How We Believe
17And one of the crowd answered Him, "Teacher, I brought You my son, possessed with a spirit which makes him mute; 18and whenever it seizes him, it slams him to the ground and he foams at the mouth, and grinds his teeth and stiffens out. I told Your disciples to cast it out, and they could not do it." 19And He answered them and said, "O unbelieving generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring him to Me!" 20They brought the boy to Him. When he saw Him, immediately the spirit threw him into a convulsion, and falling to the ground, he began rolling around and foaming at the mouth. 21And He asked his father, "How long has this been happening to him?" And he said, "From childhood. 22It has often thrown him both into the fire and into the water to destroy him. But if You can do anything, take pity on us and help us!" 23And Jesus said to him, "'If You can?' All things are possible to him who believes." 24Immediately the boy's father cried out and said, "I do believe; help my unbelief."
- Mark 9:17-24
In this story Jesus goes on to heal the demon possessed boy but I want us to focus on the conversation He has with the anguished father regarding belief. This story illustrates how we arrive at believing something. You see, belief happens when you consider something as true based on a reasonable amount of evidence, proof or facts. In this case the father was pleading for some additional facts or helps in order to accept as true the ability of Jesus to heal his boy.
Another way to explain the process of believing is to picture a stream with rocks that create a path for you to get across. One side of the stream is disbelief and the other is belief and the stones are the facts that help you to cross over. Take, for example, whether or not you believe in the existence of the country of China:
Disbelief -> Books -> Pictures -> People -> TV -> Maps -> Others -> Belief
The chain of faith and facts serve as stepping stones to bring you from disbelief to belief. You may not have all the facts (i.e. you've never been to China yourself) but at some point you have enough information to take the final "step of faith" and accept the proposition as true. The father of the boy was half way across the stream; he had come part of the way (he believed, he brought the boy to the Apostles) but he needed a few more stones before taking the final step. Jesus provides this by healing his boy and thus carries him across the divide between disbelief and belief.
I'd like to use this chain of faith and facts to show you how we arrive at believing the most basic teaching of our Christian faith: the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The resurrection is the foundation upon which our faith rests, without it we have no hope and all of our efforts are in vain. Let's see how we go from disbelief to belief when it comes to this event.
First a little historical background surrounding Jesus and His resurrection:
- He truly existed. This is not a myth or a fable. Pilate's own records indicate a Jew named Jesus was crucified.
- He was truly killed. No one survived a Roman crucifixion; it was a method of execution not torture (Roman success rate with crucifixion was 100%).
- The Bible records that three days later He came back to life.
If we are to believe this proposition we need some proof. Here is the chain of faith and facts that lead us to this belief.
1. The Empty Grave
Matthew 27:62-66 tells us that the grave was heavily guarded by both Roman and Jewish guards. There was a large stone in front of the entrance and it was officially sealed to prevent tampering with the body. This was an important prisoner, one who predicted that He would resurrect from the dead and so it was to the Roman and especially the Jewish leaders' advantage to guard this spot against intruders. You have a man who was very publicly executed, whose grave was sealed and guarded now gone leaving behind an empty grave. This isn't all the evidence, just the first stone leading to the first step.
2. The Missing Body
The Romans and Jews would have loved to find the missing body because it would have put an end to this talk about resurrection and the disciples of Jesus as a legitimate group. There are only three possible explanations to account for the missing body:
- It was stolen. Ok, Who? The Jews had no advantage. The last thing they wanted was to perpetuate this resurrection thing and they had planted a guard. The Romans also placed a guard and had no interest in the Jewish religion. The disciples were accused of stealing it to perpetuate the idea of resurrection (Matthew 28:13). But the disciples ran away when He was alive, why so brave now not to mention the fact that they were no match for professional soldiers. Also, to steal the body and lie about the resurrection was contrary to all their teaching and training.
- Women went to wrong tomb. Wouldn't the Romans and Jews quickly correct this error and produce the right one? The Apostles also went to the empty grave; does this mean they made the same mistake?
- He walked out like He said He would. This is the only other option to explain the reason that the body was missing. Once the grave was empty, no one, either Jew or Roman, of that period even claimed to have recovered the body, and they must have searched because they could have stopped this Christian movement if they would have found the body.
3. 500 Eyewitnesses
If all we had was a missing body and nothing else our case might seem inconclusive but, the New Testament records that there were over 500 eyewitnesses who saw, heard and were in the presence of the resurrected Lord. The New Testament records 10 separate appearances of Jesus to over 500 different witnesses and these are divided into two groups:
A. Friendly witnesses who believed in Jesus and in His promise resurrection.
- Apostles - Matthew 28:16
- Women - Matthew 28:9-10
- Disciples on the road to Emmaus - Luke 24:30-31
- 500 disciples gathered - I Corinthians 15:7
B. Unfriendly or hostile witnesses who didn't believe but were convinced by the resurrection. These make the best witnesses because they have been convinced despite their doubt.
- Doubting Thomas - John 20:25
- James, Jesus' earthly brother who didn't believe while He was alive but believed after resurrection - John 7:3-5; I Corinthians 15:6
- Paul, who hated Christians, but was converted when Jesus appeared to him - Acts 9:1
Over 500 witnesses who at different times, places, situations claimed to have seen and heard the resurrected Christ. No other religious leader or prophet can produce this many eyewitnesses to support their claims.
- Mohamed was alone when he received his vision.
- Joseph Smith was alone during his revelation.
All kinds of people saw Jesus, but one thing united them: no one denied, even under the threat of torture and death, the fact that they saw Jesus resurrect from the dead. Many were killed because of this witness. People will die for ideals, even give up their lives for false illusions or religions but no one dies a horrible death to protect a known lie.
5. Gospel and Acts
There are five written accounts of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. These accounts were never disputed within Christianity and never successfully demonstrated as being a hoax or a lie. Surely if this religion were based on a lie someone, somewhere in the last 2000 years would have blown the whistle.
6. The Church
Not only has the Christian church lasted 2000 years and become the largest religious group, but it has influenced the world for good beyond any other philosophy or religion ever!
Again, a religion that has done so much good for so many for so long cannot be based on a deception.
Was Jesus raised from the dead? Look at the chain of faith and facts:
- The grave was empty like He said it would be.
- The authorities never found His body and yet it was important for them to do so.
- Over 500 credible and legitimate eyewitnesses saw Him alive.
- Many witnesses were persecuted and killed for this testimony but never denied seeing Jesus alive.
- We have 5 written eyewitness accounts which were never disputed then and never discredited.
- The greatest religious movement in history is based on this event.
Blessed are they who have not seen but believe.
- John 20:29b
You did not yourselves see the resurrection but like the belief in the existence of China, do you have enough proof so you can take one more step of faith to accept as true the resurrection of Jesus? I think we do.
Some people think that faith is like a blind leap, hence the expression, "Leap of Faith." This type of approach has no facts or proof, just belief. This is not faith, this is foolishness. God does not require this of us. If you understand and believe the facts, you need only to take the last step of faith by expressing your belief in repentance and baptism (Acts 2:37-38). This is the final step that brings one not only to the other side of believing but also to that safe shore of salvation.