I believe in Jesus. I believe in Jesus as God who became flesh, to show us who God is, to show us what God wants of a human being, to die for our sins, to fulfill the prophecies, to draw people of all nations to God, and that He lives and reigns right now as Lord of all creation, and that one day He’s coming back and at His voice all of the dead will rise, “many will meet their doom and the righteous will meet in the skies.” I honestly believe every bit of that. I so believe it that I’m betting my life on it. I’m letting the example and teachings of this man Jesus from 2,000 years ago run my life, determine my daily priorities, my weekly schedule, the first item on my monthly financial budget, what I watch on TV and on my computer, what I do for fun, my language, the way I raise my kids, the way I treat my spouse and the way I treat everyone I interact with. Of course I have moments here and there of inconsistency with that. But I’m trying to have less moments of inconsistency with letting Jesus rule my life. I am all in on Jesus being who the Bible says He is.
And I just want to tell you why today, why I believe in Jesus that perhaps I might further shore up your faith in Him and that perhaps I might give you something with which you can help others who haven’t yet made a decision about Him. We sing sometimes, “You ask me how I know He lives, He lives within my heart.” Well, it may be that He lives in your heart, but I really don’t think that should be the extent of our answer to those who ask us how we know He lives. That’s not a very convincing answer to a skeptical person. And I really don’t think that’s the kind of answer Peter meant when he told Christians, “Be always ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you.” (I Pt 3:15). Peter meant be ready to share the kind of stuff I’m going to share with you today. You ask me how I know He lives, let me give you 6 of my reasons.
I believe in Jesus first of all very simply because of…
The New Testament Testimony about Him.
Now, a lot of people won’t see that as a very strong reason to believe in Jesus, because they don’t realize what the NT is. They think of the NT as just the last portion of a big mysterious ancient book whose origin is unknown and whose testimony has surely been embellished and tampered with over the centuries. They don’t realize that we have a tremendous amount of empirical evidence that confirms conclusively that the NT is a collection of authentic 1st century documents.
We have found 18 Greek manuscript copies of NT writings that date in 2nd century, and sounds like recently a fragment of the gospel of Mark was found in an ancient mummy mask in Egypt that dates to in 1st century, in the 80s A.D. most likely (click here for a video about it.)
And then there are literally thousands of quotations from the NT in the writings of the early Christians of 1st few centuries who we call the church fathers, by men such as Clement of Rome, Ignatius, Polycarp, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, and many others. They’re writings are saturated with quotations from the NT. In fact it has been said rightly that even if we did not possess a single NT manuscript we would almost be able to reconstruct the entire NT just from the quotations in the early church fathers. These discoveries confirm that the NT writings are 1st century writings.
And we have no reason to doubt what John wrote in I John 1:1 that we write to you “what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands“. We have no reason to doubt that these writings were actually written by eyewitness of Jesus like Matthew, John, Peter, Paul, James and Jude, or by men who were very very close with the eyewitness like Mark and Luke. That appears to be part of why these writings became so popular around the world so quickly. It’s because they contain eyewitness testimony.
And they’re not written like mythical stories that begin a long long time ago in a land far far away. The events recorded are placed in very specific times and places and among real historical people. And they are remarkably historically accurate as far as we can confirm their accuracy. Every time the NT writings make a statement about a historical person or place or the customs of the time or an event, if you can check it with what we know about history from archaeology and the other writings of antiquity, the historical statements are always exactly right. The NT is always spot on about who ruled over where at what time and about things like the fact that Caesar Augustus ordered that a census be taken of the Roman Empire while Quirinius was governor of Syria (Lk 2:1-2) and that there was a great famine during the reign of Claudius (Acts 11:28) and that Annas and Caiaphas really were high priests and Herod the Great really was a crazy cruel kind fella and Gamaliel the teacher of Paul, the Mishnah confirms, really was a leading Rabbi of the Pharisees, and so on and so forth. The NT is right on with everything we know about history.
