The death and resurrection of Jesus are the pivotal events in all of human history. And yet there are many who remain skeptical or they flat out reject the truth of the Gospel. So what gave the Apostle Paul such confidence to preach that Jesus is alive and that he is the way to salvation? Alistair Begg answers that question today on Truth for Life.
He's teaching a message titled, Some Strange Ideas. Acts chapter 7 and verse 24. The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands. And he is not served by human hands as if he needed anything because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else. From one man he made every nation of men that they should inhabit the whole earth.
And he determined the time set for them and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him though he is not far from each one of us. For in him we live and move and have our being as some of your own poets have said we are his offspring. Therefore since we are God's offspring we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone an image made by man's design and skill.
In the past God overlooked such ignorance but now he commands all people everywhere to repent for he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead. When they heard about the resurrection of the dead some of them sneered but others said we want to hear you again on this subject. At that Paul left the council. A few men became followers of Paul and believed.
Among them was Dionysius a member of the Areopagus also a woman named Damaris and a number of others. Thanks be to God for his word. Our God and our gracious father we come to these precious minutes when we expect that you will speak to us through your word. We have not gathered merely to wait upon the voice of a man. There would be no reason for us to be so concerned with that but we have come to seek you and to ask that as the scriptures are opened you will speak to us. To this end we cry out to you in Jesus name.
Amen. To declare with confidence that the tomb was empty because Jesus had arisen from the grave that he then in turn appeared to his followers and to many at one time and then to suggest that somehow or another mysteriously he vanished from the earth is to be met with a mixed kind of reaction. Certainly true today and it was no less true as Paul made this tremendous statement to the people that had gathered around him in this great metropolis of Athens. Indeed Luke records for us that as a result of his mentioning the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead people were immediately divided in their response. Some of them began to scoff.
He says that they actually sneered at him. Others said maybe we'd like you to hear from you about this again perhaps a little later and there were a few Luke records who began to follow him and actually became believers. Now the fact is that while his sermon ended with a sort of divergence of response it began not exactly in a tremendous fashion. He didn't really get off to a flying start and if your bible is open you will see this that having reasoned with the Jews in the synagogue and the god-fearing Greeks he then engaged people in the marketplace and he gathered around him this group of combination philosophical idolaters and idolatrous philosophers and they began to dispute with him and some of them asked what is this babbler trying to say?
Not exactly what you would call a complimentary introduction to what he was about to suggest. Indeed the word is a graphic word in Greek. It is descriptive of a bird that was not fed on a daily basis but rather picked up scraps from the gutter and so the word was descriptive of an individual who had picked up simply little bits and pieces of knowledge scraps of learning and understanding and then would be dispersing them as they had opportunity and that's what they're suggesting Paul was doing. That he was somehow or another a guy who had gathered a little bit of this and that and he took great delight in sharing it with others.
Indeed it went further than that because the word came to mean also a kind of worthless individual the kind of person who would roam around picking up cigarette butts and smoking them and so that's the way they view him. What does this bird brain individual babbling as he is have to say to us? Now I want you to know that when I stand up here Sunday by Sunday I don't assume that everyone is sitting out there going they're going oh very interesting I would yes I just can't wait to hear what you say.
I don't assume that for a moment that would be really unwise nor do I assume for a moment your total indifference because that would equally be unwise there's a healthy balance but I'm sure that regularly there are a few who are sitting out there and some probably this morning who are saying not exactly that but who are saying who are saying what does this babbler have to say? Now they didn't really grasp what he was on about because he basically was preaching one message and it was Jesus and the resurrection. He kept saying I want to tell you about Jesus and the resurrection.
The word resurrection had no definite article. The word is anastasis and so the people thought that he was talking about a couple of new divinities and they got this idea in their minds that he had a thing going about Jesus and that Jesus had a female consort called anastasis and that what he was trying to get across to them was that there were these two divinities about which he had something to say and that is why Luke records for us that they began to say to one another he seems to be advocating some foreign gods. So first of all they started saying what does the babbler have to say? Somebody says well I think he's got a thing about foreign gods that he's trying to propound. Now the interesting thing is that they were sufficiently enough intrigued by this individual and by what he'd had to say that they decided they would like to hear more. Indeed they spent all of their time with the latest ideas.
Not the latest gadgets but the latest ideas. Sitting around hearing new stuff and so since he seemed to have quotes some strange ideas perfect. The stranger the better bring them in we'd like to hear them. Now what we're going to do this morning is not examine the sermon that he preached. He preaches a sermon whereby he makes them itchy and then he scratches where they've become itchy. Now I would imagine that some of you have gathered this morning and you're itchy in a number of places.
