Three Issues

There are three specific evidences upon which both Christians and non-Christians agree.

These three evidences are:

FIRST, Jesus Christ was crucified.
SECOND, there was an empty tomb.
THIRD, there was an Easter Proclamation: "He is Risen!"

Jesus was crucified on the cross around A.D. 29. He was taken down from the cross and was laid in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea.

Historical documents state that a large stone weighing between one and two tons was placed at the front of the tomb.

And on that stone was placed the Roman seal, which had a psychological effect, much as if the KGB put their seal on a door. They say, you break that seal, and we will break you. A Roman guard then was placed in front of the tomb to make sure nothing happened to the body. That Roman guard consisted of between four and sixteen well-trained military men. Yet the tomb was empty three days later. Some skeptics, attempting to explain the empty tomb, present theories that actually require more faith to believe than the resurrection itself.

One theory is called the “Swoon Theory,” set forth by Venturini. It suggests that Jesus did not really die on the cross; He was taken down off the cross, and when He was put in the tomb, the dampness of the tomb revived His body. He moved the large stone, tiptoed around the guards, appeared to His disciples as a triumphant God, and then went off and died somewhere. Even most skeptics do not embrace that, but some use it to try to reinforce their positions that Christ did not rise from the dead.

Another theory says the women went to the wrong tomb. If the women went to the wrong tomb, that means the Roman guards also went to the wrong tomb. That means the Jewish leaders went to the wrong tomb. Otherwise, Jesus’ body would have been found in the right tomb. The alternative to these and similar theories is the empty tomb and the disciples proclaiming, “He is risen! Jesus Christ is alive! He forgives sins and gives eternal life to those who believe.” If this had been a lie, the Jewish officials had only to go to the tomb, get the body, and display it in the middle of Jerusalem, saying, “There is your risen Savior,” and the Christian movement and resurrection proclamation would have been over. But they were unable to produce the body. The tomb was empty.

John Warwick Montgomery, Christian apologist and former dean of Simon Greenleaf School of Law, writes, “It passes the bounds of credibility that the early Christians could have manufactured such a tale and then preached it among those who might easily have refuted it simply by producing the body of Jesus.”

Paul Althaus of the University of Erlangen in Germany adds, “The resurrection could not have been maintained in Jerusalem for a single day, for a single hour, if the emptiness of the tomb had not been established as a fact for all concerned.”

The explanation for the empty tomb can be that it was either natural or supernatural. If Christ truly was raised supernaturally from the dead by God, I can rightly and truthfully call you to repent of your sins and trust Christ as your personal Savior and Lord, for that is the logical response. But if the explanation is natural, someone had to remove the body. But who? The Roman soldiers? No, the Roman soldiers were placed there to keep the body in the tomb. The Jewish officials? No, they would just have brought it out and declared, “There’s your ‘risen’ Savior,” to refute the disciples’ claims.

Perhaps the disciples removed the body and perpetrated the lie that Jesus was God and rose from the dead. But evidence found by those who investigated suggests the opposite. First, the disciples did not expect Jesus to rise from the dead. Jesus had told them over and over that He would die and three days later rise from the grave, but they did not understand Him. Once Jesus died, the disciples were eleven fearful men, hiding, running for their lives. Their leader was dead and their dreams were shattered.

Yet, within several days after the resurrection this same group became bold, courageous, and visionary. What caused such a great change? It was not because they had seen an empty tomb— it was because they had seen Christ alive from the dead.

What would the disciples have to gain by fabricating a story about Christ’s resurrection? Prestige? Wealth? Power? Position? Let me tell you what they gained. All but one died martyrs’ deaths. Some were decapitated. Some were crucified. Some were stoned to death or beaten to death, all because they claimed Jesus was alive and offers forgiveness of sins and eternal life. Here is a list of what the eleven apostles and early Christian leaders gained by holding on to the declaration that Christ has risen:
  • Andrew—crucified on a cross. 
  • Barnabas—stoned to death by Jews. 
  • Bartholomew—beaten to death with clubs. 
  • James, brother of Jesus—stoned. 
  • James the Less—thrown from a pinnacle of the temple and beaten. 
  • John—natural causes. 
  • Jude—crucified. 
  • Luke—hanged on an olive tree. 
  • Mark—dragged through the streets by his feet and then burned to death. 
  • Matthias—stoned and beheaded. 
  • Matthew—killed by sword. 
  • Paul—beheaded. 
  • Peter—scourged and crucified upside down. 
  • Philip—scourged and crucified. 
  • Simon—crucified. 
  • Thomas—thrust through with a spear. 
  • James, son of Zebedee—killed by the sword. 
  • Thaddaeus—killed by arrows. 
If this story of the resurrection were a lie, they would have known it was a lie. For them to live a lie is certainly inconsistent with what we know about their moral lives.

