Episode 17: What is the Central Event of Christianity? + Top 20 Quotes on The Resurrection. (And a Word on Discernment Bloggers)
Today’s Bible reading is Genesis 18, Nehemiah 7, Matthew 17 and Acts 17. Once again, we are faced with several thick and significant scriptural passages: Genesis 18 features three ‘men’ visiting Abraham and Sarah, one of whom is God Himself. It also features an incredible intercessory conversation between God and Abraham about the fate of Sodom. In Matthew 17, we see The Transfiguration of Jesus and His meeting with Moses and Elijah high atop a mountain. And in Nehemiah, well – we have an incredibly long list of Hebrew names, and I’m sure I’ll butcher several of them, but especially Nephishesim and Pochereth-hazzebaim. Our featured chapter today is going to be Acts 17, because it is strongly focused on the resurrection, and I think the resurrection is the central event of our faith, and there’s literally nothing I enjoy more than talking about the resurrection and rational reasons to believe that the resurrection of Jesus was a literal, historical event. If that interests you too, then you might check out my book, Easter Fact or Fiction: 20 Reasons to Believe that Jesus Factually Rose from the Dead. (CLICK HERE) And yes, this podcast is absolutely my secret method for becoming the next Bill Gates 99 cents at a time by luring you into buying my books on Amazon!
Great passage, Acts 17 – so many wonderful episodes here. I would be remiss not to mention the Bereans, who eagerly received God’s Word through Paul AND searched the Word of God to confirm the teachings of Paul. For this response, Paul commends them as ‘of more noble character” than the Thessalonians. Many online ministries, often called ‘discernment ministries,’ have sought to emulate these Noble Bereans by evaluating the teaching of many Bible teachers, and judging whether or not that teaching lines up with the Bible. That’s great, to a degree. As a pastor, I want the people in our church to search the Scriptures, know the Scriptures, follow the Scriptures, and measure my teaching against the Scriptures.
Discernment is wonderful and biblical. But – the Bereans EAGERLY heard the Word. They did not have the posture of professional critics. They weren’t hanging on Paul’s words to judge them and then go and post on their blog all the errors they perceived. They eagerly listened and then confirmed the truth of Paul’s preaching with the Word. Not as professional critics, but as eager listeners who valued the Word of God. The Body of Christ does not need people who’s sole purpose is to attack and tear down other ministries. People who spend all their time criticizing may not realize it, but they will slowly become monsters worse than those they criticize. When you set yourself up as the judge and arbiter of all that is biblically orthodox, you are assuming a position for yourself that is not really available in Christianity. So – yes! Call people passionately to biblical truth, but take care that you do not yourself violate God’s commands on HOW to do so, and take care that you do not become a professional or hobbyist criticizer. Rather, be an encourager and an exhorter. The world is already overpopulated with critics. We need faithful biblical truth holders who walk in uncompromising doctrinal truth AND uncompromising humility and gentle love. /Soap box
In Acts 17, we see Paul bring up the resurrection of Jesus 3 times in three different circumstances: To the people of Thessalonica, the to the men of Athens, and during his message at the Aeropagus. In all three instances, we see how crucial and central the message of the resurrection is:
2 As usual, Paul went into the synagogue, and on three Sabbath days reasoned with them from the Scriptures, 3 explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Messiah to suffer and rise from the dead: “This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Messiah.Acts 17:2-3
17 So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and with those who worshiped God, as well as in the marketplace every day with those who happened to be there. 18 Some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers also debated with him. Some said, “What is this ignorant show-off trying to say?” Others replied, “He seems to be a preacher of foreign deities”—because he was telling the good news about Jesus and the resurrection.Acts 17:17-18
29 Since we are God’s offspring then, we shouldn’t think that the divine nature is like gold or silver or stone, an image fashioned by human art and imagination. 30 “Therefore, having overlooked the times of ignorance, God now commands all people everywhere to repent, 31 because he has set a day when he is going to judge the world in righteousness by the man he has appointed. He has provided proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.”Acts 17:29-31
Very little of what Paul proclaims is mentioned, but in every case, he keeps pointing back to this one central and massive truth: Jesus Christ died and was raised from the dead. This is the very center of the Christian faith – the central truth and the primary claim that everything else radiates out from. In 1 Corinthians 15 (THE resurrection chapter) we see that the entirety of Christianity falls down without the resurrection:
Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say, “There is no resurrection of the dead”? 13 If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised; 14 and if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation is in vain, and so is your faith. 15 Moreover, we are found to be false witnesses about God, because we have testified wrongly about God that he raised up Christ—whom he did not raise up, if in fact the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. 18 Those, then, who have fallen asleep in Christ have also perished. 19 If we have put our hope in Christ for this life only, we should be pitied more than anyone.1 Corinthians 15:12-19
Did you catch that? If Christians are just following Jesus because He offers comfort, or because He is a good moral teacher, or something like that, then they are to be pitied more than anyone. There are many churches and denominations in the world that have drifted so far from the Bible that they have essentially humanized Jesus. Despite the fact that the message from the earliest days of the first century Christian church has been Christ crucified and raised from the dead, some church going people think that the miracles in the Bible are myths, legends, and exaggerations. They teach that the real miracle of the Feeding of the Five Thousand was that Jesus taught people to share. They teach that Jesus didn’t walk on water, but that he walked on a shallow, slightly underwater shoal. They teach that Jesus didn’t truly rise from the dead, but that He somehow lives on in the hearts and memories of His followers, with His natural body dying and decaying. Hogwash, all of that! Paul says that this type of attitude – a resurrectionless Christianity – is the most pitiful thing in the entire world, and I couldn’t agree more! Over and over again in Acts, we have seen the earliest apostles and teachers proclaim this one primary truth: Jesus rose from the dead. Christian – let that be the center of your proclamation of the good news as well. In this is hope, in this is truth, in this is the good news to a lost and dying world!
This Jesus of Nazareth was a man attested to you by God with miracles, wonders, and signs that God did among you through him, just as you yourselves know. 23 Though he was delivered up according to God’s determined plan and foreknowledge, you used lawless people to nail him to a cross and kill him. 24 God raised him up, ending the pains of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by death.Acts 17:22-24
Top Twenty Quotes on the Resurrection of Jesus (From Spiritual Giants like Spurgeon, Lewis and more!) In no particular order…
The New Testament writers speak as if Christ’s achievement in rising from the dead was the first event of its kind in the whole history of the universe. He is the ‘first fruits’, the ‘pioneer of life’. He has forced open a door that has been locked since the death of the first man. He has met, fought, and beaten the King of Death. Everything is different because He has done so. This is the beginning of the New Creation: a new chapter in cosmic history has opened.C. S. Lewis, A Year with C. S. Lewis: Daily Readings from His Classic Works, ed. Patricia S. Klein, 1st ed. (New York: HarperOne, 2003), 172.
He died, but he vanquished death; in himself he put an end to what we feared; he took it upon himself and he vanquished it, as a mighty hunter he captured and slew the lion. Where is death? Seek it in Christ, for it exists no longer; but it did exist and now it is dead. O life, O death of death! Be of good heart; it will die in us, also. What has taken place in our head will take place in his members; death will die in us also. But when? At the end of the world, at the resurrection of the dead in which we believe and concerning which we do not doubt.Augustine – 300s-400s AD: Thomas C. Oden and Christopher A. Hall, eds., Mark, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2005), 244–245.
The whole system of Christianity rests upon the fact that “Christ is risen from the dead;” for, “If Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain: ye are yet in your sins.” The divinity of Christ finds its surest proof in his resurrection, since he was “Declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead.” It would not be unreasonable to doubt his Deity if he had not risen. Moreover, Christ’s sovereignty depends upon his resurrection, “For to this end Christ both died, and rose, and revived, that he might be Lord both of the dead and living.” Again, our justification, that choice blessing of the covenant, is linked with Christ’s triumphant victory over death and the grave; for “He was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification.” Nay, more, our very regeneration is connected with his resurrection, for we are “Begotten again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” And most certainly our ultimate resurrection rests here, for, “If the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you.” If Christ be not risen, then shall we not rise; but if he be risen then they who are asleep in Christ have not perished, but in their flesh shall surely behold their God. Thus, the silver thread of resurrection runs through all the believer’s blessings, from his regeneration onwards to his eternal glory, and binds them together.C. H. Spurgeon, Morning and Evening: Daily Readings (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1896).
And if death was formerly strong, and on that account an object of terror, but now after the sojourn of the Saviour, and the death and resurrection of His body, it is evident that it is by the very Christ who ascended the cross that death has been brought to naught and vanquished.Athanasius of Alexandria, Athanasius: On the Incarnation of the Word of God, trans. T. Herbert Bindley, Second Edition Revised. (London: The Religious Tract Society, 1903), 95.
