“You Ask Me How I Know He Lives…”

Pull quotes:

“If someone should ask you, ‘Why do you believe in Jesus,’ could you give a clear, reasoned answer?”

“Both head reasons and heart reasons are valid, but my heart reasons may not be as valid for the enquirer as they are for me…”

“Our faith stands on objective, historical events that won’t go away.”

“The cornerstone of our faith is the resurrection of Jesus.”

“We can be confident in the historical fact of the resurrection.”

“The unchanging testimony of the witnesses in the face of death proves their integrity.”

“The testimony of the resurrection was tested as severely as any claim has ever been, and it has stood the test.”

Peter writes, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” (1 Peter 3:15 NIV)

If someone should ask you, “Why do you believe in Jesus? Why do you serve him? How do you know his claims are real?”, what would you say? Could you give a clear and reasoned answer?

A familiar Christian song says,

I serve a risen Savior,
He’s in the world today;
I know that he is living,
Whatever men may say;
I see his hand of mercy,
I hear his voice of cheer,
And just the time I need him
He’s always near.

He lives, He lives,Christ Jesus lives today!
He walks with me and talks with me
along life’s narrow way.
He lives, He lives,Salvation to impart!
You ask me how I know he lives?
He lives within my heart.

(A.H. Ackley)

I come from a Christian heritage which has majored on head reasons more than heart reasons for believing in Jesus. We have known about Jesus but have not always known him very well. I am glad that is changing. God gave us hearts as well as minds. He draws people to himself through both. My subjective, personal experience with Jesus is one valid reason for my faith.

Yet when it comes to explaining to someone why I believe, my heart reasons may not be as valid for him as they are for me. He is more likely to be convinced by objective, public truth that is the same for every observer. We thank God for our personal relationship with him. But we can also be thankful that our faith stands on objective, historical events which won’t go away even when we are emotionally down, weary, or when God seems far away. What are some of the objective reasons for our faith?

First of all, why would Jesus claim to be Son of God? To rise politically and gain a worldly following? When people tried to make Jesus their king by force, he hid from them. His teaching was not politically correct. Did he pretend to be God in order to get people’s money? He never charged a penny for healing incurable diseases or raising the dead, though he could have named any price. Was he simply crazy? His words are the sanest ever spoken. Since none of the usual reasons exist, one reason remains. He simply is who he says he is.

Jesus’ teachings and character are not the kind that human fiction invents. Jesus’ miracles also prove that he is real. It is well attested that he walked on water, healed all kinds of disease, raised the dead. But the cornerstone of our faith is the resurrection of Jesus himself from the dead. Jesus was willing to subject his claims to the ultimate test. He said he would rise on the third day. If his body is still in the grave, he was a hoax. If he did rise, he is really God. He is able to save us from sin and death and give us eternal life. We will stand before him at the judgment. He has a right to tell us how to live. We had better listen. He is Lord.

When the apostles went out to witness about Christ, their sermons always revolved around his resurrection. Paul writes to the Romans that Jesus was “declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead.” And our faith in the resurrection is based on solid evidence. Even if one did not believe the scriptures are inspired by God, and only treated them as historical accounts, the resurrection is well supported by reliable testimony.

Because the Christian faith stands on the resurrection of Christ, people have attempted to explain away the resurrection. Some say Jesus was not really dead when he was taken from the cross, just in a very deep death-like coma. But how would a weakened Jesus get out of the grave, when several able-bodied women were not able to move the stone? How did he get past the guards? Besides, it was the business of Roman soldiers to kill and do it right. Their own life could depend on the prisoner being dead. One of the soldiers made sure with his spear thrust. Out came “blood and water,” showing that Jesus had been dead long enough for the blood to separate.

Others explain the empty tomb by saying someone stole the body. Why, then, was the head cloth found neatly folded? If the disciples stole the body to fake a resurrection (as the Jewish authorities told it), how were the disciples willing to die for what they knew was a lie? People tell lies to gain some advantage or get out of trouble, not to get in more trouble or throw away their lives. If the lie begins to bring trouble, we change our story. Only full belief in their testimony would cause the disciples to die rather than change it.

The unbelieving Jews wanted more than anything to discredit the gospel. If they had stolen the body, and crowds began to believe the preaching of the resurrection, the Jews would immediately have produced the dead body and killed the gospel once and for all. It didn’t happen.

We can be confident about our faith in Christ because we can be confident in the historical fact of the resurrection of Jesus. When a court tests the truth of an allegation, it looks at several factors. How many witnesses are there who agree? Are the witnesses eyewitnesses or hearsay witnesses? Are they credulous people or cautious and careful of what they believe? Are they unbiased and of dependable character?

Numbers of people saw Jesus alive after his death, including one group of over 500. Many of them talked with him, ate with him. The scriptural accounts of the resurrection, upon which our faith depends, were written by eyewitnesses to the resurrection and by scribes who collected the testimony of eyewitnesses.

The witnesses were not credulous. Jesus’ apostles, the foremost witnesses to his resurrection, were not biased toward believing. They had a hard time believing until they made sure. Peter and John refused to believe the report of the women until they ran and saw the empty tomb for themselves. The group in upper room refused to believe Jesus was more than a ghost until they had seen his wounds and seen him eat food. Thomas was absent at that first visit. Known as a doubter, he would not even believe the combined testimony of his fellow apostles until he felt of Jesus’ wounds for himself. After he did, he fell down before Jesus and exclaimed, “My Lord and My God!”

These people went out everywhere and witnessed to the resurrection. Their reward was continual persecution and often death. They had to keep on preaching because they knew what they had seen. Their unchanging testimony in the face of death proves their integrity and makes them the most believable kind of witnesses.

The transformation in the apostles after the resurrection proves that it happened. Before Jesus’ death Peter, afraid for his own skin, had denied Jesus three times. The other apostles had fled for their lives when Jesus was arrested. After the resurrection Peter and the rest preached Jesus whatever it cost them personally. The only explanation for this change is that they had seen Jesus alive again. Similarly, the brilliant Saul of Tarsus was willing to exchange the most promising career among the powerful for the life of a persecuted outcast and fugitive, always under threat of death. He did this because he knew he had seen the resurrected Christ. Nothing else can adequately explain it.

One of the most powerful tests to me is the opposition to the gospel by the unbelieving Jewish authorities. Thousands of people around Jerusalem believed the gospel and committed their lives to Christ knowing they too might suffer or die. People do not subject themselves and their loved ones to danger without making sure about the faith they are embracing. Unlike ourselves, these people were in a position to check firsthand. They could go to the places and talk to the people where it all happened. So could the unbelieving Jews. They wanted intensely to put a stop to the gospel. If evidence could have been produced to discredit the apostles’ message, you can be dead sure the Jews would have produced it. It didn’t happen. The testimony of the resurrection of Jesus was tested as severely as any message ever has been, and it has stood the test.

Biblical faith is not knowledge, but neither is it a credulous leap in the dark, nor believing what we want to believe. Faith is based on evidence. There is dependable evidence for the resurrection of Jesus. Therefore there is dependable hope for our own resurrection when he returns. We may be moving toward a time when it will be costly to keep our faith. The unchanging historical reality of Christ’s resurrection will uphold us. It will also help others who ask us because they need hope and direction in their lives.

— B. Shelburne, from a course at SHBI