The Jesus of History vs the Christ of Faith?
Several years ago, I attended a seminar on the Bible led by a professor of biblical archaeology from a university in Kentucky. His topic was “the Jesus of History Versus the Christ of Faith.”
According to the professor, the Jesus of history was a good man. So good that his followers deified him. In other words, the Christ described in the Bible is a mythologized version of the simple peasant preacher from Nazareth.
For clarity, one of the attendees raised their hand and asked a simple question, “Are you saying the body of Jesus is buried somewhere in Palestine near Jerusalem?”
The professor responded without hesitation, “Yes, that is correct. He did not rise from the grave.”
Let’s pretend the professor was right.
What if the bones of Jesus are buried in an undisclosed tomb near Jerusalem? They aren’t. But what if?
Paul proposes such a consideration in 1 Corinthians 15.
12 But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. 15 More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. 19 If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.
Better to be an Epicurean
If Jesus was not raised, gathering on Sunday mornings to sing, pray, sit under the teaching of the Bible, partake of the sacraments and the rest is all useless. We might as well sleep in, book a tee-time on the golf course, or plan a day hike on the Appalachian Trail than waste time in worship.
If Jesus was not raised, we would do better to join with the Epicureans, adopting the nihilistic, sensualistic worldview of “eat, drink, and be merry today for tomorrow we die.”
If Jesus’ bones can be exhumed, Christians are fools. As Paul himself says, we would be “of all people most to be pitied.”
Israel’s King Solomon, the author of Ecclesiastes, contemplated the consequences of a purely secular world. His reflection led him to the edge of despair, where he finally broke down, crying out, “Meaningless, meaningless! Everything is meaningless!”
It is a depressing thought to think that Jesus is still buried somewhere in Palestine.
But wouldn’t you want to know if it is all a lie?
On the other hand, wouldn’t you want to know if it were true?
The Most Pivotal Event
More than any other event in human history, the physical, bodily resurrection of Jesus would be the most pivotal, life-altering, eternity-shaping event our planet has ever known. It would prove everything in the Scriptures is true. In the resurrection, all the promises of God’s grace, culminating in the cross, would be confirmed.
As Oxford professor C.S. Lewis said, “Christianity, if false, is of no importance, but if true, it is of infinite importance. The only thing it cannot be is moderately important.”
To Lewis’ point, after considering the question of Jesus not being raised, he proclaims in the next verses,
20 But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man.
Facing Doubt: The Evidence We Need
But there are times I feel doubt creeping into my mind. Maybe you do, too. After all, we don’t just want to take someone’s word for something so significant as the resurrection of Christ.
I want evidence. I assume you do, too. While there is much more to say about resurrection evidence, there are four aspects that help me.
1. The Testimony of the Women
If the apostles were trying to present a believable case for the resurrection of Jesus, they never would rest the testimony of the empty tomb on the statements of women. No offense, ladies, but in a first-century Palestinian context, the testimony of women was not considered admissible in court. As Tim Keller says in his book, The Reason for God, basing the account of the empty tomb on a woman’s word “could only have undermined the credibility of the testimony.” Simply put, if you were going to make up a convincing story, you would not have the resurrection rest on the deposition of women. N.T. Wright claims that “there must have been enormous pressure… to remove the women from the accounts.” But they didn’t remove them because that is exactly how it happened.
2. The Transformed Lives of the Apostles
The lives of the apostles demonstrate that they were convinced Jesus rose from the dead. All but one of them were executed for their faith, and the leading apostle, Paul, had been the chief persecutor of the church before he was converted to become the chief preacher in the church. Paul had hated Jesus and was in no mood to become a follower. But something so dramatic happens that he becomes willing not only to follow but to die for Jesus.
3. The Public Nature of the Resurrection
In 1 Corinthians 15:6, Paul says that Jesus appeared to over five hundred people at one time and that most of them were still alive at the time of Paul’s writing. This was not a secret resurrection. It was public and observable. Paul was inviting — even challenging — anyone to go investigate.
4. A Skeptic’s Investigation
This is exactly what Albert Henry Ross did. Ross was a British writer in the early 20th century who went by the pseudonym, Frank Morrison. As a skeptic of Jesus’ resurrection, he set out to write a short book disproving the claims of a risen Christ.
However, as he analyzed the sources with the eye of an investigative journalist and began to logically lay out the evidence, he was convinced Jesus was raised from the dead. The book he wrote in 1930 based on his research is published under the title, Who Moved the Stone?
When doubts swirl, the Scriptures encourage us to investigate the facts. How encouraging is this! Christianity is not built upon religious sentimentality. It is historically verifiable.
What does the certainty of the resurrection of Jesus mean for us?
1. This life is not the end.
Every human faces an eternal existence. We all will be raised. The question is whether we will be raised to eternal joy or eternal despair.
2. Christian hope is well-grounded.
The resurrection of Christ confirms the message of the cross, which means reconciliation with God through the forgiveness of sins by the blood of Jesus is a promise that has been fulfilled.
3. Life is not meaningless.
If Jesus reigns now as risen King, all of life has purpose in the fabric of God’s redemptive plan. No pain or suffering is wasted. The cross proves that.
4. The most to be pitied are not believers.
The most to be pitied are those who refuse to investigate the claims and believe upon Christ for themselves.
5. Those who believe should be all in.
In view of C.S. Lewis’ quote about the importance of the message of the gospel, Jesus either should hold no importance for me (if he didn’t rise) or infinite importance (if he did).
Tipping the Scale
But let’s be honest. For some of us, he is moderately important. He is at least less important than economics, politics, and college football.
What will tip the scale, causing you to be all in as a fully-devoted disciple of the risen Savior-King? Let me suggest the answer is making a conscious decision to say, “Yes.”
Say it out loud, “Yes, I believe Jesus suffered the judgment I deserved. Yes, I believe I am forgiven. Yes, I believe he rose, is alive, and reigns right now. Yes, I believe he will return. I believe these things as I believe in the sun in the sky and the ground beneath my feet.”
If you have never said these things out loud. If you have not owned the historic truth of the crucified, risen, and reigning Christ as the defining truth of your life, I invite you now to receive Jesus with a conscious yes.