Editor’s note: Today’s reading features two selections from Lee Strobel’s devotional The Case for Christ: Daily Moments of Truth which offers fact-based, intelligent devotions to build a foundational faith. Enjoy these two powerful excerpts today on the reliability and impact of the resurrection of Jesus!
For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures. —1 Corinthians 15:3-4
It was once fashionable to say that the Gospels — Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John — were written too late to give an accurate account of what really happened in the life of Jesus, including the events surrounding His resurrection. Some even said they weren’t written until the mid to late second century, more than a hundred years after the events surrounding Jesus’ ministry. This discredited the idea that the Gospels were based on eyewitness accounts, and eroded confidence in what they said about Jesus.
However, it is now known that the Gospels were written in the first century — within the life span of Jesus’ followers.1
Also, before the Gospels were recorded, Paul penned his epistles. These letters affirm many details about Jesus’ life, including His resurrection. In addition, Paul’s epistles relay several earlier creeds, attesting to the beliefs of Jesus’ first followers. One of the most interesting is in 1 Corinthians 15:3-7.
Historian Gary Habermas developed a helpful time line related to this creed. It starts with understanding that Jesus was crucified in either AD 30 or 33. Paul wrote 1 Corinthians in AD 54-55, which puts it within approximately twenty-one and twenty-five years of the crucifixion. But Paul said he had previously passed on the creed to the people of Corinth, so the creed itself dates even earlier.
But there’s more. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 15:3: “What I received I passed on to you.” When did he receive this creed? He became a Christian one to three years after Jesus’ execution. He immediately went to Damascus to meet the disciples. He might have received it then, but it was more likely three years later, when he went to Jerusalem and met with Peter and James, both of whom are named in the creed. Paul described this meeting in Galatians 1:18-19, using the Greek term historesai, which suggests it was a personal inquiry or investigation.
Either way, this means Paul was given the creed within one to six years of the crucifixion — and it had already been put into creedal form, which tells us these beliefs went back even further.
“This tradition,” concluded historian James D. G. Dunn, “we can be entirely confident, was formulated as tradition within months of Jesus’ death.”
Months! The news of Jesus’ resurrection was a news flash in the ancient world — and it affirmed that the risen Jesus had appeared to many witnesses.
Many still believe the false rumor that generations had passed before the first Christian accounts were written. Whom should you tell about this exciting early Christian creed?
[After His resurrection, Jesus] appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, He appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time… Then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all He appeared to me also. —1 Corinthians 15:5-8
The ancient creed that we began to examine in the previous reading explains in verses 5-8 not only that Jesus’ tomb was empty but that the risen Jesus appeared to at least 515 people, including the apostle Paul himself.
In fact, when we look at the broader New Testament, we get more details of how the resurrected Savior appeared to a variety of people in a variety of settings — to men and women, some individually, some in groups, sometimes indoors, sometimes outdoors, to softhearted people like John, and to skeptical people like Thomas. And at times Jesus asked them to touch the scars in His hands or side, or to eat with Him, making it clear that He was present physically and not just spiritually.
These appearances occurred over forty days, and Jesus appeared to the following people:
• Mary Magdalene (John 20:11-18);
• the other women (Matthew 28:8-10; compare Matthew 28:1; Mark 16:1; Luke 24:10);
• Cleopas and another disciple on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-32);
• Peter (Luke 24:34);
• ten of the apostles and others, with Thomas absent (Luke 24:36-49; John 20:19-23);
• Thomas and the other apostles (John 20:24-29);
• seven of the apostles (John 21:1-14);
• the eleven apostles (Matthew 28:16-20); and
• the apostles at the Mount of Olives before His ascension (Luke 24:50-52; Acts 1:3-9).
What’s more, these reports come from multiple sources, from both inside and outside the New Testament. Historian Michael Licona summarized, “In all, we’ve got nine sources that reflect multiple, very early, and eyewitness testimonies to the disciples’ claims that they had seen the risen Jesus. This is something the disciples believed to the core of their being.”
Even the atheist scholar Gerd Lüdemann conceded: “It may be taken as historically certain that Peter and the disciples had experiences after Jesus’ death in which Jesus appeared to them as the risen Christ.”
The resurrection was the central proclamation of the early church from the very beginning. The earliest Christians didn’t just endorse Jesus’ teachings; they were convinced they had seen Him alive after His crucifixion.
Jesus said to Thomas in John 20:29,
Because you have seen Me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.
The evidence for Jesus’ appearances is strong — and gives us good reasons to be confident about the reality of the resurrection.
Excerpted with permission from the The Case for Christ: Daily Moment of Truth by Lee Strobel, copyright Lee Strobel.
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How does having confidence in the resurrection of Jesus empower you in your faith? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!
Maintaining the fire of revival in my life has required effort. My pride still seems to be the “water” that threatens to put out the fire within me. But the close-up look at the pride in my life when I saw the Lord has made it easier to recognize this specific sin when it makes its periodic attempts to return.
The year I woke up to find my career had replaced Jesus as my “first love,” I repented of my sin and asked the Lord to help me never go back into it. He and I both knew I needed a divine anchor, something to grab at the first hint that my prideful self was resurfacing.
The anchor He gave me was His Word. In particular, the first eleven verses of Philippians 2. Like a magnet, I have been drawn to these words that describe genuine humility — Christ’s humility. This passage is underlined and dated in every Bible I own. It’s on a yellow sticky note on my bathroom mirror. It’s written on the inside cover of my prayer journal. It’s memorized in my brain. It’s the log that helps to keep my fire burning.
