Rushing to the Resurrection? Not So Fast.

Why we need to understand Good Friday before we celebrate Resurrection Sunday.

I was not at my grandmother’s funeral. She died young, before I was born. But I have never forgotten a conversation my mother and father had about words spoken at my grandmother’s burial service. In the solemn, sacred moments that followed the service, a Christian man and church elder, intending to strike an encouraging tone, said “We are standing on resurrection ground.” I recall my mom and dad having a spirited conversation about his words. For my father, they brought encouragement. For my mom, on the other hand, the words struck her as insensitive. Steeped in the feeling of utter loss at her mother’s gravesite, she needed space to grieve; not an injunction to rejoice.

Both my parents were and have been people of strong faith. In so many ways, it was their embodiment of faith that drew me to Christ. But I always found it curious that this statement about the Resurrection could stir such strong and opposite feelings among two individuals so anchored in their Christian faith. It made me think about how we as Christians view Easter.

In many strands of the Christian faith, the liturgical observance of Easter is practiced weeks before Easter weekend actually arrives. For other church traditions, Easter weekend is, in many ways, what Easter is. Holy week might be acknowledged, Good Friday might occupy some nook of the theological imagination, but the bulk of the focus tends to be placed on Resurrection Sunday.

Now don’t get me wrong. Resurrection Sunday is and should be the center around which the Christian faith orbits. “If there is no resurrection,” writes Paul, “we of all people should be pitied.”[1] But I wonder if some of us place disproportionate focus on Resurrection Sunday and observe Good Friday only vaguely, causing us to miss the greater profundity and power of what actually happened on that Sunday?

Christianity’s Thorough Acknowledgement of Death and Life

I am convinced that one of the most beautiful aspects of the Christian faith is that it provides the most thorough acknowledgement and description of death and life. In his letter to the church in Corinth, Paul writes that “the last enemy to be destroyed is death.”[2] The whole of Scripture is filled with stories of humanity having to endure loss of life.

Death is complex, we know, but one thing is sure: Losing a loved one is excruciatingly painful. If there were any confusion as to how the Christian God views death, we find some clarity in how Jesus responds to the premature death of his friend Lazarus in John 11. He weeps. Pathos fills the page of John’s Gospel as one reads his telling of Lazarus’ death. In his book The Cross of Christ, the late John Stott points out that Jesus was not only sad; he was angry. Something often missed in translations of this story is “The violent ‘snorting’ of indignation that Jesus experienced in his confrontation with death at the graveside of Lazarus. Death was a foreign body. Jesus resisted it; he could not come to terms with it.”[3] There is much to glean from Jesus’ response to the death of Lazarus, but one point that should not be lost is the utterly human response of horror in the face of death.

When we shift our focus to how death is experienced and understood in Christ’s crucifixion and death, we see death in a different light. Death as we know it is always shocking, but the death of a Messiah in first century Palestine? There was simply no category for this. Philip Yancey writes:

“By the time Jesus was nailed to wooden crossbeams, everyone had lost hope and fallen away. Scholars report that first-century Jews had no concept of a suffering Messiah. As for the Twelve, no matter how often or how plainly Jesus warned them of his impending death, it never sank in. No one could imagine a Messiah dying.”[4]

No one could imagine a Messiah dying. There is an incredible richness to all of what was happening on the cross that horrible yet wonderful day. But a truth we ought never to forget is that the suffering and death of the Lord Jesus Christ tells us that the Christian God knows what suffering is like. He has experienced pain and loss.

A truth we ought never to forget is that the suffering and death of the Lord Jesus Christ tells us that the Christian God knows what suffering is like. He has experienced pain and loss.

I think it was this feeling of complete loss and pain that gave my mom mixed feelings about the words spoken at my grandmother’s gravesite. The reminder of “resurrection ground” was not false, it was just untimely.

As we look forward to Easter, I believe there is a lesson to be learned here. For those of us who rush to the Resurrection, perhaps it would give our theological imaginations a type of mouthwash cleanse to meditate on what Good Friday means—to think and feel the weight of Easter Saturday—before we celebrate Resurrection Sunday.

But What If My Life Is More Like Good Friday Than Resurrection Sunday?

