Robert Jeffress - Easter: Fact or Fantasy?
Hi, I'm Robert Jeffress, and welcome again to Pathway to Victory. Concerning Easter Sunday, a wise man said this. "Christianity stands or falls on the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. Disprove it, and you have disposed of Christianity forever". Well, I have to say, I agree with that statement 100%. Yet gratefully, we can believe with absolute confidence that the tomb is empty and that Jesus Christ is alive. My message is titled "Easter: Fact or Fantasy?", on today's edition of Pathway to Victory.
In 1963, the body of 14-year-old Addie Mae Collins was buried in Birmingham, Alabama. Addie Mae Collins was one of those four African American girls murdered by white racists in the infamous Birmingham church bombing. Every year after she died her family would come and visit the grave and offer a prayer and place flowers there. A few years ago, the family decided they wanted to move Addie Mae's body to another cemetery. But when the cemetery workers opened the grave, to their surprise, there was no coffin and no body. They scrambled to find an explanation for what could have happened. The most logical explanation was originally they had placed the headstone on the wrong grave. But in all of their search for an explanation, nobody even the suggested the possibility of a resurrection. Because you see, an empty tomb in and of itself does not prove a resurrection has taken place.
In first Corinthians chapter 15, Paul makes this statement. He says, "If Christ has not been raised from the dead, then your faith is in vain, you are still in your sins, and we're of all people to be most pitied". The fact is the foundation of the Christian faith is the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. Someone said, "Disprove that, and you have disposed for Christianity forever". Is there really evidence for a resurrection? Was the resurrection of Jesus, just an appendage, a story tacked on to make a good story even better? Or is there credible evidence that suggests that Christ's resurrection is fact and not a fantasy? That's what we're going to talk about today for just a few moments.
Well, before we look at the evidence for the resurrection, we need to first of all establish whether or not Jesus actually died. I want you to turn over to John 19. You may say, "Well now, that's a strange question, did Jesus actually die". You need to understand that there is a theory that still is making the rounds today. It's called the swoon theory, and it's the idea that Jesus didn't actually die on the cross, he just fainted. He swooned and people thought he was dead. And so they took him off the cross. They put him in the tomb, and after a couple of days the cool air resuscitated him and that's what the resurrection was. It was really a resuscitation.
Now, is that a plausible theory? Did Jesus just simply resuscitate himself? Well, let's look and see exactly what Jesus Christ went through on our behalf. Look at John 19 beginning with verse one. "Then Pilate therefore took Jesus and scourged him". His ordeal began with a Roman scourging. What does that mean? It means Jesus was tied to a post and was beaten at least 39 times with a Roman whip called the cat-of-nine tails that was not only a piece of leather, it was a piece of leather with jagged bones and balls of lead woven into it. And this whip with the lead produced great bruises in the back that actually opened up and the victim became nothing more than an unrecognizable mass of torn and bleeding tissue. Many people didn't survive that long. They didn't survive long enough to be crucified. They died after the scourging. But Jesus survived. And so he would have been placed on the cross when the cross was still on the ground, stretched out hands, five to seven-inch spikes driven through his wrists and through his feet. And then he would have been lifted up.
Now, a person who was crucified usually died from suffocation. He drowned in his own body fluids. And that's why a victim of crucifixion would continually, while he was on the cross, try to push himself up with his feet so that he could breathe. Now, if a Roman soldier wanted to hasten the victim's death, he would break his legs so that he could no longer push himself up and breathe. In fact, when we go down to verses 32 and 33, we find that's what happened to some of those who were crucified with Christ that day. Look at verse 32. "The soldiers therefore came and broke the legs of the first man". That was one of the victims on either side of Jesus. "And the other man who was crucified with him. But coming to Jesus, when they saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs".
Little did those Roman soldiers know that by not breaking his legs they were fulfilling a prophecy written 900 years before the fact in Psalm 34, when it said of the Messiah, "Not a bone shall be broken". But a Roman soldier, just to make sure that Jesus was in fact dead, took a spear and thrust it through his side, puncturing the sac around his heart. But let's just suppose by a fluke, Jesus did survive all of this. Now, just think about what it would have taken for Jesus to have been resuscitated from all of that. I mean, think of him. He's gone through the scourging. He's gone through the crucifixion. He's had the spear thrust in his side. He's been wrapped up in a hundred pounds of cloth. Can you see him inching himself off of that table? He gets off of that table. He unwraps himself of the hundred pounds of spice.
