Evidences of the Resurrection

Bible Book: Acts  26 : 8-29
Subject: Resurrection; Easter

Years ago I read a sermon by the late W. A. Criswell on this subject--although I’m not certain that this was his exact title--and my heart was stirred to prepare my own message on that same theme, which I did. Recently I have searched for that sermon by Dr. Criswell, so as to give credit at every part of the message where it is due, but I have not been able to locate it. Thus, let me simply say at the outset that I am deeply indebted to that great preacher for all the help I received from him in preparing this message. My outline is essentially the same as his, because it logically flows from the Scripture passages used--although as best I recall he used a different term for at least the first point. At any rate, although greatly influenced by him--as well as others whose ideas have helped me shape this message--the following is what I have personally felt led to preach.

In 1 Corinthians15 the apostle Paul defended the idea of resurrection--Christ’s resurrection and ours. Listen to what he said to the Corinthian Christians in verses 16-20:

“For if the dead rise not, then is not Christ risen. And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins. Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ [and of course “sleep” is used here as a metaphor for “death”] are perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable. But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept [in other words, his resurrection guarantees that the bodies of his followers will also one day be resurrected].”

All elements of the Christian message are profoundly important--but the issue of the resurrection is foundational. If Jesus had not risen from the dead, the whole structure of Christianity would have long since crumbled. The resurrection of Jesus is the citadel of the Christian faith. It is the centerpiece upon which all else stands or falls.

It behooves us, therefore, to examine from time to time the evidences of the resurrection. We who are believers need to be aware of those evidences for our own assurance, and also in order that our witness to others might be effective. 1 Peter 3:15 says, “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that in you with meekness and fear.”

If you are not a believer, you, too, need to face these evidences--and I pray that you will, in light of them, yield your life to Christ and be saved.

As we consider the evidences of the resurrection, let’s look at Acts 26. Because the apostle Paul had been forcefully preaching the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the unbelieving Jewish leaders had stirred up a mob against Paul and he had been arrested. While imprisoned at Caesarea, Paul was given opportunity to present his defense before Agrippa and Festus, two rulers appointed by the Roman government. After some brief introductory remarks Paul then gets to the heart of the matter and defends his preaching of the resurrection. In the course of that defense he touches on three types of evidence for the resurrection.

I. First, he touches on the matter of LOGICAL EVIDENCE.


In verse 8 he asks, “Why should it be thought a thing incredible with you, that God should raise the dead?” Paul is saying, in effect, that given the fact of God, it is perfectly logical to accept the Biblical account of the resurrection. A God who could speak into existence this marvelous universe with all its complexities and wonders is certainly capable of doing anything he desires to do, including raising the dead.

Of course there are some who deny that God exists. But I’m convinced that those who deny his existence do so for one, or perhaps both, of two reasons: because of their despair at not having personally found him, or because they have the uncomfortable suspicion that if he does exist he wants them to live very differently from the way they are presently living--so they “cop out” by denying his existence.

But anyone who is thinking clearly acknowledges the fact that God exists. In fact, the author of Psalm 53:1 tells us that anybody but a fool knows there is a God. In Romans 1 the apostle Paul reminds us that anyone ought to recognize the fact of God’s existence simply by looking around at what God has created.


The claim that this world just happened by chance makes about as much sense as claiming that Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary resulted from an explosion in a printing factory. I do, however, like the statement that I saw on a young person’s tee-shirt: “I believe in the Big Bang theory: God spoke and Bang! it happened!”

I greatly appreciate what Dr. John Phillips has written regarding the credibility of God raising the dead:

“Anyone who thinks that God cannot raise the dead has a God who is too small. A God who can bind a hundred billion stars into a galaxy and who can create a hundred million galaxies and hurl them into intangible space can certainly raise the dead. A God who can make an atom a million times smaller than the thickness of a human hair, so small that the smallest accumulation that can be seen under an ordinary microscope contains more than ten billion of them, who can subdivide each atom into particles so that each atom is a miniature universe with a nucleus made up of protons and neutrons...and all the rest empty space with electrons whirling through it, each one completing billions of trips around its orbit each millionth of a second; who can pack into the atom enough power to incinerate a city or dissolve an island, is certainly able to raise the dead.

