Excerpt from my upcoming Easter Sunday message:
In his 2017 book Unbelievable, Justin Brierley writes convincingly that the resurrection is the only adequate explanation for the historical evidence found in the Gospels.
He tells of the ongoing debate between New Testament Scholars Mike Licona and Bart Ehrman who have very different takes on the resurrection of Jesus. Ehrman let go of his Christian faith after encountering perceived problems with the New Testament. Mike Licona had a similar crisis of faith in the early years of his academic career when his study of the New Testament didn't match what he had been taught about it while growing up. However, whereas Ehrman's study led him away from Christianity, Licona's research convinced him that the resurrection was the only adequate explanation for the historical evidence he found in the Gospels.
Other pieces of the puzzle fell into place as Licona began to appreciate how the New Testament accounts reflected the literary conventions of their day rather than the modern standards often imposed on them by both Christians and critics. During one of his dialogues with Licona on the show, Ehrman rattled off a list of differences between the Gospel accounts of the resurrection, such as the number of women and the accounts of angels at the empty tomb. [By the way, there are reasonable explanations for these "apparent" contradictions.]
He argued that these differences give reason to doubt the reliability of the resurrection story. Naturally, Licona knows these differences just as well as Ehrman but he didn't find that they count against the overall strength of the account. Licona argues that this is a bit like the Titanic. There were conflicting accounts from survivors, such as whether the ship broke in half before sinking or whether it went down in its entirety. But no one called into question whether the Titanic sank or not. It was the periphery details that were in question. It is the same thing with the New Testament. They are all peripheral details that have no impact on the fundamental truth of Christianity.
Dr. Licona concludes: "No matter how much one may loathe the idea that Jesus rose from the dead and fantasize about other outcomes, the historical bedrock remains the same …. Jesus' resurrection is the best historical explanation of the relevant historical [evidence]."
The Apostle Paul adds to the weight of this argument, chronicling many of Jesus’ post resurrection appearances in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8: “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of who are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.”
Implicit within what Paul says is perhaps the most convincing circumstantial proof for Jesus’ bodily resurrection. That is, Jesus appeared to 500 plus people. The Jewish and Roman authorities could not refute their claim that he had rise
Friends, Jesus has indeed risen. This is what we celebrate not just on Easter Sunday, but every Sunday. Despite our culture’s avoidance and denial concerning the reality of the resurrection, we each have an opportunity to positively respond to what a risen Savior personally means. Hopefully after some reflection this week, we will fully embrace this reality and be here next Sunday (and subsequent Sundays). Let us discover together – here and now – why in a fallen and broken world Jesus provides assured hope of a new and better world – a world made right – where we, too, will experience resurrection life.
In 1 Corinthians 15:54b-57, Paul again encourages us with these words. “Death has been swallowed up in victory. Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Keep the faith,
Originally from Huntington Beach, CA, Tony received his Bachelor's degree in religion from USC and his Master of Divinity and Doctor of Ministry from Talbot School of Theology. Tony loves spending time with his wife, Sheri, and their two sons and daughter (Bryce, Braden, and Brooke); cheering for the USC Trojan football team; and playing tennis.
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