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THE BODILY RESURRECTION OF CHRIST –
by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.
A sermon preached at the Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles
“And he said unto them, Why are ye troubled? and why do thoughts arise in your hearts? Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself: handle me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have” (Luke 24:38-39).
This sermon is based on Dr. R. A. Torrey’s well-known message, “The Certainty and Importance of the Bodily Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the Dead.” That message by Dr. Torrey is number 3 in volume 5 of the famous booklet series, The Fundamentals (Testimony Publishing Company, n.d.). This was the series of booklets that publicized the term “Fundamentalist.” Dr. Torrey gave three proofs of the bodily resurrection of Christ. I am only giving a condensed and modified part of Dr. Torrey’s second proof.
The resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is the corner-stone of Christian doctrine. It is mentioned directly more than one hundred times in the New Testament. When the Apostles met together to select a man to replace Judas, they did so that he might be “a witness with us of his resurrection” (Acts 1:22). The resurrection of Christ was the main topic of the Apostle Peter’s great sermon on the Day of Pentecost. The subject of the sermon was, “This Jesus hath God raised up, whereof we all are witnesses” (Acts 2:32; cf. verses 24-31). When the Apostles were filled again with the Holy Spirit several days later, the result was that “with great power gave the apostles witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 4:33). The central doctrine of the Apostle Paul was the resurrection of Jesus from the dead (Acts 17:18; Acts 23:6; I Corinthians 15:15). The resurrection of Jesus Christ is one of the two fundamental truths of the Gospel, the other being His atoning death. The Apostle Paul gave both of these doctrines as the essential Gospel of Christianity,
“Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand…For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures”
(I Corinthians 15:1, 3-4).
This was the basic message: first, that Christ died on the Cross to pay the penalty for our sins; and second, that He rose again from the dead. The crucifixion loses its meaning without the resurrection. Without the resurrection, the death of Christ would only be the heroic death of a noble martyr. With the resurrection, it is the atoning death of the Son of God. It shows that His death was of sufficient value to save us from sin, for it was the sacrifice of the Son of God. Reject the resurrection of Jesus Christ and Christianity is vain and worthless. The Apostle Paul said,
“If Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins” (I Corinthians 15:17).
As the context clearly shows, the Apostle is talking about the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ.
It was a true instinct that led a brilliant unbeliever in England to say, that there is no use wasting time discussing the other miracles. The essential question is, Did Jesus Christ rise from the dead? This agnostic said, If He did rise from the dead, it is easy enough to believe the other miracles; but, if He did not rise from the dead, the other miracles must go.
Are the statements contained in the four Gospels concerning the resurrection of Christ statements of fact or are they merely fiction, fables, and myths? I will give one of the proofs that the statements in the four Gospels, in the New Testament regarding the resurrection of Jesus Christ, are exact statements of historic fact.
We will assume absolutely nothing. We will start out with a fact which we should all know to be a fact: namely, that we have the four Gospels today (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John). We shall place these four Gospels side by side, and see if we can discern in them marks of truth or of fiction.
1. The first thing that strikes us as we compare the four Gospels is that they are four separate and independent accounts. These accounts must be either a record of facts that really happened or else fictions. If they are fictions they must have been made up in one of two ways – either independently of each other, or in collusion with each other. They cannot have been made up independently; the agreements are too many. It is impossible that four people could sit down separately from each other and write down an account of something that never happened and yet make their stories agree as much as these do. On the other hand, they cannot have been made up in collusion with each other; the apparent differences are too numerous and too noticeable. Thus, it is proved that they were not made up independently of each other; and it is proved that they were not made up in collusion with each other. So, we are driven to the conclusion that they were not made up at all, that they are a true record of facts that actually occurred.