“A God who can make a human body out of some sixty trillion cells, and make each cell so small that it takes a very good microscope even to see one and a super-microscope to see inside one, yet each one a miniature city with power stations, transportation systems, methods of communication; who can make each cell a highly specialized and fantastically complex chemical structure, can certainly raise the dead. After all, when we stop to think about the astonishingly comlex process by which a human body is created and to think about the even deeper mystery of life itself, it is no more incredible that we should live again than it is that we should live at all. Why, indeed, should it be thought a thing incredible that God should raise the dead? It is incredible that man should raise the dead; but not that God should raise the dead.”1

II. Second, Paul touches on the matter of HISTORICAL EVIDENCE.

In the next several verses Paul gives his personal testimony of how he met the risen Christ on the road to Damascus and was converted. Then look at verse 24: “And as he thus spoke for himself, Festus said with a loud voice, Paul thou art beside thyself; much learning doth make thee mad.” Festus was saying, “Paul, you’re crazy; you’ve gone off the deep end. You’ve read too many books; you’ve spent too many hours in deep thought. You’ve lost touch with reality.” But Paul responds in verses 25-26:

“...I am not mad, most noble Festus; but speak forth the words of truth and soberness. For the king knoweth of these things, before whom also I speak freely: for I am persuaded that none of these things are hidden from him; for this thing was not done in a corner.”

Paul was saying, “This great event didn’t occur off in some remote, unpopulated nook. It took place near the teeming city of Jerusalem where all the world could know about it. The ministry and death of Jesus Christ are common knowledge, and his resurrection is amply attested.” In other words, Paul was saying that the resurrection of Christ is historically verifiable. Let’s look briefly at some of those historical evidences.


At the forefront of the historical evidences for the resurrection is the fact that three days after his crucifixion, and for all the days, weeks, months, and years after that, neither the Roman authorities nor anyone else could produce the dead body of Jesus.

Three days after the death of Jesus on the cross, his disciples were found proclaiming his bodily resurrection. Both the Jewish and Roman authorities would have liked nothing better than to disprove the resurrection. The Jewish leaders looked upon Jesus as a blasphemer and the Christian message as heresy. The Roman authorities wanted to squelch the Christian movement because they didn’t want the status quo upset. This new Christian movement was stirring the Jews and others and causing controversy, and they wanted to stop it. Had they been able to disprove the resurrection, they would have nipped this new movement in the bud--and the easiest and surest way to have done that would have to produce the dead body of Jesus.

Now, think about it: the Roman government had at their disposal tens of thousands of soldiers well trained in questioning and search procedures. They had the resources to comb not only Jerusalem but also the large surrounding area, and there is no doubt in my mind that they did exactly that. But they failed to find the dead body of Jesus, because there was no dead body--Jesus had risen from the grave!


Another historical evidence of the resurrection is the dramatic change in the disciples after Christ’s triumph over the tomb. Up to and immediately following Christ’s death, these disciples were timid, unreliable, fearful men; but after three days they were boldly proclaiming the resurrection of Christ at the risk of life and limb. They were flames of fire. In spite of beatings and imprisonment and threats of execution, they refused to be silenced.


Still another historical evidence of the resurrection is the church. It is an indisputable fact of history that beginning in about A.D. 30, when the disciples started preaching that Christ rose from the dead, the New Testament church began to impact the world. How does one explain that? All of its faults and frailties notwithstanding, the church is the most remarkable, dynamic institution ever born in the history of humanity.

The early church challenged the whole Graeco-Roman religious system, with its pantheon of so-called gods. Those early believers refused to bow before the image of the Roman emperor who claimed to be divine, or to burn incense to him. The Roman government persecuted the early Christians relentlessly. They threw some of them to the lions and burned others at the stake. In the centuries since then, thousands of believers have died for their faith--and even today Christians are being persecuted, tortured, and put to death for their faith in the living Christ. That is happening in such places as Sudan, North Korea, and mainland China. Yet, in spite of all the efforts to destroy it, the Christian church has endured.


And most of the world’s other great institutions and benevolent enterprises have been started by believers motivated by their faith in the living Christ. If you study history objectively, you can!t miss the fact that, over the past two thousand years, most of the great enterprises which have benefitted mankind have been founded on Christian principles.

Have there been mistakes made by Christians--or in some cases by those purporting to be Christians? Of course there have--there have at times been serious errors, even gross injustices. But these things have not occurred because of Jesus--they have happened in spite of the teachings of Jesus--and don’t let the counterfeits cause you to miss the real thing. Whenever Christ!s gospel and his principles have been faithfully received and followed, the results have been to elevate and ennoble the lives of people.

