I want you to turn with me in your New Testament to 1 Corinthians chapter 15 please, that great portion of Scripture where Paul writes in his epistle to the Corinthian believers on the great truth of the resurrection that, if truth be told, they were starting to disbelieve. There were certain influences of Greek philosophy that were being brought to bear on the minds and hearts of these Corinthian believers, and they were starting to bend in their conviction concerning their own resurrection from the grave.
So we want to read from verse 1, and these are Paul's words, 1 Corinthians 15 verse 1: "Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain. For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures: And that he was seen of Cephas", that is, Peter, "then of the twelve: After that, he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present [day], but some are fallen asleep. After that, he was seen of James; then of all the apostles. And last of all he was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time". Then if you would come down to verse 12 please: "Now if Christ be preached that he rose from the dead, how say some among you that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there be no resurrection of the dead, then is Christ not risen: And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain. Yea, and we are found false witnesses of God; because we have testified of God that he raised up Christ: whom he raised not up, if so be that the dead rise not. For if the dead rise not, then is not Christ raised: And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins. Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable. But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept. For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive".
Let us pray for a moment, please: Our Father, we come to You tonight in the name that is above every name, that name that was disregarded and blasphemed and trodden under the foot of men, when it was revealed to them in human flesh in the life and ministry of our Lord Jesus. But that name, though humiliated, has now been exalted and given the highest place that heaven affords. We thank You that we believe that the start of that exaltation process happened when He burst forth from the grave, and then when He ascended to Your right hand, a Prince and a Saviour. Lord, we are here primarily to honour Him, to glorify Him, to magnify Him, to declare Him - for You have declared Him to be the Son of God, having raised Him with power through the resurrection of the dead. Now Lord, may the Holy Spirit tonight open the truth to someone's mind and someone's heart. He taught us, Father, 'You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free'. We ask that the Holy Spirit may manifest the One who alone is the way, the truth and the life to some soul here tonight, and even Your own people. Lord, I've got to confess to You that I don't believe for one moment that every professed believer in this place tonight is living experientially in the faith of the resurrection of Jesus. Sometimes, Lord, all of us are practical atheists. O Lord, may we all be given a fresh revelation of the living Christ tonight. May our faith be strengthened, and bolstered, and revived as we face Jesus in the Word - for it's in His name we pray, Amen.
If you want a title for the message tonight, I suppose it could be: 'April Fool! Was the Resurrection a Hoax?'. Many people believe it was. You may have heard of the film director James Cameron, who has been in the news recently for his apparently groundbreaking work of art 'Avatar', but he also directed the famous 'Titanic' movie and others. He sparked religious controversy in 2007 by unveiling what he claimed to be the burial casket of Jesus Christ, and he shot a documentary, a docudrama, based on that find. Cameron, on that year, the date the 26th February, proudly showed off a 3 foot long ossuary to a packed press conference in New York in the United States. I'm not going to go into a specific critique of James Cameron's film, because it has already been rubbished by many sources - but if you want to know more about it, there's plenty of information on the Internet. Save to say that Amos Kloner, the archaeologist who oversaw the work of the finding of that ossuary, upon discovering it he dismissed the newfound Hollywood treatment of it. This is what he said, I'm quoting him: 'It was an ordinary middle-class Jerusalem burial cave' - an ordinary middle-class Jerusalem burial cave. He told reporters in Jerusalem: 'The names on the caskets are the most common names found among Jews at the time. It makes a great story for a television film, but it's impossible - it's nonsense'.
Now, that story is to illustrate to you how men are still attempting to rubbish the truth of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. It is nothing new, it's been going on since the Lord Jesus rose from the grave. Indeed, in 1897 a man by the name of Ernest Renan, a French writer, wrote a work called 'Vie de Jesu', which means 'The Life of Jesus'. When he reached the cross in the story of Jesus' life, he just put the word 'Fini', French for 'finished' - it's over, as if that was the end of it all. If that was not bad enough, the unbelieving printer of that work put on the flyleaf, after the word 'Fini', a carved crucifix - and there was Jesus hanging on the cross, with a drooping head and matted hair, and pale blood-streaked face. Everyone had deserted Him, the storm clouds were gathering in the sky, and blackbirds were circling through the gloom - everything about the scene spelt defeat.