How might the message of Easter speak to the person who feels as though life is stuck on Good Friday or even Holy Saturday, but definitely not Resurrection Sunday? For the person who is experiencing pain, or has endured severe loss, Christ’s resurrection is indeed beautiful, but it can feel as though we are always on the outside looking in.

The story of the men on the road to Emmaus speaks to this situation. Here were two men who had seen Christ. They had heard him teach, yet they did not recognize him on this day after he had died. “Are you the only one who does not know?” they asked Jesus. Strangely, Jesus did not reveal himself to them there. For these men, life as they knew it had crumbled. Their reality had been centered around Jesus. “We had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel,” they confessed. I imagine their heads hanging low, tear ducts dried up from shedding countless tears, and almost muttering these words to Jesus out of fatigue and despondency.

That evening Jesus revealed himself to these men in the breaking of the bread. “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?” they said to one another. They realized suddenly that they were in the presence of their Lord. Jesus had risen, they now saw, and this changed everything. They could not help but go tell others about this newfound reality.

The story of the men on the road to Emmaus speaks to those of us who are in pain. It tells us that the pain of loss, the constant feeling of disorientation and fatigue is valid. Perhaps most powerful about the conversation Jesus had with these men is that he did not correct them. He simply listened to them. Before Jesus revealed himself and showed them the power of the resurrection, he validated the pain they were experiencing simply by walking with them. I do not think that they would have understood the immensity of Christ’s triumphing over death without their lived-out experience of loss on the road to Emmaus that day.

If we pay close attention, I believe the story of the Emmaus Road can provide a type of compass – one that guides our thoughts in the days leading to Easter. The story tells us that it is perfectly normal – even appropriate – to spend time living in, thinking through, and feeling the reality of Good Friday and the Saturday before the resurrection. For the person who feel as though life is stuck here, this ought to bring encouragement: that the same God who went to the cross and rose from the dead does not correct us in our pain; he simply walks with us and listens to us. That in itself is good news.

“Trash-Talking” Death

Of course, Easter does not stop on Good Friday or Saturday. The eyes of Easter implore us to hope in the Resurrection. Easter tells us that Christ’s response of listening then moves to action. Our cries for help are ultimately heard in the resurrection of Christ. Again, the Apostle Paul is a great help in explaining the profundity of the cross and Resurrection. In 1 Corinthians 15:55 he quotes from an Old Testament passage to help the church in Corinth make sense of Christ’s resurrection:

“Death is swallowed up in victory.

O death, where is your victory?

O death, where is your sting?”

I remember listening to The New Testament scholar Gary Habermas comment on this passage from Paul. He emphatically explained that when we hear this passage from Paul, we should not imagine him gently waving his hands as if he were citing poetry. No. Paul, says Habermas, was not in poetry mode! Habermas insists that Paul “was trash-talking death.” It was as if Paul was speaking to death and saying, “Death, you think you’ve won? You think you’ve got something on me? No, you haven’t. Christ has won! Christ has defeated you. Death, where is your sting? You’ve lost! Christ has beaten you. You have lost!”

I will never forget Gary Habermas reminding us of the weightiness and immensity of Christ’s victory over death. Are we walking on resurrection ground? The story of Easter resounds with a victorious yes. But the Easter story also reminds us to not forget that although we walk on resurrection ground, it behooves us to think upon what Good Friday and Easter Saturday would have been like. To enter into the full richness of Easter, to understand the stunning shock of what Habermas called Christ’s ‘trash talking of death’, we must remember the pain, the catastrophic loss, and the feeling of defeat on Good Friday.

Let’s look forward to celebrating Christ’s resurrection, but let’s not rush to get there. If we bypass Good Friday and Holy Saturday en route to Easter Sunday, we will miss the greater wonder of all that took place on that glorious Resurrection Day.

[1] 1 Corinthians 15:19

[2] 1 Corinthians 15:26

[3] John Stott, The Cross of Christ, 68.

[4] Philip Yancey, The Jesus I Never Knew, 242.

To enter into the full richness of Easter, to understand the stunning shock of what Habermas called Christ’s ‘trash talking of death’, we must remember the pain, the catastrophic loss, and the feeling of defeat on Good Friday.

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Easter and the Resurrection

Apr 08, 2020

Jesus’ resurrection can sound crazy to skeptics and many don’t take it seriously. Does it really matter if Jesus was raised from the dead or not? What evidence is there and why is the resurrection so important? In preparation for the Easter holiday on Sunday, Vince and Jo Vitale look at the compelling evidence for the resurrection and explain why it was an event that changed everything.

