"Resurrection Sunday"
What If the Resurrection Never Happened?
by Greg Hanson
Sunrise Wesleyan Church
April 15, 2007 (a week late due to blizzard)

 

Harry Houdini – considered to be the greatest escape artist of all time. I remember as a young boy being fascinated by stories of this legendary showman. I would have loved to have been in the audience at one of his performances.

He would free himself from jails, handcuffs, chains, ropes, and straitjackets… When that got boring, he moved on to being immersed into a water-filled milk can, locked inside, and then escaping. His most famous feat was escaping from what was called the Chinese Water Torture Cell. In that trick, Houdini’s feet would be locked in stocks, he’d be suspended upside-down in midair with his ankles in a restraint brace, lowered into a chamber overflowing with water, and then the restraint would be fastened to the top of the chamber. And somehow, Houdini would escape from that.

But his greatest escape never happened. Before he died, he told his wife Bess that he would come back from the dead. He even gave her a secret code that only she would know so that she could be sure it was him. He was going to escape death.

But then he died. And for ten years, on the anniversary of his death, which happened to be Halloween, Bess took part in séances and kept waiting for him to return. But he never did.

In fact, just two weeks ago, Houdini’s grandnephew announced that he was going to ask the courts to exhume Houdini’s body so that they could confirm the cause of death. (Because there’s been a lot of debate and speculation about that over the years.) But how could they do that? Because they know where the body is.

I mentioned that his wife took part in séances for ten years waiting for his return. After that final séance, she blew out the candle that she kept by his picture, and later said, “ten years is long enough to wait for any man.”

What a terrible thing he did to her. This great escape artist convinced his own wife that he’d come back from the dead. And because of that, she couldn’t go on with life. For ten years, she just kept waiting. How wasted were those ten years? How pointless? How meaningless?

But let me ask you this… What if Jesus pulled the same stunt? What if He claimed to have power over life and death… and what if He claimed He could come back from the dead… but what if He never did? What if the resurrection never happened?


You know, there are people today who would call themselves Christians, but who doubt that the resurrection actually took place. And I’ve got to tell you, I can’t wrap my brain around that. I mean, how can you call yourself a Christian when you reject the core event of Christianity?


Do you remember about a month ago when that whole “Lost Tomb of Jesus” thing was big in the news? James Cameron had produced a documentary that claimed they had found the lost tomb of Jesus, bones and all. We actually looked at the evidence here and we saw that facts don’t support that claim at all. It was just a sensationalized documentary with no historical or archaeological support.

Well, a couple of years ago, the Anglican Bishop of Perth in Australia was presented with the hypothetical question, “What would happen if suddenly the tomb of Jesus was found, and it really was the tomb of Jesus and the body was still there? What would happen to your faith? Would it be destroyed?” And the bishop responded, “Of course not. It wouldn’t destroy my faith. Jesus is risen in my heart.”

What a bogus response. I mean, it sounds sweet and all… but what a bogus response. You know what? Christianity, out of all the world religions, is the easiest one to discredit. All you have to do is present a body. That’s it.

Buddhism… for that religion, it doesn’t really matter if Buddha ever existed, because that religion is based on a system of philosophy. Whether Gotama Buddha actually existed is irrelevant.

Or suppose you could prove that Krishna never existed… would that destroy Hinduism? No, because Hinduism has millions of gods. You lose one, you just move on to the next. Plus, the whole system of Hinduism is based on karma and reincarnation. Get rid of Krishna, Hinduism survives.

Islam. The greatest historical claim for a Muslim is that Muhammad was the last and greatest prophet. He’s the one who wrote the Qur’an. But say you can somehow prove that Muhammad didn’t write the Qur’an. Somebody else wrote it. Well, while I think the Muslim community would be a little surprised, I think they’d respond by explaining that even though they believe that Muhammad was the last prophet and that Allah’s final revelation was revealed to him, that Muhammad himself was not the revelation and Allah could have used someone else to write it down. It doesn’t really matter if it was Muhammad or not.

But Christianity. Christianity is based on actual historic events. Particularly in the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Disprove any of that, and you’ve destroyed Christianity.

Over the last little while, I’ve been doing a lot of reading and listening and watching in the area of the debate between Christianity and atheism. One of the atheists that I’ve heard from is Dr. Brian Edwards, and this is what he has to say…

“Deprived of the basic tenets of the Christian faith, the Protestant churches in particular have become wishy-washy institutions, peddling confusing, warm-fuzzy messages of non-judging reassurance. God has been redefined out of existence. Although one could respect the old-time religion, one can have nothing but contempt for the modern liberal cleric who believes in nothing but lacks the intellectual or moral courage to toss his dog collar in the wastebasket and call himself an atheist.”
~ Dr. Brian Edwards, Life of Brian, January 27 (2006?)

