His enemies could find no fault. And his friends, who knew him really well, said, ‘This guy’s without sin!’
I often think the real test of character is when we’re under pressure. And Jesus, when he was being tortured, said about his torturers: ‘Father, forgive them. They don’t know what they’re doing.’
And then his fulfilment of prophecy. No one else in the history of the world has had a whole collection of books written about them before they were born. Jesus fulfilled over 300 prophecies, twenty-nine of them in a single day. ‘Well,’ you might say, ‘maybe he got hold of the Old Testament, he read all these prophecies and he thought, “Right, I’d better go around fulfilling all of these!”’ The problem with that is the sheer number of them – and, humanly speaking, he had no control:
The exact manner of his death was prophesied. The place of his burial. His resurrection. Even the place of his birth was prophesied. You know, reading through: ‘Oh, I’m supposed to be born in Bethlehem’ – it’s too late!
And then his conquest of death. This is the cornerstone of Christianity. It’s so relevant to every single person here: because statistically speaking one in one die!
You know, the Victorians used to talk a lot about death, but they never talked about sex. We talk a lot about sex, but we don’t talk about death. It’s just something you don’t mention. Even in hospitals now they try to avoid using the word ‘death’. I heard of one hospital where they said: ‘You must never use the word “death”.’ They had a politically correct way of describing it: ‘negative patient care outcome’.
But people die nevertheless! And when you go to a funeral, and the coffin goes into the ground, it looks absolutely final. And it is – unless death has been conquered; unless when Jesus died and was buried he was raised to life. If he was, then there’s hope beyond this life.
But is it just wishful thinking? It is unless there’s evidence.
What is the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus?
First of all, his absence from the tomb. No one has ever satisfactorily explained why Jesus’ body was not there the first Easter Day. People have come up with all sorts of explanations: the authorities stole the body. Well, in that case, why didn’t they produce it when everyone was saying that Jesus had been seen? They couldn’t.
I find this piece of evidence fascinating: that when the disciples heard that Jesus had been raised from the dead, they ran to the tomb, and when they got to the tomb, they looked in, and what they found was the grave-clothes of Jesus were still there. The only valuable thing for a robber to steal was still there. And they’d collapsed, like a caterpillar’s cocoon when the butterfly has vanished. And the piece that had been around his head had been folded up and put in another place. And it says when they saw that, they believed.
So not only his absence from the tomb; then his presence with the disciples. Jesus was seen on several occasions, on one occasion by more than 500 people. That’s probably the number of people downstairs here in the church tonight. All saw him on the same occasion. People say ‘hallucination’: hallucination does occur amongst highly-strung, highly imaginative, very nervous people or people who are sick or on drugs. The disciples don’t fit any of those categories. They were cynics, like Thomas. They were tough fisherman. They were tax collectors – tax collectors do not hallucinate!
And then there was the transformation of the disciples. Here was a group of people depressed, disillusioned, and suddenly they’re going around saying ‘We’ve seen Jesus! He really is alive!’
Most of the disciples died pretty horrific deaths as a result of their beliefs: they were crucified, they were beheaded, they were tortured. And all they had to say was: ‘No, no, no, no, actually it’s not true. We didn’t really see him.’ But they didn’t. Those people would not have died for something they would have known was not true. But they knew it was true because they’d seen the risen Jesus.
And as a result of this movement – it’s a movement without precedent in the history of the world – swept the whole known world, and it has no parallel. And it’s still happening. You know, there are 2,300 million Christians in the world today, of every ethnicity, every continent, every nationality, every economic, social and intellectual background. They all speak of this encounter with the risen Jesus.
So when we look at what Jesus claimed about himself – the first part of the argument – it’s clear that Jesus did claim to be a man whose identity was God. Was he deluded? Was he a fraud? When you look at – when I look at the evidence of his teaching, the things that he did, his character, his fulfilment of prophecy, his resurrection, it seems to me absurd, illogical, unbelievable to say he was insane or a fraud. On the other hand, it provides the strongest possible supporting evidence that what Jesus said about himself was true.