Monday, July 3, 2017

The Importance of Context

Matthew 4:9 “…All these things I will give You if You will fall down and worship me.”

This was a verse that was actually printed on one of those "daily inspiration" calendars.

At first glance, this verse sounds pretty inspiring, but there’s just one problem…  Do you know what it is?

Yup.  These words seem pretty uplifting and comforting until you realize that it was Satan who was speaking!  This knowledge makes that particular verse a little less inspiring doesn’t it?

Thus, we see that there is a danger in taking even just a single Bible verse out of context.

Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth

2 Timothy 2:15  Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.

The Apostle Paul admonishes us to handle God’s Word in the correct way.

Many, it seems, when they study the Bible look at it in such a way that every Bible verse is independent of the rest of the text.  They may even attempt to interpret a single verse on its own, without any kind of reference to what came before or after.  While many of our Bibles are indeed subdivided into books, chapters, and verses, we understand that single verses are part of a greater whole.

It’s been said that people can use the Bible “to prove just about anything”.  With an irreverent, scattershot approach that certainly can be the case!

For example:   Jesus said, “You are My friends if you do whatever I command you” in John 15:14. Jesus told Judas, “What you do, do quickly” in John 13:27. Judas, we are told, “departed, and went and hanged himself” in Matthew 27:5. Finally, Jesus said, “Go and do likewise” in Luke 10:37. By selectively using quotes, we arrive at a conclusion that we know is incorrect – that Jesus wants followers to commit suicide.*

In a more serious and tragic real-world example we know that in our nation’s own history that the Bible was used in such a way by some to attempt to justify slavery.  While it is true that slavery is mentioned in the Bible, the New Testament did not teach Christians to enslave one another (In fact, in Philemon, Paul wrote with the intention of freeing the runaway slave Onesimus).

How many souls have been misled due to taking verses out of context, whether intentionally or otherwise?  How many false doctrines have been founded based upon twisting God’s Word to say something actually contrary to God’s will?  We see that not taking context into consideration could lead to serious consequences.

2 Peter 3:15-16 ...And consider that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation—as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given to him, has written to you, as also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which untaught and unstable people twist to their own destruction, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures.

Therefore, as good students of God’s Word we need to consider each of the following in regards to context:  What is the immediate context?  Who is speaking?  Who is being spoken to?  Is it found in the Old or New Testament?  What is the historical, geographical, and cultural context?

Immediate Context

If you are having difficulty understanding a particular passage, the solution may be as simple as reading a bit backwards or forwards in the text.

A good clue that further reading might be required is found in looking at the grammar.  Sometimes a verse cuts off the ending of a thought short, perhaps ending in a comma rather than a period.  Obviously, this means you need to read a bit further to get the complete statement.

Likewise, look to see if a verse you’re reading begins with a transition word such as therefore, however, then, thus, moreover, nevertheless, so, etc.  If this is the case, then you probably need to read a verse or two before.  These parts of speech connect ideas in phrases and they don’t usually occur unless they are referring to a previous idea.  In other words, as an old saying goes:  “When you come to a ‘therefore’, you should check to see what it is THERE FOR!”

Let’s return to a verse we purposefully used out of context earlier:  In Luke 10:37, Jesus can be quoted saying, “Go and do likewise.

Go and do what???

The usage of the word “likewise” implies that Jesus is referring to something he had said earlier.  If you go back far enough in this chapter, you see that Jesus was having a conversation with a “certain lawyer” who was questioning Him (Luke 10:25-29).  Reading further, we see that Jesus answers the man’s questions by telling him the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-36), essentially teaching that we should treat all with mercy and love.  So at the conclusion of this conversation, Jesus told the lawyer that he should “go and do likewise” – meaning that he should follow the example of the Good Samaritan in the parable.

As you can see, when we’re examining smaller passages, we must be aware of their place within context of the larger paragraph, chapter, or even the entire book!

Who Said It?

Some people think that you can just take any scripture from the Bible and safely assume that it is God speaking.  Indeed, the Word of God is inspired by God, but consider the fact that not everyone who speaks in the Bible is an inspired writer!

I’ll never forget the sermon in which our longtime preacher, John Baxter, made a very provocative statement attention:  “Not everything in the Bible is true.”  The tense uneasiness in the congregation was almost audible as his words hung in the air for just a moment – surely meant for emphasis – that felt like an awkward eternity.  One might think that this was a sacrilegious declaration, but as he would go on to point out, sometimes within the context of a passage we find that the person speaking is unreliable.