And you know what? I agree 100% with what he’s saying. You take away the core beliefs of Christianity, and Christianity is worthless. Particularly in terms of the resurrection. If the resurrection didn’t really happen, then our faith is useless.

But you know what? Brian Edward was not the first person to present this argument. As early as 20 years after the crucifixion, the apostle Paul addressed this same problem of throwing out the core of the Christian faith. I’m going to read for you the whole passage, and then we’re going to go back through it a little at a time. Okay?

1 Corinthians 15:12-19 (NLT)
But tell me this—since we preach that Christ rose from the dead, why are some of you saying there will be no resurrection of the dead? For if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, then all our preaching is useless, and your faith is useless. And we apostles would all be lying about God—for we have said that God raised Christ from the grave. But that can’t be true if there is no resurrection of the dead. And if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then your faith is useless and you are still guilty of your sins. In that case, all who have died believing in Christ are lost! And if our hope in Christ is only for this life, we are more to be pitied than anyone in the world.

 

So, what if the resurrection never happened? What if we’ve placed our faith in this historical event that’s really just a delusion… a hoax… a lie? What difference does it make? Let me tell you, it makes a world of difference. Let me describe five of the consequences of us believing in a fake resurrection…

 

What if the Resurrection Never Happened?

1. Every Church in the world should shut its doors and stop spreading false hope.

If the resurrection never happened, then we’re just wasting our time here. The time I spend preparing these messages… just a colossal waste of time. Paul said…

1 Corinthians 15:14 (NLT)
And if Christ has not been raised, then all our preaching is useless…

You know, it’s every preacher’s secret fear that his preaching is useless anyway. But usually it’s just because they’re afraid they’re not communicating well enough or that people aren’t responding and applying the messages. But I can’t think of anything more useless than preaching a lie. If that’s what we’re doing, then we should all just head home right now.

 

2. Our faith is nothing more than wishful thinking.

1 Corinthians 15:14 (NLT)
And if Christ has not been raised… your faith is useless.

If Jesus didn’t rise from the dead, then we’re just believing what we want to believe. Kind of like that Anglican Bishop… even if the facts conclusively proved that the resurrection didn’t happen, he was going to believe in it anyway. Why? Because that’s what he wants to believe. It makes him feel good.

But if your faith is based on a lie, then it’s just a lie – no matter how much you want to believe it. Just wishing something were true doesn’t make it true.

 

3. All Christian leaders are either deluded or out-and-out liars.

There’s a nice thought, eh? But that’s what Paul said.

1 Corinthians 15:15 (NLT)
And we apostles would all be lying about God—for we have said that God raised Christ from the grave.

I can only speak for myself, but I’m pretty sure that I’m not intentionally lying to you. As for being deluded, well, if I’m deluded do I know I’m deluded? But if the resurrection didn’t happen and I believe it did, that’s what I am: deluded. Oh, and by the way, so are you.


And now we get to the real biggie… If the resurrection never happened…

 

4. We are lost to our sinfulness with no chance of forgiveness or eternal life.

Think about it: what is the basis of the Christian hope? Our hope is based on the fact that Jesus has power over life and death, that He proved it by His resurrection, and that means He has the authority to forgive us for our sinfulness and offer us eternal life in its place. Isn’t that it? But without the resurrection, all that goes out the window.

1 Corinthians 15:17-18 (NLT)
And if Christ has not been raised, then your faith is useless and you are still guilty of your sins. In that case, all who have died believing in Christ are lost!

Without the resurrection, we’re all lost, no matter how much we want to believe otherwise. And #5… the conclusion to all the rest… if the resurrection never happened…

 

5. We are the most misguided, most pathetic people in the world.

How’s that for a revelation? But it’s true. If the resurrection never happened, then we’re the most misguided, most pathetic people in the world. We’ve been duped, we’ve been conned, we’ve been deceived, we’ve been fooled, we’ve been mislead… to the point that we commit our lives to this con-artist named Jesus and we gather to worship Him and we give Him money as an expression of praise and we do things in His name… all for a guy who performed the ultimate hoax 2000 years ago. Paul said…

1 Corinthians 15:19 (NLT)
And if our hope in Christ is only for this life, we are more to be pitied than anyone in the world.

Wow. I really don’t want that to be me. How about you? But without the resurrection, that’s exactly what we are.

