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Because Easter is the first Sunday in April, I will focus my March article on the resurrection of Jesus. In sharing the good news of the gospel, I have learned from teachers like Habermas, Licona, Craig, and others, under the heading of “Criteria of Authenticity,” that counter-productive evidence for the resurrection really resonates with the skeptic. In my personal experience as a pastor, this draws the person I am witnessing to deeper into the gospel conversation, and often, it has led to a profession of faith in Jesus. Let’s take a brief look at what is called “embarrassing enemy evidence” for the resurrection from the religious leaders and the Pharisee Saul before he becomes the apostle Paul.
The Religious Leaders
Everyone is in agreement on both sides of the resurrection debate that enemy attestation is a powerful proposition regarding the proof of the resurrection. The enemies of Jesus hated Him and were the ones who had Him put to death. The Jewish Sanhedrin and the Roman government had absolutely nothing to gain and everything to lose in making any statement that helped prove the resurrection. Now, in order to have a resurrection, you first need an empty tomb. Do you know who was first to testify to the tomb of Jesus being empty?
“While the women were on their way, some of the guards went into the city and reported to the chief priests everything that had happened. When the chief priests had met with the elders and devised a plan, they gave the soldiers a large sum of money, telling them, ‘You are to say His disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep. If this report gets to the governor, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.’ So the soldiers took the money and did as they were instructed. And this story has been widely circulated among the Jews to this very day” (Matthew 28:11-15).
First, the tomb location was known. This is called the “Jerusalem Factor” as Jesus was publicly executed and put into a known tomb of Joseph of Arimathea. Remember, two known Pharisees buried Jesus – Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus. So, there would be no confusing the precise location. Second, if the tomb was not empty, the religious leaders would have simply produced the dead and decaying body of Jesus and paraded Him around Jerusalem for all the world to see. The reason they could not produce His body from a tomb that was widely known was because Jesus was no longer in the tomb. He rose bodily from the grave.
Remember, if someone has any kind of bias against someone else, what would be the reason for that person saying anything positive or helpful about the other person? There would be no reason, except for the fact that it must be true. The only story the enemies of Jesus could come up with for the tomb being empty was the disciples stole the body. And, we know how silly that claim is when we read the stories of how most of them died for their faith in a risen Jesus. Now on to a true enemy of Jesus.
Saul of Tarsus
For over two thousand years, no skeptic has ever been able to explain away the Pharisee Saul in any reasonable and plausible fashion, who became Paul the pastor, preacher, and disciple of Jesus who penned much of the New Testament.
Saul of Tarsus was feared among the first-century church. He was relentless in his persecution of the followers of Jesus, and he testifies to that truth in a variety of places (1 Corinthians 15:9; Galatians 1:13; 1 Timothy 1:13), “as for zeal, persecuting the church” (Philippians 3:5). Along with his epistles, the book of Acts testifies to Saul being a staunch persecutor of the church. Then something happened on the road to Damascus.
“Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem. As he neared Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?’ ‘Who are you, Lord?’ Saul asked. ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,’ he replied. ‘Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do’” (Acts 9:1-6).
Perhaps there was no greater enemy of the early church than Saul of Tarsus. It is said he even held the coats of those who stoned Stephen to death (Acts 7). Saul was blinded by his self-righteous, false religion and did everything in his power to extinguish the light of the gospel. But to no avail. The resurrected Jesus showed up and transformed Saul the persecutor into Paul the preacher. How do explain this historical truth? There is only one way – it happened just like the Scriptures say it happened.
Oh, one more thing. It is beyond contestation that Paul was martyred under the emperor Nero for his faith in Jesus. Early church fathers, Polycarp, Tertullian, and Clement of Rome, all testify to this truth. The only way anyone could go from killing Christians to being killed for being a Christian is because the risen and resurrected Jesus showed up. I think you will agree with this kind of enemy attestation from those who hated Jesus, we have another powerful proof for the resurrection of Jesus and a wonderful path to lead the unbeliever on toward salvation. So, the question is, “Do you believe?” If yes, the next question is, “Who have you been leading to Jesus?” He is risen! He is risen indeed!
This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!
Dr. Tommy Boland is senior pastor of Cross Community Church in Deerfield Beach (www.thecrosscc.org). He blogs regularly at tommyboland.com. For more articles by Dr. Tommy Boland, visit goodnewsfl.org/tommy-boland.