Easter Sunday - Seeing Is Believing
During a key baseball game against one of our rivals my last year of High School, a batter on the opposing team drilled a fly ball to my position in left field. I could tell by its trajectory, height, and speed it would clearly leave the stadium, so I ran toward the warning track just to make it look I gave it an effort.
Something amazing happened, however, as I neared the fence. The ball stopped cold in its tracks and fell straight to the ground, as if an invisible hand had simply knocked it out of the air. I dug my metal cleats into the turf to break my stride, and then turned to run some fifteen yards back to where the ball was headed. I hardly ever made a fielding or throwing error, so this situation really embarrassed me and caused me great consternation. How could I have misjudged the ball that badly, especially at our stadium which I knew very well? Coach
Middleton barked the same question at me at the end of the debacle of an inning. “Baker, what were you thinking? How did you miss that ball, allowing the other team to score?” “Coach,” I countered, “I don’t know what happened. That ball was leaving the stadium like a rocket, and then suddenly it was as if an angel simply knocked it out of the sky.”
Needless to say the coach didn’t buy my analysis.
For the next couple of innings, I reviewed the whole episode in my head, wondering how in the world I miscalculated a “pop fly” so badly. After the game, I challenged the coach to join me in the outfield. He agreed and so, too, did the umpire, Mr. White. Walking out to my position, we all three looked up and scoured the sky for the proverbial angel. To my amazement, I noticed something I had never seen before in all my years of playing at Stark Field Stadium.
Strung from a light pole on the leftfield fence, and running to a light pole along the left field foul line was a thin steel wire. The wire was situated directly above where the ball fell. “See coach,” I said. “I told you something stopped the ball. That line drive hit that skinny wire perfectly, causing it to drop right here. What are the odds of that happening, and why is there a wire up there in the first place?”
Amazing, isn’t it? No one believed me, an outfielder with a sound and lengthy track record for catching and stopping balls, that something unusual, really somewhat miraculous, occurred on that particular play. All of that changed when we looked up and saw the facts above our heads. All of this serves to prove the point that seeing is believing.
What has this baseball story got to do with the resurrection story of Jesus Christ?
Everything. Many will look at this event and say, “There is no way Jesus rose from the grave. You have a birthday and a death-day, and then that’s it.” Some of the educated people attending the church Paul planted in ancient Corinth held tenaciously to this misinformed, misguided notion. Gnosticism, or the belief the body was evil and temporal, while the spirit was eternal, permeated the thinking of this region of Greece. When death occurred, the superior spirit was finally freed from the inferior body, so why ever would there be a reunification of the body and the spirit in something called a resurrection.
Robertson and Plummer scholastically validate our thinking in the proper direction with these words:
“Possibly they [the Grecian Corinthians] held that matter was evil, and that it
was incredible that a soul, once set free by death, would return to its unclean
prison” (First Epistle to The Corinthians: 346).
Had you been taught this way, you can see how you’d naturally wed your cultural teaching to the biblical doctrine of the resurrection.
William Barclay, as usual, gives an insightful analysis of the culture behind the context:
“On the whole the Greek would never have dreamed of believing in the
resurrection of the body. It is true that the Greek had an instinctive fear of death
...But on the whole the Greek, and that part of the world influenced by Greek
thought, did believe in the immortality of the soul. But—and here is the
difference –the immortality of the soul involved for the Greek the obliteration,
the extinction, the complete dissolution of the body” (The Letters to The Corinthians: 156).
So, in Grecian thinking there was no way the spirit was going to unite with a body, because the body was evil and weak and not worthy of reunion with the loftier spirit. To those who sought we wedded Grecian dualism to the faith Paul confronts them in 1 Corinthian 15, verse 12:
“12 Now if Christ is preached, that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?”
In NT Greek there are three ways to present a conditional clause. The grammatical components of the protasis (the “if” section of the clause) and the apodosis (the “then” section) isolate these types of statements. The first class condition is a statement of reality, a second class is untrue, while a third class is really uncertain. Here Paul employs a first class condition to underscore the fact of Christ’s bodily resurrection. In disbelief he, then, asks how some of them can either think that Christ didn’t rise, or that if He did, they certainly won’t. Such thinking runs counter to the facts if they would only consider them.
