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The Resurrection of Christ: The Power of an Empty Tomb: Part 2

23 Apr

The Witness of Changed Lives John 18:27; 20:19, 25; 21:3; Acts 5:27-32; 41-42

As we continue thinking about the powerful Biblical testimonies to the resurrection of Christ, there is still more to share. I have tried to emphasize the nature of these testimonies. Each builds progressively more convincing than the one before it. First, we saw an empty tomb, then a woman’s testimony of seeing and speaking with the Lord, then we had the testimony of the fearful disciples who saw the Lord, and then we had the testimony of the skeptic Thomas. You may ask, “Well what else is there to hear?” Next, consider the powerful change that took place in the lives of the eleven apostles of Christ. In John 18:27 the Scriptures tell us that Peter denied the Lord three times when he thought that his life was in danger. Peter boldly told the Lord previous to this incident that he would never deny the Lord. He said that he was willing to die for Him, yet he failed three times when testing came. Peter left that evening a broken man and in John 21:3, Peter went back to fishing, assuming that his ministry was done and he had blown it. John 20:19 tells us that “the disciples were assembled [in hiding] for fear of the Jews.” The disciples were certainly not shining as examples of fearlessness in the face of death. They were denying the Lord and hiding from the very men who had killed their Him. These men had forsaken all to follow Christ, and about this time, they were probably thinking that they gambled and lost. In John 20:19 Thomas told the other disciples that “Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe.” These men had been seriously rattled, and apart from Divine intervention, would never be the men that God desired them to be! I am thankful however that this is not the end of the story. In a matter of only fifty days, these same men would exhibit boldness and zeal that was not only radically different then their current condition, it was also radically different than their previous condition.

Acts 5:27-32, 41-41 says, “Then came one and told them, saying, Behold, the men whom ye put in prison are standing in the temple, and teaching the people. Then went the captain with the officers, and brought them without violence: for they feared the people, lest they should have been stoned. And when they had brought them, they set them before the council: and the high priest asked them, Saying, Did not we straightly command you that ye should not teach in this name? and, behold, ye have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine, and intend to bring this man’s blood upon us. Then Peter and the other apostles answered and said, We ought to obey God rather than men. The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom ye slew and hanged on a tree. Him hath God exalted with his right hand to be a Prince and a Savior, for to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins. And we are his witnesses of these things; and so is also the Holy Ghost, whom God hath given to them that obey him. And they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his name. And daily in the temple, and in every house, they ceased not to teach and preach Jesus Christ.” I cannot go into all the details of this section of early church history, but I can and must make one simple point. These men went from fear to fearlessness, faithlessness to faithfulness, and pessimism to unquenched zeal, because they saw the resurrected Christ and were fully convinced of the truth of their message, even to the point that they would happily sacrifice their lives to proclaim this truth. No man could go from such cowardice to such confidence as he proclaimed what he knew to be a flagrant lie! These men were willing to die for what they knew was truth. They knew that there was no body to reveal to the crowds in the temple as they preached that Christ was alive. Christ was risen and the religious leaders knew they could do nothing to combat the truth. I find it interesting that at Pentecost the religious leaders never tried to debate the validity of their message, they could not hide the truth. They used their only available tools, intimidation and physical force. History tells us that that the same Peter who denied the Lord and then preached the resurrection unashamedly at Pentecost died a martyr’s death. Thomas the doubter did the same. In the lifetime of these eleven men, the Gospel was proclaimed throughout the entire known world. No honest, reasoning man can deny the power of the changed lives of those eleven apostles.

The Witness of Paul Acts 8:1-2; I Corinthians 15:1-10

It is nearly impossible to discount the past five evidences of the resurrection, but I believe that there is an even more powerful witness than the changed lives of the apostles. Some might say, that though the apostles’ lives radically changed in those days previous to Pentecost, those men had pride on the line. They had risked everything that they had to follow Christ. Could they really go back to their families as failures? Did they really want to go back into society as men who were so terribly deceived by a mad man who claimed to be the Son of God? I must admit while I would disagree with their logic, perhaps it is possible. Perhaps these men would lie to save face. My follow-up question is, Well what about the apostle Paul? Why did this man so radically change after an experience that he had on the road to Damascus?

