At Gateway Church in Austin, we celebrated Easter in a message called “The Resurrection is Real!”
Could any reasonable person really believe Jesus was resurrected from the dead? Does faith require you to simply “take a leap,” or is there proof of who Jesus claimed to be? And why does it matter? What could the truth of the resurrection mean for our faith and our lives as a whole?
Work through the following questions and Scriptures on your own, and get together with your running partner, life group, or friends and family to talk through what you are learning.
WITH YOUR FAMILY, ROOMMATES, OR LIFE GROUP, WORK THROUGH THE MESSAGE NEXT STEPS:
LISTEN TO THE MESSAGE I SHARED AT GATEWAY IN SOUTH AUSTIN:
HERE ARE THE MESSAGE NOTES FROM JOHN BURKE:
Maybe some of you here today thinking: “Do these people really believe this stuff—that Jesus was the Son of God, crucified and buried, yet rose from the dead? People don’t rise from the dead. I’ve seen dead people, they don’t come back to life. Some people look like the living-dead, but I’m pretty sure it was just too much partying.”
There are many of us in this room that felt that way, but something significant shifted.
So how did so many of us get from there to here? Let me share some compelling evidence for those of you who are more analytical and for those of you who are more relational. Think of it as evidence for the right brain and the left brain. If you are here, and you have faith, ask yourself: am I living as if this is true every day? Because if Jesus rose from the dead, then everything changes for us! This matters more than anything else!
So for those of you who are skeptical and for those of you with faith: just in a brief moment of silence, in your own mind pray something like:
“God, show me how real you are.
Help me to have an open heart and open mind.
Speak to me today.”
Even though we don’t have time for me to tell you all the reasons we can believe that we’ve discovered, but a few, then the next two weeks we are doing a series we originally called “Is Christians Dumb?”
- Next week a former muslim/skeptic/Ph.D. in biochemistry will talk about his discoveries in science that led him to faith in a message we are calling “Science is Real.”
- Then in 2 weeks—bring your questions, and I will do a Q&A during our time together in a message we are calling “Questions Are Real.” So plan to come back the next two weeks.
Today, I want to give you a few of the reasons we celebrate Easter.
- Because the most important part is that I discovered a real God who loves every person He created, from every nation and language.
- He created us for was a love relationship with himself. That’s why He doesn’t force himself on us, and stays somewhat hidden, yet woos us in subtle ways.
- Because love can’t be forced, even by God. I hope you see that today—the real point of Easter is a demonstration in history of how much your Creator loves and cares about you—personally.
Can you really prove God’s existence?
Well, not in terms of scientific proof—like doing a repeatable experiment and finding God at the bottom of the test tube 9 out of 10 times—No. But that’s not actually a problem because we can’t prove most things by the scientific method.
We cannot prove love or hope or joy – or most things essential to the life we want to live.
But we can prove things by the Legal/Historical method like we use in a court of law—Proof beyond a reasonable doubt.
For example, how do we know Dinosaurs existed. You can’t scientifically prove these mammoth, mythical-looking creatures existed by a repeatable experiment to produce them. But you can prove by historical evidence—fossil evidence left in history, and do you know we even have evidence of what dinosaurs ate by studying their fossilized poo! How would you like to explain that at a party, I’m a Poo-ologist or Pooleontologist, I study dinosaur poop.
And just like with dinosaur evidence, or evidence in a court of law, you can always doubt it—I can come up with 1 million reasons dinosaurs didn’t really exist, but that’s not a reasonable doubt given the evidence. Many lawyers, professors, very smart minds have found the same is true with the evidence for God. There’s great evidence, beyond a reasonable doubt, but not beyond any doubt. And rule of legal evidence is to take an eyewitness at his or her word, unless they are shown to be unreliable.
Evidence of Biblical Prophecies Fulfilled
God foretold the first Easter for 1000s of years in advance along with when and where the Messiah would come to us.