Some of you have itchy throats and that's why we have this amazing coughing syndrome that is quite incredible. And it's just the time of year it just so happens Easter's early and so on but you understand you're itchy there and if you could solve that you would. Some of us are itchy intellectually.
We've got questions deep disturbing doubts about religion in the future and we don't really know what to make of it. But if I were simply to try and find out where you all are itchy and try and scratch there it really would be a dreadful endeavor because I couldn't be sure that I was on the right track. However if in bringing the scriptures to bear upon our lives the scriptures themselves make us itchy then we will allow the scriptures to scratch to the point of itch. Oh if that analogy means anything to you stick with it if it doesn't then just cast it from your mind.
But he scratches them in three particular areas. He scratches them on the issue of evidence, scratches them on the issue of judgment and scratches them on the issue of repentance. Paul having spoken in this way applies what he has just said in verse 29 by using the word therefore to launch into it. Therefore he says in light of all that I've been telling you, you shouldn't think that you created God and you rule him. You need to realize that God created you and he rules you.
He's not an image made by man's design and skill. In the past God overlooked that kind of ignorance but now he has determined that things will be changed and at the heart of this all he has provided proof. You'll find this at the end of verse 31. A few months ago now a friend and I were eating in a restaurant in Michigan and in the course of conversation we began to talk with the waitress who came from Yorkshire in England. We talked with her first of all because we recognized her accent and as we began to engage her in dialogue she was inquiring about what was going on and why we were there et cetera. And the conversation turned around to biblical things and to spiritual things. And the girl was honest enough to say, you know, Jesus really has no place in my reckoning at all. Basically I have dispensed with him. I have no interest in Jesus.
He's really not for me. Not an uncommon statement as you move around from day to day and talk to people. They have a knowledge of Jesus, the fact that he may have existed, that he was perhaps significant, that he may have been a great teacher.
He was perhaps a moral force for good, but by and large they have determined he was not for me. She was also honest enough to acknowledge that she'd reached that conclusion without ever having considered any evidence. Because when we pressed her gently and a little bit to say, well, have you thought of this or you've thought of that? It was clear that she hadn't thought of any of it. She had simply come to the determination that Jesus and the Bible was going to have no place in her sphere of thinking, in her points of reference, and she had never given a thought to the evidence. Never given a thought to the possibility that the resurrection or Christ's death and resurrection were the pivotal events of human history and that that needed to be settled in the mind of a thoughtful individual if we were going to make sense of the world in which we lived at all. Now, I mention this girl because she's not alone.
She really is representative of so many. Many who have rejected the claims of Jesus Christ without ever a consideration of the evidence. Now, it's hardly surprising because so much that purports to be evidence is nothing better than nonsense. And always at this time of year, indeed I predicted it last Sunday and the prophecy came true within days, I mentioned that we should be prepared for the fact that the magazines and newspapers would be replete with statements that would call in question the veracity of the Bible and the possibility of the resurrection.
And I hope you weren't disappointed. And those of you who took Newsweek magazine will have seen the story there on the resurrection. And I'm not going to go through it all, although it makes very interesting reading. One of the pieces that is highlighted concerns a group of 77 New Testament scholars who get together on a regular basis to sit down and decide which parts of the Bible they don't believe in. It seemed like an interesting exercise and they come up with this portrait of Jesus that none of us have ever met in a Sunday school class at all.
For example, and I quote, these experts believe that the biblical Jesus was a myth created by church building Christians decades after the crucifixion. The real Jesus, they say, was no more the child of God than any one else. He was a Jewish peasant, possibly not the firstborn in his family, and probably illiterate. He was a spellbinding, itinerate preacher, a social revolutionary who presented a peaceful but brazen challenge to both the Roman rule and the Jewish elite. The authorities executed him almost casually after he caused a disturbance in Jerusalem during the Passover. Jesus, they say, lived on in the hearts of followers old and new, but he did not physically rise from the dead.
Taken down from the cross, his body was probably buried in a shallow grave and may have been eaten by dogs. These are professors of theology from universities all across America. They also have an interesting little exercise that I thought helpful to share with you, whereby they sit around and read the New Testament and try and decide which words Jesus really said and which words he didn't. How, you may ask, would they arrive at these conclusions?
Check with them. And they use a little scheme whereby they give beads out to one another, and it goes like this. They throw a red bead in the pot, the 77 of them, put the red bead in the pot, if the scholar thinks Jesus undoubtedly said this or something very like it.
Or something very like it. Pink goes in the pale if a statement is close to what Jesus probably said. Gray is for something he didn't say, though his ideas were close to this, while black is for something he neither said nor thought. You beginning to wonder who these people are? Last December, the group published a new version of the Gospels with Jesus' sayings colored in type, little of the type as you would imagine being in red.
