The Case for Christ

April 14, 2017

Because of Easter, some may be thinking about the resurrection of Jesus. For some it may be a strong belief. Others may view it as a myth. Among the latter, there may be some who still cling to the Christ of faith, which means Christ as some sort of ideal although they believe the historical Jesus is moldering in a grave somewhere. Others who hold a mythic view of the resurrection may wish the whole things would disappear into the dustbin of history. The most rabid of this sort may even view religion as dangerous. And of course, there may be some who believe, if asked, but for whom such belief doesn’t have much impact on life.

C.S. Lewis wisely observed, “One must keep on pointing out that Christianity is a statement which, if false, is of no importance, and if true, of infinite importance. The one thing it cannot be is moderately important.”* In other words, I think the importance of the claim about Christ means that everyone should seriously investigate the case for Christ. And this also means examining our own presuppositions and worldviews that might get in the way of such an investigation. Skeptics have examined and become believers. But upon belief, we should never take it lightly.

“Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another” (Proverbs 27:17, ESV). Although we must read Matthew, Mark, Luke and John for the eyewitness testimony, I’ve found the serious studies of others have helped me sharpen and strengthen my own belief in the resurrection. One of the first books that I read of this type was Who Moved the Stone? by Frank Morison. Frank Morrison is the pen name of Albert Ross. Ross set out to write a book that would disprove the resurrection. He ended up convincing himself of the truth of the resurrection and writing a very different book. First published in 1930, the book continues to be in print. Here is a list of helpful books.

  • Who Moved the Stone? by Frank Morrison
  • The Testimony of the Evangelists: The Gospels Examined by the Rules of Evidence by Simon Greenleaf. Greenleaf was a law professor at Harvard. For those who can wade through 19th century prose, it has helpful insights into looking at the evidence of the gospels.
  • The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel. Strobel was a newspaper reporter for the Chicago Tribune. When his wife came to belief in Jesus, it upset his perfect atheist marriage. He used his investigative talents as a reporter to attempt to disapprove the resurrection. He ended up becoming convinced of the resurrection.
  • The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus by Gary R. Habermas and Michael R. Licona
  • Christianity on Trial: A Lawyer Examines the Christian Faith by W. Mark Lanier. Lanier is a successful trial lawyer. His book brings his experience with evidence to the task of examining Christianity. This book begins with questions about God and morality before dealing with Jesus.
  • Cold-Case Christianity by Wallace J. Warner. Warner is a LA homicide detective. He also began as a skeptic, but examined the case for Jesus using his skills as a cold-case, homicide detective. He became convinced of the resurrection.

The evidence of this case demands to be examined by everyone. The resurrection of Jesus changes everything.

*C.S. Lewis, “Christian Apologetics,” God in the Dock, p. 101.


Like Angels in Heaven

December 10, 2016

One aspect of Jesus’ response to the Sadducees about the resurrection was that they didn’t understand the nature of the future life. The Sadducees attempting to trip Jesus up with questions had posed a conundrum. A certain man had married but died childless. According to the law, his brother was to marry his former wife and raise up children for his brother’s lineage. In the story of the Sadducees, the second brother also dies childless and the same happens through all seven brothers. The Sadducees thought they have reduced the resurrection to an absurdity: whose wife will she be if seven brothers were all married to her?

Jesus’ reply counters this misconception, “For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven” (Matthew 22:30, ESV). I recently had someone email about this passage, and he noted no marriage, no sex, and no births in the resurrection. His “what do you think about this passage” likely had a subtext that he didn’t make explicit but went something like this. Marriage is the greatest thing I know in this life; how can that not be in the life to come!

The resurrection life will have no death, so there is no need for replacements, that is new births. The result is the marriage relationship is no longer needed as well. I suspect my friend felt like the next life sounded more like a fast than a feast, if that is the case.

