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Jesus Is Alive

There is solid evidence for us to believe Jesus is alive.

If Jesus is not alive, then what the Bible says in 1 Corinthians 15 is really true. It says, "If Jesus be not raised from the dead ... we are of all men most to be pitied." I love the way the southerners in the USA actually use that phrase, because they talk about things being pitiful. That describes so well what Paul was trying to communicate. If we have committed ourselves to Jesus and we call ourselves Christian, we believe him to be the Messiah, and we claim he has been resurrected from the dead and is alive. But if that's all mythical, untrue, just a fairy story around which we've accumulated some things that seem to be practical to our lives, if it's not in essence true, then we really are pitiful.

I want to look at the evidence of the resurrection. Not the proof of the resurrection, because until you accept the evidence, there is no such thing as proof. There's a distinction between the two. I can tell you that this I believe, or that I believe, and I may talk about a distinction between proof and evidence, but the distinction is important. For instance, if I tell you I really believe Jesus has walked from the grave alive, I can't prove it to you, and you can't prove it to me, because we were not there. And even if I had been there, and I came to you and said, "Look, I saw it," you could say to me, "That was just a hallucination." We have to look the evidence. If you agree with the evidence, then it can become a proof to you.

Paul's eyewitness account is evidence of the resurrection

Look at 1 Corinthians 15. It's written by Paul, the apostle. It's one of the earliest records of the resurrection of Jesus. The letter to the Corinthians is actually dated between A.D. 52 and 55. If Jesus died when he was 33 years old, what you have is the epistle to the Corinthians written 20 years after the death and resurrection of Jesus. The significance is, you often hear the events of the Bible were written so long after they actually took place, and a whole bunch of mythology developed around that writing. That is not true. He says here: "I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to 500 brethren at one time, most of whom are still alive." In other words, you can go ask them if you care to make the journey. "Some have fallen asleep," that is, died. "Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God."

Jesus appeared to Paul, and writing this somewhere in the region of 20 years after the actual death and resurrection of Jesus. I want to whittle away at that 20 years. For instance, Paul says in verse 1, "I would remind you, brethren, in what terms I preached to you the gospel, which you received" Paul has already been to Corinth. He's now writing to them what he had already preached to them some five years earlier. Not all scholars agree that everything bearing Paul's name was written by Paul in the New Testament. But all of them, even the most skeptical of them, agree that Paul wrote the letter to the Corinthians, and that he was writing somewhere between A.D. 52 and 55. But he had already visited them some five years earlier, and he's saying, "What I'm now writing, I preached to you five years ago." What I'm doing is showing you that he wrote this some 20 years after the resurrection of Jesus, but he had been to Corinth and preached it and taught it five years before that.

The other thing you have to do is acknowledge that Paul wasn't converted right at the time of the resurrection. I'm going to take a few years off that end. You see, Paul was actually converted some five years after the death and resurrection of Jesus. Paul was absolutely committed to destroying the Christian church. He did not believe that Jesus was the Messiah. Paul had been present at the execution of the first martyr, Stephen. And Paul was on his way to Damascus to get more of those so-called Christians, who believed that Jesus was alive. On that road to Damascus, as he was traveling to persecute the Christians there, having already been present at the death of Stephen, the first Christian martyr, Paul was yet breathing out threatenings. And he meets Jesus himself. Read that account in the Acts of the Apostles, chapter 9. Paul didn't meet Jesus at the time of the resurrection but some five years or so later.

So we are saying Paul actually taught the Christians face to face only 15 years after the death and resurrection of Jesus. Listen to this. Paul was not converted until five years after the resurrection, so you take five years off the other end. Now Paul is talking to the Corinthians, when he went there to preach, only 10 years or so later. We know that we are talking about Paul visiting Corinth somewhere in the region of 10 to 15 years later, after he had seen Jesus alive. Paul, who was so committed to destroying the church, who hated Christians and was present at the execution of Stephen, meets Jesus, and only 15 years or so later is in Corinth preaching that message.

The reason I've worked at these years so is this: You often hear the criticism that what is written in the Bible was written so long after the event that it's clouded in myth. You can't believe what is said. It's just nice words with little truths behind them. That is absolute scholarly rubbish. It's not the truth. Even the most skeptical agree that Paul wrote to the Corinthians, and we know that he was writing to them just five years after he had visited them. And then from the other end Paul didn't meet Jesus until five years after he was dead, buried, and resurrected. So Paul is only recounting to the Corinthians something that happened maybe a dozen years or so after he had seen it and experienced Jesus alive.

Do you realize how fleeting 12 years is? Can you remember where you were and what you were doing the moment you heard John F. Kennedy was assassinated? I can. I remember to this moment where I was and what I was doing. You know how long ago that was? It was over 20 years. Some of you are just a little older than I am. Let me ask you another question. Can you remember where you were and what you were doing the day you heard Pearl Harbor had been bombed? That was over 40 years ago, but you can remember where you were and what you were doing just as I can. Paul is writing to Corinth only 12 years after the life-changing experience of meeting Jesus.

