Sufficient and Necessary – Matthew 28:1-10 04/04/2021
One of the things that distinguishes Christianity from many other world religions is that it’s founded on historic events. Certainly, we’re called to walk by faith, but it’s not a blind faith. God provides more than enough evidence to arrive at the truth… if we’re willing to honestly look at it. We have the testimony of creation that almost screams out, “I was created!” This is true at a macro level as we consider the universe and our very precise positioning in it. It also is true at the micro level as we consider the mystery of the atom, microbes, even life itself.
We have direct revelation from God’s creation, but we also have the testimony of the Scriptures, our Bible, which is an amazing collection of writings. This includes both the Hebrew Scriptures, and the New Testament. No other book is as widely published, and widely read, in spite of repeated attempts to discredit it. The Bible has stood the test of time.
Now, it’s through the Hebrew Scriptures that it was predicted that the Messiah would be rejected, suffer a violent death, and be resurrected. Jesus explained this to two men as He walked with them after His resurrection as recorded in Luke 24:25-27. In fact, Jesus plainly stated that He would die and rise again in Matthe4w 17:22-23. That makes Jesus death and resurrection the keystone of Christianity. His credibility is destroyed if He did not rise from the dead. Jesus cannot be God the Son and make this statement and be either be wrong or lying.
So, the truth of Jesus’ resurrection becomes critically important for the Christian Church. Without the resurrection, Christianity becomes a collapsing house of cards. Either Jesus’ resurrection is an historic event, or Christianity is a false religion and we may as well go play with the children’s Easter bunnies.
How do we know Christianity is true? That takes some explaining. At the outset, it is clear that there are two things historians will almost universally accept as historically true: Jesus was a real person and he was crucified. Things become less universally acknowledged after that.
Now, as we consider the historic event of Jesus rising from the dead there are some uncomfortable truths that we’re going to have to acknowledge right out of the gate. When it comes to history we cannot “prove” that Jesus rose from the dead in the same way we can prove a mathematical formula or an argument in symbolic logic or some scientific theorem. Science and logic and mathematics are based on repeatable events. 2+2 always = 4. A circle can never have four equal sides. History, by its very nature is not repeatable. It has happened, and it is gone, even though the past affects the present and future in very real ways.
With history, all that we can do is infer what’s most likely and most reasonable… based on the evidence. So let’s be honest, how likely and reasonable does it seem that a poor Jewish carpenter living 2021 years ago would rise from the dead after being tortured and crucified by the Romans? Frankly, we know from observation that dead people do not physically return from the dead; this simply does not happen. Especially in the way Jesus rose, glorified and never to die again. The fact that dead people never rise from the dead is not a new observation. The ancient peoples weren’t stupid, they knew that dead people stay dead. It is this reality that makes the claims of Christianity so startling.
But… Jesus did die. Roman soldiers were very good at making sure those sentenced to be executed actually died. When the spear of the Roman soldier pierced Jesus’ side and clear fluid came out of the wound, this was clear evidence that Jesus was dead. There are few events in ancient history with better evidence for the truth of this fact. And yet, the Disciples, the early Church, and the Church down through the ages, has believed more than this. They (that would be “we”) believe that Jesus rose from the dead after three days, as the Jews recon days. Why?
Well, because Jesus did not stay dead. What’s more, He didn’t keep it a secret, He revealed Himself, he revealed Himself to a lot of people, starting with the women who followed Him, and then repeatedly to His disciples, and then to a large crowd. So we have all this written in some old scrolls… and because of that, we talk about the resurrection of Jesus Christ all the time. But, really, how do we know it happened? After all, it’s not something that happens every day. In fact… it’s not something that happens… ever.
And yet, the early Church, and the Church down through the centuries, has sincerely believed that Jesus rose from the dead. In fact, based on early writings of the Church, virtually all of the early Christians, that we have any record of anyway, believed this. Why? How do we explain why people believed something so far in the past, in fact over 2000 years ago in the past? In seeking to understand why people during a particular time in history believed something (and we have plenty of evidence that they believed Jesus died and rose again glorified) there are two things that historians examine. These two things are necessity and sufficiency.
So we have to ask, “What’s necessary to explain that the first Christians, and then early church, believed that Jesus rose from the dead?” Well, first we need an empty tomb. Although many possible scenarios have been suggested to explain the empty tomb over the centuries, the reality is when all the evidence is examined, none of them stand up to cross examination. In fact, no one who has investigated this seriously doubts that the tomb was, in fact, empty. Even Jesus’ opponents didn’t challenge that assertion, too many people knew about it. So they had to deal with the reality that the tomb was empty.