Denial of the resurrection, therefore, had become an issue in the Corinthian church because it was a problem in their carnal culture. Paul, as I have said, stated the issue in verse 12; however, this is merely the culmination or an argument he develops in the previous eleven verses to demonstrate unequivocally that the concept of resurrection is real and factual and lies at the heart of the Christian faith. To embrace it is to embrace truth and the power of the gospel of
Christ. To deny it is to deny truth of the person and work of Christ and to diminish His redemptive, transformative power in the lives of repentant unbelievers.
Our culture, like theirs, tends to deny the resurrection of Jesus, simply choosing to say it goes against sound science, or is simply a fanciful doctrinal creation of the early church. Paul couldn’t disagree more as we see in the first eleven chapters of chapter 15, which by the way contains the longest and strongest defense of the doctrine of the resurrection in all of Scripture. Within these opening verses, Paul, like a skilled attorney, answers the burning and problematic
question of their day, which is still on the minds of people today:
How Do We Know the Resurrection of Christ Was Real? (1 Corinthians 15:1-11)
Before Paul dives into the proofs of Christ’s resurrection, he lays out the problem in the Corinthian church. He preached the gospel of Jesus Christ, a gospel built upon Christ’s historical resurrection in time and space. This gospel was not something he manufactured but was handed down to him, presumably from the disciples who mentored him when he was saved.
As such, the doctrinal formula, or creed he will present starting in verse 3 stands as the oldest church creed concerning what they believed constituted God’s good news for sinners.
“1 Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which
also you received, in which also you stand, 2 by which also you are saved, if you
hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain.
Everyone at Corinth Community Church knew the gospel. Paul preached it when he arrived and ministered in their godless, materialistic, and polytheistic culture, and many have received it to be true, factual, and worthy of belief. Their belief in this good news for sinners concerning how God had provided a risen Savior to redeem them from their sins resulted in a new spiritual stance. The perfect tense of the verb, estaykate (ἑστήκατε), underscores a past act (their belief in
the person and work of Jesus) followed by an abiding result (i.e., salvation). The mere presence of this verbal tense denotes the security of salvation for sinners who repent and trust the risen Christ as their redeemer.
The conditional clause, viz., if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain, doesn’t means a saint can lose their salvation, but is a warning to those who profess to be Christians but who deny the resurrection of Christ. What is Paul saying? The Greek word for “vain” speaks of a “belief adopted in a hurry” (Plummer & Robertson: First Epistle to The Corinthians: 332) or belief “without due consideration, in a haphazard manner” (Bauer, Arndt, & Gingrich: A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: 222:4). The emphasis, then, isn’t upon a believer who loses his/her faith because they fail to hold onto it, but upon an unsaved person who flippantly gives the gospel an affirmative nod without really thinking about what the gospel really is. Those fickle folks who do this, and our world is full of them, and, then, eventually toss this gospel to the wind will certainly not be saved. They lost nothing because
they had nothing.
Are you one of them? Are you one who gets a warm feeling from being in church, but who doesn’t really understand what the gospel really is? You just like being around Christian people and coming to church occasionally. Beware, says Paul.
To say you believe in the gospel while denying the heart of the gospel is to have a
worthless, non-saving faith. The same still holds true today. To say you are a Christian while you have personal issues with the concept of resurrection is to highlight the fact you are still a non-believer in need of salvation. So, what about it? Do you believe in the resurrection of Christ?
Those who believe He rose in time and space as the ultimate victor over sin and death are His saints. Those who don’t, no matter what they say or think, are not.
To build his case for the resurrection, Paul quickly turns and presents a creedal formula they all knew. In it is everything we need to know not just about what constitutes Christ’s life-giving gospel, but what are the proofs of His glorious resurrection.
Proof #1: Consider Christ’s Historical Death (1 Cor. 15:3)
Verse three highlights the fact that Jesus died in time and space. He was not a mythological figure created by the ancient Church, but was the God-man who lived a very public life and whodied a very public death.
3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ
died for our sins according to the Scriptures, . . .
You cannot even begin to talk about the historicity and reality of Christ’s resurrection until you first substantiate He did, in fact, die. The hard evidence from biblical and non-biblical sources is that Jesus perished before the eyes of the world. No, a look-alike did not take his place as is taught in Islam. Actually, it is beyond preposterous to think a “criminal” like Christ could escape the iron-fisted grip of His Roman crucifixion detail. It is equally illogical to conclude
someone in His depleted physical condition after the Roman flogging could manage to slip away from these executioners, thus allowing a body-double to step in. And who would want to be that stand in? Not I.
