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Evidence for the Resurrection

June 25, 2023

Evidence for the Resurrection

Passage: 1 Corinthians 15:1-7
Service Type:

June 25, 2023





The first dog our family ever had was a brown and white pup named Freckles. You know how some dogs are great at different kinds of things – this dog was not one of those. But we raised him from a puppy, and when he was about a year old or so, one day Freckles disappeared. Now we live out in the country, and Freckles was a bit of a free spirit. He liked to do his business over at the neighbor’s house instead of ours. The neighbor didn’t appreciate that, and based on some conversations we had had about this dog, I would not have been terribly surprised if the neighbor had something to do with Freckles going missing. But I never found a fresh pile of dirt in the neighbor’s backyard. I walked the ditches of the road and never found a body. I walked in the timber behind our house. Not so much as a hair anywhere to be found. Disappeared without a trace. 


I still to this day have absolutely no idea what happened to Freckles. I would like to believe he could be living his best life somewhere with a family who loves him. But that has no facts to support it. It would only be what I hope happened to him. I could just as easily believe he’s buried in my neighbor’s timber somewhere. But there is no evidence to support that either. 


The question we’re addressing today is this: Is the story of Jesus’ resurrection a little like the disappearance of Freckles? Is it something that has no evidence, and completely depends on the imagination of some people a long time ago? Is it 100% faith? Or is there actually evidence, besides just “the Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it” that we could look at?   


But Sometimes Christians just leave it to be all about faith – “I don’t know how to prove the resurrection happened, I just believe it!”  There is definitely an element of faith to this whole thing, and we’ll get to that today. But, ever since the day after Jesus’ death, there have been rumors circulating that say Jesus didn’t actually die, or the disciples stole the body and buried it somewhere no one ever discovered, God can’t break his own laws of physics to bring someone back to life, or simply that the idea of someone rising from the dead is just plain ridiculous. 


You might even have doubts yourself from time to time – did this really happen? How can I be sure that the resurrection is a real, historical event – that it really happened? I have five points today that I think are evidence that points to a real historical resurrection. There could be more, but for the sake of time today, we’ll roll with 5. 


So let’s pray and then dive in: 



In the book of Luke, Jesus predicted his death and resurrection 3x. About himself, he predicts that he will suffer many things, Be betrayed, Be rejected by religious leaders, Be Handed over to Gentiles (Romans), Be Mocked, insulted, spit on, flogged, Be killed. Check, check, check, check. All of those things happened exactly as he said they would. Every single one of them. Jesus batted 1.000 on the other things he predicted as well. The night he was betrayed, he predicted Judas’ betrayal, knew who would do it, and even gave him permission when the time came. He predicted Peter would deny him three times before morning, and it happened. The disciples were baptized in the Spirit and received power at Pentecost just like he said. And, he predicted the destruction of Jerusalem, which happened in 70 AD, complete with all the horrors he predicted it would have. 


So, with that kind of track record, it would be pretty unreasonable to say this prophet was 100% right about everything he said, even things outside of his lifetime, and yet he was wrong about this one thing just because people don’t normally come back from the dead.




All four gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, all say that the women who followed Jesus were the first ones to the tomb that first Easter morning. That’s not unusual. They had the responsibility of properly embalming the body. 


I think it’s fairly common knowledge that in ancient cultures, women were on a very low rung of the social ladder. There are old rabbinical sayings that said, “let the words of the Law be burned rather than delivered to women” and “woe to him whose children are female.” A woman’s testimony in court was not worth anything…to the point they weren’t even allowed to serve as witnesses. You can see a bit of that in the disciples’ reaction to their story – yeah whatever. They didn’t believe them. 


So for the gospel writers to say the women were the first ones to the tomb, the first ones to see the risen Christ, the first ones to proclaim the message – this could very well have been a bit embarrassing – something they struggled to include in the writing, knowing it would more likely hinder the story than help it. The only reason they would have had to write that women were the first to the empty tomb, the first to see the risen Christ, would be if it were in fact what actually happened. But again, despite their story, the men did not believe them. That’s actually a piece of evidence right there. 




One argument against the resurrection is that “the disciples were expecting Jesus to rise, they wanted him to rise, so in their overwhelming grief, they saw what they wanted to see,” meaning,  something like the water stains on the wall of the house looked like Jesus, and they imagined him speaking to them saying he’s alive.  I really want to see Freckles living with a family who loves him, so I could drive by someone’s house, see a brown and white dog that looks like him, and just say “aha, there he is! We found him!” 


As we learned with those two men on the road to Emmaus a couple weeks ago, these disciples were not looking for a resurrection – they were not sticking around to see what happened next. They weren’t even planning to attend the funeral or participate in the mourning…they were headed home because in their minds it was over. 