So it’s a good reason to believe in Jesus, the 1st century eyewitness testimony of these writings that are historically reliable as far as we can tell.
Another reason I believe in Jesus is because…
Much of the NT testimony is confirmed by multiple non-Christian sources.
If we did not have any of the writings of the NT or any of the writings of the early Christians, we could still establish many facts of the Jesus story from Jewish and Roman writings who were absolutely not trying to promote Christianity. Here’s a few examples.
Let’s start with a couple Jewish sources. In the Talmud, which is a collection of writings from Jewish Rabbis through the ages, there is testimony about Jesus from the earliest period of compilation known as the Tannaitic (Ta-na-itic) period, which was 1st and 2nd century. So here is a 1st or 2nd century Jewish statement about Jesus. “On the eve of Passover they hanged Yeshu [which is Hebrew for Jesus]. For forty days before the execution took place, a herald went forth and cried, ‘He is going forth to be stoned, because he has practiced sorcery and enticed Israel to apostasy. Anyone who can say anything in his favor, let him come forward and plead on his behalf.’ But since nothing was brought forward in his favor he was hanged on the eve of the Passover!” (The Babylonian Talmud, transl. by I. Epstein (London: Soncino, 1935), vol. III. Sanhedrin 43a, p. 281.) It says, He was hanged, which was a synonym for crucified (Gal 3:13; Lk 23:39). It says He was hanged on the eve of the Passover, which is around the same time the NT says He was hung on a cross. And did you notice the crimes they said Jesus had committed? First, they said He practiced sorcery. That sounds a lot like Matthew 12:24; after a demon possessed man who was blind and mute was totally instantly healed by Jesus so that he could speak and see, and the people were wondering if He was the King promised to come, and the Pharisees said, “This man casts out demons only by Beelzebul the ruler of the demons.” They could not deny that He cast out demons and He performed deeds that had every appearance of being supernatural. That was undeniable. So what they did was accuse Him of using the power of Satan to do it, or that He practiced sorcery. And then in the Talmud it says He was accused of leading Israel into apostasy. Sounds a lot like Luke 23:2 when the Jewish leaders brought Jesus before Pilate they began to accusing Him saying, “We found this man misleading our nation…” And so what we find in the Talmud is exactly the type of statement that you would expect from a Jewish community that was well aware of the life of Jesus like it’s recorded in the NT.
Another Jewish source is a man named Flavius Josephus. Josephus was a 1st century Jewish military leader who was captured by the Romans in war under captain Vespasian. And I guess Vespasian liked Josephus and so when Vespasian became emperor he elevated Josephus to a position of prominence and allowed him to write the history of the Jews. And in his writings about the history of the Jews he mentions Jesus a few times. Here’s some of the things Josephus said about Jesus. “Now, there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if indeed we should call him a man; for he was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to Himself many Jews, and many of the Gentiles.” And he says, “Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, condemned him to the cross” (Antiquities of the Jews, 18:3:3). Doesn’t the NT say that the principal men among the Jews pressured governor Pilate to crucify Him and Pilate did? That’s what Josephus says too. In another section of his writings Josephus speaks of, “James, the brother of Jesus who was called the Christ” (Antiquities of the Jews, 20:9:1). Doesn’t the NT say that Jesus had a brother named James?
Now, here’s a Roman source. Cornelius Tacitus, who lived from 55 to 120 A.D., was an upper-class Roman with a good education who held high governmental positions under several Roman emperors. He is most famous for writing the Annals, a history of Rome. And in it there is this statement. “Nero… punished with every refinement the notoriously depraved Christians [shows you how he feels about Christianity. Not a fan]. Their originator, Christ, had been executed in Tiberius’ reign [Interesting, because Luke 3:1 says it was in the 15th year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar that Jesus began His ministry.] by the governor of Judea, Pontius Pilatus. But in spite of this temporary setback the deadly superstition [talking about Christianity] had broken out afresh, not only in Judea (where the mischief had started) but even in Rome” (Tacitus, Annals of Imperial Rome, xv.44). Doesn’t the book of Acts say that this Christianity “mischief” began in Jerusalem of Judea and then spread from there all over the known world even to Rome?