I want you to notice that this evidence was all the better, because they themselves evidently remained the same men as they had been. “They were terrified and affrighted, and supposed that they had seen a spirit”; and thus they did exactly what they had done long before when he came to them walking on the waters. In the interval between his death and his appearing, no change has come over them. Nothing has happened to them to elevate them as yet out of their littleness of mind. The Holy Spirit was not yet given, and therefore all that they had heard at the Last Supper, and seen in Gethsemane, and at the cross had not yet exercised its full influence upon them: they were still childish and unbelieving. The same men, then, are looking at the same person, and they are in their ordinary condition; this argues strongly for the correctness of their identification of their well-beloved Lord. They are not carried away by enthusiasm, nor wafted aloft by fanaticism; they are not even as yet upborne by the Holy Spirit into an unusual state of mind, but they are as slow of heart and as fearful as ever they were. If they are convinced that Jesus has risen from the dead, depend upon it, it must be so. If they go forth to tell the tidings of his resurrection, and to yield up their lives for it, you may be sure that their witness is true, for they are not the sort of men to be deceivedC. H. Spurgeon, “The First Appearance of the Risen Lord to the Eleven,” in The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Sermons, vol. 33 (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1887), 220.
Now Paul is laying a foundation here that, if we’re not careful, can seem pretty elementary to us. Okay, Jesus rose from the dead, and we can almost read these verses with a ho-hum sense of monotony, thinking, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, okay, I know that.” But think about that. Because there’s nothing ho-hum about that. We’re talking about a man who died, who died a violent death, the most violent death conceivable in that day. And then, after three days dead, He came to life and appeared to people. Can you imagine going to somebody’s funeral, going to their burial, seeing their dead body placed in the ground. And then a week later that person physically walking up to you and saying, “Hello.” That’s crazy! It’s crazy good; it’s the greatest news in all the world: Death has been defeated! May this never be ho-hum for us. May we never forget that the reason we gather together every Sunday is not to hear this pastor or that pastor preach. The reason we gather together every Sunday is because for the last 2000 years, Christians have come together on the first day of the week to remember that Jesus has risen from the dead, and He is alive!David Platt, “The Church at Brook Hills—Part 2,” in David Platt Sermon Archive (Birmingham, AL: David Platt, 2014), 4522–4523.
He has changed sunset into sunrise, and through the cross brought death to life; and having wrenched man from destruction, He has raised him to the skies, transplanting mortality into immortality, and translating earth to heaven.Clement of Alexandria 100s-200s AD: Elliot Ritzema, 300 Quotations for Preachers from the Early Church, Pastorum Series (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2013).
Wherefore he is also said to be “firstborn from the dead,” not because he died before us, since we died first, but because he suffered death for us and abolished it, and therefore, as man, was the first to rise, raising his own body for our sakes. Therefore, since he has risen, we too shall rise from the dead from him and through him.Athanasius 200s-300s AD: William C. Weinrich, ed., Revelation, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2005), 5.
Actually he conquered death by his resurrection. This was the day of grace’s triumph: this day he showed to heaven, to hell, and to earth, that death was conquerable; yea, that this personal death was actually overcome. The blessed souls beheld it to their joy, beholding in the resurrection of their Head, a virtual resurrection of their own bodies. The devils saw it, and therefore saw that they had no hopes of holding the bodies of the saints in the power of the grave. The damned souls were acquainted with it, and therefore knew that their sinful bodies must be restored to bear their part in suffering. The believing saints on earth perceive it, and therefore see that their bonds are broken, and that to the righteous there is hope in death; and that our head being actually risen, assureth us that we shall also rise. “For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him:” (1 Thess. 4:14:) and as “Christ being raised from the dead, dieth no more, death hath no more dominion over him;” (Rom. 6:9;) so shall we rise and die no more. This was the beginning of the church’s triumph. “This is the day that the Lord hath made, (even the day which the church on earth must celebrate with joy and praise, till the day of our resurrection;) we will rejoice and be glad in it.” (Psalm 118:24.) The resurrection of our Lord hath, 1st, assured us of the consummation of his satisfaction; 2d, of the truth of all his word, and so of his promises of our resurrection; 3d, that death is actually conquered, and a resurrection possible; 4th, that believers shall certainly rise when their head and Saviour is risen to prepare them an everlasting kingdom, and to assure them that thus he will raise them at the last. A bare promise would not have been so strong a help to faith, as to the actual rising of Christ, as a pledge of the performance. “But now Christ is risen from the dead, and become the first-fruits of them that slept:” (1 Cor. 15:20:) “for because he liveth, we shall live also.” (John 14:19.)Richard Baxter and William Orme, The Practical Works of the Rev. Richard Baxter, vol. 17 (London: James Duncan, 1830), 538–539.