For example, in the Lord's Prayer, the only words Jesus said for sure were our Father. So here you have people on the streets of Cleveland. Easter comes around. Newsweek magazine in the airport and in the mall stands to attention with a picture of a bloodied Christ. Let's read this, they say. Oh, so this is what these people really believe about the resurrection. Namely, they believe nothing. Oh, says the individual, that's a relief, that's a relief because that's what I believe too, nothing.
And since I wasn't planning on going on Sunday, I'll just phone the person who invited me and let them know there's really no point because after all, Jesus only lives in your hearts. He doesn't physically live. He's not alive from the dead. The resurrection is a mythology. Christ is dead and buried. The Bible is full of nonsense and basically you poor souls are involved in the greatest contract that the world has ever seen. But none of that for the apostle Paul.
No, says Paul. He has given proof. He has given evidence. And when a lawyer talks evidence, you should listen.
For they deal with evidence and they deal with proof. And Paul, you will remember, was Saul of Tarsus, who had no interest in a risen Christ, save to damp out the mythology of it all in his day. No interest in this Jesus of Nazareth, except to make sure that his followers were vanquished once and for all. And yet, as he later in his life tells Agrippa when he's before him and able to offer up an explanation of the change in his life, he tells Agrippa, he says, you know, it was going like that. That was the way my life was going until one day on the Damascus road at noon O king, as I was on the road, I saw a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, blazing around me and my companions.
And we all fell to the ground. And I heard a voice saying to me in Aramaic, Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? It is hard for you to kick against the gods.
And I asked the question, who are you Lord? And he said, I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. And you see, that was the only explanation that he was held captivity under the King Agrippa. That was the only reason that he was brought before Festus. That was the only reason that he got a hammering everywhere he went. That was the only reason that he'd been beaten with rods and shipwrecked and imprisoned. That was why he was going to end his life in Rome in imprisonment. And he was finally going to have his head chopped off because he knew with a certainty that Jesus was alive. He had met him. He had been changed by him and his life was now given to proclaiming him. Whenever you meet an individual who has had such an encounter, then you meet with someone to whom you ought to listen. Indeed, in that same statement made before Agrippa, Paul asks the rhetorical question, why does it seem incredible that God should raise the dead? That's where I started my study. That was going to be the title of the sermon.
Then I thought it was too long. But ask yourself the question, why does it seem incredible that God should raise the dead? Now I can tell you why it seems incredible to people and perhaps to you. Because many people have started from the position, and they regard this as scientific, that nothing can happen which our present knowledge of the world can't explain. There is nothing that can happen out with the parameters of natural law. I know everything that can happen, and this cannot happen since it is not happening in this box. So they start with the argument, resurrection of a dead man is impossible, because it's outside the box, therefore, it did not happen. That's what those of you who go to college and university know as an a priori argument.
It starts with a presupposition and reads everything back. Resurrection is impossible, therefore Jesus is dead. It's tidy, it's neat, it's conclusive, and it is challenged radically by the proof provided in the pages of the New Testament.
For such an individual is left with the unscientific course of rejecting the conclusion to which the evidence so clearly points, and they are then without hope in the world. Those of you who have observed the films recently, The Remains of the Day or Shadowlands in which Sir Anthony Hopkins portrays CS Lewis will have been intrigued by the immensity of his acting ability. In Premiere Magazine, he gave an interview, and in the course of the interview, being asked about the various roles that he's played and being asked about the nature of life, Hopkins said, I love life, because what more is there? Nothing lasts, really. There's going to be darkness, and it's all over. Who says? You see, that is a faith statement. That is a faith statement. The individual who makes that statement is placing their faith and trust in the notion that they know everything within their box and that anything outside of their box is impossible, therefore cannot or did not happen. So it is not that the Christian lives in the realm of faith and the non-Christian or the unbeliever lives in the realm of scientific rationalism, both live in the realm of faith. It is a faith statement by Hopkins to say, at the end, there is darkness and nothing more. You want to put your faith in that?
Go ahead. I'm suggesting to you this morning that there is far more ground, far more validity, far more substantiated evidence for placing our faith in what Paul here proclaims as living proof that Jesus is alive from the dead. The question for each one of us is where do you put your faith? You're listening to Alistair Begg on Truth for Life.
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I'm Bob Lapine. There is a judgment ahead for each one of us. God has set the date and appointed the judge. The question is, will we be ready? We'll find out more tomorrow. The Bible teaching of Alistair Begg is furnished by Truth for Life, where the Learning is for Living.
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