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He is risen! Exploring the truths of the resurrection of Jesus

Leading Baptists establish the fact of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ and explain its unparalleled significance for all people in this new Baptist Messenger Insight feature.

In this Insight:

The Resurrection: The Foundation of the Faith

The Day That Changed Everything!

Historical Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus

Miracles and the Resurrection

The Resurrection and the Christian Life

Preaching the Resurrection: a pastoral view


The Resurrection: The Foundation of the Faith

>> by Mark McClellan, Dean of the Herschel H. Hobbs College of Theology and Ministry, Oklahoma Baptist University

Jesus Christ was resurrected from the dead. That is the pillar of the Gospel and the foundation of the Christian hope for eternal life in Heaven.

Those of us who have experienced its power in our salvation and our Christian life know it to be true. Even though our experience is a testimony of this, there are good reasons for our faith in the resurrection of Christ. This Insight will briefly remind or introduce us to some of those reasons.

There are many biblical passages that speak to the resurrection, but I Cor. 15 is one of the most important. It frames four essential aspects of the resurrection that will guide the articles of our writers.

First, it states the early historical record of the resurrection. Second, it provides the essential theological significance of the resurrection, which is the Gospel and salvation. Third, it provides a basis for its defensibility against those who would deny and reject it, an apologetic. Finally, it relates all of these aspects to the preaching of the Gospel. Our five writers will address these very aspects of the resurrection.

Alan Bandy will present a summary of the New Testament record of the Resurrection. Tawa Anderson and Robert Stewart will address miracles and the historical nature of the resurrection. Josh McClellan will present the importance of the resurrection for salvation. Finally, Andy Taylor will present the importance of preaching the resurrection.

I want to thank each one of them for their valuable contribution to this Insight. While these brief articles can only “touch the hem of the garment” regarding the truthfulness of the resurrection, we pray they will be an encouragement and a help.

I Cor 15:1-4 states: “Now I make known to you, brethren, the Gospel which I preached to you, which you also received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain. 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.” (NASB)

It is only reasonable that Christians present the textual, historical and other evidential reasons that support the truthfulness of the bodily resurrection of Christ. When we do, there is undeniable evidence that Christ died on the Cross, He was placed in a guarded tomb, that tomb was found empty three days after His death, that He was seen by many witnesses shortly after His death and that He dramatically transformed their lives. That message has been transforming lives ever since. It is truth that we take to heart.

I was once a trial lawyer. Although I am no legal expert, I can attest that in a court of law, both eyewitness and circumstantial evidence can be presented to establish the truth. In this case, the eyewitness and circumstantial evidence of the resurrection is overwhelming. I recognize that some would disagree with this assertion. Nonetheless, if someone examines the case for the resurrection, he or she will find it to be compelling.

Baptist theologian James Leo Garrett, Jr. points out that the real distinction of “apostolic Christianity,” the faith of the New Testament believer and church is what God did when He supernaturally raised Christ from the dead. This means that the Christian Church neither began, nor continued, simply as a religious movement. It began because Christ’s followers had seen the resurrected Christ and they experienced His resurrection power in their lives. For all of us who have believed, we too have experienced that power. I Cor 1:18 says, “For the word of the cross is foolishness to those that are perishing, but to us who are being saved, it is the power of God.” (NASB)


The Day That Changed Everything!

>> by Alan Bandy, Rowena R. Strickland assistant professor of New Testament & Greek at Oklahoma Baptist University

As the sun descended toward the horizon that Friday afternoon, events of historical, theological and cosmic significance unfolded in unexpected ways—Jesus, the Son of God, died upon the cross.

Upon the death of Jesus, Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent member of the Sanhedrin and a secret disciple of Christ, openly approached Pilate to ask for the body of Jesus to ensure a proper burial. Joseph, along with Nicodemus, received the corpse to prepare it for burial.

Nicodemus purchased a 75-pound mixture of myrrh and aloes to use when wrapping the body with strips of clean linen cloth. Then they laid his corpse on a stone bench inside of Joseph’s newly rock hewn tomb near Golgotha. When the two men finished their preparations, they rolled a heavy stone over the entrance. While they worked, Mary Magdalene and another Mary were watching to see where Jesus was entombed.

The next day, Saturday, several priests and Pharisees feared that Jesus’ disciples would steal His body to attempt a resurrection hoax, so they petitioned Pilate to secure the tomb. Pilate granted them a squad of soldiers, who sealed and guarded the tomb.

