Welcome to week three of our series based on The Case for Christ movie which shows the spiritual journey of a young atheist and investigative reporter, Lee Strobel, who sets out to disprove Christianity and, in his way of thinking at the time, to rescue his wife, Leslie, from her newfound faith in Christ.

As I mentioned before today Lee Strobel is a pastor and best-selling author.  The evidence he found led him to a life-changing encounter with Jesus.

Strobel’s experiences opened doors for him to talk with all kinds of interesting people—scholars, authors, politicians, celebrities, the president, even the first man on the moon.  But Strobel has said that, by far, the most fascinating interview he ever conducted was with a man named Charles Templeton, the most famous spiritual skeptic in Canada.

He and Graham were the best of friends in the 1940s and 1950s.  Many people thought it was Templeton who would emerge as his generation’s biggest evangelist, because he was viewed by some as being more eloquent than Graham.  He proclaimed Christ nightly to stadium crowds of up to 30,000 people.

But then Templeton went to a liberal seminary and lost his faith.  He even tried to talk Graham out of trusting in the Bible, but Graham stood fast and ended up becoming one of history’s greatest evangelists.  Templeton, the agnostic, went on to become Canada’s most notorious critic of Christianity.

Strobel was able to get an interview with the then eighty-three-year-old Templeton and Strobel asked him why he no longer believed in God.

  • Templeton raised questions that bother many people: Why would a loving God allow pain and suffering? How could God send people to hell?  How can Jesus be the only way to God?

But then, a couple of hours into the interview, there came a dramatic turn.  Strobel asked Templeton what he thought of Jesus, and his tone changed 180 degrees, from critical and biting to thoughtful and reflective.

  • Templeton began to extol Jesus. He said, “He was the greatest human being who has ever lived.  He was a moral genius.  He was intrinsically the wisest person I’ve ever encountered in my readings.”

Strobel was taken aback.  He said, “It sounds like you really care about him.”

  • Templeton replied, “Well, yes, he was the most important thing in my life. I know it may sound strange, but I have to say . . . I adore him!  Everything good I know, everything decent I know, everything pure I know, I learned from Jesus.  In my view, he is the most important human being who has ever existed.”
  • And that’s when Templeton uttered the words Strobel never expected to hear from him. As tears flooded Templeton’s eyes, he said, “And if I may put it this way—I . . .  miss . . . him!”  And he broke down weeping.

Here was a hardened agnostic, the author of a book called Farewell to God, and he was crying over missing Jesus!  Strobel tried to get him to elaborate, but he seemed embarrassed.  Finally, with a wave of his hand, he said, “Enough of that.”  And he changed the subject.

Charles Templeton had walked away from his faith, but like the Prodigal Son, something was beckoning him to return Home.  Even though Templeton tried to shake off God, Jesus continued to shake up his soul.  Strobel said it was the most haunting moment of any interview he’d ever conducted.

The Way Home

Have you ever walked away from God?

  • Maybe you’re here because a friend invited you today—and we’re so glad you came—but you’re thinking about your own spiritual life, and you’re realizing that you’ve wandered far from home.
  • Or maybe you’ve walked away from God emotionally. You rarely pray anymore.  You don’t search the Scriptures very often, and yet something inside of you wants to return.
  • Or maybe you’ve found the Christian life too demanding, and so you feel like giving up.

Some of us have a deep desire to be at home with Jesus; we want to go to the place he described in

John 14:2-5 My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. 4 You know the way to the place where I am going.”

But we feel like Thomas, when he said:  John 14:5 Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”

Do you ever feel like that?  Jesus, I want to be home with you.  I want to walk in your rest, mercy, and grace, but “How can I know the way?”

Jesus answered Thomas and us (and all who will every ask that question):  John 14:6 Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.

The Toll Bridge

Matthew 11:28–30 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Looking for that kind of rest?  Anyone interested in finding the way home?

  • It would be nice if I could tell you today that the way home to Jesus is a freeway—a wide-open road with no toll booth or bridges demanding payment along the way. But that wouldn’t be true.
  • The way home to God is actually a Toll Bridge. A toll has to be paid and it is costly.
  • But the good news, the truth that we can all embrace, is that Jesus has already paid the price for you. He has cleared your path back to Him.

The theological term for this is substitutionary atonement.”  Big words with a simple meaning: The perfect Son of God paid the penalty we deserved for our wrongdoing so that we can go free.

All we have to do is receive this free gift of His grace, and we’re invited into His Home forever.

Amplified Bible 1 Peter 3:18: “For indeed Christ died for sins once for all, the Just and Righteous for the unjust and unrighteous [the Innocent for the guilty] so that He might bring us to God.”

The Self Reliance Trap

I Want to Pay for My Own Toll

As part of our Servant Evangelism we sometimes pay for the meal or coffee, toll if you will, for the person behind us.  Most of the time it’s fun and has brought people to church.

But some people are very proud, and they might get indignant saying, “No, I want to pay my own!”

  • Some people are too proud even to take free bread from a child trying to serve.
  • Oftentimes, people resist the free gift Jesus has paid for. They struggle to accept that the toll on the road home has already been paid in full.

I Want to Pay for My Own, But I Can’t Afford It

Some people will not only say, “I don’t need someone’s charity!”  Then they might go on to try to pay, even if they don’t have enough money.  Say the toll was one dollar, and someone tried to give the attendant one penny instead.  It’s not enough.