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Please Note: Ask Away is produced to be heard, not read. We strongly encourage you to listen to the audio. Transcripts are generated using a combination of speech recognition software and human transcribers, and may contain errors. Please check the corresponding audio before quoting in print.

Michael Davis: Hello and welcome to another episode of Ask Away with Vince and Jo Vitale. I am your host, Michael Davis.

Even though Easter has been relegated by our culture to a second class holiday, on the same level of importance as Mother's Day or Valentine's Day, the glorious truth of the Gospel is that Easter is a day that changed everything.

Christianity hinges on the truth that Jesus died to save sinners, and proved that he had the ability to do so by being raised from the dead. How do we express to our unbelieving friends and family members the truth and importance of Easter, and of the resurrection of Jesus?

But before we get started, Vince, could you tell the parents of high school and college students why they should send their kids to our upcoming Refresh conference, coming up this July at the Zacharias Institute?

Vince Vitale: Thanks, Michael. Yeah, that will be July 24th to 27th. And last year, Refresh was absolutely one of the highlights of our year. And I really think, I meet so many college students around the country, and I really think that for so many the difference between whether they stay strong in their faith in college, or whether they waver in their faith in college is whether or not their questions have been taken seriously before they arrive, and whether they arrive on campus feeling confident in the answers that Christianity has to the toughest questions of today's culture.

That's what Refresh is all about. We're going to journey with the students all week. Mentor them, take their questions seriously, answer those questions so that they can arrive on campus confident in their faith.

Michael Davis: Absolutely, it's going to be a great time. I remember last year, this is not a lighthearted event, this is an intense week of really just digging into apologetics questions. The kids really kind of combine and really kind of cohese into this awesome group with a singular focus of sharing the Gospel. It was really an experience to behold.

I hope you guys either come to it, if you're of high school age or college students. Or if you've got children who are of that age, to send them. It is an amazing experience.

So let's get into our first question from John. Per your recent podcast, "Who Needs A Talking Donkey," could you discuss the resurrection of Jesus, giving reasons why unbelievers should take it into serious consideration?

Vince Vitale: Oh, thanks, John. I'm really excited to talk about this topic. And I really appreciate the fact that we had an episode called, "Who Needs A Talking Donkey?" Well done, whoever decided on that title.

Michael Davis: You're welcome.

Vince Vitale: But we get really excited talking about the resurrection. This was significant in our personal stories. For me, this was absolutely critical in my own journey of faith, to see that the miracle of the resurrection could actually be explored and looked into, and that there was evidence for it.

The Bible says God has provided confirmation for all by raising Jesus from the dead. And I can remember, in college, when that just seemed like a crazy idea to me. And then I looked into it and I was absolutely blown away by what I found.

Maybe first, let me just preempt one type of objection you often get when you start to talk about the resurrection of Jesus. Some people want to say, "Look, I've never seen someone rise from the dead. No one that I know has ever seen anyone rise from the dead. So why should I believe that Jesus did?"

Well, the fact that resurrections don't normally happen, it's not an everyday occurrence, is actually not good reason to be skeptical of the resurrection of Jesus. Why? Because if God was going to use a miraculous event to put his stamp of approval on the life of Jesus as utterly unique, then it would have to be through something which was utterly unique.

If you go to a store to buy a shirt and every shirt in the store is gray or black, but there's one blue shirt, the probability of you buying that blue shirt is probably higher than for the other shirts precisely because of its uniqueness.

And so the uniqueness of the resurrection is exactly what we should expect to find if God was using it in a very distinctive, important way. And therefore, that's not evidence against it, that's actually evidence for it.

Jo Vitale: Another criticism that I'll often sometimes hear is people say, "well ancient mythology is packed with stories of dying and rising gods." It was James Frazer, he wrote, The Golden Bough, a long time ago now, first made this claim and it was popular for quite a while, this idea that Christianity is just a copycat religion. That actually, this idea of Jesus dying and rising wasn't unique at all, but just a kind of myth going around at the time.

Now, actually, although this idea has resurfaced in recent years, it's not a position that any scholars take with any real seriousness. And that's partly because often this argument is based on a chronological mistake. Because a lot of these religions you see that preach this idea of dying and rising gods actually come after Christianity, not before. So if anyone's copycatting, it tends to be the other way around.