In his history text, Harold Mattingly writes, “The apostles, St. Peter and St. Paul, sealed their witnesses with their blood.” Tectallin wrote that no man would be willing to die unless he knew he had the truth.

It is true that a lot of people have died for a lie, but only when they believed it to be the truth. People do not die for a lie that they know is a lie. If the disciples did lie, they were deliberately deceiving the whole world, but this certainly is not in line with their teachings and writings in Scripture or with the moral conduct they were telling people to live by. They taught honesty, integrity, and truthfulness.

Edward Gibbon in his book, The Rise and the Fall of the Roman Empire, lists five reasons for the spread of Christianity in the first century, one of which is “the pure, honest, sincere and truthful behavior of the disciples.” The whole message of Christ is to love one another, to be kind, and to speak the truth. Could they have been living a colossal lie? No, I believe they had seen the risen Christ, their lives were radically changed, and they went to the world to tell the “Good News” of Christ’s love for each person, of His death as their substitute, of his resurrection that conquered death, and that He was and is now alive. He stands ready to give life—because He is THE WAY and THE TRUTH to all who trust in Him.

Paul Little asks in his book, Know Why You Believe, “Are these men, who helped transform the moral structure of society consummate liars or deluded madmen? These alternatives are harder to believe than the fact of the resurrection, and there is no shred of evidence to support them.”

As I stated earlier, the other option of explanation for His resurrection is supernatural: God raised Him from the grave and He lives today. That I believe to be not only the truth but rational truth.

Jesus said that He was the only way to a relationship with God and the only truth that could set men free. He is the only path up the mountain. Only through Him can man become whole and know the true and living God. And only through Jesus Christ does man gain life-Jesus said He was “the life” conquering death on your and my behalf.

During my university years, a statement by Blaise Pascal deeply impressed me. As you know, Pascal was a brilliant seventeenth-century French mathematician, a prodigy who dazzled Europe with sophisticated mathematical equations when he was yet only sixteen years old. By age thirty-one, Pascal had penned the now-classic truism: "There is a God-shaped vacuum in the heart of every person. And it can never be filled by any created thing. It can only be filled by God. made known through Jesus Christ.”

That statement by Pascal made an impact on my life. I recognized that vacuum in my life. I was asking questions such as, “Who am I?” “Where am I going?” “What am I doing here?” And no matter what I accomplished in life, I had a sense of emptiness and meaninglessness. I was trying to find answers. I gave my life to athletic pursuit. But no matter what I accomplished, my life was still void of meaning. I gave my life to intellectual pursuits, but no matter what I accomplished there at the university, I had a sense that there was something missing in me.

You see, my friend, God has made you and me in such a way that we will never have a sense of completeness and fullness and meaning until we come to know Him in a personal way. God has made us in three parts. He has made us physical beings and He has given us our mental capacity. He has also given us a spiritual capacity. Yet most of us go through life as only two-thirds of a person. We develop ourselves physically and mentally, but not spiritually. We will never be complete until we come to know God personally, and that is through the person of Jesus Christ. That is the only way that the spiritual void or emptiness within us will ever be filled.

In my closing remarks may I stress the most important aspect of this lecture. If you remember anything from this talk, I would like you to remember how you can know Jesus Christ personally. First, you must understand that God loves you. We are told that "God loves the world so much that He gave us Jesus Christ" (John 3:16). God loves us so much that He provided a way for us to reach him. But to reach Him—and this is the second point we must acknowledge that we need Him. We must acknowledge that because of our rebellion, there is a chasm between us and Him. That brings up the third point: Jesus said, in Luke 13:3, “But unless you repent [or turn from your former ways] you too will all perish.” Repentance simply means a change of mind. All of life you have moved in a direction away from God. God desires to have a relationship with you; He wants you to turn around and move toward Him. We do this by acknowledging before God that we are sinners and that we wish to change our thinking about Him.

Then you must understand that Jesus died on the cross for you. To illustrate the sin issue let’s say you and I each have a debt of sin. A debt means I have an obligation I owe. We have an impossible debt to God that we cannot pay back to Him. I cannot pay your debt because I have my own debt. You cannot pay my debt because you have your own debt. In Romans 6:23, the Bible says, “For the wages of sin is death.” In other words a wage is something I earn—I work so I receive the wage of X amount of money. What I have earned (the wage I receive) for my sins is— DEATH—eternal separation from God.