So there are many facts of the Jesus story that we can establish from sources totally outside the Bible, totally not biased toward Christianity.
Here’s a link for other examples – 1st and 2nd century non-Christian testimony about Jesus
These ancient sources prove that not only was Jesus a real man who walked the first century streets of Palestine, but no question He was a extraordinary teacher, a doer of what appeared to be miracles, and He really was crucified around Passover time by order of governor Pontius Pilate in Judea who was pressured by the Jewish leaders, and He was afterward believed by many to be raised from the dead and the number of His followers began to multiply and spread from Judea to all over the known world in that first century. Those are facts of history as sure as George Washington was the first U.S. president and Alexander the Great really was a military commander.
Thirdly, I believe in Jesus because of…
The Inexplicably Empty Tomb of Jesus
Christianity would have never begun in Judea if the body of Jesus was still in the tomb. There’s no question that tomb was empty. And nobody has ever been able to give a convincing explanation for how His tomb became empty.
Remember the earliest attempt to explain it by the Jewish leaders, Matthew’s gospel says, was the story that His disciples came by night and stole the body (Matt 28:13). Around the year 165 A.D. a Christian known as Justin Martyr penned his Dialogue with Trypho and in it he recorded a letter that the Jewish community had been circulating regarding the empty tomb of Jesus. And in this Jewish letter it said, “A godless and lawless heresy had sprung from one Jesus, a Galilean deceiver, whom we crucified, but his disciples stole him by night from the tomb, where he was laid when unfastened from the cross, and now deceive men by asserting that he has risen from the dead and ascended to heaven” (Dialogue with Trypho, chapter 108). But it didn’t make any sense, because those disciples proved with their own blood and tears and deaths that they really believed Jesus was alive. It’s another well documented fact of history that Jesus’ disciples were viewed and punished as criminals because they wouldn’t silence their testimony about this risen Jesus and most of them were eventually executed because they wouldn’t be quiet about it. It doesn’t make any sense to say that those guys stole the body. Those guys apparently really believed He was alive because they were willing to suffer and die over it.
And you know those Jewish and Roman authorities would have paid high price to somebody who could present the dead body of Jesus because then they could have stopped this obnoxious Jesus movement in its tracks if they had the corpse of Jesus to show people. But nobody could find His body.
And the modern swoon theory that Jesus didn’t really die on the cross, but rather He swooned or passed out is unconvincing to say the least. It would mean that the Romans failed to make sure He was dead, and that He woke up in the tomb after going without food and water for days and being horribly tortured and losing an extreme amount of blood without any medical attention and that then He had the strength to break out of the burial wrappings and to get up and move away the stone blocking the exit and walk out and then be still strong enough to trick His disciples into believing that He had risen from the dead and was the all powerful Lord of all creation. The Jewish leaders knew that nobody would buy that explanation, so they preferred the “disciples stole the body” explanation.
Fourth, I believe in Jesus because of…
The Conviction of the Early Christians to the Point of Giving Up Their Lives
Have you ever thought about, how did Christianity begin and spread all over the world in the 1st century? I think I understand how Islam spread. From what I’ve read about it I guess in the century immediately following the death of Muhammad (632), Muslim forces conquered lands stretching from the borders of China and India to Spain’s Atlantic coast. And in many places they gave people 3 options. Option 1 – convert to Islam. Option 2, if you didn’t want to convert, was you pay the Jizya, a certain hefty tax (so there were financial benefits to conversion), and also included in option 2 was that you could not openly perform any worship services to your God and you couldn’t build any church buildings or synagogues and there were some other difficult stipulations. Or option 3, if you didn’t want to convert and you didn’t want to pay the tax and comply with the stipulations of option 2, was be killed. So many converted for the earthly benefits. But the beginning of Christianity was the opposite. No one in the first century was threatened or tortured or offered financial advantages and securities to convert to Christianity. No, they faced threats and possible torture and financial ruin and death if they became a Christian. How do you explain the spread of Christianity like wildfire in the hostile 1st and 2nd century world?