But even when you look at ancient myths that predate Christianity, so for example, one that people often point to is the myth of Osiris, who was an Egyptian deity who was killed by his brother, and he is chopped up into 14 pieces and then the pieces are scattered around throughout Egypt.

And then the goddess, Isis, she gathers up the pieces and puts them back to life. Though she can't find one of the pieces, there's only 13. And even so, when he comes back to life, some of the myths actually don't have him coming at all, some versions of it. And others don't talk about him as being resurrected, but he becomes the lord of the underworld.

So, when scholars actually really dig into these things, far more than finding commonalities, you find extreme differences. So certain scholars will point to the fact that these deities aren't so much dying and rising deities, but more disappearing deities, or dying deities. Because either, when they return they haven't died, or in the second case, the gods die but they don't actually return.

So, when you really get into it, it's actually hard to find any real strong commonalities. Now, ironically, it's Bart Ehrman, who is not himself a particular fan of the Christian faith, but is a renown atheistic critical scholar. And he'll say, well, actually there aren't any parallels to this idea of belief in a man being crucified for the atonement of sin. And actually it's just not a very compelling case from a scholarly perspective.

It's also worth noting that for the Jews themselves, this certainly wasn't an idea in that, in their belief system already, for them it's an absolute shock that Jesus dies. And even more a shock when he comes back to life. It's not something that they are expecting. Once he dies, they are thinking, "Game over. We believed this guy and we thought he could be the hope of Israel, but this has come to an end."

And then the final thing I want to say here, is just when you compare the types of writings that we're reading, there's just a profound difference between the way the New Testament is written as an actual historical event situated in a certain place, in a certain time of history with dates, with people that you can go and look up. It's almost as if the writers of the Gospel are saying, "Consider this for yourself, come and look at the evidence. Come and investigate this, because we're making a historical claim that God left a historical footprint in time." And if that's the case, then there should be evidence for it that we're invited to look at.

Vince Vitale: Yeah, that's great. And one of the things that I really appreciate is that you can make a compelling argument for the resurrection of Jesus based around just one passage of scripture. And I turn to this passage all the time with people and find it really, really impactful in their lives.

So this is from 1 Corinthians 15, starting in verse three. It's a creed that predates the letter itself, and let me read that to you. It starts in verse three, it's just a short paragraph.

"For what I received I passed on to you of as of first importance." And that language, "For what I received I passed on to you," that's official rabbinic language for the passing on of a formal tradition. You see exactly the same language in 1 Corinthians 11 when it's talking about the Lord's Supper.

And then this is the creed, "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 Cephas," Peter, "and then to the twelve. 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." I love that, as if to say, "If you don't believe me, go out and ask them yourself." "Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born."

This is an incredible, incredible passage, and here's why. Scholars agree, not just Christian scholars, but even some of the most critical scholars of Christianity, they agree that this creed dates back to within a couple of years, at most, after Jesus' death. Even the most critical scholars agree about that, and that is absolutely remarkable.

And here's why, this is what is the situation because of that. We have three parts to the history of Christianity. Part one, as Jo began to speak to, Jesus had a following. That following believed that he was the Messiah. The Jewish conception of a Messiah would have thought that he was going to rise to earthly power, he was going to become an earthly king and reign on that throne forever. He was going to rescue the Jewish people from the heavy hand of Rome.

And then, Jesus, this man who they followed, died on a cross. That should have been the end of the movement. No one would have seen that coming. That would have undermined what his followers thought and who they thought that he was.

Then, skip over the history of Christianity part two, and then you wind up at the history of Christianity part three, very shortly after the death of Jesus on a cross, you get the absolute eruption of Christianity. Jewish people known for their utter commitment to the oneness of God are worshiping a crucified human being? As divine? As God himself? And they're giving their lives rather than deny that?

We have these amazing letters, even from that first generation. One from Pliny the Younger, a governor at the time in northwest Turkey. And he says, "I ask them if they are Christian, and if they say are I repeat the question a second and a third time, and I warn them of the punishment if they continue to say that they are. And when they continue to say that they're Christians, I have no choice but to lead them away to execution."

