We Weren’t There: How Can We Know Jesus Rose from the Dead?

I preached an Easter Sunrise message on the 18th green next to a pond.  It was a water hazard…at the site of an LPGA event in Carlsbad, California.  My daughter Elizabeth sang a beautiful solo and led a group hymn on her guitar.  I spoke of how we can know a lot about an event even if we didn’t experience it ourselves.  I used the example of fly-fishing and how I would often carry my fly rod on a backpack trip.  There was always a good chance that we would walk by a stream or a mountain pond with hungry trout in it.  Suppose that I come over a rise in the trail and see a beautiful little lake, and on the lake concentric ripple rings on the surface of the water.  I would not waste any time, unhook my fly from the little ring next to the cork handle, and cast the fly out into the center of those rings.  Why? I didn’t see a fish, but I saw the ripples, the effects of a trout rising to the surface to grab an insect.  I would have little doubt that the trout that I didn’t see was there, because of the effect that I did see.

In the same way, while we were not eyewitnesses to the death and resurrection of Jesus, we see the effects, like concentric rings extending out from a center.  Here are the three effects that I spoke of on Easter next to that pond on the 18th green.

The effect on the followers: We have written eyewitness testimony of Jesus alive by Mark, Matthew, John, and Paul.  Their accounts are written within decades of the life of Jesus, with all the earmarks of first-hand reporting.

We also see written testimony by those who knew the eyewitnesses: Luke, and early church leaders, including Clement of Rome, Polycarp, and Papias.

All these followers testified of the resurrection of Jesus even as they risked execution.  Why would someone die for a lie?  As I heard recently “Liars don’t make good martyrs.” (Gary Habermas, in a message to the SEARCH staff)

The effect on the city where it all happened: We also see the growth in number of believers proclaiming the risen Christ against opposition in the city where the events could have been denied.  Seven weeks after the resurrection, when Peter explained the gospel, and talked of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, 3000 residents of Jerusalem put their faith in Christ.  They had seen him publicly crucified, buried in a well-known tomb, which was guarded by Roman soldiers, and they knew the tomb was now empty.  Whether a person trusts the book of Acts or not, it can’t be denied that the Christian movement first spread like a cascade from Jerusalem.  How can we explain Jerusalem’s belief in this miracle unless they had adequate evidence for it?

The effect on the enemies: And third, we “hear” the silence of the enemies of Christianity.  No body was produced by either the Jewish or Roman authorities.  In fact, they acknowledged that the tomb was empty.

Also, the conversion of Saul of Tarsus has to be explained somehow.  Paul was the archenemy of Christianity until, according to his testimony, Jesus appeared to him.  By changing his stance toward Jesus, Paul lost his reputation and position as a Jewish scholar and leader and became an enemy of Judaism—and eventually of Rome—with a price on his head.  Why would someone do that unless something huge happened to change his mind?  Three times this story of his encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus is told in the book of Acts…it’s that crucial to Paul’s conversion.  And, he knew the apostles, heard their testimony of the risen Lord, and considered it credible.

He ended up spreading the Christian message as far as Italy.

References: Acts 2: 14-15, 22, 32; I Cor. 15:3-8

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