Subject: The Historical Fact of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ (#EmmaandJordanLive)
Matthew 20:18-19 “The Son of Man will be betrayed… they will condemn Him to death, and deliver Him to the Gentiles to mock and to scourge and to crucify. And the third day He will rise again.”
Tomorrow we will celebrate another Easter Sunday here in American churches. But why? Another name for Easter is “Resurrection Sunday”. We are literally celebrating the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. As our verse this week says, Easter is about a Nazarene who not only claimed to be the one true God (the ‘Son of Man’) but also publicly predicted His upcoming crucifixion and His resurrection.
Easter Sunday is one of the two biggest attendance days in America’s churches (the other is Christmas). The question you again have to ask yourself is ‘why’? Why do people who don’t attend church the rest of the year come on Easter? Does that make you ‘Christian’? The latest Barna Group Poll (September 27, 2015) tells us that although 78% of Americans call themselves Christians, nearly 50% do not identify themselves publicly as followers of Jesus Christ, a category the Barna Group labels ‘post-Christians’.
Barna’s poll suggests half of Americans do not put their faith in the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ. If you are one of these people, and yet you come to church on Easter, read the words of the apostle Paul in 56AD, when he wrote to the church in Corinth, Greece: “If Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins! If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most to be pitied.” (1Corinthians 15:17,19). Without the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ, Christianity (and Easter service) is a waste of your time. So the question is: what evidence exists that Jesus Christ really rose from the dead?
Let me introduce you to Professor Simon Greenleaf (1783-1853), the founder of Harvard Law School and the world’s most renowned expert on evidence for presentation in a court of law. His three-volume legal masterpiece ‘A Treatise on the Law of Evidence’ is still regarded as the greatest single authority for legal procedure and remains the basis for the U.S. judicial system’s establishment of the rules of evidence.
Professor Greenleaf was an agnostic who was like many Americans today: he viewed the resurrection of Jesus Christ as either a hoax or a myth. One day in his classroom at Harvard, one of his students asked him if he had ever “considered the evidence” for the Resurrection of Jesus Christ? To his credit, he admitted to his students that he had not. Greenleaf then set out to disprove the bodily resurrection of Christ, applying his famous rules of evidence as if he was arguing against the resurrection in a court of law. But what happened? Greenleaf concluded that the Resurrection of Jesus Christ was fact, not fiction!
As a man whose entire life was committed to reasoning through the evidence, and someone who promised his students he would “follow the truth wherever it may lead me”, his conclusion that Jesus’s bodily resurrection was real history then led him to announce his conversion to Christianity! He documented his reasoning for why he believed in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ in his famous work entitled ‘Testimony of the Evangelists Examined by the Rules of Evidence Administered in Courts of Justice.’
Greenleaf applied his rigorous rules for evidence to the first four books of the New Testament – the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. What did he find? That the evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus Christ as contained in the Gospels was sufficient to prove in any fair court of law that Jesus’s resurrection was an historical fact. What basis did he use for his conclusion? That the copies of the original Gospels that existed back in the 1840’s were at least as authentic as any other works of antiquity, which are acceptable for use not only in evaluating ancient history but also in our current educational institutions.
With the four Gospels as his basis for examination, he explained that “the veracity of the testimonies contained in the Gospels was demonstrable by internal and external examination (i.e., by examining the consistencies and resolving the paradoxes contained between them, and by comparing the Gospel accounts to corroborating works of other known writers of the time, such as Tacitus, Josephus and Seutonius, etc.); and that the most plausible, the most reasonable, conclusion to be drawn therefrom was that Jesus Christ not only lived and died, but that he arose again from the grave.”
If the world’s leading expert on evidence can turn from skeptic to a follower of Jesus Christ and assurance of eternal life after fairly examining the evidence for the Resurrection, why haven’t you? Because for some people no amount of evidence will convince you because evidence is not what’s in your way. You are.