I have friends who really believe that this life is all there is. They are quite content to believe that there is no overall point to life except what matters at the moment. They believe that morality is a survival factor for society, selected for by Darwinian processes, and that what is not discovered doesn't matter. They live lives on the basis that it doesn't matter what you do as long as you harm no-one else. From this it follows that there is no such thing as sin, that euthanasia is sensible, abortion is a matter of personal choice and 'victimless crime' is fine as long as no-one finds out about it.
Yet to me such a life would be intolerable. Imagine a world where Adolf Hitler faced no eternal judge. He spent his whole life inflicting intolerable cruelty on millions of people and then when the Soviet Armies were closing in he escaped justice by killing himself.
When Peter wrote to the Christians scattered throughout Turkey his basis for living was entirely different. He talks about hope. This is not the sort of hope that looks forward to the possibility of the USA winning the soccer World Cup. Possible if Brazil and Argentina, Italy, France and Germany got wiped out by a virus, but even then no better than a 20-1 shot. No, this is a hope that you can bet your life on. And I have.
1 Peter 1:3 calls it a living hope through the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. It is a hope grounded in an historical event. The apostle Paul tells us that if Christ be not risen we are of all men most miserable. Why? Because we would have bet our lives on a false premise. Everything depends on the Resurrection. It tells us that there is life after death. If you like, Christ is the earnest of our inheritance; He is the deposit that guarantees full payment. He is the hostage to our fortune.
If someone were to prove that Christ did not rise from the dead than our faith would be groundless. Oh, I dare say a case could be made for Christianity being a fine set of morals, that 'turning the other cheek' and 'loving your enemies' are fine ways to live, but without the hope of everlasting life we might as well connive, cheat, act, pretend and otherwise appear to be good in order to gain the approval of men, but in the meantime secretly feather our own nests by lying, stealing, fraudulently deceiving and cleverly evading detection.
Is the Resurrection historical fact? Did Julius Caesar land in Britain? We only have eye witness accounts of both these events, which took place within 100 years of each other. There are, in fact, much better historical records for the former than the latter. But you may say, men land on the beaches of Britain every day of the week; they don't rise from the dead quite so frequently.
But suppose I were to propose that Julius Caesar was a self-seeking fraud who was only concerned with gaining power and glory - there is a lot of evidence that might well be so - who is to say that, sure, the Romans came to Britain, but it wasn't Julius Caesar who undertook the Channel crossing, he sent a surrogate and took the glory without any of the risk. We have only the written record to say that it wasn't so. But who disbelieves Caesar's Gallic Wars?
The Bible claims that men don't rise from the dead as a general rule. But on a unique occasion one man rose miraculously because he was not simply a man. The thing about unique events is that you can't use the run of the mill to disprove them. Bournemouth once beat Manchester United at football. Now that doesn't happen as a rule of thumb. But you can't use that as a reason for saying it couldn't happen. It was a unique event. Eye witnesses were present. Some will have said, "If I hadn't seen it with my own eyes I would not have believed it." I wasn't there, but I do believe it happened because there is a reliable written record that it did happen.
Just how reliable is the written record that Jesus rose from the dead. Contrary to popular belief, the earliest records of the resurrection do not date from centuries later. It was not an invention by the Catholic Church. We have eye-witness accounts of those who saw the risen Jesus, touched him and ate with him. These accounts were shared among his followers orally, but within a decade or so they were being written down.
OK, you say, show us the documents so that we can carbon-date them. As a mater of fact we don’t have the originals, but then we don’t have the originals of Caesar’s Gallic Wars either. In fact the earliest copy we have of that was written in 900AD, about 1000 years after it was composed. In contrast, the earliest copy we have of bits of the New Testament dates from 130 AD. This is a portion of John’s Gospel held in the John Rylands Museum in Manchester, UK. Even that is interesting. Much of the doubt about the authenticity of the historical record comes from the German Higher Critics of the 19th Century. The brilliant Professor Ferdinand Christian Baur from Tubingen argued that John’s Gospel could not have been written any earlier than 160 AD. Doh!
We also have the evidence of the Early Church Fathers. Not only can the whole New Testament (minus eleven verses) be found quoted by the Church Fathers such as Irenaeus (180 AD), Clement (150-211AD), Tertullian (160-220AD) and Hippolytus (170-235AD), but Ignatius, a prolific letter writer who died at the age of 40 in 110 AD has quotes from 13 of the 27 books of the New Testament in his letters.
Unique though it was, the resurrection of Jesus was believed by thousands of people within weeks of its occurrence. Despite attempts by the authorities to disparage it, the story would not go away. If it were just a story then it would only have been the few in the in-crowd who had actually witnessed it, say Peter, James and John and perhaps Mary Magdalene, but on one occasion the risen Jesus appeared to a crowd of 500.
The lawyer, Frank Morrison, who was trained in the rules of evidence set out to prove that the whole thing was a fraud. He considered all the other possible explanations – he didn’t really die, it was mass hypnosis, there was a conspiracy between the disciples – but in the end he comes to the conclusion that it really happened. He wrote it all down in his book, “Who Moved the Stone?”
The argument that really impressed me was the fact that the believers were tortured. This was not water boarding or being made to stand in a stressed position, these men were crucified, fed to the lions, covered with oil and set alight to provide floodlights for the gladiators. Now, people will withstand torture if they really believe in something, but I can’t believe they would withstand it for something that they knew was a lie. Remember that Peter himself was crucified.
The resurrection of Jesus is the most reliable historical fact from 2000 years ago. You’d better believe it.