All these Christians who walked with Jesus had to do was say, "Fine, I'm not a Christian." Then they could have went home to their homes and continued to worship him. But they were so convinced that they had seen this man, Jesus, after he had clearly been killed and they had spent time with him, that they were willing to give their lives for it.

The question is, what bridges the gap between the history of Christianity part one, what should have been the movement ending death of Jesus, and the history of Christianity part three, the absolute eruption of Christianity, hundreds of people claiming that they had seen him after he had clearly died and this movement spreading so quickly that it becomes the religion of the Roman Empire within three centuries, what accounts for that? People willing to give their lives rather than deny that they had seen Jesus after his resurrection.

That's the question, and what I would say, what I often say to people that I'm conversing with, is that criticism without alternative is empty. You've heard me use that phrase before. How do we get from the history of Christianity part one to the history of Christianity part three. For a Christian, what fills that gap, what bridges that gap is the resurrection. If that's not your bridge, that's okay, but then let's look at the alternative explanations and see how they stack up, and I don't think they stack up very well.

Jo Vitale: Yeah, as Vince has mentioned, the biggest alternative people put in place is this idea of legendary development, which is completely destroyed when you realize how early that creed was. But some of the other alternatives that people sometimes throw around is they'll say, "Well, clearly it was the disciples, right? The disciples stole the body, they were just lying about what they saw."

It's an interesting idea, but Vince has already jousted to this fact that actually a hoax might be fun for a while, but no one really dies for one, right? Let alone eleven out of the twelve of Jesus' disciples, who it seems highly probably were martyred for their faith. Let alone so many of the other first followers who were eye witnesses to Jesus, who also went and did the same.

So, the question is, what would be in it for them? What would their motivation be if they were lying? Because it's not like being a leader of the early church was a particularly glamorous or powerful or attractive position to be in. And you're also ignoring the fact there that these were Jews who actually believed that God did exist, that it was blasphemous to claim that somebody was God if they're not, and that they would come under judgment for making such a claim if they were lying about it.

So, it's not even like they could just live out their lives making the most of this lie they're telling and then there wouldn't be any consequences for them. So, it's hard to establish that motive or believe that one.

Vince Vitale: Yeah, I really like how Blaise Pascal put it, he said, "I believe in witnesses that get their throats cut." And it just gets at this idea that there wasn't any motivation.

And just one other quotation I'll read to you, which I think is so great. This is by Chuck Colson, he was special counsel to President Richard Nixon from 1969 to 1973. He went to prison for being involved in Watergate, but he had a conversion to Christianity and he wound up founding Prison Fellowship.

And here's what he said, he said, "Why Jesus and not some other religious leader? The truth turns on the fact of Jesus Christ's bodily resurrection from the dead. I know the resurrection is a fact and Watergate proved it to me. How? Because twelve men testified they had seen Jesus raised from the dead, then they proclaimed that truth for 40 years, never once denying it. Every one of them was beaten, tortured, stoned, and put in prison. They would not have endured that if it weren't true. Watergate embroiled twelve of the most powerful men in the world and they couldn't keep a lie for three weeks. You're telling me twelve apostles could keep a lie for 40 years? Absolutely impossible."

Jo Vitale: Yeah.

Michael Davis: That's awesome.

Jo Vitale: A couple of other, if we're talking about alternative theories that people put out, another one people say is, "Oh, mass hallucination!" The disciples clearly, they were smoking something and they just, oh, you know, they were in such a state of hysteria or emotionalism and they were just overruled by their feelings. Something just happened to them and they thought they saw Jesus, but it wasn't really Jesus.

Once again, that one is a really hard one to sustain. Not only because in any psychological literature there just isn't evidence to suggest that such a mass hallucination is actually really possible with people coming away really experiencing and believing that they've seen the same thing.

Let alone when you look at the kind of resurrection accounts that we have. Because it's not just like there are a few disciples in one place and they just happened to see Jesus once and then they run away and tell everyone about it. But no, these are multiple appearances in different locations, different groups of people. Some of them small gathering, others it says Jesus appeared to 500 at one point.

So, different groups, people in different places, but also, this isn't just a sort of hallucination where you think you're seeing something, but this is Jesus they saw eating a fish. This is the Jesus they saw interacting with people. Thomas even reaches out and touches his side. And I love that you see the radical skepticism of someone who actually refuses to believe in the hallucination Jesus until he's seen it for himself, and then Jesus appears to him and says, "Hey, touch the wounds in my hands and the one in my side. Stop doubting and believe." So, it's a little bit more than just a hallucination going on here.

