Wednesday 3rd May 2023 Devotion
Scripture:- Acts 22:1-11
Topic:- Why Believe
By Neil Shenvi
A. Evidence For The Resurrection:
For two thousand years, Christians have insisted that Jesus rose physically from the dead on the Sunday after His crucifixion.
The historicity of the resurrection is central to Christian theology because Jesus’s death and resurrection are both tied to our salvation.
While most religions teach that we are saved on the basis of the good things we do.
Christianity teaches that we are saved on the basis of what Jesus did for us.
The Bible insists that while we were still far from God, ignoring Him, rejecting Him, and rebelling against Him.
God drew near to us in Christ to bear our sins, to take our punishment, and to die on the cross in our place.
The resurrection was God’s confirmation that Jesus was who He claimed to be, and it is God’s assurance to Christians that they have been forgiven.
B. Because Of Its Theological Significance:
Many people assume that the resurrection is merely an article of religious faith, not an event for which there could be any historical evidence.
But that is not the case. In fact, I would argue that even from a purely secular standpoint, the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus is quite strong.
For instance, skeptic Jeffery Lowder, a cofounder of Internet Infidels, writes that “strong historical arguments” can be made for the resurrection.
Although he thinks that such arguments are insufficient, he agrees that “for theists [people who believe in God’s existence] . . . the resurrection is a plausible explanation.”
Similarly, renowned atheist-turned-deist Philosopher Antony Flew affirms that “the evidence for the resurrection is better than for claimed miracles in any other religion.
It’s outstandingly different in quality and quantity.”
Jewish Scholar Pinchas Lapide even states, “I accept the resurrection of Easter Sunday not as an invention of the community of Disciples, but as a historical event.”
C. What Historical Evidence Was Sufficient:
To convince these non-Christians that the resurrection should be taken seriously and not carelessly dismissed.
Although there are other lines of evidence, I’ll sketch an argument for the historicity of the resurrection that rests on four main points:
1. The death and burial of Jesus.
2. The empty tomb.
3. The belief of the Apostles.
4. The conversion of Paul.
D. Jesus’s Death And Burial:
Contemporary historians are virtually unanimous in their acceptance of Jesus’s death on the cross.
His death by crucifixion is the single fact most mentioned in all the historical records of his life, both Christian and non-Christian.
It is recorded in numerous books of the New Testament, including all four Gospels, Acts, Paul’s letters, Hebrews, 1 Peter, and Revelation.
It is mentioned by non-Christians like Josephus and Tacitus.
It is discussed in apocryphal gospels such as the Gospel of Peter and the Gospel of Truth.
It is hard today to understand just how offensive the idea of a crucified messiah would have been to most first-century Jews.
Since no one would have made up the idea of a crucified messiah, Jesus must really have existed, must really have raised messianic expectations, and must really have been crucified.
If we accept the position that Jesus did actually die on the cross and was actually buried, we must then ask, What happened to Jesus after His death and burial?
E. The Empty Tomb:
The New Testament Gospels claim that the tomb of Jesus was found empty on the Sunday following his crucifixion.
While this claim is not universally affirmed, a recent survey of three decades worth of academic literature shows that it was accepted by the majority of Scholars who wrote on that subject.
The strongest piece of evidence in favor of the historicity of the empty tomb is the report that it was discovered by women.
This detail may not strike us as odd, but it is surprising, given the low status of women in the first century.
The historicity of the empty tomb is the fact that just seven weeks after Jesus’s death.
The Apostles began preaching the resurrection in Jerusalem itself, the very city in which Jesus had been crucified.
Had he been lying in a tomb even for this length of time, his features such as hair, teeth, stature, and the wounds of crucifixion would have still been identifiable.
It is difficult to see how the fledgling Christian movement could have survived despite the opposition of the ruling authorities if the corpse of Jesus had been interred within walking distance of the Temple.
Any skeptic who wanted to refute the claims of the apostles could have silenced them by taking a short stroll to the burial place of Jesus.
Yet we have no record of anyone claiming that the disciples lied about the empty tomb.
