believe that the women were at the wrong tomb. I will take that one as well. What are the chances of a mother forgetting her child’s place of burial?
Some of you believe that he was not really dead. You believe that once he got in the cold tomb he revived and had a bowl of cereal and then hit the Jerusalem streets. Are you really going to lay your hat on the fact that the Romans were proficient killers, but just so happened to make a mistake with Jesus? And that a limping bloody Jesus convinced his disciples that he had been resurrected?
Let me say to you as I draw to a close that those kind of alternative explanations are more incredible than the resurrection itself. They demand more from a man or woman than faith in the resurrection of Jesus Christ does. The reason why you do not believe this afternoon is not because of lack of evidence, but because you have chosen not to believe.
Two questions and we are through. Question number 1, is this information reliable? See that is the question that you need to ask. Am I up here on a wing and a prayer, am I up here as some kind of religious professional as a representative of Christian mythology society having myself disengaged my brain somewhere in the earlier part of my life and determined that on the base of all this trumped up non-sense that I will give my life to studying the Bible and to seek every opportunity to get to tell others about it. Well of course, you could conclude that I am crazier than glue and continue on with your life.
But I pray that there are others that you might know and respect, whose testimony that you find more difficult to set aside than mine. See you have a belief in the miraculous in relationship to this.
You either believe in a scientific or psychological miracle, were normal men and women who were going about their routine days, became conspirators and liars who were prepared to die for their myth. That is a psychological miracle that I cannot get my head around.
Or, you embrace a biological miracle in relationship to Jesus. Your assumption is that the soldiers who were doing the bidding of their headquarters came to break the legs of the individuals still living, when they failed to break the legs of Christ that they did that somehow because they did not understand the difference between life and death. The whole point of the guy taking the spear and plunging it into the side of Jesus was to determine whether he had passed away or not.
The two thieves’ legs were to be broken to take away the platform in which managing to sustain their chest cavity for a moment or two. Once their legs were broken, the chest cavity would be collapsed and the loss of oxygen would hasten the time of death. But when they had come to the center cross Jesus is already gone.
And they said there is no need to break the legs here. Look, I will show you he is already dead with the spear. That was the point of the spear in the side, it was a death blow to prove that he was dead.
So you are either going to walk out of here on the basis of a biological miracle or you are going to walk out on the basis of a psychological miracle or you are going to walk out on the basis of a theological miracle. A theological miracle is the best explanation of the facts, for it points to the reality of the resurrection of Jesus.
Nothing else explains the empty tomb, the post-mortem appearances, and the sudden change of heart of not only the disciples, but also of James and Paul. They believe it so much that they were all willing to die for this belief. Now ask yourself what are the chances of 12 people making up a lie and then willingly dying for it?
My final question this afternoon is this. Is this information relevant? Why take this time this afternoon to talk this way? Why not simply talk about one or two nice things and how to have your best life now and get on our way with the world? Why not give you a word of encouragement and talk about love and peace and happiness and family? But that has not been what I have been given to talk about. You need to determine as I do, is this information relevant?
And without a literal resurrection, the Christian faith is worthless, at best Jesus is just a prophet. But you could not put your faith in him as a messiah, that would be foolish. To say that the resurrection is a symbol is equally as stupid. And yet you will find those that proclaim that message because they want to hold onto their traditions on Sundays, but live how they want every other day.
Without the literal bodily resurrection of Jesus, Christianity is worthless and that is why Paul with all his intellect argues so forcibly in 1 Corinthians 15, that if Jesus Christ is not risen, then we as Christians are to be most pitied.
He is basically saying: If Jesus Christ is not alive then those that have died are still in their sins. Our faith is worthless, our preaching is in vain, the whole thing is a sham, and a waste of time.
Now you see the flip side of this is of course, that Jesus Christ is Alive, then it is supremely relevant for here is a friendship like no other, here is forgiveness that can be found in no one else, here is a future that is all wrapped up in the fact that He is alive.
- Apologetics simply means defending the faith.
- We Need to defend our faith for two reasons.
- So that we are strong in our faith and will not be easily deceived.
- So that we are able to give a good answer when others searching have questions for us about our faith.
Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus:
- The Origin of the Disciples Belief in the Resurrection
– What brought about the change of attitude?
– What caused them to be willing to lay down their lives to tell others about this Jesus?
- The Post-Mortem Appearances of Jesus.
– It could not be their faith that caused a vision because they had none.
– It could not be a Dream because they all experienced him and touched him.
- The Evidence of the Empty Tomb.
– Those that opposed the disciples did not say the tomb is not empty, but accuse them of stealing Jesus’ Body.
- Why would they steal it?
- Where would they put it?
- Why would they get themselves killed over a lie?
– Some say Jesus was not really dead.
- Romans were proficient killers.
- No one is going to believe Jesus resurrected if he is limping around bleeding everywhere.
What crime was Jesus charged with? (the people could not find any charge against him.)
Why was a large stone rolled in front of the tomb? (to keep thieves from taking the body)
Who was the first person to discover the empty tomb? (Mary Magdalene)
Where were Peter and the other disciples when Jesus appeared to them? (Locked in an upper room)
How did the disciples respond to seeing Jesus? (They rejoiced)