Christians worry too much about how our faith, and all that it entails, impacts our lives.
• So much so that we gravitate towards Christian ministries, teaching, or books that attempt to show us how to have “our best life now”.
o As of today, the best-selling Christian books have to do with “how to let go”, “the story of your life”, “enjoying peace”, “guide to deliverance”, “life together”, “increased wealth and better relationships”, etc.
• In the course of any given week, we make our faith all about us and meeting our needs.
o Even though we might be more sophisticated about it than reading questionable books.
• The result is that we have “applicationed” and “devotionified” it to death with selfish needs and cultural baggage.
We lose sight of the fact that Christian faith and its Gospel are not rooted in us, but are rooted in the action of God in history.
• Christianity is unique among world religions in a number of ways.
• One in particular is its relationship to history.
• “The God of the Bible acts in time and space” – John Monson.
• We make the claim that “God’s existence, character, and direct (sometimes miraculous) involvement and guidance in history, and biblical revelation [are] historical realities” – Richard Averbeck.
• Christianity stands or falls on the truth of historical events.
• Historical events are “the central theme of the Bible, [forming] the main link between Old and New Testaments, and [whose] presence and importance marks biblical faith off clearly from other religions” – James Barr.
I want us to see that understanding God’s work in history and its implications deserve more of our time than “devotion” or “application”.
• Any religion or philosophy has “devotion” and “application”.
o There is even a movement afoot to build an atheist “temple” in London.
• Only we have a God of history!
As we celebrate Easter today, I want to briefly explore two acts of God in history, their connection and why the can be believed.
• The Exodus and the Resurrection
1) THE EXODUS
Old Testament scholar James Hoffmeier argues that the establishment of the Israelites as an ethnic group and a nation was based on “a particular event” in history.
• The particular event is the Exodus including, specifically, the giving of the law on Mt. Sinai.
What is at stake?
• Jean Louis Ska says the Exodus “contains the experience on which Israel based its existence as a people.”
• This “experience as a people” includes not only the Exodus itself but the entirety of Israel’s history ultimately culminating in Jesus.
• “From the earliest prophets, to those from the end of the Old Testament period, the exodus and wilderness history, and especially the Sinaitic covenant, are constant themes. And it was the violation of that ancient treaty with God that accounted for the calamities they were encountering from the Assyrian through Persian periods” – James Hoffmeier.
The Old Testament makes this connection clear.
• Exodus 6:7–8 (ESV) — 7 I will take you to be my people, and I will be your God, and you shall know that I am the LORD your God, who has brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians. 8 I will bring you into the land that I swore to give to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. I will give it to you for a possession. I am the LORD.’ ”
In fact, not only did God use the Exodus to “take you to be my people” but God also used it to obligate the Israelites into the Mosaic covenant.
• Exodus 20:1–3 (ESV) — 1 And God spoke all these words, saying, 2 “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. 3 “You shall have no other gods before me.”
• Deuteronomy 24:18 (ESV) — 18 but you shall remember that you were a slave in Egypt and the LORD your God redeemed you from there; therefore I command you to do this.
• And so “…because God delivered Israel from its servitude in Egypt, Israel would now become Yahweh’s people by the Sinaitic covenant (treaty), which carried with it laws or stipulations” – James K. Hoffmeier.
More Examples of Israel’s Connection to the Exodus:
• Exodus 13:9 (ESV) — 9 And it shall be to you as a sign on your hand and as a memorial between your eyes, that the law of the LORD may be in your mouth. For with a strong hand the LORD has brought you out of Egypt.
• Deuteronomy 4:20 (ESV) — 20 But the LORD has taken you and brought you out of the iron furnace, out of Egypt, to be a people of his own inheritance, as you are this day.
• 1 Kings 8:16 (ESV) — 16 ‘Since the day that I brought my people Israel out of Egypt, I chose no city out of all the tribes of Israel in which to build a house, that my name might be there. But I chose David to be over my people Israel.’
• Psalm 66:5–6 (ESV) — 5 Come and see what God has done: he is awesome in his deeds toward the children of man. 6 He turned the sea into dry land; they passed through the river on foot. There did we rejoice in him,
• Psalm 80:8 (ESV) — 8 You brought a vine out of Egypt; you drove out the nations and planted it.
• Jeremiah 2:6 (ESV) — 6 They did not say, ‘Where is the LORD who brought us up from the land of Egypt, who led us in the wilderness, in a land of deserts and pits, in a land of drought and deep darkness, in a land that none passes through, where no man dwells?’
It should be clear; if there was no Exodus then there were no chosen people of God through which the promised offspring would come.
• And there would be no reason to expect restoration from exile for such a people.
• If the truth of Scripture depends on the historicity of the Exodus, an obvious question follows.