  • This is a common mistake in many people’s spiritual journeys. But the truth is, you can’t pay for something that’s already been paid for, and even if you pay for it, you can’t afford it!

I Can At Least Pay for Part of My Toll

I appreciate someone being willing to pay my toll for me, but I want to pay some of it myself.

  • Can you imagine how God might feel when we say, “Yes, I understand Jesus has paid for my sin, but I want to pay at least part of the price so I can feel proud of what I’ve done.”
  • “Here’s a handful of good deeds I’ve performed to earn my way to heaven.”
  • Can you see how that might frustrate God? Because the price Jesus paid was infinitely expensive—the perfect Son of God sacrificing His life so we can live on with Him forever in His Home and the price Jesus paid is enough.
  • God is not impressed when we offer a few good deeds in payment—our actions simply show that we’re still relying on ourselves, rather than on Him and His amazing grace.

The Performance Snare

Thank You for Paying My Toll, Now I’m Going to Pay You Back

Some people react to the free toll, saying, “Oh, wow, thanks for the gift—but now I’ve got to pay you back.  I’ve got to show you that you were right to give me a free ride.”

  • So, they try to prove they are worthy. They say, “I’ll be the perfect driver.  I’ll stay exactly at the speed limit, and I’ll report anyone who passes me.  I’ll pick up litter.  I’ll scrub the graffiti off the bridge.  I’ll show you I deserved that free toll.”

Again, that’s a picture of the mistakes we often make in response to the gift of God’s grace.  We receive it, but then we try to earn it on the back end by being the perfect Christian, by following the rules to the letter, by doing things we think will keep God happy with us.

  • But instead of resting in God’s love, where the yoke is easy and the burden is light, he subconsciously tried to show that God was justified in redeeming him.
  • Jesus had paid his toll in full, but Jud felt like he had to somehow repay Him. So, he got on a performance treadmill.  He would fast for days, he prayed endlessly, served the homeless. He gave away everything until all he had left was jeans, a shirt, and one pair of shoes.

People talked about what a mature Christian Jud was—and he was doing some good things, but it was with the wrong motivation.

Then he started wanting others to be as sacrificial as he was—and when they weren’t, he would start judging them for not doing enough.  This is how legalism is born.

No matter how much Jud served and prayed and sacrificed, it was never enough.  So, finally, Jud said, “I quit Christianity.  God, I’m not good enough.  I can’t do this Christianity thing.  I quit!”

He isn’t alone.  Too many Christians—maybe including some of us here today—have trouble resting gratefully in the grace of God.

  • You were saved by grace, and yet if the truth be told, you are trying to live by the sweat of your own performance.
  • Some people doing this will eventually drop out, like Jud, who said, “God, I still love you, but please don’t ask any more of me.”

Thankfully, God broke through to Jud, and he returned to Jesus and became the pastor of a thriving church.  But it wasn’t until Jud embraced the truth of God’s free gift that he was able to surrender his striving and live at peace with God.

The Way of Gratitude

We have the choice: Our performance or God’s grace.

1 John 4:10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sin.

How we feel about God isn’t as important as how He feels about us.  He loved us and sent His Son to pay the toll for us.

  • It doesn’t matter how good we try to be; what’s important is how good God is.
  • He loved us before we did anything. All He wants us to do is love Him in return.

God doesn’t want you living like a slave—reading the Bible, praying, going to church, serving in a ministry, paying your tithe in order to justify yourself to God or earn your salvation.

Those activities aren’t bad things to do, unless you are doing them with the wrong motives.

God wants you to relax in His grace.  To give out of gratitude.  To read the Bible and pray out of a sincere desire to draw closer to the God who loves you so much.  To go to church because you want to worship the God of grace.  To live in obedience motivated by love.

Remember the verse from Matthew 11 that says, Matthew 11:28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  The Greek word for rest means “to revive or restore.”  In other words, God is offering to revive us from the inside out—to free us from the relentless pressure of trying to prove God was right, after all, when He invited us into His Home.

Thank You for Paying My Toll.  I Am Grateful

The best way people can act when someone has already paid the toll for them is to receive that gift with a smile of gratitude and a simply say, “Thank you for what you did for me.”

So what kind of driver are you?

  • I Want to Pay for My Own Toll
  • I Want to Pay for My Own, But I Can’t Afford It
  • I Can At Least Pay for Part of My Toll
  • Thank You for Paying My Toll, Now I’m Going to Pay You Back
  • Thank You for Paying My Toll. I Am Grateful 

NEXT LIFE STEP:  This week I will determine what type of driver I tend to be.

Embracing the Truth

Maybe, today, you’re someone who doesn’t know the way Home.

You need a road map; you need a navigation system.

Well, fortunately, the Bible clearly lays out the route.

It’s been called The Roman Road by some, because it’s drawn from three verses in the New Testament book of Romans.  And if you follow the path these verses spell out, it will take you Home. 

Step One Romans 3:23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God

Does this even have to be debated?  We are all sinners, and I doubt if anyone here would claim that they are perfect.  Just go down the list of the Ten Commandments.  Have you ever lied?  Ever used God’s name in vain?  Ever stolen anything?  Ever committed adultery?  Remember, Jesus said anyone who lusts after someone has committed adultery in their heart.  We have all sinned and fallen short of God’s infinitely high standard of morality.  We’re all sinners who need a Savior.