All of the evidence supports the historical fact of Jesus’s death. Matthew, Mark, and Luke quickly detail how at 3 p.m. on that Friday Jesus, the Creator God, willingly gave up His spirit in death (Matt. 27:50; Mark 15:37; Luke 23:46). John, however, gives us additional evidence to verify His death:
31 Now since it was preparation day, in order that the bodies might not remain on the cross on the sabbath, for the sabbath day of that week was a solemn one, the Jews asked Pilate that their legs be broken and they be taken down. 32 So the
soldiers came and broke the legs of the first and then of the other one who was
crucified with Jesus. 33 But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already
dead, they did not break his legs, 34 but one soldier thrust his lance into his side,
and immediately blood and water flowed out (John 19).
By breaking the legs of the crucified, the soldiers made sure the victims were either dead or died shortly thereafter because they couldn’t push up against their feet to get much needed air into their lungs. When the professional executioners came to Christ, who had seen many dead people on crosses, they surmised He was, in fact, quite dead. One soldier thrust a spear into his side, piercing His heart cavity to just make sure.
By piercing the Lord’s side with his spear, the soldier had fulfilled the ancient prophecy from Zechariah 12:10, which stated that this would one day happen to the Messiah/Savior.
Again, God was in full control of the entire crucifixion event. Further, by failing to break Christ’s legs, the soldiers had inadvertently fulfilled the ancient prophecy from Psalm 34:20 which said the Messiah’s legs would not be broken. This also fulfilled the biblical, divine mandate that no bone of the Passover lamb, which Jesus was in every sense of the word, should be broken during the sacrifice (Ex. 12:46).
Why Christ had to die is denoted by the creedal statement. Jesus died “for our sins.” The preposition, huper (ὑπὲρ ), denotes a substitutionary death. Jesus, the sinless sacrifice, died in our place as sinners worthy of God’s holy judgment. All of this had to occur to fulfill ancient prophecies in the Old Testament concerning the redemptive work of the Messiah. Isaiah 53 is a case in point:
4 Yet it was our pain that he bore, our sufferings he endured. We thought of him
as stricken, struck down by God and afflicted, 5 But he was pierced for our sins,
crushed for our iniquity. He bore the punishment that makes us whole, by his
wounds we were healed. 6 We had all gone astray like sheep, all following our
own way; But the LORD laid upon him the guilt of us all. 7 Though harshly
treated, he submitted and did not open his mouth; Like a lamb led to slaughter or
a sheep silent before shearers, he did not open his mouth. 8 Seized and
condemned, he was taken away. Who would have thought any more of his
destiny? For he was cut off from the land of the living, struck for the sins of his
people (Isa. 53).
Substitutionary wording is woven all through Isaiah’s prophecy of the coming Messiah and Savior. Long before He would be the Davidic King (Isa. 2; 9), He would be a sacrificial Savior who would pay for the sins of mankind by dying a redemptive death in their place. Jesus fulfilled this prophecy and mission to the letter by submitting Himself to Roman crucifixion.
His death, therefore, merely paved the way for His greater work, viz., His resurrection. But let the record be known to all. Jesus died on that cross. He didn’t survive only to wake up and eventually escape from the tomb. No. Death could not have been more certain as the crucifixion is analyzed from all perspectives. Seeing, therefore, was/is believing. All the evidence pointed to
Christ’s sovereignly timed and orchestrated death at precisely 3 p.m. when the Passover sacrifice was offered on the Temple mount. Additionally, Paul moves from this to a second line of evidence for the Lord’s resurrection.
Proof #2: Consider Christ’s Historical Burial (1 Cor. 15:4a)
4 and that He was buried, . . .
Two members of the Jewish Sanhedrin, their version of our Supreme Court, actually dared to take Christ’s body and prepare it for burial. Their names? A wealthy man named Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus. Joseph, according to Mark’s gospel, went boldly to Pilate to acquire the body of Jesus (Mark 15:43). Once Pilate verified Jesus’s death with the lead Centurion (Mark 15:44-45), he summarily released Christ’s body. According to John, Nicodemus, another
secret follower of Jesus from the Sanhedrin, bravely came out of the shadows to join Joseph in preparing the body of the Messiah for the tomb (John 19:38-39).