Listen to this ancient document written by Pliny, governor of Bithynia around 112 A.D. It expresses how illegal and dangerous it was to become a Christian in its early years. Pliny wrote this letter to Emperor Trajan seeking some advice from him on how to deal with Christians. He asked questions like should he deal as severely with tender Christian youths as he does with strong Christian men, and what if they used to be Christians but they’re not any more, should he fully pardon them, things like that. And in the letter he explained how he’d been dealing with Christians who were brought to him so far. He wrote: “Meanwhile, in the case of those who were denounced to me as Christians, I have observed the following procedure: I interrogated these as to whether they were Christians; those who confessed I interrogated a second and a third time, threatening them with punishment; those who persisted I ordered executed. For I had no doubt that, whatever the nature of their creed, stubbornness and inflexible obstinacy surely deserve to be punished. There were others possessed of the same folly; but because they were Roman citizens, I signed an order for them to be transferred to Rome.” (So the Christians brought before him if they held to their confession 3 times they were executed, unless they were Roman citizens, then they were sent off to Rome to be tried.) Later in the writing Pliny mentions how he tried to obtain more information about Christian beliefs and practices by torturing two female Christian slaves called deaconesses. Then he wrote, “But I discovered nothing but depraved, excessive superstition. For the matter seemed to me to warrant consulting you, especially because of the number involved. For many persons of every age, every rank, and also of both sexes are and will be endangered. For this contagious superstition has spread not only to the cities but also to the villages and farms.”
Weird! Why in such a hostile environment was Christianity so contagious? I think because the events of the gospel were real events and these people lived close enough to the events to know they were real and that they were backed by real eyewitness testimony from intelligent honest people and that there was a real empty tomb and there were real miracles done by Jesus and by His apostles and there were real fulfilled prophecies; there was real solid convincing evidence.
And what’s really remarkable to me regarding the faith of the early Christians is the conviction of those who knew Jesus best and who claimed to have seen Him alive from the dead. Acts 1:14 indicates that Mary the mother of Jesus and His brothers were believers in Jesus as the Messiah after He’d left this world. Two of Jesus’ brothers, James and Jude, wrote NT letters. His brother James became a pillar of the Jerusalem church and endured persecution for his faith in his brother right next to the apostles. Josephus says that James was eventually stoned to death (Antiquities of the Jews, 20:9:1). Why did they believe so strongly in Him? And the apostles who lived with Him for 3 years, who knew if they saw Him alive from the dead or not, why did they sacrifice their lives to preach a risen Jesus? Why did Saul of Tarsus who had such a prestigious position in the Jewish community, who was trained by Gamaliel, the great Rabbi, who had everything going for him… why did he throw all that away to become a suffering Christian evangelist who claimed to have seen the risen Lord? All of that is very hard to explain unless they really did see the risen Lord.
Fifthly, I believe in Jesus because of…
The Greatness of His Teaching
He was carpenter with no special training. Yet He’s been the most influential life transforming teacher the world has ever known.
A psychiatrist in the 1950s, James T. Fisher, had this to say about the Sermon on the Mount: “If you were to take the sum total of all the authoritative articles ever written by the most qualified of psychologists and psychiatrists on the subject of mental hygiene, if you were to combine them and refine them and cleave out the excess verbiage, if you were to take the whole of the meat and none of the parsley, and if you were to have those unadulterated bits of pure scientific knowledge concisely expressed by the most capable of living poets, you would have an awkward and incomplete summation of the Sermon on the Mount.”
Don’t His teachings give logical reasonable explanations for why we’re on this earth, who God is, how we should live, how we should treat people, where everything is headed ultimately? Don’t His teachings make sense of this world and what God is doing? Aren’t the morals and ethics He taught consistent with what our consciences tell us are right and wrong?