Further back in this Corinthian Epistle, we read these words - chapter 1 and verse 23: 'We preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness'. The cross was a stumbling block to the Jews because they believed that their Messiah would come as a conqueror - but it seemed that, if Messiah was crucified, that He rather had been conquered. To the Greeks the cross was utter foolishness, and the Greek word - and you know the New Testament, of course, was written in Greek - the Greek word for 'foolishness' here is 'moria', and it's the word we get our English word 'moron' or 'moronic' from. So to the Greek mind, it was moronic to laud and glory in a crucified and then supposedly resurrected Saviour. This is why you have this chapter, 1 Corinthians 15, because this thought was starting to grip hold of the psyche of believers in the Greek city of Corinth.
Now, you might ask, if you're here tonight and you're not a Christian, where the truth lies. Or maybe you are a professing believer in the Lord Jesus, but you have had your doubts about the miraculous, and even in this particular, the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. There are so many, and it seems that around this time of year they all crawl out of the woodwork, to rubbish the resurrection of Jesus as 'April Fool', as 'hoax'. So, what is the truth? Was the cross the end? Did He rise again? Some believe we are morons for suggesting that Jesus was resurrected.
Now, I'm going to propose three questions to you, and answer them. The first is: could God raise Jesus from the dead? The second is: did God raise Jesus from the dead? And, if He did, why did God raise Jesus from the dead? Let's deal with the first: could God raise Jesus from the dead? Now, when Paul again, he was writing here, when he preached on the resurrection in the Greek city of Athens, we read that the Epicurean and the Stoic philosophers called Paul 'a babbler and a setter forth of strange doctrines'. That's often what people think when you preach about resurrection - but Paul's retort to that was simply these words: 'Why should it be thought a thing incredible that God should raise the dead?'. That was his answer, and that should be our answer to anyone who casts doubt on the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. You don't need to go to science or biology to argue that this is a fact. If you believe in God, if you will admit that there is a God in heaven - even if you don't understand Him, you don't know who He is, and you don't know much about Him - impossibility concerning resurrection goes out the window if you concede that there is a God, for nothing is impossible with God. If something is impossible with God, He's clearly not God anyway. If there is a divine being, whether you only understand Him to be some kind of force out there in the cosmos, I don't care how you define Him - if you believe at all in another being who is the creator and source of all life, why do you think it incredible that He should be able to raise the dead? It's worth thinking about, is it not?
Now, things are bad in the West, and particularly in the United Kingdom, where the church is concerned. There is a decline in church membership and attendance - it has accelerated, it would seem, in recent years - but many people still believe in God. When asked in the 1998 'British Social Attitude Survey' about people's religious beliefs, they recorded that over 1 in 5 agreed with the statement 'I know God really exists, and I have no doubts about it' - they were absolutely sure that there was a God, 1 in 5 people in our nation. Only 1 in 10 said they did not believe in God at all. Now, if you were to believe the media, you would think everyone today was an atheist except for the crackpot evangelical Christians and the maniac Muslims - but that is plainly not the case. Only 1 in 10 people said that they did not believe in a God. It is usually those with an atheistic agenda who seek to disprove the resurrection, because they do not believe in any God. They have a presupposition, a bias toward a belief in any deity. They don't conceive of an all-powerful, sovereign God, who is personally active at this very moment in His universe. Now listen carefully to what I'm saying: if you believe in any shape or form that there is a God, whoever He is, whatever He is like, He can do anything - and one thing is certain, He can raise someone who has been dead! Sure, it would be ridiculous to suggest anything else - a Creator who has made all things, made life itself, but He is impotent, He has not the power to restore life to someone who is dead?
Could God raise Jesus from the dead? Of course He could! Why should it be thought a thing incredible that God should raise the dead? Now, I maybe don't have to go on any further for you - and I hope that that may be the case with some of you - but for some that is not enough. Well, the question hangs: did God raise Jesus from the dead? It's one thing saying He's able to do it, but did He? In fact, did Jesus have anything to do with the God that may or may not exist? Did God raise Jesus from the dead? DeWitt was one of the greatest leaders of rationalism, and he studied the resurrection, or the supposed resurrection of Christ with precise investigation. He concluded, these are his words: 'The resurrection of Jesus Christ cannot be called into doubt any more than the historical certainty of the assassination of Caesar'. I repeat it: 'The resurrection of Jesus Christ cannot be called into doubt any more than the historical certainty of the assassination of Caesar'. Now, we don't need his word for it - the Old Testament prophets prophesied the resurrection of Jesus from the dead thousands of years before He was ever born. Jesus Himself, many times, predicted that He would die, would be buried, and three days later He would rise from the grave. The question is: did it happen? The answer is: yes, it did!
