When Jesus was arrested and put on trial, the Apostle Peter denied that he knew him. After the crucifixion, Peter hid in fear with the rest of the disciples. But just weeks later, and all the way up until his death, Peter boldly and publicly proclaimed his faith.
What caused such radical change? We'll find out today on Truth for Life. Alistair Begg is teaching a message titled We Are All Witnesses. Our text is verse 32 of Acts chapter 2, where Luke records for us that Peter, in the course of his remarks to the Jerusalem crowd, makes this statement, God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact. Now, it's only a matter of some seven weeks since the Gospel writers tell us that all of Jesus' disciples deserted him and ran away.
And so the obvious question to anyone who is reading the record and thinking this out is this—how do we account for such a radical change? Because remember, on Good Friday, the disciples were totally demoralized. On Easter Sunday, they were actually thoroughly bewildered. John even tells us in our reading earlier, doesn't he, that even though when he encountered that scene in the empty tomb, that was for him an aha moment, a moment of belief. Yet he adds parenthetically, but the disciples, we the disciples, still did not understand the fact that Jesus had to rise from the dead. You see, the telling thing about what Jesus had been saying to them was not that he was going to die. That doesn't mark you out as different, because we are all going to die.
No, the staggering thing about what Jesus kept saying was, I'm going up to Jerusalem, and I will suffer at the hands of cruel men who will crucify me, and I will die, and on the third day, I will rise again. But somehow or another, that piece of the puzzle had never fallen into line for them. And yet now here he is, along with the eleven, we're told—the eleven of them together—and their cowardice has been replaced with courage. What is the explanation? Well, Peter himself tells us what the explanation is. The reason that I'm standing here, he says, the reason that I am here to proclaim this story is because God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses to the fact. Now, when you think about it, absent this conviction, it's hard to imagine that there would ever have been such a thing as Christianity. Now, we have grown up, of course, with an awareness of Christianity. Our whole history as a nation is completely impregnated with Christianity. But when we trace it back to the events that are recorded for us in terms of the death of Jesus, it is inconceivable that there would be such a thing as Christianity were it not for the fact of the resurrection.
What's the story about another crucified Galilean carpenter? What's so significant about that? How would that ever have launched a movement?
On what basis? Now, when you look at the evidence, it's surely a matter of significance that none of the apostles determined to provide us with a set of theories and proofs and explanations. That they didn't sit down in a room somewhere in Jerusalem and say, you know, we're eventually going to die, there'll be a lot of people come afterwards, and I think the best thing we can possibly do is write a definitive explanation of the resurrection. They don't do it. Why? Because they can't.
Why? Because it's never been done before. It is mysterious. What has happened now in Jerusalem is a dramatic inrush of the power of God. It is not that the news has now arrived that before this happened there wasn't a hereafter, and now there is a hereafter. Everybody knew there was a hereafter. The Jewish people were looking for the day when the Messiah would come. No, the drama is that in a way that is just as revolutionary as when God created the universe, what he has now done in Jesus is recreate things, restart, as it were, the whole time clock.
And in this dramatic moment, the lives of these disconsolate disciples have been transformed. No, they do not write down proofs and explanations, but they do provide proofs and explanations. And what are the proofs they provide?
Themselves. They are the evidence of the resurrection of Jesus. There is no explanation for them, their presence, nor for their proclamation, apart from the fact that Jesus had actually risen from the dead. And the lives of those who followed in their track were the lives of those who were changed completely by contact with Jesus. Not an elaborate reiteration of theories and speculative principles, but the staggering evidence of a transformed life.
So, taking a leaf from their book, I am not going to spend the balance of my time providing proofs and explanations and arguments in defense of the claims of the resurrection. Instead, what I want to do is gather the remainder of our thoughts under three headings—familiar words to us that we employ in this context purposefully. In our consideration of this text, we are all witnesses of this fact that God has raised Jesus from the dead.
I want you to know three things. That the Bible's claim concerning the Easter story is, number one, that it is historical, that it actually happened. Number two, that it is rational, that it makes sense. Number three, that it is empirical. You can put it to the test.
All right? First of all, then, the material that is presented to us is historical. Peter, on this occasion, is not coming up with some cleverly weaved flowery tale, some innocuous story about spirituality, some inoffensive proclamation about an impersonal God.
No! When he writes his second letter, he says, When we wrote these things to you about the coming of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, we did not present you with cleverly invented stories. We just told you what happened. We told you what we were like, we told you what we thought, we told you what happened, and we explained to you how it was that we were changed. Anybody who wants to dismiss Christianity has somehow or another to reckon with the inevitable impact that Jesus has made upon the world. Every person that is jingling change in their purse or in their trouser pocket has evidence within the clutch of your hand that the birth of Jesus of Nazareth has marked the timescale of our era. A.D., not B.C. There it was before Jesus, and then there is the year of our Lord.
Anno Domini. Everybody has to say something about that if they're going to deal with it. Christianity is historic. Paul, when he writes concerning this, in his classic chapter on the resurrection, gets to the nub of it in one sentence, and I'll give you the sentence. If Christ, says Paul, has not been raised, our preaching is useless, and so is your faith.