The soldiers posted watched  vigilantly throughout rest of the day and through night. As the first gleam of morning light peaked through the cloak of darkness, the Earth jolted violently.

Suddenly, an angel touched down in front of the tomb with a stunningly brilliant and dazzling lightening-like appearance. The angel stepped up to the tomb and effortlessly rolled the stone away from the entrance.

At the sight of this angel, these hardened soldiers melted in fear like butter next to an open flame and fell limp like dead men.

While this took place, a small band of grieving women were making their way to the tomb in the early morning light. Unsure of how they would roll the stone away, they were determined to finish the burial preparations. Yet, they arrived to discover the tomb already open. Cautiously peering into the tomb, their eyes widened in terror at the sight of two glorious angels sitting on the bench where Jesus’ body had been. One angel was where Jesus’ head was laid and the other at His feet. One of the angels spoke words that still resound with power—“Do not be afraid. I know you are seeking Jesus of Nazareth. Why are you seeking the living among the dead? He is not here. He is risen!” 

The women, still trembling and filled with a mix of bewilderment and joy, ran back into town. The disciples sat sullenly in the upper room when Mary Magdalene crashed into the room breathlessly exclaiming that someone had taken Jesus’ body. Peter and John instantly rushed out to investigate.

John arrived first, but stopped at the sight of only the linen cloths and shroud where Jesus had been. Peter arrived, pushing past John, and entered the tomb. John believed Jesus had risen, but Peter struggled.

Mary Magdalene returned to the tomb to search for the body of Jesus. Weeping and worried, Mary asked the gardener if he knew where they had the body. The man simply said, “Mary,” and turning to see Him, she realized it was Jesus. After she left to tell the others, Jesus appeared to two walking on the road to Emmaus.

Dejected, sad, and heartbroken, they discussed the events of the last few days with a stranger started walking alongside them. Yet, the stranger who turned the conversation into an explanation of everything the Scripture said about the Messiah. Enthralled by this man, they invited Him to a meal. When He took the bread and broke it, they recognized Him instantly—it was Jesus!

Meanwhile, back in the upper room, the disciples remained thoroughly perplexed. As the room buzzed with chatter over all the reports, Jesus suddenly appeared in their midst—“peace be with you.” They fell silent in profound fear. “Why are you troubled, and why do you doubt?” Jesus continued, “look at My hands and My feet. It is I, Myself! Touch Me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.” Joy replaced fear as they stood staring at Him and He said, “do you have anything to eat?”

When Jesus left, he promised to see them again in Galilee. It was like old times eating fish and walking along the seashore with Jesus. He remained with them for 40 more days after His resurrection. He appeared to Peter, to all the twelve, to James, to Paul, and to more than 500 others.

He proved beyond all doubt that He was fully and bodily resurrected—never to die again. The resurrection of Jesus changed everything, but more importantly, it changes everyone who still encounters the Risen and Reigning Savior!


Historical Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus

>> by Tawa J. Anderson, Assistant Professor of Philosophy, Oklahoma Baptist University

The Christian faith revolves around the historical fact of Jesus’ bodily resurrection. In this brief article, I outline the historical evidence supporting resurrection faith. Simply put, Jesus’ resurrection is the best explanation for five established historical facts listed below. These facts are established historical data acknowledged by virtually all (more than 95 percent of) scholars (including non-Christian scholars).

Why do scholars affirm these historical facts? Historical knowledge derives from artifacts, particularly written documents. When historians study written sources for knowledge, they look for certain qualities.  (1) Early Date: is the source written close to the time of the events it discusses? (2) Eyewitness Status: does the source contain eyewitness testimony? (3) Multiple Attestation: do multiple independent sources affirm the same basic account?

The historical facts listed below (a) are confirmed by multiple independent written sources which are (b) early accounts, written soon after the death of Jesus, of (c) eyewitness testimony. Early, multiple, eyewitness attestation explains why virtually all scholars agree they are not just beliefs, but historical facts demanding explanation. I submit that these can only be reasonably explained by Jesus’ bodily resurrection.

–Fact No. 1 

Jesus Death Burial

Jesus’ tomb cannot be found empty (Fact No. 2) unless He is dead and buried.  It is nearly unanimously affirmed that (1) Jesus was sentenced to death by Pontius Pilate, and died upon a Roman cross on the Friday of Passover week; and (2) Joseph of Arimathea gave Jesus an honorable (though hurried) burial before the onset of the Sabbath. No ancient sources question Jesus’ death and burial.

