The Case for a Creator (Part 4)

If you’re a guest here this morning or you just missed a couple of Sundays, we are now on week four of a five-week series examining the evidence for God’s existence—the case for a Creator.

I began this series telling you about a debate that was held twenty years ago at Willow Creek Community Church in Algonquin, IL, between Christian author and apologist, Dr. William Lane Craig and atheist biology professor, Frank Zindler. Throughout the course of this debate, Dr. Craig produced such a compelling case for the existence of God that an overwhelming 82% of the atheists, agnostics, and other non-believers voted that the evidence for Christianity had won the night. I also mentioned that the debate was thought up and organized by one of the pastors there named Lee Strobel.

Lee has an interesting story of his own. Educated at Yale Law School, Lee was an award-winning legal editor at the Chicago Tribune and a confirmed atheist. That is, until his wife became a Christian. As her faith and involvement in church-life grew, he saw so many changes taking place in her that he was afraid that he was losing her. So he set out on a mission to investigate Jesus Christ. His goal at first was to prove to his wife that Jesus was not the Son of God, but things didn’t go exactly as planned. He used his resources at the Tribune to contact scholars and historians from around the globe, investigating the reliability of the gospels and other outside sources for the life and works of Jesus, but everything hinged on the resurrection. If Jesus really died and came back to life three days later, then it would seem Lee had a divine miracle on his hands and proof that God does exist and Jesus was everything he claimed to be.

Unfortunately, most people don’t have the resources or determination to investigate the evidence for God’s existence the way Lee Strobel did, and that’s why we’ve seen a rise in atheism here in America, especially over the past seven years. Earlier this year CNN ran a story about a mommy blogger who is raising her kids to be atheists.

Now, I realize that if you’re here today, odds are pretty good that you already believe in God, you’ve put your faith in Jesus, and you may not need any further convincing. But you also know that there are millions of people sitting in college classrooms today who have lost their faith in God. You have friends, relatives, associates and neighbors who don’t believe in God and have no relationship with Jesus at all.

The Bible challenges us to be able to articulate good reasons why our faith makes sense. Our anchor verse for this series is: “Always be ready to give a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you. However, do this with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15-16 HCSB).

In keeping with this command, I want to equip you five good reasons to believe in God so that you can gently and respectfully defend your faith. I want you to think of these as a series of lights. And if you or someone you know is skeptical about God’s existence, then these five lights should light the path to personal faith in God. They are:

1.      The Light of Cosmology
2.      The Light of Creation
3.      The Light of Conscience
4.      The Light of Christ
5.      The Light of Conversion

The evidence from Cosmology, Creation and Conscience give us compelling reasons to believe in a transcendent God who created and fine-tuned the universe for life and who is the source of moral rightness. But to get from a Creator God specifically to the God of the Bible, we need that fourth light—the light of Christ. As Lee Strobel rightfully surmised, the case for Christianity hinges on Christ!

Jesus Christ is easily the most dominant figure in history. More songs have been sung to him, artwork created of him, and books written about him than anyone who has ever lived. As H.G. Wells once said, “I must confess as a historian that this penniless preacher from Nazareth is irrevocably the very center of history.” But Jesus was more than just a historical figure. He taught not only that God exists, but that he himself was God’s Son in human flesh. As confirmation of this claim, Jesus carried out a ministry of miracle working, healing and exorcisms. But the supreme confirmation of his claim was his resurrection from the dead. If Jesus really did rise from the dead, then all of his claims are validated and, therefore, God must exist.

If we put this in the form of a syllogism, it would look like this:

  1. If Jesus really rose from the dead, then God exists.

  2. Jesus did rise from the dead.

  3. Therefore, God exists.

Now, I don’t think anyone would argue with that first premise. So the question centers on premise two—did Jesus really rise from the dead? This question is central to the Christian faith. Like Paul says, “If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith” (1 Corinthians 15:4 NIV).

Most people probably think that the resurrection of Jesus is something that you just have to take on faith, but there are actually four facts recognized by the majority of historians today that are best explained by the resurrection of Jesus.

Now, when you and I read something about Jesus in the Bible, we believe it’s true because we believe the Bible is God’s Word. But when you’re talking with some who doesn’t believe in the Bible, you can’t just say, “The Bible says…” Rather, you need to approach the New Testament the way a historian would—as 27 individual historical documents written in the first century, corroborated by 12 other extra-biblical first and second century documents. When we approach the New Testament in this way, four facts emerge as historically certain. I’ve alliterated these facts.


Fact #1: The Execution


The crucifixion of Jesus is one of the best attested facts in ancient history. Not only is it described in detail in the Gospel of Mark (the earliest of the four gospels), Matthew, Luke, and John, but it is also written about nearly every other New Testament book. In addition, the Roman historians Josephus and Tacitus confirm that Jesus was crucified by Roman authority under the sentence of Pontius Pilate.