As we saw earlier in Matthew 4, it could very well be the devil speaking within in the context of a passage!

In Matthew 12:24 the Pharisees said that Jesus was aligned with Satan.  But we know that the Pharisees were unreliable because they often plotted against Jesus and sought to “entangle Him in His talk.” (Matthew 22:15)

Colossians 2:21 tells us, “Do not touch, do not taste, do not handle…”, but we see that this was Paul quoting rules of men in this passage, comparing them to the grace of Christ’s law.

Job’s wife famously said, “Curse God and die” in Job 2:9 - clearly this is not godly advice!

Compare these examples to a verse like John 14:6 in which Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through Me.”   We know that we can trust these words since they came from the Son of God Himself!

We can also trust the words of the Apostles, knowing that these were men who were appointed by Christ and inspired by the Holy Spirit.  Thorough study reveals that their teachings align with the rest of Scripture.

1 Corinthians 14:37 If anyone thinks himself to be a prophet or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things which I write to you are the commandments of the Lord.

To Whom Was It Said?

Likewise, it is important to notice to whom a statement was made in Scripture.  Who was the intended audience?

In Genesis 6 we see God giving the instructions for the building of the Ark.  Who were these instructions given to?  Noah, of course!  Obviously, God does not expect us to build an Ark today.  These directions were intended for Noah alone as we can easily discern based on the context.

Applying this same logic, we can easily differentiate between statements meant for a particular individual, a specific group or for everyone for all of time.

Studying the context, we know that John 14:25-26 was directed at the Apostles specifically to prepare them for the forthcoming Day of Pentecost (Acts 1-2).

These are very specific, time-bound circumstances Jesus was relating to those directly present.  Thus, we see that not every passage is meant for Christians today.

However, we know that John 3:16 – “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” – is meant to be a broad statement directed toward all of mankind henceforth.  We all have the chance at salvation through Christ’s love for mankind.

Old or New Testament?

Along these same lines, it’s also imperative to consider which part of the Bible you are reading from.  The Bible is divided into two Testaments (Laws or Covenants), the Old Testament and the New Testament.  It is only through a thorough study of the Bible as a whole that one can clearly see that teachings of each Testament are meant for completely different groups of believers of completely different times.

A mature student of the Bible understands that today we are under the New Testament, not the Old Testament.  In fact, two entire books of the Bible – Romans and Galatians – were written by Paul to address the fact that salvation from sin is through the Gospel of Christ, not through the Law of Moses.

Galatians 2:21  I do not set aside the grace of God; for if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died in vain.

We are taught that the Old Testament came to an end as Christ died on the cross, ushering in the New Testament in its place.

Hebrews 9:15-16 And for this reason He is the Mediator of the new covenant, by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions under the first covenant, that those who are called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance. For where there is a testament, there must also of necessity be the death of the testator.

The transition between the Old Testament to the New Testament can be very confusing for unstudied believers and unbelievers alike, leading to some unfortunate misunderstandings.

Christians should know that the Old Testament laws – including those pertaining to worship – were done completely away with.  Therefore we cannot use the passages out of context from the Old Testament to justify the continued practice of outdated worship such as observance of the Sabbath or circumcision.  In fact, we are explicitly warned that we can no longer follow any part of the Old Testament that has been put away.

Galatians 5:3-4  And I testify again to every man who becomes circumcised that he is a debtor to keep the whole law. You have become estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace.

On the other hand, a favorite ploy of those seeking to make believers out to be hypocrites is to point out that they don’t follow the “whole” Bible.  They might say, “You don’t believe in gay marriage because of Leviticus?  Well, I bet you ignore the part where it commands to not eat shellfish!”
Such a statement reveals a lack of understanding regarding the continuation of certain aspects of God’s Law throughout the Bible.  Diligent students of the Scriptures understand that some laws are consistent throughout the entirety of God’s Word, extending onward even into the present New Testament age.  Various forms of sexual immorality – including homosexuality – are forbade by God in both the Old and New Testaments.  These have always been wrong in the eyes of God… along with various other sins that no reasonable person would ever debate such as lying, idol worship, murder, etc.

