As I write this, we are coming close to the end of a great Alpha course. For those of you who don’t know, Alpha is a worldwide phenomenon where people come to church and are able to ask questions in an open environment about Christianity and Jesus.
For the last few years, a question that has been posed consistently, if in different guises, is whether there is any evidence for Jesus rising from the dead. This is central to beliefs on who Jesus is so it's worthwhile exploring, especially as we approach Easter the season when Christians celebrate Jesus’s death and resurrection.
The question must be: Did Jesus die and rise from the dead? This deserves far more space than can be given in this article, however, here are some highlights:
• There is no doubt that Jesus was born.
• There is no doubt that He lived and taught in Israel.
• There is no doubt that Jesus died.
• There is no doubt that Christianity exploded within a few weeks of this event, with Christians claiming that Jesus had risen from the dead.
Maybe you think that this is about as close to evidence that exists, yet there have been some very smart people, atheists and sceptics who've discovered otherwise:
The Guinness Book of Records tells us that Sir Lionel Luckhoo was the world record holder, best trial lawyer on the planet. He was an Indian lawyer who had 245 murder acquittals in a row and was twice knighted by Queen Elizabeth. Imagine the razor-sharp intellect that could differentiate reasonable testimony from what was false. Luckoo was a cynic and a sceptic of Christianity who was challenged to take his knowledge of legal evidence and apply it to the case for the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. After thoroughly researching it, here is what he concluded, "I say unequivocally the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus Christ is so overwhelming, it compels acceptance by proof that leaves absolutely no room for doubt" and he became a believer and went on to write the book 'The question answered: Did Jesus rise from the dead?'.
How about Mortimer Adler, an agnostic philosopher, the editor of the Encyclopaedia Britannica and author of around 50 books. Later in life he wrote a book 'Truth in Religion' where he was seeking to understand is there truth in any of the world's religions. At the age of 91 he decided to get baptised to declare his faith in Jesus. Why? What did he discover?
Or C.S. Lewis, atheist Professor of Literature at Oxford University, who also discovered things that made him a believer, and wrote the book 'Mere Christianity' amongst many others.
Or in the sciences, the head of the human genome project, Francis Collins wrote in his book 'The Language of God' how as an evolutionary biologist he found faith in Jesus whilst decoding the human genome.
Or Hugh Ross, the astrophysicist, who also became convinced while looking at astrophysics and wrote a book called 'The Fingerprint of God'.
And finally, when Lee Strobel – atheist investigative reporter and legal editor for the Chicago Tribune Newspaper – discovered his wife had become a Christian, he began to investigate the claims of Christianity in order to refute her belief. Through that journey he became a believer and he wrote a number of books as a result of his investigation.
In his book 'The Case for Easter' Lee wrote, “The starting point seemed obvious to me: the resurrection was the centre of the Christian faith. After all, anyone can claim to be the Son of God. But if someone could prove that by returning to life after being dead and buried – well, that would be a compelling confirmation that he was telling the truth. Even for a skeptic like me.”
The first thing that Lee wanted to confirm was that Jesus actually died on the cross. There have been those who have maintained that Jesus only passed out on the cross and woke up in the cool air of the tomb. What Lee discovered was that modern doctors felt that there was little chance that Christ could have survived the torture described in the Bible.
Once Lee was satisfied that Jesus was really dead when He was placed in the tomb, he needed to prove that one of the apostles hadn’t stolen the body. The strongest argument for that is that every one of the apostles was tortured for their faith and for their belief that Jesus rose from the dead.
And while there are all kinds of people who will lie there are very few who will maintain that lie in the face of torture and death. The same apostles who hid while Jesus was being tortured, encountered something or someone that gave them unprecedented power, and according to the Bible, that something or someone was the risen Christ.
Strobel also wrote, “The disciples didn’t merely believe in the resurrection: they knew it was fact not fiction. Had they known it was a lie, they would never have been willing to sacrifice their lives for it. Nobody willing dies for something that they know is false. They proclaimed the resurrection to their deaths for one reason alone: they knew it was the truth.”
If all of the people Jesus appeared to after His resurrection were here today, and we asked each of them to speak for just 15 minutes on what they saw, it would take 129 hours. In other words, it would take you from breakfast on Monday until Friday at dinner time listening around the clock to hear the testimony of those witnesses.
I could go on but the deal is these are smart people, smarter than me – maybe smarter than you – yet even being sceptics and atheists they discovered something.
So, how do you respond? If you accept that Jesus died and then came back to life – what does that mean for you?
The Bible tells us in 1 Peter 2:24 that "He [Jesus] personally carried our sins [the Bible's term for what we do wrong] in His body on the cross so that we can be dead to sin and live for what is right. By His wounds you are healed”.
The Cross and the empty tomb tell me that I can be free from the mistakes of my past. That is worthwhile exploring.
Over Easter we along with other churches in our town will be meeting to celebrate this. Surely that is worth some of your time to explore and ask some questions?