Here are some reasons: one, He appeared at least eleven times after His resurrection. You might sit there tonight and say: 'Well, how do you know that?'. Well, the Bible says so. 'Oh', you say, 'the Bible!? That comic book? That's a fabrication! Of course the Bible is going to say Jesus rose from the dead, it's in the Bible's interest to do so!'. Well, let me pose a question to you: have you examined the Bible on this very count? Most people that rubbish the Bible have never read it, never read it! If you do read it, you will see that it certainly does not read like a fabrication. I challenge you to do it - as one preacher said: 'If you were writing a fabrication, would you present a weak woman offering to carry away the body of a full grown man? Would you have had Christ folding up the grave clothes neatly, or tearing them off in triumph and throwing them in the corner of the tomb?'. Most human writers would have written this account more spectacularly, but they didn't - and the simple reason why they didn't was: it is true! It is not fiction, it is an accurate historical account of an historical fact. Eleven times, at least, He appeared after His resurrection.
You say, 'Well, give us another reason why we believe that He rose from the grave'. Well, the disciples said He did. 'Oh', you say, 'Come on! You've got to do better than that! The disciples? Well, sure they must have lied!'. Well, let me ask you: was it in the interest of the disciples to lie about the resurrection of Jesus? Does lying about His resurrection square with their ethic, does it square with everything Jesus taught them in three and a half years of ministry? Of course it doesn't! It would be very strange if they went to their deaths, some were crucified upside down, some were beheaded, some were sawn asunder, some were boiled in oil - who would do that for a lie?
The disciples said it, He appeared over eleven times, and here's a third reason: the enemies of the resurrection have never been able to present one piece of evidence to say that He didn't rise again from the grave. That's why men like James Cameron are scraping the bottom of the barrel, and lowering themselves to theatrics to attempt to create a storm in a teacup that even secular commentators rubbish - because they haven't got one bit of evidence to prove that He did not rise again from the grave! He appeared over eleven times after His resurrection, the disciples said that He rose again, and there's not one shred of evidence that He didn't - and fourthly: you've got to answer the question, what is the reason for the empty tomb? Why was it empty?
You have to admit it was empty. Daniel Schenkel was a 19th-century Swiss liberal theologian, and he didn't believe in a lot of things the Bible teaches - yet he says this: 'It is an indisputable fact that in the early morning of the first day of the week following the crucifixion the grave of Jesus was found empty'. There was no body there! You must answer the question: where was He? You can't stick your head in the sand now: either He rose again from the dead, or there's some other explanation for it. If there is another explanation for it, you've got to come up with it and prove it. Some people say: 'Oh, His friends took Him, His friends took Him!'. Well, that was the lie, of course, the Jews paid the soldiers to spread - and it's funny when you look at it, because this was the story that they told: 'We fell asleep and His friends took Him'. That's like - an Ulsterman could have said that! - how would they know that the friends took Him if they were asleep? Yet people are still spreading that lie: 'His friends took Him'.
Apart from that, if you read the Gospels you will know that the disciples of Jesus were petrified with terror and fear, because they were afraid that because they followed Jesus they would be crucified as well. Do you think they would have risked everything to take the body of Jesus away and hide it somewhere - and after that, how would they hide a rotting corpse, and how would a rotting corpse have inspired them to go out and preach as they did? Would someone, somewhere, not have by now found the corpse and the skeleton of Jesus? Of course. His friends took Him away? It's impossible!
But perhaps there are other explanations? Some will say: 'Well, He never died at all. On the cross He went into a kind of coma, and He swooned. Then when they put Him into the tomb, He wasn't really dead, and the spices that they anointed Him with, and the cool air of the tomb revived Him!'. Now think about that - that's still a popular belief concerning the supposed resurrection of the Lord. Imagine a man creeping forth from a tomb, half dead, and He's able to impress His followers as the conqueror of death? It's ridiculous! Add to that the fact that it totally mutates the character of Jesus as we know Him, because it makes Him a devious monster, because His disciples thought that He rose from the dead, they thought that He had died literally, and He had risen again literally - and if He hadn't, it makes Him the most diabolical liar that has ever lived! Can you believe that about Jesus Christ?
