Nov 10, 2013
Mark 16:4-7

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[Mark 16:4-7] “But when they looked up, they saw that the stone had been rolled away—for it was very large. And entering the tomb, they saw a young man clothed in a long white robe sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He is risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid Him. But go, tell His disciples—and Peter—that He is going before you into Galilee; there you will see Him, as He said to you.” 

This angelic being had a two fold message for this group of women: 

  • Jesus had been resurrected from the dead to life. 

  • They needed to take this news to the disciples because Jesus desired to meet them. 

As we noted last Sunday, between these two instructions the angel does something very important.... he invites them to see for themselves that Jesus had indeed been resurrected from the dead before they went and told others. 

Once again note the order:

  • The Claim - Jesus has risen!

  • The Invitation - See the evidence for yourselves!

  • The Commission - Go tell others!

Q: If the resurrection didn't happened, does it really matter?

In 2001 a movie titled “The Body” - which starred Antonio Banderas - explored the potential ramifications discovering the body of Jesus would have on the Catholic Church as well as Christianity as a whole. 

Banderas plays the character of a Catholic Priest name Father Gutierrez who had been assigned by the Vatican to investigate an archaeologist who was claiming to have discovered the body of Jesus.  

Though Father Gutierrez initially sets out to prove the bones are not those of Jesus, as more and more evidence mounts to support the claim his faith begins to waver. 

By the end of the movie, Father Gutierrez comes to a stark realization that it is the Catholic Church he is actually protecting and not the Christian faith. 

In the end, he decides to resign from his priesthood concluding, “I thought I had lost my faith in Christ, in God, my savior, my friend. But I didn't. I've lost my faith in serving men.... who use God to justify their material agendas. That's why I now choose to serve God in my own personal way.”

A: Yes, because without the resurrection there is no Christian faith. 

Theologian Gerald O’Collins said it this way, “Christianity without the resurrection is not simply Christianity without its final chapter. It’s not Christianity at all.” 

Pastor and author John MacArthur said it a little more bluntly, “The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the single greatest event in the history of the world. It is so foundational to Christianity that no one who denies it can be a true Christian.”

Consider the implications if the resurrection was proved to be a falsehood: 

Jesus would be a proven liar.

Princeton theologian B.B. Warfield said, "Christ Himself deliberately staked His whole claim to the credit of men upon His resurrection. When asked for a sign He pointed to this sign as His single and most sufficient credential."

Jesus would not be God. 

It’ been said, “The empty tomb, as an enduring symbol of the resurrection, is the ultimate representation of Jesus’ claim to being God.” 

C.S. Lewis took it a step further in his book “Mere Christianity” when he wrote, “I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to. It seems to me obvious that He was neither a lunatic nor a fiend: and consequently, however strange or terrifying or unlikely it may seem, I have to accept the view that He was and is God."

We would have no hope of a future resurrection. 

In John 11:25 Jesus told the women at the well, "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live.” 

As one scholar noted, “The resurrection is the proof of Jesus’ triumph over sin and death. It’s the foreshadowing of the resurrection of his followers. It’s the basis of Christian hope. It’s the miracle of all miracles. If he didn’t rise, we have no assurance of resurrection.”

Our Christian faith would be in vain. 

Even the Apostle Paul acknowledged this reality when he said in 1 Corinthians 15, “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? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ is not risen. And if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty.”

Q: Why is it important we examine the claim of the resurrection for ourselves?

1. The claim of resurrection is obviously radical.

Without question the most unbelievable assertion presented by any religion is the notion that after three days dead in the tomb Jesus was resurrected to life. 

This thesis made by Christians is even further exacerbated by the reality that not a single person has ever been resurrected before or since Jesus.

Note: “Revivification” is the return of a dead man to moral life, whereas a “resurrection” is the raising up of a dead man to eternal life.

It should also be pointed out that the belief in the resurrection of Jesus is so outlandish that no other religion or moral leader has ever dared make such a claim.

2. Skepticism in the resurrection is only reasonable.

Nowhere in Scripture are believers commanded to check reason and logic at the door and simply believe a claim using the intellectual crutch known as blind faith. 

