witness

In addition to my own personal experience which I have shared partially in the last post “Why Believe? Series “Change”, are there other testimonies or even witnesses of the claims Jesus made? The short answer is yes. Some may that Jesus never existed so the subject is mute. If you are one who has never researched the evidence for the historical Jesus Christ, may I recommend you read my blog post “Who is Jesus?”.

Some may say they con’t care what others say about Jesus, it is not relevant and doesn’t prove anything. Let me say, society places a lot of weight on what other people say about people. There are many aspects of life where professional and personal references carry the weight to advance us or hinder us. So why should we look any less on those who are on record offering references for Jesus Christ?

In the “Who is Jesus series”, I laid out what Jesus claimed about himself and what others claimed about him. Here we will get into it a little deeper from those who grew up, lived and ministered with him.

Joseph and Mary

Joseph upon hearing that Mary was with child wanted to send her on her way. He knew there was only one way she could have become pregnant. It took a direct intervention from God himself to convince Joseph to stay with Mary. Imagine the rest of their lives as most everyone they know thought Mary was an adulterer or worse. How must they have looked at Joseph for staying with her, yet he did.

James (Brother of Jesus)

We read in the bible that James did not believe his brother to be the Son of God while he walked the earth.

John 7:3-5; “and Jesus’ brothers said to him, “Leave here and go to Judea, where your followers can see your miracles! You can’t become famous if you hide like this! If you can do such wonderful things, show yourself to the world!” For even his brothers didn’t believe in him.”

After Jesus rose from the dead, James becomes a believer. Not only a believer, but he was stoned to death for his belief. If he was not sure about Jesus’ resurrection, there is no way he would have chose death over denying Jesus. We know James was stoned because the Roman historian Josephus recorded the event.

Titus Flavius Josephus was a Roman-Jewish historian in the first century who wrote about Jesus and John the Baptist. In Antiquities of the Jews, book 20 chapter 9-1:

“Festus was now dead, and Albinus was but upon the road; so he assembled the sanhedrim of judges, and brought before them the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James, and some others, [or, some of his companions]; and when he had formed an accusation against them as breakers of the law, he delivered them to be stoned:”

Stephen (full of the Spirit)

who was one of the original deacons of the early church is thought to be the first martyr of the Christian church when he was illegally stoned by a mob of Jews. Only Rome had the authority to carry out a death sentence at that time. Again, for someone to chose death over denial, they must have had strong evidence to support their belief.

Acts 7:57,58; “Then they put their hands over their ears and began shouting. They rushed at him and dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. His accusers took off their coats and laid them at the feet of a young man named Saul.”

Apostle Paul (Saul)

Modern scholars agree that Paul is a very credible source. Even secular skeptical scholars believe Paul to be credible, but only accept 7 of his writings as authentic. Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, 1 Thessalonians and Philemon.

Here we have the Apostle Paul, who we read above, was officiating at the stoning of Stephen. Saul, later to be given the name Paul by Jesus, went on a rampage of persecution of the early Christian church.

Acts 8:2,3; “(Some devout men came and buried Stephen with great mourning.) But Saul was going everywhere to destroy the church. He went from house to house, dragging out both men and women to throw them into prison.”

Paul was vehemently opposed to the early church. He was a Jews Jew who was taught by one of the greatest teachers in the annals of Judaism. Gamalielwho held a position in the highest court in Jerusalem, is still quoted in synagogues today. Gamaliel wielded great power as he saved the apostles from death from the high council.

Acts 5:33-40; ” When they heard this, the high council was furious and decided to kill them. But one member, a Pharisee named Gamaliel, who was an expert in religious law and respected by all the people, stood up and ordered that the men be sent outside the council chamber for a while. Then he said to his colleagues, “Men of Israel, take care what you are planning to do to these men! Some time ago there was that fellow Theudas, who pretended to be someone great. About 400 others joined him, but he was killed, and all his followers went their various ways. The whole movement came to nothing. After him, at the time of the census, there was Judas of Galilee. He got people to follow him, but he was killed, too, and all his followers were scattered.

“So my advice is, leave these men alone. Let them go. If they are planning and doing these things merely on their own, it will soon be overthrown. But if it is from God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You may even find yourselves fighting against God!” The others accepted his advice. They called in the apostles and had them flogged. Then they ordered them never again to speak in the name of Jesus, and they let them go.”

What made Saul change his direction from a persecutor to a persecuted? Something powerful must have happened to Saul that would make him endure the suffering, imprisonment and eventual death for his belief that Jesus Christ has risen. Scripture tells us it was a meeting with Jesus on the road to Damascus in Acts chapter 9.

