Did it really happen?

With Easter approaching, and an abundance of films about Jesus and Christianity on television, and many other religious headlines and memes going around, I’ve had the opportunity to read quite a few social media comments – good and bad – about Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection. But the ones that really stick out to me are those who say – with confidence – that it did not happen. If someone is not quite sure about the resurrection story, I can understand that, but to know confidentally, without investigation, and without proof, that it simply did not happen, seems a little foolish, and unwise. The story of Jesus is one of the most known and re-told stories over the last two centuries. It would be equivalent to the “story of the century” when it happened back then. And for anyone who loves an investigative story or a captivating headline, this is one that is worth investigating thoroughly, just to be sure.  Because if one is so sure it did not happen, then there must be evidence of that as well.

The biggest claim from the skeptical comments I read is that it just isn’t logical. Being a very logically-minded person myself, I have to disagree with that statement. Most people have just not taken the time to look at the logic in detail. Professor Richard Swinburne of Oxford University is a scholar known especially for his aptitude in evaluating evidence. He writes in a book published by Oxford University Press that, based on the available historical evidence today, it is 97% likely that Jesus miraculously rose from the dead. (Taken from Ravi Zacharias’ book, “Jesus Among Secular Gods”). Even if you factor in an extra chance of error, those are still very good odds.  So let’s look at some of the logic of the resurrection.

Disclaimer
God cannot be 100% proven or disproven. Neither side (atheist or faith-based) can state 100% proof, so the atheistic argument that God cannot be proven is not a good one. God cannot be completely disproven either. There is evidence that suggests a creator, and other miraculous events have happened in life that science cannot explain. Much circumstantial evidence points heavily toward God as well, and cases have been won on circumstantial evidence before.

Establish a baseline
If you believe in God and that He created the universe and mankind, then anything else can be possible. Therefore it cannot be ruled out that Jesus was resurrected. It doesn’t matter if one believes creation took 6 days or happened over 6 billion years. If you believe it came from God, that there is a Higher Being, then anything else becomes a possibility. Given this much to be true, then the real skeptical question becomes, “Who is God and how much does He interact in our daily lives?” That is a completely separate philosophical question to be explored later, but it does not abolish the belief in God and the possibility of God’s actions. Yet, if you do not believe in any Higher Being or these basic statements about the creation of life, then there is no need to discuss Jesus’ resurrection. Your issue is not with the evidence of the resurrection, but with the idea of God itself. That also is a separate discussion.

The possibility of God’s actions
Assuming one does believe in the baseline of God or a Higher Being, and that God created the universe and mankind, and therefore anything else could be a possibility, then this becomes the measure for determining the rest of the stories in the Bible. A God that creates the universe and mankind can certainly create a virgin to give birth to Jesus, and a God that creates life in the beginning can certainly bring someone back to life. None of this is out of line with God’s possibility. Even the unexplainable things we sometimes observe in our own lives today lean toward this possibility rather than contradict it.

Two Hypothesis
Many well-meaning people believe in God and even in Jesus, but just not the actual resurrection. Even though we’ve established the possibility of God and that this is in line with what God could do, some people need more proof. I get that. So let’s look now at some of the evidence. There are only two realistic hypothesis to examine: either the disciples made up the story, or it is true. The story could not have evolved later as folklore because those who wrote the New Testament gospels and letters were eye-witnesses or first-hand accounts, and wrote them not long after it happened. It was not a story that evolved later.

Crucifixion
There were approximately 1/2 million Jews in Jerusalem at the time of Jesus’ crucifixion due to Passover. Jerusalem was already a large city, but at Passover time, all Jews came to Jerusalem. Some people believe that Jesus was not even crucified, but that theory does have much credibility. What happened to Jesus instead? There were many accounts of Jesus’ healing and teaching, and large crowds followed him everywhere. He was a controversial figure at best. If he had not been crucified, these stories of Jesus would have continued. He would not have just disappeared, and his followers would not have just stopped following. There would have been some other story of his death or his continued life. But there isn’t.

Resurrection
Since it is very likely that Jesus was crucified, and historical evidence does support this, the real question is about the resurrection. Did it happen or was the body taken? No body was ever found, so it could not have been left in the tomb. If the disciples lied about the resurrection, which is the only other possibility, they would certainly not have invented a story the way they did. Let’s look at that story.