Vince Vitale: I do love that. I love that one of the appearances of Jesus basically cooking breakfast for the disciples on the beach. I love that he came back in such a personal and real way, not just a passing glance, but he spent time with them.

And the other thing about hallucination theory is it doesn't account for the empty tomb, which is also a really well attested historical fact. And it doesn't account for the fact that no one could produce Jesus' body, even though a Roman guard was stationed at the tomb. Christianity is the most falsifiable of all the religions. All you had to do was go into the tomb, which everyone would have known where it was, and produce Jesus' bones. It's not that it's not falsifiable, it's just that no one has been able to falsify it because they were never able to produce Jesus' bones.

Jo Vitale: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Michael Davis: It is, I've actually had conversations regarding the martyrdom of the apostles and of the early Christians, and people will say, "Well, people die for their faith all the time." You look at people who are suicide bombers or people who do this stuff, and the truth is people die for an unseen faith all the time. No one dies for what they know is an absolute lie.

Jo Vitale: Right.

Michael Davis: I will tell you, the Roman Empire would have loved to have published all over the place a recantation of one of the apostles or the early Christians. They would have published it everywhere. The fact that they did not get a single person to recant what they said, if that's not evidence enough, it' screams that this is absolutely the truth.

Jo Vitale: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Vince Vitale: That's really well said. One other alternative, this idea some people have said, I think Schleiermacher held to this view, that Jesus faked his death on the cross. Sometimes it's called the Swoon Theory. On the one hand, medically that's an incredible claim to make, that he even could have survived what he went through, both in the way he was tortured prior to the cross and then on the cross as well.

But the other point about that is, remember he shows up on the third day to his followers, and they worship him as divine. Even if Jesus somehow managed to escape from the cross, what he went through, he would have been hanging on to life-

Michael Davis: Barely, yeah.

Vince Vitale: Barely, if he were simply a human being and nothing more. There's no way you could have appeared to your followers three days later in any way that would have elicited worship. All it would have elicited is, "We need to get this person to a medic."

So the fact that he appeared in a way which caused Jewish people, who would have been so firm about the oneness of God, to worship Jesus, a human person as both fully human and fully divine, as God, speaks to the fact that that idea of Jesus faking his death is not plausible either.

And Jo's already spoken about the idea of legendary development. A hundred years ago that would have been a more dominant view. But we know that it takes two to three generations for any significant legendary development to work its way into an ancient text. And here we have this creed from 1 Corinthians 15, which is talking about all of these appearances of Jesus after his death. And it's dated to within just two years or less of his actual crucifixion.

And so, by the standards of trying to claim legendary development, it's not even close. It's just far, far too quick.

Michael Davis: Not to mention that the epistles come just a very, you know, 10 or 15 years after, and then the Gospels coming 50 or 60 years after. If you have a presupposition that this is false, you're going to try to find ways to disprove it, but this is not...Christianity is not based about a single person going out into the mountains and writing a book on living a life that is pleasing to God. It is a religion that is based on a man, who was killed and claimed to have risen from the dead.

If this is not true, this is literally the silliest way to start a religion of all time. It makes absolutely no sense.

Vince Vitale: Yeah, that's really well said. And I like what you said there, of course, if your starting point is a miracle never could have happened, well, yeah, you're going to come to that conclusion no matter what. But if you think it's at even possible that God could exist, that a miracle could have happened, you couldn't get more substantial evidence than what we have for the resurrection.

That just blew my mind when I first looked into it. And many people have found the same. One of my previous colleagues at Oxford University, Professor Richard Swinburne, Emeritus Professor now, I think he's probably the most influential British philosopher of religion of the last 60 years. He held the head post in philosophy of religion at Oxford. He published a book in 2003, it's called, The Resurrection of God Incarnate. And in that book, he argues that his conclusion is that on the available evidence today, it is 97% probable that Jesus literally, historically, miraculously rose from the dead.

Now, he says you can't take the number too seriously. He's not trying to say we can be that precise with these things. He likes to work with probability theory, and so he plugs in numbers that are just supposed to be guesstimates at each point in the argument. But still, the fact that someone of his intellectual credibility can make that sort of claim, make it in print, have it be published by Oxford University Press, and then defend that claim, and defend it strongly at top academic conferences around the world, shows that the idea that there simply couldn't be evidence for the resurrection of Jesus simply is not true.