It is as if you owe someone ten million dollars and you make only one dollar a day. There is no way that you can pay off that debt. You need someone who has the capacity to pay your debt because the wages of sin have a consequence, that of eternal separation from God.

When Nicholas II was Czar of Russia, a father enlisted his son in the military with the hope of instilling discipline and direction in his life. Among other things, the young fellow had a weakness for gambling, and the atmosphere of army life seemed to hurt rather than help.

His army job was bookkeeping. As his gambling debts grew, he borrowed money from the outpost treasury to pay his debts. He kept losing instead of winning and sank deeper and deeper into debt.

One night, contemplating his situation, he added up his debts. When he saw the immense total, he wrote across the ledger, “So great a debt, who can pay?” He sat back in his chair, gun in hand, to reflect a few moments. As he contemplated his life and his death, he dozed off.

Czar Nicholas II was inspecting the outpost that night. When he entered the bookkeeper’s shack, he saw the sleeping man, the loaded gun, and the revealing ledger.

When the soldier awoke, he stared at the ledger and read the words, “So great a debt, who can pay?” Underneath were the words, “Paid in full, Czar Nicholas II!” You see, Czar Nicholas II had the resources to pay the debt.

A debt is what I owe someone. A penalty is what I receive when I can’t pay my debtor when I break a law. If I break the speeding law in my auto, I receive a penalty, that of having to pay a set amount of money for breaking the law. That is my penalty, it is my debt to society. If I kill someone I receive a more painful penalty—that of death. I will be executed for breaking the law and committing murder. As you can see, the greater the law broken the greater the penalty. The reason there is eternal separation from God (the wages of my sin being death) is because of the severity of the law broken—that of not living according to the standards of a perfectly holy and righteous God. The greatest violations in the universe carry with them the greatest consequences.

That is why God the Son became a man and lived a perfect life. He had no sin. He had no debt. So what God did with the debt we owe for our sins was to put it on Jesus Christ, and Christ in His love for us paid our debt by dying in our place. God now can forgive you and give you a new life if you choose to receive Christ. Roman 5:8 says, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

Suppose your friend was dying of cancer, and because you loved and cared so much for your friend you asked the doctor to do a transfusion that would take the cancer cells out of his body and put them in your body. What would happen? He would live and you would die. Why? Because that which was causing his death was placed in you and you would die in his place and he would live. That is what Christ did for you at the cross. II Corinthians 5:21 says, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

But just accepting your sinfulness and Christ’s death, and understanding it intellectually, does not bring you into a relationship with God. You must make a decision. The Bible says (John 1:12): “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God.” So each person individually must receive Christ in order to become a member of God’s family."

What we accept from God is a gift because there is nothing we can give God in return. We cannot say, “Here are my good works. I want to cover my debt with my good works; they should get me into heaven.” The Bible says, “For it is by grace [unmerited kindness] you have been saved [made a child of God], through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8,9). The Bible also says that “the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23).

Suppose I say I have a pen that I wish to give you as a gift. You may say it is a beautiful pen, and you may want to have the pen. What must you do to have it? You must take it. You may believe in the pen and personally have great intellectual information about the pen. But the pen is not yours until you accept it.

Of course, you can stay where you are right now, separated from God. Regarding that decision, He says the wages of sin is death. Then He adds, “But the gift of God is eternal life.” The gift is free, but you must accept it to make it yours.

How do you receive the gift? You must make a decision, a choice to reach out and take the gift. It is as if I were to knock at the door of your home. You might choose to remain seated and say, “That’s John, I don’t want to see him.” I finally would go away. Or you might choose to come to the door and say, “John, I don’t like you and don’t want to see you. Good-bye.” And I would leave. Or you could choose to open the door and say, “John, good to see you, come in. Join me in my home.” And at your invitation I would come into your home. You made a decision to receive me into your home.

That is exactly the picture Jesus Christ paints of His relationship with you. He says, “I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come and eat with him, and he with me” (Revelation 3:20).

This decision is by faith. It is trust in the truth of God. This faith in Jesus Christ involves three things. First, you must have knowledge of the fact of what God did through Jesus Christ because of His love for you. Second, you must believe that fact and accept it as true. But third, and most important, to have true faith you must put your personal TRUST in the facts and rely on Christ’s work on the cross to be the sufficient payment for your sins.