The Case For Resurrection (Part One)
If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. (1 Corinthians 15:13-14)
Recently, my wife and I went to see the new Pure Flix movie The Case for Christ. The film chronicles the long, sometimes laborious but ultimately glorious, journey from atheism to faith by Christian apologist Lee Strobel.
The devil took a serious thumping when his prized skeptic Strobel found faith and slipped from his gnarly grasp. Strobel, a self-proclaimed atheist, was an award-winning investigative journalist for The Chicago Tribune. As part of Strobel’s conversion, and long after, he put those journalism skills to work to investigate the claims of Christianity. In the process, he penned several million-seller books that are essentially legal briefs (or cases) to prove God, Jesus, the Resurrection, the Scriptures and Christianity.
In his new feature film, Strobel argues strongly that the flashpoint for Christianity is the Resurrection of Jesus. Nothing else Jesus said, did, or predicted matters if the Resurrection is false. Christianity, as Paul argued to the Corinthians, is nothing but an empty shell.
It’s also nothing new.
Ever since the first Easter Sunday, Christians have joyfully pointed to this historical event as the REASON for Faith. It’s the motivation for belief. Death has no more say, no more sting, no more stranglehold. Jesus’ Resurrection changed the rules of the game. What once bound all men and buried them far from God was death. The biblical writers called this place the Sheol (Hebrew: Genesis 42:38; 44:29; 1 Samuel 2:6; Job 7:9; 21:13; Psalm 89:48; Proverbs 1:12) or Hades (Greek: Matthew 11:23; Luke 16:23; Revelation 20:13). It was the land of the dead. A place of separation. If there was any good news it was that Israel held a “get out of death” card, a promise of coming Resurrection (Daniel 12:1-3; John 11:23-25).
Nevertheless, until Jesus, whenever a person died, the Scriptures reveal he or she descended down into the Sheol or Hades. Nobody went up into “paradise” or in the Greek idea to a “third heaven” where God dwelt (2 Corinthians 12:1-4; Revelation 2:7). Yes, there were exceptions. Some were “caught up.” Enoch just disappeared one day (Genesis 5:24; Hebrews 11:5). Elijah raptured on a heavenly chariot (2 Kings 2:11-12). And Moses got a taste of both places, as Jewish tradition taught he was assumed out of Sheol into paradise by Michael the archangel. Paul was “caught up” to this paradise. But everyone else–righteous or not–took the down elevator at death. Can you imagine now the angst and anger it created when Jesus informed a lowly thief that he would join him IN “paradise” (Luke 23:43)? That was coded “resurrection” talk. The thief was in and the Pharisees were out. The last shall be first.
And then Jesus starts waking up the dead. Just like Elijah did (I Kings 17:17-23; 2 Kings 4:32-35). Ironically, raising the dead was an occasional Messiah miracle and only three accounts are recorded: the widow’s son at Nain (Luke 7:13-15), Jairus’ daughter (Matthew 9:18-26) and Lazarus (John 11:1-44).
Halfway through his ministry, Jesus enjoyed a mountaintop retreat with his inner three disciples (Peter, James and John). Suddenly Elijah and Moses crash the party in their “transfigured” eternal bodies that were “dazzling white” (Mark 9:2-10). It must’ve been something to see. In was a slice of Heaven on earth. However, such blessings were reserved for the resurrected dead, as Jesus taught his curious disciples after the event. Mark writes: Jesus gave them orders not to tell anyone what they had seen until the Son of Man had risen from the dead. They kept the matter to themselves, discussing what “rising from the dead” meant.
Don’t say a word, said Jesus. We’re clueless anyway, replied his disciples.
It takes someone very, very special to perform a resurrection. Many a faith charlatan has faked lesser miracles, but who can raise the dead? Jesus’ miracle ministry definitely brought him press and pressure. You want to get yourself killed? Start raising the dead. In fact, it wasn’t until after Lazarus’ resurrection the Sanhedrin commenced a plot to kill Jesus (John 11:45-53).
But if you really want to cause a stir, preach your own death and resurrection. Mark records that Jesus began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again (Mark 8:31).
That’s serious lunatic talk. It’s one thing to chat up your own murder but something altogether crazy to prophesy your own resurrection.
Maybe that’s why atheists, skeptics and unbelievers are puzzled by the Resurrection of Jesus the Christ. How do you rationalize the irrational? How do you explain the unexplainable? How do you defend the indefensible? Every other great guru, religious leader and spiritual master carved a career and created a following. A few nut jobs, reading bad tea leaves, predicted their death but none seriously dared to suggest they’d be back among the living within 72 hours. That’s insane. That’s crazy. That’s nonsensical. That’s a fairy tale.
It certainly is…unless you’re talking about God in the Flesh.
That’s who Jesus was.
And who Lee Strobel soon discovered that he was not.