We are more than conquerors over death through Christ. God gives us the victory over death. But more than victory. Death is defeated by Jesus. He is bound in the chains of resurrection power so that he cannot destroy us. But more than that. More than that! Death is handed over, bound and defeated, as a servant to the church. We are more than conquerors because death is not just defeated and kept from destroying us; it is enslaved and made the servant of God’s people… So death is your servant. The enemy is defeated, bound, enslaved, and delivered into the service of the saints.So it was not naïve romanticizing when Zeke Rudolf called death sweet names. It was not immature glamorizing or embellishing of death when Andrew Rivet said that he had learned more truth about God during ten days in the valley of death than in fifty years of study. Defeated death had become their servant. The terrible enemy had become the tutor of heaven. So it is with the enemies of God. Even in their destruction they are made to serve the saints.John Piper, Sermons from John Piper (1990–1999) (Minneapolis, MN: Desiring God, 2007).
Everywhere deceit recoils upon itself and against its will supports the truth. Observe: It was necessary to believe that he died, and that he rose again, and that he was buried and that all these things were brought to pass by his enemies. Note, at any rate, these words bearing witness to every one of these facts. “We remember that that deceiver said, when he was yet alive” (he was therefore now dead), “ ‘After three days I rise again.’ Command therefore that the sepulcher be sealed” (he was therefore buried), “lest his disciples come and steal him away.” Since the sepulcher was sealed, there could be no funny business. So then the proof of his resurrection has become incontrovertible by what they themselves have put forward. For because the tomb was sealed, there was no deceitfulness at work. But if there was no sleight of hand and the sepulcher was found empty, it is clear that he has risen, plainly and incontrovertibly. Do you see how even against their will his enemies contend for the proof of the truth?John Chrysostom 300-400s AD Manlio Simonetti, ed., Matthew 14-28, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2002), 301.
It would not have sufficed for the chief priests, scribes and Pharisees to have crucified the Lord our Savior if they had not also guarded the tomb, called in the military, sealed the entrance and, as far as they were able, resisted the resurrection. Their concern for these details serves only to advance our faith; the greater their precautionary care, the more fully is revealed the power of the resurrection. Thus he was buried in a new tomb cut from rock. If the tomb had been constructed from a mound of stones, it could have been said that his body was excavated from underneath the stones and secretly removed. That he had to be buried in a sepulcher is also shown by the prophecy which says, “He will dwell in a deep cave cut from the strongest rock,” and again, two verses further: “You will see the king in his glory.Jerome 300s-400s AD: Manlio Simonetti, ed., Matthew 14-28, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2002), 302.
So the angel became an evangelist and herald of the resurrection to the women. “Do not seek,” he says, “the one who” always “lives,” who in his own nature is life, “among the dead. He is not here,” that is, dead and in the tomb, “but he has been raised.” He has become a way of ascent to immortality not only for himself but also for us. For this reason he made himself nothing and put on our likeness, that “by the grace of God,” just as the blessed Paul says, “he might taste death on behalf of all.”23 And so he has become the death of deathCyril of Alexandria, 300s-400s AD: Manlio Simonetti, ed., Matthew 14-28, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2002), 307.
“Then go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and behold, he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him.” The angel here is preparing the women to take the good news to the other disciples. They are to tell of the evidence that made them believe—the empty tomb. Furthermore, “he is going before you to Galilee.” He says this to relieve them from anxieties and the fear of danger, that their faith not be hinderedJohn Chrysostom 300-400s AD Manlio Simonetti, ed., Matthew 14-28, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2002), 308.
“CAN these dry bones live?” is still the unbeliever’s sneer. The doctrine of the resurrection is a lamp kindled by the hand which once was pierced. It is indeed in some respects the key-stone of the Christian arch. It is linked in our holy faith with the person of Jesus Christ, and is one of the brightest gems in his crown. What if I call it the signet on his finger, the seal by which he hath proven to a demonstration, that he hath the king’s authority, and hath come forth from God?C. H. Spurgeon, Flashes of Thought (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1874), 360.