The author of the gospel of Mark got all of his information about Jesus’ life, death, resurrection by traveling with the Apostle Peter, who was in a perfect position to make up details to the story. But instead of making himself into some kind of hero, Peter tells Mark, yeah, I actually denied Jesus 3x. It was awful. I cried like an idiot, I felt so bad about it. That was right after I fell asleep 2x when Jesus told us to pray that we wouldn’t fall into temptation. Then, at the cross, the women were the only ones brave enough to be there. I wasn’t there. And then when Jesus appeared to us, I didn’t even believe it. I ran to the tomb to see if what the women said was true, but Jesus actually rebuked all of us for our unbelief and hardness of heart. 


If you were trying to start a new religion based on lies, wouldn’t you try to make yourself look a little better? Why would you make yourself look so bad – unless the details were true? The resurrection wasn’t something they believed immediately, it was something the disciples came to believe over those next 6 weeks as Jesus continued to appear to them giving them convincing proofs that he was alive. They needed to touch him, to see him eat, to hear him speak, etc, before they finally believed. 


But once they were convinced that the resurrection was true – everything changed for them. 




Lee Strobel writes about this in his book, The Case for Christ, and his point is, for centuries Jews hung their religious hats on the things that had been handed down from Abraham and Moses, like animal sacrifices, obeying the Sabbath, etc. 


But you look at these followers of Jesus after they are convinced that his resurrection is true, and they are eager to abandon everything they’ve ever believed and been taught! They don’t continue with animal sacrifices in order to be forgiven of sin, because they teach that Jesus was the once and for all sacrifice. They had believed for ages that the Law of Moses set them apart from all other nations, but now they begin to say that keeping the law isn’t what sets you apart – it’s faith in Jesus. They strictly kept the Sabbath day – Saturday, by our calendar – but these new Christians moved it to Sunday. Fourth, even their view of God changed. They are now teaching that God is Father, Son and Spirit. And probably most noticeably, most Jews, even the Apostles, originally believed the Messiah would be a political savior, a king who would deliver them from Rome and re-establish Israel as their own nation…and yet now, they have all changed their minds on that. They see Jesus as the king of a different kingdom. 


Those are some major changes! All 5 of those would fly in the face of everything they’d been taught. And you might think, “well, there are 5 things my parents did in raising me that I said I’d never do. Just because there is a massive change doesn’t mean anything.” But these disciples didn’t stand to gain anything by these changes – They stood only to be persecuted and pushed away and hated by the Jews. And that’s exactly what happened to all but one of them. They were all killed in some horrible ways. 


If they knew they had stolen the body, would they have been willing to die horrific deaths for a lie? Even one of the most recognized modern atheists named Bart Ehrman is willing to concede, something must have happened to make them abandon such long-held traditions, and be willing to face horrible deaths for preaching boldly the resurrection of Christ – and I would suggest that something that happened was the actual resurrection of Jesus. 




Here’s what the Apostle Paul believed and taught: 3 For I passed on to you as most important what I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the Twelve. 6 Then he appeared to over five hundred brothers and sisters at one time; most of them are still alive, but some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 8 Last of all, as to one born at the wrong time, he also appeared to me.


The man who wrote this, the Apostle Paul, was an enemy of Christ at one point. He was carrying out threats against the church, dragging people off to prison, putting them on trial, even overseeing their deaths if necessary. And something happened that transformed him into not only someone who followed Jesus, but someone who was willing to lose his life for the very gospel he used to preach against! 


And of all the things he wrote to the New Testament churches, the good news he received and the message he preached over and over, that he considered most important is this: Christ died like the Scriptures said he would; he was buried, and he was raised on the third day, like the Scriptures predicted he would, and that he appeared to at least 524 people – many of whom you could still find and talk to about it. He appeared to small groups, large groups, during the day, during the night, to people who loved him and people who hated him. It’s pretty challenging to say they were all hallucinating, or imagining Jesus at the same time. 

Paul wrote this letter to the Corinthians about 20 years after Jesus’ resurrection and ascension, and he still considered the resurrection to be absolutely necessary and crucial to a gospel worth passing on, a gospel worth building your life on or in his words, “taking your stand” on, and he considered the resurrection to be absolutely necessary and crucial to a gospel that saves. 

In fact, he goes on to say in that same chapter of 1 Corinthians that if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. In other words, if the resurrection is a made up story, and Peter and the other disciples stole the body, somehow overcame 16 highly trained Roman guards, managed to move a 2 ton stone by themselves, unwrap the body which they would have no reason to do and bury it somewhere else before anyone would know about it – if the resurrection is false, then we should take our Bibles and throw them in the dumpster on the way out the door today, close the church, and go on with our lives gaining as much pleasure in life as possible because once we die it’s going to be pretty lousy for a very long time.


