Episode 106 - How Important Is History in Discussing the Resurrection?

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Easter is this coming Sunday. I hope you are excited about that, I hope you are looking forward to it, and I hope you're using this time - which is somewhat artificial; we put it on a calendar — to reflect on, in an intentional way, the life, death, and work of Jesus, and ultimately his resurrection. I hope you're taking advantage of this time and this season for your own personal spiritual growth and worship.

Today I want to talk some about the resurrection and Easter. I want to talk about this phenomenon that exists out there today in Christianity, in Christian culture, to sometimes distill down the necessary content of what we need to share with someone to just the resurrection, and the historical details of it more so. For instance, there are some today that say we can demonstrate the resurrection from history, and that's all we need. We don't need a "Bible tells me so" type of religion. We don't need a "Bible tells me so" type of evangelistic approach because people don't accept the authority of the Bible. We need to be able to point to history and other things like that in order to make our case. I want to talk about that some today.

You might think, what does this matter? I think it really matters how we talk about God, how we talk about scripture, how we present the Bible. Because sometimes the way we do this either betrays a strong confidence in the power of the Holy Spirit and of scripture or a weak confidence. How we talk about God really matters.

So, can it be demonstrated historically that Jesus rose from the dead after being crucified on a Roman cross? I believe it can be from a certain point of view. I believe you can rule out all of the other explanations, that you can show that all of the evidence we have, both in the Bible and outside of the Bible, is made most probable and makes the most sense by the explanation that Jesus rose from the dead.

However, that only gets you so far. Because now what we have is a man rose from the dead. That doesn't actually prove that he was God. Other people came back to life; they weren't God. Think of Lazarus and that type of situation.

History is not self-interpreting. That's an extremely important point. That is why multiple people can look back at events in the past and have different interpretations. Because, while they both might affirm that that event happened, the event itself and the details of its historical nature don't tell you what it means. When it comes to the resurrection, what it means is extremely important. It has a lot to do with everything about the Gospel.

It's interesting, in 1 Corinthians 15, Paul says this: "Now I want to make clear for you, brothers and sisters, the gospel that I preached to you, that you received and on which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold firmly to the message I preached to you, unless you believed in vain." Here's where he starts giving a summary of the content that he had previously taught them. I don't think this is by far everything Paul means to say is the Gospel, but this is a summary.

He says, "I passed on to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures and that he was buried and that he was raised on the third day according to the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephus, and then to the 12. Then he appeared to more than 500 of the brothers and sisters." He goes on to list more people to whom Jesus appeared.

Now some people say, "See, he's talking about historical details: that Jesus died, that he raised, that he was buried, these types of things." But Paul doesn't separate these from the Bible. He says that "Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures, that he was buried and that he was raised on the third day according to the scriptures." Paul ties these events to scriptural foundations, and that they are fulfilling things that were in scripture. We can't separate our faith from the Bible. Are they separate things? Yes? Does the Bible contain history? It does. But we can't just separate out the historical details because we're left without their meaning.

In this 1 Corinthians 15 passage, which people often point to as purely historical content, it's clearly not just that. Because in that very first line, Paul says that "he passed on that Christ died for ... " what? For sins. That's not a historical detail. What Christ's death accomplished and what it was intended to do cannot be established historically. You only get that from the scriptures. Therein is the important point I want to focus on today.

If this seems obscure, bear with me. I don't think it actually is. I think it is very important for our understanding of everything that's happening and that we're celebrating this Easter week, and that Christians stand on 365 days a year. It matters what Christ did on the cross. It's not the historical event of the resurrection that we are placing our trust in. Should our Gospel presentation look like "You need to believe that Jesus rose from the dead?” Why? What is saving about that? Nothing. That's like saying that believing Lazarus rose from the dead is saving. It's not.

Because the belief in the historical event is not the important point. The belief that a miracle took place is not the important point. The important point is that Jesus died and rose for sin and for sinners. That's even in Paul's first point here, “that Christ died for our sins according to the scripture.” What he's basically saying, if we had to rephrase this for people who are not yet Christians, “Christ died for sin. If you repent, you will find Jesus to be a perfect savior.” All those who repent have their sins paid for by Jesus.

That is something you can't establish historically. You can't say what transpired in a spiritual sense at the cross. You can describe all of the physical outworkings and manifestations and historical details and not get right at all what it meant. It's what it means that's important. Jesus didn't come to just enact a miracle on the cross by dying and then rising from the dead three days later. He came to accomplish a mission, an atoning mission.

When we talk about the resurrection purely in historical terms, we gut it, we neuter it of its important atoning quality. If we don't focus on what Christ did at the cross, we're missing the importance of the cross. If we don't talk about what Christ did at the cross and we only focus on the historical details, we are missing the point of the cross. It is not primarily historical, though it certainly is that. It is a spiritual type of thing.

I want to look at some passages that bring this to light. In Galatians 2:20, Paul says, "I have been crucified with Christ, and it's no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me." This death Paul deserved for his sin, the price that his sin needed to warrant because a just God will punish sin, that price was paid by Christ on the cross. It's as if Paul was crucified with Jesus because Jesus was in Paul's place. That's what the atonement was. It was Christ dying in my place. He paid for my sin. Everyone that Christ paid for goes to heaven. Their sin has been paid. God isn't going to judge them a second time. That's Galatians 2:20: "I've been crucified with Christ."