Meanwhile - as we have already established - the majority of laws found the Old Testament are not upheld by Christians because they were repealed in the New Testament.  For example, Acts 10:9-16 does away with dietary restrictions, while 1 Timothy 4:1-5 also speaks against such.  Likewise there are social laws pertaining to crime and punishment, warfare, slavery, circumcision, animal sacrifice, feast days, ritual cleanness, etc. observed by the Israelites that Christians are under no obligation to uphold under the New Testament.

It is Christ and His New Covenant that, thank God, we are under today.

Hebrews 1:1-2  God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets,  has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds.

Historical, Geographical, and Cultural Context

In many ways, the Bible is an historical book.  Despite what skeptics may suggest, the events contained within the Bible took place within the real world.  In fact, archaeologists have been known to use the Bible’s geographical descriptions to find various ruins – which serve to further the Bible’s credibility as an historical text.

Within the pages of the Bible we read of descriptions of life in ancient Egypt, Babylon, and the Roman Empire.  Notable historical figures such as Pharaohs, ancient kings, and government officials are mentioned within the text, sometimes even interacting within Biblical characters directly.
Therefore, it would certainly be beneficial to learn about the history, culture, and even geography of events in the Bible.

Examining a map of the region allows one to gain an appreciation for the journeys of the Israelites as they wandered the wilderness, Jesus’ earthly ministry through ancient Israel, and Paul’s missionary journeys around the Mediterranean.

Similarly, gaining an understanding of the culture of the times provides perspective of the times and helps one to gain new insights into Biblical truths.

In regards to cultural context, a good example is Jesus’ Parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:25-37.  To fully appreciate the impact of this parable it helps to know just who the Samaritans were.

During Jesus’ time the Samaritans had complicated relationship with the Jews that extended back to Old Testament times (Samaritans are mentioned as far back in the Bible as 1 Kings).  Apparently the Samaritans would associate themselves with the Jews when convenient, taking advantage of their common heritage and worshiping God.  However, the Samaritans had a reputation of abandoning the Jews when they were being persecuted or conquered, reverting back to idol worship.  Thus, the Samaritans were considered social outcasts at best, hated enemies of the Jews at worst.  The Samaritans were considered a “mixed race” and subject to much racist and nationalistic ridicule by the Jews.  This knowledge makes one realize how shocking Jesus’ parable must have been to the original audience; He made a “no good” Samaritan the hero of His story!

Obviously, some of this may require additional study in supplementary resources such as a Bible dictionary or atlas.


When you set out to read any secular book, you don’t just flip to the middle, read a single sentence, and then turn to some other random section and do the same.  Yet how many Bible studies must look like this to an outsider?

If all of our Bible study consists of selective quotes then we’re definitely going to miss out on the author’s intended purpose and probably misinterpret what was meant to be said!

Of course, the best way to study the Bible in context is to read it as it was meant to be read…  As a whole.

Acts 20:27 For I have not shunned to declare to you the whole counsel of God.

Starting with Genesis and concluding with Revelation, reading the Bible from cover-to-cover as an ongoing narrative reveals the cohesive, epic story of God’s love for mankind, humanity’s ongoing rejection of God, and God’s longsuffering, ultimate plan for the redemption of the human race through His Son, Jesus Christ.

* Excerpt from : “Keeping the Context

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Psalm 145:18-19

Dead to Sin

In Ephesians 2:1-3 Paul spoke of the lost as being “dead in sin”.  We understand that one is dead in sin when they willfully choose to embrace the lusts of the flesh.  Through their disobedience they are doomed to a bleak fate with the way of sin only leading to destruction (Matthew 7:13).

Even though we deserve punishment for our former life, God is loving and merciful.  It is by His grace He allowed us a means of escape from condemnation.  Through the sacrifice of Christ, God forgives our sin, thereby making us “alive” so that we may stand before Him redeemed!

Ephesians 2:4-7 But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.

In a turn of that phrase – “dead in sin” – Paul also spoke of the concept of one being “dead to sin”…  This particular phrase refers to one who has accepted Christ as their Savior!

Dead in Sin versus Dead to Sin

Romans 6:11 Likewise you also, reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

One word makes a big difference!  Being “dead in sin” is very different from being “dead to sin”.  As we have seen, being “dead in sin” is a hopeless situation in which the unrepentant are condemned in their sins, eternally separated from God.  Meanwhile, being “dead to sin” offers us redemption, a path to eternal life through God’s grace.

So how do we go from being “dead in sin” to being “dead to sin”?