Think of the people you know who, not just claim to be Christians, but who honestly follow the teachings of Jesus. The most respectable admirable beautiful in character and joyful people I have ever met are those who believe in Jesus and are honestly trying to put His teachings into practice in their lives. They have the best families I’ve ever seen. They make the very best employees and very best friends you could ever have. They weather trials and storms of life better than anybody else I’ve seen. There is no other philosophy in the world that has been so successful at producing people of beautiful unselfish character of love and joy. And I think of who I would be if I didn’t know Jesus and His teachings; I would probably be a very self-centered depressed immoral person, maybe even an alcoholic. But He has changed my character and life extremely for the better, as He has millions of others through every generation since He came to this world.
And think of Jesus’ response when the Jewish leaders tried to trap Him with the question, “Is it lawful for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” If He says “Not” they’ll get him in trouble with the Romans. If He says “It is lawful” it would discredit Him in the eyes of many as a supporter of the Romans. They thought they had Him trapped. But He said, “Show me that coin. Whose image is on that?” “That Caesar’s image.” “So render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s.” Brilliant! They couldn’t believe He got out of that one. Then think of how He dealt with the Sadducees who thought they could stump Him a question about the resurrection, because they’d stumped the Scribes with this question, and Jesus laid out plainly their misunderstanding of the power of God and Scriptures and amazed everyone listening with His answer. As the officers said in John 7:46 when they were sent by the Jewish leaders to arrest Jesus and they decided not to, and they were asked, “Why didn’t you arrest Him?” they said, “Never has a man spoken the way this man speaks.” His teachings are unique and great, what you’d expect of the Son of God.
Sixth, I believe in Jesus because of…
The Impact He has had on the World
I want to read to you something. It’s from an anonymous author, entitled “One Solitary Life”:
“Here is a man who was born in an obscure village, the child of a peasant woman. He grew up in another village, and that a despised one. He worked in a carpenter shop until He was thirty, and then for three years He was an itinerant preacher. He never owned a home. He never wrote a book. He never held an office. He never had a family. He never went to college. He never put His foot inside a real big city. He never traveled two hundred miles from the place He was born. He never did one of the things that usually accompany greatness. He had no credentials but Himself. While still a young man, the tide of public opinion turned against him. His friends ran away. One of them denied Him. He was turned over to His enemies. He went through the mockery of a trial. He was nailed upon a cross between two thieves. While He was dying His executioners gambled for the only piece of property He had on earth, His seamless robe. When He was dead, He was laid in a borrowed grave through the pity of a friend. Just about twenty long centuries have come and gone, and today He is a centerpiece of the human race, and the leader of all human progress. I am well within the mark when I say that all the armies that ever marched, all the navies that were ever built, all the parliaments that ever sat, and all the kings that ever ruled put together have not affected the life of man upon this earth as powerfully as has that one solitary life.”
I have more reasons why I believe in Jesus that we won’t get into now. One of my biggest reasons are some of the prophecies of the OT Scriptures about this great king and savior of the world that God was going to send that, because of the Dead Sea Scrolls and ancient Jewish commentaries and other things, I know were written hundreds of years before Jesus was ever born. That’s another big reason I have among others. And when you put it all together I think it’s more than powerful enough to convince any good and honest heart.
You ask me how I know He lives – (1) 1st century eyewitness testimony about Him in the NT writings, (2) much of the NT testimony is confirmed by non-Christian sources, (3) the inexplicably empty tomb, (4) the conviction of the early Christians to the point of giving up their lives, especially those who knew Him best and claimed to have seen Him alive from the dead, (5) the greatness of His teaching, (6) the impact He’s had on the world, (7) the fact that He fits perfectly the prophetic description of the king and savior of the world that God was going to send. That’s how I know He lives and reigns and that He’s worth betting our lives on.
– James Williams