Step Two – Romans 5:12 Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned—

Step Three – Romans 5:8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  Jesus loved us enough to pay our toll!

Step Four – Romans 6:23 The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.  The penalty we’ve earned for our wrongdoing is spiritual death, or eternal separation from God in a place called hell.  But on the Roman Road, Jesus has already paid our toll.

Step Five – Romans 10:9-10, 13  If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.          13 Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

NEXT LIFE STEP:  I will think about the Roman Road and how it applies to my life.  I will write it in the cover of my bible so I can take others down the road home to Jesus.

Like any gift, this gift of God’s grace isn’t ours until we receive it.  To “call on the name of the Lord” is to admit we’ve sinned and fallen short of his standards; to repent, or turn from that sin; and to gratefully receive Christ’s payment on behalf of our sins.  That’s how we enter a relationship with God

Believe + Receive = Become.

Are you ready to come home to Christ, once and for all?

Before we go, let me tell you the rest of the story about Chuck Templeton.  It turned out that Templeton’s eight objections to Christianity were the same ones Strobel had wrestled with when he was an atheist.  So, Strobel hit the road and traveled around the country to get solid answers to each question from top scholars, and then he wrote a book called The Case for Faith to respond to those issues.

The book ends with Strobel mailing the manuscript of the book to Templeton, along with a note that said, “Chuck, I hope you’ll take to heart what Proverbs 2:3–5 says: ‘If you scream for insight and call loudly for understanding, if you pursue it like you would money, and search it out as you would hidden treasure, then the Lord will be awesome to you, and you will come into possession of the knowledge of God.’”

As for the rest of the story, Templeton’s wife, Madeleine, later wrote to Strobel and said Chuck’s Alzheimer’s had gotten worse, he had cancer and was blind in one eye.  But she read him the manuscript and said he really appreciated it.

Strobel never knew if Templeton came back to Jesus before his death, but Madeleine did tell a newspaper columnist that right before Chuck died, he said all excitedly, “Can you see them?  Can you see them?  Angels are coming to take me Home.”  So maybe, like the Prodigal Son, Templeton is firmly in the embrace of his Heavenly Father.

Life App Group and Family Devotional Application

  1. Was there ever a time when you felt lost and had a strong desire to return home to Jesus? How did you?
  2. In your own words explain the theological term “substitutionary atonement.”
  3. Of the Five types of drivers that must pass over the toll bridge of life, what type of driver best describes you?
  4. Practice taking another Life App Group member or Family member down the Roman Road.

 

August 22nd, 2017

One Hour on Wednesday at Believers Church is an hour you don’t want to miss! Join us for a verse by verse Bible Study through the Book of Ephesians, Worship through Music and Prayer! EDGE Youth and College and Career meet  as well! We have Children’s Ministry for all ages. See you for One Hour on Wednesday at 7:00 p.m.

 

 

Last week, we started a four-week series called, “The Case for Christ”, and it is inspired by the movie The Case for Christ.  It’s a great film that chronicles the spiritual journey of Lee Strobel, the award-winning journalist who went from being an atheist dead set on disproving Christianity to becoming a confident follower of Christ.

 

Lee Strobel is also a speaker, pastor, and the best-selling author of many books, including The Case for Christ, The Case for Faith, The Case for a Creator, and more.  But what you might not know is that a few years ago Strobel had his own TV show called “Faith Under Fire.”  On one program he interviewed the publisher of Playboy magazine, Hugh Hefner and asked him questions about his spiritual beliefs.

  • Hefner expressed a minimal belief in God, referring to Him as “the beginning of it all” and the “great unknown,” but he said he did not believe in the God of Christianity.
  • Hefner, a doubter said, “I don’t think that Jesus is any more the Son of God than we are.”

But, when Strobel brought up the resurrection of Jesus, Hefner instantly saw the supreme relevance of it.

“If one had any real evidence that, indeed, Jesus did return from the dead, then that is the beginning of a dropping of a series of dominoes that takes us to all kinds of wonderful things,” he said.  “It assures an afterlife and all kinds of things that we would all hope are true.”

Despite his belief in the importance of the resurrection, he admitted he had never investigated the historical evidence for it.

 

Well, Hefner was right about one thing:  If the resurrection is true, it changes everything.

  • It confirms Jesus’ identity as the unique Son of God and opens the door to eternal life for anyone who will truly follow Him.
  • On the other hand, if Jesus’ resurrection is a legend or a lie, then Jesus is, at best, just another unfortunate crucifixion victim in a long line of failed revolutionaries and false messiahs.

That’s why, as you will see in The Case for Christ movie, Strobel recognized that this issue is, as some have called it, the lynchpin of Christianity.  If the evidence for the resurrection stands, then the Christian faith stands; but if the evidence falls, then so does Christianity.

 

 

NEXT LIFE STEP: I will Memorize: 1 Corinthians 15:17-19. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. 19  If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.

 

But, as Lee Strobel asked in the movie, and as Hefner later asked Strobel, is there any real evidence that Jesus rose from the dead?  That’s the question we’re going to explore today.

 

Much of the information we’ll talk about today comes from Strobel’s hours of research, reading, talking to experts, and searching Scripture.  But today, with a limit on our time, we can boil down the issue of Jesus’ resurrection to three simple questions:

First, was Jesus alive at Point A?

Second, was Jesus dead at Point B?

And third, was Jesus alive again at Point C?