Add to that the fact that the soldiers, whose custom it was, when it came to those who had been crucified, if they weren't dead they broke their legs - because you survived on the cross for the duration by pushing yourself up on your feet to get a breath. So they broke their legs to stop them pushing themselves up, stop them breathing - but the Bible records that they didn't break His legs, because when they came to Him He was already dead. Then a soldier thrust a spear in His side and forthwith came blood and water, the pericardial sac was burst and He was dead! It's nonsense to say that he didn't really die.
His friends couldn't have taken Him, He couldn't have simply swooned and been revived in the tomb, but thirdly: some will say, 'Well, the disciples, they hallucinated all this. They dreamt it up. Maybe they didn't do it deviously, maybe they were just misled and deceived by their own minds'. Well, that's very interesting, because that must be the first 40 day long hallucination that has ever been in the history of mankind - for He walked with them, and He talked with them, for 40 days before He ascended into heaven. More than that, we read tonight in 1 Corinthians 15 that on one occasion He was seen by over 500 of His disciples at once - so they all hallucinated simultaneously?
One old preacher said: 'These old infidels deny one miracle and want to substitute 500 in its place' - it's true, isn't it? Would it not be strange if these hallucinations suddenly ceased after 40 days and they never had any more? The fact of the matter is: the disciples, of all people, were not expecting Jesus to rise from the dead. I was preaching on that this morning: they were not expecting it! Even His enemies said: 'This deceiver said after three days He will rise again, make sure that they don't steal His body because we'll have a bigger fix on our hands with the Jews if they believe this lie' - but the disciples weren't even thinking about it. I was preaching this morning on Mark 16, and the two Marys came to the tomb with spices, and it's the third day of the week, Sunday morning, and they're coming to anoint a dead Jesus! They weren't expecting a resurrection!
The disciples did not hallucinate it, and even when they were told about the resurrection they didn't believe it. Schenkel, who I quoted to you, the 19th-century Swiss liberal theologian, says: 'It is a second fact that the disciples, and other members of the apostolic communion, were convinced that Jesus was seen after the crucifixion'. More than that, even those who weren't Christians were convinced of it. Josephus was a Jewish historian, and this is what he writes: 'About this time there lived Jesus, a wise man, if indeed one ought to call him a man. He was the Christ. When Pilate, upon hearing him accused by men of the highest standing amongst us, had condemned him to be crucified, those who had in the first place come to love him did not give up their affection for him. On the third day he appeared to them restored to life, for the prophets of God had prophesied these and countless other marvellous things about him'.
If God could raise Him from the dead, and God did raise Him from the dead - and can I say to this to you: in a court of law, the evidence would prove beyond reasonable doubt that He did rise from the dead - if God could do it, and God did do it, why did He? First of all, He did it to vindicate everything that Jesus ever said and did. It was God's full stop and underlining of the life and ministry of the Lord Jesus. He said He would rise from the dead the third day, and God raised Him from the dead and declared Him to be His Son with power. No one can dispute it, for the historical fact is: He has risen - and that is what makes Christ unique. He's different than Abraham, he never rose from the dead. He's different than Mohammed, he never rose from the dead. He's different than Buddha, He's different than Confucius, He's different than Joseph Smith or Benjamin Young. God raised Him from the dead to vindicate Him as the Son of God and the only Saviour of the world. My friend tonight, I have to tell you that if He's not your Saviour, you're in big eternal trouble - for He's the only Saviour, the only One God sent, the only One died for your sins, the only One who rose from the dead in the power of an endless life, and therefore has the authority and the ability to give eternal life to those who believe in Him. Only Him.
But a second reason why He raised Him from the dead was to give every believer the assurance that they are justified, that simply means they are cleared forensically - as if you were in a court of law accused of a crime, and the judge acquitted you, you are cleared. In the court of heaven we have broken the holy law of God, we have broken the Commandments, every single one of us, for all of us have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God - but Jesus died for our sins, we read it, according to the scriptures; and He rose again, according to the scriptures; and that testified that God was pleased with the sacrifice He made for our sins when He shed His blood for us, when He took our place, when He became our Substitute and our Sacrifice. God raising Him from the dead was declaring: 'I accept what He has done, and sinners who believe in Him are justified, forgiven, saved, cleansed'.
Isn't it wonderful? Romans says: 'He was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification'. You see, think about it: if Jesus died for our sins and didn't rise again, how would we ever know, how would we ever know that the sin question had been dealt with? We wouldn't - but we do, because:
'Jesus lives, no longer thy portals are cheerless
Jesus lives, the mighty and strong to save'.