How did Christianity grow so rapidly in the very place where Jesus was buried if it could have been falsified so easily?
Finally, at the end of his Gospel, Matthew provides what amounts to a dialogue between Christians and Jews regarding the body of Jesus.
He states that the Jewish leaders of his day insisted that Jesus’s body had been stolen by the Disciples.
But this accusation implies that the Jewish leaders believed that the tomb was actually empty; obviously, they would not have accused the Disciples of grave robbery if they believed that Jesus’s body was still in the tomb.
For these reasons, most skeptical responses to the resurrection do not simply dismiss the empty tomb as a legend, but try to provide some alternative explanation for it.
F. The Belief Of The Apostles:
The followers of Jesus claimed to have seen him alive after he had been executed.
They did not claim to have seen him only once or for a short time; they claimed to have seen him repeatedly over an extended period of several weeks.
They also did not merely claim to have had a vision of him but said that they touched him, talked to him, and ate with him.
These experiences were not limited to one or two individuals but included large groups of people, including five hundred at one time.
What are we to make of these claims?
It is nearly universally accepted by historians that the disciples genuinely believed they had encountered the resurrected Jesus, even if they were mistaken in their belief.
The reason for this consensus is the persecution endured by the Apostles for their belief in the resurrection.
The Apostles were repeatedly beaten and imprisoned.
We have good historical evidence that James, Peter, and Paul were all executed for their faith, and Church tradition maintains that as many as eleven of the twelve Apostles were eventually martyred.
Given the suffering that the Apostles faced, it is difficult to maintain that they knew the resurrection to be a hoax.
What would their motivation have been if they knew for certain that they had invented the resurrection stories?
One could simply . . . dismiss the resurrection as a lie, and declare belief in the risen Jesus to be the product of a deludable mind.
However, there is this nagging fact to consider: one after another of those who claimed to have witnessed the risen Jesus went to their own gruesome deaths refusing to recant their testimony.
That is not, in itself, unusual. Many zealous Jews died horribly for refusing to deny their beliefs.
But these first followers of Jesus were not being asked to reject matters of faith based on events that took place centuries, if not millennia, before.
They were being asked to deny something they themselves personally, directly encountered.
When they began to face persecution and even death, why would they continue to affirm what they knew to be a lie?
The best explanation is that they truly believed they had seen Jesus rise from the dead, whether or not their belief was correct.
G. The Conversion Of Paul:
The conversion of Paul is an important datum reported in the book of Acts and by Paul himself in several of his New Testament letters.
He had originally been a vehement opponent of the Church and had even consented to the stoning of the first Christian martyr, Stephen.
While traveling to Damascus to continue his persecution of the early Church, Paul suddenly became a Christian, claiming he had encountered Jesus on the road.
Unlike the other Apostles, Paul had not been a follower of Jesus during His ministry and was clearly no friend to the early Church.
Thus, his testimony can be regarded as that of a “hostile witness,” someone who had no incentive to accept Christian testimony about the resurrection unless he himself had an experience that he could unambiguously interpret as confirmation that Jesus was alive.
The weight of this piece of evidence is significant.
First, Paul’s conversion put him at immediate odds with the Jewish religious leaders in every city to which he traveled.
In his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul recounts how he was whipped, beaten, stoned, and shipwrecked as a result of his faith. See 2 Corinthians 11:24-25.
Moreover, the physical consequences of his conversion are perhaps even less significant than their spiritual implications.
Like many Pharisees, Paul regarded the claims of Jesus’s followers—that their Master was the divine Messiah—to be not only false but utterly blasphemous. See Acts 22:2-5; 1 Timothy 1:13.
However, Paul underwent a complete religious transformation in a matter of days.
He went from regarding Jesus as a false prophet to believing that Jesus was the unique Son of God, who alone offered salvation to all humanity.
Therefore, anyone who doubts the resurrection must provide a plausible account of why Paul underwent such a dramatic conversion in such a short period of time.
Oh Lord God, help me to believe Your existence and power henceforth by fire, in the name of Jesus Christ.
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