If the answer to these three questions is yes, then Jesus did rise from the dead, He is the Son of God, and Christianity is true!

 

Jesus Was Alive at Point A

 

Virtually every scholar, secular and Christian, agrees Jesus actually lived in the first century.

 

Here’s the truth, as summarized by senior Swedish scholar T. N. D. Mettinger: “The nearly universal consensus of scholars around the world is that there are no examples of any mythological gods dying and rising from the dead that came before Jesus.  These resurrection myths came after Christianity, so Christianity could not have done the borrowing.”  Mettinger added, “There is, as far as I am aware, no prima facie evidence that the death and resurrection of Jesus is a mythological construct.”

 

And what about those who try to deny that Jesus ever lived?  Well, even Bart Ehrman, the agnostic New Testament scholar who’s no friend of Christianity, wrote a book attacking that idea.  He said, “The claim that Jesus was simply made up falters on every ground.”

 

Historian Paul Maier is even more blunt: “The total evidence is so overpowering, so absolute that only the shallowest of intellects would dare to deny Jesus’ existence.”

 

Friends, there’s no question about the first question in our investigation: Jesus was alive at Point A.

 

Jesus Was Dead at Point B

 

For the resurrection to be true, Jesus had to really die.  The Bible and history tell us He was executed by crucifixion under Pontius Pilate.  But some deny the death of Christ, including most of the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims who cite a verse in the Qur’an [Surah 4:157-158].  So, who is correct?

Once again, we turn to historical evidence for the answer.

 

It’s been said that we’re lucky in the study of ancient history if we have one or two solid sources to confirm a fact.  The execution of Jesus, however has four biographies of Jesus in the New Testament—the Gospels—each written within the lifetimes of His contemporaries.  We also have five ancient sources outside the Bible: Josephus, Tacitus, Lucian, Mara Bar-Serapion, and the Talmud.

 

Besides, the cruel, degrading, and humiliating killing of their leader on a cross would not have been something that Jesus’ followers would have invented if it were not true.

 

The Muslim teaching that Jesus didn’t die on the cross comes from Muhammad’s claim, six hundred years after Jesus lived, that an angel in a cave told him it wasn’t true.  No historical evidence was offered, and the eyewitness accounts were ignored.

 

Set aside religion—just purely from a historical standpoint, the evidence points to Jesus’ crucifixion.

 

As for the question of whether Jesus could have lived through His suffering on the cross, the evidence shows there’s no way Jesus survived the efficient brutality of Roman execution.

  • Jesus was tied to a post and beaten thirty-nine times with whips that had jagged bones and balls of lead woven into them. Alexander Metherell said a witness described Roman floggings like this: “The sufferer’s veins were laid bare, and the very muscles and tendons and bowels of the victim were open to exposure.”

Jesus was in hypovolemic shock—or shock from a great loss of blood—and in critical condition after the beating.

  • Then spikes were driven through His hands and feet. Crucifixion is an agonizingly slow death by asphyxiation, because the stress on the chest locks the lungs into the inhaled position.

To exhale, the victim has to push up to lessen the stress.  He would push up and sag down until exhaustion took over, and He would die from the effects of not being able to breathe.

  • Then a soldier plunged a spear between Jesus’ ribs, puncturing His lungs and heart, and the expert Roman executioners confirmed that He was dead.

 

In The Case for Christ, Lee Strobel pursues Dr. Alexander Metherell in order to investigate the evidence for the crucifixion.

 

Did you hear what Strobel read from the Journal of the American Medical Association in this scene?

The article said, “Clearly the weight of the historical and medical evidence indicates that Jesus was dead before the wound to his side was inflicted.  Accordingly, interpretations based on the assumption that Jesus did not die on the cross appear to be at odds with modern medical knowledge.”

  • Agnostic New Testament scholar James Tabor said, “I think we need have no doubt that given Jesus’ execution by Roman crucifixion, he was truly dead.”

 

  • Even the atheist New Testament scholar Gerd Lüdemann said, “Jesus’ death as a consequence of crucifixion is indisputable.”

So, we have powerful and persuasive evidence that Jesus Was Alive at Point A and Dead at Point B. Now for the most astounding claim:

 

Jesus Was Alive Again at Point C

 

There are two strands of evidence that establish that Jesus came back to life: that his tomb was empty, and that he appeared to people.  Jesus’ body was laid in a tomb belonging to Joseph of Arimathea, a member of the Jewish council.  The tomb was sealed, and Matthew says it was guarded—yet it was discovered empty on that first Easter morning.

 

So how do we know the tomb was empty?

 

  1. The Jerusalem Factor. Scholar William Lane Craig pointed out that the site of Jesus’ tomb was known to Christians and non-Christians alike.  If the claim was false, if the tomb was not empty, it would have been highly unlikely for a movement founded on Jesus’ resurrection to explode or even exist in the same city where Jesus had been publicly executed.  Critics of Christianity could have simply opened His tomb and shown that Jesus’ decaying body was still there, This would have effectively ended the Christian faith.

 

  1. The Criterion of Embarrassment. Who discovered the empty tomb?    In first-century Jewish and Roman culture, the testimony of women was not considered reliable.

They were generally not even allowed to testify in a court of law.

In fact, the first-century Jewish historian Josephus, who worked for the Romans, wrote this: “But let not the testimony of women be admitted.”

So here’s the point: If the Gospel writers were going to make up the story about the empty tomb, they never would have said women discovered it empty.