And if you haven't looked into yourself, whether you're a non-Christian who needs to look into it so you can see, "Should I trust this person of Jesus?" Or whether you're a Christian who wants to be able to share your faith in a compelling way with your friends, look into the evidence for this. The Resurrection of God Incarnate is that book, that's quite a technical book. But there's also a simpler version of it, just called, Was Jesus God? That might be something worth picking up.

Michael Davis: And he also wrote a fantastic treatment on the resurrection in proving it as well.

Vince Vitale: That's right, sorry just to jump in there as well, because you were right, we should say, Gary Habermas, William Wayne Craig, Mike Licona, those would also be three of the key evangelical scholars that I would go to get more information on this.

Jo Vitale: I do want to say, just to encourage you, you don't even just need to go to the secondary sources, but just spend time reading the Gospels, spend time going over these texts. I find the level of detail, the eye witness material that's recorded there, just absolutely astonishing.

Just the little things, like for example, people often want to talk about Swoon Theory, right? But we know the Roman soldiers, actually, their responsibility was so serious when it came to crucifixion that if ever someone survived the experience of crucifixion, then the soldiers themselves would be put to death, because they were the ones responsible for ensuring that that took place.

And we see the detail recorded of that in the Gospels that actually Jesus, because of the seriousness of his wounds before the crucifixion, he actually dies earlier than the others. And so they don't break his legs like they would for everyone else to speed up asphyxiation. But what they do is they stab him in the side. They put a spear to his side to ensure that he really is dead.

Another detail that I find remarkable that just isn't something you would ever put into to the resurrection story if you were making this thing up, and I love this so much, is that it's the women who were the first witnesses to the resurrection. That's just so remarkable, at a time when women's testimony was considered so unreliable it wouldn't even be included in a Jewish court of law. And yet, the credibility of the resurrection, the most significant historical event of all time, rests upon the testimony of these women who were the first at the tomb.

So it's details like that you think, if someone was just sitting down to make up a story about this thing, that is not the way they would have had it go.

Michael Davis: So this actually leads into the next question, and I think really hits the pulse of why we're talking about this, it goes, "I believe in God, but does it really matter whether Jesus rose from the dead?"

Jo Vitale: Really great question here. Two things I would want to say to that, firstly that the resurrection matters because firstly it validates Jesus' identity. So, if Jesus wasn't raised from the dead, then he's essentially a failed prophet. Maybe his death is a good example for us of how to live well and die well and be sacrificial in the way that you do those things. But it wouldn't have any power.

And that's my second point, that actually we need the cross, we need Jesus to have died on the cross because that's the place where sin is defeated and where the consequence of sin, which is death, is also defeated. And the sign for us that sin has been defeated is the fact that Jesus overcomes death. And that's something that as Christians gives us hope, that for us too when we trust in Jesus, that not only will sin be defeated in our lives, but we too will be raised with Christ.

Vince Vitale: Yes, and Paul speaks to this directly as well. Actually, I love that in 1 Corinthians 15, we can answer both of these questions, the question about the evidence for the resurrection at the beginning of the chapter, and then later on verse 14, Paul says, "And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith." And then he says in verse 19, "If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied."

So this question, I believe in God but does it really matter whether Jesus rose from the dead? I think it could be a question about whether it's okay to prioritize feelings over facts. Maybe faith makes us feel good, does it actually matter if it's true if it's making you happy? And I think that's a really important question, I think it's a really important question for us as a society, and I think it's a question that we're going to be answering a lot, questions just like that, in the decades to come.

It's no longer a science fiction question, we're going to be answering questions about whether it's okay to get our primary feelings of happiness and pleasure from virtual reality, even though it's not actual reality. We're going to be answering the questions to the society about whether we're content to make love with sex robots when it's not actually making love. These are really difficult, in some ways morally they shouldn't be difficult, but they're going to be challenging questions for our society, and they're all questions about whether it's okay to prioritize feelings, even when they don't correlate with the facts.

