If it’s true, it changes you
1 Corinthians 15:1-11
Ask anyone you meet what Easter is about, and they could answer you. Even atheists and agnostics know that beyond all the bunnies and baby chicks, past the eggs and candy, Easter is the day that Christians celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. But is it true? Is it historically verifiable? Does it hold up to the toughest scrutiny? If it’s true, that changes things. If it’s true, it changes you!
Today we are going to look at just that. We are going to look at the events of Easter recorded in the Bible. Then we are going to examine the evidence to see if this is credible. And finally, we will take a look at the effect this has on those who believe it to be true. Because if it’s true, it changes you.
First, let’s look at the events that took place – events that are so set in stone that even those who don’t believe them to be true could tell you what the Bible says happened to Jesus. Anyone who’s heard of Jesus knows “That Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, [and] that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Cor 15:3-4). And Paul explains to the Corinthians, to you and me, that this story didn’t start with him. He was not the originator of the “Christ story.” He says, “what I received I passed on to you” (1 Cor 15:3). I am a messenger of his death and burial, and an eyewitness of the resurrection truth.
Each of these events are important in their own right. It was Christ’s death on the cross that paid the price sin – for everyone’s sin. You may not think of yourself as a “bad person”. I hope not. But have you ever told a lie? That’s sin. Have you ever gossiped and ruined someone else’s reputation? That’s sin. Have you ever harmed someone? Even if just by the hatred of your heart. These are all sins. Sins that are wrong. Sins that must be paid for. The sacrifice of God himself was the only sacrifice that could sufficiently pay for all sins. He was buried. This too is significant because you don’t bury someone who is still alive! This statement validates the fact that this guy is truly dead. Jews wouldn’t have buried an unconscious individual. Romans wouldn’t have let a breathing individual off the cross – and if anyone knows when a person is dead, a Roman soldier in charge of crucifixions certainly would have. The fact of the burial sets up the reality of the resurrection. And that’s the last key event – the lynch pin in all of this. It’s what frees you from sin and death. It’s what makes you different. It’s what makes Christianity different. If the resurrection didn’t happen, then the rest of the story doesn’t really matter. If the resurrection didn’t happen, then really all of Christianity is pointless. So, the big question is, “Did it happen?”
When trying to verify historical fact, there are certain kinds of evidence that historians look for to make events credible. Archeological evidence can often offer clues and start to paint a picture. Writings from ancient historians can really help piece things together – especially if they are relatively close in time to the event itself. But what historians find as absolute gold is eyewitness accounts confirming the details of an event. Often in ancient history, we are lucky if we have 1 or 2 ancient eyewitnesses. That kind of testimony makes for a pretty credible, pretty airtight case. So, 1 or 2 eyewitnesses. How many do we have verifying the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus? “He appeared to Cephas” (that’s the apostle Peter) “and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living” – people who could either verify what Paul was writing here, or shred this letter to bits if it were not true – “then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared also to me” (1 Cor 15:5-8).
Now, granted, not all of these 500+ people left a written account for historians to find. But we do have 6 eyewitness accounts in the Bible alone: Matthew, Mark, John, Paul, James, and Peter. I’d add that Luke, although not an eyewitness himself, investigated the events and interviewed eyewitnesses of the event – so his writing is a very reliable, very early, second-hand account. And don’t just think of these people as biblical characters validating the story they are in. These are real, living, breathing people who wrote their testimony to real people in real places. I’ll also add that there are several eyewitness and close second hand accounts written by people not in the Bible. The Jewish historian for Rome, Josephus, would be one of these contemporary accounts. Why do I spend so much time talking about all of this? Because if it’s true, it changes you! If these writings are credible eyewitness accounts, then the resurrection can be declared historical fact according to the same standards that other historical fact is established by. And let me tell you, the evidence is in. It’s in on an overwhelming scale that Jesus existed, that he died, that he was buried, and that he rose from the dead. I understand this doesn’t happen every day. I understand it’s hard to believe. But the evidence is there. This overwhelming number of eyewitnesses agree on the events that really happened.