2. The next thing we notice is that each of the four Gospels gives striking indications of coming from eyewitnesses. The account of an eyewitness is different from the account of someone who is merely retelling what others have told him. Attorneys soon learn to tell the difference between the report of an eyewitness and one who is merely repeating something he heard. A careful student of the four Gospel accounts of Christ’s resurrection will detect many marks of an eyewitness. When I was lecturing at an American university many years ago, I was introduced to a man who was an unbeliever. I asked him what he was studying. He told me that he was working on a Ph.D. in history. I said, “Then you know that the account of an eyewitness is different from the account of someone who is simply telling what he has heard from others.” He said, “Yes I do.” Then I asked, “Have you carefully read the four Gospel accounts of the resurrection of Christ?” He said, “I have.” I said, “Have you noticed that they came from eyewitnesses?” He said, “Yes, I have been greatly impressed by this in reading the accounts of Christ’s resurrection.” Anyone who carefully reads them will be impressed by the same fact.
3. The third thing we notice about these Gospel accounts of Christ’s resurrection is their naturalness and simplicity. They are accounts of supernatural occurrences, but the accounts themselves are very natural. There is a remarkable absence of artificial effects. There is nothing but the simple telling of facts as they actually happened. It’s like hearing someone on the witness stand in court who is so clear and plain that you say to yourself, “This man is telling the truth.” The weight of this kind of evidence becomes even more certain when several witnesses all say the same thing about the main facts, but with a variety of details, one leaving out what the other one tells, and the third reconciling apparent differences between the first two. This is exactly what we read in the four Gospel accounts of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. If we are fair and honest, if we follow the laws of historical criticism, and the rules of evidence in a court of law, we are driven to say, “Here is a true account of the resurrection of Jesus.”
4. The next thing we notice is the unintentional evidence of words, phrases, and accidental details.
When a witness is on the stand in court, the words and phrases he uses, and accidental details he gives, are often more convincing than his direct testimony. The Gospel accounts have a great deal of this kind of evidence.
Take, for instance, the fact that in all four Gospels Jesus was not recognized when He first appeared to His Disciples after the resurrection. If the stories were false, it is very doubtful that they would have been made up this way. The writer would have seen that those who did not want to believe in His resurrection would have said that this showed it wasn’t really Jesus that they saw. Why, then, is the story told in this way? For the simple reason that the authors of the four Gospels were not making up a story, but were simply recording what actually happened. It is obviously not an imaginary incident, but an exact record of facts that really occurred when Jesus Christ rose from the dead.
Take another instance. In all four Gospels Jesus never appeared to an enemy or opponent after His resurrection. All of His appearances were to those who were already believers. By thinking a little we can figure out why this was so. If someone made up these stories it would seem logical that they would represent Jesus appearing to the high priest, and Pilate, and Herod, and confounding them by His reappearance from the dead. But there is no suggestion of anything like this in the four Gospels. Every appearance was to those who were already His followers. Why is this so? For the simple reason that this is what really happened. The four Gospels simply tell us what happened.
Another instance is the fact that Jesus only appeared to them occasionally. He would appear to them and then disappear, and then not be seen again for perhaps several days. We can figure out the reason for this – He was evidently preparing them for the time when He would no longer be with them. However, we are not told this in the four Gospels. We are left to discover the reason ourselves. This is all the more important for that reason. I doubt that the Disciples themselves knew the reason. If they had been making up the story to produce an effect, they would have said that Jesus was with them constantly, day after day. Why then was the story told as it was in the Gospels? Because this is the way it happened. The Gospel writers simply recorded what happened.
Another instance is the words of Christ to Mary at their first meeting after He arose. He said to her, “Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father” (John 20:17). We are left to figure out what He meant. It isn’t explained. Why are these words of Jesus put in the Gospel record without a word of explanation? Certainly someone making up a story would not put in a little detail like that without one word of explanation. Why, then, are these words put in? Simply because that is what Jesus said to Mary.
Take still another instance in John 20:27-29,
“Then saith he to Thomas, Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side: and be not faithless, but believing. And Thomas answered and said unto him, My Lord and my God. Jesus saith unto him, Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed” (John 20:27-29).