Paul's transformation is evidence of the resurrection

Paul hated Jesus. He hated the Christians. He was persecuting them. This wasn't some wishful thinking. What could have turned him around other than, as he writes to Corinth, that he met Jesus alive as one born out of due time, one not even fit to be called a Christian or a follower of Christ because he himself had persecuted the church? This isn't proof. It's evidence you can take seriously. Scholars have checked this out, and you can check the evidence yourself. It's not some myth. Paul, committed to the destruction of the Christian church, meets Jesus, and gets converted dramatically. So when he gets to Damascus all the Jewish folks and Pharisees are there waiting to greet their hero and persecute the Christians. But Paul now believes Jesus is the Messiah. And they are somewhat ticked, to put it mildly. While they're waiting to greet him, their champion who is putting down this Christian mythology, they hear that Paul is now saying Jesus is alive. Some of the chaps there in Damascus committed themselves to not eat or drink until they had killed Paul. They didn't get him.

Would you not think that if this great antagonist of Christianity—this person who had so opposed the Christians that he was standing by at the slaughter of the first Christian missionary and had been there holding their coats while they stoned Stephen to death—when he said he had seen Jesus alive, all those persecuting the Christians would say, "If Saul of Tarsus thinks Jesus is alive, maybe we had better reevaluate our own position." Would you not think they'd say that? Except that's not how folks respond. They were so antagonized, they took after Saul of Tarsus making a vow not to eat or drink until they put him to death. But it's the same Saul of Tarsus who is now writing to Corinth, after he has already visited with them a brief period of time before, telling them about this Jesus.

Christians risking their lives is evidence of the resurrection

I want to attack some of the theories of those who reject the Christian faith on the basis that the resurrection of Jesus was some mythological story put together by bereaved followers. For instance, one is called the swoon theory. It's that Jesus, when he took that wine up on the cross, was drugged. And even though he'd been half beaten to death already, nailed through his hands and feet, speared through his side, torn off the cross, and stuck in a stone cold tomb, they say he survived it, having been fed on the cross some kind of drug that caused his heart to go down to next to no beat, so they thought he was dead. Suppose that was true. He spent three nights in a stone cold tomb. That probably would have wiped him out. But suppose he survived that. And somebody came and rolled the stone away and stole his body, they stole out the living Jesus, who revived afterwards. Do you think those who stole the body, because they wanted to bury it some other way, would have been convinced if this Jesus—bedraggled, beat up, half dead, obviously only human—do you think that would have convinced them he was the Messiah? Does it make sense to you that those folks would have then gone to death for what they knew not to be the truth, namely, that he'd been dead and resurrected? They knew he'd been drugged because they drugged him with the wine. Do you think it makes sense that they then would have risked their lives, all but a couple of them executed brutally, in order to keep alive some mythological story that Jesus really walked from the grave alive? That doesn't even make sense.

The absence of a body is evidence of the resurrection

Let me tell you something else that doesn't make sense. What did they do with Jesus? Do you think they sent him off to India? Exported him to England? What did they do with him? Where did he go? There are some other theories. There's the theory that the body was stolen, first of all by the Pharisees. That you can understand. They'd heard he'd promised he would be resurrected from the dead, so they thought they were going to make sure he didn't. They stole the body to be sure nothing happened to it. But once the word got out as if his disciples were misrepresenting that and saying, "Look, his body's gone. It's not in the tomb anymore. He walked from the grave alive. He said he would" what do you think the Pharisees would have done immediately? They would have come back with the body and said, "Poppycock. Here it is. It's dead." They didn't do that. They couldn't come up with the body. It doesn't make sense to think of his own disciples, who were the other people who may have stolen the body, then suffering death on account of a lie and a myth they were trying to perpetrate.

Jesus' appearance to 500 followers is evidence of the resurrection

You sometimes hear it said that there was a hallucination; that they were so bereft of this Jesus, who was dead and buried, they hallucinated he'd come back from the grave. You go check it out with your favorite psychiatrist, and ask him whether you can get mass hallucination. In the Scripture, he didn't appear to people one at a time, so it could be written off as an individual hallucination. He appeared to all the disciples. He appeared to 500 brethren at once. Not a hallucination, a real live Jesus.

The gravesite is evidence of the resurrection

There was no worship at the gravesite. We've recently gone through the whole business of James Dean, with people going to his gravesite or the place where he was killed. It wasn't until years afterwards that they came to the gravesite of Jesus. They didn't go to the gravesite, because he wasn't there. They weren't hanging around putting flowers there. He was gone, and they knew where he was. He was alive and he appeared to them on many occasions with many proofs.

The last thing I want to tell you is this: It was James, the brother of our Lord, who became the bishop in Jerusalem. Do you know the most difficult people to convince in your life? It's your family. It was James, the brother of Jesus, who became the leader of the church in Jerusalem.

So there's the evidence. No proof, evidence. You check out that evidence.

John Guest is pastor of Christ Church at Grove Farm in Sewickley, Pennsylvania. His books include Finding Intimacy with God (Baker, 1992).

John Guest is pastor of Christ Church at Grove Farm in Sewickley, Pennsylvania, and speaker for the John Guest Evangelistic Association.

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Sermon Outline:


I. Paul's eyewitness account is evidence of the resurrection

II. Paul's transformation is evidence of the resurrection

III. Christians risking their lives is evidence of the resurrection

IV. The appearance to 500 followers is evidence of the resurrection

V. The gravesite is evidence of the resurrection