Witnesses
As the story is written in the gospels, the first-hand witnesses of Jesus’ resurrection were women. Women were not considered credible in that day. If the disciple writers were trying to convince people of a lie and make it believable, they would have used more credible witnesses.

Body
In order to make up the story, the apostles would have to steal the dead body and hide it where it could never be found – in a city of 1/2 million people and with Roman guards everywhere. These disciples had very little money and status, and therefore it would be very difficult for them to pull this off. It would also be the perfect crime – with eleven disciples all agreeing to it, even writing about it later, and eventually dying over it. This is very unlikely given our human nature. The easiest way to get away with a crime, is to do it by yourself. Multiply a crime by eleven people, and someone would have snitched.

Roman Guards
Even if the body could be stolen, how would they get it past the Roman guards? The counter-story to the gospels says that the Roman guards fell asleep while guarding the tomb. How would several guards all fall asleep at the same time and not hear the disciples moving a large stone from the tomb? If anything, the guards would have slept in shifts. And the penalty for a Roman guard to fall asleep would be for the entire unit to be burned. The Romans did not mess around with things like this.

No crime charged
Why weren’t the disciples ever charged with the crime of stealing the body or breaking the Roman seal on a tomb? This would have been punishable by death. If the Romans crucified Jesus for less of a crime, why not do the same to the disciples, and shut it down once and for all?

Tomb stone
The place of the tomb was recorded as being down a hill. The large stone that covered the tomb would have to be rolled up the hill and away from the tomb. Imagine the disciples trying to do this in the middle of the night with the Roman guards sleeping. It almost seems comical, and definitely not logical.

Burial Linens
The burial linens were recorded as still being in the tomb. If the disciples took the body, they would certainly have left him clothed out of respect. When Lazarus was reportedly raised from the dead by Jesus, he came out still bound in his linens. However, Jesus did not.

Luke
And finally we have Luke, the doctor and historian who wrote about Jesus’ life after Jesus was already resurrected. Luke never met Jesus, and was not a follower while Jesus was alive. He was a Greek, and had absolutely nothing to gain by documenting Jesus’ life. Yet, he had heard the stories after the resurrection, just like many others had. He investigated for himself, talking to eye-witnesses and gathering facts. As a result, Luke has given us one of the most beautifully written accounts of Jesus. In those days, there were no “best-sellers” and no attention-grabbing headlines or similar motives like we have today. For Luke and the disciples, they could not have possibly imagined the outcome of all of this. They were simply telling what they saw and experienced. And there were others too. James, the half-brother of Jesus, did not believe in who Jesus was until after the resurrection, and then he became a follower. Why?  What would have been his motive if it had only been a lie?

Back to basics and the possibility
Since we cannot fully discredit the claim that the resurrection could be true, it gets back to one basic statement: If you believe in God and that He created the universe and mankind, then anything else is possible. And why not?  Would God just create mankind and leave us here with no other miracles or great acts? Not likely. There is sufficient evidence, the probability does tip the scales, and it is not illogical. We can all decide whether we want to follow the life and teachings of Jesus, but to say it’s not logical or that it definitely did not happen, is simply not true. But when one believes in the resurrection, then it changes everything, and maybe that is the real fear of the skeptic. It means that death is not the final end. And it means that God does care about us, and that He does interact in our lives – which also answers that earlier philosophical question about who God is and how He interacts with us.

Want to investigate more for yourself? Here are just a few resources:

Youtube: anything from Ravi Zacharias, an atheist turned apologetic with numerous recognitions and honorary degrees, who speaks at many colleges and conferences.

Josh McDowell: any of his multiple books. Josh McDowell set out in college to disprove Christianity.

Jesus Booklet: from Godlife.com

Why would a loving and compassionate God send people to hell?

whyThis is the question a co-worker asked me a few weeks ago.  It is an important question, and honestly, a difficult one to try to answer.  My friend was having difficulty reconciling what she saw around the world with her Christian beliefs.  “There are a billion muslims,” she said, “I can’t see how God will send a billion people to hell when they are only following the only culture and traditions they have ever known.”