The only problem is there's a stone in front of the sepulcher. One manuscript says the stone was so large it could not be moved by 20 men. But let's suppose he was able to do that in the state that he was in, move the stone. And then he had to defeat 16 Roman guards, a Roman guard unit that was there. Can you imagine what kind of physical shape he would have been in after that kind of ordeal? I mean, when he stood there in front of his disciples, instead of their bowing down to worship him, they would have been on the phone calling 9-1-1 immediately. I mean, nobody could have survived that. I mean, the idea that Jesus simply fainted is beyond belief. No, Jesus died as the Bible says, according to the scriptures, for our sins.
Now, nobody really disputes that. The question is not whether Jesus lived or even that he died. The question was, is he raised from the dead? Is there any evidence to support that? Well, let me share with you this morning four reasons that I believe that the resurrection of Jesus Christ is based on fact, not on fantasy. Somebody has said, "Christianity is a religion built on facts". There are historical facts that undergird the Christian faith. Let me just mention four of them.
First of all, the early creeds. I want you to turn over to first Corinthians chapter 15 for just a moment. Here's the popular theory among skeptics about the so-called resurrection of Jesus. Again, nobody with any credentials doubt that there really was a rabbi named Jesus who lived and had a following. Nobody doubts really that he was crucified along with 30.000 other people during his time. Nobody doubts that. But here's what the skeptic says. They said the idea of a resurrection, that was a story that was tacked on to the Jesus story. It was a legend that was developed a hundred or more years after he died.
Now, they're very careful to say this was tacked on about a hundred years or more, 200, 300 years for a reason. If somebody proposes a legend, a myth too soon, it's quickly dismissed while people are still alive who know better. Well, the fact is the story of Jesus' resurrection wasn't added 100 or 200 years later. It was part of the Jesus story from the very beginning. Let me show you in 1 Corinthians 15:3 and four. Paul wrote, "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".
Remember, the apostle Paul was converted about a year after Christ's resurrection. And so the point is the apostles instructed Paul in the truth of the resurrection. This wasn't some story tacked on a hundred or 200 years later, it was a part of the Jesus story from the very beginning. And that leads to a second piece of evidence, and that is, eyewitness accounts. Look at verses five to eight. "And that Jesus appeared to Cephas". Now, that's the apostle Peter. "Then to the 12, and that he appeared to more than 500 brethren at one time, most of whom are alive," that is, they remain until now, "But some have fallen asleep". That is, they've already died. "And then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. And last of all, as it were to one untimely born, he also appeared to me".
What Paul is saying is there are eye witnesses to the resurrected Christ. In a 40-day period, he appeared to more than 500 people. These apostles, these eye witnesses, they saw Jesus. They ate with him, they conversed with him. Remember what the apostle John said in 1 John 1:1. "What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our own eyes, what we beheld and our hands handled concerning the word of life," that is, Jesus. John is saying, "We saw him, we touched him. We handled him, he has been raised from the dead just as he said".
There's a third piece of evidence for the historicity of the resurrection, and that is the extraordinary changes in traditions. I talk about this in my book, how can I know the extraordinary changes in tradition that occurred over a short amount of time? Now remember, except for Luke, the New Testament writers were of what faith? They were Jewish weren't they? They were Jewish, all of them were Jewish. And yet I want you to notice how quickly these New Testament writers who were Jewish replaced the basic tenets of their Jewish faith with new beliefs. For example, they abandoned the sacrificial system that had been in place for 1.400 years, the animal sacrifices, they walked away from that. Secondly, they changed their day of worship from Saturday, the sabbath, to Sunday, the resurrection day. Thirdly, they replaced the sign of their faith from circumcision to water baptism. And fourthly, they said, "The Mosaic Law that we've been following for 1.400 years, no more, it's simply a shadow of a New Covenant, a new revelation from Jesus Christ".