In Romans 6 Paul related the act of baptism - the avenue by which God provides the remission of sins - to Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection.

Romans 6:3-7  Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.  For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin. For he who has died has been freed from sin. 

As we will see through this lesson, God desires us to be “dead to sin” so that we will have freedom from sin and be once more “alive” in His eyes.  We will find that being dead to sin requires some effort on our part, but that, ultimately, it is being dead to sin that offers us hope for the future.

Freedom from Sin

When one is dead to sin, they are no longer controlled by sin.

Romans 6:6  Knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin.

To the unbelieving of the world, sin might be frowned upon at best, and it is very unpopular to condemn sin outright. In our society especially morals seem to be subjective.  We know all too well that some sins are celebrated as a sort of freedom.

But to one who has committed their life to Christ, sin is recognized for what it truly is:  Tyranny. When were in sin, we were enslaved by our own desires.

Romans 6:7 For he who has died has been freed from sin.

Through God’s grace manifested by Christ’s sacrifice, we are granted freedom from our sin.

A New Creation with a New Purpose

Upon rising up from the waters of baptism, a Christian has been cleansed of their former sin.  We stand before God renewed…  A new creation with a new purpose!

2 Corinthians 5:17-18 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold all things have become new. Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation…

Some on the verge of accepting Christ find themselves discouraged at the prospect of giving up sin.  This is a spiritually shortsighted attitude!  It’s important to realize that God offers us something so much better than the temporary pleasures of sin.  Not only are we putting away our former desires but we are allowing God to replace them.  Through Christ’s redeeming power we are made new once more!

Romans 12:1-2 I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.  And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.

The phrase “living sacrifices” would seem at first glance to be a paradox; After all, sacrifices do not live, they die.

But this is a great analogy for the kind of life a Christian should strive toward.  Our devotion to Christ should be so deep that we readily put away our own desires.  A dramatic metamorphosis should occur.  In becoming Christians we should no longer desire to please ourselves, but God!

Colossians 3:1-4  If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God.  Set you mind on things above, not on things on the earth.  For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.  When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him glory.

Our mindset should change completely and we should live a life that emulates the life of Christ.

Galatians 2:20 I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.

Avoiding Sin

Aspiring to be Christ-like requires great commitment on our part.  As we have read, we ought to set our mind on the pursuit of righteousness, doing the will of God.  Accordingly, we should actively be avoiding sin!

Understand that a new Christian will still face temptation, it’s not like being cleansed from your former sin makes one immune to future temptation.  Being imperfect, we will still be tempted.  We will stumble in our Christian walk.  We will – unfortunately – sin.

(We shouldn’t be discouraged by this as God lets us know that we will not be tempted beyond what we are able to withstand - 1 Corinthians 10:13)

But as a new creation set upon a new purpose, we will grow in strength as we develop as Christians.  We will dwell upon godly principles (Psalm 1:1-3, Philippians 4:8) and thereby completely change the way we think about the world, the way we approach certain situations.  Our attitude will attune to God’s will.  We will find certain temptations easier and easier to overcome until they are no longer enticing to us at all.  With time we will develop a distaste and intolerance for sinful behavior (2 Timothy 2:22).

However, we cannot allow this newfound confidence to become self-righteousness.  And we certainly cannot allow ourselves to take God’s forgiveness for granted, especially not to the point that we misuse it as a license to sin!

Romans 6:1-2 What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?

In this passage Paul was rebuking Christians who sought to use God’s grace as an excuse to return to a life of sin.  What an awful attitude to have, treating the sacrifice of Christ so irreverently as to casually return to sin, perhaps thinking, “Well, God will just forgive me anyway…”

Peter described just how disgusting it would be to willingly return to the depravity of sin.

2 Peter 2:20-22  For if, after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the latter end is worse for them than the beginning. For it would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered to them. But it has happened to them according to the true proverb: “A dog returns to his own vomit,” and, “a sow, having washed, to her wallowing in the mire.”

Returning to a life of sin after being forgiven would be like Christ abandoning the glory of His resurrection only to return to the despair of the grave.

Romans 6:10 For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God. 

We must not return to our former life of sin, for in doing so we foolishly forfeit our salvation, rejecting the gift of God (Romans 6:23).

Created for Good Works

Therefore, our new purpose should be set upon pleasing the Lord and doing His will through good works.

Of course, in doing these good works, we must always remember that our salvation is attained by works.