That's pretty straightforward, isn't it? That's 1 Corinthians 15 and verse 14. If Christ has not been raised, preaching is a waste of time, and any professions of faith are absolutely facile. So there's no sense in the New Testament records of faith in faith, of us believing something, and by our believing it, we make it happen.
We make it believable by our own sort of experience. No, there's none of that at all. Christianity falls flat on its face before that kind of thing.
It can provide no basis for that supposition. No, it is historical. Now, in that same chapter, Paul is quite honest when he says, in the appearances of Jesus, on one occasion he appeared to five hundred people at one time. And then he adds, most of whom are still living.
You get the significance of that, don't you? Because if the people were still living, who saw Jesus alive, they would be able to verify it. And if, of course, those people said, We didn't see Jesus alive, then they would be able to dispute it. But there is no record of anybody standing up and saying, You know, what Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians was an absolute nonsense, because there was no five hundred people.
Yes, there were. They're able to refute my claim. You can go and ask them if you want. Well, says somebody, It's very well arguing out of your Bible, but it's just your Bible after all. Well, do you want to go to the Roman historians? Do you want to go to the Jewish historians? Do you want to go and consider them, Josephus and Pliny and others?
That's fine. And if you do, and so you should, if you're questioning, if you're wondering, then you will find that in those secular, non-Christian records, each of those writers affirm the fact that the followers of Jesus worshiped him as God, that they referred to him as Messiah, and that this individual was crucified in Judea when Pontius Pilate was the governor. In other words, the Jewish and Roman historians confirm the record that is provided of the historicity of the events concerning Jesus of Nazareth. So, when we consider this historical dimension of the Easter story, we are forced to recognize that there is no middle ground.
This is either true or it is not true. Either the Bible is true when it says that in Jesus God has entered into time, that this Jesus has lived a perfect life in the fulfillment of God's plan, that this Jesus has died in the place of each of us who have not lived perfect lives, and that on account of his substitutionary death on the cross, those who trust in this Jesus will be accepted by God, not on the strength of their trust, but on the strength of what Jesus has provided in his death. Either that is true or the New Testament is the record of a lie. It is a monumental fabrication.
It is an elaborate hoax, such as has never been perpetrated in the history of humanity over a period of two thousand years, involving billions of people who today, in multiple languages around the world, are affirming the fact with Peter, we know that Jesus is alive, we are testifying to the reality of this truth. You see, Buddhism gets on fine without Buddha. Buddha said to his followers, Don't worry about me, worry about my dharma, worry about my doctrine. All that matters is my doctrine. I don't matter, said Buddha.
I will go away, but I will leave you my teaching. You can't do that with Christianity. Christianity is Christ. Without a risen Christ, there is no Christianity.
Karl Barth, the German theologian, puts it succinctly when he writes, Christianity does not exist for a moment or in any respect apart from Christ. The whole thing collapses. Think it out. Historical. Secondly, rational. Rational. It is historical. That's the claim.
It actually happened. It's rational. It makes sense. Well, somebody says, It doesn't make sense to me. I reject it. Well, that's all right.
You may. But I don't think you can honestly reject it on account of its irrationality. You see, the issue of Christianity, the nub of it is here.
Either Jesus is the person he claimed to be, Son of God, suffering Savior, risen Christ, ascended Lord, coming King, or he's not. And the rationality in this is that the claim of Christianity, the resurrection story, makes sense of the big picture of life. Makes sense, if you like, of the big questions of life.
It makes sense of the New Testament evidence, but that's not my concern at the moment, the empty tomb and all of those things. But it makes sense of the questions that we all face. Gauguin, the painter who lived down in the islands and painted some of those very interesting paintings, has these three magnificent canvases somewhere in France, I think it is, and all written in French, but they're just big canvases, and they carry three questions. Canvas 1, who am I? Canvas 2, where did I come from?
Canvas 3, where am I going? Three vital questions. Three unavoidable questions. Who am I? Am I simply a collocation of atoms? Am I just some kind of soup, some kind of stew that has just been put together, that I don't matter, that I have no essential being, that I only make myself significant by authenticating my existence? As Sartre said, there is no essence in the self. There is no selfhood. There is selfhood in an object, but there's not a self in a person. Therefore, it is that I am nobody, I am nothing. No, well, you see, when you come to the Gospels, Jesus says, No, I can tell you about this.
Here's the answer to the big questions. First of all, let me give it to you in the good, the bad, the new, the perfect. First of all, the Bible says that God created the world, and he made it absolutely bang on perfect. He created men and women for a relationship with himself, and every creative person owes their life and their breath to God. The bad news is that man, who was created for a relationship with God, determined to turn his back on God and instead to worship other things rather than God, create little God substitutes, because he knew he had to worship someone. He can't explain it, but he does. Maybe Dylan was the one who got it. You've got to serve somebody.
But he knows somehow or another that he does clamber after something or someone. And that is an evidence of the fact that we're turned in upon ourselves, that we are alienated from God. The new. The new is found in Jesus. Jesus has come as the perfect man. Jesus has come as the one who is able to bridge the gap between God who has made us for himself and we who have turned our backs and run from him.