I like C.S. Lewis’s reflections on this found in his book, Miracles. He imagines a small boy who finds the greatest pleasure in his life to be chocolate. Someone older attempts to explain that after puberty and in marriage, he will find a greater pleasure than chocolate. Chocolate is what the small boy knows, and he cannot imagine the greater pleasure. We are in much the same position as we think about resurrection life.

Every good and perfect gift comes from God. I find many joys in this life, and our good Creator is deserving of thanks for every one of them. The one in charge of the joys of this life is also in charge of the joys of the next.

Yet, this is not a perfect world. We experience pain. We suffer sickness and injuries. Evil is perpetrated to the hurt of others. Natural calamities happen. If even in this broken world, we experience great joys, imagine what it will be like in the life of the resurrection.

He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. (Revelation 21:4, ESV)

I trust the one who is the source of all joys that even greater joys await those who will be like angels in heaven.


The Resurrection Body

April 15, 2016

Paul’s tour de force on the resurrection is 1 Corinthians 15. It was prompted by the denial of the resurrection by some in the Corinthian congregation (15:12). Paul first gives evidence for the resurrection of Jesus. Paul notes the Scriptures and the many eyewitnesses which include himself. To deny the resurrection is to deny Christ’s resurrection. For Christ not to have been raised, then faith is futile, we are still in our sins, and we are of all people the most to be pitied. But Paul will have none of that: Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. The resurrection of Jesus is connected with the future hope of Christians. Jesus is the basis of our hope.

But questions remain: “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?” (1 Corinthians 15:35-58) Maybe the deniers were troubled by these questions. Greeks typically believed in a life after death without resurrection. Many Jews had a crude conception of resurrection. If you died lame or blind, you were raised lame or blind. Paul gives us our best glimpse at the resurrection body.

Paul provides us with an analogy. Our physical body at death is like a planted seed. There is continuity between the seed and the plant to come, but there is also transformation. Paul reassures us that God knows how to create different kinds of flesh for different kinds of purposes, and He can bestow varying degrees of glory. In other words, resurrection is not a mere resuscitation but a glorious transformation.

Paul illuminates by a series of contrasts. Our physical bodies are perishable, but the resurrection body will be imperishable. Our physical bodies face the dishonor of death and decay, but the resurrection body will be raised in glory. We experience weakness now, but we will be raised in power. We have a natural body now. One suited to the current natural world. We will have a spiritual body.

We need to be careful when we see this word “spiritual” that we don’t think immaterial like Casper the Ghost. We need to hold on to the word “body” and remember that Jesus in the resurrection was solid and touchable. The spiritual body will be animated by God’s Spirit and suitable for the transcendent realm of the age to come.

We have to admit the details are few. We still likely have many questions about the resurrection. But the resurrection body is not a mere resuscitation of the old. It is a transformation. It is something more glorious and suited for eternal life with God.

It is enough to trust our Maker. Jesus conquered death in his resurrection. And death will be conquered for each of us in our resurrection. With that hope we live in encouragement knowing that in the Lord our labor is not in vain.


Can We Believe in the Resurrection?

March 1, 2016

Can modern people still believe in the resurrection of Jesus? George Eldon Ladd in his book, I Believe in the Resurrection of Jesus, notes three approaches to the resurrection found in contemporary biblical scholarship:

  1. Christianity is a historical religion. The resurrection is a historical event—it really happened!
  2. The resurrection was a real event in past history whose nature is such that it transcends history, and therefore, it is not subject to verification.
  3. The resurrection did not happen, but talk about the Christ of Faith.

Approaches 2 and 3 have been influenced by an anti-miraculous, naturalistic approach that claims to be “scientific” and “objective.” Ladd counters, “A truly scientific method is the inductive method which accepts as a working hypothesis the best explanation for the known facts.” What are the facts that need to be explained?