 

So I desperately want the resurrection to be true. But just because I want it to be true doesn’t make it true. So what do I base my belief in the resurrection on? What’s the foundation for my belief? Well, admittedly, I believe it partly because the Bible says it happened. I believe the Bible is the Word of God, and I believe it’s true, and so I trust it when it says the resurrection happened.

But there’s more to it than that. I don’t believe it just because I believe it. I believe it because I think the evidence points to it. You see, contrary to what some people think, real faith does not go against facts or turn its back on reality. That’s a blind faith. But real faith looks at the evidence, evaluates it and interprets it, and then takes a step in the direction the evidence points.

Jesus Himself endorsed that understanding of faith. John the Baptist was kind of a forerunner for Jesus. He set the stage for Jesus. And he recognized who Jesus was. And he told people to follow him. But John was arrested, and he was thrown into prison, and he even began to experience doubts about who Jesus really was.

And so he sent some of his followers to Jesus to ask him, “Are you really the one, or should we expect someone else?”

And what did Jesus tell them? He told them, “Look at the evidence. I give sight to the blind, the lame can walk, the deaf can hear, I heal the lepers, I raise the dead, and I deliver the good news to the poor. Look at the evidence. Who do you think I am?” [See Matthew 11]

So what is the evidence, and where does it point? Let me give you 5 points of evidence that lead me to conclude that Jesus rose from the dead.

 

Proofs Jesus Rose From The Dead:

A. The change in the disciples.

What happened to the disciples after the crucifixion? They were disheartened, they were depressed, the felt defeated… they basically gave up and went back to fishing or whatever else they did to earn a living. They certainly didn’t expect Jesus to be coming back. They thought it was over.

But what happened? This bizarre group of depressed, frightened, mostly uneducated men went on to change the world. What made the difference?

“Perhaps the transformation of the disciples is the greatest evidence of all for the resurrection… When Jesus died, they were heartbroken, confused and frightened. But within less than two months they came out of hiding, full of joy, confidence and courage. What can account for this dramatic transformation? Only the resurrection, together with Pentecost which followed soon afterwards.”
~ John Stott
(Second part taken from “The Contemporary Christian” p. 80)

The British scholar N.T. Wright looked at the change in the disciples and how they went on to change the world… including how on one day they convinced 3000 people to place their faith in a risen Jesus… and he concluded…

“That is why, as a historian, I cannot explain the rise of early Christianity unless Jesus rose again, leaving an empty tomb behind Him.”
~ British Scholar N. T. Wright

 

B. Eyewitness accounts.

Do you know that there are eleven times recorded in the Bible that Jesus appeared to people after his death? He appeared to individuals, to the disciples, and one time appeared to a group of over 550 people. When the Biblical accounts were being written most of these people were still alive and could have denied that it ever happened. But they didn’t.

Some people today claim that these were all hallucinations. And I could understand that if Jesus only appeared to individuals. It could have simply been wish fulfillment. But he didn’t just appear to individuals. He appeared to groups of people, too. And hallucinations are not group events, at least not outside of the 1960’s. And the truth is that having 500 different people experience the same hallucination at the same time would be a greater miracle than the resurrection itself!

If you were in a court of law, and 550 people came in and testified that something happened, wouldn’t you believe them? No court in the world could justify throwing out their testimony. They’d have to concluded that it actually happened.

And the fact that these accounts are packaged together in our Bible today doesn’t disqualify them. Just because someone has a vested interest in something being true, doesn’t mean they can’t give an honest account of what happened. All books of history are written with a bias or from a certain perspective. That doesn’t invalidate them.

And remember, these were all individual accounts, people writing independently of each other, there were multiple accounts attested by different people, written from different perspectives but with amazing consistency.

And it’s important to recognize how early these written accounts appeared. There’s always debate about this, but some of the writings can be traced back to within 5-7 years of the crucifixion. 20 years on the outside. In fact, in 1 Corinthians 15:3ff, Paul quotes one of the early Christian creeds about the death and resurrection of Jesus, and it can be traced back to within 18 months! Why is that important? Three reasons… accuracy… the eyewitnesses were still alive… and it takes at least three generations before a legend can begin to arise.

[Source - "The agnostic type of form-criticism would be much more credible if the compilation of the Gospels were much later in time.... Herodotus enables us to test the tempo of myth-making, [showing that] even two generations are too short a span to allow the mythical tendency to prevail over the hard historic core." (A.N. Sherwin-White, Roman Society and Roman Law in the New Testament, (Oxford: Clarendon Press), 1963. pp. 189-190).]