The gospel of John put it succinctly: “Then Pilate turned Jesus over to them to be crucified” (John 19:16 NLT). No historian today believes that Jesus was not crucified. According to Luke Johnson, a New Testament Historian at Emory University, “The support for the mode of his death, its agents, and perhaps its co-agents is overwhelming. Jesus faced a trial before his death, was condemned and executed by crucifixion.”


Fact #2: The Empty Tomb


On the Sunday after his crucifixion, the tomb of Jesus was found empty by a group of his women followers. Again this fact is attested to by all four of the gospels, and is also implied by multiple other New Testament sources.

One of the details of the empty tomb story that makes it so believable is that the tomb was discovered by women. In the first-century, Jewish society had become very sexist and women we not regarded as credible witnesses. Their testimonies were not even admissible in court. They occupied a very low rung on the social ladder. Therefore, if the empty tomb story was just made up by the disciples, it’s highly unbelievable that they would have made women the ones who discovered the empty tomb.

According to Jacob Kremer, a New Testament critic who has specialized in the study of the resurrection, “By far most scholars hold firmly to the reliability of the biblical statements about the empty tomb.” In fact, in a survey of over 2,200 publications on the resurrection in English, French and German since 1975, Gary Habermas found that 75% of scholars accepted the historicity of the discovery of Jesus’ empty tomb.


Fact #3: The Eyewitness Appearances


On multiple occasions and under various circumstances, different individuals and even groups of people experienced appearances of Jesus alive after his death. This is a fact that is universally accepted by New Testament historians.

In his letter to the church at Corinth, which predates even the Gospel of Mark, Paul writes, “I passed on to you what was most important and what had also been passed on to me. Christ died for our sins, just as the Scriptures said. He was buried, and he was raised from the dead on the third day, just as the Scriptures said. He was seen by Peter and then by the Twelve. After that, he was seen by more than 500 of his followers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then he was seen by James and later by all the apostles. Last of all, as though I had been born at the wrong time, I also saw him” (1 Corinthians 15:3-8 NLT).

Notice how Paul points out that these witnesses were still alive, as if to say, “You can ask them yourself.” In addition to Paul’s list of eyewitnesses, we also have Matthew, Luke and John each describing multiple appearances. We also have the testimony of Peter, who writes, “For we did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty” (2 Peter 1:16 NIV).

Even the agnostic scholar Gerd Lüdemann is emphatic: “It may be taken as historically certain that Peter and the disciples had experiences after Jesus’ death in which Jesus appeared to them as the risen Christ.”


Fact #4: The Effects


What happened as a result of the resurrection is unprecedented in human history. The early disciples turned an empire and, eventually, the world upside down because they were utterly convinced that Jesus was raised from the dead.

In fact, all of the disciples came to believe so strongly in the resurrection that they were willing to go to their deaths for that belief. Lee Strobel has well said, “People will die for their religious beliefs is they sincerely believe they’re true, but people won’t die for their religious beliefs if they know their beliefs are false.”

Not only were Christ’s followers transformed by the resurrection, but so were his critics and enemies. Paul, for example, went from persecuting Christians to preaching Christ after he encountered the resurrected Jesus on the road to Damascus.

Jesus’ younger brother, James, was embarrassed by Jesus’ preaching and even tried to hold an intervention to bring him home, but when Jesus appeared to him risen from the dead everything changed. He not only became a believer, but a leader of the Jerusalem church and, according to two Roman historians—Josephus and Eusebius—James was stoned to death for his faith.

Within weeks of the resurrection, not just a few, but an entire community of at least ten thousand Jews were willing to give up the very sociological and theological traditions that had given them their national identity. As the eminent British scholar, N.T. Wright concludes, “That is why as a historian, I cannot explain the rise of early Christianity unless Jesus rose again leaving an empty tomb behind him.”




Remember that these four facts—the execution, the empty tomb, the eyewitness reports, and the transformative effects—are not simply matters of faith that we believe because we think the Bible is God’s Word. Rather, these are historically verifiable facts agreed upon by the vast majority of scholars regardless of whether they are Christian, atheist, agnostic, or something else.

Down through history, various alternative explanations of these facts have been offered—conspiracy theories, like the disciples stole the body, the apparent death theory, the hallucination theory, and others. These theories have been almost universally rejected by contemporary scholarship. And so the best explanation for these four facts remains the explanation offered by the original disciples—namely, that God raised Jesus from the dead. And, of course, if God raised Jesus from the dead, then God must exist!

The light of Christ takes the arguments for God’s existence a step beyond cosmology, creation and conscience, as it helps us know that God not only exists, but has personally revealed himself through Jesus Christ. We’ve just got one more message left in this series about the evidence for God’s existence. So please come back next week as we discover the light of Conversion!




Now, I should probably tell you how Lee Strobel’s story ended. After nearly two years of investigation, Lee sat down at his desk with legal pad and drew a line down the middle. On one side he wrote all the evidence against Jesus being the Son of God and one the other all the evidence for it. Overwhelmed by his own discoveries, he gave his heart to Jesus right then and there. Maybe you’re ready to do the very same thing today. If so, I’d like to help.

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