She asked this question a few days before the Paris terror attacks.  I don’t know if our conversation would have been different if it had taken place after the attacks, but I do know that the day before any tragedy seems to be a normal day just like any other.  And when tragedy strikes, we immediately start searching for the truth.  The truth does not change based on circumstances.  It is the same the day before and the day after.

The answer to her question is not a simple yes or no.  But there can only be one truth to the world, and this question can be answered adequately and rightly without having to compromise on that truth.

God is Just and Fair.  He will do what is Right. (Psalm 145:17)

I began to explain my answer to my friend and followed it up with some references.  Many people have this same question, so I have written my answer below in four statements that I hope will also help others.  After all, everyone wants to know, and there is nothing we can do to change the answer once we die.

1. The answer lies not just in what we see in the world today, but in an overall understanding from the beginning of people in our world.  This is recorded in the Old Testament of the Bible.

No other book explains the historical beginning of time and records the genealogy starting with Adam.  The Bible represents 40 authors, 66 books, written over 1600 years, in 3 continents and 3 languages.  It describes the human race in completeness – all races, cultures, and religions.
*fun fact: There are 22 letters in the Hebrew alphabet.  In triplicate (3), this equals 66, the number of books in the Bible.  Three means complete.

Two-thousand years passed between Adam and Abraham in the book of Genesis.  This is significant because God does not establish his first covenant with people until Abraham.  Abraham is considered the start of religion as we know it today.  The book of Genesis does not give us a lot of detail during those first 2000 years, but we do know the earth had become very evil and God destroyed it with a flood during Noah’s time.

God is known to punish people for evil, but He always gives them fair warning ahead of time.  Grace has been present from the beginning.  Anyone who heeded the warning, sought God and repented from their evil ways was saved from destruction, no matter what they had done in the past.

The people of Noah’s time were warned for many years. (I Peter 3:20)
The people of Sodom and Gomorrah were warned ahead of time. (Genesis 18:22-33)
The people of Nineveh, though very evil, were warned through the prophet Jonah and they listened and repented, and were saved from destruction.  (Jonah 3)
God’s own covenant people through Abraham had become very evil themselves in about 600 BC.  They worshipped other gods, sacrificed children and participated in cannibalism, and their own priests had become corrupt and evil.  The prophet Jeremiah warned them for years, and his prophecy came true when Jerusalem was destroyed in 586 BC and the few thousand remaining were held captive in Babylon. (Jeremiah and Lamentations)

2. God will not condemn someone for what they do not know.

How were people saved or judged before Jesus’ time?  And what about those in more recent times who still have never had a chance to hear of Jesus or read a Bible?  Remote areas of the world, certain cultures, Native American Indians who lived prior to the western colonization,  young children, and the mentally handicapped are a few of these.

Prior to having a knowledge of Jesus, people were saved by faith in what they knew up until that time, and by faith in the promise of a coming Savior.

“By faith Abel brought God a better offering than Cain did. By faith he was commended as righteous, when God spoke well of his offerings. And by faith Abel still speaks, even though he is dead.” (Hebrews 11:4)
“By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going.” (Hebrews 11:8)

Read more on this at: http://www.gotquestions.org/before-Jesus.html

3. God the Creator can reveal himself through his creation, and will make himself known to each of his created.

Just like a baby knows its mother, we instinctively know God our Creator.  It is our heart (soul) that decides whether we want to follow God and what He has revealed to us.  Reading a Bible or attending church is certainly helpful but not a requirement.  God has been known to use His creation to reveal Himself, especially in Old Testament times. (Psalm 19:1-4)

This is part of the mystery of God.  We do not know how God reveals himself to each person, but we can trust that He will, and everyone is given a choice.  But we must be very careful here… for those of us that have knowledge, we are judged on that knowledge.  Even Satan and the fallen angels had knowledge of God and they chose differently.

Read more on this at: http://www.gotquestions.org/never-heard.html

4. Finally, because God loves us, he will not leave us without hope or without choice.  He has sent a Savior for all people.  A Savior is not based on who we are or what we’ve done, but on what the Savior has done for us.

