While on a hiking vacation, you and your friend come across a small cave in the side of a mountain. You find yourself timid to explore the cave, but your friend decides to go right in. Twenty minutes later they return with an excited look on their face.

“Make an interesting find?” you ask.

“Beyond interesting,” he shouts, “an angel just appeared to me and it looks like we get the privilege of revealing a new message from God!”

Before you can reply your friend pushes past you and starts to run off towards town and begins preaching in the streets the message that the angel gave him. Embarrassed you try and get him to join you back at your hotel, but he demands to remain where he is and share his story with anyone who will listen.

Years go by and your friend has amassed a large following and soon a new religious movement is born. Hoping to be open-minded, you show up to his house and tell him that you want to believe that an angel spoke to him in that cave, but you need something more than just his personal testimony on the issue.

“I have a hard time believing all of this,” you confess to him, “You have a lot of followers doing good things in the world, and you seem to be living a fulfilling life, but I struggle that all this actually happened. Why should I believe you on this matter?”

“Brother,” he says understandably, “all you need is to have faith and you will know it’s true. Pray to God, and he will reveal it to you with a feeling in your stomach that the words I speak are true.”

That evening you decide to test it out and pray to God asking him to reveal that what your friend experienced is true. You wait for the feeling to arrive, but it never does. Did you just not have enough faith? Or does it mean that your friend was making the whole story up. Even if you did have a feeling in your stomach how do you know it was from God? Perhaps, in the immortal words of Pastor Mike, you just ate some bad cheese.

The Challenge with Most Religions

The problem with your friend’s claims is that they are not verifiable, yet it’s how many of the religions of the world began. Muhammad claimed to receive a message from the angel Gabriel and so we now have the Qur’an, the scriptures of Islam. Joseph Smith claims he unearthed golden plates with a message written on them that he translated into the Book of Mormon. Unfortunately, it just happens to be the case that these plates were taken back up into heaven before they could be verified.

Today, if you ask a Muslim why Islam is true, they will tell you to read the Qur’an in its original language and you will immediately just feel that such a book could only be from God. Mormon missionaries will instruct you to pray until you feel a burning in the bosom confirming the truth of Mormonism. However, all of these lead to an endless stalemate.

What if you prayed to God to ask if the Book of Mormon was not true and you felt a burning in your bosom? Would this confirm that Mormonism was false? What if you learned Arabic and just weren’t moved by the Qur’an? If the Mormon or Islamic missionary had one experience and you had another, then there has to be something else that can move the conversation forward.

Christianity is Different

Unlike many of the world’s religions, Christianity makes claims that can be verified. The Christian philosopher J.P. Moreland notes that:

“The [Old Testament] prophets appealed to evidence to justify belief in the biblical God or in the divine authority of their inspired message: fulfilled prophecy, the historical fact of miracles, the inadequacy of finite pagan deities to be a cause of such a large, well-ordered universe compared to the God of the Bible, and so forth. They did not say, ‘God said it, that settles it, you should believe it!’ They provided a rational defense for their claims.”[1]

Indeed, God did not send Moses before the pharaoh empty handed, but equipped him with miracles to demonstrate that the commands were from God (Exodus 4:1-9). The prophet Jeremiah argues that idols carved from wood certainly cannot contain the power and wisdom necessary to create and sustain the world around us (Jeremiah 10:1-16).

Jesus did not break from this tradition. John the Baptist proclaimed the coming Messiah, but found himself thrown in prison. Distraught he sent a messenger to Jesus asking if perhaps Jesus was not actually the Messiah. Jesus did not tell John to just have more faith, but pointed John towards the miracles that were being performed (Matthew 11:2-6).

When people accused Jesus of blasphemy for forgiving the sins of a paralytic (something that only God could do), he responded by healing the man to demonstrate that, like God, Jesus also has this authority (Matthew 9:1-8). Anyone can claim to be from God, but it’s a completely different matter to perform miracles as a sign to demonstrate it.

Easter, the Ultimate Sign

Even after all the miracles that Jesus performed, people still rejected Him and failed to believe. Yet, he still had one final sign, and that was going to be His resurrection from the dead (Matthew 12:38-40). Luke refers to it as the “proof” that Jesus has the authority to speak about the kingdom of God (Acts 1:3). It was the event that solidified in the minds of Jesus’s disciples that He certainly was who He claimed to be (John 2:18-22).

The apostle Paul gives a list of the people who were witnesses of the post-resurrected Christ (1 Cor. 15:3-7). After noting that Jesus appeared to over five hundred people, he says that though some of these people have died, most of them are still alive. In effect, Paul is challenging the reader to go out and verify these claims if they do not believe him. He wants people to investigate the evidence for themselves. And unlike the private visions of other religions, the unmatched birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus is well-attested by the first century eyewitness testimony that we find in the New Testament.

Paul goes on to say that if Christ didn’t actually rise from the dead, then Christianity is utter foolishness (1 Cor. 15:17-19). In other words, Christianity isn’t just a claim about spiritual matters, but is intimately intertwined with history itself.  The resurrection changed history because it was a real event within history. Jesus’s life is life changing, but only because it’s a life actually lived. Anyone can claim to forgive sins, but Jesus’s victory over death allows us to know that our sins are actually forgiven. Like the paralytic, we can not only get up and walk, but have confidence that we will one day walk through the gates of eternity.

 

[1] JP Moreland, Love Your God with All Your Mind(Colorado Springs: NavPress, 1997), 132.