Culturally, this was embarrassing and hurt their cause.  Yet they reported that it was women who found the tomb vacant.  Why?  Apparently because that’s what happened.

 

  1. The Enemy Attestation. In other words, even the enemies of Jesus admitted the tomb was empty.  The skeptics were saying the disciples stole Jesus’ body.  This was reported by Matthew, Justin Martyr, and Tertullian.

Why would they say someone stole the body if it was still in the tomb?  They were admitting the tomb was empty by trying to explain how it got empty.

 

The real question is: How did the tomb get empty?

  • The Romans and the Jewish leaders weren’t about to steal the body; they wanted Jesus dead.
  • The disciples didn’t have the motive, means, or opportunity to steal the body.
  • Besides, we have seven ancient sources affirming that the disciples lived lives of deprivation and suffering as a result of their proclamation that Jesus had risen. Why would they have done that if they knew it was all a lie?

 

Of course, the empty tomb alone isn’t enough to establish that Jesus was alive again.  Thankfully, we also have the numerous appearances of the risen Jesus to a variety of people in a variety of settings.

We have nine ancient sources confirming that the disciples were convinced Jesus had risen and that He appeared to them.  Here are the nine sources, as reported by resurrection scholar Michael Licona in Lee Strobel’s book, In Defense of Jesus :

 

I’m only going to give you one today and you will have to go this sermon on line to read more details about each sources.

 

  1. The 1 Corinthians 15 Creed: The apostle Paul reported an early creed of the church:

1 Corinthians 15:3–7 For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5  and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. 6 After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles.

 

What’s important is the timeline that resurrection scholar, Gary Habermas, has developed: Jesus was crucified in AD 30 or 33.  Paul wrote 1 Corinthians in about AD 54 or 55, or within twenty-five years of Jesus’ execution.  Paul used the past tense, which suggests he had given the church in Corinth the creed earlier.  This dates the creed even earlier, which gives even more credibility.

 

But we can go even earlier still—even closer in time to the actual resurrection.  Paul used to be Saul of Tarsus, a hater and persecutor of Christians.  One to three years after Jesus’ death, he was on the road to Damascus when he encountered the risen Christ and became the apostle Paul.  Immediately, he went into Damascus and met with some apostles.  Many scholars believe this is when he was given this creed that he eventually gave the church in Corinth.  But other scholars believe he received it three years later, when he went to Jerusalem and met for fifteen days with two people specifically named in the creed as eyewitnesses to the resurrected Jesus: Peter and James.  Paul described this meeting in Galatians 1:18–19, using the Greek word historeo, which suggests this was a personal inquiry or investigation.  Many scholars believe this is when Peter and James gave him the creed.

 

Either way, this means Paul was given the creed one to six years after the crucifixion—but most probably between 34 and 36 AD!  By then, it was already in creedal form, and therefore the beliefs that make up the creed go back even further!  Historian James D. G. Dunn concluded, “This tradition, we can be entirely confident, was formulated as tradition within months of Jesus’ death.”

 

So there’s no big time gap between the death of Jesus and the subsequent development of a legend that he rose from the dead.  This is like a news flash that goes right back to the scene!  This is historical gold. The creed’s historical credentials are so impressive that even one of the few Jewish New Testament scholars, Pinchas Lapide, is quoted in The Case for Christ, saying that it “may be considered as a statement of eyewitnesses.”

 

  1. Paul: Our second ancient source is Paul’s testimony about the disciples. Paul came to know some of the apostles personally, including Peter, James, and John.

Paul said in, regarding resurrection:

1 Corinthians 15:11 “Whether, then, it is I or they, this is what we preach, and this is what you believed.”

So. Paul was confirming the belief of the disciples that they encountered the resurrected Jesus, too.

  1. Sermon Summaries in Acts: Even skeptical scholars will admit that the book of Acts contains summaries of the sermons of the early church. What were they focused on?

The resurrection. Peter himself said in Acts 2:32: “God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of it.”  Three thousand people agreed—and the church was born.

4, 5, 6, and 7. The Four Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John confirm that the disciples encountered the risen Jesus.  Craig Evans said, “There’s every reason to conclude that the Gospels have fairly and accurately reported the essential elements of Jesus’ teachings, life, death, and resurrection.  They’re early enough, they’re rooted into the right streams that go back to Jesus and the original people, there’s continuity, there’s proximity, there’s verification of certain distinct points with archaeology and other documents, and then there’s the inner logic.”

 

  1. Clement: We have the testimony of some early church fathers who knew the apostles personally and heard what they taught about the resurrection. Clement, who was ordained by Peter, wrote a letter to the Corinthians in the first century, saying: “[The apostles had] complete certainty caused by the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.” 

 

  1. Polycarp: He was appointed by John as bishop of Smyrna. He wrote a letter to the Philippians in which he mentioned the resurrection no fewer than five times.  Referring to Paul and the other apostles, he said: “For they did not love the present age, but him who died for our benefit and for our sake was raised by God.”

 

So here we have nine ancient sources that reflect multiple early testimonies to the disciples’ conviction that they had encountered the resurrected Jesus.

The evidence is powerful and persuasive.  We have overwhelming evidence to back up our faith!

 

Jesus Was Alive at Point A.

Jesus Was Dead at Point B.

Jesus Was Alive Again at Point C.