- And if you weren’t here for our Outlaws series, go back and listen to all the verifiable signposts God put in actual history. You can watch or listen on our Gateway Church Austin App or at www.gatewaychurch.com or the message notes are at www.ericbryant.org.
- We showed how copies of the books of Isaiah and Daniel were found in the Dead Sea scrolls carbon-dated hundreds of years before Jesus, yet God Foretold Where the Messiah, the Son of God, would come and reveal the infinite, unseen God in a form we could relate to—because again, that’s what God wants, relationship with you.
- God said, here’s how you’ll know it’s your Creator, I alone exist outside time—I alone can tell you what’s to come—and He said, “Mighty God would come as a child, a son, live in Galilee, demonstrate God’s compassion by healing our diseases, freeing the oppressed, bringing a new kind of peace—peace that the world can’t give—peace that starts when you know you’re at peace with God.
- Not only did God tell us where Messiah or the Christ would come, but God Foretold When! There is a timeline in Daniel (written about 500 BCE) clearly spelling out that Messiah would come to Jerusalem in 26 A.D., be killed, then the Temple in Jerusalem destroyed.
- It all happened in real history—the Romans destroyed the Temple in 70AD, and it’s still not been rebuilt for 2000 years—Yet Jesus the Messiah came right before it’s destruction, as God foretold.
- Eyewitnesses in the Bible and historians outside the Bible tell us Jesus ministry started about 26, he was crucified in 30 AD
- There are even many accounts outside of the Bible about Jesus being a real historical person. One of them – The Jewish Talmud records why—the religious powerbrokers didn’t like him calling out their hypocrisy, but they couldn’t deny his miracles, so they record: “On the eve of Passover they hung Jesus of Nazareth for sorcery and leading Israel astray” Talmud, Sanhedrin 43a
God Foretold Why and How Messiah would die.
The prophet Isaiah in 700 BCE wrote the following which came true in the crucifixion of Jesus.
But he was pierced for our transgressions, [they drove nails into his hands and feet on the cross, and eyewitnesses say he cried out “Father forgive them, they don’t know what they do”] he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. 6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity [wrongs] of us all…he was cut off from the land of the living… After he has suffered, he will see the light of life [resurrection] and be satisfied. Isaiah 53:5-11 (700 B.C.E.)
We have historical proof all this was written before Jesus came—showing God is real and gave us verifiable evidence of the unique thing He would do in history through Jesus.
And why would God walk among us and then willingly die?
- Because all of us turn away from God, we seek our will and ways way more than God’s loving will and ways. It’s why the world is such a mess.
- We all play God, trying to control everything and everyone to do our way, when God wants us to trust that He loves us and wants our best—but not just our best, everybody’s best.
- He wants us to return to Him like children who have rebelled and run away.God created us, all of us from every nation, to be his children.
When I was in 4th grade, a new friend asked me to spend the night. My parents said, “No.” I didn’t see any reason for their ridiculously over-restrictive parenting. This was a cool kid, his name was Craig Mansen (not Charles Manson, the serial killer, but in hindsight, there may have been some family ties.). But at that point, I knew better—Craig was cool, I wanted to spend the night, they were wrong. I was gonna fight for my way. When I lost, I packed my GI Joe backpack and ran away. I didn’t go far, about 25 feet from the front door, and straight up 40 feet, to the top of my secret tree fort. As it grew dark, my parents realized I was gone and began searching. I got such pleasure watching them calling my name…to hear the worry and concern as it turned dark. I was master of my own destiny, now, without their silly rules. Soon they started driving the neighborhood. I hadn’t eaten since lunch—my mom was a great cook! But I didn’t need her great food. Then I started thinking about where would I get food? I had no money or food in my backpack, just the essentials–baseball glove, trading cards, and an extra dirty shirt. The later it got, the colder it got—I put on two dirty shirts, and started to feel sleepy. By now, a police car was driving the neighborhood. My parents were frantic. I started thinking about how comfortable and warm my bed felt. And how I would miss that warm, secure feeling of home. Even though my parents were Dictatorial Despots, they really did love me. I’ll miss mom kissing me goodnight, and my sister, and my dog, playing chess and baseball with dad, and hearing dad tell me how proud he was of me—then I’d remind myself, I don’t need them, I’ll prove it. I stubbornly sat up there for a long time.