And by the way, this wasn't just the New Testament writers. There were thousands of Jews who almost overnight gave up their most cherished beliefs in Judaism in order to follow Jesus Christ. And that leads to a fourth piece of historical evidence for the resurrection, and that is an empty tomb. By itself, an empty tomb proves nothing, but when it's coupled with these other pieces of evidence, it's a compelling argument for the resurrection. The truth is the body of Jesus has not been discovered in 2.000 years. Now, that is a historical fact. The body of Jesus has not been discovered for 2.000 years.
Look at verses 62 to 66 of Matthew 27. These Roman and Jewish authorities were in partnership with one another to make sure that body stayed right where it was. Look at verse 62. "And on the next day," that is, Saturday, "Which is the one after the preparation, the chief priests and the pharisees gathered together with Pilate and they said, 'sir, we remember that when he was still alive'", talking about Jesus, "That deceiver said, 'after three days, I am to rise again'. Therefore give orders for the grave to be made secure until the third day lest the disciples come and steal him away and say to the people, 'he has risen from the dead,' and the last deception will be worse than the first'. Pilate said to them, 'you have a guard'". Many scholars believe that word guard refers not just to that single, lonely guard with a little spear standing up, but to an entire Roman guard unit of 16 men. "You have a guard, go, make it as secure as you know how". "And they went and they made the grave secure, and along with the guard they set a seal on the stone".
You've got a stone that 20 men can't move. You've got 16 Roman guards. You've got a seal, the Roman sign of authority that says anyone who breaks the seal is worthy of death. They went to every precaution possible to make sure that body did not move so that nobody could claim a resurrection had taken place. No, the Roman officials and Jewish authorities, they didn't steal the body. They had no motivation to steal the body.
Well, somebody else says, "Well, maybe the apostles did so. The apostles were the ones who stole the body". That's even more ridiculous. They had no ability to steal that body. Remember what had happened on Friday afternoon. By the time Jesus was dead, all of his apostles had deserted him, except for John. They wanted to save their own skin. Peter denied him three times. They were scared to death. You think suddenly in a couple of hours they got the courage to go to that grave, defeat an entire Roman guard unit, and take the body of Jesus and perpetrate the lie that he had been raised from the dead? Think about this, why would they do that? Why would they willingly be beaten and tortured and almost every one of them executed for their faith in a lie?
You say, "Well, they were just religious zealots. I mean, there are all kind of religious zealots in the world today who die for a lie". It's a lie, but they think it's the truth they're dying for. Nobody with a sane mind is willing to die for a lie that they know is a lie. No, these apostles were transformed in 72 hours from cowards to courageous defenders of the faith for one reason and one reason only. Christ was raised from the dead. They saw the resurrected Christ just as he promised they would. What I'm saying to you is when you add up all of the evidence, the early creeds, the eye witness accounts, the extraordinary changes in social traditions, and the empty tomb, the only plausible answer is Christ has risen just as he said.
That is the truth of the resurrection. The question is, so what? What does the fact that Christ was raised from the dead 2.000 years ago, what does that mean to me? In Romans 4:25, Paul said, "Jesus, who was delivered up because of our transgressions and he was raised because of our justification". The reason Jesus died on that cross that horrible death was because of our sins. As horrible as the physical torture of the crucifixion was, it was nothing compared to the spiritual pain Jesus endured as he took the punishment from God you and I deserve for our sins. I don't understand it, but in some way when Jesus was on that cross, he experienced hell, separation from his Father. It's something he had never experienced before. He went through that so that you and I could be forgiven of our sins. He was delivered up because of our transgressions and he was raised for our justification.
Listen to me, had Jesus remained in that grave, it would have meant that when Jesus died he didn't die for our sins, he died for his own sins. He was paying the price every person pays, and that is physical death. Had he remained in that grave, it would have meant that he died for his sins. But the fact that he was raised from the dead means that God accepted his offering for our sin. His resurrection proves that we have been justified, declared not guilty. And because Jesus conquered the grave, one day you and I who trust in him for salvation will also conquer the grave. As in Adam all die, so in Christ all shall be made alive.