 

Jesus really did rise from the dead, and this proves that He was who he claimed to be—the unique Son of God.  It means His teachings have authority for our lives today, and it means He has opened heaven to everyone who will receive the free gift of forgiveness and eternal life He purchased for us on the cross.

 

Why?  Why did he do it?  You might remember from a scene in the movie, in which Strobel was looking at the replica of the Shroud of Turin, and asked the priest that very question, and the answer given was love.  The God of the universe loves you and me with such intensity and power that He willingly entered our world and endured torture and death in order to redeem us.

 

I hope you’ve encountered that love and forgiveness with God.

 

EXTRA:

The Internet is alive with the claim that Jesus never lived at all.  More than that, there are claims that Christianity is a copycat religion that stole its beliefs from earlier mythology.

In other words, people say the resurrection of Jesus never happened—it’s merely a story Christians plagiarized from ancient myths.

This idea was popularized by The Da Vinci Code, which said, “Nothing in Christianity is original.”

But even that idea wasn’t original—it was recycled from writings by skeptics in the nineteenth century, who influenced Vladimir Lenin, and consequently became dogma in the former Soviet Union.

 

When it’s first presented, the evidence for this claim sounds strong.  For example, proponents will tell you there was a mythological god named Mithras long before Jesus lived.  They say that Mithras was born of a virgin . . . in a cave . . . on December 25 . . . he was considered a great traveling teacher . . . he had twelve disciples . . . he sacrificed himself for world peace . . . he was buried in a tomb . . . and he rose three days later.

Sound familiar?  On the surface, this seems like strong evidence that Christianity stole its beliefs about Jesus from this earlier mystery religion.  But listen to what happens when each point of this so-called “evidence” is examined by the eminent historian Dr. Edwin Yamauchi:

  • Mithras was born of a virgin in a cave? No, he wasn’t!  When you go back to the original myth, Mithras emerged fully-grown out of a rock.  There was no virgin or cave.  Besides, nowhere does the Bible say Jesus was born in a cave.
  • Mithras was born on December 25? While that’s the date we celebrate Jesus’ birth, the Bible doesn’t tell us the date Jesus was born.  Some think it was in the spring; others think it was in January.  It wasn’t until centuries after Jesus lived that Christians chose December 25 as the date to celebrate his birth, as a way to influence the pagan holidays around the winter solstice.  But the bottom line is that we don’t know the actual date Jesus was born.
  • Mithras was a traveling teacher with twelve disciples? No, he wasn’t!  He was supposedly a god, not a teacher, and the Iranian Mithras had one follower while the Roman Mithras had two—but never twelve.
  • Mithras sacrificed himself for world peace? No, he didn’t!  He was known for killing a bull.  He didn’t sacrifice himself for anyone or anything.
  • Mithras was buried in a tomb and resurrected after three days? No, he wasn’t!  There’s no record of any belief about his death, so there’s no story about a resurrection.

 

So, look at what happened—when we examine these claims in depth, the parallels with Christianity simply evaporate.

 

Here’s the truth, as summarized by senior Swedish scholar T. N. D. Mettinger: “The nearly universal consensus of scholars around the world is that there are no examples of any mythological gods dying and rising from the dead that came before Jesus.  These resurrection myths came after Christianity, so Christianity could not have done the borrowing.”  Mettinger added, “There is, as far as I am aware, no prima facie evidence that the death and resurrection of Jesus is a mythological construct.”

 

Life App Group and Family Devotional Application

  1. What did Paul mean by his statement in 1 Corinthians 15:17 “And if Christ has not been raised,

your faith is futile.”?

  1. Discuss the three factors that point to Jesus’ tomb being empty. The Jerusalem Factor, The Criterion of Embarrassment, and The Enemy Attestation. Which is proof can you relate to the most?
  2. Review and discuss the nine ancient sources confirming that the disciples were convinced Jesus had risen

and that He appeared to them.

 

 

 

You may have seen the movie The Case for Christ (soon to be released on DVD) or read the book.  It is the story of a young atheist named Lee Strobel investigating the claims of Christianity—but not with the desire to find or follow Christ!  Rather, he wanted to establish the case against Christ, with the hope of “rescuing” his wife, Leslie, from her newfound faith in Jesus.

This investigation process turned into an almost two-year spiritual journey for Strobel.

 

Today we’re going to talk about the question of how we, too, can investigate the evidence for Christ.  But before we do, let’s watch a short clip from the movie.  We see a very frustrated Lee Strobel sitting in the newsroom of the Chicago Tribune, trying to figure out what to do with all of the evidence he was uncovering that was consistently pointing him toward the truth of the Christian faith.  Then, in the middle of his contemplative moment, Strobel’s coworker Kenny London, the Tribune’s religion editor, walks in and offers some advice.

  • Have you ever been in a conversation like that?
  • Have you ever sensed that a friend or family member has an interest in investigating the evidence for Christ but is hung up on a spiritual sticking point?
  • Maybe today, you are dealing with your own spiritual sticking point.

 

Spiritual Sticking Points?

What do I mean by a spiritual sticking point?  For a biblical example, let’s look at Acts chapter 8.  God spoke through an angel to present Philip with a very unusual request.

He said, “Go south to the road—the desert road—that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.”

He didn’t explain why, but Philip obeyed anyway.

 

An Ethiopian official, basically the equivalent of the Secretary of the Treasury, for the queen of Ethiopia is traveling down the road.  He was a eunuch and had gone to Jerusalem to worship, and he was now returning and reading from Isaiah.