Did you ever have a night like that with God? Maybe a decade or lifetime like that. You did a stupid thing, but when you realized your mistake, pride got in the way. Just like I so wanted to come home, after a while, you’re afraid of the consequences—and too proud to admit you’re wrong and need your parents.
That’s what happens with us and God. God created us, all of us from every nation, to be his children. But as Isaiah says, we all run away, we go our own way. In every religion’s holy books, we all agree on basic right and wrong—God’s put it in our hearts, so it comes out in our religious texts. Yet we all do wrong consistently—even knowing what’s right.
Jesus made a way for God to be just and still forgive us and take us back home.
Christ suffered for our sins once for all time. He never sinned, but he died for sinners to bring you safely home to God. 1 Peter 3:18
He paid the debt we each owed God so that all God needs is a heart turning back home.
Over the years, people have claimed Jesus didn’t really die on the cross. The Koran claims he was the Messiah, but that He didn’t die.
Others have proposed he revived in the tomb, after 40 lashes that would have ripped open his back, thorns pounded into his head, large nails in his wrists and ankles, then after hanging for 6 hours—not only did he revive, but convinced his disciples he’d overcome death—first, highly unlikely he’d look like he’d overcome death if he revived.
None of these make sense from the evidence.
Dr. Alexander Metherell was a research scientist at the University of California, with an MD and Doctorate in Engineering—he studied Roman crucifixion.
Many died from the flogging Jesus had first, and Dr. Metherell points out he would have been in hypovolemic shock from loss of blood.
Eyewitnesses say he couldn’t even carry his cross up the hill, he needed help. Metherell:
“Even before he died—and this is important too— the hypovolemic shock would have caused a sustained rapid heart rate that would have contributed to heart failure, resulting in the collection of fluid in the membrane around the heart, called a pericardial effusion. ” -Dr. Alexander Metherell, MD…
Why is this important?
Well, because 1000 years before Jesus hung on the cross, God foretold this to the Psalm writer:
My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?… My life is poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint. My heart is like wax, melting within me…an evil gang closes in on me. They have pierced my hands and feet.17 I can count all my bones.18 They divide my garments among themselves and throw dice for my clothing. Psalm 22:14-18 (1000 B.C.)
The psalmist, writing 1000 years before Jesus is describing Jesus’ crucifixion—but Crucifixion was not a form of capital punishment until the Roman Empire. His bones are out of joint from hanging, but the Psalmist says “my heart is like wax, melting within me.
Normally you die from asphyxiation with crucifixion when you can’t push up to get a breath. And they broke their legs to speed up the process. But Jesus died of heart failure when he cried out “My God My God, why have you forsaken me”—in that moment, he experienced all the evils of humanity for all time, and it caused his heart to fail. Amazingly, John, the eyewitness of Jesus death writes this:
the soldiers came and broke the legs of the two men crucified with Jesus. 33 But when they came to Jesus, they saw that he was already dead, so they didn’t break his legs. 34 One of the soldiers, however, pierced his side with a spear, and immediately blood and water flowed out. John 19:32-34
Dr. Metherell explains that John reported the medical evidence of heart failure—but how could he know?
“The spear apparently went through the right lung and into the heart, so when the spear was pulled out, some fluid—the pericardial effusion and the pleural effusion— came out. This would have the appearance of a clear fluid, like water, followed by a large volume of blood, as the eyewitness John described in his gospel.”
Dr. William D. Edwards, wrote an article in the Journal of the American Medical Association saying, “Clearly, the weight of the historical and medical evidence indicates that Jesus was dead before the wound to his side was inflicted. . . . Accordingly, interpretations based on the assumption that Jesus did not die on the cross appear to be at odds with modern medical knowledge.” -Dr. Edwards, JAMA. And yet…
Evidence of the Missing Body
Jesus’ closest followers claim that He appeared to them, not like a zombie, but risen to life in power and glory.