The tomb was empty, that detail is clear. Does belief in the resurrection of Jesus require an empty tomb? The answer is an unqualified yes. If you have Jesus’ dead body still lying in the tomb you simply cannot explain the belief that Jesus rose from the dead. It is necessary for the tomb to be empty to explain why the Church believed Jesus rose.
However, although it is necessary for the tomb to be empty to believe in the resurrection, is just the empty tomb sufficient to explain belief in Jesus’ resurrection? The answer is, “No.” There’re many other possible explanations for an empty tomb, one of the most common simply being grave robbers. Like us, the people of the first century would first look for other more reasonable explanations for an empty tomb.
So… what else is needed to explain belief in the resurrection? The fact that so many people actually saw Jesus, spoke to Jesus, and ate with Jesus. Each of these encounters had a strong sense of physicality about them. The Book of Acts opens with the statement that Jesus provided proof that it was Him, and that He had a real physical body. Then there are numerous records of people who saw and interacted with Jesus, including His female followers, the disciples on multiple occasions, and later by Paul. The biblical record makes it clear that evidence for the presence of a physical, living, body was required. And that is exactly what we find.
The Apostle John and many of the women watched as Jesus died. They watched as the spear was thrust into His side. They saw the fluids flow out. They watched as He was buried in a tomb. With this knowledge, seeing Him alive would be sufficient to conclude that Jesus was raised from the dead. These two events, the empty tomb and the post-death appearances of Jesus, together, are both necessary and sufficient to explain the Church’s belief that Jesus rose from the dead. What we find is that the early followers of Jesus, beyond anything they expected, were faced with the necessary and sufficient evidence to believe Jesus was literally risen from the dead.
All of this is more important than idle speculation. It has immediate implications for the Church, and it has eternal implications for all people everywhere. As unlikely as it may seem, as terrifying as its implications are, the resurrection of Jesus Christ is the fundamental basis for the existence of Christianity. It’s because of their belief that Jesus literally rose from the dead that the early Church’s worshipped Jesus as Messiah, Savior, and Lord. It is based on this belief that the Church knew that God had inaugurated the long awaited new age and their own hope of resurrection. Because Jesus did, in fact, rise from the dead, those who follow Him by faith are alive in an entirely new way as the life of Jesus, the power of God, works on us, in us, and through us to the world around us.
Since Jesus claimed to be God prior to His execution/sacrifice, and since we have more than ample evidence to conclude this is the truth, it is inconsistent to believe that He has risen from the dead and not worship and follow Him. When all the evidence is examined, something that I’ve only touched on, what you find is that the evidence leaves little room for doubt. The foundational facts of the empty tomb and the resurrected Jesus can be proven beyond any reasonable doubt.
It’s not enough to simply know about these things. We have to act on them. This is true for those who are following Jesus, and those who have not yet decided. Ultimately, God asks us to surrender ourselves to Him. When we do, He begins to live through us, to change us, to make us what we were always intended to be. He offers to give us new life, abundant life, right now. But more than that, He offers to grant us eternal life. He promises that we, too, will be literally resurrected to live in a new world, not some cloudy nether-sphere, but a new physical world free from pain and fear and suffering and death. He offers Himself to us, to live in friendship with our God.
What will you do with that offer?
 Michael Brown, Resurrected: Easter Sunday is What Separates Jesus Christ From Every Other So-Called Messiah, In Charisma, April 2020, (Charisma Media, Lake Mary, FL.: 2020), 32.  Adrian Warnock, Raised with Christ: How the Resurrection Changes Everything, (CrossWay, Wheaton, IL.: 2010), 38.  Adrian Warnock, Raised with Christ: How the Resurrection Changes Everything, (CrossWay, Wheaton, IL.: 2010), 43.  Adrian Warnock, Raised with Christ: How the Resurrection Changes Everything, (CrossWay, Wheaton, IL.: 2010), 31.  N.T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God, (Fortress Press, Minneapolis, MN.: 2003), 687.  N.T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God, (Fortress Press, Minneapolis, MN.: 2003), 687.  Lee Strobel, The Case for Christ: A Journalist’s Personal Investigation of the Evidence for Jesus, (Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI.: 1998), 216.  Lee Strobel, The Case for Christ: A Journalist’s Personal Investigation of the Evidence for Jesus, (Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI.: 1998), 214.  Adrian Warnock, Raised with Christ: How the Resurrection Changes Everything, (CrossWay, Wheaton, IL.: 2010), 30.