Ephesians 2:8-10 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.

Indeed we are saved by God’s grace.  However, God expects an obedient faith (James 1:22).

1 Corinthians 6:20  For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s.

Therefore we work as “instruments of righteousness” not to be saved, but because we are saved!

Romans 6:12-14  Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts. And do not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace.

Alive to God

As we read in Romans 6:11, to be dead to sin is to be “alive to God”.

Let’s attempt to tie together all of the figurative language:

When one decides to accept Christ as their Lord and Savior, they repent of their former life of sin…  They put to death the self-serving life of sin that they once led.  They become dead to sin.  But that’s not the end of the story.  As one reborn through baptism, they are a new creation likened to the resurrected Christ.

Romans 6:8 -9  Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, dies no more. Death no longer has dominion over Him.

Just as Christ won’t die anymore now that He has been resurrected, neither will we.  Being alive to God is a blessing while we live in the flesh and onward into eternity.

John 10:10  I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.

As Jesus points out, through Him our earthly life will be enriched greatly.

No longer burdened by sin and diligently resisting temptation, a faithful Christian lives a fulfilling life with a clear conscience before God (1 Peter 3:21), enjoys the spiritual blessings God offers (Ephesians 1:3), and now has a hopeful future to look forward to as he is guaranteed an eternal home with Jesus!

John 6:40  And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have everlasting life; and I will raise him up at the last day.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Evidences of the Resurrection

With so many celebrating the Easter holiday this week, millions around the world - believers and non-believers - are reminded of Jesus' death, burial, and - most importantly - His resurrection.

The Significance of the Resurrection

Jesus’ resurrection is the single most important event in the Bible.  Our Lord’s victory over death is the very foundation of our faith.

1 Corinthians 15:17-19 …If Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins! Then also those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable.

As Paul pointed out, if Christ had not been resurrected, our faith would be useless.  We would still be in our sins.  Life would be as meaningless - and, therefore, hopeless - as unbelievers contend.  There would be no point to us being Christians.

However, as Paul goes on to state, Christ was resurrected.  He is risen.  We serve a living Savior who overcame death.

God Wants Us to be Informed

I think it’s a great misconception that faith ought to be blind.  Time and again, the Bible tells us that God wants us to be informed and search out evidences for ourselves.

Proverbs 3:13  (NIV) Blessed are those who find wisdom, those who gain understanding, for she is more profitable than silver and yields better returns than gold. She is more precious than rubies; nothing you desire can compare with her.

Aside from that, Christians need evidence in order to convince others and lead them to the Truth.

1 Peter 3:15 But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear…

Keeping that in mind, let us examine 5 evidences that make the case for the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Evidence #1 – Secular History

Many skeptics will point out that Bible evidence for the very existence of Jesus – including His death and subsequent resurrection – is questionable because of its inherent bias.  Of course the Bible, a book claiming to be the Word of God, would confirm itself as true a skeptic might say in questioning the validity of the Gospels.

Indeed, due to wars, pillaging, and simple deterioration of various writings and artifacts, there is a severe lack of information about the life of Jesus to be found. In fact, few writings from the time of Christ exist at all, even information about important secular leaders of the time such as Julius Caesar, and yet no historian would question the existence of Caesar!

However, Historian Darrell Bock notes that since He wasn’t a great political or military leader that “It is amazing and significant that Jesus shows up at all in the sources we have.”

The sources available today include the writings of Jewish and Roman historians, Roman officials, and pagan sources, none of which would have any reason to want to further the influence of Christianity.

It is through these early non-Christian sources that the following facts about Jesus’ life are confirmed:

Jesus was from Nazareth
Jesus lived a wise and virtuous life.
Jesus’ enemies acknowledged that He performed unusual feats.
Jesus was crucified in Judea under Pontius Pilate during the reign of Tiberius Caesar at the time of Passover, being considered the Jewish King.
Jesus was believed by His disciples to have died and risen from the dead three days later.
It’s truly as Paul said to King Agrippa, the things Jesus did were “not done in a corner!” (Acts 26:26)

Evidence #2 – The Empty Tomb

Establishing the reliability of the Bible through the verification of outside, secular sources, let’s examine some of the physical evidence detailed in the Scriptures.