And they said he appeared to the women followers first, then his 11 disciples, then over 40 days to more than 500 eyewitnesess all at one time.
Now, if the body wasn’t missing, the Romans who crucified Jesus to keep the peace, and the Pharisees who asked Pilate for a Guard for the tomb so a fake resurrection wouldn’t happen—they would have just produced the body and put an end to the lie.
But there was no body in the tomb. The tomb was empty!
If you’re not prejudiced against the eyewitnesses, it’s really strong evidence that they all claim the Women were the first people Jesus appeared to resurrected.
Because women were not even allowed to testify in a court of law in Roman or Jewish society—their testimony didn’t count.
Yet Jesus chooses women to see him risen first.
Why would the men make this up—women seeing Jesus first only discredits their story—unless they were telling the ugly truth. The guys were afraid of getting killed too and fled and hid, but the women stayed and then went to prepare Jesus body.
It’s a great reminder too of the God of Easter—he dignifies and honors those the world oppresses or calls worthless. He lifts up the poor, the downcast, the forgotten. And even in that first Easter, he does this for women everywhere.
Evidence of Changed Lives
Even more compelling evidence are the changed lives. The 27 books of the New Testament are full of eyewitness testimony of changed lives, but even outside the bible, from extra-biblical history we know this:
1). A man named Jesus, of the town of Nazareth in Galilee, lived during the reign of Tiberius Caesar (14-37 AD).
2). Jesus had a brother named James who became a leader among the Christians and was martyred for his faith in Jesus as Lord, God and Messiah.
- Think about that—you can fool a lot of people, but you can’t fool your half-brother who grew up with you.
- If you’re ever worried I’m getting a Messiah complex, ask my brother, she’ll set the record straight.
- Yet James says Jesus appeared to him, risen, and it changed his mind.
- He proclaimed Jesus as the savior of the world, didn’t receive any worldly goods or recognition, but was persecuted in Jerusalem for 30 years and finally martyred for not recanting his faith in Jesus.
- Now, people will die for wrong reasons—terrorists do it all the time.
- But if Jesus didn’t appear to James risen, then James lied and knew he lied.
- People don’t die for a known lie, it’s not worth it.
After His death, His disciples continued to proclaim Him as the Messiah, worshipping Him as God, and claiming that He had appeared to them as risen from the dead.
The impact of Jesus’ life upon His disciples was so great that within 16 to 80 years after His death, vast numbers of His followers were willing to die for their conviction that Jesus lived, died and rose again on their behalf.
They were not motivated by power or wealth, but love—they spread love, and Christian faith overtook the Roman Empire not by the sword, but by love. And then vast numbers persecuted to the point of death for not recanting their belief that Jesus is the Risen Lord. How do you explain that?
Most of the times, the real reason people reject God is that God lets them down.
- It has nothing to do with the evidence.
- Instead, when we are hurt and we blame God, we start looking for evidence from others who are angry with God.
- God doesn’t do what we hoped, or expected, and so we conclude he either isn’t good, doesn’t love us, or just isn’t real.
We choose not to trust….
Whatever you’ve been through, God has been there all along. Easter is God’s answer to all our pain and suffering – “By his wounds, we were healed.” Isaiah 53:5
He suffers with us.
The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. The righteous person may have many troubles, but the Lord delivers him from them all. Psalm 34:18-19
When you suffer, when you’re in pain, God is not far away, he moves close – wanting to deliver us.
But how does he deliver us? Because it sure doesn’t mean we don’t feel it.
- All people suffer—good and bad alike.
- But some come out bitter. Some come out better.
- God enters our suffering to make us better people through it all, and ultimately, God promises to make it all better. This life is the birth canal into real Life—after the labor comes joy.
God doesn’t force his will and ways, doesn’t force us to love or follow him, but the consequences of that is a world at war against God—this world does not go God’s way. We live for a short 70 years between good and evil, heaven and hell, so that we will learn to love and trust God forever, realizing He is good.
