Believe Lesson for Easter Morning,
April 16, 2017
Reasons to Believe in the Resurrection
How does Christ’s bodily resurrection from the dead impact my life, my faith and my future?
With the proof, power and promise of the resurrection, we believe in an abundant life now and eternal life in the future
Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable,
always abounding in the work of the Lord,
knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.
1 Corinthians 15:58
always abounding in the work of the Lord,
knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.
1 Corinthians 15:58
When we Christians are called to believe in Christ and the resurrection, are we called to hope against reason? Believe without any evidence? The recent release of the movie, The Case for Christ, which tells the story of Lee Strobel’s conversion from atheism to faith, highlights a major part of Christianity: apologetics. There are reasons to believe in Christianity; and in the words of another apologist, Josh McDowell, the evidence is so overwhelming, it demands a verdict.
So what are the reasons to believe in Christianity? The Apostle Paul is the ultimate example of a skeptic who converted to Christianity. In his case, however, he was so opposed to the newly formed faith of Christianity that God had to miraculously appear to him on the Damascus road. Once converted, Paul realized that this method of evangelism (Jesus Himself appearing in overwhelming light that results in three days of blindness) was the exception and not the normal method. Therefore, the apostle lays out specific reasons to believe and more than any other part of the faith, nothing is more central than Christ rising from the dead.
The word “apologetics” comes from the Greek word which means “to make a defense.” It literally means to make a case for a religious faith through a series of systematic arguments and reasoning. It dates back as old as Christianity itself, with Paul going to synagogues and public discourses to give reasons to believe. For instance, Acts 17:2, 17 says, “Then Paul, as his custom was, went in to them, and for three Sabbaths reasoned with them from the Scriptures… Therefore he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and with the Gentile worshipers, and in the marketplace daily with those who happened to be there.”
Paul wasn’t the only one making a defense for Christianity. His traveling partner, Luke, the beloved physician, wrote the entire gospel after interviewing eyewitnesses “from the beginning.” He explained: “I have followed all things carefully from the beginning, to write an orderly account … so that you may know for certain the things you were taught.” (Luke 1:3b-4, NET)
Another doubter who was converted to faith was the famous Doubting Thomas, who would only believe if he could see the nail prints in the hands of Jesus and put his own hand in his side. And while we all know that Jesus did appear to Thomas, like the conversion of Paul, Thomas’ conversion from doubt to faith is not the normal way of defending our beliefs. Even Jesus commended those who are converted without having incontrovertible faith: “Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29).
Peter perhaps gave the greatest call for apologetics in 1 Peter 3:15: “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear.” In that one sentence, Peter says first, set apart the Lord in your own heart; then second, be ready to defend (Greek: apologia) to everyone who questions us; lastly, he says we should give our reasons not in combative or argumentative fashion but rather in humility.
Paul wrote several letters to the Corinthians as a result of their many problems that they had. Divisions, immorality, even instructions on how to partake of communion. But perhaps most troubling of all, Paul concludes 1 Corinthians addressing a huge problem…some did not even believe in the resurrection.
1. Proofs Exposition of the Scriptures, Empty tomb, Eyewitnesses, and the Example of Paul
The Scriptures. The Apostle Paul ends his first letter to the Corinthian church by reminding them what he had taught them “first of all.” The gospel in a nutshell is found in 1 Cor. 15:3-4 as one of the earliest summations of the “good news” of the resurrection. Twice Paul appeals to “the Scriptures” (what we now call the Old Testament) as a proof of the resurrection.
3 For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve. 6After that He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep. 7 After that He was seen by James, then by all the apostles. 8 Then last of all He was seen by me also, as by one born out of due time. 9 For I am the least of the apostles, who am not worthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain; but I labored more abundantly than they all, yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me. 11 Therefore, whether it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.
How are Old Testament prophecies that the Christ would rise from the dead, given hundreds of years earlier, a “proof” for us to believe?
Paul was not the first to appeal to the Old Testament prophecies to help people believe in the resurrection. Jesus Himself, on Resurrection Sunday, appeared to two persons mourning over the death of Christ on the road to Emmaus. In Luke 24:13-27, Jesus began with Moses and the Prophets to expound to them “in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself.” The Bible prophetically foretells of events hundreds of years beforehand in such vivid detail. For those events to come to pass is strong evidence that the Bible is reliable.
In Romans 10:17, Paul stated that “faith comes from hearing and hearing by the word of God.” Hebrews 4:12 says that the Word of God is living, powerful and sharp; it also divides and discerns. Even if people do not believe the Bible, the word of God is still supernaturally powerful and should be used even with skeptics. Someone said, “Even if you don’t believe in a knife, it still will cut you.”
The Sepulcher. Another defense Paul used was the empty tomb. It is interesting that from the beginning, the defense of the Jewish leaders was to explain why the tomb was empty. A great way to have squashed the rumors of Christ rising from the dead would have been to simply produce the body. Instead they paid soldiers to say that the disciples stole the body. However, Paul’s appeal to the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus is foundational to Christianity, Paul said. “And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins!” (1 Corinthians 15:17)
The Sightings. Thirdly, Paul, like his friend Luke as we said earlier, appealed to eyewitnesses. Peter and the twelve apostles (this would include Thomas, who saw Christ a week after the resurrection and also Matthias who was selected to replace Judas and was a “witness…of His resurrection.” See John 20:26-29, Acts 1:22). He also included 500 others who saw Christ all at once, James, the half-brother of Jesus who did not believe until after the resurrection, and then also all of the apostles or sent out ones, which could mean as many as 70 more who were the ones sent out (Greek: apostello) during Jesus’ earthly ministry (see Luke 10:1). Add all of those appearances up and you have nearly 600 times of Jesus being seen.