But 20 years after Jesus’ death, burial, and supposed resurrection, the primary message and teaching of the Church was still 100% confidence that the resurrection (and the appearances that follow) are crucial parts of a) what the Old Testament had predicted about what to expect from the Messiah, and b) the message meant to be carried around the world by these Holy Spirit-empowered believers. 


Now, if you’re a skeptic, you might look at those five points and say, those would be easy to argue against, and that’s fine. But at some point, you’d have to at least do something with the fact that a) there was never a body produced, no grave was ever marked or agreed upon even to this day, and b) you’d have to somehow account for the complete transformation of Jesus’ followers, and even his enemies that continues to happen to this day. You’d have to to account for why they were dejected and depressed one day, and within a month, willing to leave behind everything they ever held dear and believed to be true about God, proclaiming with all their hearts that Jesus rose from the dead, even under the threat of imprisonment, beatings, and even death. 


You’ll have to find an answer for the fact that when other would-be Messiahs came on the scene, developed a following, and then were killed, their movements died out, and no one even remembers their names, but a few days and weeks after Jesus died a brutally humiliating death on the cross, his movement exploded across the world with his followers now being more bold than ever, proclaiming a bodily resurrection to the point of death. 


I am more convinced than ever that the evidence points to this: the earliest Christians came to believe, against all odds and against all expectations, that Jesus of Nazareth had been raised from the dead.


That’s still the message of the Church! We are still proclaiming the resurrection to this day! 


But here’s where we’ll close. 


Nothing we talked about this morning – none of these 5 points are enough to change anyone’s heart. So if you are in a place where you have a co-worker or family member or someone who is challenging you about your belief in the resurrection, don’t just present these facts and say, “so what do you think about those apples!?” If you decide to do that, don’t tell them you attend River City. 


None of these proofs are convincing enough to change a heart of stone into a heart of flesh, to change someone from being an enemy of God into a child of God. Not a single shred of hard, cold evidence is enough to bring anyone to salvation. So if you find yourselves in a conversation where you have to defend the resurrection of Christ, start by being a good listener. Understand that people don’t come to Christ because someone argued them into the kingdom. Be full of grace. Be patient. Understand their viewpoint. 


“A saving knowledge of Christ crucified and risen is not simply the result of thinking rightly about historical facts. It is the result of the Holy Spirit opening someone’s eyes to see those facts for what they really are.” 2 Corinthians 4:6 tells us that the only way a person can truly be saved is when God himself takes the blinders off our eyes, and turns the lights on so we see Jesus for everything he is. Only then can we move beyond just knowing hard facts to a place of being united with Christ. Only then do we not just know about Jesus, but we delight in him, enjoy him, love him, and want to know him more. 


The work of salvation is all about what Jesus has done and continues to do, as our resurrected king, and one of the ways we as a church rehearse that truth every month is through Communion, or the Lord’s Supper. 


When we hold the bread and the cup in our hands, we remember – 

  1. Our salvation is not about what I do, it’s about what he did. It’s a gift of his grace, something we receive through faith. 
  2. His commitment to my salvation and my growth as his disciple far outweighs my commitment to him. I am committed to Christ, but easily get knocked off course by temptation and circumstances in life and things I have to get done… Jesus was locked in his entire ministry on earth, locked in on perfectly obeying his Father’s will so that I would be saved… even when it meant enduring a brutal death on the cross. 
  3. That people aren’t saved by arguments, they are saved by the love of a Savior who sees them, knows them, hears them, and calls them to follow him. 


Open Communion – Participate even if not your home church

The gospel of Jesus is that although your sins have separated you from God, making you an enemy of the Creator who is perfect in every way, though your sins have rightly deserved the full wrath of God poured out on your head for your rebellion against him, Jesus has stepped in, put on your name tag, and took the wrath that should have been yours. He willingly, purposely, died in your place, becoming the once and for all sacrifice. On the third day, God rose him from the dead, and ascended him to the throne of heaven where right now he lives, and reigns, and is our high priest who prays for us, intercedes for us, and empowers us by his very own Spirit, his very own presence in us day by day. He continues to call sinners to repentance through his word and through the local church.


If you publicly profess to be a believer in that gospel, this small meal is for you to once again receive the grace of Jesus by rejoicing in his provision for your eternal life and celebrating that we belong to the global body of Christ. If you do not profess to follow Jesus, you have not repented of your sins and trusted your life to Christ, then we ask that you just pass the plates on by as they come to you and not participate. We’re thankful you’re here, we’d love for you to join us in this someday, but until then, just pass things by