God Has Given Proof

A Continuation of “Lifted Up and Weighed Down”


TruthText:

“God has overlooked the times when people did not know him, but now he commands all of them everywhere to turn away from their evil ways. For he has fixed a day in which he will judge the whole world with justice by means of a man he has chosen. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising that man from death!” (Acts 17:30-31 GNT)


When I worked at the phone company, one of my colleagues was an intellectual sort, who loved to get in long philosophical discussions with me. He was a great guy, with a sharp mind. One day, he shared that he had gone through seminary to become a Christian minister, and had even tried out for a position as a pastor in a church. The parishioners loved him, and his messages were stimulating and often inspiring. But something seemed missing.

 

Then one day, as the governing board of the church was deciding whether to hire him as their pastor, one of them asked him if he believed that Jesus rose from the dead. My friend admitted that he did not. And years later, speaking with me, he was still shocked by their decision not to hire him. The leaders of that church realized that no one could represent the Gospel of Christ while denying the one fact that makes it all true. I explained to him as best I could why the empty tomb and the risen Lord was absolutely crucial to faith in Jesus, using text messages that I will share with you now.


Paul was a Jew, as well as being a Roman Citizen from birth. That was a big deal in the Roman Empire, because many others had to pay good money for that title, and he was born with it. He was highly educated, in both the Jewish Scriptures (the Bible that Jesus read) and in the Greek and Roman Pagan cultures of the time. When he began to follow Jesus, he felt called to tell the non-Jewish (gentile) world about Him. And the intellectual center of gentile philosophy was Athens, Greece.


So Paul eventually went to Athens and spoke at a place called Mars Hill. There he debated with all the wise and religious men who gathered to discuss religion and philosophy. After a short summary of elements of Pagan beliefs that pointed to Christ, Paul hit them with the verses that are quoted at the top of the page. Paul was saying, “You know, God wants to give His light to all of us. And by the way, it’s time to turn away from doing wrong, because the Jesus that I’m talking about will soon judge the whole world. God showed us proof of this by raising Jesus from the dead!” The majority of those supposedly wise Athenians promptly labeled Paul as delusional or insane, but a few admitted that it might be nice to hear more about such an intriguing and unusual story.


Unfortunately, this was not a message that resonated with the “Isn’t that interesting!” crowd of supposed seekers that met with Paul on Mars Hill in Athens that day. Yet whenever Paul spoke of Jesus, His death and resurrection was “It, and the only It.” He kept the main thing the main thing. In fact, Paul said that all his wisdom could be summed up in what he told the Church in Corinth (another Greek city): “I decided that while I was with you I would forget about everything except Jesus Christ and his death on the cross.” (I Cor. 2:2 ERV) Later in that same letter to the Church in Corinth, he adds to that when he tells them, “If Christ has not been raised, then your faith is a delusion and you are still lost in your sins.” (I Cor. 15:17 GNT) That’s what Paul insisted whenever he spoke about the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, and that must be our position as well.


Paul even went on to say, in his letter to believers in Rome, “...if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.” (Romans 10:9-10 ESV). Some shallow religious leaders in our day have used Paul’s words here to justify a concept of God as a big blue genie, granting wishes to everyone who speaks them into reality. But of course, Paul is saying something else entirely, and infinitely more important than any mansion or Mercedes. He says we must admit to others that Jesus is our true ruler, and must firmly believe, deep in our souls, that Jesus who was once dead is now truly alive by the power of God. Then (and only then) we will be set right with God, we will be walking in His light and doing things His way. Then and only then will we be on the road to eternal glory with Him. And that will be true for us whether in this life we live in a mud hut or the finest palace.


Now we must look at the “proof that God has given to everyone” that our opening text mentioned. The fact that the first followers of Jesus believed him to be alive after being killed is clear from all of their writings. It is the foundation of their claim that Jesus is the Messiah, the Savior of the world, and God’s one and only way to heaven. But the enemies of Jesus, who quickly became the enemies of the Church, could have produced the body of Jesus, or could have arrested the disciples who plotted to steal it, if either of those things had happened. The full authority of the Roman government and the Temple leaders could not contradict any of the claims of the followers of Jesus. However, our claim of Jesus’ resurrection is not an argument from emptiness, no matter how difficult it is for the doubters to explain away the empty tomb. Paul makes an argument for a real, living, formerly dead, touchable, audible, and visible Jesus using multiple eyewitnesses, in one of the most important sections of the New Testament, from the same letter to the Church in Corinth we used earlier.