But here's a third reason why God raised Him from the dead: He did it to let us know that there is a Judgement Day coming. One of the apostles preaching in Acts 17 said these words: 'God has appointed a day, in which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he has ordained; whereof he has given assurance unto all men, in that he has raised him from the dead'. Now there's a lot of truths in that. The first is: God is going to judge one day. You say: 'I don't care for judgement' - it doesn't matter that you don't care for judgement, two hours after you're dead you'll know all about it. God has appointed a day, and He's going to judge the world in righteousness - do you know what that means? It'll not be your standards. You know the way your child or your grandchild does something wrong, and you're harsh with them, and then you throw the arms around them and say, 'Now, now, it's OK' when they start gurning and all the rest - you have pity on them. We're all like that, and we let people away with things because we feel a human compassion - but, you see, we're not all just, and we're not all holy, and you see God is going to judge us in righteousness according to His holiness. He has provided a way that we might be forgiven, and if we don't take that the only other alternative is that we are judged by His righteous justice - and He's going to do that through Jesus, Jesus is the Judge! He has given assurance to all men that that day, and that standard of judgement, is going to happen, by raising Jesus from the dead! We know that there is a day of judgement coming, because the Judge lives and He's coming soon!
My friend, if you're here tonight and you're not cleansed, forgiven, born again, saved - I urge you tonight upon the facts of Jesus' resurrection, and Jesus' soon coming, and Jesus' judging of this world, that you repent of your sins this very moment and believe in that same Jesus and be saved.
A final reason why God raised Him from the dead - yes, to vindicate the claims of His own Son; to give every believer the assurance that they are justified; to let us know that there is a judgement coming - but fourthly and finally: so that believers may know that they will be resurrected. First Corinthians 15 says: 'Christ is the firstfruits; and afterward they that are Christ's at his coming'. Do you know what revolutionised a bunch of cowering, scaredy-custard disciples? Do you know what revolutionised them? The fact that if they followed Jesus to their death, they would rise again. That ought to make a difference! It's not a waste! I remember hearing a man preach, and it was in the Iron Hall by the way, that even if he found out that Jesus was not the Messiah and the resurrection was a hoax, he would still live the life he lived and he'd do it a thousand times over because he enjoyed it and it was the best life that could be lived. That's poppycock - and Paul says that. If we've only hope in this life, we're of all men most miserable. The Christian life is the best life, but it's not an easy life, and it's a life where you can be persecuted for your faith - and more and more in our land we're going to be persecuted for our faith - why would you bother? Let's face it: why would you bother if it's all a farce? I certainly wouldn't! I'd be down in the club tonight, I wouldn't be here - that's the honest truth. But it's true! It's a fact! Because Jesus is alive, He has changed our lives, and He turned the lives of the disciples completely around on their heads, so that it says that in a few hours this motley crew of knee-knocking, scaredy-custards went out and turned the known world upside down! The truth of the resurrection!
Everything depends on the resurrection - and, my friend, I want you to know that the message we preach this Easter Day is not, 'Christ arose', no, it's 'He is risen!' - He is risen. Do you know what that means? Because He is risen, He is here. Some think it is foolish to believe in the resurrection of the dead. God says you're a fool if you don't. There were two on the Road to Emmaus on that first Easter Day, and Jesus said to them: 'Oh fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets said'. They were His disciples, and they had a hard job believing, and Jesus says: 'You're fools!'. The fool has said in his heart, 'No God', and if you leave God and Christ out of your life, one day God will come to you when the cold beads of death are upon your brow, and He will say to you: 'You fool, for this night your soul shall be required of you, and then whose shall those things be which you have provided?'.
Listen tonight: don't be a fool, believe in Jesus who died for your sins according to the scriptures, was buried and rose again the third day according to the scriptures, who can deliver you from sin and transform your life and your eternity, and one day resurrect your body to new life. Will you believe in Christ who is risen indeed?
Let us pray: Father, thank You that You did not leave this hanging in the air to conjecture, but You made absolutely sure that we could stand here tonight and preach with certainty and assurance that Jesus Christ, Your Son, is risen from the dead. We can build our life and our eternity upon it, and implore others to do so. Lord, may some people in this place tonight know what it is to believe in the One who is the resurrection and the life. Even your people, Lord, we say with shame: 'No more we doubt Thee, Glorious Prince of Life! Life is naught without Thee; aid us in our strife'. Amen.
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This sermon was delivered at Lurgan Baptist Church, Northern Ireland, by David Legge. It was transcribed from the recording, titled "April Fool! Was The Resurrection A Hoax?" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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