What about 2 Corinthians 5:21? Paul says this: "God made him who knew no sin to be sin for us so that in him we might become the righteousness of God." Right there is a description of the atonement and the justification that flows from it. God had Jesus who was not sinful, tak3 on our sin. It was credited to him. He paid for it. But why? So that we could simply be a blank slate, so that we could be not guilty? No, it was so that we could be credited with the righteousness of God.

We often don't talk enough about what happened at the atonement and the cross, which I've already mentioned. We often don't say enough when we do talk about it. We often think about it like “I’m declared not guilty because of what Jesus did.” That's true, but that doesn't say nearly enough. You are credited with the perfect righteousness of God. It's not just that you got back to a neutral point, you’re dug out of the hole. No, God credits you with the perfect righteousness of Jesus.

But why? Because of what he did at the cross. Because of him paying the punishment for our sin in our place, which is something you don't get as a historical fact. You only get that from the word of God. Some people like Andy Stanley have criticized Christians who have a "Bible tells me so" type of faith. He talks about how people will say, "Jesus loves me, this I know." How? "For the Bible tells me so." He talks about how when people go off to college, that type of faith collapses.

But here's the question for someone who makes that type of statement: How else do you know that God loves you? If it's not “for the Bible tells you so,” where else could you possibly ever learn that? Nowhere. That's the problem. If we take scripture out of the equation, we don't know about God's love. We don't know about what actually happened at the cross. The historical details are not enough. As a little aside, a lot of these people who like to critique the "Bible tells me so" type of position use the Bible to prove their point about history. They're still using the Bible. It's somewhat self-refuting. But that's a separate conversation.

My point is what the events mean is incredibly important. It's the same way with the virgin birth. When we talk about what things mean and why they're important, it's not the historical event of the virgin birth that is the most important thing when we think about it. Now yes, it's a historical event; it happened. What it means is what's important. Why is the virgin birth important, especially as we talk about Easter?

Because it shows that Jesus was born a man, a human being. Now why is that important? Because all of the rest of us, every other human being since Adam and Eve, have been born guilty and in sin. They've had a sin nature. They have also inherited the guilt of Adam. We needed to break that line. That's why God comes and Jesus is born of a virgin without a physical father. He is fully man and fully God. This ties into why it's important for Easter.

Because only a man could represent us to the Father. Adam sinned as our representative, and so we all paid the price for that. We needed another representative, another human, another man to represent us to God. Jesus is that person. But here's the problem: none of us could do it. No other human could actually be good enough. So it took God to be good enough to represent us to God. That's exactly what flows from the virgin birth.

Why is the virgin birth, why is Christmas important at Easter? Because it talks specifically about who Jesus was, and who he was—fully man, fully God—is fully important for understanding what the work he did on the cross is actually able to accomplish.

We've kind of come full circle here again to talking about other historical details and saying, yes, history matters, but what they mean is what's really important.

Going back to what Jesus accomplished on the cross, we looked at 2 Corinthians 5:21. "God made him who knew no sin to be sin for us so that we could be credited with the righteousness of God." But 1 Peter 2 actually takes this even a step farther. He says, "Jesus bore our sins in his body on the tree so that we my die to sins and live for righteousness. By his wounds we have been healed."

There's another description in 1 Peter of Jesus dying in our place, taking on our very sin, paying for that sin. Someone's going to pay for their sin; it's either Jesus on the cross or that person in hell. For every one Jesus pays the price, they will not be punished in hell. But you don't get that from history; you only get that from the Bible.

I think sometimes in apologetics conversations we focus too much on evidence and history as opposed to the marriage of those with scripture, which tells us what they mean. Remember, history is not self-interpreting. We need a lens and a worldview, a set of instructions basically, through which to understand history. The Bible gives that to us as Christians. If God really told us how to understand the world and the events in history and we didn't use it, that would be rather foolish, wouldn't it? I think so.

When Paul speaks in 1 Corinthians 15 that these events happened "according to the scriptures," I think in part he's referencing Isiah 53:5, which says, "He was pierced for our transgressions. He was crushed for our iniquities, for our sin. The punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed." Jesus' death on the cross, which is a historical fact, was the fulfillment of biblical prophecy in Isiah.

Isiah even tells us what it means. It's not about only historical events. It includes the details that he was pierced for our transgression. But that's a historical fact, “the piercing.” What it means was that it was “for our sin.” He was crushed — that's a historical fact — for our iniquities, for our sin. Once again, that's something you can't establish from history. There was punishment, Isiah says — historical fact — but that punishment brought us “peace.” His wounds, which were historically attested to, are what bring our healing.

We see here again that the Bible does not separate out history and theology. When we talk about the historical details of the resurrection, we cannot divorce them from their theological meaning, where we neuter them of their importance and their power in our Gospel presentation. I would encourage you, as you talk about Easter, yes, talk about the historical details. But more than that, talk about what they mean. That Jesus didn't just die and rise, but that he did that to pay for sin, and everyone who places their trust for salvation in him and repents of their sin will find him to be a perfect savior. That is the message we have as Christians. This Easter, people are more open to hearing that than perhaps most other times of the year, so let's share that with them.

Now in closing, there's something I want to tell you. I have made available the two chapters in my book, Unapologetic: A Guide for Defending Your Christian Convictions, that deal with the resurrection, so two chapters on the resurrection. If you go to my website, BrianSeagraves.com, and click sign up at the top, the very top, and you add your email to the email list, I will send you those two chapters to your email box for free. I want to equip you this Easter to be able to talk with conviction about the truthfulness of the resurrection. Let's not forget when we do that to also talk about what it means.