Notice two things – the action of Thomas and the rebuke of Jesus. Thomas had not been with the Disciples when Jesus first appeared to them. A week had gone by. This time Thomas made sure he was there. Although he was a doubter, he was an honest doubter and wanted to know the truth. Suddenly Jesus is there. He says to Thomas, “Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side: and be not faithless, but believing.” At last Thomas’ eyes were opened. His faith bursts forth. He cries out, “My Lord and my God!” Then Jesus tenderly rebukes him. Is this made up, or is this a living fact? Is it fiction, or is it a record of what actually happened?
Take another instance. In John 20:16 we read,
“Jesus saith unto her, Mary. She turned herself, and saith unto him, Rabboni; which is to say, Master”
What a delicate touch of nature we have here! Mary is standing outside the tomb overcome with grief. She has not recognized Jesus, even though He has spoken to her. She has mistaken Him for the gardener. She has said,
“Sir, if thou have borne him hence, tell me where thou hast laid him, and I will take him away” (John 20:15).
Then Jesus speaks just one word. He says, “Mary.” When she heard Him speak her name, spoken as no one else ever spoke it, in a moment her eyes are opened. She turns toward Him and says, “Master!” Is this made up? Impossible! This is life! This is Jesus, and this is a woman who loved Him! No forger of lies could have produced such a masterpiece as this. We stand here unquestionably face to face with reality, with life, with Jesus and Mary as they actually lived and spoke to each other on that first Easter morning!
Let me give you two more instances like this. In John 20:1-4, we are told that Mary Magdalene ran from the empty tomb and told Simon Peter and John ("the other disciple") that Jesus had been taken away and she didn't know where they had laid him. Peter goes forth first, followed by John (verse 3). Anyone who knows the Gospels realizes that Peter was an impetuous fellow, and would naturally run out first. Yet verse 4 tells us that John outran Peter and came to the sepulchre before he did. This is a detail. But, as I have said, details like this reveal truth, as they often do in a court trial. We are not told why John outran Peter. We are given this bit of information with no explanation whatsoever. We have to study elsewhere in the Bible to find out that Peter was much older than John. John was only about eighteen, while Peter would have been considered a middle-aged man in that time. Thus, the young John easily outran Peter, who came lumbering along behind him. If the story were made up, the author would undoubtedly give the reason. But no explanation is given in this passage. Why is this so? Simply because the Gospel of John is relating the facts as they actually happened.
One more, though I could give many others: when the Disciples got to the empty tomb, Peter looked in and saw "the linen clothes lie, and the napkin that was about his head not lying with the linen clothes, but wrapped together in a place by itself" (John 20:6-7). Notice the detail. Why is the "napkin" that was about His head lying separate from the linen clothes that had covered the body of Jesus? We are not told. Not one word of explanation is given. If someone were making up a fiction, they would undoubtedly tell us why the napkin was placed separately from the linen clothes. But not one word of explanation is given in the Gospel. Why is this so? Simply because the Gospel is recording the facts. As the detectives in "Dragnet" used to say, "Just the facts, ma'am. Just the facts." Details like this are one of the important ways of authenticating the truthfulness of the Gospel narratives. Such minute facts would not be reported without explanation unless this was an eyewitness account of what really happened.
But someone will say, all these are little things. True, but it is from such little details that we can tell this is no fiction. The more we look at the small details of Christ’s resurrection, the more we become impressed with their truthfulness. There is a naturalness and self-evident truthfulness in the Gospel narratives, down to the smallest details, that transcends the artificiality of fiction.
And so, we say to you what the angel said on that first Easter Sunday morning,
“I know that ye seek Jesus, which was crucified. He is not here: for he is risen, as he said” (Matthew 28:5-6).
When you come to Jesus by faith, He will cleanse you from all sin with His Blood. May you come to Him. May you receive Him. May you be saved by Him. Amen.
(END OF SERMON)
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Scripture Read Before the Sermon by Dr. Kreighton L. Chan: Luke 24:34-43.
Solo Sung Before the Sermon by Mr. Benjamin Kincaid Griffith:
“Alive Again” (by Paul Rader, 1878-1938).