–Fact No. 2

Women Discover the Empty Tomb

After the Sabbath, a group of women (including Mary Magdalene) came to Jesus’s sealed tomb, only to find the stone rolled away and the tomb empty. This fact alone (amongst those listed here) lacks virtually unanimous consent among scholars—about two-thirds of scholars agree that the empty tomb is a historical fact.

Why do most scholars agree the tomb was found empty? (1) Our ancient sources unanimously confirm the empty tomb. (2) Enemies of Christianity agree that the tomb was empty and accuse the disciples of stealing Jesus’s body (see Matt. 28:15). The fact of the empty tomb is undisputed; skeptics only question the cause.  (3) Women discover the empty tomb, an unlikely scenario if the account is fabricated. Women’s testimony was considered unreliable (see, e.g., the disciples’ reaction in Luke 24:11).  Imaginative Christians would place key disciples at the discovery of the empty tomb, not untrustworthy women.  (4) The empty tomb is discovered in Jerusalem, and proclaimed in Jerusalem shortly thereafter (Acts 2). If the tomb was not empty, opponents of Christianity would have capitalized on that reality.

–Fact No. 3

Disciples Encounter the Risen Jesus

Scholars agree that the disciples had experiences they interpreted as encounters with the risen Jesus. Jesus’ resurrection appearances were unapologetically bodily (Luke 24, Matt. 28, John 20-21).  Jesus appeared to individuals, small groups and large groups (see, e.g., 1 Cor. 15:5-8).

–Fact No. 4

Skeptic James, Opponent Paul

Encounter Jesus and Believe

Jesus’ brother James did not believe Jesus was the promised Messiah during His lifetime (e.g., Mark 3:20-32)—James was a skeptic. Nonetheless, James encountered the risen Jesus (1 Cor. 15:7), becoming not just a believer, but a key leader in the early church (Josephus, Acts 15).  Paul was an active disbeliever and opponent of the early church before his encounter with the risen Jesus (Acts 7-9). Paul subsequently becomes a missionary to the Gentiles, and eventually is martyred for his faith (see Clement, Polycarp, Tertullian, Origen).

–Fact No. 5

Disciples Willingly Suffer and Die

for Resurrection Faith

Outside of John (and the suicidal Judas), the original disciples (plus Paul, Stephen, and others) are persecuted and ultimately martyred for their proclamation of and belief in Jesus’ resurrection. As critics often note, people die for false beliefs quite regularly.  However, the disciples knew whether their resurrection faith was true or false. People die for false beliefs they believe to be true; but people do not willingly die for false beliefs they know to be false.


Fact or Fiction?

There is much more that could be said: the growth of the church; the transformation of the disciples’ worldview; worship of a crucified ‘Messiah’ as God; worship on Sunday instead of the Sabbath (Saturday). More supporting evidence could be mustered for each listed fact (see suggested reading below). What has been said demonstrates that the resurrection is not an article of blind faith—something believed despite lack of evidence. We have resurrection faith on the basis of solid historical grounds. We confidently and reasonably affirm and proclaim: Jesus is risen; He is risen, indeed.

For an in-depth readable treatment, consult Habermas & Licona, The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus; and/or Lee Strobel, The Case for Easter.


Miracles and the Resurrection

>> by Robert B. Stewart, Associate Professor of Philosophy and Theology, Greer-Heard Chair of Faith and Culture at New Orleans Seminary

The primary reason many people today disbelieve in Jesus’ resurrection is that they correctly understand it to be a miracle, and they either doubt or disbelieve in miracles.

The 18th Century philosopher David Hume argued against miracles by defining a miracle as a “violation of natural law.” Natural law, he argued, is established by “firm and unalterable experience.” Therefore, miracles are exceptions to something that has no exceptions. Now let’s be clear: if Hume is correct in his definition of miracles and his understanding of natural law, then miracles are impossible.

Obviously if miracles cannot happen, or uniformly do not happen, i.e., never ever happen, then miracles never happen, and Jesus was not raised from the dead. But this is simply Hume defining miracles out of existence rather than giving us reasons to think them impossible.

Still, understanding Hume in this way is probably unfair to Hume. He certainly recognized that there was testimonial evidence for miracles, but reasoned that the uniform evidence of human experience, down the ages and across cultures, that nature is unfailingly regular was always greater than the highly infrequent testimony of a very few individuals in favor of the miraculous. And a reasonable man never prefers weaker evidence in favor of stronger evidence. On the surface, this is a much stronger argument.