Sadly, people have come to view faith as the tool which enables a person to believe something they might otherwise find to be intellectually unreasonable. 

Ironically, Hebrews directly contradicts this notion by defining faith as “the substance of things hoped for.... the evidence of things not clearly seen.”

Before anyone believes a claim of Scripture (the resurrection is no exception), that person should first be able to conclude there is enough tangible evidence provided through reason to make faith in the veracity of that claim simply reasonable.

Ravi Zacharias said, “What I believe in my heart must make sense in my mind.”

Understand: Skepticism is not wrong in and of itself because it can be the first natural step towards greater discovery. The key is what I do with my skepticism.

Do I allow skepticism to be my excuse to remain ignorant of the facts? 

Or.... do I allow skepticism to motivate me towards a genuine quest for the truth?

Even after telling these women that Jesus had been resurrected from the dead, the angel finds it necessary to encourage this group of women to examine the evidence for themselves before reaching their own conclusion. We are no exception.

3. The implications of the resurrection are unavoidable.

If disproving the resurrection means Christianity is a farce and Jesus nothing more than a liar.... then proving the resurrection to be true would validate who Jesus claimed to be and substantiate the message of the Christian faith.

In his book “The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism” Timothy Keller wrote, “If Jesus rose from the dead, then you have to accept all that he said; if he didn't rise from the dead, then why worry about any of what he said? The issue on which everything hangs is not whether or not you like his teaching but whether or not he rose from the dead.”

4. The evidence for the resurrection is ineluctable.

As we’ll see in the remaining verses of Mark, even Jesus’ closest followers were initially skeptical Jesus had been resurrection; and yet, over and over again, Jesus responded to their skepticism by providing inescapable evidence.

Though the resurrection of Jesus might be the most radical claim of history, as we’re about to see, it is also one of the more provable.

Let’s start by establishing the philosophical framework for the resurrection of Jesus. 

It’s a truth that if there is a God then even the improbable is entirely possible.  

If there were no God in the universe and if all things were constricted to natural laws  then indeed it would be impossible that anyone would rise from the dead. 

However, if you can concede that there does exist a God who authored and controls natural laws then it would be possible that He would resurrect someone from the dead, even if it initially might be considered improbable

You see, the simple idea that God has the ability to do something improbable logically establishes the framework whereby the entire examination of the resurrection of Jesus can be logically examined. 

At least conceded.... with God, though improbable, the resurrection is not impossible.

Philosophical theologian William Lane Craig said it this way, “The hypothesis that God raised Jesus from the dead doesn't contradict science or any know facts of experience. All it requires is the hypothesis that God exists, and I think there are good independent reasons for believing that he does. As long as the existence of God is even possible, it’s possible that he acted in history by raising Jesus from the dead.”

Next, let’s examine the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus.

There are two important points that need to be made right from the beginning:

1. No one actually saw Jesus resurrect from the dead.

There are no Biblical accounts of someone being an eyewitness of the moment Jesus’ dead body stirred to life - rose - and exited the tomb. As we mentioned last week the stone was rolled away to let humanity in - not Jesus out!

Because this is the reality, the case for the resurrection of Jesus is largely established through the accumulation of circumstantial evidence. 

Circumstantial evidence relies on an inference to connect it to a conclusion of fact. On its own, it is the nature of circumstantial evidence for more than one explanation to still be possible for each individual piece collected. 

However, the accumulation of several corroborating pieces of circumstantial evidence into a collection becomes more valid as proof of a fact - especially when the alternative explanations have been ruled out. Circumstantial evidence allows a trier of fact to deduce a fact exists.

The fictional detective Sherlock Holmes often said, “When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.” 

2. There is no debate as a fact of history that something occurred following the crucifixion death of the historical character we know as Jesus of Nazareth. 

As we discussed last week, the competing theories of the Biblical claim (Swoon Theory or that His body was stolen by the disciples) fail to meet the legal sniff test.

We are left then to examine the Biblical Claim of Events: 

  • Jesus was crucified and died on a Roman cross. 