With these facts, even skeptics have to consider that what the disciples wrote about really happened. One such critic wrote…

“It may be taken as historically certain that Peter and the disciples had experiences after Jesus’ death in which Jesus appeared to them as the risen Christ.”
~ German New Testament critic Gerd Lüdemann

 

C. The Roman and Jewish leaders couldn’t disprove it happened.

They tried to, they desperately wanted to, but they couldn’t. Remember, they knew where the body had been placed. The body of Jesus had been placed in a tomb owned by Joseph of Arimathea. They knew where that was. Then they sealed the tomb with a huge disk-shaped stone, and placed guards to make sure nobody tried to pull anything.

But then what happened? Within three days, the body was missing. They couldn’t produce the body, they couldn’t show that the body was stolen, they couldn’t say that he was in a different grave, they couldn’t explain why the highly-trained guards failed, and they couldn’t explain away the appearances. They had all the motivation and power in the world to squash the claims of the disciples… all they had to do was produce the body. But they simply weren’t able to do it because they couldn’t disprove it.

 

D. The disciples were willing to die for their claims.

Do you realize the disciples had nothing to gain? They would be beaten, imprisoned, persecuted, and killed for their beliefs. They could have predicted all that. After all, that’s what happened to Jesus. But they made their claims anyway, and were put to death for them.

Now, I am aware that there have been plenty of people throughout history who have died for their faith, whether what they believed was true or not. We’ve seen this in recent days with terrorists and suicide bombers. This is true:
 

People will willingly die for their faith if they believe it’s true.
 

But this is equally true:
 

People will not willingly die for their faith if they know it’s false.
 

Because nobody knowingly dies for a lie.

Say the disciples really did manage to steal the body and made this whole thing up. Don’t you think that after the first of them was killed because of what he claimed, that the rest of them would have admitted, “Whoa, hold on. We were only joking. We didn’t think you’d take us this seriously. (Please don’t kill us.)” But they didn’t take back their claims. And one by one, they were put to death. Only John survived, and they tried to kill him, too.

And yet not one of them recanted their story.

 

E. Modern-day accounts.

We’ve already talked about the change that happened in the lives of the disciples. Plus, there were the other eyewitnesses. But do you realize that Jesus is still changing lives today? Many of us here know that to be true by personal experience. We have a relationship with Him today. Our lives have been transformed. And that power to change is only a reality because Jesus rose from the dead and is alive today. And when packaged with the historical evidence, this personal experience becomes relevant and points toward a resurrection.

 

So there you have it. Five points of evidence that are best explained by the Resurrection.

John Singleton Copley, one of the greatest legal minds in history, three times the High chancellor of England, declared:

“I know what evidence is, and evidence like that for the resurrection has never broken down yet.”
~ John Singleton Copley

Some of you are familiar with Lee Strobel. Lee Stobel has a Master of Studies in Law degree from Yale and was an award-winning journalist for thirteen years at the Chicago Tribune. And when it came to Jesus he was a skeptic and an atheist.

But when he was forced to re-evaluate the evidence for Jesus, he had to conclude that the resurrection did occur, that Jesus was who he said he was. And in fact he’s put out an excellent book called “The Case For Easter.” It’s a great book examining the evidence.

 

Remember all those things Paul said were true if the resurrection didn’t occur? My preaching’s useless, your faith is useless, we’re just lying about Jesus rising from the dead, we’re still lost to our sinfulness with no hope of forgiveness, and in fact we’re the most pitiful people on this planet. Not a pretty picture.

But then… because of the evidence and because he had experience a first-hand encounter with the resurrected Jesus… Paul went on to say…

1 Corinthians 15:20, 23 (NLT)
But in fact, Christ has been raised from the dead. He is the first of a great harvest of all who have died…
Christ was raised as the first of the harvest; then all who belong to Christ will be raised when he comes back.

And that is what I live for. I believe in the resurrection, I think the evidence points to it, and it makes all the difference for me.

 

Okay, just as we finish up here, let me ask you this: Where do you stand on the evidence? Have you already evaluated it and decided you can trust it? Have you taken that step in the direction the evidence points and placed your faith in the Resurrected Jesus? Because remember, if He rose from the dead, that means He’s alive and well today.

Or maybe you’ve never really looked at the evidence before. Maybe you’ve always been a little skeptical about the whole faith thing. Let me ask you, what are you going to do with the evidence? Maybe you’ve never looked at the evidence before, but now that you have, do you find it compelling? I do. So the decision you need to make now is, “Will I take the logical next step and place my faith in Jesus Christ?” Will you do that this morning? Easter is about new life. What a great day for you to discover new life for yourself.

 

 

 

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