But what if a miracle is not a violation of natural law?  And what if our understanding of natural law is limited? Allow me to summarize Tim McGrew’s helpful analogy. Consider the case of a (really smart and reflective) bird.  Our bird—who has never seen a human being—lives happily at the top of a large, healthy tree. One day, he flies a few miles to the north and spends the day eating grubs. The day is clear and fine, with scarcely a cloud. At evening, our bird flies south to his nest only to find the tree where he has lived for years flat upon the ground, neatly severed at its base. He knows that unhealthy trees sometimes fall in the wind or collapse under their own weight. He knows that severe storms can fell an apparently healthy tree. But in his experience—without exception—healthy trees do not suddenly fall on sunny days. The event is unprecedented. Yet, there the tree lies. What is he to believe?  And what should his rational friends believe when he tells them what has happened?

We humans can easily figure out what happened, but in all of the bird’s experience up until now, man has never played a role. His world has been invaded by a higher order of being that can make things happen the bird has never experienced or imagined.  The generalization he has formed—that healthy trees, left to themselves, do not fall down on sunny days—is true as far as it goes.  But this tree was not left to itself.

The laws of nature are not properly defined as exceptionless regularities, but rather as our best attempt to say what nature will do when left to itself. The question, then, is not, “How probable is it that we are wrong about the laws of nature?” Rather, it is, “How probable is it that, in this instance, God has reached into His creation to do something that nature alone could not?” (Tim McGrew, Science, Doubt, and Miracles, accessed 13 March 2013).

But why should we believe that God has intervened?  What reason could He have to do so? How about making Himself known in a way that could not reasonably be doubted—in a way that would make us humans accountable, but still leave us free to choose what we believe?

Consistent with this line of reasoning, John’s Gospel speaks of Jesus’ miracles as “signs” (John 2:11).  Nicodemus says to Jesus, “we know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him” (John 3:2).  Before saying that “a wicked and adulterous generation asks for a sign” (Matt. 12:39) understand that recognizing the hand of God in a miracle is not the same thing as demanding that God do something miraculous for you to believe.

Obviously, skeptics can raise other objections to miracles that space does not permit me to address. But this major and very common objection can be shown to be unjustified. Additionally, reasonable skeptics and seekers can insist that we produce evidence for the resurrection—which we can do—though not in this brief article. I hope I have shown that it is not unreasonable to believe in the resurrection simply because it is a miracle. Or to quote the apostle Paul, “Why should any of you consider it incredible that God raises the dead?” (Acts 26:8).


The Resurrection and the Christian Life

>> by Josh McClellan, Teaching Pastor, Pryor, Life Fellowship Church

Ask most Christians to explain what salvation is about, and one can expect to hear an answer that probably sounds something like this, “Salvation is about believing that Jesus died on the cross to pay the penalty for your sins so that you might be forgiven and made right with God.”

Sounds pretty good; however, the problem with this answer is that it fails to address Jesus’ resurrection. This is a glaring omission that should trouble us when we examine how salvation is explained in the New Testament. For the New Testament authors, Jesus’ resurrection from the dead was absolutely essential to an accurate understanding of what salvation is and what salvation brings about in our lives.

If we are to understand salvation rightly, we must begin by seeing it in terms of a transformation that is brought about in each of our lives, of being changed from a person corrupted by sin into a person who is pure and righteous. Paul states clearly that what is flesh and blood, what is perishable, cannot inherit the kingdom of God (1 Cor. 15:50).

Paul here is referring to what is unclean about our current state, and all of us, even as Christians, recognize that we, too, still sin and live in that corruption to varying degrees.  While atonement has been made for our sins completely, our physical bodies and the unfinished transformation at work in them prevents us from entering into the kingdom of God fully transformed at this time.

If we do not appreciate our need to be changed, transformed from something sinful and wicked into something clean and holy, we will fail to understand the significance of Christ’s resurrection for our own lives.

With this in mind, we also recognize that, while that process of transformation is vital and necessary for us to pursue during our time here on Earth (the process of sanctification), it is impossible for us to achieve perfection and complete righteousness. Each of us will go to the grave unfinished. This is where the resurrection of Jesus makes a crucial difference.

Paul, in 1 Cor. 15:16, ties our physical resurrection to Jesus’ physical resurrection. He asserts that, since Jesus has been resurrected from the dead, that God both, can and will, do the same for us. We need God to be able to bring us back to life physically as uncorrupted, unstained, sinless people if we are to enter into the Kingdom of God.