  1. The empty tomb. Why would the disciples steal the body? If the Jewish leaders could have produced the body, why didn’t they?
  2. The eyewitnesses. The eyewitnesses suffered and died for their testimony. If their testimony was a fabrication, why the dedication? If their testimony was a fabrication, why did they have the women as the first witnesses of the resurrection? Why did they tell of their own faults and disbeliefs?
  3. The transformations. What changed fearful disciples into heroic martyrs? What changed Paul from their most ardent opponent into the most zealous evangelist? What caused Jewish Christians to transfer their worship from Saturday to Sunday? What caused Jewish Christians to accept Jesus as the Messiah when the Law said “anyone who is hung on a tree is under God’s curse” (Deuteronomy 21:23, NIV). What caused Jewish Christians to call Jesus “Lord,” a term used in the Old Testament for Yahweh?
  4. The Prophecies. Mathematician Peter Stoner in his book, Science Speaks, had university students calculate the odds of eight Old Testament prophecies being fulfilled in one person (he chose Micah 5:2, Malachi 3:1, Zechariah 9:9, Zechariah 13:6, Zechariah 11:12, Zechariah 11:13, Isaiah 53:7, and Psalm 22:16). He came up with the odds of 1 in 1017. Stoner compares this to the odds of choosing the correctly marked silver dollar in a pile of silver dollars two feet deep over an area the size of Texas.

I believe in the historicity of the resurrection. I believe that Jesus died for our sins, was buried, and was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures.


Faith Not Sight

October 21, 2014

I don’t like the fact that our bodies disappoint us with aging or disease or both. Somehow it just doesn’t seem fair that the best body we will ever have is at age 18 (at least in this life). We see the aging process in others, but eventually we have to admit to it in ourselves. What Paul called “the outer person wasting away” is observable in life (2 Corinthians 4:16).

Yet Paul placed beside this unwelcome fact another wondrous observation. In Christ, the inner person can continue to grow and become better. “Our inner person is being renewed day by day” (1 Corinthians 4:16). God is transforming us to become more and more like His Son. Our character, our kindness, and our love can grow and mature throughout our lifetime. The best our inner person can be in this life may be the day we breathe our last.

Paul compared this body that disappoints us to a tent (1 Corinthians 5:1). Tents are temporary. They are fragile and frail in comparison to a permanent structure. The disappointments of our bodies are reminders we are sojourners here. We are just passing through; this is not our enduring home. A tent may become frayed and worn until it wears out, or it may be suddenly pulled down, but it is never permanent.

The God who renews our inner person also builds us a permanent dwelling. As Paul wrote, “[W]e have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens” (1Corinthians 5:1b, ESV). In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul described our physical bodies with words like “perishable,” “dishonor,” “weakness,” and “natural”. While the resurrection body that we await at Christ’s return is described by words like “imperishable,” “glory,” “power,” and “spiritual.” The transient will be swallowed up by the eternal.

The processes of the outward wasting away and inward being renewed take place in the course of daily life. Daily life filled with its ups and downs, its trials and temptations, and its moments of doubt and faith. Paul used the word, “groaning,” to describe this present life. He spoke of “slight momentary affliction,” although slight affliction doesn’t seem to adequately describe Paul’s life (see 2 Corinthians 11:23-28). He could only call it that when weighed on the balance with eternal glory. The eternal outweighs the transient and makes the walk of faith worth it all.

Paul had confidence that to be away from the body is to be at home with the Lord. The God who is doing a great work of renewing and transforming in our inner person is also preparing for us a permanent dwelling place. Eternal glory is worth it all “for we walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7, ESV).


How Many Circles? How Many Circles?

April 18, 2014

I had a professor who spoke of the one circle man and the two circle man. He would draw a circle on the chalkboard for the one circle man, and two circles that overlapped a bit for the two circle man.

The one circle man is the person who believes that nature is all there is. The single circle represents the physical universe. If you attempt to talk to the one circle person about a miracle, for example, the resurrection of Jesus, he has ruled such things out of bounds. He will say such things cannot happen. No amount of evidence will be convincing. because he views the universe as a closed system. That’s all there is. He is a one circle man.