We cannot make the jump from here to here. God knows that, and he has sent the Lord Jesus Christ, who in his cross, if you like, is the ultimate bridge over troubled waters. And when a man or a woman comes to believe in him, they discover that their sins are paid for, and that all of the perfection of Jesus is credited to their account, and in ways, again, that are so immensely mysterious that finally only poetry can help us get to the point where we say, Behold him there, the risen Lamb, my great and spotless righteousness, the great unchangeable I am. What the hymn writer is saying is this.
Jesus is the person he claimed to be, and Jesus is the one who bore the punishment for my sin, and because Jesus has given to me all of his righteousness, then I am accepted in him. And the story's not finished, because there is a new world coming. There will be a new heaven and a new earth. And eventually, all that we now see through a glass darkly, we will see face to face. That brings us to our third and final word. And the word is empirical. Empirical. In other words, it will stand up to the test of human experience. You understand? You're an engineer, you create a stress machine, or you do something in the lab, you do your diagrams and everything else, and eventually, there comes the day where the machine does what it's supposed to do. And we move that day from the realm of that which we know intellectually to be viable to that which becomes empirically verifiable. So that by observation, by experience—I mean, theologically, we would talk in terms of the fact that the resurrection story provides for us intellectual integrity and provides for us existential reality—that experientially, this is the case. Now, don't immediately go wrong and say, Oh, I think I understand what you're saying. You're saying that Christianity is true because it works.
No. The Bible says that Christianity works because it is true. And there's every difference in the world. It works, says Christianity, because it's true. Now, let me just draw this to a close by suggesting to you that you can test it along a number of lines. The empirical test, or the observable test, in relationship to the cries of the human heart. The human heart cries out for meaning. For meaning.
Right? We've already mentioned that in Gauguin's paintings. And do you know what Jesus says? I have come that you might have life and that you might have it in all of its fullness. Jesus says, I am the source and the sustainer of all created reality. Jesus says, I am of cosmic significance. Jesus says, I am of personal entity. Jesus says, I may be known by you.
I came for you. Answers the cry for meaning. Answers the cry for freedom. For freedom. Because we've understood now, at least some were prepared to face the fact that the real freedom is not the freedom that breaks the bounds of parental jurisdiction or of social configurations, but the real freedom we need is the freedom from ourselves.
From our own selfish hearts, from our jealousy, from our resentments, from our self-pity. And Jesus says, if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed. It answers the cry for forgiveness. For forgiveness. You're not gonna meet somebody, and then they'll tell you in Starbucks, underneath the disguise of their smile and under the story of where they're going and what they're doing, that the longing of their heart is for forgiveness, but many of them. And you may be here this morning, and this is you. If you could find the story that begins, that gives you a clean page, a fresh start, the promise that none of your sins will be brought up against you, but they will be banished as far from you as the east is from the west and buried in the deepest ocean.
You may be interested in that. Well, let me tell you, here it is. And it is found in this resurrection story. It answers the cry for forgiveness.
Listen to how John put it. God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through him may be saved. And the way the world is saved is by the life-changing impact of individuals. And you see, the resurrection—and with this I must stop—but the resurrection answers the cry of the human heart for God, the suffocating distress that we feel in our awareness of being alienated from him. The symbol of Christianity is not the dead figure of a crucifix. It is the figure of Jesus triumphant, out from an empty tomb with a cross broken beneath his feet. Jesus is risen. He's not two thousand years away.
He is here, and you may call on him and find him to be a savior and a friend and a king. I want you just to stop for a moment, and I want you to think about what this means. Some of you want to go away and research this. For some of you this is troublesome, and I understand that.
Some may even find it offensive. I'll be disappointed about that. But I suggest to you that the idea of some middle ground, some pantheist view, some acceptable, impersonal God is a complete and utter waste of time. Either Jesus is the resurrected Lord, or else he told lies. That would make him bad. Or else he is deluded.
That would make him mad. Or else he told the truth, and that would make him God. You're listening to Truth for Life. That is Alistair Begg giving us historical, rational, and empirical evidence for the resurrection of Christ. Some elements of Christianity can be challenging to understand, like the fact that Jesus is both fully human and fully God. You'll find more about this in a book titled Man of Sorrows, King of Glory. It covers this material in a way that's easy to access.
It's concise. It also discusses the doctrines of Christ, including his incarnation and his exaltation. When you read the book Man of Sorrows, King of Glory, you'll explore the three offices of Christ, namely how he serves as a great prophet, our great high priest, and the king of kings. You'll discover how each role is essential to Jesus' redeeming work. Our offices are closed today because of Good Friday, but you can still request the book Man of Sorrows, King of Glory when you give a donation online at truthforlife.org slash donate.
I'm Bob Lapine. On behalf of all of us here at Truth for Life, we want to wish you a joyful Easter. We hope you're able to celebrate with friends and family at your local church. Join us Monday as we begin a new series in the book of Samuel. We'll look at how God determines who he'll use and how he'll use us. We'll learn more Monday. The Bible teaching of Alistair Begg is furnished by Truth for Life, where the Learning is for Living.
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