The Salvations. Lastly, Paul gives himself as an example. A persecutor of the church, Paul deems himself as least of the sent-out apostles. And yet he himself is an example that anyone can go from an unbeliever to believer. The changed lives of a believer can sometimes be the most convincing example of all. Jesus said they (meaning the unbelieving world) will know us by our love and changed lives.
For me, all of the apologetics in the world and all of the reasons for faith is not why I am a believer. It is the grace, the gift of God, which saved me. I know I can’t explain it enough. I know can’t show people what is in my heart. But like the old hymn says, “You ask me how I know He lives, He lives within my heart.” The changed lives of Paul and me and you and the millions who have been changed are perhaps the greatest arguments that the world can never explain away.
Do you have a personal testimony of why you believe in Christ? A testimony is a quick summation of explaining why you became a Christian and how your life has changed as a result of your salvation.
2. Protests. If tomb was not empty, then you have an empty foundation, an empty faith, an empty falsehood, an empty future, and an empty forgiveness
Proofs alone are not going to stop a skeptical world. There are protests from outside the church and in the case of the Corinthians, even inside the church. Paul was amazed that even after all that he had taught them, that there were “some among you” who did not believe in the resurrection. Specifically, some in the church may have believed Christ was raised, but they did not believe that they themselves would be raised.
In Judaism such persons were called Sadducees and it was against those that Paul argued in one of his defenses (see Acts 23:6-8, Acts 24:15-21).
But also in the Gentile culture, there was a great deal of skepticism against the resurrection (see Acts 17:32).
Worst of all, Paul found that he not only had to fight the doubters of the resurrection in the Jewish faith, in the Gentile faith, but now in the church?? He was almost beside himself!
12 Now if Christ is preached that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ is not risen. 14 And if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty. 15 Yes, and we are found false witnesses of God, because we have testified of God that He raised up Christ, whom He did not raise up—if in fact the dead do not rise. 16 For if the dead do not rise, then Christ is not risen. 17 And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins! 18 Then also those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable.
It was as though was saying, “If you don’t believe in the empty tomb, you have then you have
- empty foundation (“our preaching is empty”),
- empty faith (“your faith is empty”),
- empty falsehood (“we are found false witnesses”),
- empty future (“the dead do not rise”), and an
- empty forgiveness (“you are still in your sins”).
If this passage teaches us anything, it is that we should be absolutely assured of the resurrection, both Christ’s and our own!
Which argument have you heard against eternal life or the resurrection that leads you to doubt your faith in eternal life?
Which defense for the resurrection gives you the most encouragement and “blessed assurance”?
3. Power. Despite the protests against the resurrection, Paul appeals to the fact that if God did in fact raise Jesus from the dead, then He will also give life to the believers. Romans 8:11 (But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you) is very similar to 1 Corinthians 15.
20 But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive. 23 But each one in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, afterward those who are Christ’s at His coming. 24 Then comes the end, when He delivers the kingdom to God the Father, when He puts an end to all rule and all authority and power. 25 For He must reign till He has put all enemies under His feet. 26 The last enemy that will be destroyed is death….
31 I affirm, by the boasting in you which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die daily. 32If, in the manner of men, I have fought with beasts at Ephesus, what advantage is it to me? If the dead do not rise, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die!” 33Do not be deceived: “Evil company corrupts good habits.” 34 Awake to righteousness, and do not sin; for some do not have the knowledge of God. I speak this to your shame.
The power of the resurrection is not just the fact that there is life after death, but that there is also resurrection power within us right now. That power gives us strength to overcome sin, and it also gives us the power to live a righteous life, even if it means “fighting with beasts at Ephesus.” Paul was referring to a time in which he and others were so discouraged that “we were burdened beyond measure, above strength, so that we despaired even of life.” (see 2 Cor. 1:8).
Again, there is a parallel in this passage and in Romans chapter 8—“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us” (Romans 8:18).
Believing in the power of the resurrection gives us power internally to overcome the discouragements of this life. Paul said that those who did not believe in the future resurrection were not admirable. Such false beliefs only lead to sin, corruption of morals and shame.
What is the most discouraging thing you face in your Christian walk?
Does it surprise you that the Apostle Paul felt so discouraged that he even “despaired of life”?
How do you think his faith in the resurrection gave him power and strength to go on?
Does your faith in the resurrection give you power? How?
4. Promise Of the Resurrection. Perhaps more than any other section of Scripture, this passage is frequently used at funerals. It gives us faith and hope for the future.
50 Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does corruption inherit incorruption. 51 Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed— 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. 53 For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. 54 So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.” 55 “O Death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory?” 56 The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. 58 Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.
The promise of the resurrection does not simply give us faith to sleep at night. It not only gives us encouragement to look death squarely in the eyes when we or our loved ones face the inevitable fate of the end of life. The promise gives us a victory not only in death, but also in this life to be steadfast and immovable, to be always abounding in the work of the Lord. The hope of the resurrection gives us a motivation that the work we are doing is not in vain.
In nursing homes, one of the most popular songs is “I’ll Fly Away,” an upbeat song about death and the victory that comes with it. Have you felt the advancing approach of age and mortality?
What do the proofs, the power and the promise of the resurrection mean to you?