It is by the power of the resurrection of Christ that Thomas, who was so deep and obdurate in unbelief, was so suddenly changed, became an entirely different man, who publicly and freely confesses that he not only believes that Christ is risen, but is also enlightened by the power of Christ’s resurrection so that he firmly believes and confesses that he, his Lord, is the true God and man; so he will also arise from the dead on the judgment day and live forever with him in indescribable glory and blessedness.Martin Luther and John Sander, Devotional Readings from Luther’s Works for Every Day of the Year (Rock Island, IL: Augustana Book Concern, 1915), 261.
It’s one thing to “believe that” Jesus rose from the dead and is who He said He was, but it’s another to “believe in” Him as Savior. Every one of us, at some point in our investigation of the claims of Christianity, has to move from “belief that” to “belief in.” I can remember when this happened for me. As a rebellious, self-reliant detective, I initially denied my need for a Savior, even though I accepted what the Gospels told me about that Savior. In order to take a step from “belief that” to “belief in,” I needed to move from an examination of Jesus to an examination of me. As I read the Gospels for a second and third time and explored all of the New Testament Scripture, I began to focus more on what it said about me than what it said about Jesus. I didn’t like what I saw. Over and over again, I recognized the truth about my own character, behavior, and need for forgiveness; I began to understand my need for repentance. The facts about Jesus confirmed that He was the Savior; the facts about me confirmed my need to trust in Him for forgiveness. I was now ready to move from “belief that” to “belief in.”Alive by J. Warner Wallace, 2014
Then we come to the strangest story of all, the story of the Resurrection. It is very necessary to get the story clear. I heard a man say, ‘The importance of the Resurrection is that it gives evidence of survival, evidence that the human personality survives death.’ On that view what happened to Christ would be what had always happened to all men, the difference being that in Christ’s case we were privileged to see it happening. This is certainly not what the earliest Christian writers thought. Something perfectly new in the history of the Universe had happened. Christ had defeated death. The door which had always been locked had for the very first time been forced open. This is something quite distinct from mere ghost-survival. I don’t mean that they disbelieved in ghost-survival. On the contrary, they believed in it so firmly that, on more than one occasion, Christ had had to assure them that He was not a ghost. The point is that while believing in survival they yet regarded the Resurrection as something totally different and new. The Resurrection narratives are not a picture of survival after death; they record how a totally new mode of being has arisen in the Universe. Something new had appeared in the Universe: as new as the first coming of organic life. This Man, after death, does not get divided into ‘ghost’ and ‘corpse’. A new mode of being has arisen. That is the story. What are we going to make of it?C. S. Lewis, God in the Dock, ed. Walter Hooper (HarperOne, 1994), 169–170.
Great, then, was the mercy of God the Father. He sent the creative Word, who, when he came to save us, put himself in our position, and in the same situation in which we lost life. He loosed the prison bonds, and his light appeared and dispelled the darkness in the prison, and he sanctified our birth and abolished death, loosing those same bonds by which we were held. He showed forth the resurrection, becoming himself the firstborn from the dead, and raised in himself prostrate man, being lifted up to the heights of heaven, at the right hand of the glory of the Father.Irenaeus 100s-200s AD: William C. Weinrich, ed., Revelation, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2005), 4–5.
Humanity must embrace death freely, submit to it with total humility, drink it to the dregs, and so convert it into that mystical death which is the secret of life. But only a Man who did not need to have been a Man at all unless He had chosen, only one who served in our sad regiment as a volunteer, yet also only one who was perfectly a Man, could perform this perfect dying; and thus (which way you put it is unimportant) either defeat death or redeem it. He tasted death on behalf of all others. He is the representative ‘Die-er’ of the universe: and for that very reason the Resurrection and the Life. Or conversely, because He truly lives, He truly dies, for that is the very pattern of reality. Because the higher can descend into the lower He who from all eternity has been incessantly plunging Himself in the blessed death of self-surrender to the Father can also most fully descend into the horrible and (for us) involuntary death of the body. Because Vicariousness is the very idiom of the reality He has created, His death can become ours. The whole Miracle, far from denying what we already know of reality, writes the comment which makes that crabbed text plain: or rather, proves itself to be the text on which Nature was only the commentary. In science we have been reading only the notes to a poem; in Christianity we find the poem itself.C. S. Lewis, A Year with C. S. Lewis: Daily Readings from His Classic Works, ed. Patricia S. Klein, 1st ed. (New York: HarperOne, 2003), 139.