• What are the reasons to believe the Exodus occurred?
Reasons to Believe:
(1) Uniqueness of the event – Origin of People, Its Law and Curses and the Exodus
• Within in ANE religious history, “identifying an ethnic group with their deity in terms of a particular event…is unique” to Israel and Yahweh” – James Hoffmeier.
• In the context of Mesopotamian ANE religions, only in the Hebrew law do “statutes include the specific historical event that created the precedent…” – James Hoffmeier.
• Covenant curses given for breaking covenant are “part of all ancient treaty texts”, but “only in the Hebrew Bible are curses connected to specific [historic] events” – James Hoffmeier.
(2) Origin of Passover Festival (pesah), Festival of Unleavened Bread (massot) and Feast of Booths (sukkot).
• The “pesah and massot have no other explanation for their origin than the exodus from Egypt” – James Hoffmeier.
o Deuteronomy 16:1 (ESV) — 1 “Observe the month of Abib and keep the Passover to the LORD your God, for in the month of Abib the LORD your God brought you out of Egypt by night.
o Exodus 34:18 (ESV) — 18 “You shall keep the Feast of Unleavened Bread. Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread, as I commanded you, at the time appointed in the month Abib, for in the month Abib you came out from Egypt.
• The use of booths in the Feast of Booths, is also directly connected to the Exodus.
o Leviticus 23:42–43 (ESV) — 42 You shall dwell in booths for seven days. All native Israelites shall dwell in booths, 43 that your generations may know that I made the people of Israel dwell in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.”
(3) Archaeological Evidence
• Though there is much debate about the archaeological evidence for the Exodus, or lack thereof, there is evidence for Joshua’s military undertakings.
• “The book of Joshua’s account of the Israelite entry into Canaan does overlap with archaeology, albeit in broad strokes” – John Monson.
• The implication, of course, is that there was a tribe of invading Hebrews whose origin must be accounted for.
Summary of reasons:
• “The biblical evidence for the exodus and wilderness periods reviewed above so overwhelmingly supports the historicity of these events that the priests, prophets, psalmists, people of Israel, and foreigners believed these events occurred, and consequently they celebrated festivals, sang songs, dated events, and observed laws that assumed that Yahweh’s salvation from Egypt was authentic” – James Hoffmeier.
Exodus and Easter:
So what does all this have to do with Easter?
• Isaiah 11:16 (ESV) — 16 And there will be a highway from Assyria for the remnant that remains of his people, as there was for Israel when they came up from the land of Egypt.
• Hosea 11:1 (ESV) — 1 When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son.
Remember, the Jews still considered themselves in exile in 30 A.D.
• Restoration would come through Jesus.
• Jesus was called “out” by the Father as the second Moses to be the “highway” of restoration from exile “for the remnant” of his people – the drawn, called and chosen.
• The New Testament claimed this restoration would find its completion on earth in the resurrection; Jesus’ exaltation.
• Therefore, God’s action in history inextricably links the Exodus to the Resurrection.
• It can be argued that they are two parts of the same action – the Gospel.
So the Resurrection of Jesus Christ is ground zero for the claim that God works in history.
• Everything in Scripture, for the Christian, rests on the Resurrection.
• If Jesus was not resurrected, there was no Exodus, no Gospel, no restoration and no salvation.
In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul first tells us that the Gospel is not just Jesus, but the entire story of the “Scriptures” (a history of God working in the life of the Israelites), Jesus, and His resurrection.
• 1 Corinthians 15:1–8 (ESV) — 1 Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, 2 and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. 3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 8 Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.
Paul then lays it all on the line – it being both the “the Scriptures” and Jesus – when he says:
• 1 Corinthians 15:13–14 (ESV) — 13 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.
• Paul’s preaching was that Jesus was the fulfillment of the OT expectations of Messiah, restoration and resurrection.
What is at stake?
• Everything from Genesis to Revelation and the propositions they contain.
More Examples of the NT’s Connection to the Resurrection:
As the OT is to the Exodus, the NT is drenched at every turn with the resurrection.
• Acts 5:30 (ESV) — 30 The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree.
• Acts 13:34 (ESV) — 34 And as for the fact that he raised him from the dead, no more to return to corruption, he has spoken in this way, “ ‘I will give you the holy and sure blessings of David.’
• Romans 1:3–4 (ESV) — 3 concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh 4 and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord,
• Romans 6:4 (ESV) — 4 We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.
• 1 Peter 1:3 (ESV) — 3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,
If, for the Christian, everything is riding on the resurrection are there reasons to believe the resurrection happened?
• John, you may remember, ends his Gospel by saying he wrote of the works of Christ so that “you may believe that Jesus is the Christ” (John 20:31).
