What Do You Believe?

I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronising nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.
—C.S. Lewis (20th Century Oxford medieval historian, popular writer, and Christian apologist)

PRAYER: (from the Lectionary)

“Almighty God, who through your only-begotten Son Jesus Christ overcame death and opened to us the gate of everlasting life: Grant that we, who celebrate with joy the day of the Lord’s resurrection, may be raised from the death of sin by your life-giving Spirit; through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.”

SCRIPTURE: (from the Lectionary)

Matthew 28:11-15

While the women were on their way, some of the guards went into the city and reported to the chief priests everything that had happened. When the chief priests had met with the elders and devised a plan, they gave the soldiers a large sum of money, telling them, “You are to say, ‘His disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ If this report gets to the governor, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” So the soldiers took the money and did as they were instructed. And this story has been widely circulated among the Jews to this very day.

PRAYER FOCUS: What Do You Believe?

“His body was stolen away in the night.”

That’s why Jesus’ body wasn’t in the tomb on that first Easter morning. Or so the chief priests of Jerusalem would have you believe…

Except the chief priests were lying. And they were caught bribing the Roman guards to lie.

There is overwhelming evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, both in secular and biblical history.

Non-Biblical Sources:

• Early non-Christian sources make abundant references to the people and events of the Gospels. Jesus was called the Christ (Josephus). He performed miracles, led Israel into new teachings, and was killed on Passover for them (Babylonian Talmud) in Judea (Tacitus). He claimed to be Divine and would return (Eliezar), which his followers believed, worshipping Him as God (Pliny the Younger).
• The first-century Roman historian Tacitus, who is considered one of the more accurate historians of the antiquity, described “Christians” who suffered under Pontius Pilate during the reign of Tiberius.
• Suetonius, chief secretary to Emperor Hadrian, agreed with Tacitus, and wrote that there was a man named Christ who lived during the first century in Palestine (Annals 15.44).
• Flavius Josephus is arguably the most reliable Jewish historian. In Antiquities he refers to James, “the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ.” There is a controversial verse (18:3) that says, “Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man. For he was one who wrought surprising feats….He was the Christ…he appeared to them alive again the third day, as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him.”
• Julius Africanus quotes the historian Thallus in a discussion of the sudden darkness which followed the crucifixion of Christ (Extant Writings, 18).
• Pliny the Younger, in Letters 10:96, recorded early Christian worship practices including the fact that Christians worshiped Jesus as God and were very ethical, and he includes a reference to the Lord’s Supper.
• The Babylonian Talmud (Sanhedrin 43a) confirms Jesus’ crucifixion on the eve of Passover and the accusations against Christ of encouraging Jewish apostasy.
• Lucian of Samosata was a second-century Greek writer who wrote that Jesus was worshiped by his disciples, introduced new teachings, and was crucified for them. He said that Jesus’ teachings included the brotherhood of believers, the importance of conversion, and the importance of denying other gods. Christians believed themselves to be immortal, and were characterized by contempt for death, voluntary self-devotion, and renunciation of material goods.
• Mara Bar-Serapion confirms that Jesus was thought to be a wise and virtuous man, was considered by many to be the king of Israel, was put to death by the Jews, and lived on in the teachings of His followers.
• The Epistles of Paul were written in the middle of the first century A.D., less than 40 years after Jesus’ death. In terms of ancient manuscript evidence, this is extraordinarily strong proof of the existence of a man named Jesus in Israel in the early first century A.D. That these letters corroborate other, independent, accounts is also extraordinary.

Biblical Sources:

Then there are the four Gospels. Set aside, for just a moment, their Divine Inspiration and Inerrancy. Consider that there are four, separate, independent, written accounts about the life, deeds, and words of one man two thousand years ago.

While each of the gospels has its own unique perspective, and references different aspects of, and events in, the life of Jesus of Nazareth, all four gospels coincide and agree on the following events:

• The Betrayal of Jesus
• The Trial of Jesus
• The Crucifixion of Jesus
• The Burial of Jesus
• The Empty Tomb of Jesus.

The tomb was visited by the women (Matthew 28:1, Mark 16:1) and subsequently by Peter and John (Luke 24:9-12, John 20:2-10).

Most significantly, Jesus was seen alive and in the flesh by multiple individuals, including as many as 500 (1 Cor. 15:7), at different times and locations.
• Report of the Roman Guards at the Tomb (Matt 28:11-15)
• Appearance to the two disciples on the Road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-32)
• Appearance to the ten disciples, minus Thomas (Luke 24:36-43, John 20:19-25)
• Appearance to the eleven disciples, including Thomas (John 20:26-31)
• Appearance to the seven disciples while fishing (John 21: 1-25)
• Appearance to the disciples in Jerusalem (Luke 24:44-49, Acts 1:3-8)
• Christ’s Ascension (Mark 16:19-20, Luke 24:50-53)

The Gospels are reliable. There is every reason to believe they are Divinely Inspired and Inerrant.

Prophecies:

And then there are more than three hundred Messianic prophecies, written over a span of thousands of years, describing the precise sequence of events that culminated in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. How would a skeptic dismiss the facts, and then dismiss all of these?

God doesn’t ask us to believe the unbelievable. Faith might mean many things to many people, but it does not mean making believe that something false is true.

The facts and circumstances surrounding the trial, crucifixion, burial, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth are perhaps the most detailed and accurately recorded in all of history.

Furthermore, in the case of the Gospels, these were either eyewitness accounts, or reliable first-hand testimony. The historical record provides extraordinarily solid evidence of a supernatural event that could, and did, change the course of human history.

We are left with the stunning, and amazingly comforting, truth that Jesus was who He said He was—the Son of God, the Word of God in human flesh, the incarnate Deity Himself.

It’s Monday Morning. We have just walked through the jarring events of Holy Week. Yesterday we marked the Resurrection of Jesus, also called Easter. What do you think about that, Christian? What do you believe?

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