At the very core of Christianity is the historical authenticity of the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ. But for His resurrection, we would not be celebrating His birth.
The Apostle Paul said, “And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.”
Christian apologist Josh McDowell spent more than 700 hours studying the subject of the resurrection and concluded that it “is one of the most wicked, vicious, heartless hoaxes ever foisted upon the minds of men, or it is the most amazing fact of history.” When a university student asked him why he was unable to refute Christianity, McDowell responded, “For a very simple reason: I am not able to explain away an event in history – the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”
The Old Testament prophets and Jesus predicted the resurrection. The resurrection was central to Christ’s preaching. He said, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?”
Well, do you?
Many very smart people who set out to disprove Christianity, after examining the evidence, became firm believers. I offer a few highlights.
Renowned Christian apologist Dr. Norman Geisler wrote, “The documentary evidence for the reliability of the New Testament is greater than that for any other book from the ancient world.” He concluded also that “highly reputable contemporary scholars date the New Testament books within the lifetime of eyewitnesses and contemporaries of the events.” Classical scholar Sir Frederic Kenyon said, “The last foundation for any doubt that the Scriptures have come down to us substantially as they were written has now been removed. Both the authenticity and the general integrity of the books of the New Testament may be regarded as finally established.”
In addition, secular writings of Jewish historian Josephus, Roman historians Tacitus and Suetonius, Roman author Pliny the Younger and Greek satirist Lucian all refer to Christ.
In his book “The Resurrection: The Unopened Gift,” Gerard Chrispin wrote, “There is an amazing accord between nearly all the friends and foes of Christianity, about the historical facts surrounding the life and death of Christ. … The fact that He died and three days later the tomb was empty is what the lawyer calls common ground. … Interestingly, one rarely meets a genuine historian who doubts the empty tomb.”
Geisler said there is “more evidence Jesus died than that most important people of the ancient world ever lived.”
While skeptics have long concocted elaborate theories to challenge that Christ died prior to His resurrection appearances, they all fail on critical examination. He was not drugged; He refused to take the common pain-killing drug offered crucifixion victims. He sustained a heavy loss of blood. He uttered an audible death cry. He was pierced in the side, and blood and water flowed out – a medical sign of death. Experienced Roman soldiers examined His body and were so sure of His death, they pronounced Him dead without breaking His legs to hasten the process in accordance with the customary practice. He was wrapped in 75 pounds of cloth and spices and placed in a sealed tomb guarded by soldiers. Even had He been alive, He could not have moved the heavy stone to escape, much less without being seen and stopped by the guards. Pilate assured himself Jesus was dead before turning over His body to Joseph of Arimathea to be buried. His grave clothes were left undisturbed.
Naysayers have also failed to make their case for various alternative theories to Christ’s bodily resurrection. If Roman or Jewish authorities had removed the body, they could have produced it and nipped Christianity in the bud. The theory that the disciples stole the body is incredible because they were men who denied Christ and fled the scene in fear, not to mention that the tomb was heavily guarded. If the women had gone to the wrong tomb, the authorities would have gone to the correct tomb and produced the body. Also, had they and Peter been at the wrong tomb, they wouldn’t have seen the empty grave clothes.
Paul wrote that Jesus was seen by more than 500 people, most of whom were still alive at the time of his writing and could have easily refuted him if he were lying. He appeared over a period of 40 days, on a number of different occasions before multiple witnesses. His appearances were interactive and long enough to be real and not illusions. He performed additional miracles and also walked certain witnesses through the Old Testament, pointing to passages that spoke of Him. He told witnesses He had “flesh and bones,” He ate fish in their presence, and He told his doubters to touch Him; “handle me, and see.”
But the most persuasive evidence for the resurrection is the transformed lives of the disciples. The Bible reports that when the authorities captured Jesus, “all the disciples left him and fled.” After He was crucified, they hid in an upper room and locked the doors. But McDowell points out that “something happened within days to totally change this group of cowardly followers into a bold band of enthusiasts who faced martyrdom without fear or hesitation.”
Indeed, most of the disciples were martyred for affirming their faith, and not one of them recanted to save himself. Before the resurrection, Jesus’ brother James hated all that Jesus stood for; afterward, he preached the Gospel and wrote the Book of James, describing himself as “a bondservant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ.” Peter, who had denied Jesus three times, defiantly proclaimed the Gospel after the resurrection in the very city he had denied knowing Him. He was ultimately imprisoned and crucified upside down.
We celebrate Christmas because of the fact of Jesus Christ’s resurrection.