Their action, I’m sure, cost them much socially, politically, religiously, and personally. After wrapping Christ’s body in some 75 pounds of spices dispersed between the folds of the mummy-like clothes, they placed him in a tomb owned by Joseph. Even if a man somehow miraculously survived a Roman crucifixion, the weight of the “embalming” spices, coupled with the presence of the tightly wrapped cloths around the body would have kept anyone in a highly weakened state of shock from freeing themselves to, then, in turn somehow break free from a sealed tomb. Once again, seeing was/is believing. Jesus died and was, as Paul says, buried as prophesied (Isa. 53:9).
The massive stone rolled across the mouth of the tomb would have weighed several tons, making moving it from the inside impossible (Matt. 27:60). Moving it from the outside would be impossible as well, because not only did the Roman’s place a seal over it (which meant immediate death if you broke it), but they placed a heavily armed detail to guard the tomb for three days per the advice or Jewish religious authorities (Luke 23:55-56).
Once more, we follow Paul’s creedal recital and reasoning to the letter. Seeing is
believing, isn’t it? The historical record written by several viable witness’s state that not only did Christ die, He was placed in a tomb from which there was no way of escape.
With this, Paul launched into the longest section of the creedal formula of the gospel tied inherently to Christ’s resurrection.
Proof #3: Consider Christ’s Historical Resurrection (1 Cor. 15:4b-11)
Listen and learn:
. . . that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures; 5 that he
appeared to Cephas, then to the Twelve. 6 After that, he appeared to more than
five hundred brothers at once, most of whom are still living, though some have
fallen asleep. 7 After that he appeared to James, then to all the apostles.
Psalm 16:10 stated that the Messiah would not be abandoned in the grave, but would emerge a victor. Isaiah’s statement at the end of chapter 53, which concerns the substitutionary death of the Messiah, concerning how the Father would elevate Him one day clearly suggests a resurrection to enjoy the divine benefits (Isa. 53:12). All the other references in Isaiah to the Messiah living and reigning one day from His Davidic throne in earthly Jerusalem (Isa. 2) also
suggest a resurrection after the prophesied death of the Messiah in chapter 53.
Jesus, himself, the Prophet, also prophesied He would rise from the grave after three days (Matt. 12:40; 16:21; 17:22-23; John 2:19-22). He did not let anyone down as the gospel writers record. Moving from verse 5 through verse 11, Paul clicks off the numerous bodily appearances of Jesus to His followers from the time of His death to His ascension, a time period of forty days according to Dr. Luke, M.D. (Acts 1:3). The creedal formula, of course, is not complete, but
contains an overview of the viable witnesses who saw the risen Christ. We know that Mary Magdalene, along with Mary the mother of James, and Salome (Mark 16:1-8; Luke 24:1-8; John 20:1) were the first people to run into the risen Jesus.
The creed starts, however, with Peter. He and John ran to the tomb after the women gave testimony to what they saw and heard when angel appeared to them to inform them of Christ’s whereabouts (Matt. 28:5-8; Mark 16:2-8; Luke 24:9-11). John outran Peter and stood dumbfounded at the tomb’s entrance, while Peter, in classic fashion, wasted no time bursting into the dim darkness (John 20:6-10).
Was Peter a viable witness? He was for he went on to not only speak of Christ’s
resurrection in Jerusalem on Pentecost (Acts 2:14-36), he was crucified under Nero. True, history is littered with religious people willing to die for their faith. The death of someone like Peter is, however, qualitatively different. It is one thing to die for a belief you think, or hope is true, which in fact may be a lie; however, it is quite another thing to die for a lie you . . . and eleven other friends . . . concocted. Sound-minded people/friends don’t die for concepts they definitely know are untrue. They die for truth. Liars, conversely, make lousy martyrs.
Next, we know Jesus appeared to the Twelve, or really the ten . . . minus Judas and Thomas (John 20:24) because John recorded the jaw-dropping event:
19 On the evening of that first day of the week, when the doors were locked, where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, "Peace be with you." 20 When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord (John 20).
On “first day of the week” the disciples hid themselves in a locked room from the temple guard who might be coming for them next, now that they had taken out their leader, Jesus. All of a sudden, Jesus appeared in the middle of the group. His scars verified it was He who had experienced the crucifixion, and His bodily resurrection was affirmed by the fact He ate some broiled fish in front of them (Luke 24:42). But how had He entered the locked room? Obviously, the power of the resurrected body is something beyond this world.
Again, were these men viable, believable witnesses? Indeed. All of them, save John, were martyred for their faith in the resurrected Savior.
• Andrew: crucified in Patras, Greece.
• Bartholomew/Nathanael: flayed with a whip in Armenia.
• James the Just: thrown from the Temple and then beaten to death.