Jesus’ resurrection is the clear evidence that God is able to do just that. This is why Christians can step out of this life with confidence and certainty, with hope, that their life beyond the grave is safe and in trustworthy hands.

While the work of Christ on the cross pays the penalty for our sin, that atoning work alone doesn’t remove the corruption that sin has brought to our bodies. We need the power of the resurrection to bring new life to us every day in place of the old life when sin had such power  over us. The resurrection life that God is mighty to accomplish begins in the here and now of our earthly life.  But it will completed and revealed via our resurrection from the dead in our perfect and glorified state. Therefore brothers and sisters, hope with great confidence, for our King has proven His power over death.

The resurrection is the foundation of much for Christianity. It has immense apologetic value for defending the truthfulness of Jesus’ claim to be God. It is, without question, the most persuasive argument for the reality of miracles. It provides a historical foundation for the Christian faith and Christian truth that is incomparable among the rest of the world’s religions. However, it is also at the heart of how Christians understand the Gospel and their own personal salvation.


Preaching the Resurrection: a pastoral view

>> by Andy Taylor, Senior Pastor, Ponca City, First, Brigade Chaplain, 45th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, Oklahoma National Guard

Easter Sunday 2003. The sun peeked through an opening of my tent at 4:15 in the morning. What? That can’t be right!  4:15?  A.M.? Everything is weird in Kuwait.

My unit was one week away from moving into Iraq for a one-year battle with insurgents. On this day, however, thousands of soldiers had gathered around THE central doctrine of the Christian faith: the resurrection. I recognized that many, if not most, assembled on the desert floor that morning would never be seen in a Sunday service again. But this day, many Soldiers were saved. Believers were assured, and many embraced the hope of the risen Savior before facing war. Convinced of the multiple effects of the Easter message, I determined to preach Christ resurrected throughout the year.

Preaching the resurrection is not just a good idea for Easter. Nor just for soldiers. The resurrection is the heart of the Gospel and pervasive throughout Scripture. Paul enunciates the supremacy of the resurrection in preaching:

“Now I would remind you, brothers, of the Gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then He appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared also to me.” 1 Cor. 15:1-8

Paul preached the resurrection constantly. He recognized that the Gospel he preached—and subsequently we preach—hinges upon the resurrection.  Albert Mohler issues this homiletical warning: “No sermon is complete without the explicit affirmation of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.” Whether the theme of the sermon is evangelism, prayer, tithing, spiritual growth or biblical parenting, the implications of the resurrection remains central.  Thus, preaching the resurrection leverages multiple effects upon pastoral ministry.

1.  The Soteriological Effect.  People MUST believe in Christ’s resurrection to be reconciled to God. Paul’s plea of 1 Cor. 15 systematically repeats this truth (v. 2, 14, 17—I might as well say the whole chapter!).  Rom. 10:9 is unambiguous:  If you confess Christ is Lord AND believe that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. We preach Christ crucified and resurrected that hearers may believe and be saved.

2. The Apologetic Effect.  Paul persuaded the Thessalonians with resurrection preaching (Acts 17:1-4). He defended sound doctrine among philosophers and the Athenians by affirming the resurrection (Acts 17:18, 31-33).  The 515 eyewitnesses of 1 Cor. 15 creates certainty. Proclaiming Christ risen from the dead infuses believers with confidence to “give a defense of the hope that is in them” (1 Peter 3:15).

3. The Sanctification Effect.  The writer of Hebrews utilized teaching on the resurrection as the basis for spiritual growth (5:7-14). All of Philippians 3, which stands as Paul’s supreme treatise on knowing Christ, revolves around “the power of His resurrection” (v. 10). Preaching the empty tomb yields holiness in the community of faith.

4. The Shepherding Effect.  Understanding the resurrection develops endurance through trials, sustains hope and assures the Church of Christ’s return (1 Peter 1:3).  Paul encourages believers through grief by reassuring them of Christ’s resurrection (1 Thess. 4:13-14). Preaching the resurrection builds enduring faith for those in need of hope.

I learned a homiletics lesson in war and pastoring. Preaching that consistently magnifies the resurrection of Christ accomplishes more than the evangelistic mandate. Resurrection proclamation assists the preacher in the pastoral ministry of the church.

I have only begun to discover all the effects of preaching Christ resurrected. But I am willing to spend a lifetime of proclaiming, as the angel did, “He is not here. He has risen!”  Preach the resurrection!

Author: Guest Writer

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