John 20:1-7  Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene went to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. Then she ran and came to Simon Peter, and to the other disciple, whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken away the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid Him.” Peter therefore went out, and the other disciple, and were going to the tomb. So they both ran together, and the other disciple outran Peter and came to the tomb first. And he, stooping down and looking in, saw the linen cloths lying there; yet he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb; and he saw the linen cloths lying there, and the handkerchief that had been around His head, not lying with the linen cloths, but folded together in a place by itself.

Reading this section of verses, it would be easy for skeptics to argue that since believers of Jesus found the tomb empty that their testimony is biased and therefore unreliable.  However, it is important to note that even the enemies of Christ – the Pharisees and others – never denied that the tomb was found empty.

It is also significant that the first people to discover the empty tomb were women.  Taking into consideration historical norms of the Greco-Roman culture of the day this detail is especially noteworthy.  As sexist as it may sound today, in this ancient society the testimony of women was not considered reliable.

Therefore, if the Gospel writers were merely making things up surely they would not have reported that it was women who found the empty tomb.  Wouldn’t they have written that it was men instead that made this discovery so as to make their story more believable in that day and age?  However, we read in the Gospels what actually happened as reported by those who were actually there, regardless of the cultural taboos of the day.

Many have sought to explain away the evidence of the empty tomb with various theories such as the body of Jesus was stolen or that Jesus wasn’t actually dead to begin with.  These theories are all easily debunked however.

Take for example the “Stolen Body” theory:  Jesus’ enemies – namely the Pharisees of the Sanhedrin – actually feared that something of this sort would happen, that one of Jesus’ disciples would try to steal His body in order to make the claim that He had been resurrected.

The disciples, however, seem to have little to no motivation for doing this.  In fact, it would seem that the Pharisees had more faith in Jesus’ declaration that He would live again than some of His closest followers.  We read that many of the disciples weren’t even present at the tomb that Jesus was revealed to be resurrected (Luke 24:13).  This is further indicated a lack of faith by expressing disappointment that Jesus had not delivered on His promise (Luke 24:21).

The Pharisees however, were taking no chances, so they took precautions and asked that the tomb be sealed and that Roman guards be stationed at the entrance of the tomb to prevent the stealing of Jesus’ body.  Based on Roman military protocol of the day, historians estimate the number of soldiers guarding the tomb being anywhere from at least 4 to a dozen to possibly even more.  On top of that, keep in mind that Jesus was put to death and buried during the Passover feast, at time at which there were thousands of Jews camping in the surrounding area.

Taking all of this into consideration, the notion that a group of disciples boldly snuck up on these soldiers, rolled away the 1-2 ton stone at the mouth of the tomb and stole Jesus’ body all without being seen or heard by someone is highly unlikely.

Evidence #3 – Post-Resurrection Appearances

It would be all-too-easy to refute the story of Jesus’ resurrection if no one ever saw Him again.  However, we have documentation that people not only saw the resurrected Jesus, but also touched, walked with, ate with, and talked with Him!

Jesus appeared to His disciples on numerous occasions following His resurrection.  Recall that Jesus was among them for 40 days after His resurrection.

Acts 1:1-3 The former account I made, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began both to do and teach, until the day in which He was taken up, after He through the Holy Spirit had given commandments to the apostles whom He had chosen, to whom He also presented Himself alive after His suffering by many infallible proofs, being seen by them during forty days and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God.

The Apostle Thomas famously doubted that Jesus was actually alive again until encouraged by Jesus to touch Him.

John 20:24-28 Now Thomas, called the Twin, one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. The other disciples therefore said to him, “We have seen the Lord.” So he said to them, “Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.” And after eight days His disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, “Peace to you!” Then He said to Thomas, “Reach your finger here, and look at My hands; and reach your hand here, and put it into My side. Do not be unbelieving, but believing.” And Thomas answered and said to Him, “My Lord and my God!”

Some of Jesus’ own disciples supposed that Jesus’ resurrection – if it took place at all – was going to be a sort of ghostly manifestation in keeping with the Jewish belief that the spirit lingered after the body died.  Taking this evidence into account, however we know that Jesus’ resurrection was not merely a spiritual resurrection, but a physical one.

In fact, hundreds of witnesses saw Jesus at one time following His resurrection!

1 Corinthians 15:6 After that He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep.

Modern psychologists have confirmed that this could not be could be a case of “mass hallucination”, that all these witnesses merely imagined Jesus among them. His appearing to so many witnesses in the flesh confirmed that He was indeed alive once more!