  • Jesus was buried in a tomb owned by Joseph of Arimathea. 

  • When several of His followers returned three days later to finish dressing the body, they discovered an empty tomb. 

  • Initially unsure what had happened, an angel sent by God, appeared to them stating that Jesus had been resurrected from the dead. 

  • Then over the next 40 days Jesus was seen alive in various settings and at various times by over 500 people before ascending to heaven. 

  • Following this event, His followers returned to the City of Jerusalem where they boldly preached the resurrection and the Christian church was born. 

  • Since then several billion people throughout history have made the claim to have personally encountered the resurrected Jesus.

I want to lay out for you 8 arguments that support this Biblical claim:

1. The body of Jesus was missing and the site of His tomb was universally known. 

Not only did Jesus’ followers claim the tomb was discovered empty, but even Jesus’ most ardent enemies couldn’t dispute this fact. As a simple and undisputed fact of history, Jesus’ body has since never been recovered. 

William Lane Craig said, “If the tomb weren’t empty, it would be impossible for a movement founded on the belief in the resurrection to have come into existence in the same city where this man had been publicly executed and buried.”

2. The historical account was provided by eyewitnesses of the events themselves. 

Matthew and John were both eyewitness of these events. Mark’s account was given by the Apostle Peter and dates back to within a few years of the events themselves. And Luke recorded his account through a collection of eyewitness testimonies. 

In 1 Corinthians 15, the Apostle Paul quoted an early Christian creed dating back to a year following the events showing that the resurrection of Jesus was a foundational claim of the first Christians and did not develop by oral legend.

Contrast the formation of Christian with other religions:

Other Religions: Private dream about God / Private angelic encounter about God / Private idea formed about God - That one person tells everyone else about God.

Christianity: After a public ministry / Christ was killed publicly / Christ rose from a public tomb publicly / Christ publicly showed Himself to the public - The public then told everyone what they saw.

3. Contemporary historians corroborate the Gospel claim. 

The historical reality that there were supposed eyewitnesses to the resurrection are attested by various non-Christian historians and writers including: Josephus, Tacitus, Lucian, Mara Bar Serrapeion, even the Jewish Talmud. 

This is a remarkable amount of historical testimony for an ancient event, especially from sources coming within 20 years of Jesus' death. 

4. A contradictory account was never provided by contemporaries. 

When the Gospels were written, critics could have easily written a rebuttal refuting or correcting the resurrection claim; and yet, no such writings exist. 

5. There were over 500 eyewitnesses who encountered a resurrected Jesus. 

According to the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8, “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. After that He appeared to more than 500 brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep;  then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles; and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also.”

It’s been said, “The issue with Jesus isn’t that he was nowhere to be seen, it’s that he was seen, alive; he was seen, dead; and he was seen alive, once more.” 

Christian Philosopher Gary Habermas said it this way, “Here’s how I look at the evidence for the resurrection: First, did Jesus die on the cross? And second, did he appear later to people? If you can establish those two things, you’ve made your case, because dead people don’t normally do that.” 

Because of the strength of so many eyewitnesses, some have claimed that in their grief and anguish this group of people collectively experienced a hallucination that convinced them Jesus had truly risen from the dead. 

2 Problems with the Theory of a Mass Hallucination: 

1. The psychological make up of the disciples was not conducive to hallucinations. 

Hallucinations happen to people who are high-strung, imaginative, and nervous. A fertile mind of expectancy or anticipation is required. And yet, following the crucifixion, the disciples were fearful, doubtful, in despair, not expecting to see a resurrected Jesus.

2. Hallucinations are always linked to an individual’s subconscious. 

Not only do the disciples claimed to have had new experiences with Jesus, they all claim to have had the same identical experience. Hallucinations don’t occur like this within a group and never last for 40 days.

6. The transformation of the disciples is unexplainable.

If the resurrection didn't occur, you then have to explain how the disciples go from  being pitiful cowards to bold pro-claimers in a matter of only a few days. 

Anglican Cleric John R.W. Stott said, “Perhaps the transformation of the disciples of Jesus is the greatest evidence of all for the resurrection."