By nature of who God is, he cannot be a part of sin or evil.  God poured out his final judgment on sin through the ultimate sacrifice, His Son Jesus, who took the punishment on the cross in our place.  Jesus’ final words were, “It is finished.” (John 19:30).  God’s plan to redeem his people was complete.  Jesus’ burden was so heavy during the time of his crucifixion, that I believe this was because he was thinking of each and every one of us by name – past, present and future.

There are different ideas on the exclusivism-inclusivism of Jesus, but the basic truth is this:

Jesus came as Savior to all the world. (“Go and make disciples of all nations,” Jesus said” Matthew 28:19).  His death and resurrection covers the righteousness for those who believe in Jesus as their Savior, and as the promised Savior for those who have not yet heard and will believe.  This makes Jesus still the one Savior for all the world, as prophesied from the beginning of time, and the one true path to God.  He is our intercessor to God.  Through Jesus, God no longer sees our sin but sees the righteousness of Jesus within us.

There is no need and no truth in having many paths to God to cover our various traditions, personalities, character traits, races, cultures, circumstances or changing times.  God never said we had to work our way to Him either.  By Faith (true repentance) and by Grace present from the beginning, One Savior covers it all; fair and just and complete.

Read more on this at: http://www.gotquestions.org/inclusivism-exclusivism.html

We want quick answers, even to tough questions, but the Bible shows us that God’s view and concept of time is not limited to our short timeframes.  But because our life on this earth is short, we have little time as individuals to decide what we want to believe and do.  Will it be based on a matter of convenience or a search for the truth?

~~~

My friend left our talk that night a little overwhelmed, but the next morning I noticed  she was smiling and talking to the taxi driver about Christ!  She had found her answer.

We may not find all the answers, but in finding God,
we will find the One who does.

A Halloween observation from an outsider

The question comes up every year this time – should Christians celebrate Halloween?
Clearly, a person’s salvation is not determined by this holiday, so it then becomes a secondary matter for Christians.  It is more a matter of impact and image.

I am not talking about the American tradition of handing out candy to cute little neighborhood kids.  This is part of what makes America unique and great – the fact that we can still have our neighbor’s kids come by our house with anticipation that we will greet them with candy and smiles.

But what about the rest?  What about the decorating of ghosts and witches and tombstones in our yards?  Or the barrage of horror and evil associated with the holiday?  My co-worker from India, who was traveling to the United States for the first time, told me a sobering observation.

He arrived in the U.S. in late October.  Just like anyone visiting a new country for the first time, he was excited to see what it was like.  After settling in for a few days, I took him out to lunch.  As we drove down the streets of Atlanta, looking for a place to eat, my friend became quiet.  He hesitated a little, and said, “I thought America was a Christian country.  Why does everyone put out decorations of evil spirits and magic?”

I felt embarrassed.  I tried to explain as best as I could to an outsider looking in, about our Halloween traditions.

He still seemed disappointed.  “In my country,” he said, “there are people who worship evil spirits, so you do not put those things around your house if you do not want to welcome evil spirits.”

All I could say to him in return is that I was a Christian and I did not celebrate Halloween.  “Ah, ok,” he said.

Impact and image are important.  Does Jesus look welcome in this home?  What would you think if your church pastor decorated his home like this?  It would seem kind of weird.  Why should it be any different for other Christians?

halloween-decorating

 

 

 

The Response

images

It has been heartbreaking to watch the news this last week, with riots and looting and angry words being thrown back and forth.  But what I noticed most on the faces of the people I saw on television was a look of deep pain and hurt and frustration.  It goes much deeper than the cries of racism.  This was a look of pain accumulated from many years of injustice – from substandard schools for the poor, people not caring, families torn apart from alcoholism and drugs, single moms trying to raise their families against the odds, being poor in a country that has so many extremes in wealth, and a general lack of morality in our culture.  The tone spread throughout the country like a bad virus, and spilled over into family Thanksgiving celebrations and times where we should be coming together.  It brought home the fact that the holidays are very hard for many people, those without families or means to provide, and loneliness and hurt feelings are heightened.

What is the correct response, and what is the solution for a hurting country and the world?