I think that's really dangerous, and interestingly, we would not do that in any other realm of inquiry. We don't think it's okay to let a plane fly just because we want to get home more quickly and somebody wants to leave work early if the mechanics of the plane aren't functioning properly. We don't think it's okay to convict someone as guilty and short circuit the jury process because we want to get home for dinner. We don't generally think it's okay to let our feelings, rather than the facts of the matter, determine how we're going to act, what we're committed to, and what we trust.

I think it's very dangerous if we do that in the context of faith and religion as well.

Jo Vitale: And just one final point to this question, which is, you know, if you're saying I believe in God, does it matter whether Jesus raised from the dead? It really matters if you want to actually have a relationship with God as opposed to just intellectual assent. Because the truth of the matter is, if you take Jesus and the cross and the resurrection out of the picture, then what we're left with is a relationship with God that is going to depend on the way that we've lived. It's going to come down to our works and how good we've been or how bad we've been as to how God is going to judge us.

That's a little bit of a scary place for all of us to be in, because I think if we're really honest about the state of the human condition, the state of our own hearts, none of us are in a great situation when it comes to standing before God. In fact, the Bible talks about us being dead in our sins. It says we've all fallen short of the glory of God.

I was thinking about this the other day when my four year old God daughter, Charis, there's a nursery rhyme that she loves called Humpty Dumpty, I don't know if you have that in this country, but-

Michael Davis: We do.

Jo Vitale: It's a classic, but it goes, "Humpty Dumpty sat on the wall, Humpty Dumpty had a great fall. All the king's horses and all the king's men couldn't put Humpty Dumpty together again." And when you think about it, that's a totally tragic story that we tell our four year old children. It's pretty sad, and it's pretty brutal.

But actually, I think there's something kind of profound about it. I mean, isn't that the story of every single one of us? That basically we've fallen off the wall, we're lying in pieces. And try as we hard, nobody can put us back together again, not even ourselves. We've broken relationships with God, with each other, and ourselves in the process.

But the writer, Alex Potter, just adds that actually for the Christian, there's one line missing from that poem. And he says that it's this, "Humpty Dumpty sat on the wall, Humpty Dumpty had a great fall. All the king's horses and all the king's men couldn't put Humpty Dumpty back together again. But, the king could."

And I just think that's amazing, because isn't that exactly what happens at the cross? That the King of the Jews, the King of the universe is nailed to that cross in order to put us back together again. And then he cries out, "It is finished." And that's what's happening, that God comes down and he restores all of our broken pieces, and he puts us back together again so that we can be in relationship with him, so that we don't just have to intellectually believe in God, but we can actually know him for ourselves. And the resurrection is our hope of that, that is the sign we look to know that death will not be the end, but in Christ, we have the promise of eternal life.

Vince Vitale: Amen, count me in. That's fantastic. And I think you're absolutely right, Jo, it's about relationship. How much it matters that the resurrection is based in truth.

One of the worst things that can happen in life is if you go through life in a relationship where you think someone loves you, and then you find out much later on that in fact they never loved you.

And Christianity, without the truth of the resurrection, would be to live a life of faith where you think that God is the person who loves you most, and that's the person that you love most. And then at the end, you find out not only that that love didn't exist, but that the person himself didn't even exist. That would be a devastating realization and shows how the truth of the resurrection is what our faith needs to be founded on.

Michael Davis: Well, guys, we are out of time. Vince, sum it up for us.

Vince Vitale: Well, I think we've covered a lot of ground here. But I hope what you're taking away is one, that there is such compelling evidence for the resurrection of Jesus, and if you have thought that faith and reason are in any way opposed, that is not the case. And starting with the evidence for the resurrection is a great way to see that.

And then the second question of, does it really matter? I believe in God, maybe I have a faith of some sort, does it really matter if it's true if it's based in facts? And we want to say that yes, it does. Christianity cannot do the things it claims it can do if it is not based on facts.

It claims that Jesus can grant forgiveness, it claims that life transformation is possible, God's Spirit can come to live within you and empower you to live the life that you were created to live. It claims that it can provide eternal life, that Jesus has gone to prepare a place for us. And Jesus claims that ultimately there's going to be a justice in the end.

None of those things can happen if Christianity is not based on facts. And so, I'm so glad that it is.

Michael Davis: Vince and Jo, thank you all for joining me. And everyone, happy Easter!

Jo Vitale: Happy Easter!

Vince Vitale: Have a great Easter!

Michael Davis: Catch you guys next week.

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