In a court of law we find ourselves convinced by eye-witness accounts, people who were actually there.  Why then would we question the testimony of those who claimed to have seen the resurrected Jesus?

Evidence #4 – The Radical Transformation of the Disciples and Others

Consider for a moment the life and character of Peter and the other disciples as recorded in the earlier parts of the Gospels.

We read over and over that these eleven men were often proved to be fairly ignorant of the scriptures and slow learners (Even to the point that Jesus Himself actually got frustrated with them on more than one occasion!).  They would jump to brash conclusions and were downright self-righteous at times.  Additionally, they exhibited inconsistent faith time and time again and were even shown to be cowardly, fleeing for their lives as Jesus was being taken away.

How is it then that these same men would so suddenly become such knowledgeable and bold evangelists responsible for spearheading a religious movement that would go on to last some 2000 years and counting?  Something very real happened to them that transformed their lives!

Perhaps the best example of such a drastic 180-degree turn is that of Paul.  Previously known as Saul of Tarsus, Paul was once an extremely devout Pharisee and one of the harshest persecutors of the early church.  A religious zealot, Paul was responsible for having many Christians imprisoned and even put to death.

However, on the road to Damascus, Paul encountered Jesus.  While this was not Jesus in the physical form as we previously discussed, this was no mere subjective vision.  Paul’s travelling companions also perceived the bright light and voice of Jesus as He appeared to Paul (Acts 9:7, 22:9).  After meeting the Lord, Paul repented of his wicked ways and became a changed man.  He went on to become a great leader of the early church and wrote the bulk of the New Testament.

Many unbelievers claim that all religions – including Christianity – only exist to control the masses and that they are all ultimately based upon some kind of lie.   But by the world’s standards, what did the Apostles have to gain in preaching Christ?  In the physical sense they had nothing to gain and everything to lose!  The disciples never gained worldly riches from their evangelical work, and yet they were willing to face imprisonment, exile, torture, and even death in order to preach Jesus!  This simply isn’t something that anyone would be willing to do if it was all simply based upon lie.

The fact is they knew that Christ truly had risen from the dead!

Galatians 2:20 I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.

Evidence #5 – The Birth and Growth of the Church

It was during the first century that the church was established and it wasn’t long before the movement exploded onto the scene.  This wasn’t merely some short-lived cult; it was a huge movement that came suddenly and hasn’t gone away since.  The church positively thrived in the first century and beyond.

From the beginning the Church saw a huge, instantaneous shift in the religious landscape of the day.  The Day of Pentecost was a major turning point.  Occurring 50 days after Jesus’ resurrection and just 9 days after His ascension into Heaven, thousands of Jews gathered in Jerusalem for the Jewish feast of Pentecost.  Many of those present had been witnesses to Jesus’ ministry, His crucifixion, and resurrection.  Empowered by the Holy Spirit, the Apostle Peter addressed the crowd.  Notice the reaction of this huge crowd after hearing the first Gospel sermon.

Acts 2:40-41 And with many other words he testified and exhorted them, saying, “Be saved from this perverse generation.” Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them.

Following the church’s establishment, the Christian faith continued to gain incredible momentum.  It wasn’t long before Christianity would become the dominant religion of the Roman Empire, impressively overthrowing pagan practices that had went on for centuries.

In our modern era, we see movements spring up almost overnight thanks to our advanced transportation and communication technology.  However, Christianity spread like wildfire without the aid these modern devices.

Only something as compelling and persuasive and real as Jesus’ resurrection could account for this widespread conversion.

Responding to the Resurrection – “What Shall We Do?”

Regardless of the evidences we have discussed today, ultimately, it all comes down to faith…
Hebrews 11:1 Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.

John 20:29 Jesus said to him, “Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

However, God requires more than just mere faith.  There is a call for obedient action on our part.  Recall on the Day of Pentecost that the crowd was moved by Peter’s sermon.

Acts 2:36-38 “Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.”  Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?”

Perhaps, like those gathered on the Day of Pentecost, you find yourself convinced that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, the Savior who overcame death through the resurrection.

Perhaps you likewise find yourself “cut to the heart” in recognizing that you are guilty of sin and that you desire God’s forgiveness.

If that is the case then you will want to know the answer that Peter gave to the Jews on the Day of Pentecost, for it is the same offer of salvation that Jesus provides to all of us today…

Acts 2:38 Then Peter said to them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit...”