Let’s now look at the evidence from a rational perspective. Would the Jews, who wanted Jesus dead and gone, would they allow Jesus to be buried if he wasn’t certainly dead? Not a chance. Would the Roman soldiers have let a merely unconscious person off the cross? Keep in mind, that they weren’t too fond of the Jews in general. Not a chance they would. They even made sure that the criminals crucified that day were good and dead – breaking the legs of two, and piercing Jesus through the side because they were sure he was already dead, but they wanted to make absolutely certain. And regarding the resurrection, would the Romans have stolen the body? NO! The soldiers would be killed if a prisoner of Rome had gone missing. Would the Jews have gotten rid of the body? NO! They wanted him to stay dead, and they would have loved to have evidence of the fact that they ended the hypocrisy of this Jesus. Would the disciples have stolen the body? Why? They resigned themselves to the fact that he was dead. They didn’t have a convincing motive. They didn’t have the means to do so. And they certainly didn’t have the opportunity. The Pharisees and Sadducees used their power and position to make sure no one would be able to steal the body. And when it did turn up missing, they admitted to it! In fact, we have recorded evidence of the beginning of the “stolen body” story – they paid the guards to say it!
The final nail in the coffin is Paul himself. He wasn’t always an apostle of Christ. In fact, quite the opposite. He was a very intelligent, very influential Pharisee with all the right connections. He made it his mission to end Christianity. He even obtained letters giving him permission to hunt down and imprison Christians. If anyone could have put an end to this “Jesus myth” it would have been Paul. Christians were terrified of him. He had the authority to make their lives very painful. And if there was any body to be found, he would have been the one to do it. They only needed to produce a body. If ending Christianity and proving Jesus to be false was his goal, then why wouldn’t he hunt down the body and make it public. He couldn’t. There was no body to be found. Instead of finding the dead body of Jesus, he found something else.
He found the living body of Jesus. Jesus met him on his way to Damascus. Paul was heading there to imprison Christians, but Jesus met him on the way – appeared to him in the flesh – so that, when did arrive in Damascus, he was a changed man. The effects of the resurrection are truly incredible. In that moment, Paul realized that he was fighting against the truth. In that moment, he realized that Jesus was indeed alive! And Paul, didn’t just fizzle out into the background. Rather, he used his intelligence, his influence, his connections and became one of the strongest proponents of Christ. A night and day difference all in an instant. This is the same Paul who wrote many of the books of the new testament. Paul is living evidence of the power of the Gospel and the effect it has! This change that Paul experienced by God’s grace also led him to work harder than all the other apostles. Really, it wasn’t him. It was God’s grace moving him.
You know the events. Even if you didn’t believe them, or don’t believe them yet, you know the events. Take a look at the evidence for these events – an objective and fair look. It’s all there! From Jesus really dead on the cross and buried, to his resurrection and empty tomb. There are eyewitness accounts, second hand accounts, and historical accounts – more than any other event from that time period. And it’s never been disproven by fact. It wasn’t then, and it still hasn’t been now. However, reaching a verdict that this is true is not enough. If it’s true, it changes you. See the disciples changed from scared and cowering behind locked doors, to boldly proclaiming the resurrection in a matter of days. And willingly proclaiming this message all the way to their martyrdom. See Paul going from the strongest opponent of Christianity, to the strongest proponent. See people in countries all around the world holding to this truth even to the point of death.
How has this truth changed you? First, and most notably, “By this gospel you are saved” (1 Cor 15:2). All your wrongdoings have been forgiven by God. All of your sins, no matter how big or small are gone. You also have the sure hope of your own empty grave one day. Jesus rose, and on the Last Day, he will raise you to new life with him. “By the grace of God I am what I am” (1 Cor 15:10). By the grace of God, I am forgiven. By the grace of God, I am his own. By the grace of God, I too will be raised from the dead! By God’s grace, this message which I heard from my parents, or a friend, or family member can be traced all the way back to one of those first 500 eyewitnesses. Who will be next in the chain? Who will you share it with? Who do you know that needs to be changed by this true message – this message of first importance in life? I know it may feel awkward or scary to share this message. What if they laugh? What if they make fun of me? The grace of God goes with you. He works through you. He brings about the change of heart that comes from hearing the true message of Christ risen from the dead.