Don’t forget.... the disciples of Jesus did not expect Jesus to face crucifixion and then rise from the dead after three days. In line with the current Jewish thought of the day, they believed the Messiah was to triumphantly defeat the Romans and deliver the kingdom of God to the nation of Israel. 

When Jesus was crucified it was an embarrassment to their faith which is why they ran, went into hiding, abandoned the faith, and become skeptics and doubters. Even before Jesus was crucified, the disciples proved cowardly. Peter even denied knowing Jesus three times before the crucifixion. 

Jewish historian and theologian Pinchas Lapide, “If the defeated and depressed group of disciples overnight could change into a victorious movement of faith, based only on autosuggestion or self-deception—without a fundamental faith experience—then this would be a much greater miracle than the resurrection."

7. The emergence and rapid spread of Christianity is incredible.

Something radical and revolutionary had to have taken place for..... 

A. Thousands of skeptics to instantly mass convert. 

Remember, the disciples were preaching to people who had rejected Jesus as the Messiah. What words could they now speak to such a hostile crowd to convince them Jesus really did rise from the dead? The evidence for the risen Lord had to have been overwhelming.

B. Even the most harden cynics experienced radical conversions.  

James, the skeptical brother of Jesus, converted after Jesus appeared to him. And then Saul (later known as the Apostle Paul), the chief persecutor of Christians, converted after having an encounter with a risen Jesus. 

C. Fundamental Jewish religious structures were abandoned by His followers. 

For thousands of years the Jewish people had always maintained their individualism by holding fast to various, key, religious traditions. 

They did this because of the belief these institutions were entrusted to them by God and to abandon them would risk their own souls.

And yet, after five short weeks following Jesus’ resurrection, over 10,000 devout Jews willingly gave up or altered all five of their key religious institutions they had been taught since childhood.

  • They stopped offering animal sacrifices to atone for sins.
  • They abandoned a strict adherence of the Mosaic Laws. 
  • They changed their worship from the Sabbath to Sunday. 
  • They transitioned from monotheism to a trinitarian view of God. 

  • They adopted a new view concerning the mission of the Messiah.

D. In just 20 years Christianity dominated a pagan, polytheistic Rome. 

Shortly following the death of Jesus, Christianity not only triumphed over competing ideologies, but spread so quickly over the span of two decades that it had even reached Caesar’s palace in Rome. 

I’ve heard it said, “Christianity's lasting impact was so successful that today we name our children Peter and Paul and our dogs Caesar and Nero.”

The Circumstantial Evidence is compelling:

1. The body of Jesus was missing and the site of His tomb was universally known. 
2. The historical account was provided by eyewitnesses. 
3. Contemporary historians corroborated the Gospel claim.
4. A contradictory account was never provided by contemporaries.
5. Over 500 eyewitnesses claimed to encounter a resurrected Jesus.
6. The transformation of the disciples is unexplainable.

7. With thousands of skeptics instantly mass converting, the most harden cynics experiencing radical conversions, with fundamental Jewish religious structures being abandoned by His followers, and Christianity dominating a pagan, polytheistic Rome in just 20 years.... The emergence and rapid spread of Christianity validates a supernatural occurrence.

William Lane Craig in his book “Contemporary Scholarship and the Historical Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus Christ” said, "These three great facts--the resurrection appearances, the empty tomb, and the origin of the Christian faith--all point to one unavoidably conclusion: The resurrection of Jesus. Today the rational man can hardly be blamed if he believes that on that first Easter morning a divine miracle occurred."

8. The transformed lives of the individuals who’ve encountered a risen Jesus.

Beyond all of the other circumstantial evidence, the most compelling reality of the resurrection is your claim to have encountered a living Jesus.

How do you explain the transformation of a life of sin to a life lived by righteousness through grace apart from the supernatural experience of a resurrected Jesus? 

English columnist A.N. Wilson, “My belief has come about in large measure because of the lives and examples of people I have known - not the famous, not saints, but friends and relations who have lived, and faced death, in the light of the Resurrection story, or in the quiet acceptance that they have a future after they die."