More than once in the past five years… I have wearily read through those eleven verses word by word in a stark hotel room in some foreign country… I have prayed through them during my quiet time at home in the sometimes-lonely city where I’ve moved to work in full-time ministry… I have recited them quietly to myself before returning a call to the headhunter who has offered me a high- paying job and the chance to get back on the career path I left. I have felt the Holy Spirit bring the passage to my mind to almost scold me whenever repentance is in order.
In other words, temptations and challenges have come and gone. But when I saw the Lord in a fresh way, He was quick to show me that keeping His Word central in my life was my only hope for never losing the freshness. It really works. His plan for my life is the only one I follow, and I pray I never see it any other way.
Have you ever worked hard to build a fire, only to have it go out? Although I was raised in a log cabin with five fireplaces, I never learned to build a fire that would last. One of those fireplaces was in my mother’s bedroom. When I would go home, I would invariably find her sitting in her overstuffed chair by the window with a roaring fire on the hearth. As we sat and visited, the fire would die down, and she frequently reminded me to “stir up the fire, Anne,” or “put another log on it.”
You and I can respond to our wake-up call and experience the thrilling fire of personal revival, but if we neglect that fire, it will die out. And nothing is more miserable than a heart that has grown cold, chilling a life that once knew the raging warmth of a passionate relationship with Jesus. Not only does a heart that’s grown cold make us miserable, but it makes Him miserable too. It grieves the Lord. Speaking to the Ephesian church through the apostle John, Jesus explained,
I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance…. You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary. Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love. — Revelation 2:2-4
Jesus loves you and me, and He longs to be loved — really loved — by us in return.
For twelve years I taught a weekly Bible class of five hundred women in our city. I never missed a class. During that time, through the disciplined study of His Word, God gave me a wonderful love for Jesus. At the end of those twelve years, I knew with absolute certainty God was calling me to leave the class and go into an itinerant, Bible-teaching ministry.
I left the class and went out into the world. Literally. Three months later I found myself in Fiji helping lead a conference of five hundred pastors who had come in from other islands for miles around. Five months later I was in Brazil leading another conference for approximately fifteen hundred pastors and evangelists from all over the country and squeezing in a youth conference of more than two thousand young people. In between Fiji and Brazil, I was teaching in seminars and conferences every week in the United States.
Gradually I became aware that I was having to drag myself into my quiet time, that my heart no longer seemed to be uplifted in worship, and that I didn’t feel any real joy, but I thought I was just tired. I thought I must be suffering from prolonged jet lag along with time and food changes.
One morning, in my devotions, I read Revelation 2:1-7 and sensed, in my heart, Jesus speaking to me:
Anne, I know your deeds. I know all about Fiji and the extra sessions that were dumped on you that you accepted because of your commitment to Me. I know all about Brazil and the women’s sessions you booked into your free time because of your heart to get others into My Word. I know your hard work and your perseverance. I know you have endured hardships in My name and have not grown weary. Thank you, Anne, for all you are doing to serve Me. Yet I hold this against you: you are losing your love for Me.
When I came to that verse, I kept on reading. I knew He couldn’t be speaking to me! After all, I was traveling around the world telling others how to love Him! Surely He wasn’t speaking to me!
But He was! He kept drawing my attention back to those verses until I finally listened to what He had to say. I would have denied it and vehemently argued, except it was Jesus who was speaking to me! And I knew that whenever He speaks, it’s the truth. Finally, the light of His Word penetrated my delusion. Deep in my heart, I acknowledged that I wasn’t just tired; I was losing my love for Him! I cannot tell you how devastatingly painful that revelation was to me. I yearned to love Him, and I thought I did. But He did not agree.
With tears streaming down my cheeks, I asked, “Lord, what would You have me do?”
He replied from Revelation 2:5.
Remember the height from which you have fallen.
Remember what it was like to love Me with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength.
I remembered. That love was the “height” in my relationship with Christ. And when I lost it, it was a long way down.
Then, still from verse 5, He said, “Repent.”
Repentance means to stop it: stop going in one direction; turn around, and go in the opposite direction. Since a “first love” is an emotional, affectionate, passionate love, and because emotions really can’t be controlled or dictated, I responded, “Lord, how? I want to repent of losing my first love for You, I want to stop not loving You emotionally and affectionately and passionately. But how? I am willing to repent, but I don’t know how.”
Again, He spoke to me from verse 5. “Return to the things you did at first.”
And I answered, “What things? Things I did when I was first born again? Things I did when I first began to serve You?”
And He seemed to point out two “first things” I needed to return to.
Simply stated, the two things were the “logs” for the revival fire: daily, disciplined prayer and Bible reading. The fire in my heart was burning dangerously low because it didn’t have enough fuel. Believe me, before that day was out, I had added those logs to my fire! And within a short time, it was rekindled into a roaring blaze.
Your fire will go out also if you neglect to stir it up and stop putting the logs on it.
So… stir up the fire!
Excerpted with permission from Expecting to See Jesus by Anne Graham Lotz, copyright Anne Graham Lotz.
Let’s get fired up! We have to stoke our fires for Jesus and stay hot for Him and pursuing Him with all of our hearts. Is your fire going out? Put logs on it! Come share your thoughts with us on our blog. We want to hear from you! ~ Devotionals Daily