There is only one answer, one person, that can satisfy all our questions and truly take away the pain and injustice.  Jesus Christ.  No other person, no other religion or doctrine or leader, has spoken the words that Jesus said and acted as Jesus did.  Jesus faced many of the same issues that we have today, but he is not just a historical figure to be studied.  His truth is still true today.  Jesus offers compassion for the forgotten, the poor and lonely.  Only Jesus offers grace and forgiveness, no matter who you are or what you have done.  Jesus often spoke against the wealth and power of this earth, yet no one has ever found any fault with him other than he claimed to be who he said he was.  He healed.  He understood.  He cared.  He carried all of our pain to the cross.  He died for us.  No one else has done this.

As my younger self, I might have considered this to be a lesser response to the world’s problems.  I wanted to solve it my way.  But as I have seen more of the world now, I know there is no other answer.  Jesus is the only way out of our circumstances, and the only one who can ease our pain.  During this Christmas season we see the images of baby Jesus lying in a manger, but I hope we will also see Jesus the man.  Read the spoken words of Jesus in the New Testament (red-letter edition) and you will see why He came and what He stood for.  In your pain, look to Jesus.  Trust in Him as your Savior and He will lead you out.

For there is one God and one mediator between God and man, a man, Christ Jesus.
1 Timothy 2:5

 Jesus said, “I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness.”  John 12:46

 

The lunch conversation I will never forget

debate-lunch-breakI’ll never forget that day at lunch.  I’ve thought about it many times since.  Why didn’t I have an answer?  What would I say today?  I was resolved to find the answer.

My co-worker sat across from me in the lunch cafeteria.  She had invited me to lunch that day, which was unusual since we were not close friends and had never had lunch together in all the years we worked at the same company.  She was retiring soon and asked if I would join her for lunch.  I was happy to go.  She was a funny person, liked to tell jokes and always had a smile on her face.

We began talking about trivial things and small-talk, when all of a sudden her demeanor changed.  She looked at me with a fierceness in her face I had never seen before, and she brought up the subject of God.  “I don’t believe in God,” she said, “but if he does exist when I die, I’m going to look him right in the face and point my finger at him (she starts shaking her finger at me) and I’m going to tell him I don’t want anything to do with a god that demands people worship him or else he sends them to hell.  I’ll turn around and gladly go straight to hell!”

Whaat?, came my reply in a state of disbelief.  I kept waiting for the joke or punch line but it never came.  I was speechless and did not know where her sudden anger came from.  I had never discussed religion with her and was not even sure she knew I was a Christian.  I do not know her reason for choosing me that day, but her attack seemed very personal.  I think it was not me she was attacking but rather the one I represented, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit that lives within me as a Christian.

We do not wrestle against flesh and blood but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.  Ephesians 6:12

Our lunch was mostly over after that rant, but the expression on her face never changed back to the happy person I knew before.  I never saw her again after that, but I have often wondered about her and what was the right answer to her statement.  Here is what I would say to her today.

You have the wrong idea about God.  God is Sovereign and Holy, and the Creator of the universe.  He created this world and you and I, with only a spoken word.  He is far beyond anything we can fully imagine or contain within our limitations.  God is to be revered, but He is also fair and good and loving.  He does not demand anything of us, nor can we earn it.  Everything on this earth requires that we work for it, including our jobs, but it is not that way with God.  God asks us if we would like to receive His gift of Grace.  It is freely given to anyone, but we have to want to accept it.  Heaven is a place for those who want to worship the true and living God and have found their salvation in Christ.  If you get to know who God is, then you will want to be with Him out of this love.

You also have the wrong idea about hell.  If hell is real, as described in the Bible and warned about many times by Jesus, then it is not a place you will gladly want to go.  You will want to avoid it at all costs.  Just look around us at the evil we see every day on this earth and you will know that hell can be a reality, and there is no reason to think it would be limited to only what we can see.

Satan’s main goal is to keep us away from God and to keep us from knowing the truth.

It is worth everything we have to seek out and find the truth; to examine our hearts and our motives.  There is no price too great for knowing the truth, and there is no substitute.  Yes, God is more than we can ever imagine, but He has also given us the truth and the way for redemption and eternal fellowship with Him.  The rest is up to us.

And all mankind will see the salvation of God. Luke 3:6