For example, nearly all of the great educational institutions in our nation!s early history were founded by Christians, with the avowed purpose of advancing the Kingdom of God--even though unfortunately most of those institutions have long since abandoned their founding principles. Most of the great hospitals, orphanages, ministries to the poor and underprivileged, and other major benevolent institutions, if you trace their history back far enough, were started by people who were motivated by Christian convictions and compassion. For instance, when Danny Thomas, a Catholic, started St. Jude Hospital here in Memphis, it was because of his gratitude for God’s blessings and his desire to help others in the name of Christ.


Let me give another shining example, which the secular humanists vehemently deny and try to explain away by dishonestly attempting to rewrite history. But the undeniable fact is that this great nation in which you and I are privileged to live was begun by people who were seeking religious liberty--and the vast majority of those people, almost without exception, were Christians. They sought to found a nation where they would be free to worship God according to the dictates of their conscience. Again, we have, alas, drifted a long, long way from those moorings, but the fact remains that America began as a nation founded on Christian principles. To try to explain America!s founding otherwise is a dishonest exercise in futility.


One of the strongest historical evidences of the resurrection is that it is reported in the Bible, because the Bible is the best attested of all ancient documents. One of the most powerful proofs of the Bible’s accuracy is the fact that it contains so many prophecies, written centuries before the events they predict, which prophecies have been verifiably fulfilled. The study of fulfilled prophecies is a fascinating, profitable study.

The late Dr. Peter Stoner was, until his retirement in 1953, Chairman of the Departments of Mathematics and Astronomy at Pasadena City College. Dr. Stoner worked with more than 600 students over a period of several years applying the “principle of probability” to Bible prophecy. As an example, they took eight Old Testament prophecies concerning Jesus, which prophecies were definitely fulfilled in Jesus’ life and ministry, and they calculated mathematically what the probabilities were of those prophecies being fulfilled by one man in one lifetime. They determined that the chances of that happening were one in ten followed by thirty-two zeros--and yet Jesus not only fulfilled those eight prophecies, but many others as well. The only explanation is that God inspired the Bible.

So when the Bible tells us that Jesus rose from the grave and was seen by a large number of witnesses, we can believe it.

Many highly respected attorneys have testified that the evidence for the resurrection is too strong to be denied. Lord Darling. a former Chief Justice in England, said, “...there exists such overwhelming evidence, positive and negative, factual and circumstantial, that no intelligent jury in the world could fail to bring in a verdict that the resurrection story is true.”

III. Paul then touches on the EXPERIENTIAL EVIDENCE

Look at verses 28-29: “Then Agrippa said unto Paul, Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian. And Paul said, I would to God, that not only thou, but also all that hear me this day, were both almost, and altogether such as I am, except these bonds.”


Paul was saying, in effect, “I don’t wish these chains on anybody; but except for these bonds I wish that you and your colleagues and everyone else were blessed with the wonderful presence of the living Christ in your lives as I am blessed.”


Every one of us who has believed in the living Christ and experienced his saving grace can give testimony as to his living presence in our lives. Oh, to be sure, there are times when I disappoint him, and there are times when my heart is cold and insensitive to his presence. But there are those blessed other times when by his grace I sense the reality of what Tennyson wrote: “Closer is He than breathing, and nearer than hands and feet.”


A few years ago I was preaching in revival services in Henderson, Kentucky. One morning I had coffee with three other men in a little restaurant. A gracious little Oriental lady waited on us--a little lady, as it turned out, who had some heavy burdens to bear. I gave her a gospel tract and asked her about her relationship with Jesus. She gave the most radiant smile and said, “I know him.” And in the course of her testimony she said, “He keeps me going.”

He’ll keep you going, too, if you’ll repent of your sins and surrender your entire life to him, by faith receiving him as your personal Lord and Savior. He’ll comfort you in your sorrow, strengthen you in your weakness, guide you in your confusion, lift you when you’re down, give you courage in your fear, forgive you and help you start over when you’ve failed, and then take you to heaven when you die.

But if you reject him, you’ll continue “on your own” in this life, and then after this life you’ll spend eternity in that inexpressibly sad place of separation called hell. Jesus said, in John 3:36, “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him.”

You don’t need to go on without him. He died on the cross for your sins, and Hebrews 7:25 says that “he is able to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him....”

He says, in Revelation 3:20, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock: If any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.”


1Exploring Acts, by John Phillips, pp 476-7