 

Acts 8:29-31The Spirit told Philip, “Go to that chariot and stay near it.” 30  Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. “Do you understand what you are reading?” Philip asked. 31  “How can I,” he said, “unless someone explains it to me?”  So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.

 

This man from Ethiopia had hit a spiritual sticking point.

He was on a literal journey from Jerusalem to Ethiopia, but a spiritual journey as well, trying to understand the Scriptures.  He was stuck and needed someone to help him along.

 

Often this happens with people who are feeling attracted toward God.  They’re on a journey toward God, but they hit a sticking point—something that blocks their spiritual journey.

An issue, an objection, a question, a concern that blocks their progress toward a spiritual breakthrough.

 

Have you ever felt that way?  You hunger for a deep, authentic personal relationship with Christ, but something stunts your spiritual progress?  You’re not alone!

 

Today we are going to talk about four of the most common spiritual sticking points that come up when investigating the Case for Christ.

 

Spiritual Sticking Point #1:  I Can’t Believe

This struggle is often expressed by people with intellectual issues blocking their spiritual path.

  • A scientist might say, “I can’t believe the Bible because it conflicts with science.”
  • Mother of a sick child thinks, “I can’t believe in a God who permits my precious girl to suffer when so many evil people thrive.”
  • The lawyer who says, “I’m used to dealing with evidence, facts, data, and logic; I can’t believe in something we’re asked to accept on faith.”
  • A businessperson might explain, “I prayed my business would succeed, but it’s going down the tubes. I can’t believe in a God who ignores my prayers.”
  • People who express thoughts like we saw in our last series “When God Doesn’t Make Sense”.

 

Thomas’ Sticking Point

John 20:25  So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”  But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”

 

How can we get past this spiritual sticking point?  We do what the Ethiopian eunuch did.

We actively seek God.

  • The Ethiopian went to the temple in Jerusalem to worship, even though under Jewish law he was not allowed to fully participate.
  • And when Philip met him, the Ethiopian was searching the Scriptures for answers. When we do these things, God promises to meet us.

 

Jeremiah 29:13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.

 

“Finding the purpose for which God made you—whatever it may be—and then fully pursuing it is simply the very best way to live.”[1]

 

If your spiritual sticking point is that you can’t believe, seek God wholeheartedly!  And as you do remember God isn’t playing hide-and-seek.  God seeks you first.

God supernaturally sent Philip.  And I believe it is no accident that you are here today.

Next Life Step:  If I feel like “I can’t believe”.  I will get unstuck by wholeheartedly seeking God and the evidence for the claims of Christ.

 

Spiritual Sticking Point #2:  I Don’t Want to Believe

Few people will come right out and admit this, yet this is a spiritual sticking point that stops a lot of people.

Have you ever talked with someone who just wasn’t interested in hearing the evidence for God?

They don’t even want to hear your personal story?

 

Many times this is not an intellectual sticking point, but as you get to know the person, you’ll discover that there are Moral issues often get in the way of a person’s spiritual journey.

They may be involved in an adulterous relationship, unethical business practice, or other sin.  Sometimes people reject the evidence because they realize that becoming a Christ follower would mean a radical life change that they’re just not open to.  They may love sin more than they love the truth.

 

John 3:19 … Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.

 

The Lifestyle Obstacle

Their true spiritual sticking point is not a knowledge problem; it’s a lifestyle problem.

 

Many people don’t want God to change their lives, so they manufacture reasons not to believe.

I wish these people would put God to the test and as the scripture tells us in Psalms 34:8 Taste and see that the Lord is good…

 

Is a lifestyle issues holding you back?

  • I would encourage you to weigh out the consequences. Play things out to their logical ends; mentally carry the current trajectory of your life to its conclusion.  Where do you end up?  And how will you feel about yourself?
  • Then compare it to the trajectory of following Jesus Christ. As for me, I agree with Viggo Olsen that nothing beats living for the purpose God uniquely has for you.

 

The Fear of Intimacy Obstacle

Other people have a similar kind of hidden obstacle: the fear of intimacy.  They feel attracted toward God, but they recoil from the prospect of relating to anybody on a deep level.

  • They have a superficial relationship with their spouse and shallow relationships with their kids.
  • They have numerous acquaintances but no real friends. And since the core of Christianity is a deep and dynamic relationship with Christ, these people find all kinds of excuses to say it’s just not for them.

 

If you have a tendency to keep people at arm’s length, maybe this has something to do with why you’re keeping God at arm’s length.  But, again, isn’t it worth overcoming the problem rather than missing a friendship with God?

The Authority Obstacle

One other variation of this spiritual sticking point is a hidden authority obstacle.

  • A person who struggles with this doesn’t want anyone—including the God who created them—to tell them how to live their life.
  • So they find reasons not to believe.
  • But they’re missing the point: God’s goal isn’t to boss us around, but to guide us into our greatest purpose and potential and to protect us from our own self-destructive behavior. Isn’t that the kind of loving authority we all need in our lives?

Next Life Step:  If I feel likeI don’t want to believe.”  I will get unstuck by comparing what I’m hanging onto versus what I could gain by following Christ.

 

Spiritual Sticking Point #3:  I Don’t Know What to Believe

Again, let’s go back to the Ethiopian eunuch.  This was his sticking point when he invited Philip into the carriage and asked him about Isaiah 53.  This was a prophecy foretelling the suffering of the Messiah, written hundreds of years before Christ.  So, Philip clarified what the Bible was teaching.