Yet God has compassion, so much so, he entered into our greatest suffering that First Easter so that we will come home to him and live with Him guiding us through the trials of this life to become better – to become the loving people he intended – people who overcome evil with good.
As we go through life with him, he goes through the suffering with us, to make something good in us and through it–and ultimately he promises to make it all right. Jesus says: “I’m making everything new!”
There’s lots of evidence for faith if you want to find it.
For me, one of the most compelling evidence that Jesus rose from the dead is that He is still changing lives today!
This Christmas a Hindu woman at Gateway in North Austin had become so despairing she was suicidal.
- Praying to all the gods and chanting mantras didn’t help, but she had heard us say:
- “Ask God, if you’re real and you really revealed yourself through Jesus so we could know and love you, I’m open I’m willing to follow—show me.”
- Just before Christmas, on a Sunday morning she rushed up to John Burke glowing, saying: “Jesus showed me he’s real and alive and forgives me and loves me.”
- She had been sex trafficked as a child in India, yet God rescued her from evil’s plan to destroy her.
And God will make himself real to you too, when you are truly 100% willing to follow Him with all your heart.
So why does Easter matter?
Do you remember that first funeral you attended? To see someone you love laying lifeless in a casket—for me, it was my father. They don’t belong there. They belong back with your family. I have since said good bye to too many people that I love.
Jesus’ death and resurrection matters to us because we can find comfort in knowing that this life is not all there is! That casket is not the final resting place for those we love! That casket won’t be our final resting place! Because Jesus rose from the dead we have hope in life after death AND we have hope in this life right now!
Easter is not just the promise that Jesus rose from the dead, but the promise that all who trust in Him will overcome death, our greatest enemy, and we will be with God for all eternity in a new world where God’s loving will and ways are always done—because everyone there learned to trust God through the sufferings and evils of this life.
Jesus’ death and resurrection matters to us because it means when we trust our hearts and lives to Jesus, we are forgiven of all our wrongs, past, present, even future.
He paid the debt we owe God. He does this so we will walk through life with His Spirit guiding us to grow up in His love, doing His will more and more!
Jesus’ death and resurrection matters to us because it means when we trust our hearts and lives to Jesus, we have victory over death, we have victory over sin, we are part of a new kingdom of love, faith, and hope, and we have purpose for our lives in advancing God’s kingdom. His Spirit is with us and can guide us throughout our daily lives!
Jesus’ death and resurrection matters to us because in Him we find forgiveness and He enables us to forgive and to love others, just as He forgives and loves us.
Jesus’ death and resurrection matters to us because it was the price God paid to adopt you as His own Child. But Like a foster child in middle school, we get to decide if we want to be adopted. Each of us must choose whether we want a relationship with God or not.
The Scripture says: [Jesus] came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. John 1:11-13
Jesus paid the highest price a human can pay—his very life—to prove what you’re worth to God.
Jesus’ death and resurrection matters to us because all God requires of us is this:
- You believe or trust that God really did reveal his character, relatability and love through Jesus.
- But just believing He existed is not enough, you must receive his forgiveness and leadership as God.
- That’s how we love God—by giving him the only thing we have to offer, ourselves in love, given back to the One who loves us most.
- Then you Become an adopted child of God, forever. Jesus didn’t come to start a religion, he came to bring all people from all religious backgrounds into loving relationship with God.
We can fully experience His love, but it requires a relationship with God.
You can start today.
You can start over again today.
Maybe today is your day… To tell God for the first time “I want what Jesus did to count for me. I want your forgiveness and leadership as God of my life.”
What do you have to lose, really? Yet you have everything to gain.
Or maybe this Easter, it’s time to get out of your own prideful prison you have created. Rather than running from God, it’s time to return home to a loving Parent.
Or maybe for you, it’s time to get serious about trusting God in new ways—getting out of your comfort zone, letting Him lead you out of complacency and into a life of true faith—that’s where you truly get to know God personally.