First, consider how the Bible portrays Paul in Acts 8 and 9. He is introduced as a ruthless persecutor of the church. Acts 8:1-3; 9:1-2 says, “And Saul was consenting unto his death. And at that time there was a great persecution against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judaea and Samaria, except the apostles…As for Saul, he made havock of the church, entering into every house, and haling men and women committed them to prison. And Saul, yet breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, went unto the high priest, And desired of him letters to Damascus to the synagogues, that if he found any of this way, whether they were men or women, he might bring them bound unto Jerusalem.” This man Paul hated Christians with a passion, and was willing to do everything in his power to bring them to “justice.” Men, women, and children were all under the eye of this powerful Pharisee. In I Timothy 1:13 Paul writes that in his past he, “Was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious: but I obtained mercy, because I did it ignorantly in unbelief.” He persecuted the church. In Acts 22:3 Paul said, “I am verily a man which am a Jew, born in Tarsus, a city in Cilicia, yet brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel, and taught according to the perfect manner of the law of the fathers, and was zealous toward God, as ye all are this day.” He was schooled personally under the tutelage of the famous and well received Jewish scholar Gamaliel. If you read the text carefully, you will see that there was no argument about the facts that Paul presented. He was really a vicious persecutor of the church, and his contemporaries could not deny it.

Secondly, consider the radical change that took place in Paul’s life. In Philippians 3:4-11, Paul sums up his past and present conditions by saying, “Though I might also have confidence in the flesh. If any other man thinketh that he hath whereof he might trust in the flesh, I more: Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee; Concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless. But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ, And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith: That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death; If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead.” He was formerly a zealous hater of Christians, and history reveals the validity of the Biblical account, but as he penned these words, he was the humble Christ exalting apostle to the Gentiles. There is so much more that could be said in this section, but for sake of time, I will just present the concept for all who may be interested. Paul’s life radically changed, when he met the resurrected Christ on the road to Damascus, and the change is irrefutable. Unlike the other apostles, Paul had made no previous commitments to follow Christ. There was no image to uphold other than that of being a pious Pharisee. While the disciples would be going back to fishing and their families, Paul was choosing to leave a pious stock and training. Paul was sacrificing everything that he held dear to become what he had previously condemned and militantly persecuted. Osama Bin laden becoming an outspoken born again Christian would pale in comparison to the testimony of the Apostle Paul.

Thirdly, notice the bold claim to the apostle’s authority in Galatians 1:11-20 “I certify you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached of me is not after man. For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ. For ye have heard of my conversation in time past in the Jews’ religion, how that beyond measure I persecuted the church of God, and wasted it: And profited in the Jews’ religion above many my equals in mine own nation, being more exceedingly zealous of the traditions of my fathers. But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother’s womb, and called me by his grace, To reveal his Son in me, that I might preach him among the heathen; immediately I conferred not with flesh and blood: Neither went I up to Jerusalem to them which were apostles before me; but I went into Arabia, and returned again unto Damascus. Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to see Peter, and abode with him fifteen days. But other of the apostles saw I none, save James the Lord’s brother. Now the things which I write unto you, behold, before God, I lie not.” Paul is claiming that the message that his message was not his own message, but God’s message. In I Corinthians 15:3-8 Paul stated that he “Delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures: And that he was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve: After that, he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep. After that, he was seen of James; then of all the apostles. And last of all he was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time.” In this passage, Paul mentions that Peter, the twelve, five-hundred brethren, James, and each of the apostles all saw the resurrected Christ. Paul’s claims were made during the lifetime of these people, and their claims could be validated. What a powerful testimony to the resurrection! That is not all. Paul was not only claiming that he and these people Paul’s life were eyewitnesses of the resurrection. He also claimed that the message that he preached was directly from God. These claims of authority and origin of message are no small claim. Paul understood as a Pharisee the Old Testament Law, and the Law’s strict evaluation of those claiming to be prophets of God. Paul knew that under the Law, a man who claimed to speak or write as a messenger from God deserved to die if his claims could not be validated, yet with this background, Paul made these bold authoritative claims. Paul’s life bears record to the resurrection just as much as the following testimonies that he gives to that precious Bible truth. Truly, Paul had no ulterior motives for becoming a born again Christian. He sacrificed his life for the cause of Christ, because he knew it was the truth! Paul’s life stands as an irrefutable evidence to the resurrection of Christ from the dead.

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