2 Corinthians 11:23-27;  “Are they servants of Christ? I know I sound like a madman, but I have served him far more! I have worked harder, been put in prison more often, been whipped times without number, and faced death again and again. Five different times the Jewish leaders gave me thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked. Once I spent a whole night and a day adrift at sea. I have traveled on many long journeys. I have faced danger from rivers and from robbers. I have faced danger from my own people, the Jews, as well as from the Gentiles. I have faced danger in the cities, in the deserts, and on the seas. And I have faced danger from men who claim to be believers but are not. I have worked hard and long, enduring many sleepless nights. I have been hungry and thirsty and have often gone without food. I have shivered in the cold, without enough clothing to keep me warm.”

In fact, all the apostles suffered and died not for just a belief like others over history, but for something they said they witnessed with their own eyes. The apostles had nothing to gain by continuing to proclaim their witness to Christ. Unlike today where religious leaders send their young to die for the cause, these Christian church leaders all suffered and died themselves. Something powerful had changed their lives and gave them such strong conviction. That would be the miracles Jesus performed and finally, his resurrection.

The resurrection

When Christ was put to death, the apostles scattered and hid in fear. What brought them back with such fearlessness and boldness? The resurrection is the only theory that makes sense. At least two people who were skeptics during Jesus life (James and Paul), completely turned around after his death to the point they died, rather than deny the resurrection.

World renown atheist philosopher turned theist, Anthony Flew has said;

“The evidence for the resurrection is better than for claimed miracles in any other religion. It’s outstandingly different in quality and quantity.” (Gary Habermas, “My Pilgrimage from Atheism to Theism: An Exclusive Interview with Former British Atheist Professor Antony Flew.” Available from the Web site of Biola University at http://www.biola.edu/antonyflew)

Historian Michael Grant who translated Tacitus‘s Annals of Imperial Rome said;

“the evidence is firm and plausible enough to necessitate the conclusion that the tomb was indeed found empty.” (Michael Grant, Jesus: An Historian’s Review of the Gospels (New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., 1992), p. 176.)

Gary Habermas, a PhD professor teaching Phd level students, says there are 12 facts about Jesus that most all scholars accept as historical. (The Historical Jesus, Ancient Evidence for the Life of Christ-Gary R. Habermas)

  1. Jesus died by crucifixion.
  2. He was buried.
  3. His death caused the disciples to despair and lose hope.
  4. The tomb was empty (the most contested).
  5. The disciples had experiences which they believed were literal appearances of the risen Jesus (the most important proof).
  6. The disciples were transformed from doubters to bold proclaimers.
  7. The resurrection was the central message.
  8. They preached the message of Jesus’ resurrection in Jerusalem.
  9. The Church was born and grew.
  10. Orthodox Jews who believed in Christ made Sunday their primary day of worship.
  11. James was converted to the faith when he saw the resurrected Jesus (James was a family skeptic).
  12. Paul was converted to the faith (Paul was an outsider skeptic).

The video below is Professor Habermas lecturing on the empty tomb and resurrection only using sources accepted by critical scholars. It is well worth a look. His lecture is 55 minutes and then there is about 20 minutes of Q&A.

It is clear from history that Jesus had a major impact in the lives of those around him. His impact lead to many giving their lives for what they saw, and what they believed to be true. Paul and James, Jesus’ brother, both skeptics and one a persecutor, each not only became proclaimers of the gospel, but gave their lives for it. along with all the apostles and many other believers.

The witness and testimonies of those who say they actually saw and touched Jesus after his crucifixion, together with the change in the lives of those who accept Christ into their lives, is strong evidence for  me, that Christ is who he says he is.

In my next post (Why Believe Series “Science”) I will be getting into some empirical science. There are some seudo-science expositors out there that rely heavily on the scriptural or even questionable evidences. I wanted other answers than “just believe”. Critics like to say to believe in God you have to park your brain, but as you are reading, that is far from the truth. Faith in God is actually a reasonable faith, based on testimony, witness accounts, personal experience and next, scientific argument for an intelligence being responsible for all that exists.

My reasoning was this; if God created the universe with all its laws of nature and cosmological constants, hints of the inventor of science should be able to be recognized by empirical science. Then I read something that confirmed my notion;

Romans 1:20; “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.”

Paul says God can be recognized, or at least his fingerprints can be seen in the things that have been made. So there must be evidence of mind or intelligence involved with the formation of the universe and of life itself. There is, and in biology especially, the evidence is growing exponentially.

 

Robert J.

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