• We must not forget that, “Faith is a response to evidence, not a rejoicing in the absence of evidence” – John Lennox.
Reasons to Believe:
• The evidence for the resurrection of Jesus Christ is what is referred to as cumulative.
• In other words, it builds and builds and builds on itself, and in historian speak, is left standing as the “inference to the best explanation”.
• It is the best explanation because the resurrection of Jesus is the only explanation that can account for all the events that need explaining.
There are far too many good books written on the subject of the resurrection to entertain all of the evidence here.
• So, I will not deal with the objections and answers to the objections (read the books for that).
• I will simply cite the most common arguments for the truth of the Resurrection.
• Our information comes from N.T. Wright’s, The Resurrection of the Son of God, and Gary Habermas’, The Case of the Resurrection of Jesus.
Minimal Fact Approach:
We will start with Habermas.
• He states that his approach “considers only those data that are so strongly attested historically that they are granted by nearly every scholar who studies the subject, even the rather skeptical ones.”
• He calls it the “Minimal Facts Approach”.
• What is the Minimal Facts Approach?
“Jesus died by Crucifixion”
• This is recorded in all four Gospels and in non-Christian works of the period.
• John Dominic Crossan (Jesus Seminar) concedes that nothing about Jesus is more certain.
“Jesus’ disciples believed that He rose and appeared to them”
• (a) They testified to both in Scripture – He rose and we saw him.
• (b) They had a radical transformation from coward to martyr which corresponded with their belief in the Resurrection.
o “Modern martyrs act solely out of their trust in beliefs that others have taught them. The apostles died for holding to their own testimony that they had personally seen the risen Jesus. Contemporary martyrs die for what they believe to be true. The disciples of Jesus died for what they knew to be either true or false” – Gary Habermas.
“The church persecutor Paul was suddenly changed”
• Paul, the chief of sinners, changed from being a “skeptic who believed that it was God’s will to persecute the church to becoming one of its most influential messengers” – Gary Habermas.
“The skeptic James, brother of Jesus, was suddenly changed”
• (a) Mark and John tell us he was an unbeliever during Jesus’ ministry.
o Mark 3:21 (ESV) — 21 And when his family heard it, they went out to seize him, for they were saying, “He is out of his mind.”
• (b) And then in Acts, after the Resurrection, he was a church leader who would eventually die for his beliefs.
“The tomb was empty”
• (a) Jerusalem Factor – “It would have been impossible for Christianity to get off the ground in Jerusalem if the body had still been in the tomb. His enemies in the Jewish leadership and Roman government would only have had to exhume the corpse and publicly display it for the hoax to be shattered. Not only are Jewish, Roman, and all other writings absent of such an account, but there is a total silence from Christianity’s critics who would have jumped at evidence of this sort” – Gary Habermas.
• (b) Enemy Attestation – The Jews conceded the tomb was empty; they accused Jesus’ disciples of stealing the corpse.
• (c) Testimony of Women – not what you would use if you were making something up.
N.T. Wright’s Approach:
• Wright outlines at least 6 differences between Jewish Resurrection and Jesus’ Kingdom Resurrection.
• The differences are unique to Christianity and their origin requires an explanation.
Summary of Reasons to Believe:
• The simplest and best explanation for Habermas’ Minimal Facts Approach and N.T. Wright’s approach is simply that Jesus was raised from the dead.
• There is no other single reason that can account for all of these facts.
• If one believes that God exists and that He acts in history, then there is no reason to reject the crucifixion.
• God acted in history to raise Jesus on our behalf.
• And if God raised Jesus, then we can have further confidence that God established the Israelites through the Exodus.
• For those with eyes to see and ears to hear, believe.
Lesson for Us:
• If God has worked in history through the Exodus and the Resurrection, then we can confidently believe in what the Bible has to say.
• And importantly, the Bible’s truth exists completely independent of our experience.
• It is in God’s action in history as revealed in the Bible that assurance is to be found.
• It is God’s actions that we are to explore, know and understand.
o The Gospel, after all, is made up of God’s work in history.
o It is not us, or our testimony.
• For as we said at the beginning, we have a God that lays claim on history.
And like Paul, we can stake our life on the activity of God in history.
• Whether we have our “best life now” is irrelevant.
• We still sin; we still struggle; we still fail, but Jesus has been raised from the dead!
• God’s action is our comfort.
Finally, the God that delivers through the Exodus and that raises Jesus from the dead is the God that meets you in real time and gives you a new heart.
• Ezekiel 36:26 (ESV) — 26 And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.
• Ezekiel is not speaking philosophically or metaphorically.
• This is not new age, post-modern, self-actualization mumbo jumbo.
• This is a claim that God works in history.
• Your salvation is itself a historical event!