And now I want to remind you, my friends, of the Good News which I preached to you, which you received, and on which your faith stands firm. That is the gospel, the message that I preached to you. You are saved by the gospel if you hold firmly to it—unless it was for nothing that you believed. I passed on to you what I received, which is of the greatest importance: that Christ died for our sins, as written in the Scriptures; that he was buried and that he was raised to life three days later, as written in the Scriptures; that he appeared to Peter and then to all twelve apostles. Then he appeared to more than five hundred of his followers at once, most of whom are still alive, although some have died. Then he appeared to James, and afterward to all the apostles. Last of all he appeared also to me—even though I am like someone whose birth was abnormal. For I am the least of all the apostles—I do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted God's church. (I Cor. 15:1-9 GNT)


This article is not an in-depth argument for the resurrection. But none of what is being written here or in any other article is of any consequence whatsoever if Jesus is still dead. Let me speak plainly: if you are a follower of Jesus and do not firmly believe that Jesus’ death has saved you, and that Jesus rose from the dead to prove it, then you are not a follower at all. If someone tried playing the game of “ping pong” but excluded the ball, they would be simply “going through the motions,” and it would look pretty ridiculous. Paul says as much when he reminds the Corinthians a few sentences later, “If our hope in Christ is good for this life only and no more, then we deserve more pity than anyone else in all the world.” I Cor. 15:19 GNT) It should give you comfort in your own walk with Jesus that most of the believers in Corinth started out just like those wise men in Athens, who left scratching their heads in disbelief when confronted with the claims of Christ. Something about the message of the living Jesus got through to them and changed them. And if we belong to Jesus, it changes us, too.


One more point about this has to be made. The resurrection of Jesus, and the fact that He is Lord and Savior, is not something that the Church “developed” over time (which is what my friend at the phone company believed). In fact, on the very first day of the Church, when the Holy Spirit empowered the believers and they began to change the world, our friend Peter, the former fisherman, stood up and preached a message so powerful that several thousand people decided to follow Jesus when he was done speaking. In his audience were perhaps hundreds who had first-hand knowledge of how Jesus died, and could conceivably have joined in searching for his dead body. This is part of what Peter said that day:


Listen to these words, fellow Israelites! Jesus of Nazareth was a man whose divine authority was clearly proven to you by all the miracles and wonders which God performed through him. You yourselves know this, for it happened here among you. In accordance with his own plan God had already decided that Jesus would be handed over to you; and you killed him by letting sinful men crucify him. But God raised him from death, setting him free from its power, because it was impossible that death should hold him prisoner. (Acts 2:22-24 GNT)


It is very clear from what Peter said that day, in the first sermon about Jesus ever preached by anyone, that the young Church’s beliefs about Jesus were the same as what we teach today. Jesus is the One sent by God to save us, who was crucified to pay for our sins, who rose from death to demonstrate who He is. And by conquering death, Jesus Himself experienced what He will someday do for us! All of that was in the very first sermon to come out of the Church. The resurrection was not “developed” by the Church. The resurrection is the very reason the Church exists, and the reason you are hearing about Jesus and believing in Him now.


Take away the resurrection, and our faith is like a bag of cement without water, a balloon without air, or a car with no fuel. But “God has given proof” in the form of the Living Jesus. You know Him, you feel His presence, and you will someday share in His resurrection. Many years after that first sermon, Peter exclaimed, “Praise God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is so good, and by raising Jesus from death, he has given us new life and a hope that lives on. God has something stored up for you in heaven, where it will never decay or be ruined or disappear.” (1 Peter 1:3-4 CEV)


John, a disciple of Jesus, wrote down an amazing incident that he witnessed after Jesus’ resurrection. Jesus’ words at the time speak directly to us today. Shortly after Jesus rose from the dead, he appeared in the upper room to most of the disciples, and spoke with them. Thomas was absent, and missed out. He just couldn’t bring himself to believe what the others were saying. Then eight days later, Jesus appeared to him, too. He told Thomas to touch His nail-scarred hands and spear-pierced side. “My Lord and My God!” cried Thomas. “Is it because you have seen me that you believe?” Jesus said to him. “Happy are those who have never seen me and yet have believed!” (John 20:28-29 Phillips)


Take Action!

Be sure to look up the verses in this chapter in whatever translation of the Bible is the easiest for you to understand.* Read the whole section that each verse came from, and make sure that the words I have said about them are true. Once you are sure that I have given you accurate information, ask yourself the questions. Finally, ask God to show you what you should do next.


What makes it so hard for the people who don’t know Jesus to accept that Jesus is alive, and that the Bible’s accounts are true? (What are the issues that make it hard for them to believe this?)


You were once one of those people. What changed you?


What other things that we believe in would not be true if Jesus is still dead?


Why is it necessary to believe that Jesus died and rose again in order to be a follower of Jesus?


Think of someone you know who is like that co-worker of mine who didn’t believe. What will you say to that person? How will you share what you have found to be true?


* I use many translations of the Bible in these articles. Any of them would serve to support the points made in the chapter. All verses with no listed translations are my own paraphrase; please check with your own Bible to be sure I got the right idea.

TruthTexts Article: God Has Given Proof

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Written and Posted by Timothy Smith

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