 

Acts 8:34-35 The eunuch asked Philip, “Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?” 35 Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus.

 

And today, people get confused because they hear all kinds of interpretations of the Bible.  They see different denominations.

  • They hear some people who take the Bible literally and some who say it’s just a general moral guideline. They hear people using the Bible to support contradictory positions.
  • They try reading the Bible and get bogged down in Leviticus.

So, they throw up their hands and say, “I don’t know what to believe.  It seems like the meaning of the Bible changes according to who interprets it.  So, who is right?”

 

If that’s your sticking point, it’s important to know that the key to accurately understanding the Bible is the same as the key to understanding any communication—you must study to determine what the writer actually meant.  Not what we want it to say; not to interpret it for our benefit; not to read our biases into it—but to figure out what the writer intended to communicate.

 

Sometimes we let what we want the Bible to say get in the way of what it’s really saying.

 

Our motives can radically color the way we interpret things.

 

Now, there are difficult sections of the Bible, and well-intentioned people can legitimately debate the finer points.  But when it comes to the critical central message of what you and I need to know the most, there’s no ambiguity.

One verse sums it up: Romans 6:23 says, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

You don’t have to know everything about the Bible to know something.  And that verse is clear about the central truth you need to know.  There’s no ambiguity or confusion about it.

Next Life Step:  If I don’t know “what to believe”.  I will get unstuck by reading the Bible with an open mind, seeking to understand its central gospel message.

 

Spiritual Sticking Point #4: I Do Believe; Isn’t That Enough?

“I understand the gospel, and I believe it’s true.  But I still feel like I’m at a sticking point.  I feel like something is holding me back from experiencing the kind of relationship with God that people talk about around here. Why can’t I really connect with God?”

 

James 2:19 You believe that there is one God. Good!  Even the demons believe that—and shudder.”  It’s not enough just to nod our heads in intellectual agreement.

John 1:12 “As many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name” (NASB).

 

Believing is the first step, but we must also receive!  Romans 6:23 For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Eternal life is a free gift—but think about a Christmas gift.  It doesn’t become yours until you reach out and receive it.  Otherwise, it sits unclaimed and unopened under the tree.

 

There’s a simple spiritual equation that flows out of John 1:12: Believe + Receive = Become. We can’t become true children of God without both elements—we must believe in him intellectually, and we must receive his forgiveness and leadership personally.

Next Life Step:  If I think “believing is enough”.  I will get unstuck by believing and receiving the forgiveness and leadership of Christ.  The free gift of salvation.

 

That’s what the Ethiopian eunuch did.  He learned the meaning of the Scripture passage he was reading—he believed.

But then he received the free gift of salvation by trusting in the promised Messiah, as demonstrated by his being baptized.  The result?

He became a child of God and was swept up in the joy of forgiveness and new life in Christ.

 

Acts 8:36-39

As they traveled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water. What can stand in the way of my being baptized?” [37 ] 38 And he gave orders to stop the chariot. Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him. 39 When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him again, but went on his way rejoicing

 

Where are you on the journey of investigating the Case for Christ?

  • What obstacles stand in your way?
  • Now can be the time you get past your sticking points once and for all, if you’ll believe the truth, receive Christ, and become a child of God. If you want to take that step, pray this with me n

Life App Group and Family Devotional Application

  1. What was your biggest sticking point prior to receiving Christ? How did you get unstuck?
  2. How do you usually dig deeper into something you want to know more about? How can you apply that to your investigation of the truth of Christ?
  3. Is it okay to ask God for evidence or for personal experience? Why or why not?
  4. How should we balance that desire with Jesus’ words to Thomas: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29)?

 

[1] Viggo Olsen, quoted in Lee Strobel, The Case for a Creator (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2004), 291.

 

What do we do When God Doesn’t Make Sense?

What do we do when we know God can do something, we pray and believe He can, but He doesn’t?

We think to ourselves, “Why isn’t God cooperating?”

This week join us at 9 or 11 a.m. as we look at the life of the Apostle Paul and bring out three different thoughts about prayer that I believe can help us, when God Seems Uncooperative.

Save the date and invite your friends for a very special Sunday in two weeks, July 23rd,  We are hosting evangelist, author, and musician Joe Knight who will share his story of the loss of his son Matthew.

Together we will experience Joe’s inspiring journey through grief to hope in Christ Jesus!

 

Life doesn’t always go the way we expected. You pray with faith, but God doesn’t do what you asked. You seek Him, but don’t feel His presence. You’re going through pain, but your cries for relief seem to go unanswered. What do you do When God Doesn’t Make Sense?  

Join us Sunday at 9 or 11 a.m. as we being our new series, When God Doesn’t make Sense.

Praise & Worship Tonight!

June 28th, 2017

You are invited to join us tonight for a very special Praise & Worship One Hour on Wednesday!

Join us at 7 pm!

 

This Sunday at Believers Church we will continue our discussion on the ideal family, this week focusing on the “Ideal Teenager.” Join us this Sunday at 9 or 11 a.m. for a question and answer session with our EDGE Youth Ministry Leaders, Chris Hagan and Cindy Muhmel.

Fresh back from the Forward Youth Conference in Atlanta, they will share what they learned and how to Deal with your Teenager!