The two circle man believes in the natural universe but also believes in a spiritual realm and the existence of God. Or, if not certain about God, he is at least able to grant the second circle as a possibility to be reasoned about. If you attempt to talk to the two circle person about a miracle, for example, the resurrection Jesus, he is willing to consider the evidence.

The two circle man also believes the universe usually operates by physical causes and effects. Miracles are not claimed to explain everything. Miracles would be viewed as something rare, that is why they are by definition wondrous. But the two circle man doesn’t rule them out of bounds by definition. He is open to the possibility that God can intervene in this world and do something instantaneously that cannot be explained by natural causes and effects.

The one circle man sometimes thinks that his one circle worldview is to be identified with the scientific enterprise. But the two circle man can do science as well. In fact, science grew up in the midst of two circle thinkers — the Christian west. The two circle man believes that this universe is orderly and understandable, because the Creator made us with senses and minds that correspond to that reality and lead us to true knowledge about the world around us.

The one circle man will sometimes unknowingly borrow from the two circle man. He will talk about the pursuit of truth and moral values and even meaning, failing to realize that those things to have substance must come from the other circle — the circle he denies.

Some one circle men will even wistfully talk about the Christ of faith even though they believe Jesus of Nazareth is mouldering in the grave. Their one circle life doesn’t allow for a resurrection, no matter the witnesses, no matter the prophecies, and no matter the tremendous transformations that occurred.

I’m a two circle man. I’ve not ruled the evidence as out of bounds. In your life, how many circles?


What Will You Do With Jesus?

March 29, 2013

The scene was DeVos Hall in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The occasion was a public discussion on the resurrection of Jesus. The participants were N.T. Wright and Marcus Borg. Borg is a member of the Jesus Seminar, which questions whether many of the gospel sayings are actually from Jesus. He stated during the presentation that he believes Jesus of Nazareth is mouldering in the grave, but he still believes in the Christ of faith. Wright is known for his massive three volumes: The New Testament and the People of God, Jesus and the Victory of God, and The Resurrection of the Son of God. Wright believes that Jesus has been raised from the dead, and his work emphasizes the importance of world view in the study of Jesus.

Borg is educated and eloquent. He passionately believes that his approach to Jesus salvages the church for the modern world. He doesn’t believe that the modern mind can believe in miracles. How can people today believe in someone rising from the dead? Borg believes that the dead simply do not rise.

Borg has adopted the world view of naturalism. Such a world view says the physical world is a closed system. There is no possibility that God can intervene in human affairs, so miracles are ruled out by definition. But we have to back up and ask whether this world view is true. Naturalism tends to be reductionistic to everything human. Are my emotions, thoughts, and morals simply biochemical reactions? Even for the person who would say yes to this question, it is a difficult proposition to live with consistently. We tend to behave in such a way that these very human traits are viewed as of a different order from indigestion.

Science does not necessarily lead to naturalism. Science developed within the Christian world view, and today, many scientists hold a Christian or theist world view. It is not logically inconsistent to say the natural world operates in an orderly and understandable way (that we can discover by the scientific method), and the creator of the natural order can intervene when he desires.

The scientific method is also not the only way of evaluating truth. You can’t put historical evidence in a test tube or replicate an experiment with it. In both philosophy and history, we must reason correctly and weigh the evidence. We must look for consistency of thought and preponderance of evidence. We may never arrive at absolute certitude, but we also can’t remain neutral.

So what will we do with Jesus? As C.F.D. Moule has said, “If the coming into existence of the Nazarenes, a phenomenon undeniably attested by the New Testament, rips a great hole in history, a hole of the size and shape of Resurrection, what does the secular historian propose to stop it up with?”

Listening to Borg made me wish the audience could have stood up and recited, “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Corinthians 15:17–20, ESV).