Overwhelming evidence for the resurrection

Christopher Seaman, 24 April 2022

Acts 5: 27–32; Revelation 1: 4–8; John 20: 19–31

‘Your faith is useless!’

I’d better complete that quote from St Paul: ‘If Christ has not been raised from the dead, your faith is useless!’

St Paul, as usual, hits on a great truth here. Our Christian faith has a huge influence on our lives. It affects our principles and our standards. It affects our choices, our sacrifices, and for some it brings enormous risks and danger. So we need it to be based on something that actually happened.

Today, the Sunday after Easter, was traditionally called Low Sunday, probably because after all the rejoicing and celebrations of Easter, some people felt it to be a bit of an anticlimax. They may indeed have felt a bit low.

We are people of faith, but we are also people of feelings. We have highs and lows. We hear some folk say, ‘I really felt that God was with me in that situation’. Or, after a terrible experience or tragedy, people may want to echo Jesus’ words from the cross: ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’

So a faith that depends on feelings alone isn’t enough to get us through. I was at a prayer meeting some years ago, and afterwards a friend said, ‘You know, Chris, I felt at tonight’s meeting, for the first time this week, the Holy Spirit was really working’. I just managed to stop myself from saying, ‘Oh, so the Holy Spirit only works when you feel that something is going on’.

I need to know – we all need to know – that God is active and working in our lives when we feel that nothing whatsoever is going on. You and I need to know that when we feel spiritually ‘dry’, or just generally low, God is with us and active. Otherwise, God is just the size of our feelings, coming and going as they go up and down. We need him to be much bigger than that. St John, in his first letter, puts this perfectly: ‘God is greater than our hearts, and knows everything’.

We all need to know that God is active and working in our lives when we feel that nothing whatsoever is going on. Otherwise, God is just the size of our feelings.

So it’s good to know that believing as a Christian isn’t like believing in Father Christmas or the Tooth Fairy. It’s based on something enormous that really happened: the resurrection of Jesus Christ. As Paul said, ‘Without the resurrection, your faith is useless!’

Many people don’t realise that the evidence for the resurrection is overwhelming. There’s the written evidence, in all four gospels, written and discovered in different places and at different times – amazingly similar, but different enough in detail for there to have been no conspiracy. The earliest written account we have is from St Paul, in his first letter to the Corinthians, where he repeats what the disciples had told him about Jesus’ death, resurrection and various appearances to the disciples. It is now thought that Paul’s evidence was written only about 20 years after the resurrection.

Then there’s the archaeological evidence – there are Christian tombs dating from the second century, which could easily have contained the bodies of people whose parents had seen the risen Christ.

Then there’s the disciples – changed from terrified men cowering behind locked doors to men who boldly proclaimed that Christ was risen.

Many of us will remember the Watergate scandal in America, which toppled President Nixon. One of the men convicted and sent to prison was Chuck Colson. He came to faith in prison after reading Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis. This is what Colson wrote: ‘I know that Jesus’ resurrection is a fact, and Watergate proved it to me. How? Because the 12 disciples testified that they had seen Jesus raised from the dead, than proclaimed it for 40 years, never once denying it. Every one was beaten, tortured, stoned and imprisoned. They would not have endured that if it weren’t true. But Watergate embroiled 12 of the most powerful men in the world, and they couldn’t keep up a lie for three weeks! You’re telling me that the 12 disciples could keep up a lie for 40 years? Absolutely impossible.’ So wrote Chuck Colson.

Indeed, some people might be willing to die for a passionately held belief, but not for a piece of flagrant deception.

Why is the resurrection so important? As C. S. Lewis said, because it proves that Jesus was indeed who he said he was, and that he had done what he came to do. In the words of St Paul, ‘God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself’. So you and I, whatever we’ve done, or whatever we’ve been, can be reconciled to God and accepted by him.

When I was eight, a new magazine for young people came out, called the Eagle. It was so good that my friends and I gave up reading the Beano and the Dandy. The editor of the Eagle was a priest, and the back page always had a story, in cartoon form, with Christian content.

One Easter it told the story of the young man, mentioned only in St Mark’s gospel, who was around when Jesus was arrested. The Roman soldiers, suspecting him of being involved, grabbed him by the cloak. He escaped by leaving the cloak behind and running off. Some people believe that was Mark himself; we don’t know. Anyway, the Eagle told an imaginative story with a wonderful truth. A few days after Jesus’ crucifixion, the young Mark wanted to see the disciples. He went upstairs to the room where they were, but of course the door was locked. He was about to bang on the door when to his surprise he heard Jesus’ voice inside. And this is what he heard Jesus say: ‘Thomas, because you have seen, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen, and yet have believed.’ Mark said, ‘Not seen, but believed? He means me! I won’t go in.’

Yes, he meant Mark, and he means you and me, today. Let us pray.

Dear Lord, we have not seen, but we do believe, however falteringly. And you say that we are blessed. We pray, on this Low Sunday, for a fresh experience of your resurrection in our own lives. And we pray especially for resurrection in any good parts of ourselves which we may possibly have allowed to die just a little, after everything we have been through. We ask this for the sake of him who is indeed the resurrection and the life, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.