• James the Greater: beheaded in Jerusalem.
• Luke: Hanged in Greece.
• Mark: drug to death by a horse in Alexandria, Egypt.
• Matthew: murdered by sword in Ethiopia.
• Philip: crucified in Phrygia.
• Thomas: killed with a spear in India.
Again, people don’t collectively die for a lie they have contrived. They die for truth. Later, Jesus appeared to 500 followers, probably in the Galilee region where the angel at the tomb said Christ would head (Matt. 28:7; Mark 16:7; Luke 24:6). While one person may experience a hallucination, it is unheard of occurring to a massive group of people like this.
Many of these people in Paul’s day, which was some thirty years after the resurrection of Christ, were still alive. Basically, Paul says if you have any questions about the bodily resurrection of Jesus, leaders in the Church can give you the names of these witnesses and you can go and interview them yourself. Nothing like multiple viable witnesses to verify that seeing the risen Savior is
Jesus also appeared to his brother, James (and Jesus did have siblings, viz., Matt. 13:55-56). What grace and mercy. Jesus appeared to a non-believing, formerly highly antagonistic younger brother. This special personal appearance must have turned his brother from devout skeptic to devout believer instantly. If your elder brother claimed to the messianic God-man (Isa. 7:14; 9:1-6), wouldn’t you have derided him? Wouldn’t you have hounded him for his insanity? Wouldn’t his sudden appearance to you in a resurrected body bearing the wounds of the crucifixion you know He died from have moved you from unbelief to faith? Indeed. James went on to become the leader of the Church in Jerusalem (Acts 15). Imagine this. The brother of Jesus left Judaism, and what this meant to him personally, and lead a Church of Jesus smack dab in the middle of the Jewish city where the religious leaders had effectively had His brother murdered on trumped up charges. The only way you can account for this RADICAL change is for the resurrection to be a real historical event. Once more, seeing was/is believing.
After this, the creed says Jesus appeared to additional apostles, which would include those who were not part of the original twelve.
Lastly, Jesus appeared years later to another REALLY lost religious man, Paul.
8 Last of all, as to one born abnormally, he appeared to me. 9 For I am the least of the apostles, not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of
God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me has not been
ineffective. Indeed, I have toiled harder than all of them; not I, however, but the
grace of God [that is] with me. 11 Therefore, whether it be I or they, so we preach
and so you believed (1 Cor. 15).
While en route to kill more Christians based on his misguided and misinformed religious zeal, Paul says that the resurrected Jesus appeared to him. Dr. Luke recounts what happened:
1 Then Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord,
went to the high priest 2 and asked letters from him to the synagogues of
Damascus, so that if he found any who were of the Way, whether men or women,
he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. 3 As he journeyed he came near
Damascus, and suddenly a light shone around him from heaven. 4 Then he fell to
the ground, and heard a voice saying to him, "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting
Me?" 5 And he said, "Who are You, Lord?" Then the Lord said, "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. It is hard for you to kick against the goads." 6 So he,
trembling and astonished, said, "Lord, what do You want me to do?" Then the
Lord said to him, "Arise and go into the city, and you will be told what you must
do" (Acts 9).
In that one revelatory moment, Saul the persecutor became Paul the preacher. Seeing really was believing, wasn’t it?
Seeing still is believing for the same living, resurrected Savior who lovingly reached out to people like James and Paul, reaches out to you right now. Is He alive? Very much so. The evidence from firsthand historical witnesses tells us this much. Now, you are called by Christ to move from these cold, hard facts to vibrant faith. Will you? How could you not?
Dr. Gary Habermas and Michael Lincona tell a story about faith which is worth
. . . no matter how good the evidence, a saving belief still requires faith. The story
has been told of a high wire expert who walked over Niagara Falls. To the
amazement of all, he walked a wheelbarrow filled with 150 pounds of potatoes
over the rope to the other side. His 120-pound assistant removed the bags of
potatoes and placed her foot in the wheel barrow and he asked, “How many of
you believe that I can place a human in the wheelbarrow and walk that person
safely to the other side?” Everyone yelled, “We believe!” He then said, “Who will
volunteer to get in the wheelbarrow?” Believing the facts is one thing. Acting
upon them is faith (Habermas & Lincona, The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus, 35).
Who, today, is ready to embrace for the first time in their life the risen Savior, Jesus, by means of faith in the facts? Seeing is believing only when you believe what you see. Do you believe? Will you believe?